THE MANSION ON THE HILL
Berkshire Eagle – Seth Rogovoy
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., July 3, 1997
THE MANSION ON THE HILL: Dylan, Young, Geffen, Springsteen, and the Head- on Collision of Rock and Commerce, by Fred Goodman (Times Books, 431 pages). For the most part, when people think of the evolution of rock music, they think in terms of the key artists -- people like Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Bruce Springsteen and Michael Jackson -- who as trend-setters, for better or worse, influenced the music of their particular era.
There is, however, a whole other story, mostly unwritten but no less influential, to be told. The music industry can be thought of as an iceberg, with the artist being the part that floats above the surface of the water, but with a much larger portion submerged, out of public view, actually guiding the movement of the music.
In "The Mansion on the Hill," Fred Goodman tells the story below the surface, focusing on the increasingly influential role that managers, agents, promoters and record executives have played in pop music since the 1960s. In particular, readers are treated to intimate portraits of such figures as Albert Grossman, the bearlike figure who steered the major acts of the '60s folk revival -- including Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul and Mary -- and critic-turned-manager Jon Landau, the Svengali behind Bruce Springsteen. Goodman offers especially astute profiles of the give-and-take between artists like Neil Young and Peter Frampton and businessmen like David Geffen and Dee Anthony.
Of particular interest to Berkshire readers is a fairly extensive history of the Boston music scene -- much of it undoubtedly gleaned from the files of local archivist Chuck White -- including the role of the alternative press and of master promoter Don Law, who to this day exerts near monopolistic control over most of the major concert venues in New England, including Tanglewood.
Goodman's highly readable, entertaining volume occasionally suffers from an overly moralistic approach -- a naive viewpoint that posits a Manichean struggle between commerce and art as if such concerns are unique to post-'60s rock. The text also jumps around too much, making for jarring juxtapositions, leaving a reader hanging unnecessarily in the midst of one story only to pick up another thread. In the end, the main thing wrong with this otherwise fascinating book is its impressionistic approach. Maybe someday a publisher will let Goodman loose to tell the whole story.