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Flip Side to Pop Music's Drug War

NARAS Head Michael Greene Draws More Fire Than Praise for Campaign to Stem Abuse

August 05, 1996|STEVE HOCHMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

There's a joke about the entertainment industry that's a favorite of Michael Greene, the outspoken president of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences.

"It seems that whenever we get into a dispute over something," he says, sitting in his plush-casual office at the academy's Santa Monica headquarters, "someone calls for a firing squad and everybody forms a circle, shooting each other down."

Lately, Greene feels like he's in the middle of that circle. Ever since last winter when he launched an aggressive campaign to develop strategies for stemming the rising rate of substance abuse among music professionals, Greene has been attacked from virtually all quarters.

Greene has garnered some support: Closed-door meetings in December and June drew about 400 people each--from big stars to studio assistants--and resulting committee sessions are expected to attract similar numbers next month. Greene also expects to announce plans this week for a series of benefit concerts to fund the various anti-drug programs.

But the absence of most high-level record executives from any direct involvement in the effort has not only been conspicuous, but accompanied by charges that Greene is, at best, naive and, at worst, grandstanding.

In the past, record companies have dealt with drug rehabilitation problems internally. They did, however, support NARAS' MusiCares program, which provides financial assistance and guidance for musicians in need, including those with substance addictions.

But then came a spate of drug-related incidents, including the May 1995 arrest of Stone Temple Pilots' singer Scott Weiland and the death of Blind Melon's Shannon Hoon last October. Initially, the industry tried to ignore Greene, but his anti-drug rhetoric escalated. With the arrest this year of Depeche Mode's David Gahan and the deaths of Sublime lead singer Bradley Nowell and, most recently, Smashing Pumpkins sideman Jonathan Melvoin, executives grew concerned that their silence might be perceived as indifference. That point was not lost on Greene either, who charged that executives hesitating to jump on the NARAS bandwagon were in denial.

"I think Mike Greene is well-intentioned, but he has a tendency to become a victim of his own press releases," said Hilary Rosen, the president of the Recording Industry Assn. of America, which represents the six major conglomerates that release 90% of the music sold in the United States. "I believe that Mike comes to this issue from a pure place, but his rhetoric has offended many people who have been on the front lines in this battle for a long time. It's not just offensive. It's insulting."

There is even grumbling among executives who initially saw merit in Greene's crusade.

"I wasn't apprised of the scope of what Mike Greene was up to when I signed on," said Capitol Records Chairman Gary Gersh, one of the first executives to join the effort along with Virgin Records President Phil Quartararo, Revolution Records Chairman Irving Azoff and MCA Records President Jay Boberg.

"I was stunned when I learned he was chastising other executives and claiming that they were in denial," Gersh said. "That is totally untrue. The record industry has been supporting rehabilitation and education behind the scenes for many years--long before Mike Greene came to the table."

*

Greene is used to this kind of talk, though. From the time he took the reins of the academy, first as chairman of the board of trustees in 1985 and then as president three years later, he's frequently been under attack.

Many of his own academy members rebelled when he restructured the organization, consolidating power in his national office. And the Grammy Awards, the academy's most visible and lucrative activity, has been constantly chided for a long-standing lack of relevancy.

One label executive, speaking anonymously, remarked, "Why doesn't Greene stop butting in on record company business where he doesn't belong and go back to things he knows, like giving out Grammys?"

Greene has an answer: As the head of an association of more than 11,000 music professionals--more than triple the membership of when he became president--it is his business. It's precisely what he's paid more than $500,000 a year to do. And with a background that includes 15 years as a touring and recording musician, as well as experience as a producer and studio owner, he says he knows what his constituents' needs are. And often that creates friction.

"The agenda of a recording artist or producer or engineer many times is different than the agenda of a record company executive," Greene says. "And we work for [NARAS members]. We do not work for the record companies."

Yet, he's trying to lead them in the anti-drug campaign--and therein lies a key to the current tension. The strongest resistance comes from those who question his motives.

Ask many in the record business what Michael Greene's agenda is and you'll get a simple answer: Michael Greene.

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