Saturday, 13 July 2019

The Boy From The Bronx


You can take the boy out of the Bronx but you can’t take the Bronx out of the boy. That thought struck me when I first met Elliot Rabinowitz back in 1992.

He was charming, intelligent, and hilarious but he had never lost his sense of the immigrant underdog going one on one with the system.

By then he was known as Elliot Roberts, one of the world’s most powerful talent managers.

Who had he not handled – Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Crosby, Still & Nash, The Cars, Devo, Tom Petty? And now he wished to manage Black 47.

He loved our songs, the explosive stage shows, and the political beliefs that led Time Magazine to pronounce, “Finally, Rock ‘n’ Roll that means something again.”

Elliot and I shook hands on a very simple and fair management deal – “no need for a contract,” he said.  “That way either of us can walk without putting our lawyers in a higher tax bracket.”

Within a month the scouts from every major record company were lined up outside Paddy Reilly’s, for in our proletariat zeal we insisted that they pay admission like every other punter.

We eventually signed with EMI. Rick Ocasek of the Cars and I produced Fire of Freedom, and the world and her mother seemed to be dancing to Funky Ceili or pumping their fist to James Connolly.

It all came back recently when I heard that Elliot passed away.

What a character, as tough as barbed wire and yet with a degree of sensitivity and understanding rare in a man!

He was a joy to hang out with, he rarely gave any direction, and yet he could be lacerating if he felt you weren’t living up to the band’s talent and potential.

I once tried to explain that we played loud because it enabled us to jam better. He dismissed such twaddle with the cursory, “People come to hear your songs for the stories. If they can’t hear the words they won’t come back.”

Being Irish and a musician I’ve often felt that if you ignore a problem for long enough it may go away.

Elliot knew better. “Who do I call and what’s the number?” was his standard response to any crisis. Whereupon he would suavely fix the issue or engage in a blistering phone rant regardless of where we were or who might be listening.

He loved musicians, probably because he understood just how rigged the music biz is. 

There are no pensions or 401(Ks) in this game. There’s no longer even a Bowery to plant your butt on if all else fails. That’s why he treasured all our dreams and fought like a lion for his artists.

Lately, I’d often thought of calling him to get his take on Spotify, Apple and all the other “dot commers” who have finally beggared musicians in a way that the most cutthroat suits up on 57th Street never managed to do.

It wouldn’t surprise me if this issue was on his mind in his final days, for despite his battling soul and native optimism Elliot took things personally.

Losing Bob Dylan as a client was a blow that weighed deeply on him during our business relationship.

It didn’t surprise me for Bobby could never play second fiddle to any other artist, and Neil Young was Elliot’s main man. The affection and loyalty between these two titans was legendary. 

They once gave me a beautiful turquoise Stratocaster that Fender had made for Mr. Young. 

“Neil has hundreds of guitars,” Elliot waxed eloquently, “You only have one. What’ll happen if you break a string on stage? 

Neil winked at me. He’d obviously heard the line before but he enjoyed his manager’s Bronx shtick.

When it was time to end our business agreement, Elliot was as good as his word. We shook hands, called it a day and remained friends.

The boy from The Bronx traveled many roads and lit up the lives of those he loved and represented. I continue to learn from his example.

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