Middle of the Road

That night I asked Ziggy super-casually if we could hit Limelight. I had no idea if Jordan would be there but he had been at least half the times I’d gone over the past couple of years, even when he wasn’t deejaying, and in the far back of my head I had this inkling that I wanted to talk to him. But I was too busy trying to play everything casual until I could sort out how I felt about the album. Or until I could warm up to it.

Do you know about the five plays rule? I can’t remember who told me about it. Jonathan probably, or some radio deejay maybe. They say you can’t judge an album until you’ve heard it all the way through at least five times, and not while being distracted by something else. Listening to it, not just playing it in the background while trying to accomplish another task, unless that task was something like driving, where you could still really listen.

I’d heard the album once all the way through now and that was obviously nowhere near enough. I reminded myself there were albums I’d hated on first listen that I later grew to love, although at the time I couldn’t think of any. But I knew they existed. I’m drawing a blank now, too, but trust me, they do. It’s hard to remember because since I love them now I can’t remember not liking them at first. Oh wait, I thought of one, The Pretenders’ first album. Did not grab me at all at first and I especially hated the song “Brass in Pocket.” Later I was like…what was I thinking? I have no idea what I was thinking.

Anyway. Since we had become regulars at Limelight, too, I figured it wouldn’t be weird for me to ask for us to go there. I liked dancing to the heavy mix of acid house, industrial, and funk that could often be heard there, and they had live bands at kind-of unpredictable times, and I just liked the place. Even if it was the scene of a spat between me and Ziggy way back when. Overall there were more good memories than bad from that building and maybe it was good to remind myself we had both made mistakes. (Remember? That was the time I pushed him away from me and I ended up in the rain and caught a cold that didn’t really end until after we got off the road?)

I’ll skip to the important bit. Jordan was there. As was not unusual, at one point he beckoned me into the men’s room to one side of the VIP room.

“Saw you trying to catch my eye,” he said. “You need to be hooked up with X or anything?”

I hadn’t realized I had been trying to catch his eye, but I guess I had been. I took a deep breath, and pressed my palms together as I felt the pressure of the unsaid words rising in my throat, like mercury going up a thermometer toward the boiling point. Jordan saw it, I think, or maybe my hesitation made him cock his ear toward me. I was standing very straight and with my hands like that I felt like a kid about to give a book report at the front of a class.

Except this was no book report. “How could you.”

“How could I what? I thought you were okay with–”

“Not the drugs.” There was no holding it back. There really wasn’t. “I heard the early pressing of the album they’re releasing next month in South America for Ziggy and it’s the blandest, most overproduced crap I’ve ever heard. How could you do that to him?”

Jordan raised an eyebrow. “To him? Or to you?”

“To either of us! The album is all over the place but none of the songs stand out. It’s all goopy melody, straight four-four, textbook ballads… It’s terrible. It’s really really terrible.” He was looking at me implacably which made me feel suddenly a bit self-conscious about tearing him a new one. “I mean, please tell me it’s not your fault.”

He held up a hand for a moment, telling me to hold that thought while he had apparently selected a drug for himself. He took a small case out of his pocket, lit a joint, then took a drag. “Daron.”

He tried to hand it to me but I waved it off. I’d already been drinking and the last thing I needed was weed and booze duking it out inside my skull.

Jordan continued. “First of all, I don’t even know which cuts have made this album. Zig and I have worked on and off for, what, over a year on this? Two songs here, two songs there? And he did some in LA with Richie Zito and some in London, I never even found out who ran the sessions there.”

I searched my memory banks for the name Richie Zito. I had a vague idea we’d been introduced when I was in LA. His name came up sometimes when I was doing sessions. “Isn’t he a guitarist?”

“And Billboard‘s Producer of the Year last year,” Jordan said wryly.

“There’s no edge on the songs at all. None. It’s not even what I’d call hooky pop. It’s soft rock,” I said, feeling slightly ill as I said it.

Jordan put a hand on my upper arm. “It’s for South America. The entire international market loves MOR, you know. Europe, Asia, South America, our concept of so-called rock and roll being different from other popular music doesn’t exist anywhere outside the English-speaking world.”

“Ughhhhh.” I put a hand over my eyes. MOR stands for “middle of the road.”

“I thought we had this talk already,” Jordan said, squeezing my arm then stepping back to take another drag.

“About Ziggy? Oh, you mean about… genre chauvinism.”

He nodded.

“Fuck.” I buried my fingers in my hair.

“How many times have you heard the album?”

I looked up guiltily. “Only the once. I know, I know, maybe it’ll grow on me after I listen to it a few more times. But first impressions have to count for something?”

“I can’t really say without hearing it myself, but maybe they actually softened it up for the South American market. Or picked all the softest songs. Try to think like an optimist, Dar.”

I nodded. “Okay. You’re right. Maybe I’m judging too quickly.”

“I’ll tell you one thing I do know, which is that in the sessions I ran…” He trailed off with a sigh, like maybe he was a little bothered, too. “They didn’t let him write much. They seized on some lyrical turns here and there but they really didn’t let him write much.”

“So it’s not Ziggy’s fault, is that what you’re saying?”

“Does it have to be somebody’s ‘fault’?” Jordan asked.

That was the kind of question my therapist would have asked, which made me realize something. “Oh shit, you think I’m trying to blame it on someone so I won’t blame myself?”

“For not being there, you mean?”

“Ughhhhhh yes.” I felt a little ill again and wondered if I had drunk too much. “In fact I wonder if Ziggy blames me for not being there.”

“Maybe what matters is you’re here now,” Jordan said.

“Maybe now I understand a little better why he was so desperate to have me as musical director.”

“I’m pretty sure there’s no simple answer to that question,” Jordan said, finishing the joint and tossing the charred tip into the toilet. “I want to hear it now, though. Do you think we can get a copy?”

“Tonight?” That would entail getting Barrett out of bed to unlock the office and making off with the pressing. I didn’t know how many copies he had. Just the one? Or dozens? “That might be hard.”

“By tomorrow, then?”

“I’ll dub a cassette for myself at the very least. I need to start hiring and making live arrangements.”

Jordan nodded. “Let’s see if Zig will let us have a little listening party at my place. I hope when it sells millions of copies people are saying it’s my ‘fault’ then.” He gave me another of his wry smiles.

Was he right? Would it sell millions? I didn’t know, but what I did know was I was acting like an ass. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have bit your head off.”

“It’s all right.” He patted me on the shoulder and we turned toward the door. “It’s good when you let your passion shine through, Daron.”


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Comments 3

  1. s wrote:

    Pardon my ignorance, but is it ‘normal’ for people to have multiple producers on a single album? That seems like an odd way to do things. Maybe it’s just the location where he was at the time…? Hey, is that why he stayed so long in London while you were staying with Jordan and you freaked out because you hadn’t heard from him?

    And Ziggy didn’t write much of the album? Oh, that’s got to really bug him. The control freak has no control over what’s on his own album? I can’t wait to see what happens when you two finally talk about this.

    Also, Ctan, I noticed that for several weeks there hasn’t been a mention of the latest chapter posting on Daron’s Twitter, at least not here on the site. I don’t have Twitter so I don’t know if it’s just not showing up here or if your quit announcing it. I don’t know if that really helps draw people in, but since we were brainstorming ideas to bring in readers and increase profits, I thought it was curious that the tweets had stopped.

    Lastly, 2016 sucks. Glenn Frey died yesterday. I’m sure I’m not the only Eagles fan on here, right? Will we have any celebrities left by the end of the year?

    [Reply]

    ctan Reply:

    It’s normal when your record company is searching for the best way to turn you into a commodified product. (Most extreme recent example I can think of: “For Your Entertainment,” Adam Lambert’s first album after American Idol, which was recorded in several different studios, with 10 different guitarists, every song written by someone different, and at least 5 producers.)

    Re: twitter/FB/etc — something broke around January 1st and we haven’t been able to figure out what it is. Whenever a post goes live various systems we have installed should automatically tweet, post to Facebook, post to Tumblr, trigger an RSS update, and other such things, without a human having to go and manually cut and paste the link, etc. I haven’t been able to track down what’s broken nor fix it, unfortunately.

    And yeah, Glenn Frey. At least I had already heard he was ill so it wasn’t as much of a shock to me, but man. This year just won’t let up.

    [Reply]

    s Reply:

    That’s crazy. I’ve never paid attention to who produced an album. What’s the benefit of doing it that way? Does it sound as choppy as I’m picturing it? (Now I’m showing my Adam Lambert ignorance as well. I don’t know much of his music, but I think he’s hot as hell if that counts for anything. lol)

    Also, did we get a new logo? I don’t remember seeing just the DGC on the address bar before…but I may be making that up because I can’t remember what it looked like before. My brain is just telling me something looks different about it…

    [Reply]

    ctan Reply:

    It’s not untypical, especially in pop where the single is much more important than the album.

    I finally got the favicon in the address bar to work! Yes!

    [Reply]

    Bill Heath Reply:

    Our band only recorded a couple of singles that came out on casette (AND on the state-of-the-art Eight Track!). Only one producer, of course.

    I did session work on a bunch of things in Europe and the U.S., just never the entire album because the need for backup singers or keyboard players (or bass or clarinet when they had no budget) varied from song to song. Unlike Daron, I didn’t play guitar, which was always needed. So, I have no idea if the same producer did everything. And when I did session work for a one-off in an album, I had no clue if it was the album producer or a hired gun. Session players rarely ask questions whose answers are unneeded.

    [Reply]

    Posted 19 Jan 2016 at 11:53 am
  2. Janie Friedman wrote:

    Yeah, s, I saw that yesterday. Now I’m done with this year instead of just last week. Ugh.

    D, I feel your pain over MOR, but I’m betting you can make amazing arrangements that will lift the music. Also, it’s gotta be a, somewhat bitter, relief to know Z didn’t actually write most of it…

    [Reply]

    daron Reply:

    At least I feel like he’s less likely to take it personally if I express frustration with the bland pop nature of the songs.

    [Reply]

    Posted 19 Jan 2016 at 2:56 pm
  3. Bill Heath wrote:

    Daron, anything by Ziggy is a marvell to hear. You might want to start with that. Also, there has always been an enormous market for MOR. Would you deny joy to its aficionados because it doesn’t fit into YOUR genre bias?

    I enjoy listening to fifties and sixties Motown and Doo-Wop. I confess, I’m a pig. Both are passe and formulaic. I still like them. They fall into a category I call “Stuff I like to do that doesn’t challenge me.”

    When I want to be challenged I listen to jazz improv. Or Bach. Seeking out the complexity, the multiple layers, the seamless back-and-forth that has to involve mental telepathy, that’s a challenge.

    [Reply]

    daron Reply:

    I know. I know. I tell myself intellectually. I even believe it in a spiritual sense that no music is “superior” to another: it’s all music. But in my gut I feel ill.

    [Reply]

    Posted 22 Jan 2016 at 5:33 pm

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