published on Monday, April 12, 2004 in The Miami Herald
Veteran music exec blows another chance to
BY RICHARD PACHTER
at the Moon: The Out-of-Control Odyssey of a Monstrous Music Mogul
in an Age of Excess. Walter Yetnikoff and David Ritz. Broadway Books.
320 pages. Also available as an audio
CD, a downloadable
eBook and a
paperback edition with a different title (to purchase, click
on the title or format.)
Listening to audio versions of books is an interesting experience,
especially if one must endure a long commute along our wonderful
and modern highway system. For a time, I was hooked on Ed McBain's
Precinct and Matthew
Hope novels. Some were performed by veteran actor Len Carriou,
who did a creditable job conveying the droll grittiness of the author's
language. But the best, the ones that I absolutely could not dislodge
from the crevices of my brain even after I'd arrived at my destination,
were the stories read by their creators.
Ed McBain (actually a pseudonym
for ''serious'' author and screenwriter Evan
Hunter) brought so much gravitas and street-toughened credibility
to his descriptions and dialogue that years later, as I devoured
the hardcover version of his most recent novel, The
Fruminous Bandersnatch, I ''heard'' McBain's voice echoing in
the canyons of my mind.
So when I was offered a set of compact discs by former CBS and Sony
Music CEO Walter Yetnikoff reading an abridged version of his new
memoir, I jumped, fearing the printed text might come across as
too polished and unrepresentative of its subject. Yetnikoff's collaborator
was David Ritz, an accomplished and award-winning author and lyricist
(Marvin Gaye's Sexual Healing), so I felt justified in expecting
a refined iteration of the life of Walter.
Hearing Yetnikoff's gruff, guttural Brooklyn brogue dispelled these
concerns -- and then some. In fact, I was struck by the casual vulgarity
of his story. Descriptions of people and events that didn't necessarily
enhance one's understanding of the music mogul's milieu (such as
noting the age at which he'd learned to masturbate) were more repellent
than compelling, especially given his long list of business accomplishments.
Endless tales of drug abuse and debauchery, gleefully told, belied
repeated claims of late recovery, sobriety and spirituality.
I have been around the block a few times and possess a similar background
and industry experience (though at a decidedly subordinate level)
to Yetnikoff's, but his litany of abuse to himself, his family and
others wasn't unenlightening and not even very entertaining.
Despite my revulsion, I remained curious about his business accomplishments:
a pioneering and lucrative partnership with Sony in Japan; pressing
and distribution deals with smaller labels and producers; managing
a diverse roster of recording artists including Michael Jackson,
Billy Joel, Mick Jagger, Marvin Gaye and Barbra Streisand; and a
cast of colorful and ignominious music and show biz characters.
In between celebratory stories of debauchery and excess, too few
business insights seeped through the main thread of Yetnikoff's
narrative of his drunken, stoned and obnoxious behavior. More's
the pity, as the music business he presided over is nearly gone.
Yetnikoff, who joined CBS as a corporate attorney recruited by fellow
legal eagle and future hit-maker Clive Davis was, in many ways,
a bridge from the industry's old hucksterism to its latter corporatism
If you have the stomach for it, you might glean a bit of information
between the author's recitations of endless trysts and substance
abuse. But much of this memoir is also devoted to transparent and
childish settling of scores from slights, betrayals, disloyalty
and more. I'm sure that Paul Simon, Michael Jackson, David Geffen,
Alan Grubman and Tommy Mottola were just devastated. Not!
It's doubtful that Yetnikoff will ever get another chance to delineate
his accomplishments, so he's squandered this opportunity, as he's
done with so many others. What a waste.
(I also checked the hardcover edition for passages that were abridged
from the audio version, but I didn't see very much of substance
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