Speed Read

7 Juicy Bits From Clive Davis’s Memoir

Personal letters to Whitney Houston, trouble with Kelly Clarkson, and more.

Matt Sayles/AP

Legendary music executive Clive Davis—most famous for being the brains behind the success of Whitney Houston—has worked with everyone from Aretha Franklin and Bob Dylan to Kelly Clarkson and Alicia Keys. Yet the buzziest part of his new memoir may be the 80-year-old’s disclosure that he is bisexual. From candid talk about his sexual adventures to spats with Bob Dylan and a close encounter with Janis Joplin, more of the juiciest bits from The Soundtrack of My Life.

1. Yep, He’s Bisexual

After separating from his wife in the ‘80s, Davis reveals, he was in three simultaneous relationships—two of which were with women, and one with a man. “I enjoyed my time with all of them and honestly felt I had no strong sexual preference,” Davis writes. “Naturally, all of this preoccupied me.” It wasn’t until 1990 that Davis entered a monogamous relationship once again, with a man. That relationship lasted until 2004; for the last seven years, Davis says, he’s been in a “strong monogamous relationship” with a man.

2. Bob Dylan Accused Him of Censorship

When Davis worked as a lawyer for Columbia Records, he consulted with Bob Dylan on The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. According to Davis, Dylan wanted to include the satirical song “Talking John Birch Society Blues,” which mocked the then-influential right-wing group. When Davis decided certain lines would be considered libelous in court, he had to personally tell Dylan that Columbia would not put the track on the record. Of course, Dylan was not pleased. “‘What is this?’” Davis remembers Dylan saying. “‘What do you mean I can’t come out with this song? You can’t edit or censor me!’” The song never made it onto the famed album, but was later released as part of the Bootleg Series Volumes.

3. He Cried Over Whitney Houston

Davis is largely credited with discovering Whitney Houston and sending her on her way to massive stardom, and he devotes a chapter to his late protégée—the one that was “hardest to write.” In it, Davis reprints several of the letters he wrote to Houston, including one sent in 2001 after he saw her at a concert looking “skeletal.” “Dear Whitney,” Davis wrote. “When I saw you Friday night at the Michael Jackson concert I gasped. When I got home, I cried. My dear, dear Whitney, the time has come ... I join your mother in pleading with you to face up to the truth now, right now, and there is no more time or postponement. You must think not only of yourself but you must think of those who love you.”

Davis says never received a response to the letter.

4. He Turned Down Sex With Janis Joplin

When Davis saw Joplin perform as part of the band Big Brother at Monterey Pop in 1967, he says it was downright revelatory. “The impact of seeing an artist that raw, earthy and fiery just floored me ... I experienced a personal epiphany as well. This has got to be my moment, I thought. I’ve got to sign this band.” When he finally was about to sign the band a year later, Joplin’s manager came to him with an unusual offer. “She’s talked about meeting you, and she thinks it only fitting and proper that she ball you to cement the deal,” Davis recalls her manager saying. “That would be her way of showing this is a more meaningful relationship—not in lieu of signing, but in addition a way to make the signing different from what it normally would be in the business world.”

Davis politely declined, the band signed anyway, and the rest is history.

5. John Lennon Didn’t Listen to the Radio

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Davis recalls running into John Lennon and Yoko Ono at a coffee shop on Columbus & 72nd St. in 1973, right before they moved into the Dakota. The trio got into a conversation about music and Davis asked Lennon if he liked to stay current by listening to the radio. He got a shocking answer.

“He said ‘I don’t listen to the radio at all.’ I was flabbergasted. ‘Not at all?’ I said, ‘When you’re not recording you have no interest in knowing what else is happening?’ ‘No,’ he said. ‘I haven’t listened to any new music at all ... Clive let me ask you a question. Do you think Picasso went to the galleries to see what was being painted before he put brush to canvas?’”

Only Lennon could compare himself to Picasso and not be totally out of his mind.

6. He Had Creative Differences With Kelly Clarkson

The American Idol winner is "obviously very talented," Davis writes in a portion of the book that has already earned a rebuttal, but the two didn’t always agree. Davis claims that Clarkson "hated" what would become her hit tracks “Since You Been Gone” and “Behind These Hazel Eyes” when she first heard them, and wanted both songs off her album.

"It was a very tough conversation, and it didn't get any easier when Kelly burst into hysterical sobbing. We all just sat there and she cried for a several minutes. No one knew what to say." On Tuesday, Clarkson responded to Davis's characterization, saying “his stories and songs are mixed up. I did want more guitars added to the original demo and Clive did not. Max, Luke and I still fought for the bigger sound and we prevailed and I couldn’t be more proud of the life of that song.” Clarkson added, “Growing up is awesome because you learn you don’t have to cower to anyone—even Clive Davis.”

7. But He and Aretha Are Pals

Clarkson, Dylan, and Paul Simon may have been difficult to work with sometimes, but Davis’s relationship with the Queen of Soul reads like a virtual slumber party.

"Among my most frequent topics of conversation with Aretha are food, fashion, and men, not necessarily in that order,” Davis writes. “She’d call and tell me, ‘Wait until you see me, I’m on that Jenny Craig diet, and I’m doing great with it.’ Then I’d see her a few weeks later, and it wouldn’t look to me as if she’d lost much weight. I’d take her aside and whisper, ‘You’re not on the Jenny Craig diet, clearly. I think you’re on the Shirley Craig diet!’ She’d laugh and laugh.”