Monday, December 29, 2008

Jamie Kitman and Me

I don’t remember exactly when it was, but many years ago a friend called me and asked if I had gotten the latest issue of Automobile magazine. I had, but I hadn’t gotten around to reading it yet.

“Read the column by Jamie Kitman, it could have been written by you”, he said. The article, I don’t remember the complete text, mentioned Kitman losing a wheel and tire off his Opel somewhere in NYC and having to buy it back from a wino.

That’s a coincidence, I thought, I once lost the new (expensive) rear muffler off my Opel GT while cutting through Harlem one night and had to buy it back from a junkie for $5.00. To make matters worse, I was only in Harlem because the company I was working for, Jimmy’s Music World, was going out of business. Me and a guy we called “Fish” were assigned the task of going to the stores, taking the keys from the managers and securing the store. I had been doing that one day when I was told to stop by Jimmy’s Manhattan office on my way home and drop off some paperwork. I decided to cut through Harlem. $5.00 to a guy (me) who would soon be unemployed was a ton of money.

Kitman’s articles soon became the first thing I read. The more I read, the more I realized this guy really was a lot like me. We both shared a fascination with old British cars. We both bought Alfa Romeos and Peugeots just prior to those companies packing it up in the US. We were both involved in the music industry, he manages the band They Might Be Giants, I own a record store. We were both from the NY area. He wrote like my friends and I talked. Kitman became my favorite automotive writer.

In the late 1990s I took a 3 year “leave of absence” from my record store to become the Program Director of a commercial radio station.

Radio is still an ugly business. The days of direct payola may be over, but getting “favors” from record companies never ended. As Program Director I had the power to get "favors" from a record company in exchange for “adding” (playing) their record. I rarely used that power.

In 1998 or 1999 (I don’t remember) They Might Be Giants released a new CD. One of the songs was being pushed to my station. I listened to the song, felt that it fit the station and decided to add it. Before adding it though, I remembered that Kitman was TMBGs manager, and that I had a little “power” as Program Director…

When the record label rep called me and asked me about adding the record I said I would, but ONLY if she got Jamie Kitman to call me. She asked me why. I said because he was my automotive idol. She thought I was nuts.

Nuts or not, I was the Program Director and if she wanted me to add the song she was going to do what I asked. I knew that. She knew that.

About an hour later the receptionist buzzed my office. “Dave, there’s a Jamie Kitman on the phone for you.”
I picked up the phone. “Hi, Dave, Jamie Kitman here.” I was silent. I may have mumbled “hello”, but it probably came out as something sounding Eastern European. “Uh, Dave, you wanted to talk to me?”. More pseudo Eastern European dialect came from my mouth.

In my line of work I have spoken to and hung out with many, many “rock stars”. I’m comfortable with that. I’m never in awe. I’ve had to MC shows and have been on stage in front of thousands of people. I was never intimidated by that. Every afternoon from 3PM to 7PM I was on the radio with god-only-knows-how-many-people listening to what I said. I was never scared. But with Jamie Kitman on the phone I was scared. I was intimidated. I was in awe.

I finally got it together somewhat and told him about our parallel lives (he was probably getting scared at that point). We talked about BMWs (I had just bought mine), Hondas (my then significant other had a CRX Si – He liked them), British cars, Alfas (I had 2 at that point), and French cars. We talked for 10 minutes or so. I told him how much I admired his work. He was probably wondering how a guy who couldn’t form a coherent sentence got a job in radio.

Around that same time I had hung out with Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne and James Taylor after a Tanglewood (MA) show. I’m not sure I mentioned that to anyone, but for months I told anyone who would listen about how I got to talk to Jamie Kitman. My friends, too, now thought I was nuts.

I left the radio station in 2000 and went back to running my store full time. I never spoke with Kitman again, and, honestly, stopped reading Automobile on a regular basis after David E. Davis retired. The magazine changed.(I did get to read Kitman’s stuff in a British car magazine that I would buy from time to time)

I recently wrote a post about a 1980 Rover 3500 (SD1 to most of the world) for sale on eBay. In the post I mentioned how I had owned one for a few years. There were not many SD1s imported to the US, so it’s a rarity and something, if you want one, you have to look for.

This blog is new and I’ve been curious as to whether it turns up on search engine sites.
After writing that post I googled “Rover 3500 on eBay”. My blog came up, but so did an article by Jamie Kitman. Kitman had bought an SD1. Our parallel lives continued.

This spring I’m thinking about buying another car. I’m not going to publish what car I’m thinking about. I want to see if Jamie Kitman buys one, too.

Click here to read Kitman’s Rover article. It’s classic Jamie Kitman. You'll understand why I think he is the absolute best at what he does.

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