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David Geffen, interviewed by B. Mitchell Reed on January 25, 1973. In my seemingly endless task of digitizing history; of the news kind and of the Popular Culture kind, I ran across this interview with the legendary David Geffen, a little over a year after forming Asylum Records and on the eve of breaking several new careers, including Tom Waits. He is interviewed by equally legendary B. Mitchel Reed at KMET.
What I found most fascinating about this interview is that the Music business Geffen talks about is virtually extinct today, some 48 years later. He talks about his association with the then-fledgling conglomerate of Warner Bros. Records, Atlantic Records and Elektra Records – all run very much by celebrated impresarios of the day, all very much geared to Music as an art form and the Musician as Artist. It was a business that believed in artists, cultivated their talents, did not abandon them and gave them freedom to explore and develop and grow. In short, a business run by people who had music in their blood and the entrepreneurial spirit in their DNA. A business run by visionaries (sorry – a well-worn word which has lost all meaning lately) who saw the big picture. That’s not to say all record labels were run the same way – Asylum and a handful of others were unique and not the norm, but damned close. Music meant something totally different to the audience then. Maybe it’s the technology that has changed the landscape – perhaps it’s the Corporatization of a business that once thrived on its quirkiness and relative “outsider” mentality – a business that now concentrates on shareholders and “bottom line” – a business now run by entities who have very little actual involvement or knowledge of music, but are distant, remote and often clueless who look at everything as faceless or exact replicas with no desire to break from the rut.
At the time of this interview, David Geffen hadn’t quite achieved the stature he has now – it was still very nuts and bolts and feet on the ground. But it makes you realize just how much we’ve changed – how our access to listening has changed, how our tastes have changed – how artists have a life-expectancy and are more-or-less treated like profit-making ventures rather than purveyors of change and keepers of art.
People often complain about the mainstream music of today – I say mainstream, because there is still the Offbeat and Outsider elements to music. There is developing the potential for future David Geffens to exist in the face of all this mediocrity. That Major labels no longer possess the clout they once did and it’s being left up to the small label and the collective – those artists who understand the rigors of trying to make it, who have a lot to say, who are resigned to doing the slog – selling the posters and t-shirts, pushing the latest album day after day and week after week in town after town.
One of the most unfortunate aspects to this latest turn of events in our culture is that music has always been the glue that holds us together – it is the thing we depend on most for aid and comfort. That it is being run by those people who have no appreciation or even knowledge of that is to their massive disadvantage – that the major labels are cutting off their noses to spite their faces is an understatement. Music will succeed – it always has, even in the most repressive of times. It would be nice if they understood that – but maybe it’s time for the small labels to rescue the industry and for the mainstream to quietly implode and give back the wreckage to the ones who love the notes and the big picture to rethink and rebuild.
Here is the full, unedited interview as it took place on January 25, 1973.