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

Millions of Shoah records will finally be revealed

When Jews too weak to work were routinely marched from their concentration camp barracks into oblivion, when shrieking families with arms and fingers outstretched were torn apart during deportations, when the winds of politics and opportunity scattered refugees and survivors throughout the world, many rightfully thought that the story of their persecution and fate would be as indistinguishable as a single ash rising from a chimney.

Even though millions did not survive, much of their story did. The details are embedded within the miles of records housed by the International Tracing Service (ITS) located at Bad Arolsen, Germany.

But for 60 years those records have been secret, available only to survivors and their nuclear families tracing loved ones, and even then only after years of heartbreaking persistence.

After a decades-long international effort, the sensitive ITS archives will soon be pried open. The unlocking follows a hard-negotiated accord among the 11 nations that comprise the commission that owns the archive. Those countries are the United States, France, England, Belgium, Greece, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland and Israel, plus the two former Axis powers, Italy and Germany.

The International Red Cross was given custody and control of the archive, but only pursuant to the agreement.

Only an estimated 25 percent of the prodigious ITS collection relates to Jews. The remainder covers the fate of Gypsies, Poles, Dutch and numerous other groups targeted for oppression and destruction.

The implications for Holocaust and Nazi-era research are staggering.

Among the many by-products of the ITS revelations is vast additional proof of IBM’s minute-to-minute involvement in the 12-year Holocaust, new insights into the corporate beneficiaries of Germany’s slave and forced labor programs, an explosion of evidence that insurance companies participated in and benefited from the decimation of the Jews and the dark details of persecution suffered by millions of individuals who would have otherwise disappeared into the bleak vastness of Hitler’s war against humanity.

Some of the most important archival details of the nearly impenetrable archives have finally been revealed, exclusively to this writer.

At the forefront of the campaign to open the ITS files has been a passionate group of senior officials of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM). These include director Sara J. Bloomfield; senior adviser Arthur Berger; Paul Shapiro, director of the museum’s Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies; and the State Department’s Edward O’Donnell, an ex-officio member of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council.

Berger, in an interview, recalled his part in the frustrating struggle to open the archive: “We tried for years to work quietly behind the scenes — since 1991.” He added, “Paul Shapiro went with a group, and they refused to even let him tour the archive.”

A USHMM senior official, speaking on background, specified with irritation that the 11-member nature of the governing commission “would meet once per year for one day, each year in a different city. They received a dog-and-pony show from the ITS director, had a good lunch and went home. It was run like many a company board of directors.”

Finally, Berger went public on March 7, 2006, issuing a press release openly criticizing the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), charging, “the ITS and the ICRC have consistently refused to cooperate with the International Commission board and have kept the archive closed.”

Momentum and pressure resulted in a multinational agreement initiated May 16, 2006, to finally “open the archives,” allowing a full copy to reside in each nation’s designated archive. USHMM officials took center stage, vowing that America’s copy would be in their possession within months. Despite the inflated publicity, the digital transfer of the records has not happened and is not scheduled any time soon.

Bad Arolsen sources, in mid-January 2007, said the prodigious task of digitizing their mega-million record collection is progressing only slowly and is years from being complete. Sources on both sides of the Atlantic say the inter-governmental paperwork is not nearly complete.

The ICRC, for its part, has scoffed at the museum’s tactics, including Berger’s March 2006 press release. Asked if the press release attacking the Red Cross was accurate, one senior ICRC official in Geneva quipped, “I wouldn’t believe everything you read.”

Indeed, this reporter determined that USHMM guesswork had been the source of much of the inaccurate and unverified reporting in the media about ITS holdings. For example, Shapiro stated that the ITS held “30 [million]-50 million pages of records” divided into three collections: prisoner records; forced and slave labor; and displaced persons, but no one knew the details because the ITS has refused to reveal any information. Shapiro stated he based his remarks on “various statements by various people.”

In point of fact, this reporter has exclusively determined that ITS records number approximately 33.6 million pages divided into four record groups:

Section 1, dubbed “Incarceration Records,” concern concentration camps and other forms of imprisonment, totaling more than 4.42 million pages, dated 1933 to 1945, constituting 12.5 percent of the holdings.

Within Section 1, record subgroup 6 is a trove of prisoner cards organized by numbers and not names. These numbers were by and large assigned according to the Hollerith punch card system designed by IBM engineers. Forty-nine camps and ghettos are listed in this section, most assigned an alphabetically sequential number by the ITS. The Amersfoort police torture camp in Holland leads the list, numbered 1.1.1; the trio of Auschwitz camps in occupied Poland is 1.1.2, but those records hail mainly from the transport camp, with very little from the Birkenau death camp, and almost nothing from the Monowitz labor camp. The Warsaw Ghetto is listed as 1.1.4. Buchenwald is listed as 1.1.5.

Section 1’s subgroup 1.2.1 includes prisoner transport lists that were organized by IBM Hollerith and generally referred to in Nazi documents as “Hollerith transfer lists.” Subgroup 1.2.3 contains Gestapo registrations.

Section 2, dubbed “Forced Laborers,” with documents dating from 1939 to 1947, includes corporate involvement and insurance matters, and totals more than 4.45 million pages, or 13.5 percent. These files include the names of companies that benefited from slave labor. They are divided mainly by the Allied zone of occupation that captured the files. The American Zone is subgroup 2.1.1; the British Zone is 2.1.2. Nazi employment bureau records, such as the Employment Exchange in Warsaw numbered 2.3.3, are also contained in this collection. An IBM customer site in almost every concentration camp organized slave labor through the Abteilung Hollerith or Hollerith Department in each camp’s Labor Assignment Office. IBM personnel serviced the machines on site in the camps. These documents often carry IBM’s stamp of authenticity, “Hollerith erfasst,” that is, “registered by Hollerith.”

Krayzelburg to Defend Record in Athens

Swimmer Lenny Krayzelburg will go to the Athens Olympic Games, thanks to placing second in his race during the U.S. qualifying trials, a feat greeted with greater acclaim and emotion than his three gold medals in Sydney four years ago.

The Jewish immigrant from Odessa had the media, 10,000 spectators and even his rivals cheering as he finished the finals of the 100-meter backstroke in 54.06 seconds, behind world champion Aaron Peirsol.

With only the top two in every race assured a berth on the U.S. Olympic team, Krayzelburg beat third place Peter Marshall by four-hundredth of a second.

When the results were announced, Krayzelburg’s father Oleg, who brought his family to the United States in 1989, triumphantly waved a tambourine, while the stadium in Long Beach erupted into a noisy celebration.

To qualify, Krayzelburg had to overcome a series of handicaps that would have stopped a less-determined competitor.

For one, he is close to 29, considered ancient in a sport mostly dominated by teenagers. Even worse, he wasn’t sure whether he had fully recovered from a knee surgery and two shoulder operations.

A product of the intense Soviet training system for promising young athletes, Krayzelburg had difficult realizing his potential after his parents decided to leave Odessa for Los Angeles to escape Soviet anti-Semitism and the prospect that their only son would be drafted into the army.

The 14-year-old newcomer enrolled at Fairfax High School, which had no swimming team, and even taking a job at the Westside Jewish Community Center allowed him little chance for professional practice.

Ultimately, a swimming coach at Santa Monica College rediscovered Krayzelburg’s talent, got him a scholarship at the University of Southern California, and his career took off.

Although he has had no Jewish education and attends synagogue only on Yom Kippur, Krayzelburg is conscious of his roots, telling reporters: “Being Jewish is part of me, it’s part of my culture.”

After setting Olympic records in the 100-meter and 200-meter backstroke, and spurring the U.S. 4×100-meter medley relay team to a world record at the 2000 Games, Krayzelburg participated the following year at the Maccabiah in Israel, proudly carrying the Stars and Stripes into the stadium.

Standing 6-foot-2, with blond hair, blue eyes and a sculpted body, Krayzelburg has been a crowd favorite as much for his modest behavior as his good looks.

Following his feat last week, he easily stole the headlines from America’s current swimming sensations, Michael Phelps and Natalie Coughlin.

Also on hand at the stadium was a graying but fit Mark Spitz, who won a never-equaled seven gold medals in the 1972 Olympics swimming competition.

Phelps, the new American hope, is aiming to equal, or even surpass, Spitz’s record and, on Saturday, the 54-year-old Spitz symbolically passed the torch after the 19-year-old Phelps won his third gold of the trials in the 200-meter butterfly.

Spitz put the medal around Phelps’s neck on the victory stand, then raised the young swimmer’s arm in a victory salute, after promising to be in the stands in Athens to cheer on Phelps’s assault on his own 1972 record.

Also heading for Athens is another top Jewish swimmer, Jason Lezak of Irvine, who won the 100-meter freestyle on Sunday, after setting a new American record of 48.17 seconds a day earlier in the semifinals.

Stroll Among the Scrolls

In 1947, a young Bedouin scrounging around some caves about 15 miles from Jerusalem came across some sealed clay urns and unearthed one of the most important archeological discoveries of the century — the Dead Sea Scrolls. The scrolls are 2,000-year-old fragments of Hebrew manuscripts written on parchment, leather and copper. Some are transcriptions of Torah portions, others contain commentaries on the Torah, and still others contain records of a separatist Jewish sect in the mid-Second Temple era that established itself high on the hills of Qumran, where the scrolls were found.

A Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit is currently on display in Los Angeles, at the Visitors Center of the Mormon Church in Westwood. Mormons have a particular affinity for the Dead Sea Scrolls. They see parallels between themselves and the ascetic Qumran sect, and they believe that the history of a group of Jews who opposed the rulers in Jerusalem and went to live in the desert as described in The Book of Mormon is actually talking about the Qumran community.

For the past few years, Mormon scholars from Brigham Young University have been collaborating with scholars from Hebrew University in Jerusalem and the Israel Antiquities Authority to translate, study and electronically preserve the scrolls on CD- ROM.

The exhibit contains a model of the Qumran community, models of the urns that the scrolls were found in and facsimiles of the scrolls themselves, including 24-foot long replica of the Isaiah Scroll, the largest of all the Dead Sea Scrolls. On display are genuine artifacts from the era — a few coins from that were minted in Qumran and some clay oil lamps that were found near the scrolls themselves. It also has information about the process used to decipher the ancient scrolls, many of which were completely blackened with age when they were found.

While the exhibit is small, containing only five stations, it is enough to whet one’s appetite for the very big history contained in the scrolls themselves.

The Visitors Center is located on Temple Hill at 10777 Santa Monica Boulevard. To arrange for groups or for more information, call (310) 474-1549.

The Ear of the Beholder

When I worked for Warner Bros. Records, I spent a good deal of my time trying to calibrate, coordinate and prognosticate the exact moment the headlining artist would take the stage. This involved calls to the manager, the road manager, the box office, the artist and spiritual mediums. In four years there, I never once saw an opening act.

I bring all of this up because I recently found myself listening to something called Nestling Willy, an opening act for something called Caroline’s Spine. Nestling Willy sounded like a trio of pneumatic drills, slightly out of tune and amplified to the point of pain. I did not decipher one single word that they were singing — screaming, actually. They could have been screaming in another language for all I know, but I can’t even imagine what other culture could produce such a mess. Sadly, we can’t blame this on Afghanistan.

The reason I suffered so has to do with a girl named April who is as lovely as a spring day and knows the drummer, the pneumatic drill in the middle. She invited me to meet her at the show. "Do you like them?" she asked.

This was the moment in the movie when everything stops and gets all fuzzy. I think: Could I be with someone who actually likes this music? I mean, if she was an Al Qaeda operative, we could agree that she simply wasn’t worth the trouble, but where exactly do you draw that line? How low would you go? I don’t expect everyone to have as great taste in music as I, but how much sacrifice is expected in order to let romance flourish? I might have walked through the fires of hell to woo fair April, but even Dante would have hesitated to conjure this trio.

If, as part of my elaborate plot to win her favors, I tell her I do like them, I’m setting myself up for a lifetime of headbanging. Then, when I tell her I don’t want to walk down the aisle at our wedding to the strains of Metallica, she’ll know I was patronizing her. A refrain of the great romantic poet Meatloaf comes to mind: "I would do anything for love, but I won’t do that."

Yet, if I answer truthfully, "No, they suck," I’ll probably never get a chance to find out if this is the music she likes to listen to at top volume during the sexual act. (On the other hand, I don’t think I could perform to my usual high standards if this music was being played anywhere in the vicinity.)

Why don’t I like these guys? I used to be a pretty "with it" cat in my day. I try to keep up with the kids, but I don’t know if this was "grunge," "speed" or heavy metal. Heavy mental is more like it. I’m sure it would take a while to get a straight answer out of these three nincompoops as to what exactly it is they think they’re playing. It could be something called "alternative," but an alternative to what, I wonder? Good music? I sprinkle some applause their way in recognition of the effort.

At least it was free. My friend Charlie got me "on the list" — as though free admission was recompense for being tortured at the hands of amateur musicians.

I counted 41 people in the club. We were small in number, but we were mighty. Then April asked me to sign up for the band’s mailing list, which she was passing around on a clipboard. I would gladly have signed anything she presented to me, including a credit card receipt for their bar tab. After completing a lap of the crowd, she shilled for the band, pulling some guy out onto the dance floor with her, which had been utterly deserted to this point, as if the band was on fire and the audience was afraid of dancing too close to the flames. She abruptly abandoned him to continue her direct marketing solicitation, leaving the poor slob stuck out there, shaking his groove thing all alone with his shattered rock ‘n’ roll dreams lying in a heap all around him.

I know just how he feels. It seems April and Ringo might be more than just friends, which makes me a groupie for their groupie — chewed up and spit out by the star-maker machinery.

I exited quietly before the inevitable encore, crossed a barren Fairfax to my waiting car and turned on the radio. Ella Fitzgerald was taking the Ellington band through "Caravan." Order is restored.

J.D. Smith is banging his head @ www.lifesentence.net.

Sephardic and Ladino Music

Given that the first Jews to arrive in what became the United States were Sephardim on the run from the Inquisition’s Brazilian representatives, it is ironic that the music of the Sephardic Jews gets so little attention here.

Not everyone is a party to that neglect. Simon Rutberg of Hatikvah Music, offering a mind-boggling array of Jewish record-ings and music, has made it his business to bring a wide range of Sephardic and Ladino music to American listeners.

The records reviewed below were selected by Rutberg from his considerable stock and represent a small sampling of his favorites. Several of these records are distributed in the U.S. exclusively by Hatikvah. All of them are available from Rutberg, who can be reached by phone at (323) 655-7083 or by e-mail at Klezcorner@aol.com. You can also order them at Hatikvah’s Web site: www.hatikvahmusic.com

As for the music itself, two elements unite most of these records – the emotional power of minor scales and the expressiveness of the human voice.

Isaac Azose: “The Liturgy of Ezra Bessaroth” (privately produced).Congregation Ezra Bessaroth is a Rhodesli synagogue. The music of the Greek Jews – as you will learn from several of the CDs – is as different from that of other Sephardi musical traditions as the Gerer Chassidic tunes are from those of the Modzitzer, and the Rhodes tradition is equally distinct from that of, say Salonika. Judging from this 2-CD set, these compositions are wonderful vehicles for cantorial virtuosity but not to the exclusion of congregational singing, unlike the work of the great “Golden Age” cantors. Cantor Azose smiles out from the cover of this CD, a grandfatherly Ed Begley lookalike, but he has a powerful, flexible voice that belies his 68 years and recent retirement. The set has a pleasantly homemade quality, with the cantor introducing each selection with a brief explanation, then launching into an a cappella rendition of the setting. A rich musical tapestry in an austere setting. Rating: 4 1 1/2 stars.

Etty Ben-Zaken: “The Bride Unfastens Her Braids, the Groom Faints: Ladino Love Songs” (New Albion).Torrid stuff, this. Ben-Zaken has one of those husky, smoky altos like the great flamenco cantaoras, and she wields it with real power. The instrumental sound, from the Ensemble Yatan Atan, is highly reminiscent of Renaissance dance music, like many bands in this genre. A smoldering recording that manages to bring up unfamiliar material and avoids the air of sameness that too often creeps into recordings in this genre by, shall we say, visitors. Rating: 5 stars.

Fortuna: “Cantigas” (Sonopress); “Mazal” (MCD).Two CDs by a Ladino diva. Fortuna, who records in Brazil, reminds me of Judy Collins. She has a pretty but inflexible voice and sings with a complete lack of emotion and a minimum of expressivity. Both these albums are full of folky, new-agey settings that frame her voice with a lot of echo. If you care for that sort of thing, these will be to your taste and you can add a couple of stars. Rating: 2 stars.

Jana Lewitova and Rudolf Merinsky: “Sephardic Songs” (Classics Arta).No accident that this set is on a Czech classical label. A studiously authentic recording like this serves as another reminder of how much this particular tradition sounds like Renaissance dance music to my untrained ears. Lewitova is a graceful, elegant singer (although with a little Slavonic wobble), and she gets the maximum emotional impact out of some very lively (albeit somewhat more familiar) material. Expert accompaniment. Rating: 4 1¼2 stars.

Salamone Rossi: “The Songs of Solomon” (Panton). This recording is sort of the odd man out; Rossi belongs to the written classical tradition rather than the folk tradition of most of the music here. That said, he is undoubtedly the most famous Jewish classical composer working prior to the 19th century. An Italian Jew, he was a student and protégé of Claudio Monteverdi. His best known works are choral, and this splendid recording by the Kahn Chamber Soloists and Symposium Musicum under the direction of Pavel Kahn, released in the Czech Republic in the mid-’90s, highlights his finest accomplishment, a 33-song cycle of liturgical music. Rossi’s settings have the elegance of simplicity, with haunting harmonics, and the Kahn singers perform them with a restraint that allows them to speak for themselves. Rating: 5 stars.

David Saltiel: “Jewish Spanish Songs of Thessaloniki” (Oriente).Authenticity is not a guarantor of musical value, but this recording has plenty of both. Saltiel is not a professional singer, although he is backed here by professional musicians. But he is an inheritor of a unique musical tradition of Judeo-Spanish folk songs passed down through generations. His style is full of ornate melismatic phrases and a driving pulse. The result is Ladino folk music of raw power – moving in both senses of the word. Rating: 4 1¼2 stars.

“Songs for the Bride and Groom” (Oriental).Yet another very different musical tradition. This is an extraordinary recording, and I don’t know a darned thing about it. Apparently it’s some kind of a field recording of Yemenite wedding music, half women’s songs for the bride, half men’s songs for the groom. But there is no information on the CD jacket other than song titles (in Hebrew). But the music is riveting, moving effortlessly between pulsing, richly harmonized choral pieces and driving percussion-backed numbers that recall the great Nubian pop singer Ali Hassan Kuban. My only misgiving about the record is that it is under a half-hour long, which costs it a half-star. Rating: 4 1/2 stars.

Savina Yannatou: “Spring in Salonika” (Lyra).Yannatou is what Fortuna is trying to be, a powerful singer who is alternately ethereal and plaintive, with an instrument that is expressive far beyond an apparently limited range. The musicians backing her are sensitive accompanists and gifted improvisers, particularly violinist Kyriakos Gouvéntas and reed player Yannis Kaimakis. Poised somewhere between folk and classical, this is a gem, a prime example of how to keep a tradition alive without performing musical taxidermy. Rating: 5 stars.

New York-based writer George Robinson is the author of “Essential Judaism: A Complete Guide to Beliefs, Customs and Rituals” (Pocket Books, $27.95).