MTV VJ and current KFOG San Francisco morning show host Matt Pinfield has long been called a human encyclopedia of music. Name any album, he knows a deep track. Name-check a band, he probably hung out with them, or, more likely, he and a member of said group are lifelong friends.
His is a career that began before he was even in elementary school, with his passion for music kicked off by the sounds of the British Invasion and mining the vinyl libraries of his older siblings. His show-and-tell projects at school involved sharing records and turning his classmates on to new bands. As a college DJ at Rutgers University and later at WHTG FM 106.3 in Eatontown, NJ, he found larger audiences to share his passionate love of music. When his daughter, Jessica, was born, he called in to WHTG to request that the on-air DJ play David Bowie’s “Kooks” — a song about the birth of Bowie’s son — to mark the occasion.
Pinfield tells that story — and many other tales — in his new book: All These Things That I’ve Done: My Insane, Improbable Rock Life. His decision to write a memoir, he said at a recent Q&A held at Word book store in Jersey City, NJ and moderated by Rolling Stone writer Rob Sheffield, came from the artists themselves.
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“Musicians were always telling me, ‘Man, you should write a book, but don’t talk about that time on the bus’,” he cracked. “I feel like you can tell great stories without trashing people. The love of music is truly the message.”
Pinfield has so many stories, they couldn’t all make the finished version, “There is a whole other book of stories,” he told Billboard later. “It’s one of those things where you can’t fit in everything, even at 272 pages! Hopefully if the book does well enough, someone will want me to write part two. But I am so humbled and grateful that people are responding to the theme of the love of music, and the role that music has in someone’s life.”
Seated on a small stage in the back of the book store, Pinfield talked about his early beginnings as a music fan, his ascent in the world of radio, his adventures as an MTV VJ and later as a record executive at Columbia Records and trusted voice on SiriusXM radio. Through it all, he never lost his excitement and passion about turning people on to new bands and records
That journey included trips to long gone stores like Two Guys and Korvettes to buy bundles of 45 records on vinyl. Pinfield was never satisfied just listening to the hit — he always flipped the record over to the B-side and made it a point to read everything on the labels and to absorb all the credits.
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That acquired knowledge is why bands often come to him — as guitarist Dean DeLeo did when he delivered the first Stone Temple Pilots album right to the front doorstep of WHTG, or a phone call from Bowie that came out of the blue.
Another neat feature of the book is Pinfield divides several decades into albums, listing his top 50 albums from the sixties to the present. “That was the hardest thing in the world,” he said. “I am very proud of the lists, but I am certain I left things out.”
?Fortunately, plenty of tasty tidbits remain, like one about the bathroom at Van Halen’s 5150 studio in Los Angeles. “You go into the bathroom and there is a quarter inch jack to plug in your guitar right under the toilet bowl,” he marveled. “So you can sit on the bowl and work on a riff and play your guitar on the toilet.”
Sheffield said that Pinfield’s personae — a “rock geek whisperer” — often puts artists at ease, mainly because he keeps the focus on music. “Someone like Eddie Van Halen, who’s famously skittish about being interviewed, the only time you ever saw him relax on camera for an interview was when he was talking to Matt,” Sheffield said. “Because Matt was cool if he just wanted to keep the conversation laser-focused on music. That’s how Matt’s mind works.”
“After that interview, he wanted me to hang around the studio with him,” Pinfield said.”There are some great and totally cool stories there.”
Pinfield said the secret to a good interview is to listen to what the artist is saying, then respond. “It’s better if it’s more of a conversation,” he said.
Asked if there was any musician he had not interviewed on his wish list, Pinfield answered Neil Young.
Pinfield’s book is not filled with gossip, however. It is a true story of a boy’s love of music that turned into a career and gave him access to all of his heroes — from The Jam’s Paul Weller to Joey Ramone, Bowie and Paul McCartney — brushes of greatness with Nirvana‘s Kurt Cobain and strong connections with the likes of The Killers (note the book’s title).
Or, as Pinfield puts it — quoting the Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime” — “Well, how did I get here?”