Monday, December 31, 2012

The only thing to do today is watch this film about David Geffen

The rain's lashing the windows. It will continue all day. The best thing you can do if you're interested in show business is watch "Inventing David Geffen" via the PBS site. That's him second from right in the picture with Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell and Cass Elliott.

In many ways it's what you'd expect. Lots of famous faces (many of them lifted) popping up to trot out their polished observations about the only man to have been an enormous success as both a music and a film mogul. In editing these films producers tend to favour the pithy untruth over the insight that takes a while to get out. Thus the A&R man gets away with saying that when Guns N' Roses were first played on MTV at four in the morning "it blew up the switchboard". On the other hand I liked Mike Nichols talking about how Geffen sabotaged Hilary Clinton's presidential bid by saying that "everybody in politics lies but they do it with such ease, it's troubling". "It was like a tiny pin dopped at a very silent moment and everybody said 'that's true'."

I liked the section about his trip to Paris with Joni Mitchell which resulted in her writing "Free Man In Paris", one of very her best songs, about him. I liked Jackson Browne talking about what it was like to overhear Geffen's phone conversations with promoters. You never quite know whether to trust the actuality. Is that really him talking on the phone to Clive Davis about trying to get the reformed Byrds on his label? Did he really get in early at the William Morris Agency for six months to intercept the letter from UCLA which would have torpedoed his made-up CV? And is that the actual letter? And are we so prudish that even the word "bullshit" has to be bleeped?

Still, there should be more films about impresarios because I don't think they get the respect they deserve. The narrative of the entertainment business is loaded so heavily in the artist's favour that we can't see that the guy on the phone can be every bit as creative as the bloke with the guitar.  I sympathise with Elliot Roberts, the man who's managed Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and many other people who can't be easy, when he says "Sometimes you just want a thank-you. You move mountains and all the act says is 'OK, that's where the mountain should be.'"


  1. "And are we so prudish that even the word "bullshit" has to be bleeped?"

    WE aren't, but American television networks are.

  2. Actually, it's even odder because this is from PBS, which is the publicly-funded bit of American TV, and it's being accessed via a website so it's not as if it's the intruder in your living room. Even more amazing than the bleeped words is the montage which shows some olds press clippings from, I think, the New York Times. If you look closely somebody has gone through the body copy and whited out the word "cock" in "cocksucker".

  3. Fascinating documentary, if a little long at just under two hours.

    One of the issues it doesn't address is the shift during the Seventies from East Coast music to West Coast, where Geffen happened to be.

    Was Geffen the chicken - or the egg?