Bumping Into Geniuses BOOK reviewed by Steve Miller
Dec 1, 2008, 03:41
BUMPING INTO GENIUSES: MY LIFE INSIDE THE ROCK AND ROLL BUSINESS by Danny Goldberg; Gotham Books, 2008
Most of our readers hold a healthy disdain for corporate lackeys such as Goldberg, who have always been the bane of creativity and a roadblock to access to the best music. Goldberg moved through the ranks in the music industry starting as a flack and writer, into middle management and finally as president of several record companies. True music fans have done their best to render people like him irrelevant; while major labels have put out some truly great music, at least half of the good stuff springs from labels and bands that were and are ridiculed by the likes of Goldberg.
In this memoir, Goldberg recounts his time spent with a number of artists, but sadly fails to deliver anything new or illuminating. What should have been a glimpse into the dressing room of Led Zeppelin was a rehash of stories any fan has read in Hammer of the Gods, Stephen Davis' ballsy expose of the band. The final days of Warren Zevon are simply retold here rather than delivering at least a dash of additional insight into his brave death. And the saga of Sonic Youth's move to Geffen is told as if a reader has no musical knowledge: “[Sonic Youth's] impeccable sense of punk style was augmented by a brilliant and innovative musicality.”
Still, the author played in and among the ranks of the big timers and seemed to often land on the side of good; His work for Nirvana is chronicled here with more than a modicum of modesty. In reality, Goldberg moved the band through the promotion process with high regard for its distaste for pop culture and its incessant wish to promote lesser-known bands (although Goldberg errantly refers to one of those as Vaseline rather than the proper The Vaselines).
In fact, the book appears to have been edited and fact-checked by someone unfamiliar with much of the musical terrain and reference it treads. As such, Goldberg never comes across as a credible source on the music itself. Sure, he may know about superfluous pop stars like Stevie Nicks but he manages to misspell the name of Creem magazine (as Cream), somehow equate Patti Smith and the MC5 as equals in the nascent punk rock scene of the 70s and mangles some time lines. This is the duty of a good editor and perhaps Gotham has a job opening.
Goldberg also includes some insightful but distasteful reality of radio programming that includes an interview with AOR creator Lee Abrams, the man we can blame for much of the demise of free-form and underground radio in the 70s that allowed us to sift through tons of new music and make our own decisions about the good stuff.
Bumping is a near-hit that sounds good, but lacks the hook that it should own. Goldberg was a player and did some good things that made music stronger. His admirable modesty refuses him that, and unfortunately, the editing treats readers like a Stevie Nicks audience.