“Go over there,” Seymour Stein pointed, “Good kung pao chicken. Good kung pao.”
We were standing on some side street in Beijing outside a boutique hotel the name of which I can’t remember. I needed to eat. Badly. “Ask for the kung pao. You won’t be sorry.”
Seymour–the founder of Sire Records—and I had just spent the last couple of days at a music industry retreat in Badaling. “After you’re done, come find me. I’m going to see a couple of local punk bands at a club called D-22. Meet me in the lobby. D-22, that’s the place.”
And so it came to pass that I went clubbing with the man who signed the Ramones, the Talking Heads, Madonna and tons more. At the venue, he sat on a stool to the side of the stage with his eyes closed for a solid 3 hours, listening to band after band without saying a thing.
In the cab back to the hotel at around 3 the following morning, Seymour talked about China. “It’s untapped. Untapped,” he said. “It’s just a matter of time before a big worldwide rock act comes out of this country. A matter of time.”
I’ve since run into Seymour year after year. Bejing. CMW. Singapore. I’ve also had a chance to interview him many times. The last time we ran into each other, he promised that he would eventually finish his memoir, which, knowing Seymour, will be filled with stories.
The LA Times had a chance to sit down with him.
It was, of course, that flair for managing an image — for understanding, and controlling, how things look and sound — that made Stein one of the defining record men of our time, a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee who established his reputation by consistently selling listeners on the next idea of cool.
The Ramones, Soft Cell, Everything But the Girl, Ice-T — in the case of each of these diverse Sire acts, Stein knew what people wanted before they knew for themselves.
“Seymour goes with his gut,” said Clive Davis, a fellow music macher who’s known (and competed with) Stein since the late 1960s. “And he’s always been right there, sniffing out who’ll be stars in the many years to come.”
Mandy Stein, a filmmaker who directed a 2009 movie about the New York punk club CBGB (where Stein first saw Talking Heads), is working on a documentary about her father. And Stein himself has almost completed a memoir due to be published next year.
“I’ve had a great life, and I’m still here — I’m still going,” he said, his arms folded across his barrel chest. “There have been a few strange incidents that happened. Nothing terrible.”