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Terry Tolkin, A&R veteran credited with coining ‘alternative music’, dies at 62

He's said to have coined the term while working at music trade publication Rockpool

By Joe Goggins

Terry Tolkin
The seasoned A&R man had been ill for several years. (Photo: Dean Wareham/Instagram)

Music industry executive Terry Tolkin, who was widely credited with having coined the phrase ‘alternative music’, has died at the age of 62. 

Tolkin, who also worked as a music journalist, was an industry veteran who had worked in A&R for Elektra Records, Touch and Go Records, and his own label, No. 6. He forged close working relationships with artists including Afghan Whigs, Stereolab, Nada Surf, Luna and Scrawl. He had been seriously ill for a number of years.

Across the course of a colourful career in music, Tolkin also worked at New York’s 99 Records store, DJed at clubs including the legendary CBGB, and booked shows at venues across the city. He also wrote for the trade publication Rockpool, which is where he is said to have introduced the term ‘alternative music’, a claim he did not deny, but that remains unverified.

A representative for Tolkin’s family confirmed the news of his passing to Variety on Friday (January 21). A day later, Dean Wareham, founder of Luna and Galaxie 500, posted a short statement on Instagram, along with a black-and-white photograph of his long-time collaborator. 

“Terry Tolkin has passed away this day in New Orleans, age 62,” said Wareham. “He was hospitalized a few weeks ago, has been dealing with sepsis and organ failure. His brother Daniel has been watching over him this week. Terry has been through a lot in recent years, I honestly think he is now in a better place.” 

“He was a key figure in my life, for Luna and many other musical artists he believed in,” Wareham continued. “Maybe some of you know our “Chinatown” song was about Terry. Will have more to say soon.”

Tributes were made on Wareham’s post by Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne and The Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney.

As far back as 2015, Wareham had sold off early Luna demos to help pay for Tolkin’s medical expenses.

Among Tolkin’s other achievements were curating and producing one of the first major modern tribute albums, ‘The Bridge: A Tribute to Neil Young’, which featured a cast of indie rock all-stars including Pixies, Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr.

In comments made to Variety, Wareham expanded on his Instagram tribute. “Terry was a wonderful storyteller and bon vivant, and people loved being around him. We were the musical artists, but he was the one who lived like a rock star, running up hotel and restaurant tabs, riding in limos, getting in trouble, and sharing everything he had.”