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We may finally find out what's in that famous envelope limo driver Chris Selletti says he mailed to himself in 1990. He says the lyrics to the song "Hero," which Mariah Carey recorded and said she wrote, are in it. Selletti has always maintained that he wrote the lyrics to "Hero," and mailed them to himself to make a "poor man's copyright." He's been making this claim for 11 years.
Carey has always said she and Walter Afanasieff wrote "Hero" together. Now Selletti — after all his petitions and appeals to various courts have been denied — is saying he'll open the envelope on TV with an objective forensic expert present.
Cindy Berger, a spokeswoman for Carey, said: "This case has been thrown out of court thee times. The federal judge — after hearing Selletti's story and considering all the evidence — ruled the case was a 'complete fabrication' and that it was filed 'to extort a settlement from deep-pocket defendants.'"
A consistent sticking point since hearings in 1998 has been the contention by Mariah that she wrote the song "Hero" for the Dustin Hoffman movie of the same name. It couldn't have been, says Selletti. The movie Hero was released on October 6, 1992. Carey's notebooks indicate she started writing the song in November. The movie was already out. The soundtrack did not include a Mariah Carey song.
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A source knowledgeable about the Hero soundtrack told me for an article I published in Spin magazine in 1999: "We reached out to [Walter] Afanasieff and he sent in some instrumental music. But [director] Stephen Frears rejected it. There was never any discussion of Mariah being involved." Sandy Isaac, one of the movie's producers, told me that as far as he knew, Mariah Carey was never asked to participate.
Back in 1990: Selletti was driving a limo for Sly Stone, who was cruising recording studios, working with Earth Wind & Fire's Maurice White (he appeared on an EWF album that year), and selling off songs and guitar riffs for cash. The woman who housed him at the time, a very upstanding person named Ruby Jones, said Stone would trade his music for greenbacks.
Selletti says he showed Stone his lyrics. "He said, 'I'll get these published for you,'" Chris recalled. Two things happened next. One was Carey's recording of a song called "Emotions," a nearly note-for-note redo of a hit song written by Maurice White in the 1970s called "Best of My Love" for the Emotions. And then "Hero" came out, with what Selletti claims to this day are his words.
White subsequently received payment from Carey for her use of "Best of My Love."
It wasn't the only plagiarism case brought against the singer, though. Carey has always denied stealing songs, but has been involved in several settlements. One case was so contentious that Carey's then-manager, Randy Hoffman, the former partner of Carey's then-husband, Sony Music CEO Tommy Mottola, actually went to see the key witness in the case wearing a "wire" provided by a private eye. Hoffman tried to get the witness to admit he'd never played a song by writer Sharon Taber for Carey. The witness never caved, however.
Not all the cases brought against Carey have been with merit or resulted in settlements. One case, brought by a writer named Rhonda Dimmie, is an example. Dimmie claimed she wrote the music for "Hero." Her case was eventually dismissed, with the judge ruling that since Dimmie hadn't written "Hero," Carey must have written it. That established, without actually giving Chris Selletti a trial of his own, that he also hadn't written it.
But Dimmie's case was interesting in that Mariah and Tommy Mottola were compelled to testify in a deposition about how "Hero" was written. They confirm in the deposition that "Hero" was intended for the movie. But how it could have been if the movie was already out? The smoking gun for Carey could be studio records that show her doing rough mixes of "Hero" beginning November 23, 1992 — a full six weeks after the movie Hero came out.
Additionally, Selletti's attorney, Jeffrey Levitt — in papers filed with the court, but obviously ignored — revealed the actual song used for the movie Hero — Luther Vandross' "Heart of a Hero" — was copyrighted in January and given to the movie producers in August 1992.
When she deposed for the Dimmie case, Mariah testified she'd been writing her "Hero" for the movie almost at the same time. She said she was writing it for Gloria Estefan — even though Mariah Carey has never in her career written a song for another artist.
Mariah testified in the Dimmie deposition that when he heard the finished song, Tommy Mottola told her to keep it for herself. But in order for that to have happened, she would have needed a finished song in the summer of 1992 — since the movie was to be released in October. How then could she have notebooks from November 1992 in which she was composing the lyrics?
In the same deposition, Afanasieff — who's been Carey's co-writer on most songs since her second album — testified "Hero" was written in two days. "In the course of a few hours," he said. "But it's hard to say ... it was within two days."
Does he mean two days in the summer, or two days in November? If it was two days in the summer, then why is there a notebook with lyrics dated November 22, 1992?
Carey's position in this matter at least is not assisted by the fact that her new single "Loverboy" is largely a remake of another old song, Cameo's 1984 hit "Candy." Since the recording of "Hero," Carey has a long history of "sampling" large chunks of old or existing songs on her singles — "Emotions," "Fantasy," "Honey" and the new "Loverboy" are all prime examples.
Carey's attorneys, by the way, argue previous settlements were done because the cases were "nuisances" and weren't worth fighting. But most star songwriters aggressively defend and prosecute plagiarism cases rather than settle out of court. Cases in point: Recent actions brought against Michael Jackson, who — despite his other problems — is a gifted songwriter who has defended himself successfully in court. Also, Ronald Isley of the Isley Brothers, who fought Michael Bolton and won over a song called "Love Is a Beautiful Thing."
See Roger Friedman on Fox News Channel's Entertainment Coast to Coast Saturday and Sunday this weekend. Check local listings.