MOGULS AND MADMEN: The Pursuit of Power in Popular Music by Jory Farr

MOGULS AND MADMEN: The Pursuit of Power in Popular Music

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Though uneven, this volume is full of wild stories about the men behind the most important -- and atrocious -- popular music of the last ten years. This book isn't so much about the suit-clad figures whose calculations control what pop music we hear, but about the more desperate and compelling characters -- the wild-eyed producers and talent scouts (or A&R men), many up from the streets -- who discover and mold today's hitmakers. These include Rick Rubin, who recorded early rappers in his dorm room at New York University and went on to produce the Beasty Boys and Mick Jagger; Johnny (""Hell is My Playground"") Zazula, who returned from prison to discover and produce Metallica and Anthrax; Jimmy Bowen and Tony Brown, producers of many of the hits, good and bad, in the recent country music revival; and Benny Medina, the determined Los Angelino behind TV's ""Fresh Prince of Bel-Air"" and Prince, the musician. In an industry where racism and sexism are rampant, Farr's eight male subjects seem more amoral than immoral, more hooked on the pleasures of power (which Farr rightly sees as a kind of narcissism) than sex. Pop culture critic Farr seems keen on Jungian archetypology (he calls Rubin a ""shadow magician""), but he resists indulging in it. On the downside, Farr's complaints about his subjects' betrayal of art's higher principles sometimes sound naive, and he spends too much time on details of legal disputes (especially on a fight between rap's Ruthless Records and some of its former artists). He's fascinated with these birds' odd plumage but offers few insights into how the music they make connects to power and profit in the wider culture. Ultimately, these moguls don't seem very mad at all; though Farr disapproves of many of their actions (he faults Rubin for recording controversial acts like rap's Geto Boys), one ends up admiring all eight, especially given the harsh lives they've overcome.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1994
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster