Joe Fineman figures he has lived seven lives and says he enjoyed every one of them. Now in his eighth 0decade and his eighth life, he’s reluctant to go to sleep at night, for fear “I might miss something.”
He achieved fame and fortune on the big screen, as a Hollywood post-production producer, but as a retiree in the eastern hills of Napa Valley he is realizing true bliss.
“I’m happier than I’ve ever been,” said Fineman, 72, who spends his days and nights playing music and stargazing from his home in Soda Canyon. “I hate going to sleep. There’s so much to do and explore.”
Throughout his film career, Fineman supervised the polishing of more than 500 films, including “Seven,” “Dumb & Dumber,” “The Mask,” “Nightmare on Elm Street 3,” “Boogie Nights,” “Shine,” “Pan’s Labyrinth,” “American History X” and “Little Miss Sunshine.”
Fineman’s favorite movie of all time is “Seconds,” directed by John Frankenheimer, “probably the most distinguished director I worked with,” he said.
Frankenheimer made that thriller, starring Rock Hudson, in 1966, and just two years later was directing political commercials for 1968 presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy. Driving to the Ambassador Hotel to congratulate Kennedy for winning the California primary, he heard a radio replay of the shots that killed his best friend.
“John was in AA but headed to the liquor cabinet, tied one on, then disappeared to Europe, I believe, for 10 years,” Fineman said. Upon his return, “we became somewhat friendly over French cooking. He was a drinker, monologist, storyteller and womanizer, yet still very rough around the edges.”
Fineman met the legendary director on the set of “The Island of Doctor Moreau,” which featured “a very huge Marlon Brando. The film was given awards for being the worst movie of the year and the best movie of the year.”
But he’s getting ahead of himself.
Life #1: Motown Hippie
During the Motown era of the 1960s, Fineman was one of the few “hippie white guys” who attended African-American shows in his hometown, Detroit. His father was a dentist, and his mother a teacher. He took up political science in college but confesses, “I had no idea what I wanted to do.”
Life #2: Song writer, guitarist
Spending summers in New York, Fineman rubbed shoulders with folk performers of the era such as Bob Dylan, the Jim Kweskin Jug Band and Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. In Nashville, he worked with Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys at the Grand Ol’ Opry.
Back in Detroit, he wrote songs, performed with a bluegrass band and started a mellow rock band in 1966 called The Passing Clouds. He also produced folk, bluegrass, blues and movie festivals in Detroit.
After 1967, his band played on the same stage with Janis Joplin, Vanilla Fudge and the Lovin’ Spoonful at the Grande Ballroom in Detroit.
He also played on the same bills as MC5, the band that performed eight hours for protesters outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
“Rolling Stone tried to interpret my lyrics, but they read meanings that I didn’t intend,” he said.
Two years after leaving Detroit in 1968, Fineman’s band broke up, and he turned his attention to film.