Mottola’s “Hitmaker” Misses

From the 1996 Vanity Fair profile. Is that Lake Tahoe behind those blinds?
From the 1996 Vanity Fair profile. Is that Lake Tahoe behind those blinds?

Former Sony Music Entertainment chairman Tommy Mottola released his memoir last week, ”Hitmaker: The Man and His Music”, and has been making the media rounds. The once T.D. Valentine turned Tommy Mottola turned Thomas D. Mottola is now back to the good old Tommy. In these interviews, Tommy appears as an older, wiser, mellow, philosophical version of Tony Soprano. The book, however, does not go far to sell the updated Tommy Mottola 4.0.

“Hitmaker” has a real voice. But it’s not Tommy Mottola’s. It is an exercise in slick revisionism, fact, fiction, spin, and omission wrapped in a clinical double coat of whitewash. It lacks authenticity. In contrast, his Sony Music predecessor Walter Yentnikoff, wrote his autobiography, “Howling at the Moon”, several years ago. Walter’s book had his voice. It is completely real, brutally honest, funny, self-deprecating, cathartic, confessional and totally believable; you can imagine every word coming from Walter’s mouth. In Mottola’s case you always have the feeling that you’re being played.

To hear Tommy tell it, his life story starts in a log cabin in the Bronx. He traces his days growing up as a young greaser showing off by gunning his Pontiac GTO up and down Arthur Blvd. He paints an innocent picture of American Graffiti East. After a half-assed recording career under the name T.D. Valentine, Tommy’s first real score in show business was when he spotted the then Lisa Clark, daughter of ABC Music mogul Sam Clark. He converted to Judaism and married her.

At the age of 19 he started working at the publishing arm of Mercury Records and when after it was sold to Chappell Music, he stayed on, where he met Darryl Hall and John Oates. He next founded Champion Management (originally as Don Tommy Management). In the late 1980′s Walter Yetnikoff hired him to be his Number 2 man at Sony Music.

Mottola takes credit for every ounce of success over his 15 year tenure at Sony Music, and in many cases deservedly so. He did discover Mariah Carey exactly as he describes in “Hitmaker”. By now we all know that story. He did preside over what he describes as the “Latin Explosion” during his stint. Although Mottola spreads a little bit of the credit around, he leaves no doubt as to who really did it.

Ethnic innuendo?
Ethnic innuendo?
Throughout the book, Mottola seems almost obsessed with convincing the reader that he’s a very sensitive, kind, caring man despite a reputation for being one of the biggest bullies in the business and intentionally striking fear into everyone he could by cultivating an image as a “connected” guy.

Mottola goes on ad nauseum about the planning of his weddings, his romancing of his current wife and how the two of them held hands, got on their knees and prayed together on the eve of their wedding. He says that when it became apparent to him that the chasm between him and Mariah Carey had gotten too big to breach, on his way to work one day he left her a note with a Bernie Taupin lyric, “Butterflies are free to fly. Fly away.” How poetic. If you haven’t retched yet, just wait.

To make matters worse, Mottola uses a device in the book that he calls “Voices”. At the end of each chapter he has solicited platitudes from friends and former colleagues. It’s like the old story of the narcissist who’s in a conversation with someone and after going on and on about his accomplishments suddenly says, “I’m sick of talking about me. So what do you think about me”? In one chapter the “voices” of Gloria Estefan and Celine Dion gush over how sensitive Tommy is.

Mottola admits that he should never have gotten involved with Carey. “It was inappropriate”, he says in hindsight, in agreement with what many of his close friends warned him at the time. He does apologize to Mariah Carey for having been so controlling–but not really. He says that he’s sorry if she felt that way, but after all, he had the best of intentions and was simply obsessed with making her successful. After all, he says, what artist wouldn’t want such a tireless advocate in their court, especially if it’s the head of your record label?

His other big admission is that he mishandled his boss, Sir Howard Stringer. who he derided for his lack of entertainment industry experience, calling him just a smiling face and an empty suit. He says that Stringer was so petty that he even complained about his seats at concerts. But what he does not tell is how he intentionally went out of his way to humiliate and disrespect Stringer. According to former Mottola’s former colleagues, Tommy would do thing like when an act was in town playing multiple nights, he would make sure that he got Stringer tickets to shows on the nights when other label execs did not show up. Worse, once at a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, Tommy put Stringer high up in the balcony while he and his group sat at a front row center table.

Much of what Mottola writes is accurate, but not necessarily true. For instance, when Walter Yetnikoff returned to work after a stint he rehab, he made a lot of enemies. According to several Sony insiders, Tommy helped stick the shiv into Walter’s back by whispering complaints about Walter into the ear of Mickey Shulhoff, the American entrusted by the Japanese to oversee operations in the US, giving Schulhoff the ammo to push Yetnikoff out, thus allowing Tommy to ascend. He then turned around and gave Schulhoff the same shiv. In the book Tommy says he liked Mickey. With friends like this…

Borrow it if you must...
Borrow it if you must…
Mottola calls a 1996 Vanity Fair profile as “a hatchet job”. Robert Sam Anson, a highly-respected veteran journalist and author, wrote a compelling profile of Tommy recounted in “Hitmaker”, and more. Mottola accuses Anson of “ethnic innuendo”. The profile explores Tommy’s friendships with reputed wise guys, including his longtime association with Morris Levy (the mob’s man in the music business with whom Tommy invested in race horses), Vincent “The Chin” Gigante (the boss of the Gambino crime family) , and Bonnano crime family capo Michael Franzese, Curiously, none of these names appear in “Hitmaker”. According to Anson, Tommy carried a .9mm Glock in his briefcase everywhere he went. According to NYC records, Tommy has a concealed carry permit, as many other celebrities do. But who actually carries everywhere they go? When Tommy calls Anson “ a pussy”, it’s one of the few time s in the book that you actually believe you’re reading Tommy’s words.

“Hitmaker” is a primer in opportunism. I was Harry Connick, Jr.’s pr man from the very beginning in 1987, before anybody at Columbia Records even knew he was signed to the label. After a lot of hard work, Harry’s career started to gain momentum and by 1989 he became white hot. He was performing at Alice Tully Hall one night that year and the entire record label was out in force. I was strolling through the lobby during intermission when I saw Tommy and said hello. He pulled me aside and practically begged me to have Harry give him a thank you by name from the stage during the second act, nodding in the direction of Walter Yetnikoff, who was standing across the room. He wanted to look good to Walter. I went backstage and told Harry to make sure that he gave Tommy a thank you. Harry obliged even though he barely knew Tommy. As Tommy’s old goombah Morris Levy told reporter Fred Dannen, Tommy Mottola “is a no-talent mover-upper. He’s a user.”

If you really want to read this book, borrow it from a friend.


Wayne provides biting, hard edged, entertaining, humorous, sometime satiric but always provocative commentary on current events and trends in the music industry.

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