jsh.

I had to go through the miserable process of letting all the bands know that Schoolhouse Pop wasn’t going to happen.  I was miserable.  I felt that the idea was so good that it was going to be the project that vaulted Dromedary to profitability, put us in the same ballpark as the other indies that I was friends with and respected so much: Carrot Top, Harriet, Pop Narcotic, Darla, labels like that.  

I felt like I was a member of a community, but I was the weakling in the community.  Schoolhouse Pop was going to change all that.

And suddenly, it didn’t exist.

My biggest worry was John S. Hall.  I was a huge King Missile fan, and loved the fact that I had begun to communicate with John via email.  It had gotten to the point where he would email me snippets of new lyrics or poems to gauge my feedback.  As if I was any sort of judge, somehow qualified to give a guy like John S. Hall tips on how he might improve his writing or something.

In reality I knew that he probably did the same thing with a hundred other people, but it did feel kinda cool nonetheless.

But what was awesome was the day he agreed to be on Schoolhouse Pop.  It took me weeks to come to grips with the fact that I was going to put out a record that had John S. Hall on it; he was literally one of the icons of indie rock to me, one of the guys who had managed to achieve success and notoriety without having to compromise much.  “Detachable Penis” was really no different from anything on Mystical Shit with the exception of improved production; it wasn’t like he had to dumb down his art in order to gain acceptance.  He was, in my mind, an inspiration.

When his post King Missile career began, he had assembled a band called The Body Has A Head.  He told me a little about them – different from King Missile, with a cellist and violinist.  That was the band that was going to record a track for Schoolhouse Pop.  

I desperately wanted to put out something by this band.  And if Schoolhouse Pop wasn’t going to happen, I needed something to fall back on; something I could do in its place.

Rich and I stayed up late one night, drinking beer and brainstorming.  After having released nurture and Flying Suit, the label had very much taken a turn toward being a pop label.  Many of the labels we admired were also pop labels – in my opinion, the best stuff happening in indie rock in 1994 was the pop stuff: bands like Small Factory, Versus, and Velvet Crush were getting popular, labels like SpinArt and March were unabashedly putting out the twee-est twee pop, the International Pop Overthrow was a much-anticipated event, and rumors were circulating about a new pop band featuring Dave Grohl of Nirvana.  We felt like we were in the right place.

“We should do a tribute album,” I said.

“Oh, Jesus, no,” Rich responded.  “You can’t do a tribute album.  Tribute albums suck.”

“But we have all these great bands that want to work with us.  We can’t put out full length CDs, or even seven-inches, by all of them.  We need a compilation.”

“So just do a fucking compilation,” he pleaded.  “Let the bands record whatever they want.  Put it out.  No tribute records.  Please.”

“I swore I’d never do another compilation after Elizabeth,” I explained.  “They’re pointless.  Schoolhouse Pop was a great premise.  There was a reason to put out that record.  There’s no reason to just put out a regular, old compilation.”

“Do you realize that somebody’s working on a Pixies tribute?” he whined.  “The Pixies.  They’re still a band!  Their best album came out less than five years ago!”

“I’d love to do a tribute to a legendary pop band,” I responded.  “We’re working with so many pop bands.  We should honor the early bands.”

“What if you did a compilation of great pop covers from a lot of bands?”  He was saying anything he could to steer me away from doing a tribute record.

“No.  One band.  What about The Raspberries?”

“No way.  Two songs, they had.  What, are you going to have twenty bands record ‘Go All The Way’?”

“Good point.  How about Big Star?”

“No.  No, no, no, no.  Get off the Alex Chilton bandwagon already.”

“Who else?  Some skinny tie band?  Graham Parker?  Who?”

Rich was quiet for a minute.  Then he looked at me and said “Cheap Trick.”

My turn to be quiet.  I thought about it – I loved Cheap Trick.  They were definitely pioneers.  They had fantastic pop songs.  “Can you imagine Footstone doing ‘He’s A Whore’?” I asked.

“Wow,” Rich said.  “that sounds like Footstone wrote it.”

So that was it.  We were doing a Cheap Trick tribute record.

That night, we started making another list of songs – which songs we wanted on the record, and who we wanted to record them.  We figured every band would want to do “Surrender,” so we were going to give that one to a band nobody had ever heard of.  All the better-known bands would have to do lesser-known songs.

“I think you should ask Melting Hopefuls to do ‘I Want You to Want Me’.”

It was a great idea, because they would have done a great job with it.  But I wasn’t about to ask them to do anything for me.  “I Want You to Want Me” was going to the Mommyheads, if they wanted it.

Next came the task of reaching out to John S. Hall and letting him know that Schoolhouse Pop was dead, but that we were replacing it with the Cheap Trick tribute, which had the working title of Heaven Tonight.  I knew that the tribute was nowhere close to Schoolhouse Pop in terms of promise – Schoolhouse had the charity angle, the childhood nostalgia, the enthusiasm of the bands.  A Cheap Trick tribute would be cool, but it wasn’t the type of thing that was going to sell ten thousand copies or anything.

I emailed John and let him know that Schoolhouse Pop was dead, and why.

He emailed me back and asked me for my phone number, which I gave him.

One night we were sitting around, watching something on television, and the phone rang.  Sandy answered it, said a few words, and then handing me the phone, she said “This is John Hall,” with a wry smile.

“Hello?” I said into the phone.

“Hello,” said a familiar voice on the other end.  “This is John Hall.”

“Umm, hi,” I said.  “How are you?”

“Okay.  Sounds like you got fucked by my old label.”  I had forgotten that King Missile had recorded for Atlantic.

I had forgotten everything at this point.  I was talking on the phone with John S. Hall.  I politely asked him to hold on for a minute, and put my hand over the telephone mic.

“I’m sitting in the kitchen, talking to John S. Hall on my phone,” I said to Sandy.

“I know,” she said.

I said it again with feeling.  “In my kitchen, talking to John S. Hall.”

I’m no starfucker.  I’ve met people who I admired in the music field, and spoke to many of them on the phone.  This was different.  This was a guy I’d admired since college, who wrote words that alternately moved me and made me laugh, who was going to release a recording on my label, and he was calling me on the phone. Calling me.

“I think you should put it out anyway,” he said.

“I can’t,” I responded.  “How can I fight with Atlantic’s lawyers?”

“Think of the notoriety you’ll get,” he said.  “Tiny little indie label, putting out a record of tiny little indie bands, donating profits to charity, being sued by a multimillion dollar entertainment conglomerate…you think that wouldn’t get you some press?”

“It would get me bankrupt,” I said.  “I barely even know my lawyer.  All I do is call him periodically and whine to him about P&D deals.”

“I think you’re crazy not to do it,” he said.

“We’re going to do a different record instead,” I said.  “Instead of Schoolhouse Rock, we’re going to do a Cheap Trick tribute record.”

“Cheap Trick?” he asked?  “Are they even any good?”

“Hell, yes!” I said.  “They’re great!  They’re one of the pioneers of what we know today as indie pop!”

“I’ll probably not do a Cheap Trick tribute record,” he said.  “I’ve already done so many tribute records.”

I scrambled.  I needed to put out his music.  “What about The Body Has A Head?” I asked.  “Why don’t I put out your CD?”

“I don’t know,” he said.  “What that CD comes out, I think I’d want to make some actual money.”

“We’d make money,” I said.  “You’re John S. Hall.  We’d have no problems with distribution, and you’ll get a better deal with us than with most other labels.”

“I think you should think about it,” he said.  “Think about it for a few days and then call me back.”

“Send me your music,” I countered.

“Okay.  But think about it.”

I was, once again, devastated.  Everything I had been banking on was crumbling.

~ by Al on June 27, 2009.

One Response to “jsh.”

  1. […] he became a lawyer.  Maybe I should have listened to him when he told me to put out the Schoolhouse Rock compilation despite Atlantic’s buying the rights from ABC.  Maybe that would have changed […]

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