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In Praise of David Stein, Big Takeover Co-founder

26 December 2005

Since our new issue 57 is our special 25th Anniversary Issue, I dedicated it both to the people who have made this web site revamp happen (bravo, gentlemen!) and also to the folks whose early encouragement and help inspired the magazine’s founding and helped it survive its embryonic early ‘80s years—in particular our co-founder DAVID STEIN.

Ah, the mysterious David Stein, often mentioned in our magazine, seemingly for one fleeting act 25 years ago! Yet everyone should have a David Stein in his or her life growing up. Let me explain.

True, he only lasted one issue, the first issue (of which he wrote half), and drew up the chicken scratch that was our logo from 1980-1981, issues 1-7 (see the pictures of all our old issues on pages 64-66 of the new issue!)—before another person mentioned in the dedication, SUMISHTA BRAHM, kindly designed her distinctive, ever-changing logos for 10 years (issues 10-29). But hey, it was Dave’s idea in the first place to start the thing (I was just going to help him!), and there’s no getting around that. And what is more powerful than an idea, when combined with action to make it a reality?

Indeed there are times when I amuse myself wondering what I would have spent my life doing instead this last quarter-century, had he not had that one innocent little brainstorm just before final exams our high school senior year. Would I have still become a music writer, let alone a small-magazine editor/publisher, for good or for bad? Probably not! I never took any courses for that purpose. I never entertained the ambition. If it’s difficult for me to imagine what I’d be doing exactly—probably a history teacher, though it would be hell dealing with all the frustrations that come with that underpaid and underappreciated profession—since I like my life, I owe him a lot. It just goes to show, men/women of action often set in motion things no one carefully plans or dreams. And again, being active and involved instead of passive and lazy can bring unseen intrinsic, organic, and spiritual rewards as well!

But beyond that one thing, I can’t think of a single important event in my life’s formative years that didn’t involve Dave in some way. The quiet little shove he gave me, by lending DAVID BOWIE’s greatest hits ChangesOneBowie to my reluctant and skeptical self when I was 15, turned out to be the biggest, most memorable spark that ignited the tinderbox of my as-a-result wild youth, and thereby responsible for my interesting and creative music life since.

When I think of him, as I often do, I just as often think of him and I together, just doing things that dripped in meaning at the time: Two nine-year-olds going ‘uptown’ in our small suburban enclave Summit, New Jersey to get an ice cream cone, as if that made us the BUTCH CASSIDY and the SUNDANCE KID of the third grade; the myriad pretty girls he graciously insisted on introducing me to as junior high school hit, when I could barely look one in the eye, let alone introduce myself; going to Yankees and Rangers games in the REGGIE JACKSON/BILLY MARTIN and PHIL ESPOSITO/STEVE VICKERS days and starting a street hockey team in the Y-league. (In his back yard and mine, and down at the local playing fields, courses, gyms, driveways, and courts, I now count 17 different sports we played with and against other, alone or with whomever else we could call!). And from 1977-1981, there were those crucial four solid years listening to every punk rock/underground/avant garde record we could find in our endless forays to every store that sold them; seeing every band that made those records in New York; buying $3 clothing on St. Marks place and egging each other on in outlandish dress; meeting every punk sighted in Manhattan; and inevitably starting our band, EVEN WORSE (he wrote a lot of the songs before he left). The magazine came after all this. Its paltry founding was just an innocent culmination, just another meager tributary, of so much we’d experienced together. God it was fun!!!!

You hear from time to time old punks say, “I was the only punk rocker in my school.” If that was true of me too, it’s only because I transferred to private school in 1977. So if I actually enjoyed being an outcast for three years from 8:15AM—3PM Monday through Friday, it was easy for me because I had Dave—and three or four of Dave’s friends who instantly became mine as well—to go home to every day when the formal education part of my day ended and my real education began—around the time Dave and I would pull into the basement of GEOFF HUTCHINSON’s house.

(As I have sometimes noted, Geoff, Geoff’s brother DAVE HUTCHINSON, JANET WHITEHOUSE, myself, and occasional others made up our original “Summit Contingent” of sorts. We soon added two later Even Worse members, ERIC KEIL and BOBBY WEEKS, and a over time converted a few more from Summit High who saw the same worth in this new upstart music scene, mostly a secret to the classic rock and AM pop world at large. If Dave was my movie’s leading man, these folks were the best supporting actors, making my high school years so outrageously exciting. Just sitting here typing and thinking about it I feel a rush, as if we’re about to all head down to the train station, or drive into the city to the Max’s Kansas City club, maybe to see a JOHNNY THUNDERS’ HEARTBREAKERS show, and all the garden of earthly delights of big bad crime-ridden New York. Kudos to all these people for the massive boost, and booster shot, such shared experiences gave me.) (For more on Eric and Bobby, see Even Worse)

In short, the effect on my life Dave had from age five, when I met him, to 22 was so profound, I can’t really soft-sell it. We’ve remained friends since, though our lives have been very different. I see him the few times I go to Phoenix, where he lives and just had his first kid, a boy named Jack (a good name, that!). He looks me up when he heads east, just as infrequently. The affection I have for this man (and our other Summit cohorts) is like an eternal flame.

Too often I write these things about people I know when they die. Dave, hail to you as you are still alive, and thank you again for starting Big Takeover and starting me as well! May your son (and I) know you as an old man!

And happy holidays to everyone. Maybe the best spirit of the season is to be grateful for your true friends, old and new!


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