Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Sandy Pearlman, Who Pretty Much Invented Me, Died This Morning


I'm bad at remembering dates things happened. I remember my birthday; not much else. But other things besides numbers-- markers-- remind me when significant events happened. So many of them in my life have it do with Sandy Pearlman. I met Sandy at freshman orientation at Stony Brook in 1965... wow, 5 decades ago, my first day at school. Neither Sandy nor I ever imagined we'd live for 5 more decades after our time at Stony Brook. He wasn't a freshman that day. He was a senior-- a senior-plus. He was spending an extra year at Stony Brook because he had been elected moderator, head of the student government, in the spring. There must have been some other reason, like not having finished something he needed to do to go on to the next step... graduate school at Brandeis, something to do with his Woodrow Wilson Fellowship, something to do with the band he was working with as songwriter, manager, producer, inspirer, the Blue Öyster Cult. I'm getting ahead of myself.

This morning when I got up at 4, I found an e-mail from Robert and Roni Duncan, our old friends. They've been watching over him this year. "His suffering is over. He passed peacefully, surrounded by love, with Mars peeking in the window, at 12:30 am, July 26, 2016, in Marin County, California." If it wouldn't have been today it would have been tomorrow or the next day. Sandy was dying. When I looked back at the posts he had done for DWT, I found one, basically a lecture he did at McGill-- where we were both teaching music classes for a time, he more seriously and consistently than I-- about frisson, "What Makes Music Thrilling?" As an intro, I wrote that Sandy has been one of my closest friends since 1965. He introduced me to music. Probably best known as the producer (and writer) for Blue Öyster Cult, he also produced albums for The Clash, The Dictators, Pavlov's Dog, Dream Syndicate and many other artists. He also introduced me to politics-- music and politics... a pretty big chunk of my life. And more than that; he inspired me to dream and think outside myself; that's a big deal. He asked me to embed Holst's "Mars, the Bringer of War" from The Planets to illustrate the piece.

I was a cook once, in Amsterdam's meditation center, the Kosmos, for a few years. I arranged a photo album in a macrobiotic cookbook, pasting the pictures from my life over the recipes, each chapter representing another astrological house. I put pictures of Sandy in the 9th House, Sagittarius, meant to represent the superconscious mind-- understanding, expansion of horizons-- in other words, spiritual philosophies and visions, intuition, inspiration, long journeys... a different place for pictures than, say, a chapter about friends or lovers or personality. I always thought of it as my guru chapter-- my teachers. There are a bunch of Sandy snapshots pasted over recipes for Ter-Yaki and some French dishes.

Sandy-- anytime between the late '60s and now

Sandy, if I recall, was a philosophy major-- maybe sociology and philosophy. He would have been 73 had he lasted another couple of weeks. But last year he had a stroke, hit his head hard on the pavement when he fell and was in a coma for a very long time. At one point he came out of it and I thought he was going to recover. He wasn't; it was just something I told myself to make it lesser horrible.

About 7 years ago Sandy did a couple of posts for DWT, one on his old and dear friend Patti Smith, who he introduced me to when she was a poet living above a shoe store on 14th Street in Manhattan with a photographer named Robert Mapplethorpe. It seemed pretty bohemian. I was visiting from Amsterdam and he wanted me to meet her and to see her perform in a church basement. I told him it was one of the most thrilling performances I had ever seen but that it could never be captured on vinyl. Years later, the first week I was hired as general manager of Sire Records, I managed to find the masters of "Piss Factory" and "Hey Joe," which my boss, Seymour Stein, had financed in 1974, and released them, for the first time, on a CD. I felt I was making a contribution to culture that day.

The other post he did for us that year was an obit for Ellie Greenwich, one of his idols. In a writing class somewhere along the way, a professor of mine taught the class that when you're writing about an artist, the hardest-- and most important-- thing would be to convey the art itself. The 3 links about Ellie, Patti and frisson posted above make that part easy. Please read them for a better idea about Sandy. He was always a much better writer than I ever was.

He wrote Imaginos, a collection of poems, which would become Blue Oyster Cult songs, while we were still at Stony Brook. Up top is "Astronomy" from that collection, produced many years later by Sandy, himself... his dream come true on some levels. Maybe you can get a sense from it how he helped open a new world for me, an unformed teenager from Brooklyn searching for... an idea of who I was. I went up to him on that first day of freshman orientation-- the first guy I had ever spoken with who was an authority figure of around my own age and the first guy who I had ever spoken to who had long hair. He told me about the Rolling Stones and asked me to run for freshman class president. I was hoping to score some pot from him; he had never tried it. Later that year I was walking around in Greenwich Village with a joint in my pocket that I had just bought. It started raining and I was getting wet. I heard a tinny little beep beep and looked up and it was Sandy in his little green Sunbeam. Like me, he often found his way from Long Island to the Village. I jumped in and lit up my joint. He didn't want any, but at least I didn't have to take the Long Island Railroad back to Stony Brook. We drove that route in his Sunbeam countless times, usually to hear music or see a film. He's tell me about extraterrestrials long after midnight on the Long Island Expressway.

What did I discover with Sandy? The Velvet Underground and Andy Warhol. The Jefferson Airplane. The Grateful Dead. The Doors. The Byrds. I had my first acid trip with him, Bill Graham, Paul Kantner and Marty Balin. Sandy didn't take any acid; he was driving. And I think he thought drugs would fuck him up profoundly. Later he introduced me to The Clash and I introduced him to U2. I don't know what to make of his passing. I'm glad he isn't suffering any more-- stuck inside a body wracked with pain, partially unable to move, unable to communicate for the most part, trapped. I need to think about it today.

Christopher Walken played the Sandy-based character on one of Saturday Night Live's most iconic skits once. Sandy, always the philosopher, took it in good stride and always laughed about it. My friend is dead.

UPDATE: From Our Friends Helen Klein and Michael Bart

Through Howie, I met Sandy early in my freshman year at Stony Brook, in the fall of 1967. He was the hippest, coolest, most brilliant guy, immersed in rock ’n roll, and I was in awe of him. At college concerts, and there were many, there was Sandy, standing off to the side, dressed in black and wearing a hat and sunglasses, bopping his head to the beat. Lucky for me, he considered me a friend and opened up my world. He knew what was in the forefront of culture and I went along for the ride. Sandy took me to the first Star Wars movie when it opened at the Ziegfeld, my first Bruce Springsteen concert at the Palladium and so many other events. He even brought me along to hang out with Joe Strummer of The Clash. I listened to the Blue Oyster Cult, aka the Soft White Underbelly, in college lounges and went to a Texas barbecue with the Dictators when they played there. Being in his company and listening to him speak was amazing. He was the most interesting person I ever had the pleasure to meet. I had not seen him often in recent years, but I cherish our interaction. I spent time with him in Austin at South by Southwest, and he surprised everyone by showing up at a Stony Brook gathering at a friend’s house in Napa, regaling everyone with his wit. He came to my house for decade-celebrating birthday parties. His discussion with my physicist friend was so high level it was incomprehensible to me. Our last communication was in the fall. I love you Sandy and I will miss you terribly. Your were a great influence on my life and a wonderful friend.


Sandy with Mick and Joe of the Clash in NYC, 1978

Until I met Sandy Pearlman I thought that I was the only motor-head who appreciated the psychedelic music coming out of San Francisco. Then I read his Crawdaddy article about the the Byrds with the cryptic title, "Beyond Andy Granatelli." I immediately made the connection between race-car builder Granatelli, his development of STP engine additive, and Sandy's sly reference to the drug by the same name.

I was pretty certain that only a small handful of people on the planet would've connected those dots. It was that sort of elliptical thinking and broadly-informed creativity that attracted me to Sandy.

My first LSD experience took place on the Stony Brook campus during the summer of '68. I don’t remember where or how, but I ended up in a room that was filled with BOC equipment. Sandy appeared at one point, dressed all in black leather. In my delirium, I was convinced that he was the devil, but I made it out of there with my soul intact.

About eight years later, the devil surprised me with an act of kindness. I was at a particularly low point in my life, and Sandy let me crash at his Setauket digs while Joan was vacationing in Europe. After all, someone had to walk the dogs-- Angelina and Elflandria-- and take the Porsche in for servicing.

Sandy put me to work fulfilling mail order requests for BOC lyrics and merchandise. After much wheedling on my part, he took me to the NYC studio where he was in the process of mixing one of the Cult's albums. I had the opportunity to watch him earn his "more cowbell" reputation as he put the individual musicians-- Donald in particular-- through endless takes.

It was a real eye opening lesson in how the "sausages" of rock and roll are actually made. On another occasion he let me tag along to a Grateful Dead mixing session. Garcia and Lesh were working on “Anthem of the Sun.” Jerry ordered Sandy and me to lie flat on the floor so as not to disrupt the sound pumping out of two speakers-- each the size of a large refrigerator. It was a weird and wonderful experience, and something that you took for granted if you hung out with Sandy for any length of time.

In spite of our proximity, Sandy always maintained an aloofness, and I gladly accepted my place as a young "hanger on." He was brilliant, and I was struggling to keep up with his restless imagination.

Then, as the years rolled by, Sandy mellowed, and our infrequent interactions became more personal. We met up at South by Southwest a few years back and again at an impromptu Stony Brook reunion in Napa. On both occasions, I encountered a much mellower and more welcoming Sandy.

And that's how I will remember him-- for his wit, his brilliance, his creativity and his generosity.




At 11:50 AM, Blogger MikeAdamson said...

Give em enough Rope has always been my favourite Clash album. Sorry for your loss.

At 6:36 PM, Blogger ohnooooo! said...

Thanks Howie. Thanks for sharing your stories about Sandy.
I loved him and I will miss him.

At 8:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wonderful memories of a true visionary. Great job.

-Nazz Nomad


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