Pierre Robert, rock and roll survivor, is celebrating his 20th year at WMMR.
The woman is going to start crying in two seconds. "You don't understand. I went through hell, I lost everything in the divorce and you got me through it," she says, her lower lip quivering, her voice rising hoarsely above the bar-band hoodoo of George Thorogood and the Destroyers playing off in the distance. "You are so positive. I'm going to start crying." The man she is talking to is not an ordained minister or a licensed therapist; he is not a spiritual guru or a rock star, although he is a little bit of all these things.
He is Pierre Robert, good citizen, unrepentant longhair, friend to animals and commander in chief of the MMRmy. The woman is a long-time listener, thirtyish, clad in a dark sundress and holding a beer. Her woozy sway suggests it is not her first. Robert looks on in empathy. He does empathy the way George Hamilton does tanning salons--all day, every day. And like Hamilton's bronze glow, compassion fits Robert like skin, or perhaps more fittingly, like a halo.
"Are you for real? Or is it all an act?" she asks, finally collecting herself.
She looks at me. "Is he full of shit?" she asks. Best I can tell, I say, no, he is not full of shit. He means it. Pierre Robert really cares.
It is Memorial Day and we are standing along the Delaware at the Jam on the River, where the 10,000 foot soldiers from the ragtag MMRmy are gettin' their summer on with a sundazed riot of hot dogs and beer and rock 'n' rooooooolllllll. Pierre is working the crowd, meeting the mullets, shaking hands, kissing babies, signing autographs, posing for photos, introducing bands.
As he strolls through the concourse, the effect he has on people is a cross between an audience with the pope and Norm walking into Cheers. "Pee-AIR! Pee-AIR!" they all cry out, flagging him down.
"Hello, Citizen," he calls back, grinning warmly.
They all want something--mostly the chance just to say, "Thank you. Or, "You rock!" Which of course is the highest praise you can bestow on someone in the MMRmy.
Pee-AIR! Remember me? I met you two years ago! Pee-AIR! You're awesome, I just wanted to say that. Pee-AIR! You are the man! Pee-AIR! I met you at the first Louie Louie parade--no wait, the second. It was raining! Remember?
William Pierre Robert always remembers. A woman talking on her cell phone grabs Robert as he walks by. "Say hi to my mom! She loves you!" Another woman asks if he will kiss her in front of her children. She wants it on the lips, but settles for a peck on the cheek.
"I call it 'running for mayor,'" he says as he makes his way backstage.
Bono is right, it is a beautiful day. A lazy, sunny afternoon in early April--U2uesday, to be exact--and Pierre Robert is where he always is Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.: behind the microphone.
The broadcast studio at WMMR looks more like the control room on the Death Star than the reefer-clouded den of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll you always imagined it was: all immaculate matte-gray finish and blinking lights and dials. And if you listen closely, you can almost hear the gurgling whirl of binary code--tiny digitized particles of rock 'n' roll being processed by computers and zapped through the air.
"This is the first studio I have been in that didn't have turntables," he says. "Some of the younger staff like to tease me. 'Hey grandpa, what is vinyl?'"
What do you tell them?
"I tell the little creeps to fuck off," he says with a chuckle. Robert tries to bring a little Age of Aquarius vibe to the room with his candles and lava lamp. "It's my little attempt to de- computerize this place," says Robert. Napping at his feet is the love of his life: a golden retriever named Lucy.
"I believe dogs are like guardian angels sent to us for a very limited amount of time to help you through some phase of your life," he says. "I just worship her."
Before Lucy there was Watson, another beloved golden retriever. "Watson died of cancer the day U2 Popmart tour came to town," says Robert, who often pinpoints his memories by their proximity to major rock concerts. "I used to talk about him on the air and when he passed on I got something like 400 sympathy letters. People writing in that they had to pull off the road because they were crying. I was moved."
PW's 2015 Gift Guide
Dinner with Luke Palladino