Adios to all that
Sunset Boulevard. Not a street for beat-up kelly green, dinged-up Chevettes unless you’re a Mexican going somewhere to wash something or cut something or bus somebody’s overpriced, under-eaten endive and arugula salad with seared ahi slivers and a drizzle of Thai peanut sauce for 26. Not $26. Just 26. We don’t stoop to cents here, or even dollar signs.
The illegals’ cars were better than mine. Hell, I had the worst car on the road. No air conditioner, the driver’s window taped up. I’d had one of the top songs in the country three years before. A shiny new-artist deal with Clive Davis, the hit-maker. Now I was sneaking along in this piece of shit, going to Chappell to pick up my last check.
I parked next to a Beamer and Jolene’s new VW Bug. Hot blonde with the top down, so LaLaland. I once had had fun going with her to lunch, glitzing in to all the hip see-and-hope-you’re-seen places around town, to talk about my Arista deal, all the good shit that was coming down.
“There’s Donovan over there.”
“Oh hi, Frank. Have you met Alex Call? He’s a new hot writer we signed, you know 867–5309?”
“You wrote that? Fuck you! You did not!”
“Well, someone had to.” My big phony laugh. Hell, not phony. I was inside the joke. It was my joke. My joke!
“Congrats, I love that song! Hey, you should write with our new kid Michael, he’s going to be hot. Jo, call me about Saturday. Nice to meet you. I’m serious, Jo will set it up.”
The joke was on me now. The new, hot receptionist at Chappell never gave me more than a perfunctory, “Hey, how ya’ doin’?” on the best of days. She’d seen I was dead meat, but now she was really cold. She handed over the sealed envelope.
“We’ll miss you!” Her teeth were so perfect. That miss was like a little death in itself.
“Don’t you hate to have to use that word?” she might tell her friend over margaritas
“Yeah, but he’s kind of old, isn’t he?” Her friend would say, “like thirty-four or something? Hey, there’s Kim. Kim!”
Miss, hiss, fake kiss. Snake tongue. Se habla L.A. aqui.
Miss me? Sure you will.
No one came out of their windowed-sanctum offices, many doors of which were open. I could hear traces of conversations
“He is fucking not gay!”
“Haha. You are a real fucking shithead. That’s why I love you!”
“So, call me and we’ll get that together….”
“I love his energy.”
“Yes. Fine, fine, okay. Sure.”
I was cut out, the ghost of the new kid in town, standing out in the open area between the formerly-friendly offices, holding a folder with some papers and a small box of cassettes. The ice-foxy receptionist was busy making cassette labels for Mademoiselle X, the one who couldn’t even remember my name after two years in the same office.
“Oh. Oh, you write here?”
“Yes,” I said. For the ninth time, you cold-hearted bitch.
Two other nobodies scuttled by without looking at me. I was invisible now. My contract had run out yesterday. I waited, lingering for moment to give them a chance, but no one came out to wish me well. No one had returned my calls for months over there. I shuffled off, feeling the sloppy bagginess of my fat jeans and the crappy cheapness of my old purple Keds.
But, you know what? Underneath it all, I have a real gift. It took me a while to recover my senses, but on one otherwise formless, purposeless day, as I drove somewhere to do something, I had a new song in my head. Shit, this could be big. I’d never heard that title before.
For some time I called around a little, trying to find any interest in me out there in LaLaland. There wasn’t any. Once again, who wants you if you’ve been dropped by a competitor? Not good enough for them, not good enough for us. It’s also hard to sell yourself when you don’t believe in the product. It’s even harder when you have trouble picking up a telephone. Someone pointed me towards these two guys who had some sort of publishing company. I guess they had some catalog stuff, but it wasn’t a legit house with other staff writers. I took a few meetings with them, enough for them to determine that I was still under contract to Arista. If I made another album, these guys would get mechanical royalties when the record was pressed and shipped, an easy buck for them. They signed me for a year at a thousand a month, not a co-pub. They got all my publishing rights. It was a classic horrible, crap-ass deal with people I couldn’t relate to, didn’t like, and didn’t trust, but I had to take it. My performance royalties from BMI weren’t adding up to much. With the Chappell money gone, we were really going to be scraping by.
I took the contract to John Branca’s office for review. He was way too busy to see the likes of me. He had an associate meet with me. This associate attorney drove a purple Porsche convertible and looked like fuckin’ Sting on steroids. I felt like a fat fool with a bad haircut and ill-fitting clothes sitting in his fancy office as he told me what a lousy deal it was. He said, “We could find you something better.” But Branca’s office had already called around and hadn’t found anyone who was at all interested in me. I had a bad case of music-biz cooties. I was also financially desperate. I signed the god-damned deal.
Jim Keller knew this manager, Bob B, who met with me occasionally. He wasn’t managing me per se—we didn’t have a deal on paper—but he did give me regular advice. He thought he might be able get me another record deal if Arista didn’t want to make another album. Since I hadn’t heard from Arista in so long, I’d assumed they’d written me off. He wrote to them, asking for my release and they agreed to drop me, though this brought a call from Michael Barackman, “What gives? I thought we were making another album?”
I was taken aback. I told him I was following the advice I’ve been given. It was a lame moment for me. Barackman had been the biggest ally I’d had in my career and now I was asking to be let out of the deal he’d engineered. Truly, I didn’t think Clive had much interest in another Alex Call album anyway. I hadn’t heard from Michael for some time and nothing from anyone else at Arista.
I struggled to write more songs. I didn’t have a demo budget anymore, so I was back to making recordings on my squirrel-powered TEAC in my garage, exactly like before any of the L.A. nonsense happened. 867–5309. Pat Benatar. Chappell. Arista. My MTV video. My lunches at Musso and Frank’s. My new-kid-in-town status. All that glorious shit was gone, and I was just another fat fuck out in Canoga Park, fending off crazy-eyed gang members when I played basketball at the local playgrounds, and driving around in my non-air conditioned kelly green Chevette with the taped -up window, wearing sweatpants.
You remember that “Seinfeld” where George starts wearing sweatpants? “Sweatpants mean you’ve given up. Or you’re really, really rich.” I didn’t fall into the latter category, that was for sure. I had a few guys to work with: Dean Cortez was a great bass player who hung out. Keller came by a little. I was still trying to imitate what was on the radio. Prince was big. The Jackson Five were happening. Madonna was huge. Ronald Reagan was president. It was all very depressing. I was way out of my element now, grasping at straws. And I was now living in Canoga fuckin’ Park. No offense, Canoga Park, but you sucked.
In an extended reprise of Clover’s miserable Scoreboard period, I was becoming a bloated mess. Our home life was terrible. I was, in fact, the total loser I’d always thought I was. Ironically, the same loser my wife told me I was. I had my big chance and it went nowhere. All my so-called friends in L.A. had turned their backs on me.
“Whatever happened to Alex Call?”
“I don’t know, maybe he moved back to Marin.”
In my dreams.
( excerpted from my book, “867-5309/Jenny: the song that saved me”, available online at Charles River Press/Amazon/Barnes & Noble – hardbound or ebook..OR, BETTER!! buy an autographed hardbound copy direct from me …message me on Facebook Alex Call or at firstname.lastname@example.org..GREAT CHRISTMAS PRESENT FOR THE ROCKER ON YOUR LIST!)