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Who is Michael Salkind and why is he hunting down rock stars?

The gentleman stalker


Sometimes I wonder about my friend Michael. It’s not so much his ability to juggle identities: Colorado Springs criminal defense attorney, husband and father, drummer in the alt-rock duo Wild Hares, whose originals include “Grandma Used to Sleep with Chuck Berry” and “Rock and Roll Will Never Die (But We Will).”

Nor is it the fact that, at the age of 55, the former KRCC deejay is still a hardcore music junkie, one who attends anywhere from two to four shows a week, regularly driving his black Acura MDX with the “OLD 97S” license plates up to Denver to catch sets by the likes of indie-rock upstarts Twin Peaks and septuagenarian avant-funk icon James Blood Ulmer.

No, it’s what he actually DOES at those shows that’s cause for my concern. It’s the stalking, the obsessive hunt for autographs and pictures with musicians.

“I absolutely abhor people who are like me,” he says over lunch at Jack Quinn’s, a short walk from the courthouse where he plies his trade. “I don’t want to meet another me, just like I wouldn’t want to be married to me. I’m glad I’m married to somebody who’s not me.”

When you enter the small, unassuming house on South Nevada Avenue that’s home to the law office of Michael Salkind, you initially get the impression of a reasonably normal, if slightly disheveled, one-person operation. There’s the serviceable old desk in front of you, a desktop computer from an earlier age covered with sticky notes, and the sun-bleached waiting room chairs to the left. Diplomas line the walls.

The deeper you go, however, the darker it gets. It’s strangely hypnotic, like slowly entering another dimension. Climb the LP-lined staircase to the second floor, and you arrive at a labyrinthine maze of densely packed, floor-to-ceiling record shelves — a jungle-like hoarder-level collection of vinyl. You would never imagine this massive music cave is, in fact, somewhat alphabetized.

Nor would you imagine that this is just a small sample of the many thousands of albums, singles and EPs that have been autographed — sometimes reluctantly — by the touring musicians he’ll often spend the better part of a day stalking.

“There’s no good reason to stalk artists,” admits Salkind. “But music is very dear to me — it was my escape when I was a child — so I just had an interest in people who moved me in a certain way. And the way to meet those people is having them sign their product and getting pictures with them. It’s all part of the experience that I’m trying to create for myself, and that’s to engage with these people as much as I can.”

Yet he does not take himself too seriously, nor does his family let him. “Ian, my 5-year-old son, recently slipped on a pair of my shoes and stomped around the room yelling, repeatedly, in a deep voice, “I am Ian’s father! Give me your autograph!”

  • Bill Forman
Salkind’s M.O. is, in essence, to loiter for hours, if necessary — in parking lots, alleys, and on sidewalks — with a canvas shoulder bag stuffed with records he’s acquired through brick-and-mortar shops like Independent Records and online sources that include eBay, Amazon, and the artists’ own websites. Some of these artifacts turn out to be so rare that the musicians themselves had no idea they existed.

The list of prey who’ve consented to take part in this ritual seems endless. In the past few months alone, his conquests have included Lyle Lovett, Margo Price, Tanya Tagaq, John Oates, Hayes Carll, The Pixies, Billy Bragg and The Dead Boys. Through the years, he’s scored thousands of signatures and selfies (Salkind bridles at the use of that word, thinking it should be reserved for solo shots; he’s wrong, of course) with artists ranging from key members of Led Zeppelin, The Who and The Police, to King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, Lucy Dacus, Palehound and Tame Impala.

Prized items include a copy of U2’s first album on which Bono had written his Dublin home address. (Salkind doesn’t recall why.) Other UK post-punk conquests include Mick Jones, whom he encountered outside the Bluebird Theater, armed with dozens of singles, EPs and albums by The Clash, Big Audio Dynamite and Carbon/Silicon.

“I’d gone up to Denver and did my all-day stalking thing,” says Salkind, who finally ran into Jones on Colfax Avenue and asked if he’d mind signing so many records: “He said, ‘Of course not, I don’t care how much you have.

Thank you for buying this stuff, thank you for being a fan, I will sign anything and everything you have.’

“He was exactly as nice as he was in ’79 when we first met,” says the misty-eyed interloper.

Even Lou Reed, who was notorious for his surly persona, was gracious and accommodating when Salkind would show up with dozens of records, ranging from the dreaded Metal Machine Music to pre- Velvet Underground obscurities that Reed had released as a staff songwriter for ’60s novelty label Pickwick Records.

“I thought he was going to be kind of a jerk, but he was completely nice every time I met him,” says Salkind. “He’s not warm, but I don’t think he’s capable of warmth. In any case, he also would sign anything and everything.”
The list goes on, with each new acquisition being carefully filed away in over-crowded shelves that his wife was kind enough to assemble for him. His ancient turntable, still with him since his youth, has a prominent place in his upstairs office, where most of his work gets done to the sonic accompaniment of almost anything, from almost any era.

“I try to catch up-and-coming artists before they become too big to stalk,” he explains. As for legendary artists, Salkind says he never met a Beatle, but did get to meet The Rolling Stones. “But only for a photo, no auto- graphs,” he admits. “I met Roger Daltrey and John Entwistle, and two Doors, and Brian Wilson. Willie Nelson and Lyle Lovett are super-nice guys. Glen Campbell, Charles Bradley and Sharon Jones were so sweet, rest in peace. I think everyone from Texas is nice as can be. Brian Setzer was kind of a prick, and so were Timothy B. Schmit and Bonnie Raitt.”

“I’m not really mature enough for jazz,” he adds, “so I stay away from that as much as possible.”

Salkind’s fanboy affliction dates back to his mid-teens, growing up on the outskirts of Washington, D.C. There, he was introduced to punk-rock by the manager of a record store where he clerked part-time. He began hang- ing out at the legendary 9:30 punk club, catching shows by bands like Minor Threat, the Bad Brains, Dream Syndicate, The Birthday Party and Chris Isaak. One evening, on a spur- of-the-moment whim, he decided to approach Cramps guitarist Bryan Gregory, who, in spite of his intimidating stage presence, turned out to be incredibly nice.

Armed with a fake I.D. and just enough musical knowledge to be dangerous, Salkind, the then-17- year-old music enthusiast, was hired on as one of the venue’s deejays in 1979, and would continue on in that role for another five years, during which time his collection of signed record albums was building. His high school photography teacher, who happened to be in a band with him, would develop and print his photos in exchange for mixtapes. Other D.C.-area bands he drummed with were much more punk: No Trend — whose early material is about to be re-released on the Digital Regress label; and United Mutation, a version of which will play at this summer’s 71Grind IV Festival at the Triple Nickel Tavern.

The collection addiction only grew stronger during Salkind’s college and law school years. After graduating from University of Virginia Law School in 1993, he relocated to Colorado. He took on juvenile defense cases for El Paso County’s Public Defender office, then moved on to felony cases in District Court. In 1996, he joined a private criminal defense practice, before becoming a one-man operation in 1999.

As strange as it may seem, talking to juries and stalking rock stars aren’t entirely different skills sets, he claims.

“If you’re going to be a defense attorney, or an attorney of any sort, you have to do research, you have to prepare, and you come in knowing as much as you can about the situation,” he explains. “There’s also the negotiating, trying to get people to find you to be credible and to want to continue their relationship with you, whether that’s the client who hires you, the DA you’re working out some sort of deal with, or the judge you’re asking to do things for you. You also want the jury to feel some warmth toward you, so that if there’s a question, they feel that they can trust you.”

Successfully collaring artists also requires research, much of it online. “There are usually lots of photos of musicians, but they don’t always look that much like their photos. They often don’t dress in real life like they do onstage. I remember approaching Angel Olsen before a show, and she didn’t admit that she was her, and I didn’t know any better.”

How does that feeling compare with messing up a trial? “I’ve never messed up a trial — although sometimes the verdict’s been wrong,” he deadpans. “No, whether I win or lose a trial, I am in my head about it for days and days, even though it’s already done. I’m like, I could have done this, I could have not done this — I tend to Monday-morning quarterback in my head just about everything.”

OK, this is the part of the article where I must clarify that, as strange as his hobby sounds, I’ve always found Michael to be an affable, all-around good guy, albeit with the gallows humor that’s common to lawyers, journalists and prison guards. He’s sincere, entertaining and, for lack of a better thesaurus, kind of goofy.

Even so, there’s something genuinely discomfiting about bearing witness to one of his musician-hunting missions, which I’ve done on a few occasions.

After a John Prine show at the Pikes Peak Center, we lingered in the dead of night, parked behind the venue, waiting for the artist to make his exit. This went on for the better part of an hour, before he suddenly sprang from the vehicle, bag slung over his shoulder, and rushed toward the unsuspecting artist. Watching this ritual, I couldn’t help but think of Mark David Chapman approaching the Dakota building armed with John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Double Fantasy album. I couldn’t tell if Prine was flattered, or simply relieved, once he realized his fan’s intentions.

But then there’s the Stephen King incident, to which I happily did not bear witness.

“I scared the shit out of Stephen King. I’m not saying I’m proud of it, but it is sort of poetic,” he says. The celebrated horror novelist was touring as part of The Rock Bottom Remainders, a loosely knit collective of authors who occasionally perform music together, mostly at benefits. Finding his way backstage, Salkind saw King heading to a downstairs bathroom and discreetly trailed behind him.

“He comes out of the bathroom and I’m stand- ing there going, “Stephen, would you mind signing some stuff for me?” And he was very nice, but he was flipped the fuck out. And, you know, I was definitely stalking him — I mean, there was no question about it — but I wasn’t gonna Dakota him or anything like that. But the look on his face was one of sheer terror. Or, maybe not sheer terror, but definitely concern.

“I think that because of his following, he probably has to be very careful about who he comes into contact with. More so than, you know, Marilyn Manson or something.”

Much like the inner recesses of his office, most of the second story in Salkind’s house is cluttered with wall-to-wall racks of albums. The overall impression blurs the boundaries between hobbyist and hoarder.

Freud, of course, blamed all such impulses on early experiences with toilet training; Jung saw it as a manifestation of the collective unconscious. But the American Psychiatric Association insists the two habits are entirely different. “Collectors look for specific items, such as model cars or stamps, and may organize or display them,” says their webpage. “People with hoarding disorder often save random items and store them haphazardly.”

In other words, hobbyists ferret out their objects of desire, while hoarders tend to rely more on what comes in the mail or stays in the fridge.

Salkind is likely in the former category, but he — along with his wife and friends — gave up trying to figure it out long ago. “I enjoy watching him when he’s in the zone, completely concentrating on his target,” says his wife, Sara. “I prefer this hobby to most of the alternatives. He doesn’t come home smelling of booze, though sometimes, in the summer, Colfax Avenue venues add a distinctive odor.”

“I still have no idea why I do it,” says Michael. “I do have theories, though. And one of them is that I’m just this weird guy.”

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