February 3rd 2014.
You’ve probably seated your share of dinner parties: writing the names of the guests on place cards (wishing your handwriting was better) and trying to calculate who might thrive next to whom. So imagine the dinner is for some nine hundred of the most famous and sought-after people in the world—luminaries who, at any other party, would be the cynosure of all eyes but on this evening might not even merit favorable placement.
That was the challenge facing Clive Davis, the music mogul, and his son, Doug Davis, an entertainment lawyer and sports agent, late last week, as they met in Bungalow 3A at the Beverly Hills Hotel to seat the Davises’ annual pre-Grammys gala, which is always held at the Beverly Hilton, the night before the awards. Each guest’s name had been written in Sharpie on a white magnetized tile, and the tiles were affixed to a whiteboard, on which an outline of the Hilton’s International Ballroom had been drawn, showing the stage and some eighty tables, of twelve seats each, arrayed throughout the room.
|Joan & Jackie at last year's Grammy party with Shauna Robinson|
Assistants had arranged the tiles alphabetically around the edges of the board. The Davises stood before it—the son a head taller than the father—absorbed in social calculation. Clive wore a blue blazer, a crimson tie with a matching pocket square, cream-colored slacks (“slacks” was the only word for them), and red patent-leather Prada sneakers. (“I’ve got a pair in every color,” he noted.) Doug wore jeans. Were you ignorant of the proceedings, you might have assumed they were engaged in a family parlor game that combined Celebrity, Scrabble, and Jenga.
Davis père, who is eighty-one, read some of the names on the tiles, rolling them in his mouth like sips of Pétrus.
“You’ve got India.Arie, Buzz Aldrin, the astronaut, Irving Azoff, the manager, Apple’s Tim Cook, Miley Cyrus, Daft Punk, Neil Diamond, Missy Elliott, Gloria and Emilio Estefan, Jane Fonda,Joan Collins, Jackie Collins, John Fogerty, Jamie Foxx, David Foster, Larry Gagosian, Berry Gordy, Lucian Grainge, Herbie Hancock, Jennifer Hudson, Magic Johnson, Quincy Jones, Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz, her husband, Gladys Knight, Kris Kristofferson, Lang Lang, the Chinese pianist, Cyndi Lauper, Jared—is it Laito or Leeto?, Lorde, John Mayer and Katy Perry, Metallica, Doug Morris, Sharon and Ozzy Osbourne, Nancy Pelosi, Bob Pittman, Brett Ratner, L. A. Reid, Rihanna, Robbie Robertson, Smokey Robinson, Nile Rodgers, Rod Stewart, Taylor Swift, T.I., Robin Thicke, Steven Tyler, and Neil Young. Did I say Katy Perry?”
The sausage-making began. The evening includes performances as well as dinner—Doug Davis said that organizing the party was like putting on the Grammys and the Golden Globes at the same time—and Clive was determined to seat the most enthusiastic music fans, such as Sean (Diddy) Combs and Mary J. Blige, at the tables in front. Their tiles were deployed on the “A-list ledge.”
Tables began to fill. “We have two-thirds of Nirvana,” Doug reported to his father excitedly, “because Krist Novoselic is coming, and we’re seating him with Dave Grohl.”
“What about Russell?” Clive asked. Simmons was placed with Rihanna, and next to Tim Cook, who was next to Lucian Grainge, the head of Universal Music. “That’s a good table,” Davis said approvingly.
Where to put Nancy Pelosi? An assistant noted that Andrew Cuomo’s office had called to say that the Governor had made space in his schedule for the party. He went next to Pelosi. (He later cancelled, and was replaced by Hoda Kotb, from the “Today” show.) Maybe Buzz Aldrin could discuss “Gravity” with a movie producer? “Brian Grazer is coming,” Clive said. No one was next to Miley yet. How about Robin Thicke? Definitely not.
Though the elder Davis remains active in the music business, he is not always up to date on the latest feuds, firings, and flings among his guests; that job falls mainly to his son. When Clive wondered about putting Katy Perry at a table with Taylor Swift, because they share “a commonality of being young female artists,” it was pointed out that they also shared a commonality of boyfriends, in John Mayer (Swift had an unhappy affair with him; Perry is dating him now). “We might look for a different seating,” Clive allowed. Perry and Mayer ended up at a table with Sara Bareilles, Lorde, and Lorde’s father, Vic.
Last-minute changes were called in from other rooms in the hotel, and the staff fielded R.S.V.P.s. Quincy Jones wanted to bring Rashida and Kidada, two of his seven children. David Geffen cancelled. Kenny G confirmed. They were still waiting for Britney Spears. “Tom Brady’s manager sends his regrets,” Doug reported, “but he wants an invitation anyway. He just wants to see it.”
By the end of the day, the board was mostly filled, but the senior Davis continued shifting tiles. “I’m still tweaking,” he said, “until they tell me I have to go.” ♦