Record moguls say the funniest things . . . about each other.
In Frederic Dannen’s caustic new book, “Hit Men: Power Brokers and Fast Money Inside the Music Business,” Giant Records chief Irving Azoff calls CBS Records chairman Walter Yetnikoff “Dennis the Menace meets Attila the Hun.” Geffen Records chairman David Geffen labels Clive Davis “an egomaniac” and “an arrogant (expletive).” Describing Azoff, Yetnikoff snaps: “Irving lies even when it’s to his advantage to tell the truth. He just can’t help it.”
It’s no wonder that over the past weeks fax machines between New York and Los Angeles have been churning out hot passages from Dannen’s graphic portrait of the seamy side of the music industry. But the really hot debate over the book, published by Random House, happened before it went to press.
“Much to my horror,” says Dannen, now a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, a first-draft copy of the book leaked out last March and fell into the hands of several key industry figures, including--Dannen contends--Davis, Geffen and top industry lawyer Allen Grubman.
Dannen heard from Geffen’s attorney first. “If Geffen had picked up the phone and called me, everything could’ve been settled in 10 seconds. Instead, he sicked his high-powered attorney, Bert Fields, on us for something in the book that was more an issue of privacy than fact. Fields sent us a nasty note saying he would sue for invasion of privacy, so the dispute got to Mach 3 very quickly.” Dannen would not divulge what specific privacy issue was involved, but said he removed the offending passage from the book.
He heard next from Grubman, who agreed to meet with him last December after Dannen asked for additional information about certain episodes in the book. “As soon as I walked into his office, I realized it was an ambush. It became obvious they had a copy of the manuscript.”
Instead of making a scene, Grubman turned on the charm. “He ordered chicken soup and kreplach for me and then said, in a hushed whisper, that if his mother read the chapter on him she’d die,” said Dannen. “I got to see why he’s such an effective lawyer. With Geffen, everything was a pitched battle. With Grubman, everything was negotiable .
“I made a couple of voluntary concessions and let him say a few passages in his own words. He’s actually very funny. He mentioned the anecdote where Yetnikoff boasted that Grubman was such a wreck after negotiating with him that he had to take three Valiums. And then he said to me, ‘The time I really had to take three Valiums was when I first read your book!”
Clive Davis’ attorney also submitted a 10-page letter with changes they wanted, but Dannen said most of what Davis sought to excise was “constitutionally protected opinion.”
“The icing on the cake was when he claimed that he had never told Bob Dylan (who was at CBS when Davis ran the label in the ‘60s) he couldn’t record the song ‘Talking John Birch Society Blues.’ That was pretty funny, considering that my source for that anecdote was Clive’s own biography, ‘Clive: Inside the Record Business.’ ”
Despite a few noisy complaints, no one has made any legal efforts to attack the book’s credibility. “That book went through a legal review that was like the Nuremberg Trial,” Dannen said. “I’m still waiting to hear about even one substantial error in it.”
So after spending four years studying the business, what were Dannen’s final impressions? “I only met three execs--Clive Davis, Bruce Lundvall and Russ Regan--who truly had a great love and appreciation for music. The rest? Yetnikoff is tone deaf. Geffen seems to have absolute contempt for his artists. Allen Grubman brags that he never even listens to rock ‘n’ roll.
“It’s funny, because I enjoyed--at least viscerally--most of the people in the book. I’d love to go out drinking with Walter. I just wouldn’t want to do business with him.
“The biggest problem with the music business is that it’s become all about power, money and vendettas. It just isn’t about music anymore.”
Excerpts From the Book ‘Hit Men’
What did Frederic Dannen say about the industry’s top execs? Here are a few highlights:
CBS Records chairman Walter Yetnikoff: “He’s wild, menacing, crude and most of all, very loud.”
Dannen says Yetnikoff used to “mimic Clive Davis’ pseudo-Continental accent,” dubbed Warner Records chairman Mo Ostin “the mensch with spilkas” and complained that Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner was “a fat, grasping little guy.”
Arista Records chief Clive Davis: “The record business has never seen anyone so stingy in sharing credit. When he ran CBS Records in the late 1960s, the company simply gagged on his inflated self-importance.”
Geffen Records chairman David Geffen: “Vain, arrogant and an incorrigible gossip. Music attorney Brian Rhan once slugged him in the Polo Lounge and received 40 congratulatory telegrams the next day.”
Giant Records chief Irving Azoff: “His friends call him the ‘poison dwarf.’ Easily one of the most loathed men in the music business.... Once when service was too slow at a chic Beverly Hills eatery, he set his menu on fire.”