The Bessman Sideshow: ‘Billboard.’ How Could You?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not at all averse to bad-mouthing Billboard. Not only for the way they unceremoniously dumped me after over 22 years of being on the masthead as a contributor, editor and Special Correspondent, but for the changes since my time there in the way they cover the business.

But except for a few angry tweets—my protest for their disgusting, belittling, inconsequential headline for the monumental world music pioneer Ravi Shankar’s obit, “Ravi Shankar–Idol of George Harrison, Estranged Father of Norah Jones–Dead at 92,” comes to mind—I haven’t said much in writing about my experiences there and feelings about it, except hinting at it in the first entry in this series.

So now another headline causes me to castigate the magazine I devoted most of my career to. From yesterday’s billboard.biz: “Dorothy Carvello Shares: Ahmet Ertegun ‘Felt Me Up,’ Wu-Tang Scares Germans and More”—this followed by a link to a Billboard story with the same title.

I don’t want to further dignify this other than to say I’d never heard of the person making the accusation, who’s doing so in an effort to “shop around” a memoir. I will say it should be no business of Billboard’s to help shop it, and especially to help smear the memory of one of the most important—and I can’t think of anyone more important—people in the history of the music business, who is no longer living and can’t defend himself, not that he should have to defend himself, to Billboard or any other magazine, for that matter.

I can’t say I knew Ahmet well, but I did know him, and for a long time. In addition to his talent, in public he was always the classiest of men, and I always felt humbled to be in his presence, as well I should have.

I’ll never forget—how could I?– sitting at a banquet table in between Ahmet and Tony Bennett. Ahmet was presenting the New York Recording Academy chapter’s “Hero Award” to Tom Silverman, sitting on his other side, Tony was presenting to the late music publishing legend Frank Military, on his other side.

During the dinner, Tony was glancing frequently at Ahmet, then looking down and drawing in his sketchbook. After dinner he tore out the page, handed it to me and asked me to pass it to Ahmet. It was a pencil drawing of Ahmet, who was thrilled, of course. Such are giants.

Tim White, then Billboard’s editor, was given a “Hero’s Award,” too, that night, and deservedly so. No one was closer to Tim at Billboard than me.

But Tim made mistakes. One of his biggest was his decision to axe “Inside Tracks,” the back-page column written forever by John Sippel. It reported rumors and gossip concerning music business executives—nothing ever personal or really damaging, mainly who was said or thought to be going wherever. It was easily the most popular editorial feature of the book, the back page that everyone turned to first.

Billboard is not about rumors and gossip!” I remember Tim barking to me, as he was prone to do in explaining something that he deeply believed in. At such times there was no reasoning with him. I’m sure it cost the magazine dearly, and they brought it back after he died, but by then it was too late: The Internet had taken hold, and readers had learned that they could get the inside track elsewhere.

But Tim would never have stood for “Ahmet Ertegun ‘Felt Me Up,’” which is a sleazy Page Six New York Post item at best. I don’t know that it’s slander, but it’s a most ugly smear on the memory of the type of man without whom there would be no music industry, let alone trade magazine to report and support it.

5 thoughts on “The Bessman Sideshow: ‘Billboard.’ How Could You?

  • June 11, 2014 at 2:17 pm
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    Years ago Walter Kirn wrote of the nation’s obsession with what goes on “behind the scenes” in a piece for the NYT magazine (link at my home page ), a phenomenon he called “procedural voyeurism.” I think that was a very astute observation on his part, and it’s why former “trades” like Billboard have morphed into consumer magazines, and their editorial has shifted accordingly. Billboard was the Bible of the business for years but somewhere around the ’90s things started to shift in a more consumer direction and by the Awful Oughts it had no longer become a true trade paper, but a consumer magazine with a trade slant. Kinda like EW. It’s not just a magazine for label execs and other insiders anymore. We’re all insiders now. And you’re going to get sleazy rumor-mongering and headlines like the one you mentioned here.

  • June 11, 2014 at 2:26 pm
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    My favorite item from Inside Tracks was about Rio Frio and Olive Davis.
    Rick and Clive were not amused but everyone else was…

  • June 11, 2014 at 2:29 pm
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    Billboard is still published? Who the hell reads it?

  • June 11, 2014 at 3:16 pm
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    But I won’t like it! Thanks for commenting.

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