Last night, legendary record producer and music executive Clive Davis returned to his alma mater to promote his new autobiography, The Soundtrack of My Life, released earlier this week. The event was a moderated Q&A with Billboard magazine Editorial Director Bill Werde, and it was hosted in NYU Law School’s Tishman Hall, which holds 450 people and was filled to capacity.
The roughly 90-minute-long conversation mainly focused on the positive aspects of Davis’ career, such as his trajectory from Harvard Law School to the top of Columbia Records and his discovery of Janis Joplin at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival. However, Davis also addressed a few controversial parts of his life, including his recent coming out as bisexual, his firing from Columbia in 1973, and his last few days with the late Whitney Houston. (That said, he steered clear of his recent feud with Kelly Clarkson.)
After a ten-minute-long introductory video, Davis joined Werde on stage, and the two got right down to business discussing Davis’ bisexuality, which he revealed in a five-page section towards the end of The Soundtrack of My Life, according to RollingStone.com. “There was no way I was going to write my biography and not discuss who I am,” Davis said. He then mentioned how he opened up to bisexuality after the age of 50, and he asserted his confidence in his sexuality, despite that many people think he’s either “gay, straight, or lying.” Davis mentioned that his first long-lasting homosexual relationship was with a doctor, joking and quoting his book, “I couldn’t escape the profession all Jews put on a pedestal.” The end of this section of the conversation was met with applause from the audience.
After briefly touching upon his journey from Washington Square College (now NYU) to Harvard Law School to a New York law firm to Columbia Records, Davis discussed the first moves he made as chief of Columbia in 1967. He noted how Columbia was in a bit of a rut at the time, and so he set on a mission to discover new artists, first stopping at the “social, cultural revolution taking place” at the Monterey Pop Festival. In the crowd during a Big Brother and the Holding Company (whose lead singer was Janis Joplin) performance, Davis said he “got a spine-tingling feeling that you’ve got to make a move,” which led to him signing one of his first successful artists.
When asked about his firing from Columbia in 1973, allegedly for using company money to pay for his son’s bar mitzvah, Davis defended himself passionately, insisting that someone else within the company was culpable, but that he had to take the blame. “I was and became a sacrificial lamb,” he said. Davis said that he was extremely discouraged after the firing at first, but then admitted that it worked out in the long-run, alluding to his unparalleled subsequent careers as heads of Arista and J Records. “Indeed I did grow and ultimately benefit,” he said.
Davis told anecdotes of working with the likes of Paul Simon and Barry Manilow, but it was when he was asked about Whitney Houston that he really opened up. “It was heartbreaking when I realized it was an addiction that was going to be so hard to overcome,” he said. Davis then discussed how he thought Houston had pulled through, saying that he spent time with her three days before she died and it was “just like the old days.” But she died just days later, which Davis recounts in his new book. “It was very painful to relive this last year,” he said.
The Soundtrack of My Life took Davis two years to write, and it was co-written by Anthony DeCurtis. Last night’s event was promoted by NYU’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music, which Davis is the Chief Advisor to.