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POP MUSIC | Pop Eye

They're Smashing Up the Status Quo

November 22, 1998|STEVE HOCHMAN

The coming merger of Universal Music and PolyGram's record business is the big news on the corporate level, but there are also big shake-ups going on in the pop world's management tier:

* The Smashing Pumpkins have severed ties with Q Prime, the powerful and creative management firm that handled the band for the past three years, overseeing the group's rise to arena-headliner status.

* Meanwhile, John Silva, a prominent manager whose clients include the Beastie Boys, Beck, the Foo Fighters and Sonic Youth, is reportedly set to leave his longtime firm, Gold Mountain, to form a management venture and record label with former Capitol Records president Gary Gersh.

A Q Prime spokeswoman confirmed the Pumpkins' departure but said that there would be no comment from the company. The band's attorney, Jill Berliner, said that the move stemmed from a "difference of vision" over the band's direction between Q Prime partners Cliff Burnstein and Peter Mensch and head Pumpkin Billy Corgan.

The difference had been growing for some time, and disappointing sales of 800,000 for the band's latest album, "Adore," apparently drove the wedge in deeper.

The band declined to mount a large tour to promote "Adore," instead doing a handful of relatively intimate shows last summer, with all proceeds donated to charity. After that trek, Corgan declared himself unwilling to go on the road again, preferring to work on new songs for another album.

Q Prime, whose roster also includes Metallica, Madonna, Hole, Def Leppard, Bruce Hornsby and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, generally likes its acts to stay visible through high-profile touring or other promotion.

The move has caused speculation that there might be other defections from Q Prime, with many eyes on Hole. (The friendship between Hole leader Courtney Love and Corgan helped guide the Pumpkins to the company.) But that talk may be unfounded, given that Corgan and Love are currently on the outs in the wake of public debate over the extent of Corgan's writing contributions to Hole's new "Celebrity Skin" album.

Idling minds have also tried to link the Pumpkins' split with the planned Silva-Gersh development, but sources close to the situation say that there have been no discussions between the Pumpkins and Silva and that none are expected, at least at this time. The new company, for one thing, will not be in place until sometime next year, and the Pumpkins are said to be hoping to have new management firmed up sooner than that.

Expectations are that Silva and Gersh (who as a Geffen Records executive signed Nirvana, another Silva client) will not set up shop within any major record company, but will establish a free-standing, relatively low-overhead enterprise with independent financing, perhaps from new media or technology companies. Silva and Gersh declined to comment.

*

LYRIC DRAMA: It's been said that pop lyrics tend to sound silly on the printed page. But how about when spoken by actors?

In the case of lyrics by Radiohead's Thom Yorke, they can apparently work quite well.

Two years ago, L.A. writer-actor Dean Testerman used the lyrics of the song "Creep" as a spontaneous monologue in an audition for a local theater production--and got the part. Now he's crafted a whole play from Yorke's word-craft. "Untitled Radiohead Project," playing Thursdays through Saturdays at the Hollywood Court Theatre through Dec. 5, draws its characters and plot--revolving around quests for meaning and love, with a few sci-fi and allegorical twists--entirely from Radiohead lyrics, plus a few of Yorke's liner notes.

"It's totally dictated by the text of Thom Yorke, from all three albums, liner notes, B-sides," says Testerman. "I see it as the same as adapting Ibsen or someone."

Testerman, also a part-time journalist, told Yorke about the work-in-progress two years ago during an interview. Since completing it, he's decided not to pursue an official endorsement.

"I didn't want to manipulate this or look like we were turning to the band for publicity," he says.

A Radiohead representative said the band is aware of the production, but hasn't seen it and would have no comment.

Testerman is directing and presenting the play under the auspices of the nonprofit artist collective Slant, which gives grants to artists in need. After finishing the initial run at the Hollywood Court, the company plans to take the show on tour in North America and then, next summer, open a European trek with an engagement at the Edinburgh Arts Festival.

Testerman acknowledges that the issue of official permission and royalty payments for the work may need to be addressed. Even if Yorke gives it thumbs up, his publisher may need to formalize it. The director says he'll comply if so, even if it keeps proceeds from reaching the charity goal.

*

BUT WHAT I REALLY WANNA DO . . . : Former Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic has returned to a longtime interest, filmmaking, with "L7: The Beauty Process." He shot footage of the L.A. band L7 while his own group, Sweet 75, was on tour with them last year. The film, which will be released on video in December, is an irreverent look at the music business mixed with concert footage.

"We called him Herr Director," says L7's Donita Sparks of the filming experience. "He actually wore a beret one day while shooting the film."

Ironically, the film comes out at a time when L7 is learning more lessons about the music business, having parted with Warner Bros. Records last year. While the band looks for a new label, it is releasing a live album through Man's Ruin, a small label owned by artist Frank Kozik.

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