viva la chairman.

I was suddenly motivated to save every penny.  I wanted to get music out again.

Saving every penny meant that my record-buying budget was shot down to zero.  The last record I bought in 1995 was a Frank Sinatra anthology, which I picked up at some point in the late summer.  Everything else that I acquired was done so via trade, with other labels.

At some point I realized that it was actually okay for me to pick up the phone and say “Hey, it’s Al from Dromedary.  I see you’ve got a new <insert band name> CD out.  I’ll trade you a copy of the Mommyheads CD for it.”

The answer was almost always yes.  It made me start wondering how much of the buzz surrounding bands like Bivouac and Cell, once decent indie bands who moved on and recorded weak major label records, was generated because of trades.  Hey, I’ll send you Cell, St. Johnny and Bivouac for just one song – any song – that’s good enough to keep me from jumping out my office window.  Please.

I didn’t have a huge network – maybe eight or ten labels – but at least it helped me acquire new records every once in a while.  Otherwise I would have gone insane, listening to Frank Sinatra for the entire last quarter of 1995.  But still, I loved Frank.

Rich and I had developed a routine.  We’d go out to whatever club.  If we were in Hoboken, the routine would look like this:

1) Pick up Rich.

2) Go to Mario’s.  Eat pizza and drink cheap beer.

3) Go to club.

4) Head home.  Bendix Diner.

5) Play “Fly Me To The Moon” on the jukebox.

If we were in the city, the routine would look like this:

1) Pick up Rich.

2) Go to See Hear. Shop for zines.

3) Grey’s Papaya for two hot dogs and a banana smoothie.

4) Go to club.

5) Head Home.  Bendix Diner.

6) Play “Fly Me To The Moon” on the jukebox.

We loved that song.  The part where the brass comes in, at the beginning of the instrumental break, was the heaviest metal I knew.  And between the coolness of the song and the New Jersey roots of the band and frontman, there was no denying we were both fans.

Our friend Matt worked for the Grammys when the ceremony was held in New York.  His job was to assign people to “babysit” the artists at the show, in an effort to make sure that everyone was where they were supposed to be, at the appropriate time.  One of my great regrets was not taking Matt up on his offer to allow me to “babysit” Sinatra during the 1994 Grammys, when the Chairman was given a lifetime achievement award.  Despite that, it was a horrible night for Frank – his warm and emotional, yet rambling acceptance speech was cut short.  His last words were, in describing New York, “…it’s the best city in the whole world.”  And then, in a metaphor for what was happening to music, his voice was replaced by an announcer, and a commercial.

I chose not to babysit Mr. Sinatra at the 1994 Grammys, and thus missed the only opportunity I would ever have to meet him.  He passed away in 1998.

Rich continued to focus on new music in late 1995, even as I fell completely out of touch with anything that wasn’t either a demo tape or a release on my friends’ labels.  So when he showed up at my house with a new Melting Hopefuls CD EP, I didn’t even know it was coming out.

“Allnighter” was, once again, the standout track.

“I can’t believe it,” Rich said.  “How many times are they going to release that song?”

“It’s a good song,” I countered.

“It was a good song when it was on their demo tape.  Then it was a good song when you put it out on 7″.  It was a good song when their new label reissued the 7″.  It was a good song when it was the lead track from their first CD.”

We sat quietly and listened to it.  It was a few songs, punctuated by brief snippets that were essentially studio tricks.  It was really good.

He left it with me.  I still have it somewhere.

The musical layoff was good for me.  My taste had gotten completely twee; I was listening to almost nothing but wimpy pop music.  I had gotten to the point where I really considered Dromedary to be a pure pop label.  I had begun benchmarking labels like SpinArt and Not Lame (a new distributor/label specializing in power pop), and overlooking the labels I once admired.

Instead, I was trapped in a money-and-music-free zone.  My soundtrack was the Frank Sinatra anthology, a John Coltrane anthology, cuppa joe’s casualties of exploration and growth, and a bunch of heavier stuff like Fluf, Small, Rocket From The Crypt, and Lucy’s Fur Coat.  Noise was beginning to creep back into what interested me – I still was a sucker for a killer hook, but I was no longer looking to put out the next Big Star record.  My tastes were veering away from nerdy twee and back toward indie slacker rock.

~ by Al on September 21, 2009.

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