No journalist likes to get a letter threatening legal action, particularly one on creamy watermarked stationery bearing the imprint of a swanky Park Avenue law firm.
"It has come to our and our client's attention . . ." ". . . seriously misleading . . . unauthorized . . ." ". . . cease and desist . . ." ". . . your course of conduct . . ." ". . . the commencement of legal proceedings . . ."
The author was Howard Siegel, of Pryor Cashman Sherman & Flynn, of New York City.
As I read Siegel's letter more closely, I was shocked to see that the "cease and desist" part had to do with me using . . .
My own name?
I've always felt a sort of bond with Bill Wyman, the former bassist of the Rolling Stones, despite his tendency to view his life through a somewhat narrow lens. A hefty chunk of his nearly 600-page autobiography, "Stone Alone," might be paraphrased thusly:
Wednesday: Played a gig, made 20 pounds, met a nice bird, had a nice night together. Thursday: Good gig, four pounds ten, met two nice birds . . .
I've been a pop music writer for more than 20 years. I wrote my first review of a Rolling Stones concert in 1981. I went on to cover the band's tours in 1989, 1994 and 1997.
I've been granted tickets by the group's efficient publicists with no problems, often with entree to the Stones' lavish hospitality besides. I remember scarfing up some food next to Keith Richards backstage at a shed in the middle of Wisconsin, with no legal repercussions.
The only time my life and Wyman's have really intersected was 10 years or so ago in Chicago, when, out of the blue, I began receiving checks in the mail every four or five days. They were for odd, small amounts, like $32.61. They were made out to me, had my Social Security number, and bore the return address of a company with a curiously low public profile.
At the time it was a mystery, and it took some digging to discover they were residual checks to Wyman for reruns of odd TV appearances the Stones had made. (I was a member of the radio and television union at the time; that's how the wires had gotten crossed.)
I gave the checks back.
Siegel represents Wyman, who left the band in 1993. The attorney had happened to see a short article I'd written about some old Rolling Stones albums as part of the Journal-Constitution's coverage of the band's recent appearance in town.
He wasted no time in firing off a letter.
"I must ask that you immediately cease and desist from authorizing or permitting any such use of our client's name," he wrote.
Siegel magnanimously allowed that I could continue to use my own name if I could prove that I had come by it legally, and if I added a disclaimer to everything I wrote in the future, "clearly indicating that [you are] not the same Bill Wyman who was a member of the Rolling Stones."
I wondered if Wyman and his lawyers would endorse "Not That" Bill Wyman as an acceptable byline.
I resigned myself to this eventuality. After all, it was the musician's name first (he's a lot older than I am, certainly, and perhaps more famous), and . . .
But then I remembered.
Bill Wyman the Rolling Stone wasn't born Bill Wyman.
His real name, Stones fans know, is William George Perks. During a stint in the British air force, Perks had known a guy named Lee Whyman.
A thought struck me, and I pulled "Stone Alone" down off the shelf, to the page where he expressed his admiration for his old buddy Lee.
Wyman says he first used the name onstage in 1963. "In 1964 I adapted his name, and changed mine by deed poll," he writes in a footnote.
Me, I was born Jan. 11, 1961.
What I need now is a lawyer to ask Siegel that his client stop using a name I have claim to by several years.
May I suggest "Not That" Bill Wyman?
PBS News Hour: Will the real author (Bill Wyman) please stand up?