and that’s all she wrote.

And so we drove back.

Sandy and I are probably the only people who actually enjoy a long drive back from vacation.  We stock up the car stereo with great music, and we talk (inbetween Sandy’s naps).  On the way back from vacation, we generally discuss what our plans are for the rest of the fall, things we’d like to do, things we had to accomplish before the end of the year.  It’s always an incredible bonding time for us; it’s something we’ve been doing since 1989 or so, and probably always will.  On the rare occasions when we’ve needed to take two cars on vacation, it always seems like there’s just a little something missing.

For the ride home, I broke out my industrial-size cassette tape case.  It held 24 tapes and fit right underneath the driver’s seat in the car.  I would always cram it full of tapes – whatever was in heavy rotation at the time, plus lots of mix tapes.  In the fall of 1996 it probably would have contained Beck’s Odelay, Green Day’s Dookie, The Coctails’ self-titled record, Gone Glimmering by Chavez, and Poem Rocket’s Felix Culpa. In this instance, I also had copies of the next two Dromedary releases – Jenifer Convertible’s Wanna Drag? and Footstone’s Schmeckle City Rubdown.

Jim had emailed me just before I left for vacation to let me know that the mastering of Wanna Drag? was complete.  We just needed to set a date to hook up and pick up the tape, which I didn’t get a chance to do before vacation.

I popped in Wanna Drag? as we drove down Route 6 toward the Sagamore Bridge, and the first notes of “Overload” came on.  And my own overload began.

“Holy shit, this is a great song,” I said to Sandy.

“It really is,” she responded.

“This album is so far beyond our pay grade that it’s scaring the hell out of me.”

We rode in silence for a while, and then I continued.  “When we get back, I have to make up advance tapes.  I don’t even have distribution for this thing yet.  If I really want to fire Dutch East, I need to replace them with someone that has the ability to get just as many records out there.”

“Do we have anyone who could do that?” Sandy asked.

I thought of the months I spent, trying to find someone interested in taking us on as a P&D partner, or as an exclusive label.  There had been nobody.  Nobody expressed even the most remote interest.  When I started thinking through the list of distributors we used, I realized that there really was nobody in our corner, nobody I could call and say “Listen, this Jenifer Convertible record is really important to us, and we’re going to work our asses off on it and I need to work your ass off on it, too.”

I mean, I could have said that, but nobody would have actually done it..

And without decent distribution, Wanna Drag? was bound to be disappointing, sales-wise.

“I’m going to have to kill myself on this record,” I told Sandy.  “I can’t work full-time on it yet.  I have to get my product line shipped before I can quit this wretched dayjob.  But I have to have something to sell the distributors.  The CD has to get dynamite press, and more radio play than I’ve ever gotten before.”

“Is Terri helping with this record?” Sandy asked, referring to our old intern from Wisconsin.

“I don’t even know where Terri even is anymore,” I said.

“Is there someone else who can help with this?  With all the phone calls?”

I thought of the promotion companies we had called.  They all seemed so expensive.  But maybe that was the way to go.

“Maybe I should call Triage, or Nasty Little Man, or one of those other promo companies,” I said. “They’re expensive, but they can do so much more than I can.”

“I don’t understand why,” Sandy said.  “Couldn’t you just make all those phone calls?  Take some time off work, like you did with Elizabeth?”

“Sure, I could. In October,” I explained, “but that’s too late.  Plus, I don’t have the kind of pull that some of those promo companies have.  They have relationships I don’t have.  When I call, I’m just a guy.  When they call, they’re a friend.  You saw how Space Flyer did when it had a promo company behind it.  We couldn’t get the time of day from some of these people.”

“What do you mean?” she asked.  “We got that record in SPIN.”

“Yep, and we’ll get decent press,” I said.  “but no radio.  And not enough press.  I’m not saying we have to do it, I’m just saying that it might be a good idea this time around.”

“What will Footstone say?  Will we be able to do the same thing for Footstone?”

I thought for a minute.  There was no way we could afford to hire a radio promo company for two records.

“Jesus,” I said.  “What a pain in the ass.  These records are going to put me in my grave.”

“When are you going to have time to package them up, put the promos in the mail?” she asked.

She was right.  By the time I got the Wanna Drag? CDs back from the manufacturer, I was going to be right on the heels of my trip to San Francisco, where I’d be launching my new product line.  There would be business trips, sales calls, media interviews.  I’d be working insane hours.  And then I’d need to figure out what came next – would I stick around at my job?  Would I quit to run Dromedary full-time?  Would I try and find some happy medium?

“I’m worried about you,” Sandy said.  “You haven’t been right for a long time.  You’re drained, you’re full of stress.  You’re not getting enough sleep.  You’re not healthy.  I think you’re pushing yourself too hard.”

“I always said I would work my ass off until I’m 30, and see how far we could get.”

“All that’s useless if you don’t make it to 30,” she said, curtly.

We were quiet for a while as the Wanna Drag? tape played through.  Finally, Sandy piped in again.  “Maybe I could make some of the phone calls,” she suggested.

“When?” I asked.  “From your car, inbetween your office and the day care center when you go to feed the baby?”

“I don’t know when,” she replied.  “But you don’t have any more free time to do this than I do.”

“I could make west coast calls from the car, on my way home from work.” I had installed a handsfree kit in my car so that I could talk on the phone without running anyone over.  “I could bring my radio lists to work with me, and my press lists, and just work my way through them in the car.  I have an hour and a half to kill, every day.”

I was tense.  I was practically tearing my head off my shoulders, cracking my neck with both hands while I steered the car with my knee.

Wanna Drag? ended, and we drove a few miles in silence.  Then I pulled out the Schmeckle City Rubdown cassette and popped that one in.

“Jesus, I wish they would tour.  I don’t get it.  Footstone is as good as any band we hear on K-Rock,”  I bitched, referring to the big commercial alt-rock station in New York that played the likes of Live, Porno for Pyros, Nine Inch Nails.  “Why can’t we get them more exposure?  Is there a better band?  Is there a better singer?  Is there a more charismatic group of guys?”

At one point, Sandy said “You realize we’re going to have to take money out of our savings account to get this record made.”

“We’ll have to have another show in September,” I said.  “I’ll see if ACME has any weekends available.”

“You’re not going to be home any weekends in September,” she said.  “Didn’t you tell me you’d be traveling all month?”

We talked for a long time about Footstone, and why they weren’t more popular than they were.  At times, it felt like we were arguing, with Sandy defending the job we’d done with the band, and me taking a contrary position – that somehow, we hadn’t done enough.

“You know,” she said, “you make it sound like we should be fuckin’ Warner Brothers.  Do you think these guys don’t realize that you’re running a record label out of a spare bedroom?  Do you think they don’t notice when they come over that their records are piled up in cardboard boxes in the basement, behind the furnace?  Do you think they don’t realize that they’re not signing their contract in a big conference room, but at our picnic table?”

“What’s your point?” I asked.

“My point is that we’re an independent label.

“So is Sub Pop. So is Matador.  So is Alias.  So is Merge.  Do you think they’re struggling the way we are?” I asked, not knowing that two of them actually were.

“You can’t be serious,” she said.  “You can’t compare us to those labels.  They’re almost majors.”

“Okay,” I said.  “What about Carrot Top?  What about Slumberland?  Can I compare us to them?”

“No,” she said.

“Why?”

“Because they sell more records than we do.”

“Exactly,” I retorted.  “Carrot Top can sell that Samarai Celestial record.  That record wasn’t any better than anything we’ve put out.  Why can’t I ship out 2,000 copies of Footstone?”

“We haven’t been at it long enough,” she said.

The Footstone tape ended.

I was feeling miserable.  I was nervous about work, and disappointed with my inability to get Dromedary to the point where I felt the bands deserved.  When I factored out Flying Suit, I wasn’t happy with the sales of any of our records, and yet it had gotten popular enough that it needed full-time attention that I wasn’t able to afford. Anything less than full-time attention was feeling like it would be a disservice to Jenifer Convertible, Footstone, and whatever was to come after.

I reached down into the tape case and grabbed Nothing Smells Quite Like Elizabeth, our first record, the compilation of New Jersey bands.  I hadn’t listened to it in years.  The first song, “Gondola” by Melting Hopefuls, greeted me differently this time – like an old friend, a great pop song from a different time.

When the second track, Oral Groove‘s “She’s Still Here” began, Sandy started laughing.

“What’s so funny?” I asked.

“Remember how when Ralph used to hear this song, he’d sing the Meow Mix song?  ‘Meow-meow-meow-meow’,” she sang, mimicking the guitar progression that kicked off the song.

I laughed.  I had forgotten about that.  “I never understood why they didn’t like this song,” I wondered.  “It’s a great song.”

It was a great song.  And when it ended, and Planet Dread’s stoner rock “What We See” came on, we laughed a little harder.  Sandy said “I can’t wait to hear the Eternal Vision song.”

When it came on, I flopped my hair down over my face and began imitating Rich’s imitation of the band’s singer.

“What was their manager’s name?” Sandy asked.

“Dee Dee,” I said.  “She wanted us to pay her less money than we wanted to pay her.”

“I remember that,” she said.  “She had bought a book or something, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Remember that crazy show in that place in Rockland County?  Where they had ten million candles set up onstage, and all that incense burning?”

“Jesus,” I laughed.  “Was there ever a band that was more inappropriate for us?”

“Maybe Wretched Soul,” Sandy said, laughing.

Then came Footstone’s “Forbidden Fruit.”  Sandy said “Awwww, Footstone.”  Then, cuppa joe‘s “meanings.”

“This is still a great song,” I said.  “Even today, even with all the flubs and sour notes.”

“I love cuppa joe,” Sandy said.  “How are they doing?”

“I have no idea,” I responded.  “I haven’t heard from them in a long time now.”

Next came Ya-Ne-Zniyoo’s “The Man In My Dream.”  And we talked about how long it had been since either of us had heard from Steve Bailey, and how much we had enjoyed his company when we were seeing each other all the time.  And then Godspeed’s “Child Bride” came on.

“Hey, Mr. Lennon!” Sandy said, recalling the story of when I’d met Godspeed’s singer, Dave Blanche.

I laughed.  “I wonder how those guys are doing.”

“What happened to them?” Sandy asked.  “Shouldn’t they be due for a new record?”

“They broke up,” I said.  “I think Atlantic dropped them after the Black Sabbath tour.  And they broke up.  I have no idea where they are.”

Rosary’s “Asylum” came on, and we both cracked up laughing at the horrifically sour guitar note at the beginning of the song.  “How could they let us use this song?” Sandy asked, laughing.  “They had to have known it was there, right?”

“It’s almost over,” I said, as the a capella ending to “Asylum” faded away.  And then the grungy, shoegazer sound of Grooveyard filled the car. Grooveyard was the first band that ever played live for Dromedary, on the day we were born.

“Wow,” I said.  “This song is terrible!” We were hysterical now, eyes welled up with tears.  “The singer is so off key!”

“What a great guy Lee was, though,” Sandy said, referring to the band’s guitar player.  “Remember how cool they were at the benefit show?”

They had driven four hours from the southernmost tip of New Jersey, and then volunteered to go onstage first, playing to an empty club that contained Sandy, Rich, Frank, Ralph, cuppa joe, and me.  And they were actually pretty good.

As the last tones of Lee’s guitar echoed out of the stereo speakers, we were somewhere in central Connecticut.  It was raining.  I sighed.

“Do you realize that we just spent about two hours talking about how awful it was going to be to put out the Jenifer Convertible and Footstone records, and then spent an hour laughing about how much fun it was to put out our first record?” I asked.

I wasn’t really asking Sandy.  I was asking myself.  And because she knew I wasn’t really asking her, she didn’t answer.

“I can’t do it,” I said.  “I can’t put these records out.”

She looked at me.

“Something’s changed,” I said.  “It used to be fun, and now it’s not anymore.”

She was staring.

“I can’t do it.”

I turned the stereo off.

“You need to be really sure,” Sandy said.

“I’m really sure,” I said.  “Listen to me.  Look at me.  All I do is complain anymore.  This is no fun.”

“Even so, this is the thing you love.”

“It’s not.”

~ by Al on November 18, 2009.

3 Responses to “and that’s all she wrote.”

  1. That must have been one hell of a car ride. Great entry. Your most intimate so far. Can I say “thanks for sharing” without soundling snarky?

  2. And that is exactly why I stopped being in a band. It was no longer fun. I’m thinking now, though, it looks like fun again.

  3. A wise decision to stop when you did. It has to be about having a good time. When the fun stops, party over. Dromedary version 1.0 was awesome. I cherish those days. Thanks.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: