Monday, March 16, 2009

This past Saturday I gave the keynote talk at a graduate student music conference at McGill University in Montreal. I was speaking on material from This Ain't the Summer of Love, and even though my talk wasn't until the afternoon, I dutifully showed up at the conference at 9:30 am to catch the first session of the day.

When I arrived, one of the conference organizers told me that she wasn't sure if I knew, but that Sandy Pearlman was a visiting professor at McGill, and he was really looking forward to my talk.

Holy crap!

For those who don't know, Sandy Pearlman is one of the great, largely unsung figures in 1970s rock. He was mainly a behind-the-scenes guy, but as behind-the-scenes guys go he was in the middle of some pretty great stuff. A full list of his credits would go way beyond the scope of this modest little blog, but some highlights should put things in perspective:

Pearlman was one of the first generation of bona fide rock critics, a regular contributor to Crawdaddy, and friend/partner in crime with the more celebrated Richard Meltzer.

Along with Murray Krugman, Pearlman managed and produced pretty much everything released by Blue Öyster Cult until 1978's Some Enchanted Evening and continued to work with the band in later years. He also co-wrote a number of their best songs, including such awesome tracks as "The Red and the Black" and "Dominance and Submission."

Still partnering with Krugman, Pearlman also produced all three studio albums that the Dictators made in their 1970s prime.

In 1978 Pearlman produced the second Clash album, Give 'Em Enough Rope, which is usually not considered at the top of Clash albums but was nonetheless pretty great.

In 1980, Pearlman produced a great lost classic by the weirdo French hard rock band Shakin' Street, for which he recruited Dictators guitarist Ross the Boss.

Add it up. My book is titled after a Blue Öyster Cult song, and it devotes the better part of a long chapter to the Dictators. Needless to say, I was psyched that Pearlman was going to be at my talk, and a little intimidated.

I should add as a side note, that I've never made a habit of getting to know the people that I write about. I don't do oral history or ethnography, so I don't have much cause to do interviews, and quite frankly, I've always been kinda shy about meeting people whose work I admire (this mainly applies to musicians; I have no trouble meeting academic folks whose work I admire). So the rare occasions when I happen to meet or otherwise talk with someone whose work I've pored over are fairly few and far between.

That said, I wasn't going to let the opportunity slip by. I didn't have a great idea of what Pearlman looked like, but I spotted him as soon as he came into the room where I was speaking, and I didn't hesitate to go over and introduce myself. He was very cool, gracious even, when I briefly told him about my book and how much I admired his work with the Dictators. "Second best album I ever worked on," he said of the awesome first Dics' album, Go Girl Crazy! Later he said the best was BOC's Tyranny and Mutation. I'd have to agree on both counts.

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