the music marathon letdown.

I believe that past Music Marathon events had taken place at the hotel at the World Trade Center, this one had an alternate location that was a little more difficult for me to get to.  I don’t specifically recall the reason for the venue change, but I would imagine it probably had something to do with the 1993 WTC bombing, which occurred in February.

Unlike the 1992 event, in 1993 I actually paid the registration fee so that I could get to some of the panel discussions because I wanted to learn something about how to run an indie label.  I had questions about retail distribution and more questions about radio promotion, because it seemed like those were the two components of Dromedary that were lacking, and for some reason I hoped that these topics would be addressed in the various indie panels that were planned.

On the first day I went with Rich.  He hadn’t actually registered, but this was the official “coming out party” for Indier Than Thou!, as he brought boxes of them in the back of my car and planned to stand in the hotel lobby, handing out copies of the debut issue to anyone who looked like they belonged at the CMJ event.  We arrived at the hotel and I gave him my car keys; he brought one box of zines with him and set up shop right where people were milling around, approaching each small group with an armload of zines and handing them out for free.

Of course a large number of people attend these types of events just for the graft, and so they were more than happy to take Rich’s zine.

For my part, I would attend the panel discussions alone, and then meet up with Rich after each one was over.  It was a good arrangement for me because I didn’t really know many people who were there, and thus I didn’t have to feel uncomfortable about standing alone in the lobby inbetween panels.

I don’t recall much about the panel discussions themselves, aside from the fact that Mac from Superchunk spoke on one of them, and a woman named Vicky from Autotonic spoke on another – I didn’t know either of them, but I recall being impressed by whatever they had to say.  At one point Kramer walked into the lobby, so I walked up to him and introduced myself.  He was very polite but it was obvious that, despite the fact that he had just spent so much time in the studio with one of my bands, he had no clue who I was.

“Dude, you are such a loser,” Rich joked.  “None of these people have any idea who you are.  Do you even run a label?”

We ran into the people from WSAM – they were people who were two years behind me when I was in college, so I didn’t know them very well.  We talked a bit about Dromedary, and made plans to hook up at the end of the day and go to the shows together.

After Day One had concluded, Rich and I hopped into a cab and bounced around to a few shows.  The shows were the best part of the Music Marathon; when you registered you received a badge and a lanyard, and that badge got you into any of the participating clubs for free.

While we were riding to the first show, I told Rich a story about my first Music Marathon – attending with WSAM, we were trying to figure out what shows we would go see on the first night.  One of us had gotten a flyer for a band that was playing an early show that night, and the flyer advertised “Open Bar and Free Buffet.”  So we decided to make that our first stop for the night.

When we got to the club, the band came out and began playing, and after their first song, the singer went backstage and grabbed a bag of popcorn and a bottle of Coke, walked up to the microphone and said “Thanks for coming – here’s your open bar and free buffet,” and put the popcorn and soda onto a table in front of the stage.  We were so pissed – as were all the other college radio people who had been duped into attending.  We all left the club en masse.

Anyone reading this who was there with me remember the name of the band?  I can’t remember.  But they sucked.

Anyway, that night we hooked up with Vin and Gary from WSAM and saw the Hang Ups at Under ACME.  I was thrilled to be at my favorite club, and equally thrilled to hear this band that cuppa joe often was compared with; they didn’t disappoint, as I immediately fell in love with them.  They played a great set – reminded me a lot of another one of my favorite bands from the time, Chocolate USA.  Vin liked them a lot, too, although the WSAM folks left early to see some other band – Mazzy Star or someone like that.

Rich was exhausted by the time we got back to my car for the ride home, and fell asleep before we even left the city.  Before he drifted off, he said “You’re on your own tomorrow – I’m not coming in.”

The next morning I woke up and called him anyway.

“Are you sure you don’t want to go?” I asked.  “This is the best way to distribute Indier to a big group of indie people all at once.”  He had gotten to the point where he couldn’t afford to ship quantities of the zines to distributors and record stores, so the magazine’s distribution had dwindled to nothing.

“Would you distribute them for me?” he asked.

“Are you kidding?  I’m going to the thing so I can attend the panel discussions.  I’m not going to stand in the lobby, handing out your zine while I’m trying to make connections for Dromedary.”

“Just, like, an hour,” he pleaded.  “Just give away as many as you can.”

I was pretty pissed about that.  I still had zines in my car, and when I got to the hotel and parked, I tried lugging two boxes along with my notebook and backpack filled with 7″s that I had been handing out.  I also had mailorder catalogs with me, and the end result was me, walking through the streets of New York with a backpack on my back and two cardboard boxes crammed with zines in my arms.  I dropped them a couple of times, and by the time I got to the hotel my arms were screaming, plus I was out of breath and freezing cold.  I opened the two boxes, dropped them on the floor outside the meeting rooms, and left them there.  I didn’t care if hotel management came and took them away, if people took armloads, or whatever – it wasn’t my job to distribute the zines for Rich, and if he was too lazy to come hand them out himself, that was his problem.

By the end of the day, the boxes were gone.

Melting Hopefuls’ showcase was absolutely underwhelming.  When we arrived at the club, Rich said “This is where the Spin Doctors used to play before they got signed.”

Like I cared about the Spin Doctors.

I think there was a band that played first.  The people from Melting Hopefuls were milling around; I saw them at various points but never for very long.  Some of them were shooting pool, and others were talking to their friends.  I saw the owner of March, who was wearing a T-Shirt that he had made up for their Music Marathon showcase.  While this kinda bugged me because his bands had bailed out on him, leaving us to pick up the pieces, I had to hand it to him – he had his act together.  He walked around the convention all day, advertising this show on his T-shirt, and he managed to still generate a buzz even though his bands weren’t there.  While Rich and I sat in the corner being cynical, jaded indie goofballs, he was working the room, smiling and talking to people.

I was grumpy when I left.

Ultimately I didn’t get much out of the Music Marathon, but it’s probably as much my own fault as anyone else’s.  This is an event that attracts people from every aspect of the record business, and they’re there to talk music, do business, and hawk their wares.  I was self-conscious watching everyone mill about in small groups, while I was alone – I’d be standing there and a few people would recognize each other, chat for a minute, then move on.  I went with Rich to a few shows, but I was more interested in seeing bands I liked than seeing bands that could potentially record for Dromedary.

At the end of the Music Marathon, instead of feeling invigorated and ready to go to work with my new knowledge, I felt completely irrelevant.

There was a Taco Bell opening in Elmwood Park, NJ the weekend of the Music Marathon.  This was 1993 so there was not a Taco Bell in every town yet; this was the only one anywhere near us.  Rich would drive past the place on his way to our house and give us regular status updates on the construction status.  On the Sunday of Music Marathon our plan was to go back to the hotel and hand out copies of Indier to people who were leaving the hotel to go back to their far-flung corners of the country, and for me to hand out some 7″s and copies of Elizabeth.  Steve Bailey was going to be there as well, handing out stuff from his bag of tricks.

On the way home, we stopped at the Taco Bell for dinner, which was, for me, the highlight of the 1993 Music Marathon.

~ by Al on March 7, 2009.

5 Responses to “the music marathon letdown.”

  1. That’s a pretty good way to launch a new zine though, I must have spent a fortune in stamps doing what your mate did in a matter of minutes that day!

  2. I agree. It really paid off for him, too, as the story will illustrate. Considering that the zine was started as a lie, so he could get free records from major labels, he wound up putting an outstanding zine out there.

    I wanted to strangle him for leaving me in that hotel lobby by myself, though.

  3. Tons of zines start for the same reasons, I remember one call ‘I only started this zine to get free stuff’! It’s not why I started my zine Beat Motel, in fact the avalanche of CDs I get each week is a pain in the bum more than anything else! Despite the fact my review policy requests bribes and pies it NEVER happens!

  4. Rich didn’t even HAVE a zine – he just came up with a name, and wrote letters to labels. He never published it, and he never planned to. He was just getting free records, selling the ones he didn’t like and keeping the ones he did. It was only after an indie label started servicing him that he felt guilty and decided to actually start the zine. It was a classic example of major label stupidity – servicing a zine that didn’t exist.

    Beat Motel looks very cool. I’m going to toss a link to it on my blog, if you don’t mind. How did you stumble onto the site?

  5. I actually ended up writing to Victory Records, making it quite clear that if they insisted on continuing to send me their shitty releases I would ebay them faster than Oprah could devour a fresh ham!

    Email me your address, I’ll gladly send you a freebie review copy of Beat Motel!

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