It is almost easier to list the artists legendary music business executive Clive Davis hasn’t worked with than the ones he has during his half century-long career. Suffice it to say that the founder of Arista and J Records and the current chief creative officer of Sony Music Entertainment has overseen releases by everyone from voice-of-his-generation Bob Dylan to Milli Vanilli who, as it turned out, weren’t even the voices of themselves.
Davis recalls his interactions with both acts in his new memoir, the Anthony De Curtis-cowritten The Soundtrack of My Life, which is published today by Simon & Schuster. The book also finds the exec reminiscing about Bruce Springsteen, Simon & Garfunkel, Janis Joplin, Carlos Santana, the Grateful Dead, Patti Smith, the Foo Fighters, and Jennifer Hudson, amongst many others. But the real, headline-grabbing portions are to be found in the chapters dealing with Whitney Houston, Kelly Clarkson, and Davis’ own sexuality.
Davis signed Houston when she was just 19, and he writes at length about both the record-breaking success Houston found with her first two albums (1985’s Whitney Houston and 1987’s Whitney) and his attempts to intervene after her life became derailed by drugs. The executive even reprints a 2001 letter he wrote to Houston, expressing his concern after what he describes as her “skeletal” appearance at one of Michael Jackson’s thirtieth-anniversary concerts. “You must think not only of yourself but you must think of those who love you,” Davis pleaded in the missive. “Our anguish, our fear, our pain is just too much to bear. You must get help for yourself and for your close extended family.”
Davis subsequently describes the shock he felt upon hearing of Houston’s death, a tragedy which occurred just a few days after he had met with the singer, who reassured him that she was swimming daily and getting into shape. “Maybe I should have been more skeptical,” writes Davis in The Soundtrack of My Life, “but I’ve always been optimistic, and I felt hopeful. It felt like old times.”
American Idol season 1 winner Kelly Clarkson also enjoyed massive Davis-masterminded early success, particularly with her second album, 2004’s Breakaway. That collection included the megahit “Since U Been Gone,” a track, Davis recalls, which Clarkson adamantly did not want featured on the CD. (Davis writes that when he insisted “Since U Been Gone” be included, Clarkson burst into “hysterical sobbing.”)
Worse was to come. The artist and the executive fell out badly over Clarkson’s desire to write more songs on her next collection, My December. In Soundtrack, Davis recalls that he didn’t believe the Clarkson-copenned material contained a No. 1 hit and told the singer’s manager that he was “out of his mind” to believe otherwise. He also writes about a meeting with Clarkson in which he told her that My December was “a pop album that still needs pop hits.” While Clarkson prevailed in her creative vision, Davis was proven right in his commercial assessment of the material when My December failed to repeat the success of Breakaway.
Finally, Davis confirms longstanding rumors that he has had relationships with men. The twice-married executive says he first began to experiment sexually around three decades ago when he was approached by a male music fan at famed New York nightclub Studio 54. “Was I nervous?” writes Davis. “Absolutely. Did the heavens open up? No. But it was satisfying.” In Soundtrack, Davis reveals that he has been in “a strong monogamous relationship” with a man for the last seven years but makes it extremely clear that he regards himself as bisexual rather than gay. “Do I feel I could have been similarly attracted to a woman?” Davis writes. “The answer is yes.”
For an extended interview with Clive Davis — in which he ruminates further about his megastar artists and his decision to come out as a bisexual — check out the next issue of Entertainment Weekly.