My Childhood Friend Won a Grammy on His First Try: Essay

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David Pescovitz, Lawrence Azerrad and Timothy Daly, winners of Best Boxed or Special Limited Edition Package for 'The Voyager Golden Record: 40th Anniversary Edition', pose backstage at the Premiere Ceremony during the 60th Annual Grammy Awards at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 28, 2018 in New York City.  

Contrary to what Morrissey has counseled, I love it when my friends become successful. Especially when they win Grammys on their very first try.

That's exactly what happened on Sunday night -- afternoon, actually -- when my oldest friend from childhood, David Pescovitz, stepped up at the Grammy Awards Premiere Ceremony to accept a golden gramophone for best boxed or special limited-edition package for The Voyager Golden Record: 40th Anniversary Edition, the elaborate project commemorating the legendary golden disc that went up on the Voyager space probe in 1977.

You probably haven't heard about that one because it wasn't up against Bruno Mars for any of the night's televised awards, but in our world, this was a huge deal. I've known David since we were in preschool, and to say that Sunday's Grammy victory was a kind of capstone to a lifetime of fasciation with both outer space and the outer limits of music is a huge understatement.

"We never even imagined a Grammy when we conceived of it," David told me a few hours after that golden glow began to subside, but just before he attended his first Grammys at Madison Square Garden in New York. The project took root nearly three years ago, when vinyl hound Pescovitz was making one of his frequent pilgrimages to the legendary Amoeba Music record shop in San Francisco to chat with his pal and the store's manager Tim Daly. Daly brought up the Voyager Record and they both agreed that it would be a dream project, but neither realized how much work was ahead of them at the time.

 

Coolest gift ever. Thanks @floatingupsidedown -- #voyager #nasa #voyagergoldenrecord

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Once things got further along and the project looked like it was definitely happening, the team, which also included renowned graphic designer Lawrence Azzerad, talked about submitting the package for Grammy consideration. Of course, by that point they'd launched one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns in history, raising in excess of $1.3 million to put together the first-ever commercial release of the infamous golden record sent into space in 1977 on the Voyager space probe containing some of Earth's greatest music, from Beethoven to Chuck Berry to Benin percussion, as well as sounds of birds, a baby's cry, a train whistle more than 100 images to give any extraterrestrial who found it a sense of who we are.

"I've never done a music project, but Lawrence has been working in that world for 25 years and Tim has been in music retail that long, so it was more in their wheelhouse," says Pescovitz, a managing partner of the technology and culture blog Boing Boing and a research director at the nonprofit Institute for the Future. "I came at it from the approach of how this lies at the intersection of science and art and how Voyager was able to instill a sense of wonder in the world and have people thinking about the future." 

But if you'd told him back two years ago when they started that at the end of the journey he'd be holding a Grammy? "Never in a million years... it's astounding," he said. And maybe that's how he felt. But not me. I saw it coming a light year away. When we were kids we'd spend weekends watching scratchy, copy-of-a-copy bootleg VHS tapes of Star Wars or E.T. while listening to his older brother's KISS albums and building rockets in the legit model rocket lab in his childhood home's attic.

Or we'd be in the basement in his late oldest brother Mark's equally legit chemistry lab, cooking up explosive potions while the sounds of "Rapper's Delight" wafted down from his brother Rick's boombox upstairs. Otherwise, we'd be at my house, staying up late to watch movies like Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains and Fantastic Planet on USA Nightflight, the basic cable late night series that played a bizarre assortment of music-related midnight flicks.

Science and music. Music and science. Our tastes started to diverge in high school: he went more Velvet Underground, Bauhaus and Siouxsie and the Banshees while I was a Ramones, Bob Marley, Duran Duran type. But that dual fascination never went away, as David made his way through college studying electronic media, contributing to the then-new Wired magazine and collecting every book he could find about outer (and inner) space and the most eclectic collection of oddball vinyl possible, the music and science connection continually converging. 

A few years ago he swore me to secrecy about his top secret project and I just went, "yup, that sounds about right for you." Little did he know that it would take all his journalism and music knowledge to clear what many had considered an unclear-able amount of copyrights to get the project done. That included  3 a.m. calls to Papua, New Guinea in an effort to track down anthropologists who might know the names of a singer who appeared on the album, and then get their information so they could get their proper royalties and album credit. "Some of this stuff was on reel-to-reel from the Alan Lomax archive or on rare acetate records and it had little or no information on it," David said.

But they figured it out, put together a truly amazing and beautiful package and as I mentioned, they got nominated for a Grammy. This is the bit where I get bitter that despite my quarter century writing about music (and contributing to liner notes on at least 3-4 collections that were in the Grammy mix), David would be the first one of us to actually attend the Grammy Awards in a non-reporter capacity. Nope.

But while David was getting ready to accept the award from one of his heroes, astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson, I was stuck at a matinee of The Post with my mom, who had been a kind of second mother to him when we were kids, schlepping us to see schlocky space movies like The Black Hole, The Last Starfighter and yes, Spaceballs, every weekend.

After checking the feed on my phone incessantly during the last half of the movie, I raced to my car just in time to see the award announced as I pulled into my driveway. David looked sharp up on stage, and I couldn't wait to hear what he had to say... and then their time ran out before he got a chance to talk. He didn't get to thank his lovely and talented wife Kelly Sparks, or the Academy, or anybody else.

You can imagine what my real burning question was. You know, ahem, anyone else? "I could tell you that you were interested in a lot of music that I had no idea about, that I learned about through you -- early punk and new wave for sure," he says, diplomatic as always. "We didn't have MTV and I would sleep at your house one night a weekend and we would watch MTV and Nightflight. That was influential, for sure."

So, in a way, we both won. I'm just letting him keep the Grammy at his house in the Bay Area. For now.

2018 Grammy Awards