Clive: A memoir about working for Clive Davis in the age of vinyl

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Kindle Edition

Clive: Working for the Man in the Age of Vinyl

By Don Silver

At twenty-one, after years playing in a band, Don Silver filled his briefcase with overblown resumes and headed to New York City, where he landed a job every musician dreamed of: working as an A&R man for Clive Davis.  The problem was, the year was 1981 and the charts were topped by disco records. And to Don’s horror, Clive seemed more interested in making hit singles that would make the cash register jingle than in finding great artists making important music.

In two years, Don went from wanting nothing more than to please his temperamental boss to wanting nothing to do with the world this talented narcissist ruled. But is it that easy to give up the perks and power?  Filled with the same love of language and lyricism that made his first novel, Backward-Facing Man, a critical success, this short literary memoir is not just a portrait of a great record man, but a riff on life, ambition and music that will touch readers hearts and souls, just like great rock ‘n roll.

Foreword by Daniel J. Levitin, bestselling author of This is Your Brain on Music

Read the foreword here…


Advance Reviews: Clive

“Totally compelling from the very start.”

“I devoured it.”
– DANIEL J. LEVITIN, Author, This is Your Brain on Music

“In these pages, we get a rare insider’s view of Clive Davis, one of pop music’s greatest impresarios, and an intimate portrait of an even more fascinating character — Don Silver.”

“Heady times. Don takes you right into the trenches with observations that are spot on.”
– MICHAEL TEARSON, FM Rock DJ since the 1960s, Sirius-XM, Radio That Doesn’t Suck, WMGK, Philly


“For two turbo-charged years in the late 70’s, Don Silver worked as an unwitting double-agent in the music industry. On the outside he played the role of the crass business-minded A & R man of Arista records; on the inside he was an artist with a deep belief in the transformative powers of music. Silver’s resulting memoir is an intimate tale of how major producers like the legendary Clive Davis would treat songs and artists, variously as precious gems and disposable commodities, in an attempt to shape the musical landscape (while making bags of money). To risk the obvious analogy, Don Silver’s plebeian relationship to the larger than life Clive Davis, is the A-side of this story. But it’s the B-side, a portrait of Silver’s personal life and his love of music, that completes the experience. And if Silver was a double-agent, his story is a reality check for artists of any discipline who spend more time marketing a product than making art. Lucky for us the artist in Don Silver was able to escape his undercover assignment with soul and voice intact.”
– ALLAN WOLF, Author, The Watch That Ends The Night


“When Don Silver was 21 he came to New York with a twinkle in his eye, a dream in his heart, and a song on his lips. All he wanted was to be part of the music business. He got hired by Clive Davis. This is the story of descending into the belly of the beast, and having your innocence plucked away one day at a time. Funny, poignant, timely and timeless, this is a book for anyone who has grown up. Or tried to.”
– DAVID HENRY STERRY, Author, Chicken


“Clive is Don Silver’s slyly backlit personal story—beginning with a no-holds-barred account of his childhood in the burbs of Philly that is full of witty, dark inner musings from a poignant Portnoy who complains, but without overriding regret. It is a coming-of-age piece reflecting a confusing, raw, and yet, somehow, full-of-promise time.

“The reader is propelled quickly through the machinations and maneuverings of the author as he finds his voice in the world, a kind of Billy Elliot who doesn’t dance and doesn’t want to dance. But Silver does find ways to advance, and it is riveting to watch.

“The memoir is remarkably honest and brave as he discloses intimate details of riding by the seat of his pants with a paradoxically persistent bravado. Newly married, he arrives in the Big Apple after declaring to himself and others: “I’m gonna work for Clive.” It is, to him, a “do it or die” proposition and the reader feels the stakes of his ambition.

“Once inside the record biz, the story grows more complex. At age 21, he he sits in a dimly lit, tiny office within earshot of Clive Davis, threading reel-to-reels and playing cassettes that will be, within seconds, be tossed into the trash. He’s “the little man” looking for that spec of gold in a never-ending trashcan of manure, struggling to find something meritorious, to please his boss, and to keep his dream alive.”


“Clive is a book about Clive Davis and how Don Silver interacted with him during his time trying to get a job at Arista as well as when he was working A&R for Clive at Arista.  It is fun to read about Don’s struggle with trying to get in to the business, ultimately getting in and then realizing that it really wasn’t for him and leaving the label.  He talks about how he wrote letters and made tons of phone calls to try and get an in, and finally got his big break when Clive decided he’d see him.  He told him to find songs for his artists and eventually was hired.  Then he sat in his office and had to listen to demos to try and find which artists to sign and which artists to send a letter to that they weren’t interested.

“The book is short, only 75 or so pages, but it is a nice inside look at the recording industry and how it worked in the early 80s. I can only imagine how these things work in the present day.  Definitely a fascinating look at Clive Davis as well.”


“An interesting memoir from an insider in the recording industry in early 80s. Don Silver loved music and wanted to be working for a record company. He did whatever he could to finally get hired. When he finally did get hired, he ended up working for someone that he thought would be a mentor and turned out to be a manipulative boss. To make matters worse, it was during the height of the disco era, and Don despised disco.

“The book recounts a lot of the life of Don Silver during the time of the mid 1970s to mid 1980s. His attempts avoid school, form a band and fabricate his way into the recording industry is told with conversational ease. Don comes across as a real character, but someone you wouldn’t mind sitting down with over a drink to hear more stories.

“Along the way, some of the dirty laundry of the recording industry is aired. How a hit is picked, what happens to that demo tape your band sent in, and how the radio stations were induced to play mediocre music over and over again.

“A quick read that I found engaging.”


“Don Silver offers a fascinating glimpse into the music industry of the early 1980s, which really drives home exactly how soulless the commercial offerings are. For posterity’s sake, it’s great to see how the business operated way back when, especially in the light of the technological advances that the industry as a whole has undergone.

“But this memoir is more than just airing a bit of dirty laundry in a behind-the-scenes kind of way. This is also the story of Silver’s perhaps misplaced need to seek a mentor figure. It’s a tale of disillusionment too, and a sort of coming of age. While the music business side was informative, I saw this more as a work Silver engaged in to excise some of his own, personal demons related to his failure to thrive within the environment and time of his telling.

“As much as Silver’s love for music underpins every waking moment of his life, it’s also clear that he never did quite “make it” in terms of being a commercial success. Underpinning all this is his exploration of the dysfunctional relationships around him—that of his parents, and later also how Silver relates to his wife and his somewhat egotistical boss, Clive Davis.

“At the end I’m left with a sense of bitterness as Silver moves on to fresh opportunities. Overall, this is not a bad autobiographical account. The story is left open-ended, and I’m not quite certain what Silver’s purpose was: to recount a specific era and its events, or to revisit and work through past issues. Perhaps, even, this is a bit of both. All things considered, Silver’s tone is conversational, and the way he carries his recollections across makes it feel like an old mate has dropped by for a visit.

“This work makes me wonder how commercial music has changed over the years and exactly how predetermined some of the “hits” are. If this account is anything to go by, true music aficionados are right to mistrust mainstream media. Silver has had time to sit back and reflect, and his tale is certainly an interesting one to hear out.”
– NERINE DORMAN, Creepy Green Editor