“That was Eric Clapton!” Jason more or less shouted at me, a half-dozen specs of his saliva forming an abstract pattern on my cheeks and chin. “I mean, wow, right?”
Jason was overweight. Not the morbidly obese kind of overweight they talk about on Nightline. More of a big-bowl-of-Jell-O-overweight that hung from his ribs like a bald rubber tire. It seemed to have its own orbit, and an inertia that carried his girth in the opposite direction when he walked.
Jason had been running mic cables to the drum kit which had obviously been enough to inspire a deluge of perspiration that cascaded down his feverish cheeks, adding a Rorschach inkblot to his vintage Hūsker Du t-shirt. It reminded me of a dead jellyfish I once saw bobbing at the edge of the Chesapeake.
I was first through the door, which put me at the confluence of a psychotic vignette as Jason dismounted the stage with all the grace of a hippopotamus falling out of palm tree, and barreled towards me. Behind me, six burly hipsters marched through the double doors carrying three long, black, leather couches blocking my escape. I felt an overwhelming urge to flee.
I put my back to the couch-toting hipsters thinking I had a better chance—given a running start—of stunning Jason long enough to close the distance between me and the emergency exit before the hipsters could drop the couches and tackle me to the ground.
But as I turned to face the enemy, my legs and shoulders set like a sumo wrestler, I saw I was too late. Sweaty Jason was upon me, his thick musk, an unsettling combination of saline and stale Gouda, forming an eddy around us as he swooped in on my position waving a battered drum mic in the direction of Clapton’s pate.
I momentarily imagined Jason dressed as Gene Simmons—something I do with every new person I meet, though for no discernible reason—but became unintentionally mesmerized by the mellow warbling of Eric Clapton’s head’s aura; a low, gravelly hum that mixed with my high, scattering my thoughts like loose change on the parquet floor.
Why would you put hardwood floors in a rehearsal studio? I wondered. The sound...
Concentrate, dammit. Say hello or something.
“Hello,” I said.
“Eric Clapton!” he answered. Had I given him the impression of my ignorance to the presence of the back of Eric Clapton’s head? Was I meant to prostrate? Jason was having a moment. His moment produced more sweat. I was having a different moment. I would rather have seen the back of Eddie Van Halen’s head.
“Huh,” I replied nervously. “The back of Eric Clapton’s head. Imagine that.”
“Yeah!” Jason replied.
“Whereyawanthis?” added the couch-toting hipster.
“So. Atlantic Records.” Jason intoned. His were eyes locked in a death struggle with my wandering gaze.
My eyes felt like sandpaper. I was tired, bent and twisted from too much time on the road. Not for the first time, I wished for a reliable cocaine habit.
I’ve never been able to sustain a penchant for stimulants. Though once, on a session at the old Sony Studios on West 45th street, I became embroiled in a turbulent love affair with a big pile of blow.
The producer in charge of making a record for DMX (the back of DMX’s head was nowhere to be found) had unfolded a glittering tinfoil pyramid to reveal what he proudly proclaimed to be five thousand dollars worth of “high quality shit”.
It sat on the mixing console next to 750 milliliters of Johnny Walker Black, an elixir which had the comforting effect of attenuating the indolent buzz in my ears, instilling in me a remarkably calm view of my bleeding gums. Perhaps I rubbed too hard.
“Michael Jackson is in the next room,” he informed me. “Fucking Michael Jackson!”
I did not see the back of Michael Jackson’s head.
Does that rate the experience higher or lower?, I wonder. Is it better to have seen the back of Slow Hand’s rock star skull, or to have been separated from the King of Pop by a mere four feet of sound-dampening wall-filler?
Say something else.
“The president is coming. That’s what they told me,” Jason offered.
Bush is here?
“He never comes to see bands.”
I had heard this same assessment from a few people. The president of a record label coming to see a band? He’s much too important for such things.
And yet, Craig Kalman, ¡El Presidente de Atlantic Records!, would be in this very room with us, a lowly baby-band. That’s what the industry calls you if you’re interesting to them despite your lack of any real success.
The room was gargantuan, its two-story ceiling held aloft by endless white walls that gave the impression of a high school gym. Jason conducted the symphony of couches into a U-shape at one end of our private arena, opposite a stage that could have fit hundreds of Eric Clapton heads, all wobbling like Weebles under the intense theater lighting.
“So,” I muttered to myself. “This is where rock stars practice.”
By the time I reached the stage, the rest of the band had broken off their chat with Cathy, the A&R rep assigned to our case. Cathy, who did not look nearly as good dressed as Gene Simmons, vibrated with a nervous energy she shared with twenty or so other junior executives who crowded the hallway hoping for some face time with Craig Kalman. I had the distinct impression we were just there to provide background music.
El Presidente was not set to arrive for another hour, which would give us time to set up and soundcheck. So I ambled up the stairs to the stage and wandered over to the bass amp.