Revealing, entertaining account of the fortunes—almost always waxing—of the music mogul.
Writing with ace Rolling Stone journalist DeCurtis, Davis recounts his rise from an impoverished Brooklyn childhood to heading Columbia Records and other labels. That rise came by way of hard work and attendance at Harvard Law School, where he qualified for the Review but, ever entrepreneurial, joined the activities board because the post offered a small stipend. As counsel to Columbia, he found that he had an ear for music and an eye for talent, and from there, he rocketed upward. In his tenure at Columbia and Arista, Davis discovered many artists and elevated many others, and he is gracious toward almost all, if carefully so: Paul Simon, we gather, is prickly, and Whitney Houston was a constant handful (about The Bodyguard: “She held her own, but you couldn’t say her performance was inspiring”). Davis is also remarkably catholic in his tastes, having worked with everyone from Miles Davis to Laura Nyro to Johnny Cash to the Grateful Dead to Sean Combs and his coterie of rappers (“When I went to artist showcases or parties Puffy threw for his label’s stars in clubs around the city late at night, I never once brought a bodyguard”). The anecdotes are fun to read, if seldom newsworthy; what is of greater value is Davis’ detailing of how hits are made. As he writes, “I think there’s a bit of confusion between pop music and pop success,” adding that although the Dead and Patti Smith, and even Aretha Franklin, weren’t pop artists, he was able to work his magic on them to produce hits—and lots of money.
A touch overlong, but a pleasure to read, elevated and mensch-y at the same time.