Watch the Tunes: Who the F**k Is Arthur Fogel

On March 4, 2016

There is an absurdly vast selection of music movies and documentaries available on Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go, and on and on and on. But it’s hard to tell which ones are actually worth your 100 minutes. Watch the Tunes will help you pick what music doc is worth your Netflix and Chill time every weekend. This week’s edition covers Who the F**k Is Arthur Fogel.

I’m gonna level with you guys. I had no idea who the f**k Arthur Fogel was before I sat down to dutifully watch this documentary. Fogel, it turns out, is the CEO of the Global Touring division of Live Nation Entertainment, which means that he is the guy behind the guy behind the guy in the world of big time music tours. Seven of the top ten highest grossing tours of all time were pulled off under his watchful eye and guiding presence, including Madonna’s MDNA and Sticky & Sweet Tour, pretty much every Lady Gaga tour, U2’s massive 360° Tour, the Police reunion tour, and on and on and on. While I’m positive that those are massive accomplishments one and all, there’s no need to go making me bust out the earmuffs with that dirtiest of dirty words right there in the title, but then again he’s the guy who Bono thanks from the stage, by name, for putting the show on, so maybe what do I know?

The business end of the “music business” is a tricky topic to tackle. Approach it the wrong way, and the artists, with their fickle pools of talent, come off as merely the public-facing front of a massive and comparably soulless mechanism that works to singlemindedly achieve the much more worldly goal of squeezing every last cent out of an adoring public. First time filmmaker (and longtime Fogel friend) Ron Chapman thankfully avoids this pitfall for the most part, presenting Fogel as a champion of artists who attempts to be a bridge between their vision and music fans around the world who must be presented appropriately epic spectacles. The film starts off examining Fogel’s roots in the industry, highlighting the time he spent playing in a band (he’s an artist, TOO!) before he hit on his true calling and worked his way up through the Canadian ladder of management, booking, and producing, culminating in the epic 1989 Rolling Stones Steel Wheels world tour which he snatched from competitor Bill Graham. When Fogel comments that he has no idea how he ended up where he is now, it comes off as sincere, since he and his preternatural abilities progressed through all the steps so quickly, and also since he seems like a genuinely nice guy who somehow hasn’t had to resort to machiavellian tactics to make his way in this business.

For all the highlights in Fogel’s illustrious career, the film makes sure to point out some of the lowlights as well, namely Diana Ross's Return to Love Tour and the 2002 Guns N Roses tour, both of which were massive disappointments. Fogel, with the benefit of a decade to build perspective, just laughs these off. There’s the feeling though, throughout the film, that Fogel and other concert moguls orbiting in the same stratosphere are playing a rigged game, bowling with the bumpers down; You might not get a strike every time, but for sure you won’t get any gutter balls. It’s difficult to hear Bono comment that he was scared of seats being empty at some shows for U2’s 360° Tour since they’re easily one of the most reliably bankable bands in music history (the tour went on to set the records grossing $736 million in ticket sales to 7.2 million fans). Later, when we hear that the tour has to be postponed due to Bono getting into a nasty bicycle accident, someone mentions what a bummer it was that insurance claims had to be called in which just further supports up the notion that there’s still a pretty big net under the concert producers making things happen up there on the tightrope.

All said and done though, Who the F**ck is Arthur Fogel does a decent job of capturing its subject, however sanitized the end result might be. It’s a comfy little peek behind the curtain of someone who’s job it is to be the buffer between the artists and the technical means that will accomplish their ends. There are only a few bands out there that require Fogel’s abilities, and that pool is possibly just gonna get smaller every year while the industry continues to become more niche based, so soak up the story of this humble Canadian while there are still massive world tours to produce, much less attend.

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Chris Lay

Chris Lay is a freelance writer, archivist, and record store clerk living in Madison, WI. The very first CD he bought for himself was the Dumb & Dumber soundtrack when he was twelve and things only got better from there.

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