I think I was supposed to be impressed by the law office. It had extra cushy-feeling carpets in a gray color that was so light it was almost white, which had to mean it was expensive to clean. Out of the elevator the entrance to their office suite had chrome accents and a frosted glass door that slid open as we approached like something out of Star Trek (…or Stop & Shop…). A well-dressed secretary asked us to wait in the plush, modular waiting area.
The only hint that it wasn’t just any old high-priced law firm was a platinum record on the wall. I don’t dare tell you whose since for all I know that would be breaking my N.D.A.
Carynne and I’d had a little fight on the sidewalk outside before entering the building. “Try to be nice in there,” she’d said. Which kicked off an argument that went like this:
Me: Nice? What do you mean nice?
Her: I mean try not to get your hackles up like you did with Al.
Me: Al who was treating me like I was a witness he was interrogating?
Her: You heard him. He was just preparing you for what it’s going to be like to be deposed by Digger’s lawyer. Or BNC’s. Or whoever.
Me: Bullshit. His job is to protect WTA. Even if it means throwing me under the bus.
Her: Well, that’s why we’re here. At a lawyer’s who works for us only.
Me: If they work for us only, then I won’t have to get my hackles up, will I?
Her: I’m just saying we should be nice. I mean, we should be able to be nice.
Me: Look, I think if one of us is going to be nice, the other one probably shouldn’t be. You know? Entertainment lawyers don’t survive by being nice. This isn’t the time for nice.
Her: Okay, you’re right. But that doesn’t mean you should be an arrogant prick, either.
Me: When am I ever an arrogant prick?
Her: You don’t want them to think you’re going to come across as an arrogant prick in court is what I’m saying.
Me: Oh, am I auditioning for these lawyers? Who is hiring who here?
Her: That isn’t what I mean.
Me: Look. You and I need to be on the same page. I know in a lot of industry stuff we can good cop-bad cop it where I can play the virtuous artist and you can play the heavy. But my impression of lawyers is that it’s ultimately all about force of will and jockeying for influence. If they see me as pathetic or weak, they won’t fight as hard for me.
Her: That’s ridiculous. They know you’re the victim here and their job is to fight for you.
Me: That doesn’t mean I should play victim.
Her: Being nice is not playing victim.
I don’t know. Maybe my testosterone was too high that day, but I didn’t agree.
Anyway. After we’d sat there for a couple of minutes, another well-dressed secretary ushered us into a conference room that looked out on some other skyscrapers. I vaguely wondered if the rent went up the higher the floor an office was on.
Feinbaum was there, dressed in about as nice a business suit as I’d ever seen him. Sitting next to him at the conference table was an older man with unkempt gray hair and a wrinkled jacket. They both stood and the guy might have been my height if he stood up straight, but he was slightly hunched over.
His handshake was strong though, and his voice was clear. “Lewis Mintz. How are you.”
“Worried that I’m screwed,” I replied. I added, for Carynne’s sake, “Nice to meet you.”
“Harold’s told me a lot about you.” Mintz gestured at the chairs. The secretary who had showed us in took the seat on Feinbaum’s other side, where a legal pad was waiting.
Carynne and I took the chairs facing them and Carynne got out her own legal pad.
Mintz took off his jacket to reveal and equally wrinkly shirt. He rolled up his sleeves somewhat haphazardly and picked up a pen and waved it back and forth. “Okay. From the top. Pretend I know nothing about your case. Tell me what’s going on.”
Carynne and Feinbaum exchanged glances, as if trying to figure out who should go first. I didn’t wait for them to figure it out. “You want it from the beginning? Or you want to know what’s happening now and work our way backwards.”
“How about from the beginning.” He made a kind of hammering motion with the pen. “You can skip the part about the Earth cooling and the dinosaurs. Start with something slightly more recent.”
Feinbaum jumped in. “You have a copy of Mr. Marks’ first contract with BNC in your files.”
Mintz sighed and addressed me. “Your father is one of the involved parties?”
“Then do you mind if we call you by your first name to cut down confusion while we’re talking?”
“Not at all. I’d prefer it, actually.”
Mintz gave a nod. “Go on, Harold.”
Feinbaum cleared his throat. “Like I was saying. Daron’s contract with BNC is in the packet.”
Mintz gestured to the secretary who handed him a folder. He flipped it open and looked at the thing on top. “Okay, then what the fuck–pardon my French, ladies–is this?”
Feainbaum cleared his throat. “Oh, yes, first, Mr.– Daron’s agreement with the band, Moondog Three–”
“I thought I said start at the beginning?” Mintz grumbled, but paged through the M3 contract to the signature pages. “Moondog Three. There are four of you?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Just trying to be thorough. And you’re the one with the controlling interest, though. The power to sign for the whole band.”
“Yes. Or, well, I was, but that might be getting ahead.”
He nodded and pointed at me affirmatively. “All right. Then?” He squinted at the next one. “Charles River Records. What, these indie labels can’t afford to print these a little bigger? Just kidding.” He set that one aside. “And look, another one.”
I recognized the one between M3 and Digger.
“Management and representation. And…?” He held up a single sheet. “This looks like a power of attorney, but it’s not signed.”
“Yeah, I never gave my father power of attorney.”
Mintz nodded and gave me the affirmative point again. “Okay. And now here’s the BNC deal.”
“The changes from the boilerplate are highlighted,” Feinbaum said, tugging under his collar with one finger.
“Good, good. Oh, now this looks official.” The next thing in the packet had the seal of the state of California on it. “I’m surprised it’s not Delaware,” he said. “You ever see these before?” He passed the papers to me.
“They don’t look familiar,” I admitted. “Though this does look like my signature.”
“It’s the incorporation papers for Donald Marks Associates. Making you a corporate officer. I take it this is news to you.”
“Pretty much. At one point Digger quote-unquote ‘borrowed’ money from me without telling me and in a heated argument I told him I better be getting something out of it.” I tried not to look away as I went on: “What he later told me was he gave me a ‘piece’ of his company, but he never said what kind of piece.”
I was expecting Mintz to bark at me the way he kept barking at Feinbaum, but he didn’t. He just said, “Uh huh,” and kept paging through. “I don’t see any annual reports here, but that’s small potatoes. Now, let’s see, I can see something on BNC letterhead. I can tell already this isn’t going to make me happy.”
“I think that’s the thing I signed to dissolve Moondog Three,” I said.
For the first time, he wagged his finger “no” at me. “Says here you didn’t dissolve it. You signed the intellectual property rights, trademarks, et cetera over.”
“To BNC, yeah.”
“To a Mr. Ziggy Ferias.”
I may have done a cartoonish double-take. “I did?” My back prickled with sudden, cold sweat. Was that right? Was that good? Was that bad? I was too stunned to make sense: “I mean, he did?”
Carynne cleared her throat. “BNC isn’t his record company in the non-English-speaking world. Remember?” She said it gently, but I heard “remember” as “dumbass.”
“I-I knew he was billing himself as Ziggy Moondog in South America but I hadn’t really thought about what that meant, really. From a legal standpoint, I mean. I just… I mean… I had a lot of other things on my mind.” It was coming back to me now, though, that this was the agreement that I signed without reading. I had begged Carynne not to make me read it. I had been in LA and I faxed my signature in. All I’d focused on at the time was that I wouldn’t get sued for using my stage name–or for working at all. “Um, so… is that good?”
“Assuming you and Mr. Ferias are not suing one another,” Mintz said drily. Then he cracked a smile and I realized this was his idea of a joke. “And if you are, you’ll need to get a different lawyer. I don’t do divorces.”
(Had to go with a throwback tune for this one. Too good to pass up. And you know I’ve always like Jackson Browne. -d)