memories of a hatchet man
We’re climbing to 35,000 feet this early Saturday morning and I have Iron and Wine coming out of my ear buds. So far I’ve listened to Peter Mulvey, Damien Jurado, Neil Young, Ruth Notman, Monsters of Folk and Sandy Denny covering “Candle In The Wind” (long before Sir Elton made it the princess’ song).
The lead flight attendant just announced that the movie contraption isn’t working and he has suggested that we sit back, enjoy the flight, talk to our neighbors, make some new friends and remember its the weekend…a time of relaxation and recharge. In other words, shut up and don’t complain. Deal with it. As the beverage cart makes it way down the aisle, the passengers seem placated so far. I’m busy…leave me alone.
When my alarm went off at 3:15 this morning I had already been up for several minutes as I’m cursed or blessed, depending how you look at it, with an almost-accurate internal time mechanism. My wife had agreed to wake up with me to drive me down to the San Diego airport and before we fell asleep a little past midnight, I set the automatic coffeemaker for her. Sadly, we awoke to the aroma of hot water as I forgot to put the Trader Joe’s Dark blend into the copper mesh filter. I don’t believe she found the humor in my mistake.
Megson, a band whose name I often confuse with Megafaun, just finished and is I’m now blessed with the Bonzo Dog Band doing the “Intro and the Outro”….”and looking very relaxed, Adolph Hitler on vibes.”
Quietly driving south through the fog this morning, I realized that this was the first time in over four years that I’d be traveling alone without the kids and wife. For most of my adult life I’ve been a business flyer. One sturdy rollaway and a briefcase. Zip into an airport, pick up the upgrade, check messages, take off. I had a wallet full of frequent flyer cards, hotel memberships that took me to the concierge floors for those free sunset drinks and pretzels, and mornings with the New York Times, fresh strawberries and a large glass window offering vistas of whatever city of I was in.
Isn’t this interesting? I could listen to my iPod on shuffle for a couple of years and never have Megson come up to bat, and now I have my second song from them in less than fifteen minutes. And who is Julie Peel? She’s nicely covering Neil Young from a long forgotten tribute album.
The ticket for the trip today to New York was paid for by using the last of my frequent flyer miles from Northwest Airlines, a company now merged or mushed into something else. I was a platinum cardholder when I ended my weekly business travel. The company I worked was getting prepared to exit the music business, and I was able to take along the last of 300,000 plus miles that I had left on my account. Over the last twenty years we’ve been back and forth over this country a couple dozen times, have done two trips to Europe and managed to get to Costa Rica last Christmas without spending a dime; a perk of the job I’ll never see again.
Red Horse just did “I Am A Child”, making me wonder what Apple programming algorithm gives me all this Neil-ness today; Kendel Carson and Kim Beggs followed. Wait…another Kendel Carson? What might be the odds of that…I have 24,128 tunes on my iPod and she occupies maybe only fifteen slots. Sometimes shuffle seems to have a mind of its own, and you wonder if its by chance or if there is something else at work here. Oh yes…this is dark and mysterious because it’s followed by yet another Kim Beggs song. I’m looking over my shoulder to see if there is a gypsy woman casting a spell on 20D this morning. Ah…Exene just arrived along with my coffee…perhaps were entering a new phase.
Most all of my business travel went like this: I would get up on a Monday at around 3:30 in the morning, drive to the airport and usually try to grab a non-stop that would be wheels up between six and six-thirty. After 9/11 I started using smaller airports for both the convenience of not having to be subjected to the big-city security measures and the idea that smaller planes and smaller towns were of less interest to a terrorist.
For some trips, just to make it interesting, I’d plan my itinerary based on lunch. Houston was always a favorite layover for Papadeaux Seafood and their signature Ceasar salad with grilled shrimp. I liked Kansas City for dry rub barbeque, Detroit’s deep dish pizza and Minneapolis offered Famous Dave’s ribs and chicken. On the way to Albany you could always squeeze in a side trip to one of to Boston’s Legal Seafood locations. I know its a tourist joint, but its a damn good one.
Todd Snider is riffing on his early years when he was playing at no-name bars. When do you think people will realize that he is an almost-lost and fairly unknown great American poet and folklorist ? The guy needs for more people to know him and his music.
Beginning in 2004 and through 2007, record stores and wholesalers started closing down by the hundreds. Suddenly, cities like Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Cleveland no longer hosted the headquarters of significant business partners and no presence was needed in sales or marketing positions. Almost all of the labels and distributors had staff located there, men and women who in some cases “owned the marketplace” by knowing not only sales of the business, but also radio, press, club owners and promoters. And one by one we all began dismantling an industry model that had prospered and grown after the second world war, minus a few dips here and there.
The Flamingos sing “they all disappear” from “I Only Have Eyes For You” that I ripped from the American Graffiti soundtrack. I love it when Wolfman Jack dedicates a song or talks over an intro. I miss the DJ personalities so much…in Philly it was Hy Lit, Jerry “The Geator With The Heater” Blavat, Georgie “The Man With The Goods”, Butterball, Joe Niagara and dozens more. A lost art.
So here’s how it played out: a decision would be made to shut down an office or eliminate a position. I would get the exit package overnighted to me…there’d be the final check, the COBRA health insurance information, a booklet of worker’s rights for applying for unemployment benefits, a letter offering a week’s pay for every year of service in exchange for releasing the company of any future claims against it.
Sarah Watkins is up singing “Same Mistakes”. She’s a San Diego person.
I’d call my employee the night before…usually someone I’d recruited and hired, worked alongside for five, ten or fifteen years, knew their families and the highs and lows of their life, had an emotional connection with them and a friendship. I’d say something like “Hey…listen…I’m flying to New York in the morning but am planning to stop in your city for a few hours. Can you meet me in the lobby of the airport Marriott or Hilton for breakfast or lunch?” At first they’d usually always be happy to hear I was going to take the time to stop and see them, but when I would end the conversation with “Listen…this isn’t going to be a great meeting for you”, they would know. It would be a sleepless night for both of us.
Patty Griffin’s “Florida” is ending and Kate and Anna McGarrigle are singing “You’re like a sore spot that would never heal”. Should you be a fan of the sisters like moi, I recommend that the latest box set of remasters and lost tracks will be of interest.
For several years until I couldn’t avoid the inevitable position of losing my own job, I was the corporate hatchet man. They say that somewhere around 5,000 people who’ve worked in the music business have lost their jobs in the past decade. I think it might be closer to double that when you take into account all of the retailers who have either closed their doors, merged or gotten out of the business of selling music altogether.
Buddy and Julie are singing about how “Love Snuck Up” and Hayes Carll has a hard luck song in “Heaven Above”…”Six pack of something, a bottle of pills, got to be a better way to get my thrill”.
This has been a fairly quick flight into Chicago where I’ll have two and a half hours to kill before I puddle-jump into Westchester County Airport near White Plains. I haven’t been to O’Hare for a few years…Karen met me at the Hilton for breakfast the last time and we said goodbye. Her biggest account had moved down to the Carolinas, Virgin Megastore and Tower Records were closing down and there just wasn’t any reason I could think of to keep her on the payroll. She was our longest employee…the first one hired when we got into the music business. She was a mom, in her fifties, lived in a small apartment, drove like a maniac and lived for her job. She’d treat the artists she represented who rolled through town as one of her own kids…shuttling them all around, answering all their questions, holding their hands and baking them chocolate chip cookies. She sent me a Christmas card the year after I fired her but I haven’t heard from her since. I hope she’s well.
Johnny Cash just shot and killed a man who was riding a horse, using his brother’s rifle. “I hung my head, I hung my head” he sings.
So do I.