It’s barely 7 a.m., but VH1 editorial director Bill Flanagan is already on the phone in his twenty-first-floor office, delivering his assessment of the music business to a Miami radio personality named Bubba the Love Sponge. “It was going great from the Beatles on Ed Sullivan through Nirvana,” Flanagan says heatedly. “And all of a sudden it turned into Ann-Margret and Ricky Ricardo and a bunch of dancing Mouseketeers!”
If the hour is unusual for the 45-year-old Flanagan (“this is the earliest I’ve ever been up,” he groans), the candid disdain for the industry is the very essence of his debut novel, A&R, a deft Bonfire of the Vanities-style satire with overtones of Hit Men. “The A&R man is the guy who hangs with the band,” he explains. “And makes them feel good about the fact that the label’s got a hand in their pocket.”
Such iconoclasm notwithstanding, Flanagan’s gig requires him to stroke the very sorts he skewers in A&R. “I’d definitely be interested,” he tells a mid-morning caller in his faint Rhode Island accent. “All three of them are onboard?” The pitch is quintessential VH1: The surviving members of the Doors are offering to reunite for Flanagan’s Storytellers performance series – with Iggy Pop, Steven Tyler, and Scott Weiland as proposed subs for Jim Morrison. “You don’t know how rare that is,” Flanagan says when he hangs up. “When you consider the kind of stuff I usually get pitched …”
There’s barely time for lunch in the Viacom cafeteria before he’s due at VH1.com’s new Blade Runner-chic East Village HQ. Leaning against a freshly distressed column, Flanagan inspects the Website promoting his book, chuckling at a country ballad attributed to one of the novel’s characters. “This is gonna restart those rumors that MTV is getting into the record business,” he says with satisfaction. By three, Flanagan’s back in Times Square, looking in on Elvis Costello, who’s in an all-day rehearsal of an opera written by his keyboardist, Steve Nieve. The visit is just long enough for Costello and his wife to remind Flanagan of their plans to visit his Chelsea apartment next week.
Back in the office, Flanagan settles into an armchair to go over a set of “ten most significant moments in rock” for an upcoming episode of The List. “For punk, we should go for Television playing CBGB,” he muses. “But that’s not going to mean anything to most viewers.” He settles instead on the release of the Sex Pistols’ lone album.
Once he’s dispensed with such trivia, Flanagan is free to close out the day as the celebrity-friendly face of VH1 – this time at Radio City Music Hall, where Don Henley is sound-checking. Flanagan can’t make it to tonight’s concert – MTV Networks is holding its annual ad-sales cruise – but, he says, “I should pay my respects.” The ex-Eagle recently taped an as-yet-unaired Storytellers installment in which he reworked “Life in the Fast Lane” as a rap number. As Flanagan chats with Henley’s notoriously short-fused manager, Irving Azoff, the singer counts off a song with four shakes of a green maraca. The band – which tonight includes a quartet of trombones – kicks into familiar chords, set to a curious Caribbean beat. “Could it be” – Flanagan pauses dramatically – ” ‘Hotel California’?” Sure enough, Henley begins singing, with a discernible island lilt, “On a dark desert highway …”
Afterward, Henley stalks into the wings. “I don’t know if I like this reggae version of ‘Hotel California,’ ” he growls. Azoff attempts to distract his client, telling him, “My son just downloaded that rap version of ‘Life in the Fast Lane’ from Napster!” But the plan backfires as Flanagan looks on bemusedly. “I can’t wait,” Henley mutters, “To get out of this business.”