A Wealth of Talent

One family's philosophical legacy

The descendants of oil billionaire J. Paul Getty are among the most affluent people in the world. Though our local Pacific Heights strain of Gettys -- J. Paul's son Gordon, his wife Ann, and their children -- is less prone to the drug overdoses, kidnappings, and bitter legal feuds that have plagued the rest of the clan, they are still stinkin' rich, and permanent fixtures in what passes for San Francisco high society. To their credit, they regularly shave off millions for philanthropic causes. About the worst you could say about them is that their monstrous mansion on Broadway was so tiny they were forced to buy the place next door to accommodate the music room and the pool. Or that the family's lavishly appointed Boeing 727 is nicknamed "The Jetty."

Of course, the San Francisco family members have always had their hobbies -- after all, they have to keep busy somehow. We already know about Gordon Getty and the classical music he composes, graciously performed by the San Francisco Symphony (presumably a good idea, since he gives them so much money every year). We know about Gordon's son Billy, with his PlumpJack business interests and that fancy new Russian Hill penthouse all the magazines have been drooling over. We even know that Mom Ann plunked down some hefty change to purchase Henry Miller's original American publishing house, Grove Press.

What many don't know is that there is a secret weapon in this lineage -- Gordon's 33-year-old son Peter. A self-described playwright and advertising copywriter, Peter, like his father, is also a musician. But while Dad noodles in the classical genre, Peter leans toward rock 'n' roll.

And young Peter doesn't just have a band, whose name -- the Virgin-Whore Complex -- was supposedly so raunchy it had to be registered in Nevada. He doesn't just write, play guitar, sing, and credit himself under the pseudonym "Spats Ransom." He doesn't just celebrate the release of his own record by hiring another band to perform the songs at a society gala.

Peter is also a Getty, which means the blood of a tycoon flows in his veins. So he owns his own indie record label, Emperor Norton Records, named for San Francisco's most famous street person. And Emperor Norton isn't just another label run out of someone's kitchen. The business has -- obviously -- plenty of money backing it, boasts offices in both Manhattan and Los Angeles, and has a growing pile of clips (i.e., credibility) from tiny music zines and college radio playlists.

Now, it's easy to write off the Getty musicians as silver-spoon snots who dabble in vanity projects. And many reviewers have: Upon the 1985 premiere of portions of Gordon's opera Plump Jack, the Chronicle sniffed, "If you or I had written this, it wouldn't have gone beyond the living room."

The first Virgin-Whore Complex album, Stay Away From My Mother (Emperor Norton, 1996) met with similar treatment from music zine Oculus, which griped, "The male lead singer's nasal delivery begins to sound like a bad imitation of a sleepy Fred Schneider." But these are just critics, talentless little pissants with no idea what it's like to be born into a bustling world of flaming desserts, Junior League benefits, and disgruntled gardeners.

The real value of the Virgin-Whore Complex's oeuvre is the introduction it gives novices to the peculiar Getty Weltanschauung. In fact, the similarities between J. Paul Getty's 1965 book How to Be Rich and Peter Getty's albums Stay Away From My Mother and Succumb, the latter released this month, are best left to speak for themselves:

Upbringing
How to Be Rich:
My father, a self-made man who had known extreme poverty in his youth, had a practically limitless capacity for hard work, and he also had an almost uncanny talent for finding oil. After organizing Minnehoma Oil, he personally supervised the drilling of 43 oil wells, of which 42 proved to be producers!

The Virgin Whore Complex:
Son, I know you're scared
But we think it's time you knew
How much poverty and crime it takes
To finance one of you
-- "Drawn"

A Penny Saved Is a Penny Earned

How To Be Rich:
The person who has formed thrifty habits will always have a fluid reserve to meet contingencies, carry him through slack periods or make it possible for him to expand or make improvements without resorting to borrowing.

The Virgin Whore Complex:
Raise hell, madmen and deviates
Widows and dope fiends
Whores and inebriates
Heaven's joys are long withheld, but
Acid's immediate
Almost always less expensive, too
-- "Revolver"

Stop and Smell the Roses

How To Be Rich:
Another -- albeit much less simple -- habit that should be acquired by any man who wants to get ahead rapidly in business is the habit of being relaxed. The successful businessman is usually the one who is always relaxed -- even in the face of adversity.

The Virgin Whore Complex
Oh, wise and mighty emperor
Peacefully asleep in the void
There's a life back there you might have enjoyed
-- "Wise and Mighty Emperor"

Labor Relations

How To Be Rich:
Any seasoned top-level executive would much rather have his mistakes pointed out to him early by a subordinate than have those mistakes make themselves painfully apparent later in the company's profit and loss statement.

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