Clive’s Book-1

Self-righteous mythologizing.

That’s the problem with Clive Davis’s book. It’s like seeing the end of the tunnel, he wants to write his version of history, hoping it will become the one that sticks as decades pass. I liked the old Clive, the Columbia Clive, who became the head of CBS Records, warmed to the job, and went for a victory lap almost immediately. He was riding the horse back then, now he’s in the grandstand, telling us he was the greatest ever, when that’s not even the point. No one remembers the executives. Only the artists remain.

And some of the tales Clive tells are doozies.

But let’s get back to Clive’s story. Recently I listened to Jill Abramson on Alec Baldwin’s “Here’s The Thing” podcast. Despite having the most despicable voice in media, Jill stopped me in my tracks when she said what she was interested in was the story behind the story. That’s my dad in a nutshell. He wanted to know the truth. And the public result, even what your friends tell you, usually is the result of a lot of backstory that is much more interesting than the end facts.

Like how did Clive really get this job?

He seems to say he fell into it.

But that never happens. Anybody who tells you they fell up the career ladder is lying. Because as you near the top, competition becomes fierce. Everybody wants that job. Obviously, Clive charmed his superiors, was incredibly cunning, but you don’t find that in the book. You learn he was a good student who applied himself. Duh! That was what was fascinating about “The Social Network,” despite it being fiction. What kind of person triumphs? Just going to Harvard is not enough. Did you read that obit of the guy who created the game Diplomacy? He went to Harvard, undergrad and law school (although he did drop out before finishing his graduate degree), and for decades he was a letter carrier!

So you won’t learn how Clive got to where he was.

And Clive’s got a weird way of twisting the knife in the backs of artists. He delineates their flaws, their poor choices, and then says they were one of the greatest of all time. Huh?

But Clive was there when it all blew up. When music took over the world. When it went from classical and show tunes to rock. And you couldn’t tell the artists what to do.

You couldn’t change Simon & Garfunkel’s name.

You couldn’t tell them what to record.

You quaked in your boots speaking of singles and edits.

Yup, Clive wanted a single version of Big Brother’s “Piece Of My Heart,” with one more iteration of the chorus. He was afraid of what Janis would say. Ultimately, she shrugged her shoulders, let the suit do what he wanted to do. She almost didn’t care, AM radio was the plaything of charlatans, she’d let Clive have his fun. Hell, she died anyway.

Yup, artists back then were not the mercenary pricks of today. The uneducated followers who would do anything to make a buck. It was a different era, and that’s just the point.

Did Bob Dylan have a motorcycle accident, or was it a story concocted to get the media off his back? After all, he was soon recording in a basement with the Band.

You just didn’t know.

This is the vaunted mystery all the oldsters lament is gone from the music industry. But usually, they’re talking about manufactured mystery. You’re in the press, but there are holes, you keep the public guessing as you bob and weave. Dylan just disappeared.

So different from today’s hypester culture. Yes, today you tell people how great you are, over and over again. You implore them to pay attention to your bowel movements. You want them to buy your perfume. You dun them into submission. No wonder acts fade. The public burns out on them! They’re just waiting for your single to stiff and for you to disappear. So they can get some relief!

In the old days, the music came first. FM music. AM radio was a sideshow. It’s the FM bands that lasted.

But it was such a different time. A rock star could be far richer than a banker. Could get laid every night. Could truly make his own choices. Today musicians are followers, not leaders.

And those days are never coming back. That’s what bugs me about everybody who’s still invested in the music industry. Like it could be 1968 all over again. Or even 1981, when MTV started up. Those days are through. And the only hope for a renaissance is with the artists. But their goals are screwed up. They believe it’s about marketing and money as opposed to music. They don’t want to make a statement, they want to make a buck!

Whereas in the sixties it was about excellence and good times. You relied on yourself. Hell, Dylan made a deal with no advance! He didn’t want the pressure. He wanted to make no commitment. He wanted to follow his muse. Of course the record companies were ripping you off back then, but first and foremost music was an artistic endeavor.

And Clive delineates this well. As he rewrites history and claims he was only trying to save the company. Rescue CBS Records from death and destruction. Yet, he contradicts himself constantly. Says how bad thing were as he says how good they were.

But Clive was there.

Eventually I’ll get to Ace of Base and Santana’s comeback album, but those will just be stories. No one listens to that Santana album today. But “Abraxas”! That’s a staple! Not because Carlos and the band were making a record for the ages, but for right now. And sometimes, right now is more important than your plan for world domination. Sometimes it’s about what’s right in front of your face as opposed to what’s around the bend.

Everybody else tells their stories privately, late at night, around an overly expensive bottle of wine. Clive is letting you into his world. Despite its flaws, you can’t put his book down, not if you lived through the era he’s talking about, not if you remember when music changed the world.

P.S. I point you to Wayne Rosso’s screed on the sales of Clive’s book. It sold 11,348 copies in its first week. Yup, there was a huge ad in the “New York Times” with blurbs by people you don’t respect, like Ryan Seacrest, as if the mainstream cares about “The Soundtrack Of My Life.” It’s a sham, it’s a scam. The average person just doesn’t care. Clive put his image all over TV and print in the past twenty years and the end result is a shoulder shrug. The only people who care are the core, those in the business. As usual, Clive is using mainstream media to get his message out. But that era is through. Clive would be better off going on a tour of college music business programs. Appearing on niche programming and websites that appeal to music junkies, who want to know the details of advances and commitments. But Clive missed the memo that times have changed. Which is why he sat so far back at the Grammys. Everybody has their time. Then it evaporates. Led Zeppelin might be forever, but you’re not. You’re just an observer, a pawn in the game, whose rules are constantly being rewritten. Unfortunately, most people don’t care about what’s happened since the classic rock era, ergo the failure of “I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution.” But they do care about what happened in the sixties. It was better back then.

The Soundtrack of My Life

Update: An Exercise in Irrelevancy

“Here’s The Thing”-Jill Abramson

“Allan Calhamer Dies at 81; Invented Diplomacy Game”

Clive’s Book-2

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