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California

California Retrospective: When Brown’s rock concert fundraiser struck a sour note

 Gov. Jerry Brown

California Gov. Jerry Brown, left, is introduced by  Glenn Frey of the Eagles during a presidential fundraising rock concert at the San Diego Sports Arena in December 1979.

(George Rose / George Rose)

Gov. Jerry Brown is now considered an elder statesman of California politics.

But he had a much more iconoclastic reputation in the 1970s and ‘80s, during his first two gubernatorial terms. As governor, Brown ran for president on a decidedly youthful theme.

In 1979, the first of two presidential fundraising rock concerts kicked off at the San Diego Sports Arena. Los Angeles Times staff photographer George Rose covered the concert. Two of the photos in the above gallery accompanied a column by Times pop music critic Robert Hilburn in the Dec. 24, 1979, Los Angeles Times:

Rock concerts may be a boon to campaign fund-raising, but candidates will have to pay their own price for associating with the irreverent rock community.

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Consider what happened to Gov. Brown at the Eagles-Linda Ronstadt-Chicago benefit Friday night at the Sports Arena.

At an already chaotic press conference during which TV cameramen and newspaper photographers were elbowing each other for choice locations, Brown tried gamely to get across his views.

Just as he was answering a question about Iran, an inebriated rock fan who managed to slip into the arena lounge yelled: “Hey, Jerry, what’s your favorite band?”

Shouted another fan: “What’s Linda going to wear tonight?”

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That was just the beginning. The real jolt was when Brown stepped on stage at the end of the nearly five-hour concert.

Introduced by the Eagles’ Glenn Frey, Brown strode on stage expecting a campaign-rally response. Instead, he was greeted by boos.

The lesson was obvious. Politicians may pick up funds from rock concerts, but they’d better leave the stage to musicians if they don’t want bruised egos.

In other words: Take the money and run.

Brown wasn’t the only person frustrated at the Sports Arena.

The prized shot for photographers was a picture of Brown and Linda Ronstadt together.

Though linked romantically for months, the couple has rarely been photographed together. This public appearance seemed like the perfect chance for a breakthrough.

So what happened?

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Brown held a press conference with the members of Chicago. He went on stage with the Eagles. But he didn’t show up anywhere–publicly–with Ronstadt.

Grumbled one member of the press corps:

“Here we are with papers all around the country waiting for a picture of them together and what do we come up with? Brown shaking hands with a couple of guys!” …

Despite the strong rock lineup, the San Diego concert did not sell out the 14,000-seat Sports Arena. But the second concert in Las Vegas sold out its 7,500 tickets in advance.

And in Vegas, as reported by staff writer Laurie Becklund in the Dec. 24, 1979, Los Angeles Times, Brown and Ronstadt appeared onstage:

Departing from her determination to keep her relationship with Gov. Jerry Brown out of the public spotlight, singer Linda Ronstadt interrupted the format of a fund-raising concert this past weekend to dedicate a surprise song to the traveling presidential candidate: “My Boyfriend’s Back.”

Visibly touched by the 1960s song, Brown left his third-row seat to greet his singer friend with a hug and kiss on the cheek as Ronstadt finished her set and walked offstage into the wings of the theater.

scott.harrison@latimes.com

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