After I stopped processing words for the biggest fascist law firm in San Francisco, I imagined that I’d resume being a famous writer. I imagined incorrectly. Within two years I was back to processing words for lawyers, albeit the invariably down-to-earth ones who worked for The City, on scandalously outdated computers that were all The City could afford. But then I wrote a novel and sent it to the New York-based literary agent who’d represented me years before, prior to my getting on her nerves by being…me, and she liked it enough to take me on again. While she peddled it, she said, it would be good if I could come up with a couple of saleable nonfiction ideas, just in case.
Naturally, what she wound up selling — to a publishing, uh, house that specialized in celebrity tell-all crapola — was one of the nonfiction ideas, a biography of David Geffen, who’d just sold his record company for a great, great deal of money. I’d met him, two decades before, when he’d tried to keep me from attending a performance by Laura Nyro, whose Svengali he was at the time, because she wasn’t feeling well and I had a reputation for tearing to pieces artists I didn’t like. I actually loved Laura Nyro.
Boy, did I not have fun trying to write about Geffen. He didn’t want me writing his biography, and everyone in Hollywood soon knew it. He had a great deal of power, and was known for his vengefulness, and I spent most of my work day being hung up on by people who didn’t have a terribly difficult time deciding between helping out someone who years before had torn to pieces an artist they’d hoped would be their meal ticket, on the one hand, and, on the other, staying on the good side of one of the most powerful, vengeful players in American entertainment.
Michelangelo Signorile, who detested Geffen for not admitting to his homosexuality, was delighted to talk, and talk, and talk. I sent Geffen a letter saying that I sure hoped I wouldn’t have as the only sources for my book gay militants who loathed him. Soon thereafter, I received a letter from the extremely powerful entertainment lawyer Bert Fields warning me that my letter had looked a lot like blackmail. New York-based gossip columnists noted the zany goings-on.
My editor put me in touch with one of his best-selling authors, J. Randy Taraborelli, who specialized in dreadfully written celebrity biographies (and who, this being a wacky, wacky world, is still being published, 22 years later (watch for his forthcoming definitive biography of Beyonce!)). J. Randy suggested I hire one of his private investigators, who came up with something ever so juicy: Elton John disliked Geffen. Money well spent! The only major figure who’d actually talk to me in the end was Jerry Heller, who’d once been a prominent agent, and had since come to manage the gangsta rap NWA, whom he called the black Beatles with a straight face.
Having very little to go on, I pretended when I finally sat down to try to turn my pathetic collection of notes and press clippings that I was Tom Wolfe, trying to make up for with exhibitionistic prose and sarcasm what I lacked in substance. I had the wonderful idea of thanking in a foreword all of the dozens of persons who’d hung up on me. I wouldn’t actually be saying they’d talked to me, and Geffen would draw his own conclusions. I made myself laugh for the first time in weeks.
My editor pronounced my book a disaster, and I went back to redeeming empty aluminum cans for a living.