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What Do Madonna, Ice-T, and the Ramones Have in Common?

What Do Madonna, Ice-T, and the Ramones Have in Common?

Courtesy St. Martin’s Press

You’ll be able to learn a number of document executives’ memoirs and, between the boasting and humble-bragging and rating settling, the traditional programs by means of which the style hops, you’ll have a tough time discovering a lot that seems like actual ardour for music. Making hits, attaining success, counting awards, positive — however music itself, much less so. In fact: The music business hardens individuals. Even the likes of the late Warner Bros. PR genius Stan Cornyn (2003’s Exploding: The Highs, Hits, Hype, Heroes, and Hustlers of the Warner Music Group) or Nirvana supervisor turned Atlantic Data president Danny Goldberg (2009’s Bumping Into Geniuses: My Life Inside the Rock and Roll Enterprise), two of the biz’s sharpest observers and most keen followers, couldn’t fairly overcome the format’s limitations — each clearly beloved music itself, however by every ebook’s finish the spark had dissipated, whether or not by way of disappearing into trivia, à la Cornyn, or blanding out some, à la Goldberg.

This occurs as properly with Siren Track: My Life in Music, the new memoir of Sire Data founder Seymour Stein, who signed the Ramones, Speaking Heads, and Madonna to his label, in addition to being a founding member of the Rock and Roll Corridor of Fame nominating committee. Nevertheless it’s equally clear that Stein cares extra about music than anything. That’s a cause the guide’s finale retreats to earth — he’s accounting for the prices of that fanaticism: not solely a failed marriage to Linda Stein, who turned the Ramones’ co-manager with Danny Fields (and was brutally murdered in October 2007 by an assistant who’d been skimming cash from her), but in addition guilt over his admittedly absent fatherhood and the grief he felt at the demise of his elder daughter, Samantha. To not point out Stein’s personal frequent hospital visits (coronary heart issues exacerbated by his prodigious cocaine use) and his personal lack of foresight to the prices of doing enterprise with Warner Bros. — an amazing workplace overlooking Rockefeller Middle, however a diminished stake in his personal firm, which might be folded into Elektra throughout Warners’ Nineties merger mania earlier than being unfolded again right into a freestanding label.

Seymour Stein (4th from proper) with The Ramones, Iggy Pop, and his spouse Linda Stein
Photograph by Roberta Bayley/Redferns

If the downfall of most music-biz books is retaining the fits straight, Stein sidesteps that neatly; his portraits of his colleagues, in and out of Warner Bros., are indelible. His co-writer probably contributed as nicely: the Irish music journalist Gareth Murphy, writer of 2014’s Cowboys and Indies, a energetic if sometimes shaky record-biz historical past, whose broad strokes match properly with Stein’s sure-footed historic grasp and crisp phrasing.

Seymour Steinbigle grew up in postwar Brooklyn, a melting pot the place, he notes, “Going to university was not what people did or expected of their children.” Like many metropolis youngsters of the time, he turned an ardent fan of R&B — which, even earlier than Elvis, was a “fast-growing craze among white teenagers.” A rabid follower of the charts, teenaged Seymour finagled his approach into the Billboard workplace, copying out charts by hand and ultimately discovering himself interning for Syd Nathan, the imperious founding father of King Data — one among the biggest postwar indies, with equally essential rosters of nation (Moon Mullican, the Delmore Brothers, Hank Penny) and R&B (Wynonie Harris, the “5” Royales, Little Willie John) earlier than signing James Brown — who insisted the child lop off half his surname.

Stein additionally provides it up for David Geffen, whom he calls “the smartest record boss of us all,” singling him out for reward for having paid for the funerals of so many AIDS victims: “For this alone, I will not tolerate a bad word about David Geffen.” He’s so much meaner, and funnier, about Clive Davis, who joins the desk of Stein and his boss, Mo Ostin, one morning for breakfast at the Beverly Hills Lodge. Davis claims with a straight face that his label, Arista, gained’t launch a Barry Manilow best-of as a result of, since he had chosen the singles, “it should really be called Clive Davis’s Greatest Hits.” In response, Stein reviews that “a muscular spasm in my left leg kicked Mo under the table”; displaying the subsequent bruise, Ostin admonished him, “Look what you just did to me!” after Davis went to take a telephone name.

Stein was born April 18, 1942, and grew up “on Dahill Road, just off King’s Highway near a predominantly Syrian corner of Bensonhurst that was otherwise Brooklyn’s Little Italy,” he writes.  His mother and father had him at comparatively late ages for the period, she 36, he 41; the household was in the grocery enterprise, with one great-uncle a profitable olive oil importer. His father was Orthodox, however lenient; they left Seymour to his obsessions: “collecting stamps, bottle caps, and trading cards, anything interesting and flashy.”

Seymour Stein
Warner Bros. Data

Rising up, Stein knew he was homosexual however wasn’t solely positive what to do about it; he knew, like so lots of the individuals he’d come to know, that “the coolest thing about me was my record collection.” Although Stein is sort of snug together with his sexuality, he retains an retro discreetness about it, with no qualms about having by no means come out to his mother and father: “Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t think we become more enlightened by kissing on subways or by talking the life out of our quirks and kinks.” In certainly one of the ebook’s clear cash tales, he’s not merely discomfited by the sexual advances of Dee Dee Ramone — who waltzed into Stein’s condominium after Linda had left and displayed himself, able to go — however caustic about it: “For a prostitute, Dee Dee obviously hadn’t progressed very far up from public toilets.”

Stein based Sire in 1966 with producer-writer (and occasional performer, as with the Strangeloves of “I Want Candy” fame) Richard Gottehrer, initially the firm’s in-house producer and A&R man. Sire’s early releases have been primarily imported British blues-rock; Stein scored his first main hit with Dutch prog-rockers Focus’s “Hocus Pocus,” which went prime ten in 1973. One other early British signing, Climax Blues Band, went to quantity three (thanks in half to some grease, as Stein notes) with “Couldn’t Get It Right” in 1977. That success helped to finance Sire’s signing up lots of the mid-Seventies bands enjoying downtown.

It’s refreshing to learn such a clear-eyed account of the CBGB’s period, even one written from a Midtown workplace. In the fall of 1977, Sire launched debuts from Speaking Heads, the Lifeless Boys, and Richard Hell and the Voidoids together with the third Ramones album, Rocket to Russia, by way of a brand new deal Stein had made with Warner Bros. Initially, Sire was in search of distribution; Mo Ostin as an alternative prompt a partnership. For Warner Bros., Stein surmised, getting on the New York punk practice was “a way to get hip and to do it pretty damn quickly.” Warned of Ostin’s Machiavellian methods, Stein however entered into what he’d later time period as “about as joint a venture as a whale swallowing a fish” with Warner Bros., reveling for a number of years in near-unlimited energy to signal no matter he needed.

Stein’s angle was easy: Get there first or don’t hassle. “I thought bidding wars were pointless,” he writes. “Why waste a pile of money on one act when half as much money could get three up and running?” That philosophy put Sire close to the prime of unbiased rock at the flip of the Eighties, as Seymour discovered gold in artists like Echo and the Bunnymen, the Smiths, and the Cult. It helped that Stein was almost alone in going after these prime post-punk and various acts: “The weird thing about the early-to-mid-Eighties was how unadventurous nearly all the American majors had remained,” he writes. However Stein definitely observed when Ostin stole the B-52’s proper out from underneath him, the band’s supervisor mollifying Stein by insisting the Sire label go on the LP anyway.

Stein with David Byrne and Madonna at the Rock & Roll Corridor of Fame induction in 1996
Courtesy St. Martin’s Press/Photograph by Kevin Mazur / Getty Pictures

As any A&R individual would, Stein spends a whole chapter detailing his largest catch ever — “the record man’s equivalent of Florence Nightingale,” as he describes Madonna, strolling into his hospital room shortly after his open-heart surgical procedure. Stein’s preliminary curiosity was in her producer, Mark Kamins, a Danceteria DJ he admired: “He already had a sound.” Kamins introduced Madonna the night Stein heard the cassette: “I told her you were sick, but she really wants this,” he explains to Stein, who asks the nurse to “send me in a hairdresser as quickly as you can. … Of course, Madonna took one look at the tube stuck into my skin and squirmed.” Although he was impressed together with her forthrightness, Stein writes, “there was no reason to believe I was looking at a female Elvis.” Certainly, Ostin refused to log off on Madonna, figuring her music, Stein writes, as “a downtown dance experiment … pointless twelve-inch bullshit.” Stein shortly discovered higher: “Madonna was always the smartest person in the room, even when she wasn’t physically there.”

In Stein’s life, the highest moments invoke the true fellowship music can convey. He doesn’t puff up his signees’ expertise, as an alternative highlighting nice moments like a fan: Writing about the Pretenders’ “Back on the Chain Gang,” he pinpoints its opening line, “I found a picture of you,” as its middle: “Isn’t that how bereavement feels?” Stein takes delight in his place on the committee for the Rock and Roll Corridor of Fame; with honorable candor, he dubs the latter “some kind of mausoleum for our own community.”

One among Siren Track‘s most indelible moments comes when Stein is trying to sign Ice-T to his label. Accompanied by his manager, the L.A. gangsta rap pioneer and actor sits in Stein’s workplace and asks the previous report man straight out why Seymour needs him. Stein’s impressed reply is to play him the Mighty Sparrow’s calypso basic “Jean and Dinah,” about Trinidadian prostitutes left with out work in the wake of the island’s U.S. army bases closing. A bawdy social satire, this music sounded completely nothing like the data Ice-T had already made or would make for Sire, however was completely on the right track as an evaluation of the type of public truth-telling position Stein noticed in his gangsta rap. “I want to sign with you!” Ice-T exclaimed. Who wouldn’t?

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