Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Me And Madonna


I was a punk rock guy. My KSAN radio show in San Francisco was the first commercial all-punk show on a commercial station anywhere in America. My partner from that show, Chris Knab, and I started one of the first all-punk indie labels in the country too, 415 Records. So it made some sense when Seymour Stein hired me to run his label, Sire Records. Seymour had signed the Ramones, the Dead Boys, Richard Hell, the Talking Heads, Echo & the Bunnymen, The Smiths, The Replacements, Madness, The Cure, Ministry, Throwing Muses, The Saints, The Undertones...It was a label dedicated to the music I loved. But, basically, all the profit came from another artist, Madonna. Back in San Francisco, I had a radio promo for my show that claimed it was the one place on the dial where you would be 100% safe from ever hearing a Madonna song. I wasn't a fan.

So, soon after I got to Sire as General Manager and vice president, Seymour called a meeting of the whole staff to divide up the responsibilities for all the artists. After hours of back and forth he finally said, "Look, ultimately, I'll take Madonna and The Cult and Howie's going to be responsible for everyone else." A few minutes later he changed his mind and said I'd have The Cult too.

A couple months later, he insisted I come with him to a Madonna concert. I refused; I was too busy working on breaking Depeche Mode. He offered me $200 in cash if I came with him to meet her backstage at a Madison Square Garden concert. I had always dreamed that one of "my" bands would play Madison Square Garden. It was the ultimate for me. He never coughed up the $200, but I went with him to the show. Backstage, Madonna was about as interested in me as I was in her, but something happened that shocked me. There was no press, no p.r. agents, just Madonna and a small handful of her people and me and Seymour. And some guy from an AIDS organization. It was still early in the AIDS story. I didn't know for sure what it was except that it was something shameful that was killing gay people. Madonna gave the guy her paycheck from that night's show, a million dollars. It never made it to the newspapers. It was just something she could afford to do and something she wanted to do.

I started listening to her music, something I had never done before. I found songs I liked. I even suggested that one of the cutting-edge German industrial bands I was working with, Bi-God 20, cover "Like A Prayer." I encouraged John Wesley Harding to do the same song. What a great tune! And whenever I appealed to the artists on our roster to help out with a song for a charity record, Madonna was usually first or one of the first. Of course Seymour still was the guy who coordinated all things Madonna and my involvement in her career was, at best, minimal. Generously, when Madonna's records went gold and platinum and multi-platinum, they included me on the list of people who were given award plaques.

I've long since retired from the music business and right now I'm trying to help a young candidate in Michigan, Trevor Thomas, win a congressional seat held by a Tea Party Republican, Justin Amash. The district is winnable for a Democrat and Amash is very vulnerable. Unfortunately, a very conservative Democratic establishment has its own candidate for that seat as well. Before Trevor can take on Amash, he has to beat a wealthy anti-Choice Democrat. "Anti-Choice Democrat?" They still exist? Not many, but Steve Pestka was in the state legislature and not only did he always vote against women's right to Choice, he even joined the Republicans to defund Planned Parenthood! Trevor, meanwhile, a former staffer for Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who has endorsed his campaign, was working tirelessly-- and successfully-- to end "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." He is a staunch defender of equality under the law for all Americans and, of course, for women's health issues and women's choice.

What does that have to do with Madonna?

Well, a lot actually-- and not just that they're both proud Michiganders with hearts of gold. When Madonna's record "Vogue" sold two million copies the RIAA certified it double platinum and Warner Brothers issued an award disc. Very few were made and, of course, this wasn't something that was ever sold to anyone-- for any amount. I was given one, and after I met Trevor and we talked about what he'd like to accomplish in Congress, I offered to use it to help raise money for his campaign. That resulted in this ActBlue page,, which went public yesterday. Every person who makes a contribution through that page for Trevor's campaign will be entered in a random drawing to win that double platinum award for "Vogue" as a "thank you" from Blue America. Everyone has the same shot, whether you contribute one dollar or 1,000 dollars-- or even if you just send us a note to PO Box 27201, Los Angeles, CA 90027.

Progressives almost never have the kind of money wealthy conservatives like Steve Pestka can use to try to buy congressional races-- let along the fortunes odious anti-democracy fanatics like the Koch brothers pour into politics. But progressives still manage to win House races, usually by motivating grassroots support. That's what Trevor is trying to do. He needs some money for that-- not a fortune but enough to be competitive. Please consider helping him, especially if you have anyone on your Christmas list who you think might enjoy the Madonna plaque. There's a picture of it on the ActBlue page. And in case you forgot:

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At 9:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said... This is a story that involves former congressman Kenny Hulshof and how an innocent man spent 20 years in prison as a result of Brady violations and exparte deals to get career points. Thanks for the article!


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