September 25, 2018

Danny Goldberg: Hangin’ with the ‘geniuses’ of rock ‘n’ roll

No one ever said the life of a rock ‘n’ roll star was easy, and if you’re the one responsible for their success, keeping an artist both successful and happy can be no less daunting.

Danny Goldberg gives us a good taste of life in the music biz in his new memoir, “Bumping Into Geniuses: My Life Inside the Rock and Roll Business” (Gotham, $26). Now 58, Goldberg takes us back to his early roots as a teen in the ’60s and then spans the last four decades, during which he bumps into some well-known musicians, resulting in a fascinating look at the rock ‘n’ roll life.

Goldberg was brought up in New York City in a liberal, secular Jewish household and always had a great interest in music. He was inspired by the civil rights movement and organized marches against the war in Vietnam. He also was an enormous fan of the political folk musicians of the ’60s, including Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Phil Ochs. Like Dylan, Goldberg eventually plugged into the rock scene and began to connect with the music of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Janice Joplin and The Who.

At the impressionable age of 19, Goldberg was writing a column for the weekly trade magazine Record World. His big desire was to learn all he could about the industry, but he found that being a little lucky didn’t hurt. Among his first breaks included securing a press pass to the Woodstock Festival in 1969; the 1970s found him working for Led Zeppelin, first as their publicist and later as the vice president of their record company. Goldberg also helped launch Stevie Nick’s solo career during the height of Fleetwood Mac’s popularity, and he was responsible for helping to reignite Bonnie Raitt’s career in 1990, when she won four Grammys for her album, “Nick of Time.”

Not surprisingly, Goldberg is constantly asked about Nirvana, Seattle’s biggest musical claim to fame in the ’90s. He managed Kurt Cobain and Nirvana during the height of their success with their chart-topping album, “Nevermind.” He also played a pivotal role in the career of Cobain’s wife, Courtney Love, and her band, Hole, during the years leading up to Cobain’s 1994 suicide.

And let’s not forget Goldberg’s association with Warren Zevon. Zevon became a symbol of success and sadness in 2004, when he finally got the recognition he deserved as a notable songwriter, even as he approached death from cancer.

But it’s not only the tales themselves that make “Bumping Into Geniuses” a great read; it’s how Goldberg tells the stories. You really get the feeling that he loved every moment. He appears to have learned as much from his minor setbacks as he did from his major successes.

Ironically, this book detailing the ins and outs of the rock ‘n’ roll business is Goldberg’s second memoir. Goldberg has spent a great deal of his life mixing it up in politics. His first book, “Dispatches From the Culture Wars: How the Left Lost Teen Spirit” (Miramax, 2003), reads like a last plea to Democrats to get their voices heard. And, not surprisingly, Goldberg has also used music to try to influence politics. His association with John Hall, a co-founder of the band Orleans (“Dance With Me,” “Still the One”) and now successful congressman from upstate New York, led to the organization of the 1979 “No Nukes” concert that featured Raitt, Jackson Browne and Bruce Springsteen. Goldberg is also a founding member of the board of advisers for the Progressive Jewish Alliance and the American Civil Liberties Union. He recalls, “When I lived in Los Angeles, I was very active with the ACLU, helping them with fundraising, especially.” His interest in politics also involved the 2008 presidential election. He has attended musical rallies by the Old ’97s to help raise funds for the Obama campaign in Ohio, being a big believer that musicians can influence politics in a positive way.

These days, Goldberg represents a slew of musicians who run the gamut from the flamboyant, cock-sure rock romp of the Swedish band, The Hives, to the more politically motivated musical statements by Rage Against the Machine and singer-songwriter Steve Earle. In addition to running Gold Village Entertainment in New York and raising two teenagers, Goldberg expressed the hope that he’d find time to write another book or two along the way. On behalf of anxious music lovers everywhere, let’s cross our fingers that it happens sooner rather than later.

Robert Plant and Danny Goldberg 1975 Chicago. Photo by Neal Preston