Imagine yourself on the streets of Manhattan in 1975, a high-school student on your lunch break from a
work-study program. Then imagine walking past the world-famous Plaza Hotel and hearing an unmistakable, famous voice behind you.
“That’s not John Lennon, is it?” you might say. And the reply:
“Well, if it isn’t, I haven’t got me head screwed on right.”
Bruce Replogle doesn’t have to imagine — he was there.
It was all thanks to Replogle’s expense account. As a senior at Choate Rosemary Hall in Connecticut, he was spending the semester at WNET, the public television station in New York City. Replogle took the train into the city every day to work on The 51st State, an early example of a television newsmagazine, carrying along his brown bag lunch.
“One day, the producer asked, ‘How come you’re not taking advantage of your expense account?’” says Replogle. “I said, ‘I have an expense account?’”
His subsequent explorations of Midtown French restaurants eventually led him to that fateful afternoon in front of the Plaza Hotel. Replogle remembers Lennon in his signature wire-frame glasses, wearing all white and exhibiting his trademark dry humor. He felt even then that they connected during their brief conversation. It was a chance meeting, but it would be the first incidence of the synchronicity that Replogle has experienced throughout his life.
After Choate, he enrolled at William and Mary because he “absolutely loved the physical beauty and the history of the school.” Replogle sang in the choir at Bruton Parish Church and would often study in the nearby cemetery. He lived for a time near the east end of Colonial Williamsburg.
“To walk every day up and down the length of Duke of Gloucester Street was just so inspiring,” he says. “I felt like I had to do something with my life. I think William and Mary inspires that.”
Initially, Replogle’s ambition drew him towards literature or academia. He spent a semester at Oxford with an honors program in British literature and would occasionally serve as a substitute for Professor Tom Heacox in the W&M English department. He also served on the concert committee during the halcyon days of William and Mary Hall, helping to bring national acts like the Grateful Dead, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen and Jefferson Starship to campus. The Dead, in particular, said they would play a second night if the seats were removed from the arena floor so people could dance.
His entertainment interests landed him in the television industry after graduation, where he worked as a production assistant and script editor for Norman Lear and on The Facts of Life. He continued to make connections at Los Angeles parties until he got a fateful phone call.
“I need your time, date and place of birth,” said the woman on the line. “I know it sounds crazy, but this is for a really good job in the music industry.”
“They needed to do an astrological check,” says Replogle. “I was floored that it turned out to be for Yoko Ono. That was her way of vetting me.
“I’m a Pisces. I got the job.”
Replogle was invited to meet Ono and her husband/musical collaborator at the Hit Factory in Manhattan, where they were recording what would become 1980’s Double Fantasy. He arrived and made it up to the studio in the elevator.
“The doors open, and down at the end of the hall, there’s Yoko like a sentry,” Replogle remembers. “She says, ‘Before you meet John, I want you to promise you’ll never ask about the Beatles getting together again.’ I said, ‘No, of course not, wouldn’t dream of it.’”
Shortly thereafter, he was face-to-face with John Lennon. Replogle told him the exact story of their meeting in 1975.
“Sounds typical,” said Lennon.
The second meeting between the two solidified the connection Replogle felt as a teenager. “[Lennon] was 20 years my senior and we were like brothers,” he says. The album was released in November 1980, only a few weeks before Lennon was killed. Double Fantasy went on to win the Grammy for Album of the Year in 1981.
As the only publicist personally hired by Lennon and Ono, Replogle shares a special bond with the pair. It was the beginning of Replogle’s music-publicity experience, and even 30 years after Lennon’s death, Ono continues to contact Replogle for help with promotion.
“It was the privilege and honor of working with him that opened the doors to working with all the other musicians and artists that I’ve worked with,” he says. “Things happen for a reason and then things keep happening. They click. It’s synergy and synchronicity.”
As a publicist, Replogle worked with a long list of high-profile musicians, including The Cars, John Mellencamp, Tears for Fears, Joan Jett, Sonic Youth, Duran Duran, Aerosmith, The Cure and Red Hot Chili Peppers. In his early years, he worked with the largest club in Boston, the Channel Club, where a suitcase of publicity photos of Lennon taken by photographer Bob Gruen was stolen. They have yet to be found, but they did figure later in Replogle’s life in an important way.
After some time working in the music industry with his company, Rock Management USA, Replogle decided it was time to move on to something “more meaningful.” He completed a thesis in pastoral counseling, moving from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts to Harvard Divinity and eventually the Virginia Theological Seminary in Richmond. Those counseling skills came in handy when he subsequently worked as a civilian aide to President Reagan’s deputy secretary of defense, Will Taft. After all, who better to handle national security information than someone trained to counsel parishioners in confidence?
Eventually, he began a successful career in real estate — he refers to it as “real-life Monopoly” — in the Boston area. From his house on an island in Cohasset, Mass., he can see the ocean each day, recalling growing up in Newport, R.I.
In 2007, after years away from the business, Replogle was watching an unfamiliar documentary about John Lennon on television when Gruen appeared on-camera for an interview. It occurred to him that Gruen might be a good source to help locate the stolen photographs. Gruen’s people told Replogle to contact him via the social-networking website Myspace, a popular place for musicians. Before long, Replogle had his own Myspace page and was again fielding requests from agents and musicians looking for promotion.
“I reluctantly got back into the music,” he says, laughing. “I think I’m glad. I hadn’t heard music I really enjoyed in so long — since the early ’80s — and now I’m hearing it.”
His goal, Replogle says, is to find the next U2 or the next Beatles and be the next Brian Epstein. The ticket to that is the next British Invasion — presented by Rock Management USA.
“For me, the artist is the captain of the ship, and I’m just the wind in the sails,” he says. “I’ll give them the right direction and the world’s attention, but it’s up to them to follow through, to make that journey.”
In early March, Replogle traveled to London for a Britpop showcase featuring bands like Merry-go, The Rifles, The Melophobics and The Beat Poets. It’s a return to the British sound that Replogle has always enjoyed, going back to his days with Lennon and later work with popular bands like Duran Duran.
“I guess it’s revivalist,” he says. “What I’m all about is discovering the best power pop in the world, and mainly I find that comes out of Great Britain.”
Ultimately, though, it’s all about a quality song. Replogle will sing you a song if you haven’t heard it before, and his enthusiasm is obvious. He’s placed songs on film soundtracks and in television commercials because they all share the same sort of characteristic.
“I look for something that people, when they hear it, want to know the words,” he says. “Because they want to sing it — they want to be able to own that song in their brain.”
Whether it’s Britpop, power pop or straight-ahead rock and roll, the strong rhythms, catchy melodies and powerful hooks all contribute to the message that Replogle is trying to send through his work in entertainment. Each band has to meet his standards to gain his representation.
“They have to be young, dedicated to their career, give their all to their music and have a positive message,” he says. “I think the Beatles changed the world with their message of love — ‘All You Need Is Love.’ So I want to carry on that tradition with that message.”
Nobody, Replogle says, has the sort of Anglo-American rock connection that he does, so it’s fitting that he thinks of music promotion as international diplomacy. By exchanging favors with connections in the industry, he builds a reputation that makes an e-mail from Bruce Replogle impossible to ignore. And even after promoting bands all over the United States and now in England, he still holds fond memories of the late-’70s music scene in a little town in southeastern Virginia. Springsteen at William and Mary Hall aside, he says:
“Every night at the Hoi Polloi (the college pub) was amazing.”
From the cover story for the Spring 2011 Quarterly of The William & Mary Alumni Magazine
Illustration by Asaf Hanuka
Rock promoter Bruce Replogle (center),
surrounded by a few of the artists he’s worked with,
including Steven Tyler of Aerosmith (left), Robert Smith of
The Cure (top) and Joan Jett