Don Kirshner, R.I.P.

Rock’n’roll impresario Don Kirshner, “the man with the golden ear”, but better known to members of my family as “Cousin Donny”, has died at 76. He was a fixture of American adolescence from the 50s through the 70s (when rock’n’roll was mostly about adolescence).

He achieved his remarkable success behind the scenes of the music industry: producer, promoter, music publisher, manager and even occasional songwriter. He started out at the famous Brill Building, working with the songwriting duos Mann & Weil and Goffin & King and with artists like Neil Sedaka, Bobby Darin and Neil Diamond (not to mention 70s anthem-rockers Kansas). But he was best known for his work with (and some would say control of) two of rock’s most famous fake bands, The Monkees and The Archies.

In the 1970s, he tentatively stepped in front of the microphone as the host of Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert, which brought live performances of everyone from KISS and the Allman Brothers to the New York Dolls and the Sex Pistols.

His deadpan delivery was (lovingly?) mocked by Paul Shaffer on Saturday Night Live, which is likely better remembered (and better syndicated) than the Rock Concert show itself. It was, probably not coincidentally, cancelled within a couple years of the launch of MTV (which, you may recall, used to play music videos).

My condolences to his wife and children, my slightly-more-distant cousins, who I hope will eventually be as heartened as I am by the many happy reminiscences that have started showing up at the New York Times obituary and elsewhere.

Update: I’m happy to see that David Segal’s 1994 article about Don Kirshner has appeared on longreads.com.