Wednesday, May 8, 2013

These memoirs will leave a song in your heart...

Hitmaker: The Man and His Music by Tommy Mottola and Cal Fussman

Kirkus Reviews –

The former head of Sony Music Entertainment pens an earthy, self-congratulatory memoir of his rise to the top of the music industry during its most lucrative era. With an assist from co-author Fussman (After Jackie: Pride, Prejudice, and Baseball's Forgotten Heroes: An Oral History, 2007, etc.), Mottola affects a conversational style steeped in the flavors of his Bronx origins. "Arthur Avenue was one of my first tastemakers," he writes. "It taught me what is good." The mélange of sounds he heard in his childhood neighborhood--black doo-wop, Italian pop and Latin salsa, among others--would stay with him as he became a tastemaker for the world. Actually, Mottola came of age in Westchester, where he attended a prep school. He skipped college and, with his parents' backing, attempted to launch a musical career as a Bobby Darrin–style crooner under the stage name T.D. Valentine. While he never scored a hit of his own, Mottola learned what went into making hits for other people. His star rose as a music manager when he gently steered his first clients Hall & Oates away from folk and progressive rock to their trademark blue-eyed Philly soul. Mottola was virtually unique among his corporate peers in having the experience of working as a musician and manager, and he used it to great advantage, carefully molding the careers of Gloria Estefan, Celine Dion and Shakira. Most notoriously, perhaps, he tightly controlled the output of ex-wife Mariah Carey; she wanted to break out into hip-hop and got pushed into making an album of Christmas music instead. "You're trying to make me into a franchise," she once told Mottola. "What do you think I am, McDonald's?" The author concedes that he might have wronged Carey, but he is unapologetic about his role in turning the music business into a global multibillion-dollar corporate industry. Approving blurbs from colleagues between chapters back him up. Music lovers will be divided over whether they agree with Mottola and friends that those contributions were net positive, but business students will find his insiders' view valuable and his street smarts charming.

Remembering Whitney: My Story of Love, Loss, and the Night the Music Stopped by Cissy Houston

Kirkus Reviews –

A talented, flawed artist, seen through the eyes of a loving, forgiving mother. Considering what her daughter put her through, most readers will be impressed by Cissy's patience and unconditional loyalty. Cissy, a well-respected yet underappreciated vocalist herself, relates Whitney's highest highs and lowest lows with honesty, but not much in the way of introspection or insight. The narrative proceeds in a this-happened-then-this-happened-then-this-happened fashion, readable and breezy but lacking depth. Cissy all but glosses over her own impressive career, which is unfortunate, since she recorded as a background vocalist for Wilson Pickett, Van Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Aretha Franklin, Paul Simon, Gregg Allman, David Bowie, Diana Ross and many others. Still, there is plenty of material that Houston devotee's will find fascinating: Young Whitney's (aka Nippy) childhood thrall with music and her speedy ascension up the music-industry ladder; the insider view of the behind-the-scenes machinations that helped Whitney get to and remain at the top of the charts; and Whitney's true feelings about fame. Many readers will pick up the book hoping to learn the real deal about her tumultuous, toxic relationship with fellow singer Bobby Brown and her descent into substance-abuse–based madness. While Cissy details how she bent over backward to save her daughter, she offers precious little information about what happened in the Houston/Brown household. However, that sort of salacious material would be out of place in this mostly affectionate remembrance of an iconic singer whose whole story will likely never be told. Fans of the Houston ladies will laugh, cry and beg for more. The rest of us will shrug and move on.

The Soundtrack of My Life by Clive Davis

Kirkus Reviews –

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 menschy at the same time.

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