What follows is an excerpt from a just-released book about Dana Giacchetto, a financial manager who became a big-time deal maker after he negotiated the sale of a minority share of Sub Pop Records to Warner Music Group for $20 million. Some of this money trickled down to author Emily White's husband, Rich Jensen—enough to buy a house. The following passage describes this "Nirvana trickle-down effect," and also includes a scene from the life of Giacchetto's brother, Russell, a drug addict who considered himself the black sheep of the family.
In 1999, Giacchetto was arrested for embezzling money from the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz, and Russell realized he was no longer the black sheep. The New York Post dubbed Giacchetto the "Scammer to the Stars." White and her husband ended up losing most of their life savings with Giacchetto.
In late 1995, after everything had been signed and distributed and sent through the channels of the banks, Rich Jensen said, "Now we can buy a house!" I had nothing to do with the money: We were married, but we had always come and gone into our own worlds. As far as I was concerned, the money was his world. Rich had been so secretive about the deal, I hadn't adjusted to the idea of it. I never saw the paperwork—and even when I finally did see it, I didn't understand it. A house at this point was just an abstraction, something that belonged to parents, to old people.
It was hard for Rich to believe in the money, too. When he was a teenager, he'd traveled with the yippies, spreading their gospel against private property. Now at the age of 32, he was house hunting—something neither one of us knew how to do. We simply drove up to houses with for-sale signs and took the pieces of paper out of the plastic boxes. Then we drove away and thought: That did not feel quite right. The pieces of paper talked about the rooms, the full and half baths, the views. "Cozy up to a fireplace!" they said, inviting you into the interior of the property-owning tribe. I remember a Realtor leading us through the house of a dead man, stuffy and still, all his furniture in place as if awaiting his ghost, hospital equipment scattered in the garage. The Realtor stared at Rich's decrepit sneakers; he had this puzzled look on his face, as if he was wondering if this was a joke.
Eventually, we found a place looking out on the water, a place where you could sit on the deck and watch cars driving across the bridge. The first morning we woke up there, I had been dreaming of floods and earthquakes. I wondered if these dreams were premonitions and something was going to go wrong. I said to Rich, "Nothing is going to go wrong, is it?" And he said, "No, everything is going really well."
My dad wasn't so sure. He said: "That kind of thing just doesn't happen, that kind of windfall. There has got to be a catch."
Russell Giacchetto spent most of 1991 to 1993 in Norfolk Prison, after being caught driving a stolen car with drugs inside it. When he was released, he took up with Lisa again, hanging out in her apartment. Cosmo and Alma hired him to paint the walls of their rental properties. "Okay, this is a turnaround!" Alma said. Russell tried to behave like a boy in the midst of an awakening, a boy who was getting better, but he still had this deeply rooted hopeless self, and he still loved the oblivion of heroin.
One afternoon, he was shooting heroin with Lisa. Russell doesn't remember nodding off, but all of a sudden he was awake, an hour had passed, there was a paramedic in his face. His life had gone out from under him. As Russell discovered later, Lisa had seen him nod off and panicked; but instead of calling the ambulance, she called the drug dealer. She asked him, "What am I supposed to do?"
The drug dealer said, "Put ice in his armpits."
She said, "I don't have any ice."
"Use anything cold."
So it came to pass that Lisa placed scoops of chocolate ice cream all up and down her lover's body while he lay there turning blue. She called 911 and when the paramedics arrived he was covered in the chocolate sludge. Russell remembers waking up and wondering why his skin was turning brown and why this guy was asking him, "Can you hear me?" He remembers it as the all-time strangest scene in which he has ever come back to earth.
Around this same time, the middle of 1995, Rich and Bruce Pavitt were traveling to New York to talk to the Warner partners, and they stopped in San Francisco for a hallucinogenic conference. It was called the Entheobotany Visionary Botany Conference and it was a pseudoscientific convention for hardcore hippies, inspired by the god of mushrooms, Terence McKenna. Mc-Kenna was the author of creeds that talked about the "twilight of civilization" and the need for a rebirth of shamanism. He believed that only in an altered state could the twilight of civilization really be witnessed properly.
At the conference, drugs were abundant. Bruce and Rich bought DMT, a powdered substance that was known to insiders as the strongest hallucinogen anyone could take. When you took it, you were supposed to see the other side. Rich told me about it before he took it: "Shamans did it," he said. You were supposed to be able to see the end of the universe, little spots, something like that. It was a short, intense high, a form of flying too close to the sun, I suppose. Together, Bruce and Rich laid down in the bedroom of a friend's house and took the powder. "I saw a whole bunch of spots and I think I heard some alien voice," says Rich. "It was over in five minutes, but I will never forget it."
You had to wonder: Can these guys take these drugs, can they escape the world so intensely, and still rule it? Can they still have cultural power in a culture they so diligently want to escape? Feeling powerful from the DMT, Bruce and Rich flew to New York to chat with the new partners and eat five-star dinners charged to the Warner credit card.
One time, Rich came into Dana Giacchetto's apartment with a piece of street debris in his eye. It turned out to be a paint chip, large and mean. "I think it was three quarters of an inch," Rich says. Rich could not open the eyelid without pain, and he was in a panic, helpless. Dana went to the medicine cabinet and found Vicodin and tweezers. He said, "Rich, sit here on the couch, lie still, drink this water, take this pill, I'm going to take care of you."
"Oh my god, it hurts," Rich said.
"It will be okay really soon," Dana said.
For a long time, Rich remembered that act of Dana's, the way he knew exactly what to do, the way he became focused and authoritative, rallying his senses. He lifted out the paint chip with his tweezers and they marveled at its terrible size. The incident made Rich trust Dana even more. It was an act of love, impossible to dismiss.
White reads from You Will Make Money in Your Sleep: The Story of Dana Giacchetto, Financial Adviser to the Stars at Hugo House on Mon June 25 at 7 pm.