Friday, May 29, 2015

The Blue-Eyed Jew Behind Gangsta Rap (Part 2)

Reviled for having as his mentor a middleaged Jew, Wright, better known as Eazy-E, demanded to know where Al Sharpton, Don King, and Lewis Farrakhan had been while Heller was making him rich. Heller made hilarious pronouncements, such as that Ice Cube, who is as much a poet as you, the reader, are a ballerina, was nothing less than the poet laureate of rap, and that NWA and Public Enemy were carrying on the work of Dr. King and…Bobby Kennedy? Then Dr. Dre and Ice Cube left, accusing Heller of having cheated them, and everybody wrote songs about sodomizing one another with broomsticks in between meeting at Roscoe’s in Hollywood for chicken and waffles. “It’s not possible to steal from an artist,” Heller would muse ruefully on a hot Saturday morning in the spring of 2013, “unless you rob them like you rob a bank.”

Nowadays, a couple of decades past his period of greatest prosperity, he teaches, or at least tells his wealth of stories, at UCLA and Cal State Northridge. And then he gets home and finds that a great many of the wide-eyed college kids whom he’s just told, for instance, about David Geffen infuriating him so much that he threw armfuls of Asylum Records releases into Sunset Blvd., have asked to be his friend on Facebook. The bad news being that the first thing they all ask the moment he clicks Confirm Friend Request is, “How do I become a star?”

He’s read for a part in a forthcoming David O. Russell film. According to the director’s…people, David loved him, and they will be getting back to him. Heller has, moreover, spoken with Mark Wahlberg’s…people about the actor playing Heller in an adaptation for the screen of Heller’s 2006 exultantly vulgar memoir Ruthless, in which, hilariously again, he describes Dr. Dre as the pre-eminent musical genius of our time.

Believing Latino to be the demographic of the future — Latinos make up the fastest-growing segment of the population, but all the Latino stars seem to want to become pop artists the minute they gain momentum — he formed Streetlife Records in the middle of the last decade with Johnny J, who produced tracks for Tupac Shakur, but nothing much happened before Johnny “J” killed himself in LA County Jail a couple of years later. “I have never discovered a new artist in the traditional sense,” Heller admits, seemingly forgetting his Golliwogs-at-the-nurses-bar anecdote. “I don’t have to be first, though. Do you think Rodney King was the first African-American guy the cops beat up on the freeway? I can follow somebody else’s formula. I’m a terrific mimic.”

While swimming in the Eden Roc hotel’s swimming pool in Miami much more recently, he realized a couple of African-American guys — he purports to relate to prejudice only as one who’s suffered it, and dutifully intones Jesse Jackson’s polysyllabic substitute for “black” — were calling his name. Not that their doing so was any surprise. “I am,” he says, “the most recognizable white face in the world to the black community. I have mothers coming up to me with tears in their eyes to thank for giving their sons an opportunity to be something other than Michael Jackson.” Not, mind you, that the two African-Americans turn out to have anything to do with this anecdote. It’s actually the guy in the inflatable raft about whom we’re concerned, as it was he who informed Heller that his son has a terrific rock and roll band to whose CD Heller ought to listen. He did, and Became Involved with the transplanted-from-Pittsburgh rock band 28 North, which sings, plays, and writes well, but are beardy and very old hat, and likely to appeal in the main to dudes in baseball caps and beer guts. Not, in other words, that to which you might expect the visionary who guided West Coast gangsta rap to the toppermost of the poppermost to have hitched his wagon.

Of course, it could be that Jerry Heller’s secretly hoping that a call from David O. Russell will make it possible for him to leave the music business behind after all these decades. “I don’t relate well to the business today,” he sighs. “The Internet provides inexpensive marketing and promotion, but nobody knows how to make money, and I get bored with things that don’t make money.”

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Blue-Eyed Jew Behind Gangsta Rap

Gone, all of it gone. The rapturous first-name greetings from the matires d’ of the chicquest restaurants in Hollywood, gone. Gone, the negotiations with Mo or Jo, Jay Lasker, Clive, or other Giants of Our Industry while getting fellated by $500/hour hookers. Gone, the lakes of cognac and great glittering dunes of blow. Gone too, after 20 years, even the scandalously young, blonde, megahottie wife, as seen on Baywatch, encamped now in the beach house they once shared, and there presumably seeing a lot of a more age-appropriate boyfriend while her lawyers drool at the prospect of relieving Jerry Heller of a huge hunk of the fortune he amassed over nearly five decades in the music biz. If he wants to get laid nowadays, he…rents.

Of the myriad stars to whose success he may have contributed over the decades, he has had to admit to himself that “I have very little in common with most of them.” He’s still tight with the singer of the long-forgotten Rose Royce, but a lot of the non-forgotten ones — Van Morrison, John Fogerty — are “horrible human beings who wouldn’t survive on the planet if it weren’t for their talent.”

There is no Tower Records now, nowhere to pleasantly squander an afternoon choosing which music to buy in part because of the cover artwork. Bobby Hilburn, who obligingly made a pudgy English kid with Jose Feliciano’s voice into a superstar for him by putting the pudgy English kid on the cover of the  Los Angeles Times’s Calendar section, is long retired (and, to be fair, was known to absolutely no one as Bobby, and didn’t decide who appeared on Calendar’s cover). The Giants of Our Industry have been supplanted in too many cases by little pishers who weren’t even alive yet when the Billboard pop chart read like Jerry Heller’s client roster, little pishers who, without Google, might not recognize him as the most savagely reviled (at least on record) man in the history of the music business, cited in no fewer than half a dozen of XXL magazine’s 20 most malignant diss songs ever. 

“Gang-banged by Jerry Heller,” rapped the future sitcom producer Ice Cube early in his career, “Getting’ money out yo’ ass like a mothafuckin’ ReadyTeller…You let a Jew break up my crew…Get rid of that devil real simple: put a bullet in his temple.” Little wonder that in the years of his greatest success and fame, when his was the most prominent white face in West Coast gangsta rap, Heller asked his young blonde megahottie wife to carry a gun in her purse, and didn’t enter the Calabasas mansion they shared until one of his bodyguards, either the 350-pound one, or the 375-pound one who’d been an offensive lineman in the NFL, had assured him it was safe to do so.

Earlier, he’d been Creedence Clearwater Revival’s agent, and Marvin Gaye’s and Van Morrison’s. He’d helped launch Elton John (the pudgy English kid with Jose Feliciano’s voice) and Pink Floyd in America, and reveled in having a knack for being in the right place at the right time; he’d actually discovered John Fogerty’s band, then known as The Golliwogs, when he went to a bar in San Francisco popular with nurses said to be easily seduced. Later, he’d become seriously rich booking many of David Geffen’s most acclaimed singer/songwriters, but lost much of his credibility at the end of the ‘70s when he leapt aboard the new wave/skinny tie bandwagon. Only too late did he realize that new wave had apparently been dreamed up by a cabal of rock critics intent on humiliating The Titans of Our Industry.

He licked his wounds and spent three quarters of a decade trying to reconcile himself to the prospect of never again earning more than a quarter of a million dollars per year, and to having to drive last year’s Cadillac. But his stock hadn’t dropped so low that little Eric Wright, maybe the most ambitious drug dealer in Compton, wasn’t willing to pay $750 to be introduced to him. Thank to Heller’s not sharing what he perceives as a common music-biz discomfort around darker-skinned African-Americans, the odd couple hit it off instantly, and formed Ruthless Records, sold a great, great many of them, and outraged the, uh, law enforcement community.

[Concludes tomorrow.]