Ahmet Ertegun | Bleader

Ahmet Ertegun

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Take a moment or two to think of Atlantic Records honcho Ahmet Ertegun, who was laid to rest among family members in Istanbul today.

The son of a Turkish diplomat, Ertegun made a return on some investment capital in 1947 that helped him build a music empire that was nearly as diverse as Rome at its height. He presided over an era when recorded music exploded into a cutthroat capitalist industry that breaks hearts like bubble wrap. "Tread softly, for you tread on my dreams," sigh generations of hopefuls (some of whom even realize that they're quoting Yeats), and the music biz laughs cruelly.

Yet Ertegun wasn't cast in the role of The Man role very much--when Frank Zappa gives a child of his a fairly normal name in your honor, you're covered. I think you can find the reason why in between the lines of this dry New York Times obit: Ertegun was a music geek who made good, and as such he carries the dreams of many who aren't musicians themselves but know, just know in their hearts that if they ran a label and had millions of dollars, they could transform the scene for the better, forever.

Sure, Ertegun came from a privileged background and moved in the very highest of social circles. Sure, he might have been just another one of those upscale college kids "slumming" in jazz clubs. But he didn't stop there. Perhaps coming from a different culture entirely gave him a different view of American and British music that helped him spot standouts, but his instincts were almost always true. Just like exemplaries in sports, the arts, politics, or what have you give the young and the middling dreams that are not necessarily realistic but necessary nonetheless for a certain kind of survival—willingly getting out of bed every day doesn't come naturally to everyone in a depressed, recessed nation, after all—Ertegun's life and career is a "Go West, Young Man" story for the record hound and the hopeful tastemaker.

His passing is sad for those who knew him, but certainly not exactly tragic: even lives so apparently thoroughly enjoyed must come to an end, and better later than sooner. What doesn't die is a certain idea of what is possible. 

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