the disinformation campaign, or rich, part iv

Rich loved to play games.

Not stupid games, but snarky ones.

He realized, after a while, that junk mail (or “direct marketing” as we call it in the ad business) was a tool that he could use to his advantage. He also realized that once he got on a direct marketing list, his information was sold to other direct marketers.

He decided that he was going to begin what he called a “disinformation campaign,” which was, basically, a giant lie where Rich would try and get added to every conceivable marketing list he could. He filled out surveys, registered for contests, sent in “bingo cards” and got his name on every mailing list he could find.

On the surveys, he would lie. Sometimes, he’d say he was a woman. Sometimes, he’d say he smoked four packs of cigarettes a day. Sometimes, he’d say he drank nothing but hard liquor and other times he said he didn’t drink alcohol at all.  The idea was to get marketers to waste money on him, to mess up the integrity of their surveys, and, of course, to get free stuff.

He had a handful of different names that he used, always a variation of his own name. On one list he’d be Richard, on the next list he’d be Dick. He’d purposely misspell his last name, or make up a different first name (I distinctly remember him using the first name “G. Gordon” on at least one list). By tracking the name that the marketers used, he could also track what companies were buying his name from which other companies. Then he’d show us the paper trail.

Before long, he started receiving free stuff in the mail. At first, they were rebate forms for various products, which he’d always return. Soon, he started receiving coupons – discounted cigarettes, candy, beer, chips, soda, you name it.

Then he started receiving actual products. One day, he got an awesome cigarette lighter. The next day, he got another. Soon, he had a half dozen or so of the same lighter – they just kept coming in the mail. He received every sort of promotional gadget known to man, all addressed to different people at his address.

“I’m gumming up the works,” he said. “I’m lying on my surveys. So I’m messing up the marketers. I’m skewing their demographics every which way. It’s my little protest.”

He started encouraging the rest of us to do it as well. And, to a degree, we all did. Once in a while, one of us would call the other and say something like “Guess what I got in the mail today? A whole box of laundry detergent!”

After a while, Rich started thinking: if the consumer products companies were so stupid as to send all their stuff to him – sometimes multiple copies to different names at the same address – maybe the record companies would do it as well.

One night, we went to see the Melting Hopefuls play at Continental, in the Village, with a band called Ghostshirts. I had never heard of Ghostshirts before, but they were fantastic. They played upbeat but aggressive indie rock that was tinged with jazz – very similar to Shrimp Boat. They just blew me away.

After the show I introduced myself to the band. I really, really wanted to put out their music. The singer handed me copies of the band’s two demo tapes, and told me that they had been produced by Kramer and recorded at his Noise New Jersey studio (keep this in the back of your mind for future reference). That really impressed me – I liked Kramer’s Shimmy-Disc label, and also liked the music he was releasing on his 7″ label, Kokopop.

The Ghostshirts guys told me that they were planning to release a 7″ on Kokopop, which only piqued my interest more. I told the singer I’d love to talk to them about doing a 7″ on Dromedary, but he really seemed only lukewarm on the idea – I think he felt like the opportunity with Shimmy-Disc and Kokopop was a better one (which it was, if it had actually materialized – I don’t think it ever did).

When we left the show and arrived back in Hoboken, I popped in one of the tapes to listen to the song “Here is a Compass,” which is a song they played at the show that really blew my mind. Unfortunately, though, when the tape started, the clean, percussive guitars I heard at the show were muddy and distorted. The jazz flavor of the band was replaced by what I felt was too much reverb, and the bass guitar – which was a highlight of the song for me – was too far back in the mix to hear all the harmonics that they bassist was playing.

Here’s the song:

It’s a good song, but it was way better at Continental.

Anyway, I was disappointed.

“He indie’d it out too much,” I said.

“Indie rock is a pain in the ass,” said Rich. “There’s too much posturing, too much attitude. That band was great. They go into the studio, though, and all of a sudden everything’s got to be low-fi, fuzzy and out of tune. All the instruments have to be mixed as hot as possible, with the vocals way in the back. It’s like a battle to see who can sound the most like Sonic Youth.”

We were driving down Washington Street. At the time, Hoboken had not yet become the yuppified city that it is today – there were still lots of mom and pop businesses, local non-meat market bars, and music clubs. Pier Platters – the brilliant indie record store that unfortunately closed its doors two years later – was still an awesome indie hangout. Bar/None Records – who, coincidentally, released the Shrimp Boat album to which I compared Ghostshirts – was located in a hip office building nearby. There were three bars in the city – one square mile large – that booked original indie rock artists, and there was an excellent summertime music festival. The city had a thriving arts community.

On this particular night, as we drove the car down the street, Rich started ranting.

“Look at these people,” he said. “Indie rock is so stupid.  It’s supposed to be different, but it’s just as conformist as everything else.  Everyone has a backpack. Everyone wears Doc Maartens or Birkenstocks. All the girls have cheesy barettes in their hair, and all the guys wear striped shirts or plaid. Everyone’s got a band, or a label, or a zine, or a portfolio of shitty photographs. Everyone’s got this ‘indier than thou’ attitude.”

That sunk in for a minute, and then Sandy and I burst out laughing.

“Indier than thou!” I yelped. “That’s the funniest thing I’ve ever heard!”

Okay, now ‘indier than thou’ is an expression that’s popped up in the vernacular lots of times over the years. But this was 1993. There was no World Wide Web yet. And I am reasonably sure that this was one of the first occurrences of the expression ever to happen. If someone were to trace the origins of the expression, a reasonable case could be made that the phrase originated in the backseat of a 1991 Ford Probe on Washington Street in Hoboken, some night in the spring of 1993.

The following day, Rich called me.

“I’m going to continue the disinformation campaign, but it’s going to take a radical turn,” he said.

“How?” I wondered.

“I’m printing up letters that I’m going to send to every record company. I’m going to tell them that I’m the editor of a zine called ‘Indier Than Thou!’ and ask them if they’ll add me to the list to receive promotional copies of their records.”

“Dude, nice idea, but the promo departments usually ask about things like circulation, how long you’ve been publishing, that sort of stuff. They ask for a sample issue. They want to be sure that, you know, you exist before they start loading you up with free shit.”

“I’m doing it anyway,” he said. “I’m also going to ask them to run an ad.”

“Dude, you don’t have a zine,” I told him.  “You can’t take their money!”

“The ads will be free for indie labels,” he continued, “but the majors will have to pay.”

“Pay for what?!” I asked.  “You have no zine!  You’re going to just cash their checks?”

“Yep,” he told me.  “And if they ever ask me for a sample issue, I’ll tell them I ran out.  I’m going to take major label money, and spend it on Taco Bell.”

“Bullshit.  You’ll never do it.”

Within a week, he had sent out about a hundred letters to various record labels across the country.

Within a month, he received his first promo copy – a cassette from a band called Rise Robots Rise, on TVT Records.

I couldn’t believe it. Rich was getting record service for a zine that did not exist.

~ by Al on February 1, 2009.

3 Responses to “the disinformation campaign, or rich, part iv”

  1. Jeez, Al. No disrespect to dromedary, but I think you’ve got a better book on the history of Rich. I’d be happy to write a chapter.

  2. Every decent story has to have compelling characters, no?

  3. […] of cool local bands recorded there.  Our first encounter with a demo recorded there was the band Ghostshirts, who I reference in an earlier entry.  While I thought the Ghostshirts demo was poorly recorded, I […]

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