It takes a lot of courage to use Gay Talese’s title, but David Samuels might just have written a classic. I am still in the beginning of the article, but I could quote every paragraph.
[Clive] Davis’s invitation to Houston was clearly not intended as an insult—it is simply what happens when you combine the rampant egomania required to float a five-decade hit-making career with the native human discomfort with tragedy. What Clive Davis loves isn’t music but stars, who are not necessarily musicians, but rather highly specialized forms of human. Stars love Davis because he is a sharp Harvard lawyer with the heart of a piano-bar diva. His monthly singles meetings back in the day when he ran Columbia Records, from 1967 to 1973, when it was Bob Dylan’s label, and Janis Joplin’s label, and a lot of other people’s label—back when labels told consumers what to buy—were held in a long, narrow, windowless bunker with a control room at one end and huge speakers the size of double-door refrigerators at the other. Davis sat at the head of a long table, alone. He would formally cue each new record—“This Is Earth, Wind & Fire”—which would be played at huge volume from the speakers directly behind his head, and everyone in the room would sit and watch him as he kept a stone face, nodding almost imperceptibly to the beat. Or, if he didn’t like the record, after a few bars his mouth would turn down, as if he had bitten into a bad oyster, and then everyone else’s mouth would turn down, too, meaning that it was dead on arrival.
Cool extra: the author discusses the article in a podcast interview, mercifully transcribed:
Eric Wen: The music industry, according to David Samuels, is sick. The title of his essay in n+1 issue 20, “Justin Timberlake Has a Cold”, is both an allusion to the famous Gay Talese 1966 article in Esquire magazine, “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold”, and also Samuels’s diagnosis of the business itself. In our interview, we talked about what it means to be a rock star or a pop star in today’s age, the professionals who write the songs we hear on the radio, and the collapse of the music industry and all creative industries.