Tales of Hoffman


She wouldn’t want me telling you this — the first thing to know about Roni Hoffman is that, unlike some of us, she tends toward the taciturn. In fact, after more decades together than we’d ever admit, I’m still hearing new details of her story.

But it’s a helluva story.

Her boyfriend was among the first of the dubious breed that came to be known as rock critics. You see, back in the day, there were these things called daily newspapers and each one had a middle-aged guy who wrote about jazz and that’s who the dailies would send to cover rock concerts, often with laughable results, at least to rock fans. But along came a publication called Crawdaddy, the first real rock magazine, a year before Rolling Stone. Sandy Pearlman wrote for it. And so did Roni’s b.f. Which meant that at 17 she got to hang out with Jimi Hendrix backstage at a club in Greenwich Village, and later to attend the press conference atop the Pan Am building where, in a publicity stunt, the nascent guitar god had just landed in a helicopter. She was at the Dom on St. Mark’s Place when the Velvet Underground played, and a 17-year-old Jackson Browne opened. She was at Patti Smith’s first poetry reading, before Lenny Kaye strummed along on guitar, and then backstage at the Bitter End when Bob Dylan stopped by to pass Patti the torch as rock ‘n’ roll poet laureate.

Jim Morrison put his arm around Roni’s shoulders and a joint in her mouth. Mick Jagger just put his arm around her shoulders — though the occasion happened to be a birthday party for a raging drunk Norman Mailer, who put his hands all over her. She dined with Lou Reed at the writer Lisa Robinson’s apartment. She and her b.f. shared a house with the Blue Oyster Cult, back when those metal pioneers were called the Soft White Underbelly. She met the young Iggy and Alice Cooper and Marc Bolan of T-Rex and such monumental rock elders as Muddy Waters and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. She was at the celebrated Rock Writers Convention in Memphis in ’73, where the original lineup of Big Star, Alex Chilton’s band, played their one and only gig, and on the infamous Hells Angels boat ride around Manhattan, the same year, where she got to know Jerry Garcia and Bo Diddley, both of whom performed, and where she witnessed the Angels preparing to throw overboard a smarmy young local-TV reporter named Geraldo Rivera. She was in the room when Epic signed a raggedy-ass outfit from SUNY/New Paltz called the Dictators, who would then make the first-ever punk record. An undergraduate Gary Lucas crashed on her couch, a dozen years before he captained Beefheart’s Magic Band and an over-served Lester Bangs passed out in her armchair, a dozen years before he overdosed.

Her kids think of her as their unassuming mom. Little do they know.

Roni was, and is, an artist. She paints and draws (and today also teaches painting and drawing). But she always had a camera, and knew how to use it, and at some point her writer friends, when they needed pictures, started to ask her along to interviews and concerts and parties. They liked her and knew that, unlike a lot of those ego-tripping shutterbugs, she would be, well, quiet and always get the job done. So she has a lot of unique photos. At the same time, she missed a lot of unique photos. She says that it just seemed kind of rude to whip out your camera while chatting with a new friend, even if that friend turned out to be Jimi Hendrix. But then it was precisely that sense of consideration that made writers invite her along in the first place.

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New identity, site and songs for WhyHunger

Founded in the mid-seventies by the late singer-songwriter Harry Chapin (“Cats in the Cradle,” “Taxi,” etc.) and DJ Bill Ayres, WhyHunger (formerly World Hunger Year) is dedicated to getting at the root causes of hunger and the poverty that inevitably accompanies it. They do this by finding and funding grassroots groups that are having a measure of success and then sharing those successful techniques with other grassroots groups, and so on.

D/C got involved with WhyHunger two years ago when the agency conceived and designed a benefit CD for the group that featured songs by Bruce Springsteen, Aerosmith and the Hold Steady, among many others, and was sponsored by Hard Rock. The collection was called Serve, and its success led to D/C developing Serve2, with a new set of songs from new and veteran artists, including Springsteen and the Hold Steady again. This time, with the help of the digital distribution company The Orchard, the set was picked up by iTunes and featured on localized iTunes sites around the world, leading to a whole new level of publicity and funds for fighting hunger. In October, D/C also completed a brand overhaul for the 30-year-old organization. The powerfully simple logo picks up the word “why,” but adds a period after it — because this group is not about just asking questions, it’s about real-world solutions. And currently in progress is a new WhyHunger website, with information architecture, visual design and copy by D/C.

The client reports that, in part due to the new branding and accompanying advertising from D/C, their fall fundraiser shattered all previous records. And, after all, that’s what it’s all about.