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Saturday Night at the Movies by Dennis Hartley review archive

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Hullabaloo


Sunday, August 29, 2010

 
Do you know about Howie?

by digby


I was doing some googling earlier and realized that some of my readers might not know the story of my good pal Howie Klein, Blue America partner in activism, scourge of Blue Dogs everywhere. You all undoubtedly know him as the author of Down With Tyranny.

But for anyone who's even mildly familiar with the music industry, he's a legend. This short article written upon his departure from Warner Brothers a few years ago will fill you in:

A Champion Of Punk Rides Off Into The Sunset

Neumu's Michael Goldberg writes: He was the champion of punk rock, back in '76 when no one quite knew what to make of it. He helped The Ramones and Blondie play a San Francisco club, showed The Clash and the Sex Pistols around when they hit town, introduced Romeo Void, Translator and Wire Train to the world and brought Lou Reed to the White House. For the past six years he's been president of Reprise Records, the AOL Time Warner label with such credible artists as Neil Young, Depeche Mode, Nick Cave, Green Day, Chris Isaak and Wilco. Next Friday is his last day at Reprise. His name is Howie Klein, and for the music business, his departure is not a good thing. As far as I know Howie, who will be a "consultant" to the Warner Music Group, has no plans to run another label.

My sense though I could be wrong is that he's had his fill of the music business. Howie is a friend of mine. We first met in 1975, as I recall, when he was working as a publicist, promoting an experimental album by former Monkee Mike Nesmith. We became friends then, and 26 years later we're still friends. To see Howie now, you might not realize that he's the guy who played singles by Crime and The Nuns on the punk radio show "The Outcaste Hour," which he once hosted on San Francisco radio station KSAN (back in the day when KSAN was a pretty good "progressive" rock station). When KSAN went country, Howie headed for college radio; at KUSF he continued to play punk singles. In 1978 he co-founded 415 Records, ran it out of his 16th Street apartment (the one my wife and I passed on to him when we moved), and managed against all odds to score a hit with Romeo Void's "Never Say Never." He was an unmistakable figure on the San Francisco scene in the late '70s with his shaved head, shades and black leather jacket. You'd find him hanging at the Mabuhay Gardens, talking it up with Sally Mutant or Avengers singer Penelope Houston (who he signed to a Reprise contract as a solo artist two decades later).

Based on the success of Romeo Void, Columbia Records did a deal with 415, and suddenly Romeo Void, Translator, the Red Rockers and Wire Train had a real shot at success. That's when Howie got his first taste of working with the corporate music business. If working the business is an art, Howie is a master artist, because even though none of the 415 acts broke through in a big way, by the time the Columbia/415 deal had run its course, Howie was seen as one of the key rising young record guys. He soon had a new job as General Manager at the very cool Sire Records, the label that had signed Talking Heads, The Ramones, Depeche Mode, Echo and the Bunnymen, the Dead Boys, the Flamin' Groovies and others. At one point Howie and I, plus Neumu's Cinematronic editor Michael Snyder, collaborated on a Flamin' Groovies compilation CD, Groovies Greatest Grooves, which remains (in my very biased opinion) the single best representation of the Groovies' genius. Howie was one of the few people in the established music business who recognized the importance of the Internet, and he was unequivocally supportive when I came to him in 1994 and told him about a new thing I was going to start, an online magazine called Addicted To Noise. He immediately said he'd advertise, and proceeded to run an ad in ATN every month for the next two years until I sold the company.

One time when Neil Young was playing this bar just north of Half Moon Bay called the Old Princeton Landing, Howie flew up from L.A. and brought me along. There's nothing quite like seeing Neil Young and Crazy Horse rock a bar that holds maybe 100 people. I know it was particularly meaningful for Howie having Lou Reed on Reprise; Howie was a Velvet Underground fan going back to the '60s, when the Velvets' first albums were released. Howie was also a journalist for a time, in the mid-'70s, and he remains an excellent writer. In fact, he wrote a record review column for me in the early '80s, when I was managing editor of a city magazine called Boulevards.

When Joey Ramone died earlier this year, Howie sent out an email to express his grief, but also because he didn't want anyone to forget the import of The Ramones. This is what Howie wrote, and I think it says a lot about him, and the faith in the power of music that he's maintained through all his years in the business: "I can't overemphasize the importance of Joey Ramone in the history of rock 'n' roll. He was, in the truest sense of the term, a genuine revolutionary. By the time The Ramones stormed the music scene, the fun and meaning had been wrung out of rock 'n' roll. The excitement and courageousness of teenage angst and rebellion had given way to 'professionalism' and to a quantifiably controllable corporate assembly line. To pick up a guitar in front of an audience you had to try to be as good as Jeff Beck; you had to have been an 'expert' and a veteran virtuoso. Or you needed to cede all creativity to a proven producer. The idealism [and] excitement of FM Radio had already turned into complete shit all it had come into existence to defeat. And suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, The Ramones were causing a tremendously noisy stir on the NYC Bowery. Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and Tommy made it OK for fun-loving fans to get onstage again. Rock 'n' roll was being re-born again. And everywhere The Ramones went they were like the Johnny Appleseeds of the punk rock movement In the wake of a Ramones tour bands would pop everywhere. In many ways they were as important to Popular Music as Elvis, the Beatles and the Stones. That important."

During those years Howie was spinning discs at KSAN, my blog contributor Dennis Hartley and I were hanging out in Dennis' apartment at 9th and Irving, listening avidly, and spending every spare nickel watching bands in the those same clubs. Not that I knew Howie. But I knew of him and we may have rubbed shoulders (or slammed into each other, more likely.) He changed music then and now he's changing politics. Some people just have the shining.


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