COLUMN NINETY-SIX, SEPTEMBER 1, 2003
(Copyright © 2003 The Blacklisted Journalist)
CALL HIM 'DANNY'
RECORD EXEC GOLDBERG
SAYS HE'S STILL A HIPPIE
(Photo by Peter Cunningham)
Looking at old photographs
of hippies from the Golden Age of the Counterculture 1965-?75 is a Rohrshach
test. The layers of long hair,
lysergically pinned pupils, and unshod feet cause many Americans to react in
horror, vote Republican, and load the metaphorical shotgun in preparation for
the return of the Manson family. Others
gaze wistfully at the joyful expressions, the implied soundtrack of the Beatles
and Hendrix, and the time when it felt as if world peace and economic justice
were just around the corner. The
latter group's wistful smile may be because it's them in the photographs.
By conventional standards,
Danny Goldberg is a successful and wealthy entrepreneur, married to
entertainment attorney Rosemary Carroll and the father of two children.
The 53-year old New Yorker was a rock critic who'through old-fashioned
industriousness?worked his way up the corporate ladder as public relations
flack, personal manager of musical acts from Bonnie Raitt and the Beastie Boys
to Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love, and record company executive (including Warner
Bros., Mercury, Atlantic, Modern, Swan Song and currently Artemis Records).
But the capitalist in him
shares his body with a relentless do-goodnik that manifests as a form of Jewish
hippie noblesse oblige. Countermanding
the late Jerry Rubin's yippie-turned-yuppie stereotype, Goldberg never stopped
being a hippie. It's not just his
long hair, beard stubble, vegetarianism, meditation practice and affinity with
rockers and rappers that makes him firmly countercultural but his dogged
activism on several fronts, most notably free speech.
He's on a slew of committees, including the New York Civil Liberties
Union and is President of the ACLU Foundation of Southern California.
From 1997 through early 2001, he and his father Victor were the
publishers of the progressive Jewish magazine Tikkun.
Last year, Danny, Victor and film director Robert Greenwald edited an
anthology of post-9/11 essays on uncivil liberties called It's A Free
Country, self-published for their company RDV Books whose next tome
is Art Attack, a collection by guerrilla poster artist Robbie Conal.
He's just written his
first book, Dispatches From The Culture Wars: How The Left Lost Teen Spirit
(Miramax Books) and it's an edgy, brash insider's look at the intersection
of politics and culture. If it were
music, one would say, "it rocks".
The title is an appropriation of a song by the late Cobain; Goldberg uses
'teen spirit? to mean vigor and enthusiasm.
While it's definitive reading for anyone who wonders how our country
veered so far right that it sometimes feels as though the North lost the Civil
War, the book is geared to the aging vets of Woodstock Nation. The title of the final chapter is To My Fellow Former
Hippies. We spoke
recently while he was in Los Angeles for an ACLU event.
"Not that everything associated with being a hippie was
great," he said. 'there was
drug abuse. There were shallow
aspects of it that had to do with fashion and slang.
But at the core of it, the way I use it has to do with the idealism of
coming out of the civil rights movement into the anti-war movement. The explosion of rock music as a real art form at a higher
level than it had previously been in terms of the lyrical tradition that Bob
Dylan helped usher in. And the
notion of community coming from a generation that I really felt part of and that
I still carry around inside me. That's
where my politics and professional life come from; feeling identification with
that loosely affiliated group of people that---broadly speaking---are called
But Goldberg's got a beef
with many of his brother and sister baby boomers.
"I felt," he said, 'that
they're a group of people who collectively I'm a bit disappointed in---in
the way they've dealt with the younger generation.
In terms of the political sphere, a lot of people who were hippies or
identified with that are not particularly open-minded about understanding that
we're not the teenagers anymore and we need to acknowledge and respect people
who are younger if we want to have meaningful politics."
The most public battle between Goldberg and aging boomers occurred in 1985 when Tipper Gore, in tandem with the wives of other Senators, co-founded the Parents Music Resource Center. The PMRC advocated a lyrics rating system. Although they insisted the ratings would be voluntary, they were treading a fine line between advice and censorship. Theoretically movie
ratings are also voluntary,
but many newspapers and stores (including the Blockbuster chain) will not have
any association with a film labeled NC-17, thereby making the system a form of
social control. Tipper was a self-proclaimed fan of "60s rock,
notably the Grateful Dead, whose aesthetic had evolved from psychedelic drugs.
The hypocrisy was transparent.
She became symbolic of a generation who'd chanted "Gimme an F!" at
Woodstock but who were now worried that the very same words and concepts would
corrupt their own offspring.
Goldberg had already
established his activist credentials by co-producing and co-directing the
documentary No Nukes in 1980 in alliance with Musicians United for
Safe Energy (MUSE), co-producing MTV's first voter registration commercials in
"84 and working on other progressive causes. In response to the PMRC, Goldberg was named chairman of
the Musical Majority, formed by the ACLU to oppose the non-issue of rock lyrics.
Despite the PMRC's claim that they had no interest in legislation, the
Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee held a hearing on rock
lyrics. Al Gore's membership on
that committee was clearly no coincidence.
While the Reagan Administration was shredding the New Deal, Democrats
like Gore found the time to denounce Madonna.
Goldberg gained national attention by eloquently defending the First
Amendment. In a draw, the ratings
system idea died and voluntary "parental advisory? warnings were stickered
While many boomers are
content to listen to Stairway To Heaven over and over, Goldberg's
eclectic and evolving musical taste has not only worked for him as a record
exec, it's allowed him to hear music through the ears of a much younger
audience. Artemis Records,
which he co-founded, has on its roster?among others---rapper Kurupt, heavy
metal rockers Kittie and country maverick Steve Earle, whose controversial album
Jerusalem was written and recorded at Goldberg's urging.
In toto, these artists
cover virtually every age demographic and this ability to keep open-minded
informs his politics.
"It doesn't make any
difference if a 40-or 50-year old listens to rap or not, but it would be a
cultural and moral error to condescend or demonize rap," he said.
'similarly, if you don't reach out to younger people politically, you
can scarcely be surprised if they don't participate politically.
If they're not voting, maybe it's our fault for not motivating them. We need to provide a politics that speaks to them.
Historically, all progressive political change has included young
Though critical of specific
tactical errors, Goldberg alludes to the Yippies'the radical hippies of the "60s
including Paul Krassner, Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin?as making the urgent
point that "culture was an important vehicle to convey political ideas.
They didn't only communicate through linear policy statements like
earnest but humorless leftists, but by finding the imprecise language of culture
they could affect many, many more people. They
left incredible clues about how to reach a bigger audience, a younger audience,
how to have a populist progressive politics that has mostly been lost.
'the one person today on
the big stage who has that kind of insight is Michael Moore," Goldberg noted.
"If people in political life want to be successful, they need to
develop the intuitive side of their political brains and not only the literal
sides. The Right has been much more
attentive to cultural tools in terms of conveying political ideas than the Left
has the last 20 years."
Goldberg pointed out the late
Speaker of the House Tip O?Neill as an example of a liberal politician who
figured out how to combat the charismatic movie star Ronald Reagan.
Though frumpy and white-haired, O?Neill, according to Goldberg, "did
his cultural homework. He was very effective in stopping social security cuts and
the war in Nicaragua because he spoke unambiguous English.
He'd say "he's got ice water in his veins?, "he only talks to
rich people?, he went on Cheers. Speaking
common American is a learnable skill. The
Republican advantage is "cause so many of their candidates come out of the
business world and big business---for all of its flaws?is much more
sophisticated in dealing with the public because of advertising and PR
Like many of Goldberg's
insights, they come from a man who?as Joni Mitchell sang---has looked at life
from both side now.
'the hippie inside me,?
he said, "has oftentimes been unhappy with the businessman inside me---the
concern with money, credit, the competitiveness with other people.
Those aspects of myself that created my success in business certainly
clash with some of the notions of who I was going to be as a teenager---who was
just a fan of music. There are contradictions and trade-offs.
I ultimately made the choice not to live in a commune and grow organic
vegetables but to be a record executive and to make as much money as I could
"But in the context of what I do, I've tried to honor the things that inspired me to get into the business such as making records with Allen Ginsberg or the political activity that I've done. I was not a pure extension of hippie consciousness but I was deeply influenced by the hippie period and the influences never left me." ##
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