129. Pop Will Eat Itself

“Everything come out alright?” Chris said.

“Yeah, fine.” No one said anything for a few minutes while we ate, mouths full. And then Jordan started the talking the next time.

“So how many tunes do we have to work with?” He was picking pieces of fatty beef out of his noodles with chopsticks and eating them one at a time.

“Twelve, fourteen, maybe more if we want to work on anything half finished,” I said.

“I heard what, ten already today?”

“About that.” I made a show of eating, forking up noodles and looking at my tea cup. But my heart had started to beat fast.

Jordan wasn’t looking at me, either. He would chew a bit and look around the restaurant while he talked. “We are in fine shape, then, I think. The real danger with the second album is a kind of backsliding. The second one has to be a leap forward. If it’s too similar to the first album, it seems like backsliding, dated.”

“Backsliding,” I repeated, more to keep the conversational ball rolling than anything else. The others, so talky before, were now silent, and watching me and Jordan not look at each other.

“Speaking in the most purely commercial sense, you guys have the potential to be blockbusters. I mean like R.E.M. who have not only broken out, they continue to sell well every album. Or U2, talk about a band that sells records. Their last one was considered a flop by their record company only because they had hoped for something even huger than what they got. Naw, they did fine.” He waved his hand as if to dispel a bad smell. “Do you know you’re the first new rock act that Mills has put onto the Billboard Top 40?”


“You are. He’s done it with older AOR rock acts with new albums, some established acts switching labels, but Mills is essentially a pop man. An Olivia Newton John, George Michael, what’s the word… Laura Branigan kind of guy. So from his perspective, anything you do musically, new, innovative, whatever, he’s listening for its Top 40 potential. He was right when he said ‘Candlelight’ could become a hit if given the right push. It wasn’t AOR that put that record into the countdown, it was pop stations. You know I heard it on a soft rock station the other day?”

Ziggy made a hiccuping noise. “Don’t tell me that.”

“Oh yeah, the adult contemporary stations are very big on ‘alternative’ acts. These are the only stations who are still playing Culture Club, The Thompson Twins, Howard Jones. The thirty and forty-somethings who listen to it don’t know you’re a bunch of scruffy, weird-hair, post-punks. What do they care? It’s a ballad, it sounds nice. You have to be able to take the song out of its context, and see where it can go, like hey, what about a dance remix of this? Do you get what I mean?” His hands fluttered like he was trying to figure out what to do with them.

“You mean,” I said slowly, “we should keep our minds open to different interpretations.”

“Kind of.” He laughed to himself a little. “What I’m really trying to say is that it’s my job to think about all that other stuff, hear the songs out of context, and make my suggestions for how they can have the widest appeal without seeming like they’re…”

“Compromised?” I suggested.

“Yeah.” Now he looked at me. “So in a way I want you not to worry about it so much, don’t try to aim at these commercial targets. Don’t want you to end up like, I don’t know, any of ten million other bands who went major label and ended up boring, bland, bad.”

Okay, if everyone knows I’m a worry wart, why hide it. “If you’re telling us this to make me feel less anxious about working with you, Jordan, I hate to tell you it isn’t working.”

He waved his hand again and I wondered if he was wishing he had a cigarette between his fingers. “I’ll make you a deal, Daron. I won’t ever tell you anything ‘just’ to make you feel better.”

“And what do I do in exchange?”

“You tell me how you feel.”

“It’s a deal.” And you know, I did feel better. There wasn’t a word he’d said that I didn’t agree with, either. In all the ways I could analyze it, I felt like I (and we as a band) should get along with Jordan swimmingly. What I couldn’t explain was why I felt so tense. But, well, that was getting to be a normal state of being; I was almost used to it.


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