Kelly Clarkson had a bad year last year, you may recall. Her album, called "My December," was a dud. But before it was released, she wound up in an unfortunate war of words with legendary J Records label chief Clive Davis, who’s also the head of BMG North America.
But time heals all wounds. The magnanimous Davis has held out a very key olive branch to Clarkson by including her photo among just a few select acts in the glittery invite to his annual pre-Grammy dinner gala.
The swanky black and gold square-shaped invitation has four pages of past dinner performers. The book opens with Alicia Keys, and continues with such Davis stalwarts as Whitney Houston, Rod Stewart, Annie Lennox, Barry Manilow, Fantasia and Jennifer Hudson.
But it’s the fourth page that’s most interesting. Diana Ross in the upper left hand corner. Rob Thomas and Carlos Santana are next to her. Below that pair is Clarkson, by herself. And to Clarkson’s left is the duo of Usher and Kanye West.
Clarkson should be thrilled, and relieved. Her inclusion in the book is a telltale sign that Davis is ready to work with her again after that unfortunate mess. "She should be so lucky" is an expression that comes to mind.
Some of the other performers pictured from previous Davis outings, by the way, include Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight, Christina Aguilera, Mary J. Blige and Chaka Khan. Not pictured, of course, is Justin Timberlake, who blew off performing at last year’s dinner with no notice after claiming he’d had the flu.
This year’s dinner at the Beverly Hilton, on Saturday night, should be the biggest yet, by the way. Davis has ruled the charts with Alicia Keys’ "As I Am" album for three months. As the invite says, "Yes, The Entertainment Will Be Very Serious!"
First Tom Cruise’s promotional videos for Scientology managed to find their way to the public.
Now, a promo pamphlet featuring actress Kirstie Alley from last September has surfaced.
Two things come to mind right away: one, that cracks seem to be appearing in the previously formidable Scientology wall of silence.
The second, for now, is Kirstie Alley is a lot nuttier than previously thought.
Alley says in the brochure that getting into the top echelon of Scientology, called Flag, changed her whole viewpoint on people. Yes, people. Like us. Those kinds of people.
Prior to that, she says, "You know, I liked animals more than people! OK, I liked people — certain people, but the idea of ‘mankind’ — it really irritated me! ... Now I have definite affinity for mankind and I’m up taking genuine responsibility for mankind."
Alley, whose career has been mostly a muddle since "Cheers" went off the air in the 1990s, is described in the piece as a "Solo NOTS Auditor, Diamond Meritorious of the IAS and a founding member of the Super Expansion Project."
What does all that mean?
Well, Solo Nots Auditor is a high-level Scientologist who spends several hours a day, according to their glossary, exorcising "body thetans" or aliens who are stuck to their bodies.
Diamond Meritorious is more interesting. This means Alley has donated a staggering $5 million to the International Association of Scientology. The next time she cries poor on national TV and says she needs a job — like commercials for Jenny Craig — keep that in mind.
Last, the Super Power Building Project is the Scientology headquarters in Clearwater, Fla. Founding members donated $250,000 apiece. That’s where "Cheers" residual checks are going.
For more on Kirstie’s brochure and a glossary of terms, check out this Web site hosted by Carnegie Mellon University.
So interesting — just a couple of months after James Taylor and Carole King did some mini-shows at L.A.'s Troubador, Carly Simon — their peer and Taylor’s ex — turned up Saturday night at the Cutting Room in New York with her singer-songwriter son Ben Taylor and their pal, David Saw.
All they had were acoustic guitars and a beat box for a drum. Not to mention that the single show sold out in three hours, with people standing wherever they could find room.
Was this an answer to the Troubador shows? Maybe. It was far more intimate, though, and certainly more surprising since Simon rarely performs live. The night had the feel of a Greenwich Village coffeehouse circa 1965, full of songs and innocent fun and none of the trappings of the cynical marketing of acts today. It was refreshing.
You want to know, what did she sing? Interspersed with witty and often moving songs by Taylor and Saw, Simon — who’s had too many hits to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — stuck to lovely, pared down versions of "Anticipation," "It Was So Easy Then," Paul McCartney’s "Blackbird" and a vocally rearranged "Coming Around Again."
She was joined on stage by her former sister-in-law, singer Kate Taylor, for a rocking version of Neil Young’s "Only Love Can Break Your Heart."
Wearing granny sunglasses (she’d hurt her eye recently, but it may have been to signify recently becoming a grandma), Simon is the hottest 62-year-old rock star on the planet. It’s kind of amazing, actually, that she still exudes the playful sexiness that marked her early career with hits like "You’re So Vain" and "That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be."
The magnificent Simon is just tentatively starting to promote a new album that hits Starbucks on their Hear Music label in May. It’s called "That Kind of Love," and features collaborations with the equally legendary Jimmy Webb and her kids.
I’ve heard several of the tracks, and many of them — including the title track — are the best she’s done in years. Like her other Hear Music peers, McCartney and Joni Mitchell, Simon writes intelligent, catchy, beautiful songs — exactly what you don’t hear anymore in pop music with few exceptions.
She and her gang were to the '70s and '80s what Alicia Keys, Rob Thomas, John Legend, John Mayer and Norah Jones are today — just more so.
Interestingly, Carly’s son, Ben, has bypassed the traditional record company route since being burned by Epic’s now defunct WORK label several years ago. He has his own label (www.irisrecords.com) where his music can be ordered, as well as a MySpace page and a Web site (bentaylorband.com).
Saw, who could be the next John Mayer, can also be found there. Who needs a "major" record company?
It’s worth checking Ben out — he is not, as some might think, merely a clone of dad James Taylor. Far from it.
On Simon’s new album, she’s re-recorded his tremendous song, "Island," with outstanding results. In concert, Ben’s voice — like his sister, Sally — is a cool blend of Taylor’s North Carolina twang and Simon’s husky New York pop. It’s a winning combination.
I have a lot of admiration for U2’s manager Paul McGuiness, but he’s not telling us the whole story yet about the group’s new deal. My sources insist that Live Nation will be involved, and that U2’s recording for Universal Music Group will be with or without Universal.
"Don’t believe anything you’re hearing," my sources say. "There’s no deal yet. U2 is cutting a massive deal with Live Nation, and the recording part of it could be with Universal, or once their deal ends."
On Friday, insiders were jumping down my throat with a declaration that U2 already had a four-CD deal with UMG. It’s not true.
McGuiness has always been an interesting fellow. I totally and wholeheartedly agree with a speech he gave at the MIDEM conference in France last week. He suggested pulling the plug on any ISP owner who illegally downloads music. Right on. The record companies’ fear of downloaders has been 50 percent of what’s killed the business. (The other 50 percent is composed of executive greed, radio monopoly and laziness.)
McGuiness said: "I call on (ISPs) today to start doing two things: first, taking responsibility for protecting the music they are distributing; and second, by commercial agreements, sharing their enormous revenues with the content makers and owners.
"It is time for ISPs to be real partners. The safe harbors of the 1990s are no longer appropriate, and if ISPs do not cooperate voluntarily there will need to be legislation to require them to cooperate.
"They have built multi-billion dollar industries on the back of our content without paying for it. It’s probably too late for us to get paid for the past, though maybe that shouldn’t be completely ruled out. The U.S. Department of Justice and the EU have scored some notable victories on behalf of the consumer, usually against Microsoft.
"They have a moral obligation to be true, trustworthy partners of the music sector. To respect and take responsibility for protecting music. To work for the revaluation, not the devaluation of music. To share revenues with the community fairly and responsibly, and to share the skills, ingenuity and entrepreneurship from which our business has a lot to learn."
Right on, Paul. I hope someone else in the music biz takes this seriously.