It was fun!
Of course it was at the Beverly Hills Hotel, in a pink bungalow. A legend hews to tradition.
But what I was not prepared for was how nice Clive was. I’ve written some awful stuff about him in the past. That’s why he wanted to get together. To give me his perspective.
Now let me define “awful.” I didn’t use expletives, and I said nothing I wouldn’t stand by today, but it’s tough to be on the receiving end of criticism. I know, they’re beating me up on Twitter as I write this!
So I was somewhat trepidatious. These honchos can get on their high horse and dominate. But that’s not what Clive did.
First and foremost, he was wearing sneakers. Running shoes, to be specific. Not that there was any brand in evidence. Maybe they’re custom. But these endeared me to him more than anything else, because they normalized him, they illustrated that it wasn’t all about image, that comfort, reality, took precedence.
And the first thing I told Clive was that he had to be on Howard Stern.
You see on the way down the hill I heard Jewel perform a song Howard wrote when he was in the sixth grade. Because that’s what we did back then. We wrote, we played, we wanted to be a rock star. Not what’s called a rock star today. Someone who’s rich, someone who plays the game, someone who’s separate from his audience, but an artist, who speaks his truth to his audience and listens to and takes guidance from no one.
That’s the way it was.
These musicians practiced for years. There were no short cuts to stardom. Sure, there were some teenybopper acts, but we didn’t take them seriously, unlike the way the industry and the media fawn over today’s TV stars, made famous overnight by “Idol, ” “The Voice” and “X Factor.” A rock star of yore literally rose from the streets, there was almost never an overnight success. And your audience never made fun of you, they loved you, they were thrilled by you, you were the reason they kept on living.
And “marketing” was a term unknown to the hoi polloi. You either could play or you couldn’t. No one’s tweeting and Facebooking eclipsed their tunes. And there was a strict dividing line, between those who were signed and those who were not. Professionals and amateurs.
Now we’re all in it together and chaos reigns.
I told Clive I got it. He had to make money for the company. He didn’t have the luxury of signing only cutting edge acts. He wanted to impress this upon me. He walked me slowly from Columbia to today, all his choices, all his victories. And I’d be dishonest if I didn’t say it was somewhat akin to Steve Jobs’s legendary reality distortion field. It would be hard to exit the bungalow without believing Clive Davis truly was Mr. Music, that he was the preeminent leader, a beacon pointing the way.
But I still don’t like Ace Of Base.
But that’s not a criticism of Clive. He understands commerciality.
You see I’m infatuated with the culture. I remember when music defined the world. When you tuned in the radio to know which way the wind blew. When artists not only played, but wrote. Hell, I quoted some lyrical gems to Clive today.
And Clive got it.
Because he’s a fan.
That’s what’s missing today. A love of music.
There’s a love of money, a love of fame.
But once upon a time the music came first.
And not only will the music save us, it will outlive us.
To hear Clive rhapsodize about repertoire is to have the strings in your heart pulled. Because there’s nothing better than a hit record. It makes you feel good all over.
And Clive said every act wants hits.
Artists want audiences. If you’re doing it solely for yourself, you’re lying, or you suck.
And then Richard started talking about the Lumineers.
Yes, Richard Palmese, Clive’s consigliere. Richard broke that record. Which was something so foreign to Top Forty radio, my jaw is still on the floor.
Richard said Top Forty could not deny the story. Success at other formats. A couple of stations took a chance, and then everybody went on it. Because at the end of the day it’s about hits, built on hooks, and “Ho Hey” has an indelible one.
Yup, our conversation evolved into records and careers.
Did Taylor Swift make a mistake crossing over?
Clive pondered this question with Carrie Underwood.
You see he’s a student of the game.
That’s what’s been lost in the talk about money and fashion and perfume and energy drinks. It’s really about marrying talent to songs and creating a combustion such that the entire populace becomes aware, and money comes raining down.
Clive needed that money to keep his job.
I just need hit records to feed my mental health, to keep me stimulated and entertained, to keep me going.
We’re not in a heyday.
Music takes a back seat to tech. And it’s hard to champion so much of this dreck when television is cutting edge and Tarantino takes more risks than the biggest record producers.
But change is afoot.
The tools of the trade are in the hands of the proletariat. Distribution is available to everybody. The only thing between you and ubiquity is a hit song.
That’s what Clive Davis specialized in creating.
If the act composed it, fantastic.
If not, he was gonna find it for them.
That’s what being a music man is all about. You may not be able to play, but that does not mean you can’t cogitate, define, put all your passion behind something you believe in.
So at the end of the day, Clive and I are on the same team.
We’re slaves to the rhythm.
And the melody.
No piece of iron or steel, no monetary currency can compete with that mellifluous sound emanating from the speakers, that elixir of life, that satiates us and keeps us going.
P.S. Of course I heard tons more. But it was off the record! I promised I wouldn’t tell the stories from his forthcoming book. But even more intriguing and satisfying was Clive’s analysis of acts and the business. You see it’s nuance that makes a difference. Everybody believes it’s about the blunt hammer. But no, it’s got more to do with how you swing it, when and where. A degree here or there makes all the difference. Hell, I remember the mix of “Help Me Rhonda” on “Beach Boys Today.” It was a middling trifle. But the single remix was a STONE COLD SMASH!
P.P.S. I told Clive he had to be on Stern because Howard has a passionate audience. They don’t listen in the background, but the foreground. Stern’s audience has more power than any newspaper and any late night or morning TV show. If you’re not willing to break the rules, go against the grain, deal with reality as opposed to perception, you’re not going to get very far.
P.P.P.S. We talked about the other Clive, Clive Calder, who had the greatest financial victory in the history of the music business, a $2.7 billion payout from Bertelsmann. Didn’t he miss it? How could he stay away? Clive Davis was flummoxed that Clive Calder, who he’d given a deal to decades before, could remove himself from the game. Davis believed Calder loved it too much. He saw tears streaming down Calder’s cheek when he testified at the UJA dinner. There are some things bigger than money, like music.