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HOWLING AT THE MOON by Walter Yetnikoff Kirkus Star


Confessions of a Music Mogul in an Age of Excess

by Walter Yetnikoff with David Ritz

Pub Date: March 2nd, 2004
ISBN: 0-7679-1536-4
Publisher: Broadway

Yetnikoff, head of CBS Records Group from the mid-’70s through the ’80s, looks back on his addled joyride at the top of the American music business.

During his tenure, when he ruled at the biggest record label in the US, Yetnikoff was considered an unholy terror, a loose cannon, and the most unpredictable of music powerbrokers. This brisk, uncensored, and often hilarious tragicomic memoir tells how Yetnikoff plunged from the apex of his profession to the cellar riding a tidal wave of alcohol through a blizzard of cocaine. The story moves swiftly from his youth in an abusive Brooklyn household of Polish Jews to his rapid ascent in the business affairs department at CBS Records. He took the helm at CBS’s music division in 1975, and he gives a shpritzing account of the no-holds-barred reign that ended with his ouster in 1989. Blotto from a constant intake of coke and vodka and incessant womanizing, Yetnikoff careened from one outrageous encounter to another as he racked up hit after hit. He offers recollections of in-your-face confrontations with such players as Clive Davis, David Geffen, mega-attorney Allen Grubman, his label successor Tommy Mottola, and his bête noir, CBS honcho Lawrence Tisch, as well as Norio Ohga and Akio Morita of Sony Corp., which purchased CBS Records in the late ’80s. There are also amusing anecdotes about the care and feeding of superstars like Michael Jackson, Barbra Streisand, Bruce Springsteen, and Paul Simon. These bile-spewing stories are so funny that it’s almost possible to forgive Yetnikoff such lapses as his ingenuous apologies for the payola abuses of independent promotion men. The author winds down after his expulsion from the majors; he gravely details his route to sobriety through his commitment to 12-step work. It’s an all-too-familiar penitent wrap-up to a highly entertaining account of life in the music industry at the height of its glamour and excess.

As drug-crazed, booze-swilling megalomaniacs go, Yetnikoff makes excellent company.