David Geffen: let’s face it, he was a visionary in the music business. Without him we would not have had Laura Nyro, Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, the Eagles, or Crosby Stills Nash & Young. And maybe even Linda Ronstadt. He was significant in the career of Carly Simon, too. And oh yes, Guns ‘n’ Roses. Last night we got to see the new PBS documentary “Inventing David Geffen,” produced and directed by Susan Lacy. And while you might think two hours of Geffen wouldn’t be so interesting, it turned out to be fascinating. Lacy did a superb job, and Geffen is very likeable in it– warts and all.
Before the screening I asked Geffen if he had his seminal label, Asylum Records, now, who would he sign? I mentioned a couple of top young performers, but he recoiled at their names. You can guess. Then he answered: “Arcade Fire. If they’d come out in the 70s, they would be much bigger than they are now. I love them. But radio is a problem now. And you don’t have the repetition of playing the music over and over. There’s no community.”
When we spoke in the nearly empty Paris Theater, Geffen was seated next to business partner and long time friend Jeffrey Katzenberg. New Yorker writer Ken Auletta was chatting with them. Soon enough the Paris filled up with a heavy A list crowd brought in by Peggy Siegal Company, from Mike Nichols and Anjelica Huston to Candice Bergen, Bob and Lynn Balaban, Liz Smith, Regis and Joy Philbin, Mica Ertegun, DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus, Julie Taymor and Elliot Goldenthal, director Robert Benton, Tony Danza, Carol Kane, Les Moonves, former spouses Griffin Dunne and Carey Lowell (not together),Tom Freston, Barbara Walters, plus of course, Fran Lebowitz and Calvin Klein. And that was just on my side of the theater! A second screening was held right after with more bold faced names. And Vanity Fair’s Graydon Carter hosted a dinner for a select few at four star La Grenouille.
Susan Lacy manages to pack a lot into two hours, and manages to hit all the high points. There’s a nice section on how Joni Mitchell wrote “Free Man in Paris” about Geffen, another segment about the openly gay Geffen’s love affair with Cher (who looks great), a couple of revelatory interviews with Clive Davis, and the details of how Crosby, Stills & Nash came together, how Bob Dylan was lured away from Columbia Records for two albums, a rare interview with “Risky Business” director Paul Brickman, and plenty of good, now classic, rock and roll.
PS Warner Music, which still owns the Asylum name, would do well to bring it back as a place for real artists and actual musicians. Maybe they could start with Jenny Lewis, who seems to have disappeared in the WMG miasma. She would have been a perfect Geffen-Asylum artist.