No. 66: Jon Landau | Power 100 Q&A
JON LANDAU, 69
President, Jon Landau Management
Last Year's Rank: NEW
In his memoir Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen describes Jon Landau, whom he befriended in 1974 and named his manager in 1978, as “the Clark to my Lewis.” Four decades later, they’re still defining the outer limits of rock n’ roll success. In 2016, Springsteen marked the 35th anniversary of The River with the No. 2 top-grossing tour of the year -- $255 million for 73 shows -- which drew 2.3 million fans. His critically lauded autobiography, for which he reportedly received a $10 million advance, became a No. 1 New York Times best seller and, according to Nielsen Bookscan, has sold more than 501,000 copies, boosted by the marketing efforts of Landau’s longtime colleague Barbara Carr and Springsteen's longtime publicist Marilyn Laverty.
What does 2017 hold for The Boss? Landau, who's the father of two children and lives with his wife Barbara Downey in Purchase, N.Y., tells Billboard: “We’ve got some great ideas and surprises we've been kicking around -- and I can’t tell you anything about them.”
In his memoir, Bruce writes about how much he values discussing culture, politics and life with you. Do you get together regularly?
We’ve done it different ways during the last 42 years, but -- this is our concession to modern life -- it’s amazing how much is texting. Bruce loves to text.
How have you changed as a manager over the nearly 40 years that you've represented Springsteen?
The job is to understand and to help with the constant transformation process that’s going on [with Bruce]. To do that you have to recognize the changes that are going on with yourself. You also have to be able to lead sometimes and to follow at other times. Bruce goes in a lot of different directions. There’s a lot of mileage he wants to cover, and he's usually in the lead. But every now and then, somebody might get to say, "Hey, you know, we seem to be veering [off course] a little. Are we missing something over there?" It’s personal management in our particular case. There’s nothing abstract about it.
How involved was Jon Landau Management in the marketing of Bruce's memoir, Born to Run? The rollout was smart and, clearly, a success.
Well, we had great partners. Simon & Schuster was just great, and at the top of that particular pyramid, Jonathan Karp, who signed the book, has become a great friend. And then my colleague for I don't know how many decades now, Barbara Carr, headed our side of the equation with Bruce's publicist Marilyn Laverty, who has worked with us for 30-plus years. And, of course, this was something that Bruce really cared about. He got out there and did virtually everything that was suggested he do. He wanted the book to find its audience.
Did Bruce use you as a sounding board when he was writing the book?
Not that much. Years ago, he gave me what turned out to be about the first third of the book. He said it came from journals that he was keeping, and that he was contemplating whether or not he had the guts to write about himself in book form. My response was, "Bruce, this is a book." The manuscript was great, and I knew it would only get better.
In the days leading up to the inauguration of Donald Trump, The B Street Band, a Springsteen tribute act, canceled a scheduled performance during the festivities after taking flak from fans and the media. The criticism was that a band that made a living playing Bruce's music, should not be celebrating the inauguration of someone that Springsteen has criticized harshly. What was your take?
We paid no attention. It was completely irrelevant.
You wouldn't have cared if the band had ended up playing for Trump's inauguration? Honestly, we didn’t have any interest in what these particular fellows did or didn’t do. I don’t think anybody for a second thought this was something that Bruce would do. And they were right.
Speaking of Trump, I find it interesting that someone who is so easily provoked to respond to his critics, has, as far as I can tell, never responded to Bruce's unequivocal broadsides. Do you think he's cowed by Bruce?
Look, Bruce, does what he does. We do not sit around spending a lot of time calculating, Oh yeah,, but then they might say this. That's not us. Bruce knew he was going to get asked about Trump. He was doing a lot of press for the book, and he's a realist. Under those circumstances, if you’re going to get out there and talk, you’ve got to be ready to answer questions you know people are going to be interested in. He was, and he didn’t pull any punches.
No, he did not.
Among some of the last comments Bruce made was that he could not remember being as frightened as he was by a [presidential] transition. And I think there is a great deal of fear in the air that is a terrible reflection on the  campaign, as well as its result.
What's your take on Donald Trump?
He is an almost cartoon-like version of a human. He’s got no soul, no heart, and no sense of personal decency. Did I forget to mention that I didn’t vote for him?
In times of great political and cultural conflict, Bruce has responded with landmark albums, whether it's Born in the USA, The Rising or Wrecking Ball. In recent interviews, he has talked about a solo album that, essentially, is ready to go. Do you think that, given what's happening in our nation, he might change his mind about what his next album will be?
Bruce has come at America from a lot of different angles. I think Wrecking Ball is as complete a vision as he could offer about what he saw going on and, in effect, the roots of what may have led us to where we are. Generally speaking, he’s not a writer of protest songs. He comes at things from a more artistic angle, and when he has something to add to the picture he’s been building, he adds. It just depends on where he is creatively. I don’t have any sense that he has some some big new statement to add to the statements that he’s made over the years of his writing, but I don't know either.
Will you be with the tour for every stop in Australia and New Zealand?
I'll be there, but not for every show. I don’t know how to put a percentage on it, but I’m there most of the time.
Do the tours get easier in terms of logistics and planning?
Yes. It’s not the nature of our approach that every time we go on tour we come up with some entirely new production. There’s great continuity in terms of the structure and the format. The changes are all musically driven. We’re always trying to improve the sound, the lights, the video, but those things have very specific functions on our tours. We’re interested in people being able to constantly hear the show better and to see the show better through the use of our video screens. But there's nothing on those screens except Bruce and the band. We're trying to give everybody the best seat in the house.
Has that always been the case?
It used to be that every tour we'd say, let's put something together -- video material, auxiliary material that could maybe enhance individual songs. We'd get great people to come up with ideas and do some great things. Then Bruce would look at me and say, "That’s great, but I think it’s a little distracting." And all of it would stop.
I get the impression, too, that like the E Street Band, there have not been a lot of changes in your touring production team.
Bruce, as well as myself, like stability. When we find somebody who suits our way of doing things and our standards, we tend to hang on to them. So it’s a very familiar group that’s out there. For us they’re the best they could be. Our leader, tour director George Travis, has been with us since 1977. Our head of sound, John Cooper, has been with us many, many years, and Bruce’s guitar tech, Kevin Buell, may have been there since before I was born. We’re not the ones who wake up one morning and say, "Let’s just change everything." We don't get a spark from that.
What is the biggest issue facing the industry today?
The main issue is that the means of distribution continues to alter the content. New media makes the listener more demanding at the same time that it tends to reduce people’s attention spans. For artists like Bruce, the album remains the unit of creative currency, but we and many other like-minded artists are running against the wind.
Are you listening to any new bands or artists that you really love?
My daughter Kate, she works at Red Light Management, and she is involved in finding new talent. She has a group that she’s been working with for a couple of years in Chicago called Twin Peaks. They’re great, and I'm happy to spread the word.