A Dirty Business

Always a solid judge of good gossip, the New York Daily News boiled Mansion's 432 pages down to a handful of bulleted items on its "people" page, recounting Goodman's take that Dylan's famous motorcycle accident was just a minor mishap and that he may have lay-lady-laid Grossman's wife on his manager's wedding day; that Neil Young sometimes faked epileptic seizures to pick up women; and that Geffen's mom called him "King David," he had a nose job, and he threw away the demo by his star discovery Jackson Browne without even listening to it.

These and other tidbits appear almost as asides while Goodman struggles unsuccessfully to paint his big picture. Unfortunately, his subjects' personal motivations remain largely a mystery. Without a word of explanation, Geffen goes from being madly in love with and wanting to marry his client Laura Nyro to becoming a leading homosexual activist. And Young is transformed overnight from a crass wannabe in Buffalo Springfield to a brave artist following his heart without regard for commercial concerns -- never mind that moves like recording with Pearl Jam, touring with Booker T. & the MG's, and headlining the next H.O.R.D.E. festival all seem carefully calculated to reach out to different segments of the market.

Some of the book's longest stretches seem merely to restate the obvious: Haven't we all read before about Grossman and Dylan creating the cult of the artist and thumbing their noses at the record company? And is there anybody who isn't familiar with the story of Geffen's bitter feud with Irving Azoff and the Eagles, a battle that prompted Joe Walsh to flash his famous T-shirt, "Who is Irv Azoff and why is he saying those terrible things about David Geffen?" You could argue that Goodman's newly reported and carefully end-noted details make these stories fresh again -- or you could just page ahead to the really good parts.

Goodman is at his best when writing about Springsteen and Landau, in part because it's a rare example of rock journalism reflecting on itself and asking tough ethical questions. A former critic for Rolling Stone and the Boston Phoenix, Landau is the guy who wrote, "I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen." My colleague Rob O'Connor jokes that it should have read, "I saw Jon Landau future and its name is Bruce Springsteen," because, as Goodman shows, Landau went from botching the production of the second MC5 album to skillfully inserting himself as co-producer of Born to Run, then elbowing aside Mike Appel to become Springsteen's manager, and finally locking out everyone else in Bruce's inner circle.

"Landau is a guy who understands the business and he understands the art," Goodman says. "That's my fascination with him: He's where business and art intersect." But you know which way Goodman's scales are tipped.

He maintains that Landau virtually remade Springsteen, creating a political and social conscience that wasn't there before and which, by the time of Born in the U.S.A., proved to be very good for business. In Goodman's view, one of Landau's most useful tools was his friend Dave Marsh, formerly Rolling Stone's reviews editor, who wrote "grotesque puffery" about Springsteen (including two biographies) despite the fact that his wife, Barbara Carr, was a Springsteen employee. "If there was a parallel in journalism to the way Marsh covered Springsteen," Goodman writes, "it could be found in the glowing biographies of popular baseball players [written by beat reporters who were essentially on the teams' payrolls]."

Marsh is famous for raging back with ten-fold intensity against any slight, and the rock journalism world has been anxiously awaiting his reply to the book. (Goodman talked to him but didn't include his comments.) Marsh told me via e-mail that he hasn't read the book and doesn't plan to, then added, "Fred seems big on revealing conflicts of interest. I doubt that he chooses to tell his readers that I have been explicitly critical of his reporting, especially his willingness to believe whatever snake oil that unsavory types like D.A.'s and federal prosecutors were selling.

"The only grievous part of this from my perspective is that I am told that Fred adopts a very sexist attitude toward Barbara Carr's achievements in working with community groups on Bruce's behalf during the Born in the U.S.A. tour," Marsh continued. "It is true that Barbara met some of those people through me; it is also true that the great majority were identified by Barbara through her own research, and she did an exemplary job of it, too."

Goodman says he said all he's going to say about Marsh, Landau, and Springsteen in Mansion, and now he's leaving it to readers to make up their minds. "What I'm ultimately trying to do in the book is to present a balanced-enough picture that people can see the points I'm raising and draw their own conclusions. One of the problems with rock books in particular is that so much of this stuff is diatribes: 'What's the politically correct way of thinking?' I'm just one of these guys who never believe that the story is black and white. There's something admirable about Bruce Springsteen, there's something admirable about Jon Landau, but there is also something where you're cocking your head at certain points."

Ultimately, the same can be said for Fred Goodman and The Mansion on the Hill.

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