Q: You're 66. How can you still enjoy pop music?
A: Are you kidding? If you've been a director, do you stop loving film? I try to keep my ears fresh. I get a copy of every record that hits the charts, no matter what label it's on. I can't wait for Paul Simon's new album; I'm always eager to hear other artists who I admire or have relationships with. I mean-[gestures expansively to a huge desk that is buried in tapes and CDs] look at this!
Q: But can you listen recreationally?
A: I can't afford that luxury. I'm an executive-I have to stay apprised of the next trend. Years ago, I ran into John Lennon in a coffee shop after he'd withdrawn from the music scene. "What are you up to?" I said. "Do you try to keep your ears current?" He said, "No, no, no. I'm listening to no music whatsoever." I said, "Don't you want to hear what's being played?" He said, "Absolutely not-did Picasso go to the galleries to see what's being painted?" I'll never forget that. But I have to listen. Fortunately, it's still rewarding in every way.
Q: When was music at its best for you?
A: It was dazzling when my career began. [Laughs] Strike that. Music was dazzling when my career began. I saw Joplin at Monterey [in 1967]; a few weeks later, I went to San Francisco to see Santana. Later there was Earth, Wind & Fire. Then you're dealing with Aerosmith. My point is, wherever I turned, music was dazzling. Now I feel it much more in the hip-hop field. There's a real revolution maybe every ten years. And between, there are peaks and valleys.
Q: Which artist gets the Clive Davis "You Made It All Worthwhile" Award?
A: A number of things are flashing through my mind. When I saw Patti Smith audition in a rehearsal studio in Manhattan; when I went to see Cissy Houston with the knowledge that there was a daughter involved. When I saw this kid, I remember thinking: This is going to be an artist who combines the fiery gospel of an Aretha Franklin with the stunning beauty of a Lena Horne. So I brought her on to national television and let the world decide. Back when I signed Springsteen [then at Columbia records], he used to perform motionlessly, and the power of his lyric content was somewhat muffled by that; audiences used to dwarf him. I remember saying to him, "You've got to use the stage." Segue to a few years later: Bruce still hasn't broken, and he's playing the Bottom Line. This was around the time that everyone first started saying that rock and roll was dead. Bruce asked me to come down, and I took Lou Reed. It was one of the greatest performances I'd ever seen. Bruce flew off that stage. After the show, he said, "Well, am I moving enough for you now?"