The Satanic Record Mogul Cometh

How exciting these Satanic ’70s! This magical time when reality and fantasy are so cleverly disguised by the media masters. Full color shootouts nightly on all channels. In the movies. In the news. Fact or fiction? Check your local TV listings if you’re left confused.

Here at The Paradise we offer you a special blend of fantasy and fact. Atrocity and art. Music and murder twice nightly. And is the horror you witness mere theatrics, or is it real? The only way to be sure…is to participate.

At The Paradise our performers are contracted to entertain you at any cost! And entertain you they will.
Trust me…Swan.

-From the liner notes to the Phantom of the Paradise soundtrack

They all sign up in one way or another.
-Borgia Ginz, from Jubilee

They’re powerful, immensely so, and rich beyond a mere prole’s wildest dreams. They tread the earth as megalomania-driven gods. If you’re a musician (or anyone, really) they want your talent, your creativity, your voice — above all, they want your name on the dotted line.

That’s the archetype of the Satanic Record Mogul, a creature that’s now receded into the shadows. But these scoundrels are at the center (or hovering over it, puppeteer-like) of such cult masterworks as Derek Jarman’s Jubilee (which deserves its own post in the future) and Brian De Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise. Even Mr. Boogalow of The Apple fits the mold.

But he is an imitator, a poseur, and The Apple is simply too damned bad for him to hold his own with the heavyweights. No, for the real better-to-rule-in-hell types, we’ll look in on two classic villains: Jubilee‘s Borgia Ginz and Phantom‘s Swan. Hoary old ghosts they may be, but beneath the cackling mad, gaudy exterior lurk the very real fears that still plague the music world, if with much less flair. Everyone signs up in the end.

And, now, Mr. Ginz:

No, not exactly subtle, and the first time I saw that scene, I didn’t quite know what to think. But a fan of a good, brutal monologue, no matter how over the top (yes, Network is one of the greatest movies ever made, dammit), I kept watching.

Old Ginz (played with glee by Jack “Orlando” Birkette) was barely getting warmed up. He’s converted Buckingham Palace into a recording studio, crashed the dollar (“I’m not interessssted in peeaaanut economies”), and forces Adam Ant to rename his act “Scum.” He even manages to manipulate stone-cold regal murderess Bod. Oh yeah, he’s also going to demolish Westminster Cathedral to build a parking garage, but not before holding a sacrilegious orgy to “Jerusalem.” Huzzah!

In Jubilee‘s crumbling world, Borgia is a cackling mad tyrant — his laugh becomes genuinely creepy by the movie’s end — bigger than god and government, having absorbed both. He sits atop the ruins, devouring any spark of creativity that might dare to raise its head, turning even hardened rebels into sycophants.

Then there’s Swan (he has no other name):

Though not the king of any post-apocalyptic waste, the diminutive Swan (a perfectly nasty Paul Williams) does run the music industry with crimson-signed contracts. Not just satisfied with stealing a soulful composer’s music and turning it into garish crap, he frames the poor bastard and even has his teeth removed. Even after his victim becomes the titular disfigured — and very leather-clad — madman, Swan is still playing at evil plots stolen unrepentantly from Poe, Wilde and Goethe.

More directly Satanic (love that blood stamp!) than Ginz, Swan takes plenty of his cues from the old horror villains, but in place of the vengeful psychopath of yesteryear, De Palma put… a record producer.


Both Ginz and Swan had a loose basis on real life figures. Jarman based Ginz on Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren, and if Jubilee is any indication, saw him as a shark trawling for prawn through the nascent punk scene.

The parallels between Swan and Phil Spector are too hard to ignore: the reclusive nature, massive glasses and “Wall of Sound”-esque array of electronics are but a few. Spector was immensely successful and, importantly, more than one musical genius swore he’d stolen their work. He currently faces murder charges.

Of course, Spector also had plenty of flops and McLaren hardly owned the world. No doubt part of the satanic record mogul’s genesis came from the fact that power always seems greater from a distance. If you’re a struggling writer, artist or musician, the person at the other end can easily take on gigantic proportions. While the executive, gallery owner or editor of course has their own problems, they also wield an immense amount of influence over yours, with a bad mood all that separates a break from a failure. Importantly, both Phantom and Jubilee came early in their directors’ careers, when such memories were still fresh.

Both Ginz and Swan are frequently described as campy. They are, doubtless, partially because the time of such larger than life producers is mostly over. Music has fractured with the rest of culture, and it’s increasingly impossible to find bands that everyone feels they must see, or albums everyone just has to buy. The impresarios behind such works have also faded into the background. Suge Knight was the last real-life figure to fit the type, and he quickly wound up in prison. It’s laughable to imagine record executives wielding that kind of power these days.

Or is it? The flash may be gone, but most musicians still get royally, evilly, devilishly worked over by the men (they almost all are) in suits. Take a look at Charles Mann’s superb The Heavenly Jukebox to find out just how deep the screwjob is.

In brief: except for a few major names, the average signed-up musician will earn jack shit off royalties. On a platinum record they might break even, “because contracts are rife with idiosyncratic legal details” that cut royalties and dig the debt so deep that even sold-out shows lose money (for the artist, the executives rake it in). Transport clauses, anyone?

Mann reveals an industry so experienced at churning out the next big thing that Swan trying out bands around his table, singing stolen songs, isn’t that far from the truth. Nor is Ginz forcing young talent to call themselves “scum” because “that’s commercial.” With the same companies adept at bleeding every cent back out and ramming through laws that take away an artist’s right to get back their work, the papers might as well be signed in blood.

Hence Ginz’ exultation: “I don’t create it, I own it!” Hell, who needs Satan?

11 Responses to “The Satanic Record Mogul Cometh”

  1. gooby Says:

    I remember seeing Phantom of the Paradise when I was younger and thinking, isn’t that the guy who’s always on the Muppets?

    Nice to think that Paul Williams was perfecting his Swan character while writing music for Emmet Otter.

  2. foxtongue Says:

    He was indeed the musical master of muppets.

    Oh, the seventies, when you could be short, round, and still an evil sex god. I’ve always wondered why The Rocky Horror Picture Show grew so big while the Phantom of the Paradise continues to languish in relative obscurity.

    It had such good LINES!

    Beef: “You trying to tell me you didn’t hear that shriek? That was something trying to get out of its premature grave, and I don’t want to be here when it does.”

    Or even, (my favourite),

    -ls Beef…?

    Here’s Paul Williams and I rocking out after he came to for a double-bill theater showing of The Muppet Movie and Phantom of the Paradise:

    Jhayne towering over Paul Williams

    He was great fun and came and jammed with us after.

  3. harmfulguy Says:

    …the Satanic Record Mogul, a creature that’s now receded into the shadows.

    While he may be more alien than infernal, I think that the Earl de Darkwood from Daft Punk’s anime rock opera Interstella 5555 is a good modern interpretation of the archetype.

  4. Peter S. Says:

    foxtongue, THAT IS AWESOME!
    I can think of no other words!

  5. Jezcabelle Says:

    I LOVE Phantom of the Paradise & Jubilee & I love you at this moment just for mentioning them.

    THANK YOU!!!

    Between the voyeuristic voyeurs of voyeur of Paul Williams to Richard O’Brien’s brilliance. These movies shaped my fragile lil head.

  6. Peter S. Says:

    The economics of the music business are positively mephistophelian. This chart, originally published in Working Songwriter (I think) in 2000 or 2001 is a pretty clear indication of the level of screwing an artist ought to expect:

    Photobucket Image Hosting

  7. gooby Says:

    Oh, Foxtongue, you is a lucky one!

    Showtime at the El Sleezo!

  8. The Satanic Record Mogul Cometh « &¶ Says:

    […] Record Mogul Cometh My article on these bastards (and their real-life equivalents), is up on Coilhouse. They’re powerful, immensely so, and rich beyond a mere prole’s wildest dreams. They tread the […]

  9. Infamous Amos Says:

    I’m living in Winnipeg now, and got a job at a video store only to discover that Phantom of the Paradise is apparently a Winnipeg institutuion. I was told that it was only successful commercially in two cities, Winnipeg and Paris. I thought my co-workers were just screwing with me, but then i looked it up. From wikipedia….

    “The film was a box-office bomb the year of its initial showings. Curiously, the film’s major market during its theatrical release was in Winnipeg, Canada where it stayed in local cinemas over four months continuously and over one year non-continuously until 1976. Relatedly, the soundtrack sold 20,000 copies in Winnipeg alone, and it got Gold status in Canada. The film was later shown on area IMAX screens in the 90s. A 2006 fan-organized festival, dubbed ‘Phantompalooza’, reunited the original cast and featured a concert by Paul Williams in the very theatre where the film played during its original run.”

    People were always talking about it, and this post convinced me to finnaly see it. Yup, pretty damn awesome on every level.

  10. Jerem Morrow Says:

    Sorry i got to this late. Great stuff! Spot on.

  11. Derelict Dk Says:

    NIce essay. Another example of this somewhat lost archetype is found in Bauhaus’ B-side “Party of the First Part,” which I believe samples an old cartoon involving a young woman who wants to be a signer, and signs her soul over to Satan, himself disguised as a record mogul.