Monday, February 25, 2008

Coworkers: Part 39 - Cuffs And Glitter

   I never thought The Boss would hire her. She was a very pretty girl. The store crew was overloaded with females, and The Boss had an internal balance scale. He was overdue to hire more guys. Two or three more.
   She listened to Country, however, which was a big deal. The playstack featured Cash, lang, Strait, Yoakam. Individual employees had select favorites, but nobody knew Roy Acuff from Ernest Tubb from Don Williams. I marked COUNTRY on her application and high-lit my note in yellow. Placed hers on the top of the application stack so The Boss would see it tomorrow. She was watching and I told her what I had done. She gave me a movie star smile, and said thanks.
   Sissy knew Country, chart hits and oldies. She only needed part time work. Her other job was with the city District Attorney. She carried handcuffs. That was going to cause trouble. Four or five store colleagues would find that accessory unbelievably sexy.
   The Boss would never hire her.
   Sissy started a week later.

   She worked evenings, had soft brown hair, was tanned, toned, and curvy. Her purse, banging heavy on the table, would have triggered metal detectors. Staff members fluttered around her, but Sissy wasn't an easy damsel.
   Business picked up steadily in Country. Men flocked to the section. She was knowledgeable and helpful. The store had no policy about lunch breaks with customers. Neither did Sissy. She was busy, organized and discriminating. Retail wage earning coworkers rarely shared that lunch date or after hours drink with her. Law enforcement types, lawyers, businessmen, suits with Stetsons packed her dance card.
   In a way, Sissy became invisible. She didn't interact with coworkers, never went to parties, never lingered for in-store conversation. Dating, friends, adventures, none of that interested her. None of us even knew what she did at the DA.
   When she requested her hours be trimmed to Friday and Saturday evenings, we wondered how the DA would react. Working part time at Sound Warehouse was one thing, working part time at Sinbad's (a strip club) was another.
   Sissy worked the store floor till eleven, then changed in the back. Teased hair, low cut blouse, push up bra. Heavy makeup. Glitter dusted across her face, splashed down her cleavage. Cuffs hanging from her belt, bouncing off her backside. Sashayed to that gentleman's palace, where she was billed as Sassy Ryder.
   That lasted about three weekends. By then, Sissy must have decided the record store gig was no longer useful or worth the effort. Gave notice so she could dance, excuse me, hostess five nights a week. The money was extraordinary, beyond what she earned as retail buckle bunny.
   Came in for her final paycheck a week later. No one spoke with her. I was in the Manager's Box, working on a massive PolyGram order. I gave her a little wave. Sissy tossed her head back, and threw me a huge smile. She took my breath away. Strange moment.

   Down the line, there were isolated updates.
   Sissy lost her position with District Attorney.
   After that, things went downhill.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Coworkers: Part 41 - Sixty Fans Can't Be Wrong

    Todd and I had quietly, callously, eased Rob out of the Backroom.
    Rob wasn't blind and he was none too happy.
    "Pair of fuckers. Act like you're gods back here!"
    He was correct, but that was the Sound Warehouse attitude.
    The Backroom was pretty much my domain now. Todd helped out on Shipment Day, while The Boss kept suggesting new helper jumble-heads. None of those worked out. Rob wasn't booted or anything so blatant. Todd and I simply worked well together and were very fast. Often, as Robster cruised in at 2:00, we had already polished off his Accessories. We then returned to C and E Chart boxes, and D Catalog from vendors, leaving Rob with nothing to do. We shouldn't have hopped over to Accessories before all CDs were processed, but ... well ... bastards.
    Now, arrogant behavior was rebounding back in my face.
    Todd still worked, yet he wasn't "there."
    The Toadies, while still struggling, were beginning to break out. Beyond Cowtown, beyond DFW, beyond Texas.
    Seemingly overnight, the band found themselves in-play in the music industry.
    Josh's persistent self promoting aside, the group still had no manager. Todd arranged bookings, scheduled events, entered competitions, negotiated on the telephone. Todd was still a major player on the Camp Bowie team, but the record shop had dropped in his priorities. On Truck Day, I was frequently the lone god. Rob heckled me, but he helped. For Todd, more employees picked up the slack and carried the weight. We wanted to help. From the beginning, we had wanted to support the group.
    Now, everyone could almost sense it.
    The Toadies, Todd, Lisa, Mark, and Darrel, they were about to become famous.
    Sure as hell hadn't happened overnight, though.


    "Brought in a batch of new Toadies tunes this morning."
    Todd strode into the back Office / Break Area and plunked down a jam box. The store wouldn't open for another half hour. I clocked in with Greg, Trina, Diana, Dan and Todd. I was still a new hire, so I listened to be polite. I had never heard of The Toadies. Didn't know Todd had just created the group with Lisa and Charles. (Guitarist Charles had departed Camp Bowie as I joined.)
    Anyway, I'm sitting on the couch with Greg and Trina listening to noise.
    I didn't like it. Sounded like crap.
    Not the music, not the group. The recording. Todd had found an empty warehouse, car chop shop, slaughterhouse for practice sessions. The cassette was awash in feedback, echo, distortion, overload. Rehearsals of a raw band torturing instruments. Todd, howling away in a muddy mix, Lisa still learning how to play bass. Charles himself would laugh if someone called him a precision style guitarist. The drumming? Wasn't Mark, wasn't even Matt (Madison).
    Todd snapped off the the tape deck. Looked about.
    Greg and Trina gushed that it was great. Maybe I was just fucking old. Those two were 10 - 12 years younger than I.
    Todd looked at me.
    I shrugged. "Kinda murky, Dude. Hard to hear through all that distortion."
    Todd stared, expressionless. "Distortion is what this group is all about." If he was insulted, irritated or annoyed, he didn't show it. Todd had a good poker face.
    Over the months, everyone heard more taped rehearsals. Band technique improved significantly, slaughterhouse acoustics did not.
    They began making and selling cassettes. Todd turned to coworker Dan for artwork. Those cassettes, by the way, professionally recorded at Crystal Clear, didn't sound like amateur hour floundering.
    Club gigs were becoming realities.
    Week night.
    Zelda and I paid cover, bought drinks, then sat near John, Pat and Little E. Greg, Amster and Layla were in a booth with Dan and James. Behind us, Gilda, Rob, Trina, João and Josh yelled. There were other people, all friends of the band, and not a lot. The venue was cozy.
    We were at The Hop, a small bar on Berry Street.
    Weekends were for "name" bands, week nights for nobodies. Correction, nobodies never got bookings to begin with.
    Toadies were performing and celebrating Todd's birthday. Combination event!
    The Hop manager leaned across the bar and smoked, appraising the band and tables. Weary and jaded. Clearly, he'd seen it all. Young punks clawing their way up, has-beens sliding down. New acts that turned a profit earned repeat chances for the weekend slot. Groups that lost money ... they tried their luck at Axis or Joe's Garage. Tonight's audience numbered twenty five or thirty. Period. Sound Warehouse coworkers dominated, along with buddies and fans.
    Matt, long haired and shirtless, pounded away on drums.
    Tracey shifted around near the back, layering rhythm.
    Lisa stood anchored in front of her amp, over which she'd masking taped FUCK FUNK.
    Charles rolled around and hammered away on a hapless Gibson.
    Todd wailed, screamed and dodged a constant artillery barrage. Fans tossed flour tortillas, Frisbee like, throughout the set. Remember, this was his birthday.
    Receipts must have passed the mark. The group was invited back. They also began opening in clubs in Dallas, Denton and thereabouts.

    After a certain level, local music brokers began to notice.
    Club owners and radio personalities.
    Sometimes they could help, other times ...
    There was an influential radio personality. A deejay. Aired local bands and major alternative acts.
    Never placed The Toadies in rotation. Never cast one song.
    "Man, those guys are really angry," was one his responses.
    Another excuse, usually quipped after an on-air request, "Oh yeah, The Toadies. For who, their sixty fans?"
    Didn't know if he was referencing Elvis, Ochs, or just being cute. No matter. The celebrated radio host never played the group.
    Cassettes, Slaphead, Dig A Hole then Velvet, were sold at concerts and in the Camp Bowie store. Dan had designed covers for the latter two.
    Radio stations would not broadcast the band. Corporate rockosaurs - college stations - the influential alternative joint.
    Program Directors couldn't be bothered. There were a couple of newspaper columnists, several club managers, and those pesky sixty fans.
    Then bookings tanked.
    Suits offered to "manage" the group. For a percentage. Venue performances were denied ... unless ... the band signed that management agreement.
    Financial coercion, all too typical on the Rock N Roll Highway. Shysters and hustlers, greedy for a cut or a slice here and there.
    Casual graft, the perils of success.
    Reference Badfinger.
    The band retreated to home turf in Fort Worth. The Hop, Mad Hatters, Engine Room.
    Even in Cowtown, however, betrayals occurred.


    Zelda and I were barred. We were at The Hop again, trying to pay cover. Under orders, the bouncer was carding everyone. Zelda had not brought identification. Last time Zelda had been ID'd was at the Whisky in the 70s. My drivers license showed I was 37. I blurted out that Zelda was older than I, which earned me a swift kick. We still didn't get in. The doorman wasn't the sharpest tool in the shed, but he was only following orders. A majority of clubbers were turned away. Guru hustled out and tried to argue us inside. Then Todd tried. No good.
    The group was being squeezed again. The less fans got in, the smaller the band's take.
    Once again, the "management offer" had been extended.
    The percentage skim.
    There were late night phone calls from all strata of personalities, reminding the group how much simpler life was with a little compromise.
    Most of us at Camp Bowie offered stupid advice. We were clueless, but we wanted to help.
    Dallas was a hot scene, I suggested to Todd he might talk to some of the other bands who had "made it." See if they had any tips.
    He thought that was a good idea. Whether he contacted anyone ... I don't know.
    This was a difficult period.


    After South By Southwest, the band's fortunes improved dramatically. They had wowed the audience, and caught the gaze of several labels. Contracts didn't happen, however. Don't know whether this was the group's reluctance, or the music machine was wary of Dallas. A few years earlier, a dozen Dallas groups inked deals. Only one had scaled the charts, and they had already faded.
    Most of those wheeler dealers extended offers over the telephone. Todd was in and out of the Backroom a lot. Very distracted.
    Deciding on which label to represent them was monumental.
    Of course, coworkers aired their suggestions. Restless, BMG, Reprise, Def American, RYKO, Sub Pop, Epitaph.
    To be honest, we knew shit. Plus, it wasn't our future at stake.
    One rep who actually walked into the Backroom was from Grass Records, a branch of the Dutch East India Trading indie line.
    They gave the band national exposure and distribution. Moreover, Grass delayed the band's decision about a major label awhile longer.
    During this period, the group lineup shifted.


    The only time I remember Todd actually asking for my help was for a Grass tribute album the band would participate on.
    Chairman Of The Board - Interpretations Of Songs Made Famous By Frank Sinatra.
    Every large music store had at least one resident Sinatra buff. At Camp Bowie, that was me.
    I brought in a pile of CDs that Todd listened to during several weeks.
    Eventually, he chose Luck Be A Lady because of the lyric, " ... A lady doesn't wander all over the room, and blow on some other guy's dice ... "
    He found that funny as hell.
    The Sinatra tribute came out. Pleather came out. The original artwork on Pleather was not Dan's. It was special, though.
    By now, local club doors were flung wide for The Toadies. Paradoxically, seeing them became increasingly difficult. The fanbase had exploded into an avalanche. Theaters and clubs were mobbed. Hundreds upon hundreds of followers packed sweaty joints. For many of the original Sound Warehouse crew, those who clocked out at 11:00 or past midnight, club doors were locked. They couldn't get in. They'd arrived too late. Shows were sold out and fire marshals enforced crowd limits.
    In a way, that was for the best. This was the end of an era.
    The Toadies didn't really need us any more. The sixty fans.
    Audiences were growing. All too soon, the group would leap from ballrooms to amphitheaters to arenas.
    You want your friends to do well in this world. To succeed.
    The Toadies had succeeded. It had not been easy, had definitely not happened overnight. The group had worked tirelessly, they had persisted, they had endured. They navigated through minefields, swerved shysters, found their voice, slammed their way into the light.
    Now and then, one of us might spy another early fan in the vortex of the concert hall.
    There would be that flash of recognition, then we'd exchange a knowing glance.
    Sixty fans can't be wrong.