When I think “apartment” I think of a cubicle inside a big square box of a building. That’s what comes from growing up near New York City. In Boston, of course, an apartment is just as likely to be a couple of rooms in a Victorian house as it is a piece of an “apartment building.”
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Jonathan’s “apartment,” but once we got there I realized it looked sort of familiar. It was the same style of building as the one that guy lived in–the guy who picked me up in the bookstore that time I drove myself from LA on the tour. The building was two stories, one apartment upstairs and one downstairs. The front of the house had a walled-in courtyard next to the driveway, and the living room had a faux stone floor. It was sort-of open plan, where the division between the living room and dining room was delineated by the fact that the dining room was a step up from the living room, and then the kitchen in the back was another step down. A narrow hallway off the kitchen led to the back door, the bedroom, and the small office. I found it weird that none of it was carpeted, but then again, the weather was so warm, maybe carpeting would have just been stupid.
“The upstairs unit has three bedrooms because they have all the space on top of the garage, but they don’t have the garage,” J. explained as he showed me the layout.
“Who lives upstairs?”
“Two older men and their two small dogs.”
“Are they a couple?”
“The dogs?” He laughed at his own joke. “Pretty sure they are, though I’ve only met them once so far.”
The first thing we set up in the house was the answering machine. Jonathan recorded the message and kept it simple: “If you need to leave a message for either Jonathan McCabe or Daron Marks, do so after the beep.”
Yeah, I know. I had decided to use my real name. I probably should have thought of another one for business purposes, but I didn’t.
We spent most of the weekend unpacking. Jonathan didn’t have terribly much stuff. He said he’d put almost all the books and all his LPs into his mother’s basement, and left most of the CDs behind, too. Most of them were promo freebies anyway. He had a futon couch, an arm chair, a card table and chairs, a couple of bookshelves, and a matching bed, nightstand and dresser. He didn’t have a TV. We debated the merits of putting the stereo in the living room versus the bedroom. For the moment we settled on the stereo in the living room and a boombox in the bedroom.
This necessitated a shopping trip to find the perfect boombox, which in our minds should have both a CD player and two cassette tape slots for dubbing purposes, because you just never know when you’re going to need to dub something. A backup option would be to get a small portable CD player and a box that had audio inputs, but it would be less ideal. A third plan would be to replace the cassette player in Jonathan’s stereo with a dubbing deck, but cost-wise not the greatest.
So we went on the hunt. Radio Shack, Sears, a bunch of places in the mall attached to the Sears… we struck out at them all. Several salespeople seemed to think the thing we were describing existed, but it was starting to sound like a mythological beast. It didn’t help that neither of us was familiar with West Coast stores, either.
“You know what we need?” I told him, as we sat in the car trying to figure out where to try next. “Crazy Eddie’s.”
“You’re so right. But I think they only had those in New Jersey and New York.” Jonathan paged through a freebie newspaper he had picked up, looking for ads.
“Didn’t you hear? They went out of business. There was a huge fraud case, something about overcharging people for warranties. Last I heard they were declaring bankruptcy.”
“Wow, no way. That was Digger’s favorite place to shop.”
Jonathan chuckled. “Think about what you just said.”
“Haha, you’re right. Hey, once you figure out where we’re going next, figure out how we can get Sarah away from Digger. Speaking of frauds and all.”
“Sure.” He folded back the newspaper. “Well, I don’t see anything else to try. I wonder if they have Service Merchandise here? We’ll have to check the Yellow Pages at home. Meanwhile, this reminds me I have to pick up some office supplies.”
Amusingly enough, we found just the thing we were looking for, at the “office supply superstore” Staples. I’d ever been in an office supply store the size of a warehouse, and Jonathan, it turned out, had a kind of fetish for office supplies. Okay, maybe fetish is too strong a word. He was a big fan, though. So we ended up walking up and down every aisle and coming out of there with more stuff than I had imagined we would: notebooks and pens and pen holders and desk doohickeys and whatever else he needed. But anyway, yeah, right there in the section with the other small electronic appliances was exactly the boombox we wanted, at the price we wanted.
I felt we’d won some kind of victory against the vagaries of the retail distribution system that had derailed my career.
Okay, not really, I just wanted to see how it sounded to say something grandiose. Fact is, not everything is about me or my career. But until then I hadn’t quite thought about how many middlemen there are between the consumer and the product, whatever it is: heirloom tomatoes or denim jackets or cameras or albums. Like it or not, I was part of a big, complicated ecosystem. And what’s that thing they say when you’re facing extinction? Adapt or die?
On Monday I called around everyone I knew involved with soundtracks and scoring. While I was at it, I called some guys who knew the guys that Bart knew, about session playing. That sounds sketchy, I know, but that’s the rule, isn’t it? It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.
Word travels fast. By Monday night I was meeting a guy at a show who told me word had traveled so fast that he’d not only heard I was looking to pick up session work, he heard BNC was being dicky about exclusivity. I told him my lawyer had told BNC to shove it and would happily see them in court; so far as I was concerned I was a free agent and could negotiate with whoever I wanted. He was still a little leery, but I’d come with good recommendations, you know?
That gig didn’t work out, but by the end of the week I had a couple more leads. Here’s the thing. Playing guitar for a living is one of those things a lot of people dream of doing. But out of all those who dream it, how many actually go and do it? Not as many as you’d think. Now look at it from the point of view of someone who needs to record a jingle for a TV commercial. That person needs to hire musicians. Yeah, it’s tough and competitive and most people wouldn’t make it if they tried, but the plain fact is that Jingle Guy really, really NEEDS musicians. And so does Soundtrack Guy. So does Pop Singer trying to fatten up their album sound. And so on. They need someone who can show up on time with the chops to do the job.
Carynne called a couple days later. “Hey, what is this I hear about you looking for session work?”
I was sitting in the walled-in courtyard next to the driveway with a guitar, but I had the cordless phone out there with me, hoping for some calls. Jonathan was at work. “Yeah. You knew I was going to.”
“We talked about soundtrack stuff. I didn’t realize you wanted to do sessions, too. Don’t go leaping in all willy nilly.”
“I think you should let me handle those bookings for you. Seriously.”
“If you want to. I just figured it would be easier for me to do it since I’m here. If you still want a cut, that’s fine.” I stood up suddenly, as a spider dropped onto the guitar from the vines hanging over the wall. I shook it out and went into the house. “You can do collections?”
“Okay, sure, but you’re forgetting one thing.”
“You, mister, are a Famous Musician, and people feel weird just calling you up directly. So they call me.”
“Oh. Is that why you’re calling now?”
“Yes. So how about you tell me how much you were planning on charging.”
“Um, not sure. I figure it might depend on the budget of whose hiring, you know?” I set the guitar in the stand next to the couch. “Not all the seats on the airplane cost the same.”
“True. But seriously, what ballpark are you thinking?”
“I don’t know. I guess $250 to $500 a day?”
“So how much would you charge a band who were going to be in the studio 3-5 days, cutting two tracks. Let’s say they’re pretty well capitalized.”
I got a can of Coke out of the fridge, doing the math in my head. “I guess $1,500 to $2,500 then.”
“No. You’re not walking in there for less than $5,000 minimum.”
“Are you serious?”
“Daron! Get it through your head! You’re Daron Fucking Moondog–”
“Whatever! You’re pretty much a household name among guitar players right now, okay? They’re not paying for Joe Schmoe, and you damn well better not charge like that’s who you are. I also honestly think you shouldn’t take any gig too small.”
“Really. Image is worth something, Daron, and it’s worth more money. If word gets around that you’re cheap, your value goes down. If you look desperate, your value goes down. If, on the other hand, you look like a maverick getting screwed by your record company…”
“You think I’ll get ‘pity’ work?”
She laughed. “I think every band loves to stick it to the man. And besides, you already have a sterling reputation as a hired gun.”
“Yeah. Because of Nomad.”
“Right. I hadn’t even thought of that.”
“Which is why you have me. Look anything under two days or under a grand, do it yourself if you want, but if you can be a little patient I am sure I can get you some better sessions than that.”
“Okay fine. So who is it who was afraid to call me?”
“Is that a band?”
“He’s the manager of Journey. He’s putting together a project with one of the guys from David Lee Roth’s band and some guys from Racer X. They’re not ready to record an album yet, but he’s got two soundtrack theme songs already sold for them so, boom. They need to cut two radio-ready singles ASAP and figure out who’s in the actual band later.”
“I can do that.”
“I know you can do that. That’s the point. They’re at Sound City on Monday.”
“I’ll find out.”
“I’ll bring the Fender.”