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"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful dedicated citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has." — Margaret Mead
In contrast, the favored quote of Perloff's mentor's Bill Graham used to read:
"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil: for I am the meanest sonofabitch in the valley." — Unknown.
Graham's outlook was the product of his environment. According to his autobiography, he was born Wolfgang Grajonca in Poland in 1930. His father died when he was two days old. Nazis gassed his mother on her way to a concentration camp, and pneumonia killed his younger sister during an orphan exodus through four countries. Once Wolfgang has relocated to the United States, residents of the WWII-era Bronx beat the crap out of the Jewish, Russo-German exile and foster child. By the age of eleven, he was an island unto himself. To blend in, he ditched his accent and changed his name to Bill Graham. Kitchen work led to waiting tables, managing staff, and event planning. Following the Korean War, during which he was court-martialed twice for insubordination, but later earned the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and an honorable discharge, one of Graham's surviving sisters lured him to San Francisco.
There, Graham brought Broadway-quality production to the nascent '60s music scene. Bill Graham Productions soon became nearly as famous as the artists it worked with: Hendrix, the Dead, the Stones, and Led Zeppelin. In the '80s, Graham helped invent the charity megafestival (Womad and US), called Steve Jobs a punk, and reportedly had a gun held to his head by Sean Penn while onstage during a Madonna show. In 1991, he and his lover and pilot died in a helicopter collision with high-voltage power lines in bad weather. The explosion knocked out power to 23,000 homes, as well as the Huey Lewis and the News concert that Graham had just produced and lifted off from. He was 61. He probably feared no evil.
Perloff, Graham's eventual understudy, was born in 1950 and raised in Maryland attending classical recitals with his parents. Smokey Robinson and the Miracles and Peaches and Herb in a high school gym changed his life at age fourteen. So did moving to Southern California for high school. His first major production involved the Eagles and Linda Ronstadt as undergrad at UCLA. At grad school in Berkeley, the ace booker worked school events and packed the Greek. He got a master's degree in city planning, but his heart was in music.
When Perloff sold out the Greek for four nights of Boz Scaggs, the success didn't sit well with Graham, who dominated regional promoting in the '70s by charm and force. "Bill hired Gregg so he wouldn't have to compete with him," Wasserman said with a smile, sitting on the couch next to Perloff, her cargo pants contrasting with the gray streaks in her long black hair.
A Berkeley lifer, Wasserman was thrown into the box office of the Berkeley Community Theatre at age fifteen. "I never had the typical fan experience," she recalled. "My first memories were always of taking a break and standing at the back." She worked into the top echelons of BGP, alongside Perloff. "I didn't realize I was working in a bubble."
But after Graham died the bubble burst, and a wave of consolidation changed music forever. Bankers sewed up live music just like they had with commercial radio. In 1995, Perloff and fourteen others bought BGP from Graham's estate for $25 million. Two years later, the group sold BGP to Canadian company SFX for $67 million, remaining as employees without knowing the company's plans. Giant Clear Channel Communications then acquired SFX for $3 billion, which it would later spin off as Live Nation in 2005. Inside the new empire, Perloff and Wasserman concluded they were out of place.
"With Clear Channel, any type of talking back was seen as dissent," Wasserman said. "You could convince Bill. He'd say, 'Oh yeah, prove it.' It gave you a backbone, it inspired a passion and a mania. Clear Channel saw it as insubordination. I hadn't been treated like that since kindergarten, not even in kindergarten."
In July of 2003, after a two-week vacation, Perloff resigned from Clear Channel and Wasserman followed, along with production chief Mary Conde and a few others. Clear Channel was provoking similar responses all over the country, recalled producer Rick Farman of the New Orleans-based event promotion company Superfly Productions, a key producer of Bonnaroo and Another Planet's partner in Outside Lands. "A lot of those buyouts put the best and brightest on the golf course," Farman said.
But Perloff and crew persisted. They organized their first independent show from Wasserman's kitchen. "It was like we were kids, 'Hey, let's all put on a show,'" Conde said. "Except it was Bruce Springsteen for 40,000 people at Pac Bell Park."
When Another Planet formed in 2003, Clear Channel filed a lawsuit alleging that Perloff had planned the Springsteen show while employed at Clear Channel. The suit was eventually dismissed. Still, it was as if the Empire had its Rebel Alliance, although Perloff dismisses that type of metaphor.
"We don't compete that way," he said. "It's really funny, I don't think about that. One of the things that is different is we're not trying to conquer the world. Most companies want to conquer the world. It doesn't matter if you are a Google, or you're Clear Channel, or you're Microsoft, or whoever you are. We're just trying to do a quality job at what we do. Lifestyle is very important. We're really focusing on what we're going to do for lunch Wednesday."
Another Planet would be a special company for a region with special needs. It would exploit ground-level intelligence of one of the world's most complex promoting environments to begin executing its strategy. "Part of that," Perloff recalled, "was getting a club, a theater, and a festival."
On a recent Thursday night, the marquee outside the Independent read "Sold Out." A lot began for Another Planet at the Independent, the venerable San Francisco club once known as the Justice League. For the last four and half years, the Independent has been the company's research lab, where it takes any performers it thinks can draw five hundred fans and strives to, as Allen Scott put it, "give them the best possible performing environment at that level."
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