November 17, 2012
Doc shows influential David Geffen
By Bill Harris, QMI Agency
There was a time, in the 1970s and 1980s, when being the most important person in the music business essentially made you the king of the world. David Geffen was that person.
Nonetheless, while watching the fascinating new documentary Inventing David Geffen, I continually was surprised by how many things Geffen put his stamp on through the decades, from music to movies to theatre to politics.
I didn't know all that much about this highly influential man -- who was both incredibly supportive of, and brutally honest with, his acts and friends -- other than remembering Geffen Records from back in the day.
But Inventing David Geffen -- which makes its television debut Tuesday on most PBS affiliates as part of the American Masters series -- serves as a de facto history of the entertainment business over the past 45 years.
Long story short: Geffen started in the mail room at the William Morris Agency in 1964, and by 1972 he had sold two companies. Geffen was essential to the early careers of artists such as Crosby, Stills and Nash, Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne and the Eagles. Geffen's record labels boasted acts as diverse as John Lennon, Donna Summer, Elton John, Guns N' Roses and Nirvana. And Geffen was one of the three founders of the DreamWorks movie studio, along with Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg.
It was odd being in the same room with Geffen, now 69, at the Television Critics Association tour in Los Angeles last summer. He had been brought in by the well-meaning people at PBS to promote the doc, which they understandably are very proud of, but you could tell pretty quickly that Geffen didn't want to be there.
He seemed bored by the subject matter, even though the subject matter was himself. There were a lot of short answers, but some were fascinating nonetheless.
On being a record-company executive today: "I would kill myself."
On mining talent: "Everybody is a star after they are successes."
On artists who turned him down: "There were many. I wanted R.E.M. But it's not about the ones that say no. It's about the ones that say yes. Your life isn't made up of the people who aren't in it."
On the current movie business: "The biggest movies in the world today don't have stars in them."
On watching this documentary: "I did not think that I was a great candidate for this. You can decide for yourself when you see the film. I was happy with it. I'm proud of all of the things I've done. I look back on it, particularly in seeing this film, and I think, 'Wow, you did all of that.' I don't tend to think about the past. I don't like to talk about myself. I avoid it as much as possible. And when I saw the film, I thought, 'Wow.' I was impressed."
Hmmm, is that arrogance or modesty?
Doesn't matter. David Geffen's results always get the last word.