The Waiting Game

Yesterday morning an old friend called from Los Angeles and recounted how earlier this month he and his band had their first real meeting with a bona fide record label. By all indications, the encounter went well and ended on a positive note with the record executive saying all good things about their music and hinting toward a time when they, record company and band, would share in a relationship both symbiotic and copacetic. He said he'd be in touch. Two weeks down the road, however, there's been no word; nor is aforementioned executive returning any of my friend's phone messages or e-mails. Seemingly a case of "Don't call us, we won't call you."

I told my friend that things are not necessary what they seem.

The thing is, he and I used to work in the service industry–transportation–where every aspect of our company's performance was measured daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly; this data was then shared with our customers so that they could better decide whether to use our services or our competition's. The idea of not returning a phone call or not replying to an e-mail is as unconscionable to him as it is to me. Except . . .

For the most part, that's not the way things work in entertainment–music, books, movies, whatever–where unreturned calls and unanswered e-mails are more the norm than the exception. Which is really ironic, if you think about it, given an industry whose ultimate goal is to please its customers.

But therein lies the answer: When we–musicians, writers, filmmakers, artists one and all–are doing our best to interest them in our wares, we're not their customers but rather their suppliers. Or at least we hope to be. Until they actually put a contract in front of us and we sign on the dotted line (which, come to think of it, is never dotted, at least not on the contracts I've seen and signed), we're nothing more than the unwanted call from the telephone company, the knock on the door from the missionaries, or the takeout menu left in our mailbox by the new sushi restaurant around the block.

What I told my friend was this: "Don't forget that right now, as we speak, there are probably hundreds, nay, thousands of guys around L.A. in bands who are wondering, What the hell's up with that guy at the record company? What you need to hang onto, in the midst of your completely understandable frustration, is that if the record executive were to reply to all of his phone calls and e-mails, he probably wouldn't have enough time left in his day to do what you're hoping he'll do in the first place: sign you and your band to a record contract."

Is it frustrating? Yes. Is it fair (to say nothing of good business or in the realms of politeness)? Of course not. I had a magazine editor tell me once, after expressing displeasure because I continued to follow up on a pitch after not having received a response in more than six months: "If we were interested, clearly we would have gotten back to you." "No," I wanted to reply, "if you weren't interested, clearly you should have told me so." Unfortunately, this is not uncommon; the delete button has become the answer to many a busy editor and agent's overburdened calendar and workload. Even enclosing an SASE with snail-mail queries no longer guarantees a response.

A line from Woody Allen's masterful 1989 film Crimes and Misdemeanors reminds us that all this is nothing new:

Show business is dog-eat-dog. It's worse than dog-eat-dog: it's dog-doesn't-return-other-dog's-phone-calls.

The Internet has just taught an old dog new tricks.

Could it be handled differently? Sure–and often it is. When I first submitted my short-story collection to the man who became my agent, he immediately e-mailed me to say that he'd received it and cautioned me that he was going to be out of the office for a while. "Therefore, if you don't hear from me for a week to ten days, it has nothing to do with my response to your writing."

But, then, he's a gentleman.

As for my friend, the days when a Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen can walk into John Hammond's office, play their songs, and almost literally walk out with a recording contract are sadly gone. Long gone. And so he waits.

It's how he's having to wait that's the problem.

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

As I promised in my last blog, I would like to devote today’s space to the person who most influenced me as far as the music I like, why I like it so much, and why I am the person I am today. That would be my brother Robert Allan Homewood.

More a father than a brother (since my own father worked so much he was rarely around – sorry, no sordid tales of divorce or prison time, just a dad with a son born late in life when he was earning decent money and had a family to support) Bobby’s love of music affected me a lot when we were growing up. With an eighteen year difference between our ages, Bobby had been exposed to music I hadn’t and was only too eager to share it with me, his nuisance of a brother. Cooler still, he could play guitar!

His favorites were the Rolling Stones, for whom he was a fanatic (no surprise that they are also my favorite band) and Neil Young. When I would ask him why all the people in the bands he liked looked so ugly and sang so bad he would just reply that rock and roll was about passion and truth other than looks or how well you could carry a tune. Of course, I am paraphrasing and shortening what he said but you get the idea that he was about the realness of music, not the facade and thank God for that as I have learned it and lived by it ever since. My brother wouldn’t tolerate boy bands and Britney and all the other poseurs who choke up the musical landscape. I don’t either.

To give you an idea: the first real concert I went to was with him in a little blues bar in Niagara Falls NY where we saw John Mooney, Duke Robillard from Roomful of Blues, and Muddy Waters. I believe it was 1980. Can you believe that? Muddy Waters!! I actually bought the tickets myself with money from my paper route as he just had a premature-born son and his job with Union Carbide wasn’t quite cutting it, but he suggested the show. He was killer! Muddy died soon after.

He was always a fan of the blues, and learned about them through the Stones, as I later did. He loved Muddy and BB and I remember going to record stores and buying blues albums because if I bought one he was interested in, he would let me come over (for a while he had a house across the street from my parents’ house)and we’d listen to it together. Often, his wife would come in the room and ask us what crap we were listening to but we understood how good it was. At least, HE did. I was just enjoying learning what was good and having fun with my brother.

My birthday hit when he was still having money troubles and I remember him giving me Damn The Torpedoes by Tom Petty and then asking me if he could borrow it because he didn’t have the money for two copies just then. He LOVED Tom Petty. And when I interviewed Tom Petty once, I told Petty this story. I don’t think he knew what to say. Bobby also liked Robert Palmer and Benny Mardones so he had a chinks in his armor like everyone else, though I still like that Mardones hit from the ’80’s. Makes me think of Bobby.

Robert Allan Homewood died in February of 1982 of a brain aneurysm. He was 34. It nearly destroyed me. I remember being called over to his house across the street by his wife Marie to get his albums and 45s because she knew he would want me to have them. I didn’t want them. I guess it was like I would have to admit he was gone. I took them anyway. For a while, I chased death like a hungry leopard. I was sixteen and not ready to lose my father/brother. I couldn’t kill myself, didn’t have the guts, so I tried to do it by ingesting any liquid, pill or substance I could. Luckily a friend got to me, and even had a drumset to bash on until the pain went away. I later learned to play pretty good and took up the guitar like my brother and play that fairly well too.

Everything I am I owe to my brother and father. After I finally got a chance to hang with my dad, I figured out my brother was just like him. Although only my dad loved Hee Haw. Now, I often give blues CDs to my dad for road trips (80-year-old guy still loves to drive)and he loves ’em!

I often wonder how my life would be different had my brother lived. I just wish I could share some of the music I have with him because I know he would like it though I am sure he is able to hear great music where he is. In fact, I AM sure of it.

Thanks Bobby – for everything.

The Music Nerd knows…..