Mansion on the Hill by Fred Goodman

...Book Review...

Title:: The Mansion on the Hill ...the Head-On Collision of Rock and Commerce

Author:: Fred Goodman

Publisher:: Times Books (Random House) 1997

[[..Sat 17 Jul 1999..]]

Having no *specific knowledge of either the recording industry or the corporate machinations of the "captains of industry" to bring to this review, I can only write my thoughts as if they are true. What *appears to be true TO ME can only be spoken of by me as "true", given my inability to disprove anything I've read - having nothing with which to disprove my perhaps inadequate perceptions... with that disclaimer in mind I give you my gutLevel reactions::

Meticulously researched and incisively written, this eXposE of the development of the corporate engines behind the rock music industry is dense in its details (a sincere compliment), driving the reader onward and forward through the forest thickets with an unexplained and startling passion. I read this book over the course of three days, which says something about just how much material is inside the covers, the innately fascinating subject matter, and the time and energy it took for me to assimilate the contents. Normally if I happen upon a really GOOD book, I'll abandon most other priorities and finish it off within the same day, or at most within the following day. Upon finishing the book I can attest to the validity of every reviewer's positive comments quoted in the frontispiece.

At various turns I felt positively nauseous as I read, yet I could scarcely put the book down. When I did put it down, which I was forced to do rather frequently in order to gather enough mental- emotional courage and physical strength to continue, I did not stay away for long before I was back in the trenches, devouring in huge mental gulps this inside peek into the mysterious machinations of the capital forces so much larger than my beginner's apprehension.

Going in, I only knew I enjoy listening to music -in particular ROCK music - and have been a lowly consumer of the same in the aftermarket of the industry ever since the price for a vinyl LP jumped to ..OVER..$5..(!) back in the late 70's... By the time I emerged at the other side of this immensely enjoyable and appalling volume of industry biz lowDown dirt, I felt infinitely less naive a consumer than before, and yet strangely emboldened by this new and intimate knowledge of the very forces I had always suspected were in operation in their bid to garner my musical dollar...

One thing stood out quite strongly as I read the initial chapters detailing the early development of the rock underground in the USA:: my own relief I'd long cherished at having entirely MISSED the 60's. In this way I'd also fortuitously, concurrently, philosophically, morally, and understandably ALSO "missed"(out~on) the inevitable disillusionment of the former hippies as they quietly assimilated back into mainstream society. My apprehension of the potential depth of this disillusionment of others gone before me could not help but darken equally deeply my inner perceptions of the 70's, even while my outward participation in cultural events at the end of the decade (ie "Disco") belied the soul of my constant discontent within my own society and culture.

Because I never held "The Dream" near and dear to my heart, I was never forced to let go of a hopelessly insane and idealistic notion I had that in my own singular insignificant way, I could somehow keep "The Dream" alive, as I retroactively and voraciously devoured every detail I could glean about what went down back then when I was so blatantly culturally unaware. I'd always prided myself on my ability to learn from the 60's as I moved with serene confidence in and about the world I was forced to live in - the age of the gilded lily - "the 70's - and then the Dark Ages of the 80's, and now the incomprehensible but unflappable 90's. Within the pages of this book, I saw vindication of my own selfPride and a bolstering to my sense of relief and conviction I could use this misTiming of history to my own culturally aware advantage, and thus somehow to the advantage of whatever society with which I happened to come into contact.

I brought two other notable perspectives to this reading, one being a complete loathing of the *phenomenon known as "Springsteen", and the other being a fan's awareness of the career and realTime activities of a musical artist currently involved in "da biz" who recommended this book to a fan asking to swap recommended book titles, and who published Matt Resincoff's review of the book on his cybermagazine "cybersatch.com" - the artistically and musically formidable and ever humble and fanFriendly Joe Satriani.

Knowing Joe had read and recommended this book was part of my interest in reading it, and the used copy I found by accident proved to be in excellent condition and ultimately worth the price of admission. Knowing this is the very same Music Industry (da biz) with which Joe Satriani has to deal while still hopefully maintaining his artistic credibility was no small measure of my fascination with the book's contents. While Joe lays no claim to the sort of megaStardom of a Springsteen, and has the relative luxury to go about making his musical mark without those kind of extreme pressures, the music industry in general is still the same commercial mileau in which he moves. Fact of Life.

As for my initial dismissal and subsequently adamant refusal to jump onto the Bruce Springsteen bandwagon back in the Ugly 80's (like all the other American *Sheep who made The Boss a multiMillionaire), I recall with fondness how I took a notable Satriani fan to task for mentioning Joe and Bruce back to back in the same breath during a lively discussion of radio formats on the Unofficial Satriani Mailing List . Notwithstanding this was an entirely friendly disagreement, I made it vehemently known I found this particular "pairing" of artistic nonSequiters sacrilegious and offensive in the extreme. As the fan explained his reasons for this onerous juxtaposition, we went back and forth in front of the entire listMembership to the point where we were both told summarily to SHUT UP by about a dozen frustrated joeFans who wanted to discuss Joe and guitars, NOT radio programming. (ahhh, memories!)

Hence, this industry insider's view of the Springsteen phenomenon struck a resonant chord with my own curiosity, and understandably commanded my rapt attention. Strangely analogous to my disAttachment to the 60's, I was similarly unfazed and unsurprised to read of the corporate positioning of Springsteen in the godAwful 80's. Ain't nothing surprises ME when it comes to money, greed, and the Kapitalistic Amurrican Dreem, and I do mean NOTHING.

Even so, it was ultimately a sort of sad thing to view in such convincing fashion the seamy underbelly of Da Biz. I remarked to my husband it's like picking up a rock and looking at all the icky little bugs and worms crawling around underneath. We all know they're there, but something about it is downright CREEPY. Hence, the occasional desire to retch as I would look up and realize I needed to take a break from the book. Strange as it may seem, even someone as jaded as I've always been finds the real truth somewhat daunting at times, in some ways. And yet at the same time, it felt good to finally have somewhat of a measure of understanding of how the game is played.

Knowing that rock music is considered product rather than "art" doesn't make me resigned to it! There has always been and will always be a constant tension between "music~as~art" and the bottom line that drives the industry (and reality in general, as we know it). This much is a given and will never change. Understanding the tension, the boundaries on either side, is important to maintaining a viable perspective in this troubled world - Just My Opinion Only ("jmoo").

In his book "Rhythm and Noise", Gracyz takes on this tension in at least one chapter, and in his textbook "Rock and Roll, it's history and stylistic development" Stuessy ends the text by putting forth eight editorial declarations, with no less than three (3) of them speaking directly to this tension. There is more out there to know about this *apparent "dichotomy" if the intelligent and interested reader and consumer of music will but begin to look.

Sturgeon's law states, "90% of everything is crap". David Geffen is quoted with a similar personal proverb:: "It's easy in music to tell what's good. It's hard to tell what's bad." The author goes on to point out the wellWorn statistic that about 9 out of 10 musical artists signed will never "make it" and there you have your 90%.

I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the cultural history of the 60's, and to anyone who is interested in the historical development of the musical genre known as "rock" in particular. I recommend this book to anyone who considers themselves a competent music critic, and/or is prideful of their musical taste (or lack of it as the case may be - H.L.Menken's truism "no one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public" has always proved a touchstone in my cynical view of popular culture). I recommend this book to anyone who has even a passing interest in what goes on behind corporate bedroom doors in America. Lastly, and perhaps MOST importantly, I recommend this book to anyone who is currently involved in or contemplating pursuing a musical songwriting and/or recording career.

...peace...


(&&&) Links to ...

G3 Concert Review ... : ...River Queen Showplace 9/28/97
"Questions" (c) by Faye Manning ... : ... (un)poem dedicated to one of the three "G's"... ...lyric(?)... ...philosophy...
[[coming soon]] Satriani Stories ... : ... fans share their experiences... ...real slice of life stuff...
Front Door ... : ... Contents... ...Dragon... ...What's Cookin'...
|Joe Satriani| 1995... : ... Alternate Listening Program...
Way Precious Kid Stories ... : ...got kids?... ...mine are Major Satch Fans... ...for kid lovers *O-N-L-Y*!

[[..original webDate:: Mon 13 Sep 1999..]]



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