Dorothy Carvello on Her New Novel, Ongoing Lawsuit & Sexual Assault in the Music Industry: ‘We’ve Had No #MeToo’

Dorothy Carvello on Her New Novel, Ongoing Lawsuit & Sexual Assault in the Music Industry: ‘We’ve Had No #MeToo’

Most of the men in Dorothy Carvello‘s new novel The Circle Broken are horrible: Bucky, a Nashville record-label chief who screams in a crowded restaurant that his wife is the “whore of Babylon”; The Colonel, who controls his country-star client and takes 40% of his royalties, leaving the singer with just 10%; and Michael, the tortured young talent who suffers a traumatic brain injury and berates and gaslights his partner.

“All my books that I write — and will be writing — will always have the theme of the corruption of the music business,” says Carvello, whose previous book was 2018’s Anything for a Hit: An A&R Woman’s Story of Surviving the Music Industry, which she followed up with a December 2022 sexual-assault lawsuit against two major labels and three longtime record executives. “And there will always be themes of women as the unsung heroes behind the men in any place in the music business.”


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Carvello’s lawsuit repeated many of the allegations from her first book. She accuses the late Atlantic Records co-founder Ahmet Ertegun and former Universal, Sony and Warner chief Doug Morris of “horrifically sexually assaulting” her and claims Atlantic, its parent company Warner Music Group and former Atlantic exec Jason Flom “knowingly enabled … outrageous workplace sexual assault.” Among her claims: Female employees were “routinely exposed to Mr. Ertegun masturbating”; Morris carried a pornographic magazine around the office and placed it on Carvello’s desk when she was Ertegun’s secretary; and Ertegun committed “forceful and nonconsensual attacks” on Carvello at a Skid Row concert and in a corporate helicopter afterward.

(Flom did not respond to requests for comment. Warner has said in a statement that the labels “take allegations of misconduct very seriously. These allegations date back 35 years, to before WMG was a standalone company. We are speaking with people who were there at the time, taking into consideration that many key individuals are deceased or into their 80s and 90s.” Morris, through his attorney, said Carvello’s allegations are “without legal or factual merit.” And Rick Werder, a former attorney for Ertegun’s widow, Mica, who filed a motion to dismiss Carvello’s lawsuit before her death last December at 97, called Carvello’s claims “utterly meritless.”)

Oral arguments were scheduled to begin in New York Supreme Court in mid-June, but a judge postponed them to September. “My jury will have to have trigger warnings because there’s a lot more that wasn’t in the book,” Carvello says, during a half-hour discussion about her writing career and the lawsuit. 

Below is an excerpt of the conversation.

The only character name that appears in The Circle Broken as well as Anything for a Hit is Joel Katz, the real-life music attorney. In the new book, the fictional Katz gives a speech honoring a Nashville record mogul and says he’s “proof that If you do good enough in this town, you’ll be rewarded in kind. Unless you’re Jewish.” How conscious was your decision to put Katz in both books?

It was a conscious decision, because Joel Katz was the only premiere lawyer involved in so many people’s careers, artists and executives, and pretty much ran the town of Nashville. Also, I wanted to show that if you’re Jewish, Nashville is a town that’s hard. If you’re gay, Jewish, if you’re not white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant, it’s a tough town.


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Why in general did you set The Circle Broken in Nashville?

I started to go to Nashville in 1988 and my first experience was at Atlantic Records Nashville. They were trying to sign an artist, and I was sitting there, and the person said to the artist, “Jesus wants us to have your publishing.” I was blown away by that. It always fascinated me, the religious undertones of Nashville. Even when I went down as recently as five years ago, a label head asked me what church I belonged to. I said, “I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of the Catholic church — we have our own bank and we have our own ambassadors.”

Cee Cee, the singer-turned-manager in the book, is the victim of abuse and, despite making a few questionable decisions, she’s full of empathy and has a lot of love to give. How personal was writing that character?

I wanted to show all the characters struggling with religious oppression, in a way. I went to an all-Catholic school, a Catholic college. Religion teaches you to obey. As women, we get it no matter where we turn. And in the music business, there are very few women. We’ve never had a woman even run a major corporation. We still have three white men running the game. When the Warner Music Group just changed CEOs [in September 2022], they had a chance to really do something and they still stuck with a white male [Robert Kyncl]. I wanted to show a woman who breaks free and makes a choice who gets away from that religious stuff and falls in love and goes for it.

Why write Anything for a Hit first, then file the lawsuit afterwards?

The law changed in New York in 2022. [The state passed the Adult Survivors Act in May of that year, eliminating the statute of limitations for sexual-abuse cases for a year — which led to more than 3,000 civil suits through last Thanksgiving, including Carvello’s in December 2022.] I couldn’t sue because I was time-barred. The book was published in 2018, and when I found out the law changed, I interviewed lawyers and decided to sue.

After Anything for a Hit came out, did you hear back from the people you wrote about?

No. I received not one pushback, not one letter, not one lawsuit, nothing. Dead silence.

One of the most disturbing details in Anything for a Hit, amid many descriptions of sexual abuse, is your allegation that Ertegun fractured your arm because he was angry about a subpar Skid Row concert after you’d steered Atlantic into signing the band. How long did it take you to get over that abuse, if at all?

Well, I’m not over it, and I probably never will be. I know what happened to me. I know what that truth is and I’m prepared to air that truth in a court of law, with a jury of my peers, at 60 Centre Street [site of the New York County Courthouse].

After the #MeToo movement led to men in the music business being publicly accused of sexual assault, has anything changed?

We’ve had no #MeToo in the music business. Where is the #MeToo?


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Several men have been called out in lawsuits and press reports — most recently Diddy, but also Russell Simmons, L.A. Reid, Charlie Walk.

No. I don’t think anything’s changed. Like I said, we have three white males running the business.

How were you able to make the transition from non-fiction and get a book deal in the fiction world?

I had to get a different agent and sell him on the idea, and that was not easy because the book tells two stories — my critique of the music business overall in Nashville, and the story of a woman, two women actually, struggling to help this one man. I had to learn how to write fiction. It took three years. The next book is almost finished and that’s taken me less than a year.

What can you say about it?

It’s called Frontman, and it’s going to be about a rock star and the six women in his life throughout his career that started in the ’70s in the U.K.

When did you notice that you had what the music business calls “solid gold ears,” and the talent to be a record-label A&R person?

When we were doing it in the ’80s and the ’90s, you had radio, and you could get a feel for what was happening and go out and see somebody play live and see how people reacted to the songs. I never say I have great ears. I want to clear my name. I want to reclaim my position in history as the first woman at Atlantic Records.

Where are you right now?

In New York. Born and raised. You’ll never get me to Nashville.