David Geffen at press tour: unfettered and alive

BEVERLY HILLS, CA–PBS officials Sunday kept telling us what a big deal it was to have David Geffen in the house.
The media mogul had left his yacht and flown in from Sardinia just for this occasion, we were told. He’s notoriously press shy and camera shy, added Susan Lacey. She’s the long time executive producer of American Masters, which will air Inventing David Geffen Nov. 20.
The guy certainly didn’t fuss over wardrobe, arriving in a casual white shirt plucked straight from the dryer and wrinkled pants. He had that too rich to care thing happening. He also looked like a cross between Alan Brady and Mel Cooley from The Dick Van Dyke Show.
Even Geffen knows that. Asked what he thought about seeing his life unfold in the American Masters special, he commented, “You watch yourself get old and bald, and it’s a sobering experience.”
Still, he likes American Masters (which scored its best ratings ever this season with its Johnny Carson profile) and was flattered to be considered one by PBS.
The man surely qualifies. The breadth of influence this guy has lorded over the entertainment business the past four decades is breathtaking. From his humble beginnings as a gofer at William Morris to his power agent days, managing the careers Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, the Eagles–the list goes on and on. For years he stoked the star making machinery behind the popular song.
Hie dabbled in film, returning to music to produce albums for John & Yoko, Guns N’ Roses, Aerosmith, Cher and Peter Gabriel, then formed another label to release CDs for Nirvana, Sonic Youth, etc.
He’s had huge stage successes. He produced hit films like Risky Business and Beetlejuice. He helped form (and finance) Dreamworks. He’s in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
He’s so vain, you’d have to think, Carly Simon even outed him as the guy in the song. “That’s not true,” he stated. “I’m not saying I’m not vain; I’m not her vain.”
So he has a sense of humour, something celebs in the doc, like Warren Beatty, credit him with.
Asked what he’d do if he were starting out in the music business today, his response was quick and blunt: “I’d kill myself,” he says.
He says the death of CDs and DVDs has wrecked the business models he mined for millions. He says stars don’t make or break movies any more. “The biggest movies in the world today don’t have stars in them,” he says, naming Avatar as an example. “The story means more today than the cast means today–and that’s a big change.”
He didn’t always get it right, he admitted. Art Garfunkel asked him early on in the Simon & Garfunkel days if he should go back to architecture school or stick with show business. “Stay in school,” advised Geffen.
He never got to rep certain artists he pursued, such as R.E.M. A big regret? “It’s not about the ones who say no,” he said with a shrug. “It’s about the ones who say yes.” Then, sounding profound by stating the obvious: “Your life isn’t made up of the people who aren’t in it.”
Some guy in the room asked if he had ever come across an album of astrology songs. “No,” said Geffen, surely sorry he’d left the yacht for this. Buddy then tells him he’s written one and it’s on the Internet. “I was just curious how much penetration I’d gotten with it,” the dude says. The guy kinda looked like Sid Dithers from SCTV.
PBS scrambled to put security on the door the rest of the afternoon.
There was some discussion about Joni Mitchell, Geffen’s old gal pal, and has she had enough recognition for being a genius. Geffen says yes. Geffen confirmed he has nothing whatsoever to do with Dreamworks any more, if you don’t count all the stock he still owns. Is there a job he’d like today in show business? “I’m 69, I don’t want a job,” he says. He claims he doesn’t own a cell phone, has never sent a text and doesn’t have a bank card. What for when you are a bank.
There were a few more questions, then he got the hell out of the building.
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