Paul Tollett really did it this time.
The black hat-wearing Goldenvoice head honcho and founder of Coachella gave a wide-ranging interview to The New Yorker’s John Seabrook that has been heavily scrutinized by the media (myself included) for the small tidbits and salacious details that have shaken out of the article.
The biggest revelation — a small gem with WME’s Marc Geiger explaining Tollett’s unwillingness to book Kate Bush for Coachella. Here’s the passage:
In addition to curating the lineup, Tollett had booked the hundred and fifty acts himself, negotiating all the offers with agents — a six-month process. He also fielded a lot of pitches that he had to turn down. Marc Geiger, of WME, described their working method: “I’ll say, ‘Kate Bush!’ And he’ll go, ‘No!,’ and we’ll talk through it. I’ll say, ‘She’s never played here, and she just did thirty shows in the U.K. for the first time since the late seventies. You gotta do it! Have to!’ ‘No! No one is going to understand it.’ ”
Ok, first a very important point — neither Marc Geiger nor WME represents Kate Bush. That’s right. So he wasn’t “pitching” her in the sense that an agent pitches his client to a promoter or Hollywood studio. Geiger was merely sharing his passion for Kate Bush’s music and artistry with Tollett — he was pitching Kate Bush like you would pitch a friend on a Netflix show or new Thai restaurant. (Someone “pitched” me on the idea that maybe Geiger was pitching Tollett on Kate Bush so that he could turn around and sign Kate Bush. Maybe. A little far-fetched, but maybe.)
Second, Bush has never expressed any interest in playing Coachella. The story prompted a terse response from Bush’s representatives, who told The Guardian newspaper the artist’s “show was conceived for a very specific type of venue. No discussions were ever had with Kate about playing any festival, including Coachella.”
So why are we even talking about this? First we need to look at why Geiger even mentioned this conversation to Seabrook. My gut is that Geiger was attempting to make a much larger point about the frequent back-and-forth that happens between agents and Tollett as the Coachella lineup slowly comes together. It was probably a brief, vapid conversation that was both forgettable and unremarkable, only resurfacing because Geiger was trying to make a big picture point on the way Tollett’s mind works.
Should Seabrook have mentioned this conversation in his story? I’m not sure what kind of “off-the-record, on-the-record” agreement he had with Geiger, but I do think it showed the reader “how the sausage gets made” when it comes to programming these larger festivals. That being said, the second I read the line, I said to myself “oh, this is going to piss someone off,” knowing that it would likely prompt a reaction.
Details, details, details. They all get us in the end, don’t they? As someone who covers the business side of music and touring, I am cautious when it comes to publishing behind-the-scenes stories about artists and what’s involved in booking their tours. The last thing an agent wants to do is say something that casts a negative dispersion on an artist. I have an unspoken understanding with many of the people I cover that artist anecdotes like these are helpful in making a larger point, but that they shouldn’t be published as a direct quote. Just because you tell me that a certain band hates playing fairs or the state of Florida, doesn’t mean I’m going to turn around and write it verbatim — more likely, I’ll take that information and use it as background to flesh out the larger story.
That being said, I can’t fault Seabrook for using that tidbit or some of the other details that he published that Tollett and Goldenvoice, in hindsight, might not have wanted to have aired publicly. Seabrook is just doing his job, and I think we can all agree that a 10,000-word feature on Tollett that didn’t include any actual news would be a pretty damn boring read. For all the inside access Seabrook was granted, I’m sure he witnessed a lot of music industry groveling and back-stabby bullshit that he didn’t include in his story.
Hell, I’d even venture to say that the music trade’s reluctance to publish salacious details like the Kate Bush conversation are what make them all the more interesting when they appear in widely read publications like The New Yorker. People love to read this kind of inside baseball, but when we hesitate to share it, we create a pent-up demand. And then when writers like Seabrook come along and share, verbatim, the colorful conversations we all know are happening, we all tend to go crazy about what’s been publicly aired.
I reached out to Tollett and Geiger’s rep for their own take on the story, but have not yet received an on-the-record response. I’m sure there are folks that are a bit peeved with Geiger for giving that quote to The New Yorker, but to the guy’s credit, he was trying to be helpful and share some insight into the crazy back-and-forth that happens around Coachella. Like I said before, this was probably a short conversation that both Tollett and Geiger probably forgot about.
Perhaps that’s my only critique of Seabrook — that this salacious tidbit is a throw-away detail and that there’s a much bigger booking story that he missed, namely the crazy back and forth around the race to replace Beyonce as a headliner. As someone who covered this story in-depth for Billboard, I can tell you that there was some serious lobbying behind the scenes by WME and other agencies to have their artist replace Beyonce after her pregnancy forced her to postpone her performance.
We all saw that Lady Gaga won the day, but I know there were some high-pressure calls from other agents to get their superstar artists on the Coachella poster. I guarantee you those stories are far more interesting than Geiger pitching Paul Tollett on an artist Geiger doesn’t rep. Will they ever get told? Probably not. As much fun as it is to share salacious stories, we still have to submit our press pass requests to Goldenvoice if we want to cover Coachella. So while it’s fun to publish these back-stabby news items, if we’re going to deliver the real goods, then it’s important to do so in a way that doesn’t prevent any of us from scoring free shit in the future!
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