Volume 92, Issue 8
Wednesday, September 16, 1998
wheeling and dealing
|ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
Goodman opens Mansion doors
The Mansion on the Hill - Dylan, Young, Geffen, Springsteen, and the head-on collision of rock and commerce
Tracing the development of the rock and roll industry from its folky roots to its present mega-buck status can be a metaphor for the direction of Western civilization. Few industries have gone from rags to riches in such a brief period and former Rolling Stone editor Fred Goodman in his new book, effectively pilots the reader through rock's unlikely commercial mitosis.
Goodman opens his revealing novel with a look at the folk music scene around Cambridge and Newport, focusing on the role of Bob Dylan and the backstage dealings of industry executives. But what makes the book such an invigorating read is that the people involved were just kids who knew they were on to something fresh but had to battle the established beliefs of puritan post-war America.
Leading the charge was Bob Dylan who combined an aggressive liberalism with musical genius which changed the way people considered rock music's role in the revolutionary, social changes of late '60s America. This shouldn't be news to most Dylan or music lovers but what you may not know is the role which his controversial manager, Al Grossman, played or how Dylan and Joplin ended up ruining their careers at the end of the '60s.
The book delves into the lives of the people who made it big and the people who lost it all as the industry devoured promoters and artists alike. Goodman is not afraid to show the dirty dealings behind the hippie idealism of the decade or those who had the presence to get in on the ground floor of the movement, like Jon Landau and David Geffen.
At its essence, The Mansion on the Hill chronicles the development of an art form turned into an entertainment powerhouse, transforming the cultural fabric of Western society. It takes a "fly on the wall" approach in reporting the real deal behind the dreams and schemes of the rock stage and all its players.
The book starts off with hot stories of Dylan, Young, Joplin and the drug culture inspired by Leary, Kesey and The Grateful Dead. It's entertaining and it refreshes the reader into hours of page-flipping funtime. But the second half is less exciting, unless you're a Springsteen or Eagles fan. It discusses the big years the Eagles had in the mid-'70s and the way Springsteen made it big because of promoters. This part of the book seems like a toot into the horn of Goodman's industry buddies.
He keeps an objective view throughout the book but dawdles too much with promoters and figures. The second part of the book lacks the punch and pace of its better half.
The other drawback is that Mansion stays in North America, without making use of the British influence on the rock revolution. It was Dylan who got the Beatles high for the first time but it was the Brits who Stoned rock. Still, the book is aware of its focus on American music and is outstanding in expressing the convolution of ideas, music and business of rock from Dylan to present.
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