Review: Gods, Gangsters & Honour by Steven Machat
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2/5 (Out now; Beautiful Books)
A few years ago, the auditors Deloitte ran an ad campaign for their graduate entry scheme featuring various slogans largely echoing the following sentiment: "When Jimmy was little, he wanted to be a racing driver. Now, he's managing the accounts for a racing driver!".
To most smart applicants, the idiocy of the suggestion that managing the balance sheet for their heroes equates to 'living the dream' themselves should have been obvious. Don Draper would surely turn in his grave at such a campaign, if the schemes weren't so bafflingly popular. However, those bestowed with celebrity, and legends of music and whatnot, do indeed need financial and legal representatives, even if they are never seen to be as sexy as their employers. One such man is lawyer Steven Machat, who turned fly-on-the-wall to document his four decades in the entertainment business in his new book Gods, Gangsters & Honour.
Machat has a rich C.V., having worked with a multitude of household names, including Seal, ELO and Peter Gabriel, and plenty more who have receded far past where the limelight shines. If you want a candid account of his client's dealings and some of their personal habits and behaviours, this is certainly a book to help. Steven's frankness borders frightening at times; he's quite happy to divulge his daughter's drug problems, indecent propositions that CEOs throw his way, or Phil Spector's gun toting lunacy. One would imagine quite a few important people hate him now he's a published author.
Rather than being a crusader though "whistle blowing on the heinous monsters that do coke n' such or the poor manners of a mollusc like Sharon Osborne" Steven mines his anecdotes to promote impressions of his own lofty bravado as much as possible. When visiting Suge Knight in prison, it's a mystery how Machat concludes that persuading a screw to let him take his insulin could possibly convince the arrant producer that he is a man "who gets things done" (except through the obvious benefit of not dying from diabetes in the middle of a business deal). What's worse than the doctoring of the stories to suit his pomposity is his reliance on the business side of events. The dirt he has on some of the professional relationships (see Adamski and Seal, or Osborne and her exec father) is genuinely interesting, but more often than not, Machat spends great spans of the book detailing the brokering of deals and throwing meaningless figures about. It may be unfair to criticise him for this (he is a lawyer after all), but it's inherently boring nonetheless.
Moreover, some of his big money gambles (i.e. gutsy moves that failed) scream of so much stupidity that you actually doubt the veracity of the stories and the credentials of the man. In one chapter, Machat tells of his stab at becoming the U.S. Republican party's entertainment coordinator, along with the ill-advised punt he takes by taking two black music associates to one of their garden parties (to his credit, he acknowledges the ridiculousness of this idea with hindsight). It's almost farcical to think Karl Rove, the man who took the woodchip-brained Dubya to the White House, was threatened by Machat in the way his quote (presented as verbatim) suggests. It is just tiring to hear someone cartoonishly embellish things so regularly. And whilst it's great to be proud of your accomplishments, no one thinks the Streetfighter movie was a landmark of cinema, no matter how loudly you say it. It gave people nose bleeds.
It doesn't help that his more recent exploits have been to push forward projects that sound like real hack work. If anyone has seen the 2006 Tom Sizemore vehicle Splinter (Tom being most famous for playing the hard case sergeant in Saving Private Ryan) and this statement is doing Machat an injustice, we'll happily run an erratum.
So Gods, Gangsters & Honour is an uninspired set of memoirs, bluntly put to page by a man who has drifted too far on the hot air of his own ego to provide a trustworthy perspective on the industry. Not all performers will have the mental clarity of Tony Blair as they try in their latter years to jot down former glories, but you shouldn't ask for the legal aide's take on it all if it will be as unlikeable and unreliable as this. As Machat points out more times than could ever be necessary, his side of the entertainment industry is "all about the bottom line", and as with the promise offered to graduates by Deloitte, that's not quite living the dream.
Also available as an audiobook at: http://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/gods-gangsters-honour-part/id388187459