To the People

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Monday, October 27, 2008

A Friend Of The Devil Is A Friend Of Mine

I had never, ever heard of Hal Kant, who died on Oct. 19 at age 77, but after I read his obituary, I became a huge fan. He was the Grateful Dead's longtime lawyer and corporate general counsel. He was the one, more than anyone else, who turned that band of smelly socialist hippies into an extremely lucrative corporate machine. As the Dead's Bob Weir told the L.A. Times, Kant, a lifelong Republican, was a "dear friend," who was "most instructive to us.":
"He oversaw every aspect of their business, whether licensing, touring, trademarks, merchandise or Garcia getting busted for drugs," said Jonas Kant, a music lawyer and a senior vice president at Sony/ATV Music Publishing.

"They were known for being a free-loving, peace-loving band, but he helped them run everything like a structured business," he said.

Kant, who accompanied the band on various tours, "did all of their recording and music publishing agreements," his son said. "He was renowned for being very much ahead of his time in terms of protecting the artists' and songwriters' rights."

Kant ensured that the master recordings of the Grateful Dead's music would be owned by the band, his son said. He also enlisted an Oakland law firm to handle enforcement of the band's trademarks.
He was smart in how he did trademark enforcement. He convinced the band to let fans tape performances and trade them. That helped to build the group's loyal fanbase without hurting sales of their own albums. Yet Kant did hit the actual businesses that infringed on the band's trademark. The Times article includes this great bit about how Kant brought Ben & Jerry's to heel:
When Ben & Jerry's ice cream produced a new flavor, Cherry Garcia, in the early 1990s, McNally wrote in his book, the company did so without even discussing the idea with Garcia. Although Garcia was unconcerned when it was first brought to his attention -- "At least they're not naming a motor oil after me, man," he said -- Kant convinced him that the issue should be addressed.

As recounted by McNally, Kant told Garcia: "They will name a motor oil after you if you don't confront this, Jerry. You'll have no control over your name at all."

Garcia finally told Kant, "If it bothers you, go ahead."

"In the next few years," McNally wrote, "Jerry would have no problems in spending the large sum of money he'd earn thanks to the letter Kant wrote" to Ben & Jerry's.
Kant's story gets even better. According to the Wall Street Journal, Kant was also a Nixon administration appointee on a porn commission:
His background in psychology led him to work as director of the Legal and Behavioral Institute in California. While there, he was co-author of "Pornography and Social Deviance," which summarized the findings of President Richard Nixon's Commission of Obscenity and Pornography. To the president's consternation, the panel recommended decriminalizing pornography.
He must have enoyed the research. He later produced some soft-core porn himself:
In 1983, Mr. Kant was producer of porn star Marilyn Chambers's first non-skin flick, "Angel of H.E.A.T.," an exploitation film so slight that that it may have created the straight-to-video category. "They wouldn't let me watch it while they filmed in the backyard," says his son, Jonas Kant, an entertainment lawyer for Sony ATV Music Publishing.
If all of that wasn't cool enough, Kant spent his later years as a world-ranked poker champion:
[He] known on the circuit as Dead Man Kant, puffing on long cigars. "Maybe it's a function of my personality," he said. "But I can't forget the beats [losing hands]. The winners? I can't remember them."

By the time he had won the Pot-Limit Omaha category in the 1987 World Series of Poker, he had given up most of his legal work outside of the Grateful Dead, as the band ascended.
And in the perfect ironic capper for all of this? He thought the Dead's music sucked too:
Musically, Hal Kant wasn't so devoted to the Dead. When it came to touring spectacles, he preferred Wagner's Ring Cycle.
So, he made millions teaching 60s radicals how to love capitalism, defended and made pornography and then retired to a life of playing and winning at high-stakes poker. How can you not love this guy and mourn his passing?

So here's to Hal "Dead Man" Kant, a true American success story. Rest In Peace, dude.

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