Dinner was at the Russian Tea Room. I was expecting a place with doilies and small china cups. Apparently the name didn’t have much to do with the actual style of food. Far as I could tell it was standard fancy fare. Bart was always my gauge on that sort of thing and he gave it a thumbs up. I ate because I was hungry, not because the food was pretty. It had been a very long day. Fortunately no one really expects rock stars to behave like polite people, so the fact that I didn’t say a word bothered no one. I can’t even tell you the names of the people at the table that night.
We took taxis from there. Bart and Ziggy went off to see Wednesday’s Child headlining a show at a club downtown. I was interested but too tired to contemplate standing around a smoky club for another 2-3 hours. Plus I had Jonathan. We’d had that big talk which hadn’t been easy and I wanted to make it up to him.
We ended up in a taxi with Digger and Carynne. Digger got in the front seat with the driver. He turned around and talked to us through the round holes in the Plexiglas divider. “You got somebody lined up to tape the show?” he said to Carynne.
“I don’t. You said national publicity’s your job.”
“Fuck me. I better call the office. Except what are the chances they’re there at 8 p.m. West Coast time when I’m away? Zero.”
“I”m sure Courtney has friends who are taping it,” I piped up. “If they know about it.”
“She was on the horn to some of them earlier,” Carynne assured me. “Fastest telephone tree on the continent, those girls. Plus, wait, doesn’t the TV in the big suite have a VCR attached? We need a blank tape, though.”
“Louis might have some?”
Digger gestured to the side of the road. “Pull over here. I’ll get one in that store.”
Somehow that turned into all four of us getting out and going into an electronics shop. If you’ve never been to New York, you might wonder why dozens upon dozens of electronics stores are open until all hours of the night. Need a radio or a TV or a pair of high-powered binoculaurs or a camera at 11pm on a Thursday? There’ll sometimes be three or four of them in a row, even. I have no idea why there are so many or why they’re always open.
Digger trying to buy a single blank video tape turned into a kind of epic haggling match, in which the shop guy tried to talk him into buying a bunch of other stuff, Digger at first refused, then got intrigued, then decided he was being taken for a ride… Which was probably true. We walked out without buying anything, went into the Duane Reade next door, and found them on sale there in packs of two for less than the one would have been in the other place. Perfect.
I stocked up on sugar in case tomorrow ended up like today. and then we went out and hailed another cab to take us the rest of the way down to 33rd.
As we waited at a red light by Macy’s, I said to Carynne, “Please tell me there’s no radio station call at six a.m. tomorrow.”
“Well, not a radio station. You’re booked on a morning TV show though.”
I made fake crying sounds.
Carynne had no sympathy. “Well, if you go right to bed you can get six and a half hours in…”
“If I’m willing to miss seeing what we looked like on Letterman, that is.”
“We’ll tape it for you.”
Up on our floor, there was the perpetual party happening. The Blissmen had the night off, and our crew were there, and various hangers on we’d picked up, and Courtney had a friend from the old days over, and on and on. I resigned myself to hanging out until the show aired.
Digger took me aside then. “We have a couple of thing to talk about.”
“Now or later?”
“May as well be now.”
I followed him into one of the attached bedrooms and he shut the door, then kicked off his shoes and loosened his tie. “Okay. So all is not quiet on the western front.”
I sat on the corner of the bed. “Which means?”
“At BNC it boils down to there are some cowboys and some indians and they’re trying to kill each other.”
I was pretty sure the Western front didn’t refer to the American West but whatever. “Can you be more specific?”
“Over here we have the sales team, the promo people, merchandising, and distribution. The not sexy stuff. On the other side we have A&R and publicity.”
“A&R is Mills, but you know, he’s a v.p. not just a rep, and he has all the artistic people rallying around how fantastic you are. Letterman, Good Morning America, that’s all his doing really, not me. Everything is fantastic on that side.” He took off his jacket and hung it on the doorknob of the bathroom door, then opened the top drawer of the dresser and brought out a bottle of Jack Daniels. He gestured with it, asking if I wanted any. I declined with a shake of my head as he went on. “On the sales and distribution side, they’re killing us.”
“What do you mean, killing us?”
“I mean what fucking good is all the publicity in the world if the album isn’t in the fucking stores? Apparently there was some kind of internal fight over where you should be shelved. Every chain does it differently of course. I don’t remember the exact details but as Mills explained it, you know, Tower Records has a hard rock section, an alternative rock section, and a contemporary hits section, while Sam Goody doesn’t have an alternative rock section at all, and I would think this isn’t rocket science and that the sales reps for each chain would have a conversation about what would be appropriate for each outlet and how many copies to stock and all that. But that would require anyone in this business to have two brain cells to run together and apparently on a good day most of them have only one and that one doesn’t function because they did too much fucking coke.”
I waited for him to go on.
“I’m not even joking about the coke. Anyway, the bottom line is the album isn’t selling as well as it could because the sell-through rate is too high. That’s code language for they didn’t order enough copies in the first place, so they sell out, and then it’s taking them too fucking long to restock, so here you are busting your hump on the road and getting all the gold stars for publicity, and it’s not doing a goddamn thing to sell the record.”
“Okay, that kinda sucks.”
“Apologies, I exaggerated. You’re selling maybe twenty percent of the records you should be. And yeah, it sucks.” He knocked back the splash of Jack he had poured into a water glass, and then poured himself another splash. “And what really sucks is I have busted all the balls I can about this and there’s not a goddamn thing I can do about it. No exaggeration.”
He clicked on the TV but turned the sound all the way down. “Funny thing is we’re seeing a sales bump on the old record. Which is still stocked in decent numbers and is mostly in contemporary hits, still. Is that weird, or what? It gets worse. There are chains that have it in top hits but have the new record in alternative. So customer goes in to buy the new record, goes to the top hits section, finds the divider for Moondog 3, only finds the old album and assumes that means they’re out of it. I’ll tell you, 48% of those are lost sales we’ll never get back. Tower is one of the only ones to do it right and they’re selling it great. If Goody and some of the others had followed their lead, we’d be golden. But it is what it is. Thank goodness the tour is actually making money or the entire thing would’ve been a waste of time.”
I didn’t mess up his mojo by saying even if all we did was break even on the tour, I would’ve been happy with that, because playing music is what bands DO, and if we don’t go out and do it what’s the point? But anyway.
He knocked back the second splash, poured a third, and then half-sat against the dresser gesturing at me with the glass. “I haven’t told you the worst part yet.”
I didn’t say anything, just waited for it.
“Mills makes out like he’s on our side, you know? I can’t fault what he’s actually done. But I feel it in my gut. He’s as much a part of the problem as anyone. Whether that’s some internal pissing fight between him and the v.p. of sales and distribution, or whether it’s him directly who undermines the message, I don’t know and I don’t care. I don’t think he supports what you do.”
“What do you mean, what I do? Or we do?”
“I mean, I don’t think he gets it. I know I don’t get it, not in the musical genre sense, but he’s supposed to be your music guy in-house, right? He’s wishy washy on the band’s sound, image, all that. He sees the dollar signs and that’s all, and now that the dollar signs aren’t as big as they could be, he’s looking for a new favorite. The complaints about how hard the band is to market are getting louder and steeper.”
“Okay. What should I do?”
“At the moment, there’s nothing to do. I wanted you to know this is all going on. Keeping you informed.” He threw back the last Jack and licked out the inside of the glass, before getting up and putting it in the bathroom. “If you want we can have a meeting and I’ll tell the guys what I told you, or you can tell ’em.”
“I… You better tell them. So if they think of questions I can’t answer but you can, you’ll be right there.” I yawned. “Right? What’s on the day sheet for tomorrow?”
“I’ve got it.” He dug around on the desk. “Here.”
He was right, Good Morning America. We had to be there at 6:45 in the morning for makeup. Me and Ziggy only, and a guitar. Fine. They had a showcase set up, too, for us to do a four-song set to a room of northeast record store reps and distributors. I wondered what genre we would be announced as. Then a thing, and a thing, and another thing…
And then Matthew’s thing. It wasn’t on the day sheet but the evening was conspicuously blank. I was looking forward to someone else being the center of attention for a change. “Hey, is Remo coming into town for Matthew’s thing?”
“He’s the one who told me about it. Remo’s guitar tech lives in New York and has a photography show tomorrow opening at a gallery tomorrow. I’m going.”
“If Reem’s coming into town he hasn’t told me about it, but I wouldn’t put it past him.” Digger shrugged and turned up the sound on the TV. Carson. “So what’s this I heard about you going to Maddie’s?”
“Who told you that?” I asked. “And I’m not saying that to deny it–I’m curious who told you.”
“Eh, the guys were talking about it the other night.” He got specific after I gave him a look. “Ziggy says he did some kind of karaoke act?” He pronounced it “carry-oakie” which is how everyone pronounces it but on Digger it was especially American-sounding. “Is that true?”
“It’s true. Maddie sold the bar a couple of years back and moved to Florida and the new owners have a comedy open mic night, karaoke, ehhhh….”
“I get the idea. Ah well. It was a dive, but at least it was our dive.” He said this completely seriously.
I guess I agreed. “Yeah.” I know, Digger and I agreed about something.
You knew it couldn’t last, though, right. “Okay, so, about this journalist you’re fucking,” he said.
I tried to say “what about him?” but the only thing I could do was sit there clamping down on everything so I didn’t explode.
“He’s completely in your pocket, right? I mean, he’s not stupid. He’s not going to kill the golden goose. Am I right?”
“What are you asking, exactly?”
“I know he’s doing a piece for Cashbox, and he’s lined up a thing for EW on Zig, too, which could break big, we need more in the Hollywood trades, but I’ll work on that. What I’m saying is he’s in your pocket. He’ll write what you want.”
I was so glad I’d had that conversation with Jonathan first or I would have felt like a slimewad doing it after this. “He’s not out to trash us, if that’s what you mean.”
“Okay, but I need to know, with the movie coming up and all, if you and Ziggy are having a catfight of some kind if your little boyfriend is going to all of a sudden decide to write something shitty. That’s all.”
“That’s all?” There were so many things wrong with what he said I couldn’t pick one to attack first. “No. Just no. And Ziggy and I are getting along fine.”
Digger laughed. He actually laughed. “He’s jealous as shit.”
“This conversation is over.” I stood up.
“”Course it is. Time for Letterman.” He tossed me the pack of video tapes. “Go set that up.”
Insert primal scream of imagined patricide here.
(How can you not love a song that rhymes nemesis with “parthenogenesis”? -ctan)