Having sold nearly 10 million copies of Dookie, its major-label debut on Reprise, the Bay Area punk trio Green Day is, to the chagrin of many punk hard-liners, now literally a corporation: Green Day Inc. While riding the bullet train from Gilman Street to Wall Street, Billie Joe, Tre Cool and Mike Dirnt have been attended by a staff of nearly a dozen advisers, managers and attorneys. And that's just the folks in their private coach, never mind the record label, publishing company, merchandisers, tour support and fan club.
At Green Day's level of success, incorporation is inevitable. But what's not so cut and dried are the professional choices artists make when they hit such heights. The secret to Green Day's fortune lies not only with the band's talent and business acumen but with the legal triumvirate it employs: Elliot Cahn, Jeff Saltzman and Ned Hearn.
Cahn and Saltzman head Green Day's management team: Cahn-Man. Despite the moniker, the duo enjoys a squeaky-clean reputation that confounds the stereotypical image of slippery show-biz moguls. To begin with, both partners were once aspiring musicians themselves: Saltzman formed a local one-man new-wave group called House of Pants, while Cahn got his start as a principal player with the '50s revivalists called Sha Na Na.
"We started Sha Na Na on a lark, in the spring of 1969," he recalls, leaning back in a leather armchair in the sunny meeting room of his Oakland offices. "By the end of the summer, we had a record deal, and we played Woodstock."
No stranger to meteoric success, Cahn, now in his mid-40s, is also familiar with the downside of performing. After knocking around the industry for a while in the mid-'70s, which included a stint as a guitarist for Henry Gross (who wrote the doggie dirge "Shannon"), Cahn studied law, taught and eventually "fell back into the music business" through a help-wanted ad. Hired by S.F.-based attorney Michael Krasner, he went to work on merchandising deals for acts such as Journey and Santana.
"It was just dumb luck," he says today. "There aren't any jobs in music that get advertised."
As lawyers who rock(ed), Cahn and Saltzman understand the legal issues other managers generally delegate to their bands' law offices. Rewarded for its probity and savvy, Cahn-Man now works with emerging artists such as Jawbreaker and the Muffs; in addition, Saltzman manages the hot modern-rock properties Rancid and Offspring. One indication of the industry's respect for the duo is that Cahn has been invited to deliver the keynote speech of this week's Gavin SF02 convention in San Francisco.
SF02 event coordinator Bonnie Simmons says she chose Cahn to speak because his exemplary company is the antithesis of New York/L.A. hardballers. "This is a small town," she says, "and if you waver from having scruples, there's only so long you could get away with it. Everybody knows everybody's business here."
Gold and platinum records adorn the walls of Cahn-Man's two-story pastel-colored workspace. The commemorative platter in the meeting room represents Saltzman's work with Mudhoney, for the Seattle band's contribution to the Judgment Night soundtrack. Hanging across from Cahn's desk is his own gold disk, awarded during those days with Sha Na Na.
Cahn-Man evolved from a bout of fortuitous coincidence: Cahn says he met Saltzman in a car pool just a short while before he left Krasner's office to establish his own practice. When the opportunity to manage the group Testament arose, Cahn asked Saltzman for his help. Saltzman quickly moved from handling the metal band's affairs one day a week to joining Cahn fully as a partner.
"One day he called and said, 'I can't stand what I'm doing. Can I come in full time?' " Cahn says. "I said, 'Sure -- if you don't mind not making any money.' "
That happened in 1989. Six years later, Cahn and Saltzman are happily counting loot by the light of the roaring Green Day fire. Along the way, they've represented Bay Area bands like Faith No More and Primus, both of which have been in the frying pan themselves. Progress hasn't come without suffering, however: Cahn stresses that they've also shivered through the cooling embers of once-promising acts.
EEE"We managed the guitar player Richie Kotzen," he laughs, "who got and lost a deal with Interscope, joined Poison and got thrown out for falling in love with the drummer's ex-girlfriend."
The recklessness of musicians has been well-documented. Less so are the myriad liberties taken by insiders that often lead to estranged relationships and dead-end career paths for their artists. Hasty overexposure can ring an early death knell: San Francisco psychedelics Moby Grape had nowhere to go but down after their label released five singles from their debut record simultaneously. Sizable advances can vanish into thin air as inflated back debts are paid off; rarely does a million-dollar baby earn anywhere near that ballpark - just ask Interscope's Helmet. And recordings often end up in litigation limbo, as labels exercise their option on a new album and management finds it has not secured buyback rights to the master tapes.
With a grimace, Cahn acknowledges the "get rich quick" attitude of so many in his business, executives who "don't really care about human values at all." About three years ago, his own discretion began to pay off, as Cahn-Man started working with a melodic garage group called the Muffs, who signed with Warner Bros. "And then Green Day walked in the door," Cahn says, plainly, as if the event were a pizza delivery. He pauses to smile, paying proper respect to destiny. This is a man who openly admits he heeds his omens.
One of Cahn's employees had suggested taking a look at the buzzing Berkeley punks who were about to release their second LP on the local Lookout! label. There was, Cahn relates, an immediate obstacle to approaching Green Day: Rumor had it that the young men -- round-the-clock rebels that they were -- didn't want anything to do with the industry. Cahn was relieved to learn they weren't that hostile.