Stan Cornyn 55, with Paul Scanlon
HarperCollins, 2002 512 pages $39.95
I started this book, Ill confess, with the reservations I usually
hold for memoirs written with a (smaller type) co-author.
But it quickly becomes clear that this is a different kind of collaborative
worka blend of memoir and insiders history that moves seamlessly
between first person and third, between that which was lived and absorbed
first hand and that which must have resulted from lengthy and skillful
reportorial research and interviews.
What makes it fun is a combination of things. First, theres Cornyns
unmistakable voice. Like the off-the-wall ads for which he and Warner
Brothers Records were famous in the companys heyday, its an
odd mix of idealism and tough, wisecracking iconoclasm. Then theres
the unusual point of viewmemoir expanded into full-blown history.
And the peoplea lively cast of characters presented with all their
genius and all their flaws on display, plus backstage glimpses of most
of your favorite rock stars when they were just wannabes. And finally,
theres the subject matternothing less than the day-to-day
machinations behind the making of much of todays American pop culture.
Through it all, however, its a story about musicabout how
it was made and promoted, about people who learned to divorce their own
likes and dislikes from their sense of what would sell. As Atlantic Records
founder Ahmet Ertigun explains it to Cornyn at one point in the book,
You have to develop a second ear. The first one is your private
taste, which is what moves you personally. The second ear is one that,
when you listen to a piece of music and you personally think its
terrible but its a hit commerciallythe second ear has to say,
This is great! The second ear, if its good, is in tune
with the taste of the public.
The turning point in the book may be when Cornyn is driving home from
an all-day meeting concerning sales and restructuring and realizes that
no one, in eight to 10 hours of discussion, had said a word about the
music. Later on, he notes, people would look back at the antics of Cornyns
own vaunted creative services section and wonder aloud how
they got the license within the corporate world to spend money so recklessly
and intuitively on wild notions and creative schemes. In a way, the book
is an epitaph for that unfettered energy and enthusiasm for music that
once made WBR special, before the money managers painted over all its
psychodelic colors with corporate gray.
As an addendum to the book, Cornyn has also started a website (www.exploding.biz)
designed to allow his fellow music industry veterans to contribute stories
of their own. Among the offerings on the site are a WBR alumni directory
and the texts of many of Cornyns great, edgy WBR ads from the 60sfrom
Joni Mitchell takes forever to How we lost $35,509.50
on The Album of the Year (Dammit).