Very early in his career, Howard Stern realized that he could only get so far in radio by being a standard disc jockey.”I didn’t want to be the guy spinning records,” he tells Rolling Stone. “I had too many friends who went down that route and they were great announcers and really involved in music. But I wanted to be as big as the music I was playing. I wanted it to be about me.”
That doesn’t mean music hasn’t always been a key part of The Howard Stern show. Over the years, he’s had everyone from Metallica to Lady Gaga, Smashing Pumpkins, Billy Joel, Foo Fighters and Katy Perry come onto his show to play live music and talk about their careers. His new book Howard Stern Comes Again features interviews with Ozzy Osbourne, Paul McCartney, Sia, Jay-Z and others. Here’s an exclusive excerpt from the book where Stern talks about his lifelong love of music and why he’s become a fan of Ed Sheeran.
One of the things about aging that bothers me most — along with waking up five hundred times a night to pee—is how it gets more and more difficult to stay in touch with new music.
In the summer of 1967, I was 13, and I had just finished a few weeks at Wel-met Camps in Narrowsburg, New York. I had been going there since I was eight or nine. It had no amenities, horrible food, a man-made lake with some sort of weird fungus growing in it — yet it was heaven to me. Those six weeks were the only time each year when I was ecstatically happy. If I ever got in trouble at school or misbehaved at home, all my mother had to say was, “OK, you’re not going away this summer,” and I would snap to. Summer camp was total freedom from the conformity of everyday life that I hated. We would hike into the woods, build a lean-to, dig a hole and lash logs together for a latrine, collect rocks for a fire pit (careful not to use shale that could explode in a fire), lay a tarp on the ground and sleep in sleeping bags. I was a regular Howard Bunyan. At the end of those six weeks when my parents came to pick me up and drive me home, I’d be miserable and on the verge of tears. One time I was so angry that I just sat in the backseat cursing out loud. Every word out of my mouth was “fuck” or “shit.” Finally, my parents said that if I didn’t stop they were going to pull over to the side of the road and make me walk home.
Unlike at school, I was popular at summer camp. I had my first girlfriend there. It’s also where, that summer of ’67, I heard Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band for the first time. One of the counselors had the album. I was like Christopher Columbus just discovering America. It was a gamechanger for me. It was so unique and original. It was probably the same feeling you had when you first heard the Craptacular on my radio show — my own personal Sergeant Pepper’s.
As soon as I got home, I ran out and bought my own copy of the album. I had a record player in my room, and I called to my mother: “Mom, come in here! You gotta hear this!” She sat on my bed next to me and we listened to the entire album. The song lyrics were printed on the back — it was one of the first times a band had done that, maybe even the first. As the music played, my mother and I read along. I have vivid memories of a scholarly moment when, like two rabbinical students, we poured over the lyrics to “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite.” The experience was more personal and profound than any religious training I’d received up until then. It might be the closest I have ever felt to my mother. To my astonishment, she actually enjoyed the music. It made me so proud that as an older woman she could get into the Beatles, especially because all of her friends hated them. I was so happy to share that with her.
That day made a huge impression on me. I never wanted to be one of those old fogies who say, “Back in my day was when music was really great.” Being aware of new music has also been a prerequisite for my job, so that I can comment on contemporary culture. In the Nineties, when I was in my forties working at K-Rock, I was very much up on alternative rock: Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots, Nirvana. I loved all that stuff. I never thought I would be in danger of being out of touch.
Then recently I was looking at a list of the top five songs in the country and it happened. “Oh my God,” I thought. “I don’t know any of them. I’m officially that guy. Who’s this Lil Xan, and why is he getting all these face tattoos? Wait, he once dated Miley Cyrus’s little sister? Miley Cyrus has a little sister? When did that happen? And who’s this Mac Miller that Ariana Grande is grieving over? A Jewish rapper? How the hell did I miss that?”
The good news is I’m not completely hopeless. One young artist I love is Ed Sheeran. He is such an incredible songwriter and singer, yet he is not at all impressed by his own fame. He’ll play in front of fifty thousand people at Wembley Stadium, then he’ll come on my show and — as he does here — talk about getting hammered with his mates at a local bar.
There is a lot to be learned from Ed about being grounded, fearless, and hardworking. People criticize millennials for being unmotivated and entitled. Ed defies those stereotypes.