I was late to the Wenco office. I could probably have been on time, but when I woke up and felt my head and tasted my mouth, I knew I had to have a shower. Jeremy had every shampoo known to man in his bathroom and offered me the use of his hair dryer, gel, conditioner, and so on. I just borrowed shampoo and left my hair wet. He told me we could come back and play the Pool Bar anytime we wanted, and I thanked him for the floor and the weed and then headed for the subway.
My stomach was in knots, churning alternately with fear and hope. If Artie’d wanted to sign us I’d have known it, he would have said something, I thought. He would have asked all three of us to come down to the office. But then, he couldn’t be meeting me just to tell me to get lost, you suck, he wouldn’t waste his time with that. As the subway car rattled its way uptown I let these two thoughts chase each other back and forth through my brain until I thought I would be sick. I shivered a little, thinking, this is what managers worry about. Ziggy hadn’t even given it a first, much less a second thought, or so it seemed. And I began to wonder where he’d spent the night and almost missed my stop.
Wenco’s offices were in midtown, near Radio City and Rockefeller Center. They didn’t challenge me in the lobby, I went straight to the elevators and up to the eighth floor. There a big-haired receptionist stopped me and asked me to sit in a chair by a potted plant. A glass coffee table was littered with promo material for some bands, press releases, photos, and a copy of Billboard magazine open to the Top 100 with some of the titles highlighted with marker. “I’m a little bit late,” I told the receptionist–Judy, it said on her desk plate–as she reached for her intercom.
Artie came out a few minutes later, looking the same as he always did, faded jeans, cotton button-down shirt tucked in. I followed him through a narrow hallway to his office, a crowded affair that was larger than it looked crammed with demo tapes, press packages, and the like. He cleared a pile of magazines from a chair and indicated I should sit before he went behind his own desk. He moved a pair of headphones from the blotter and put his feet up. I felt for a moment like I was visiting the principal’s office, but only for a moment. I forced myself to lean back in the chair and say something, while looking over the piles of stuff. “Nice office.”
He smiled. “Yeah, when I used to do a lot of traveling, it was neater. My assistant would take care of it while I was gone. But the past two years, well, now she’s afraid to even come near it.” He shrugged. “Heard from Remo lately?”
“I was going to ask you the same thing.” Which was true.
He pulled on his lip. “He’s been out of touch for the past two months or so, working on things. I’ll hear from him as soon as he needs something.”
“I haven’t really heard from him, either.” This was also true. I leaned on one armrest, but then Artie put his feet down so I sat up a little straighter. I guess the small-talk part of the meeting was over.
“That was a pretty good show you put on last night.” I kept quiet, waiting for him to go on. “It’s a fresh sound, lot of creative energy. Where’d you find that singer?”
“On the street.” I let myself smile a little, a wet strand of my hair falling across my eyes as I did.
“Good potential. He never gets dull.”
“That’s what we like about him.”
He looked away from me for a moment and I knew what came next would be important. “I’m a little concerned, though, about the band’s focus. The guitar work is great, but I’m afraid with the drum machine you’ll get lumped into the dance music category, and that’s obviously not right. I mean, what bands have drum machines that are taken seriously as rock?”
“Sisters of Mercy?” I suggested, not sure if the question was rhetorical. “And Echo and the Bunnymen…”
“British gloom and doom bands.” His eyes flicked toward the posters on the wall behind him. “That’s not the audience I see for you.”
Now I felt more like I was talking to a guidance counselor. “What audience do you see for us?”
He gave that shrug again. “That’s the difficulty. I don’t see any one category, any one hook, any one market.”
“So you’re saying we have broad appeal.” I knew he wasn’t, but I clutched at the chance to cast this into a positive light.
He grimaced. “Broad appeal, accessible, these are words I used to equate with boring, middle of the road, middle age, dull.” He leaned forward and whispered, “And I still do.” He shook his head. “You’re more exciting than that.”
We were both quiet for a moment. He exhaled through his nose and looked serious. “It comes down to this. I liked what I saw, my interest has only gotten more intense. But we have two problems.” It sounded like he included me in the ‘we.’ He picked up a pair of sunglasses with some band’s logo emblazoned on them and fiddled with them as he spoke. “Being good isn’t enough. I need some kind of focused image I can sell to the higher ups. Which they’ll need when they sell you to the public. That’s problem number one. Problem number two is, you’re young. Band-wise, I mean. As a band, you’re young. No one, including you three, knows what kind of staying power you will or won’t have.”
I nodded, more to keep him talking than because I agreed.
“Fortunately, I think these are the only problems you have. You have talent, originality, ambition, business sense, even some experience. These things will all help you in the long run. And your songs are good.”
I wanted to know where all this was leading. “So, what now?”
He put down the sunglasses. “There’s some chance that as the band matures a natural focus will come about for you. That would solve both problems. So, for now, I have to say I’m not ready to sign you, yet. But I’m also not ready to leave you out in the cold, either.” He smiled and it looked less like he was passing judgement. “See, here’s my dilemma, the classic A&R dilemma. If I sign you now and you go nowhere, it looks bad. On the other hand, if I don’t sign you, and you become a mega-hot property next year, then either we lose you to another company, or we have to pay a very high price to get you when we could have got you cheaper before.”
“Which means I wish I could sign you now, but can’t risk the ‘I told you so’ if you flop because of reason one or two. But I want to keep you in the loop. Do you have a publisher?”
“A who?” The question popped out before I could keep myself from showing my ignorance.
“A music publisher.” He opened a drawer and rummaged while he talked. “Most artists don’t, until they get a record contract. But these days publishers are doing more A&R, putting up money for recording, creative development, stuff like that.” He fished out a card and passed it to me. “I’m going to tell this guy you’re calling, and you tell him I sent you. He’s brought me some ‘discoveries’ in the past, the higher ups trust him. I figure with his help, you can get an indie EP or LP off the ground, establish some track record, get some good reviews, maybe a little notoriety, give yourselves time to grow.” He stood up and I figured that meant this was the end of the meeting. I stood up and shook his hand. “But please, keep me informed.”
I shook his hand, not quite sure what to say.
He sighed a little. “I’m sorry I don’t have better news. In a perfect world I would have signed you last night. But it isn’t so simple, Daron.”
“I know,” I said, though until he’d said it I hadn’t.
“It’s not my decision alone. We had a meeting this morning and I’ll just tell you there’s more people here than me who believe in you.”
That explained why he’d wanted to see me today, why he couldn’t tell me last night what he thought. Because what Artie thought and what Wenco thought were two different things.
“I wouldn’t blame you at all if you did sign on with another company, so don’t feel obligated to me. But nonetheless, I’d like a crack at signing Moondog Three.” He ushered me toward the door with a hooked arm. “If you get some other major label interest, let me know, maybe I can drum up a counter-offer, at least give us the chance to make a bid.” That made it sound almost like I was the one in control.
I shook his hand again. “I’ll let you know when we’ll be playing in town, again,” I said, in a neutral voice Digger would have described as “not showing any cards.” Not that I had any to show. “And tell Remo I said hi if you talk to him.”
“I will, I will,” he was saying as I went down the hall, back to Judy’s desk, retracing my steps to the elevator, the lobby, the subway.
(I figured you guys have seen enough Paul McCartney in your lives already so here’s a solo guitar version of ‘Maybe I’m Amazed.’ OK, so this guy’s a little stiff, but still, nice arrangement, eh? -d.)
So it’s a sort of warm-neutral “You’re good but.”
I hate those. They’re almost, but not quite, backhanded compliments, so you can’t *really* complain about them, but I usually want to. :}
And you know what they say about “learning experiences.” (they suck.)