Sierra Club Interview
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More Than a Feeling...
Tom Scholz Speaks With The Sierra ClubA native of Toledo, Ohio, Tom Scholz is best known as Boston's leader and founder. He studied classical piano as a child, and later taught himself to play guitar, bass and drums. In 1965, he won a full scholarship to M.I.T. and, after graduating with bachelor's and master's degrees in mechanical engineering, he went to work for Polaroid as a product engineer. He is named as inventor on 34 U.S. patents.
At Polaroid, Scholz acquired the technical know-how to build his own multi-track tape machine, and he built a small studio in his basement. He spent nights recording demos of his songs, which eventually landed him a recording deal with CBS/Epic. From this contract came the first Boston album, recorded almost entirely in Scholz's basement studio. Released in 1976, it sold more than 16 million copies, making it the biggest-selling debut album of all time, and led to a Grammy nomination. The first five Boston albums have all been certified platinum (one million units sold).
During and following a 1987 tour for the third Boston album (Third Stage), Scholz became seriously involved in charity work, setting up a foundation to support causes such as animal rights, food banks, homeless shelters and children. Through the foundation, he has donated more than $3 million to those causes. He received the Mahatma Gandhi Award in 1987, and was named "Man of the Year" by the National Hospice Association in 1988.
Over the years Scholz has become increasingly concerned with the environment, lending support -- financial and otherwise -- to organizations such as the Sierra Club, Greenpeace and Earth Island Institute. He recently announced that on Boston's upcoming summer concert tour, $1 for every ticket sold will be donated directly to the Sierra Club. Sierra Club editor Tom Valtin spoke with Scholz recently about his views and his interest in the environment.
TV: What led to your involvement in charity work and the environment?
Scholz: In the '80s I became aware that there were organizations doing things that I cared about. Because of Boston's success, I had all this money, but I wasn't all that savvy with it yet, and I let people walk away with it. But gradually I wised up. I started looking into anti-violence and environmental issues, and programs that dealt with children and domestic violence. I was also interested in doing something to combat violence against animals. That can be a thankless job. But we have such a close connection with animals. I feel a responsibility to help protect creatures that suffer at human hands.
TV: What made you decide to pick the Sierra Club in particular as one of the beneficiaries of your upcoming tour?
Scholz: I think the Sierra Club is the environmental group that has the best chance of really accomplishing things. It's well known, and it actually gets down to doing the dirty work of protecting the environment. I donated a lot of money to the Club back in the '70s. I'd allowed a big chunk of money to be invested in places that were, shall we say, not reflective of my own principles. When I discovered this, I was kind of shocked; I'd really had no idea where some of that money was going. But once I wised up, I wanted to put that money to better use. So I looked around and asked myself, "Who's trying to be a watchdog for the earth?" And the Sierra Club got the bulk of my donation.
TV: Are you comfortable saying what kind of a sum you're talking about?
Scholz: Let's just say it was a six-figure amount. But I'd been a neighborhood donor for years. I'd always write a fairly sizable check when the kids came to the door. Even after Boston hit, they had no idea who I was, which was great. I was just this guy down the street.
TV: When did you first become aware of the Sierra Club's work?
Scholz: The Club had been mentioned to me at M.I.T., which was really the beginning of my growing up. As I said, I did a lot of research in the late '70s to find out where I could put some of my Boston money where it would really do some good. And after looking around a bit, it seemed to me that the Sierra Club was the principal watchdog group working to counteract polluters, clearcutters, etc. The Club seemed to me the most dedicated to the nuts and bolts work of trying to counteract these environmental hazards.
I started to see how things like factory farming and deforestation were closely related with the process of globalization. The public has been sold a bill of goods about the free market being a panacea for mankind. Turning corporations loose and letting the profit motive run amok is not a prescription for a more livable world. Starting with the Reagan administration, constraints that had kept these things in check were loosened, and the world was sold on the concept of an unrestricted free market. But the wealth that's been generated isn't shared. It goes into a few pockets, and the gap between the haves and the have-nots is growing by leaps and bounds.
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