Thomas Dolby is still best known for his quirky 1982 electro-pop hit “She Blinded Me With Science,” but as the British songwriter and producer’s new memoir demonstrates, that track is only the most visible aspect of a remarkable three-decade-plus career. In The Speed of Sound: Breaking the Barriers Between Music and Technology, out October 11th, the man born Thomas Morgan Robertson recalls everything from working the mixing board for Gang of Four to collaborating with Jerry Garcia and helping to realize an audio-enhanced Internet. In this exclusive advance excerpt, Dolby looks back at a surreal early-Eighties encounter with his friend, admirer and would-be collaborator Michael Jackson.
I gave the limo driver the address. It was pitch black now, and rain was still pelting down. The driver squinted at the house numbers. “Doesn’t Michael Jackson live on this street?” he said over his shoulder.
“Yes. Actually, that’s where I’m going,” I replied. The driver flashed a look at me in his rearview mirror, and my co-passengers were a little astonished.
We arrived at the address and pulled up in front of a set of huge cast-iron gates. The driver buzzed an intercom, and I told him to announce me. “We have Thomas Dolby for Michael Jackson,” he said. After a few moments, the gates swung open. I told the driver he could let me out right there, I’d just walk up the drive. I was too embarrassed to show up with the whole group. The Capitol execs looked dubious, but I stepped out of the limo in the glare of its headlights and stumbled up the driveway, dodging puddles. I walked past a big glass guard house; inside I could see a pair of uniformed security guards, their faces lit up by CCTV screens. They motioned me on up the driveway. I waved and caught a glint of semiautomatic weapons on a rack behind them. It was much farther to the house than I had imagined.
Michael’s home was an imposing mansion with a fountain and a gravel turnaround. The hefty front door was set in a glass surround, and I could see the grand hallway lit up inside. There was a crystal chandelier, marble floors, and twin Busby Berkeley–style curling staircases. I rang the bell pull and stood there dripping in my sodden T-shirt and jeans. I guess I was expecting some sort of butler or domestic servant. But after a few moments, a small figure in a pink silk leisure suit regally descended one side of the staircase and crossed the marble floor. It was him.
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