Review of “The Soundtrack of My Life” by Clive Davis

The Soundtrack of My Life – Clive Davis with Anthony DeCurtis (Simon & Schuster)

 *****

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Last night I finished music mogul Clive Davis’s long, delightful memoir, The Soundtrack of My Life. As someone who has as an amateur played popular music throughout his life (I still own, and occasionally play, a guitar and harmonium, and love to sing), I found that this autobiography, written with Anthony DeCurtis, an amazing chronicle of the musicians who made the popular music that I grew up loving and learning to sing and play. From several early reviews, I knew that at some point he wrote about his bisexuality in the book, but it is such a compelling read I wasn’t particularly tempted to skip ahead.

Over the course of his illustrious career in the music recording business, Mr Davis discovered and worked with many of the greatest contemporary musicians in our lifetime. A glimpse at the top three rows of photos on the back cover of the dust jacket reveals only a few of the musicians he worked with: Janis Joplin, Barry Manilow, Patti Smith, Bruce Springsteen, Dionne Warwick, Grateful Dead, Carlos Santana, Whitney Houston, and Aretha Franklin.

Davis opens the tragic chapter on Whitney admitting, “Without question this is the most difficult chapter for me to write.” And it is gut-wrenching to learn the details of her immense talent, rise to fame, and demise. He briefly mentions the “gay rumors” about Whitney, but doesn’t reveal anything about her possible bisexuality. Despite the Whitney tragedy, which is somewhat central to the book, there are so many more triumphant breakthrough moments prior and following to this episode in his stellar career that it doesn’t overshadow the book.

In the final chapter, after having told us so much about his truly amazing professional life, his discussion turns personal. He speaks lovingly of his close relationship with family, kids, and grandkids. Eventually, in 1990, after his second divorce, while having satisfying ongoing relationships with women, he enters his first sexual relationship with a male friend. He describes the fallout from disclosing to others about his newfound attraction to both men and women:

I was working through the complexity of my personal life. Everything stayed outside the public glare as I tried to figure out my new bisexuality. To my intense disappointment when I did try to probe all this in conversation with others, it turned out nobody believed in bisexuality.

As a man who also came to terms with his bisexuality relatively late in life, I can relate to his struggle to articulate his bisexuality in a way that does not provoke scorn from either straight or gay folks.

Heterosexuals and homosexuals alike didn’t credit one word alike of any explanation I offered. In their eyes it was as simple as could be: If, at any time, for any reason, you had sex with a man, you were gay. That’s all there was to it. As has been said: “You’re either gay, straight, or lying.” Well, I knew that to be a lie. I knew what was true for me, and I knew what was true for many others I’d come to observe over the years. …

Clive considers the relative merits of coming out publicly as bi and his reasons for not doing so until now.

I could certainly see the benefits to others from David Geffen and other prominent people revealing their homosexuality, but to me, admitting you’re bisexual is to invite derision with no one ultimately benefiting. I’d privately experienced that to a great extent, and the notion of facing it in the public sphere seemed both daunting and pointless.” Maybe that’s an excuse for not being more courageous, but that’s what I genuinely felt.

Although I personally understand his impulse here to avoid inviting derision — probably the reason he doesn’t disclose his bisexuality until page 546 — I believe that the same reasons for coming out as bi exist as what he suggests is the rationale for gay men like Geffen to come out and be out. There is indeed benefit to other bisexual-identified folks when a prominent celebrity comes out as bi, as exemplified in the final pages of his book.

It is gratifying to know that readers of The Soundtrack of My Life will come away from it knowing that a man who has so candidly and movingly written about his long and illustrious career at the top of the music biz has finally made public his sexuality and affirmed that bisexuality is real.

Bravo to Clive Davis for his courage to come out, at long last. If bisexuality activists had such a thing, I would suggest here that the gentleman deserves a Bi Visibility Award. A class act like Clive Davis is the kind of person with whom bisexual activists would love to identify the bi activist movement. His book puts a face on bisexuality in a way that’s difficult to imagine for anyone — straight, gay, bi, trans, or otherwise — to deny.

Originally published October 4th, 2014  Out in Print

©  2013  Ron J. Suresha

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Author: Ron Suresha

Ron Jackson Suresha is an editor, anthologist, and writer. He is considered an authority on emergent queer masculinities, in particular the subcultures of gay and bi male Bears and of male bisexuality. For Ron's service to the bear community, he was named "Bear of the Year" 2008. Born in Detroit, Michigan, Suresha attended the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor, 1976-8), where he studied creative writing, and Vista College (Berkeley, Cal., 1989-92), where he studied American Sign Language. For more than two decades, he has worked as a freelance proofreader for trade book publishers such as Shambhala Publications. He was married in October 2004 to Rocco Russo. He is also a licensed Justice of the Peace in Connecticut, an ordained minister, ULC, and a member of the New London Green Party. Nonfiction works include Bears on Bears: Interviews & Discussions; Bi Men: Coming Out (coeditor, with Pete Chvany); Bisexual Perspectives on the Life and Work of Alfred C. Kinsey (editor). His latest book is The Uncommon Sense of the Immortal Mullah Nasruddin: Stories, jests, and donkey tales of the beloved Persian folk hero, published by Lethe Press.