Is Puffy's Bad Boy Label Doomed?

Sean "Puffy" Combs | Bebe Buell | Kidman Shooting for an Oscar 

Is Puffy's Bad Boy Label Doomed?

Sean "Puffy" Combs's album, P Diddy and the Bad Boy Family: The Saga Continues, is starting to sag precipitously on the charts.

As of this writing, the album has still not broken the half-million mark. It's No.10 on the Billboard/Soundscan charts after four weeks.

This should be of some concern not only to Combs but also to the folks at BMG Music, which distributes his Bad Boy Records through Arista Records. BMG, unable to find a merger partner this year, has been the subject of rumors concerning consolidation and layoffs recently. Poor sales is the reason. And Saga is not helping any.

It would be one thing if Saga just had to pay for itself, but in fact Bad Boy sales have to justify a lot of other expenses and salaries. Combs, whom you have to admire for his sense of style and sheer chutzpah, lives at a very high level. He was famously photographed two weeks ago in St. Tropez in his trademark white suit, walking along the beach while one of his minions followed, shading him with an umbrella. It was too much. The photo should win a Pulitzer.

Bad Boy, in fact, could be heading for the same fate as Madonna's Maverick Records, which recently lost several top executives and will probably be merged into Warner Music Group soon. Bad Boy has only two acts that have made the charts, Dream and 112. The latter is still actively selling records, but not enough to pay for all the Cristal Champagne being consumed, first class air tickets, rented yachts, designer threads, and aerobically sound booty required to make the place buzz with excitement.

Bebe Buell Didn't Want to Miss a Thing

She's in Newsweek this week and has her ranked at 6 on its Movers and Shakers and number 49 on their overall bestseller list. She's about to be featured by The New York Times and ABC's 20/20. And still you might not know who Bebe Buell is. But I've known her for most of the last decade and I can't tell you how proud I am that her day has come.

Bebe's book, Rebel Heart: An American Rock 'N' Roll Journey, is just hitting bookstores across the country next week. (It's already out on the East Coast, where apparently people are gobbling it up faster than blue M&Ms.)

Last night Bebe had a standing room only book signing at Barnes & Noble on Sixth Avenue in Chelsea. Yesterday morning she appeared on Howard Stern's radio show and was a huge hit. Of course, with Howard you never know what's going to happen, but he and Robin Quivers treated Bebe with a huge amount of reverence. When she told them that she never sued Aerosmith's Steven Tyler for money when she had his baby in 1977 — the baby that has grown up to be movie star beauty Liv Tyler — Howard and the crew inside the studio stood and applauded.

What is it about Rebel Heart that's clicking with early readers? Positive vibes. Rather than write a tell-all or one of those books in which a scorned lover "outs" everyone they know, Bebe wanted to show off her sense of humor. She holds no grudges about the rock scene of the 1970s and '80s; instead, she embraced the gestalt of the times, and thrived in the environment. And it is true that Cameron Crowe was inspired by Bebe enough that parts of her personality (and much of her looks) are apparent in Kate Hudson's character, Penny Lane, in Almost Famous

Here's a quick synopsis: Bebe was born in Virginia and moved around a lot. By the time she was 15, she was a knockout, but also not destined for college. When she graduated from high school her mother — who runs the successful Protocol School of Washington — was smart enough to bring her to New York and deliver her to the legendary Eileen Ford of Ford Models. Bebe got a lot of work right away but also fell in with the Andy Warhol crowd at the famous Max's Kansas City. Within months she was living with rocker Todd Rundgren, who was then having a seminal hit with album Something/Anything. (The album had two hit singles, "I Saw the Light" and "Hello It's Me.") 

Ford blew a gasket in 1974 when Bebe posed for Playboy. No legit model had done that before, and Eileen was not pleased. She terminated Bebe's contract, but our heroine was saved by the equally impressive Wilhelmina Models. Still living with Rundgren, she had an extended fling with Aerosmith's Steven Tyler in 1976. Liv was conceived, but Tyler was too addicted to drugs to choose fatherhood over his hedonistic lifestyle. Rundgren agreed to raise the baby as his own even though he and Bebe split shortly thereafter. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. 

When I met Bebe in 1979 in Bleecker Bob's record store, she was already quite the rock 'n' roll legend herself. By then she'd been through the whole Tyler-Rundgren thing, dated Rod Stewart, and was credited (albeit falsely) in the New Musical Express for breaking up Elvis Costello's marriage. She was larger than life, and a memorable, ethereal beauty.

Costello — with whom she had two affairs — would turn out to be the biggest influence on her for the next two decades, and vice versa. Many of his witty, bitter, and poignant songs are inspired by her from 1980-86, including a whole album called Blood & Chocolate featuring a blistering paean titled "I Hope You're Happy Now." It was written after Bebe decided not to have Costello's child, and he responded in kind by never speaking to her again. 

Rebel Heart, of course, details a lot of these affairs including an ongoing one with Mick Jagger that is the absolutely first one I've encountered in which he seems human and fun. The book also chronicles some interesting periods in rock history, such as John Lennon's 18 month "lost weekend" when he lived with May Pang, and the late John Phillips's recording sessions with Jagger and Keith Richards. The latter was turned into a recently released CD that takes its place alongside Lennon and Harry Nilsson's Pussy Cats album.

But the real spirit of Rebel Heart lies in the breeziness of the stories (which were sculpted by the excellent pop writer Victor Bockris) and the tone, which makes you wish you could have been a speck on the wall at Max's, or there when the Stones were picking songs for the It's Only Rock and Roll album. Bebe has managed to recount the funny, the sad, and the sexy as an ironic observer who always had her life to go back to when things got too weird. Rebel Heart should be in a time capsule with the movie Sid and Nancy, the book Please Kill Me, a Warhol silk screen, and Iggy Pop's T-shirt.

Showgirls Actress Returns, Nicole Goes for Oscar

I was going to tell you all about Woody Allen's very funny period piece, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, which was supposed to open today. But it seems that it's opening next Friday instead. This movie is being marketed strangely and I don't know what's going on. So we'll wait until next week. This much I can tell you now: Elizabeth Berkley, the Saved by the Bell star who destroyed her career with Showgirls, gets a second chance to renew her career and acquits herself very well...Nicole Kidman's rave reviews for The Others are pouring in. And this much I can tell you now. Dimension/Miramax is going to push her for an Oscar nomination, and she will get it. Not for Moulin Rouge, but for this old fashioned well made thriller in which she is luminous. On Monday, some more of my interview with Nicole including her thoughts on Eyes Wide Shut.

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