In 1982, music business mogul Seymour Stein — the co-founder of Sire Records — was at Lenox Hill Hospital on the Upper East Side, recuperating from a heart operation, when he listened to a demo by a new downtown artist named Madonna.
As Stein recounts in his new book “Siren Song” (St. Martin’s Press), out now, he liked her song “Everybody” so much, he requested to meet her. But Madonna had no time to wait for him to recover from surgery; she wanted to meet that very day.
“I had to have my barber come in and get [me] washed up, because I’d been laying in bed for days,” Stein told The Post.
When Madonna arrived, she had no time for small talk or sympathy. She simply insisted that Stein sign her to Sire and, as Stein recalls in the book, added that he should “give me the money.”
But Stein, who will be signing copies of his book at Rough Trade Records in Brooklyn on Monday, was not complaining. “It showed me she was anxious and hungry. I liked that,” said the now 76-year-old. “She had already been out there for almost two years trying to get a deal. Madonna was all business, and she wouldn’t take any s–t.”
That attitude, coupled with her array of hit singles, meant that the singer became a pop icon and one of the biggest-selling female artists of all time. To this day, she remains the jewel in Sire’s storied roster of artists, which also includes the Ramones, Talking Heads, the Cure, Depeche Mode and countless more.
But as the book explains, Stein hasn’t spent all of his life socializing with the music elite. His personal life has been affected by heavy drug use, struggles with his sexuality, the death of his daughter Samantha and the brutal murder of his ex-wife, Linda Stein.
Born Seymour Steinbigle in 1942, he grew up in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, and developed a fascination with early R&B music. An internship at Billboard magazine led to him landing an A&R role at King Records, where label boss Syd Nathan recognized that Stein had “shellac in his veins.”
Stein set up Sire with his business partner Richard Gottehrer in 1966 (Gottehrer left the company during the 1970s). Initially, they developed a reputation for releasing British and European rock acts, such as Climax Blues Band and Focus, in the US. But Sire’s first major impact came with the Ramones, who were signed in 1975, with Stein’s then-wife, Linda, acting as co-manager.
The band’s uniform look (tight T-shirts, leather jackets and ripped jeans) presented them as a tightknit gang, but Stein recognized the Ramones as a hardworking but often-dysfunctional group. Singer Joey Ramone and guitarist Johnny Ramone rarely spoke.
“Johnny stole Joey’s girlfriend and married her,” said Stein.
On one particularly strange occasion, bassist Dee Dee Ramone arrived at Stein’s Manhattan apartment unannounced and proceeded to strip naked. “His eyes and body position said it all: Take me whatever way you want. I’m your bitch,” he recalls in the book.
“I was horrified,” Stein said. “I don’t think he was trying to seduce me for any reason other than to get closer to me … I think he felt that this might be a great sacrifice on behalf of the band.”
In the end, Stein faked a phone call from his wife and pretended she was on her way back to the apartment, then rushed Dee Dee out to the street.
Stein had slept with several men before marrying Linda in 1971. He had confessed this prior to exchanging vows, but Stein’s desire to have a family, coupled with Linda’s desire to be in the music business meant that they married anyway. During their tumultuous union, the pair had two daughters, Mandy and Samantha, before separating amicably at the end of the ’70s.
But tragedy struck when Linda was brutally murdered by her assistant, Natavia Lowery, in 2007. Lowery had stolen around $30,000 from her boss and when the often short-tempered Linda confronted her, Lowery bludgeoned her with a yoga stick several times. (Lowery was convicted of second-degree murder and is serving a 32-year sentence.)
When Stein’s daughter Samantha, then 40 years old, died of brain cancer in 2013, “That was much, much more painful,” he said. “I wouldn’t say I have [the grief] under control — I certainly don’t — but the fact that she had a daughter [Dora, named for Stein’s mother] and I get to see her helps. At least she left something behind, something I can cherish.”
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