Dad was in show business. He managed talent. What I remember most was how he spoke to his clients. He loved them. He was their biggest fan.
Philosophy is the talk on the cereal box
One summer night, below street level, in the dressing room of the now historic Folk City, I was offered a major recording contract. A considerable detour for an Ivy Leaguer.
"Army, School or Work … or Freedom," was the track off that first album that I slated for the first single release. It was an anthem depicting a philosophy on life’s cereal box of options. The choice between the traditional Corn Flakes path versus the Lucky Charms of my alternative musings.
I was convinced the song would resonate with my audience, that it would be the foundation to build a fan base around. The label believed otherwise. They opted for the traditional "hit" — the formula song. The one that sounded like everyone else’s.
You can guess how that all worked out.
Choke me in the shallow water
Mother sold real estate in New York. She would often regard herself and her agent peers as unconventional people. "Agents," she would say, "march to a different beat … like artists."
Being unconventional can be a curse marked by dark days when reality won’t pair up with the dream. Mom had her share of those. They occurred between deals that would sometimes last for months. Dad would always brighten her up with his wisdom. I remember how he used to speak to her. "Don’t sweat the small stuff," he would say. He was her biggest fan.
Dad never sweated the small stuff or those things that were out of our hands. Instead, he’d detour around them. Dad was never one to choke in the shallow waters of complacency.
Religion is a smile on a dog
Dad taught me about detours, about the religion of alternative movement. School usually took place on the Long Island Expressway, in the thick of standstill traffic while he exited right onto the emergency lane racing for the nearest exit. Sitting, idling, engine running, sweating, complaining — that was all letting the situation control you. Small stuff.
1988. It was 2 a.m. when I entered CBGBs dressing to meet this band after watching their amazing set of original material. All four sat slumped in the same dingy chairs I sat in years ago. Sweat draining from every pour, they spoke about their frustrations over not yet having a major record deal. This was their 20th show at CBGBs and still no offers.
Idling. Complaining. Doing the same thing over and over. Part of the crowd.
Religion is a funny sort of thing. You need to take it on faith. As their new manager, I exited them off the crowded highway. We left NYC and toured colleges. Started using something called e-mail instead of postcards. I posted their music on Iuma.com — a pioneer Web site built in the ’80s populated by underground Indie bands. Few outside that niche knew anything about IUMA. I would have been one of them had I not chosen to seek alternatives.
1989. It’s late in the day. I’ve got mail. The sender turned out to be a major label producer who had been listening to the tracks on IUMA. I responded immediately. You could say he was an Internet lead. Two months later the band transacted their record deal.
What I am
Jonathan Washburn of ActiveRain recently wrote a post referring to agents as the talent of the real estate business. My mother insinuated that 30 years earlier. She used the word "unconventional."
I’ve seen how unconventional talent can get caught up in traffic. Eating Corn Flakes. Getting caught up in the crowd. Idling in complacency. Blind to lanes of alternative opportunity.
There is an entire orchestra pit of talent tuning their instruments for an empty hall. Waiting for the crowd to return. Dad would say that’s a death wait. He’d point to the right. To that emergency lane where risk and freedom go hand in hand. He’d say, “Do it. Put yourself in control. What have you got to lose.”
He’d know exactly what to say. He loved talent. He was their biggest fan.
I’m his son.
I’ll keep singing his anthem.
Until it becomes the hit I know it is.
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