Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Disappear the Scumbags

Right after college, I went to work as an editorial assistant for a big record company known for having released the first Jimi Hendrix album with ugliest cover in the history of the music business, and for a series of wry print advertisements inspired by Doyle Dane & Bernbach’s famous VW ads. As an editorial assistant, it was my job to compose little blurbs about a million artists I’d never before heard of and didn’t much like for the company’s celebrated series of loss-leader promotional double albums. There wasn’t very much about the job I liked, except getting to meet Ray Davies, then one of my idols. My disdain for the work showed, and after two months it was suggested that I vacate my office and go “on retainer.” This saved me having to drive back and forth to sweltering Burbank every day (from Venice), and to commune to my heart’s content with the old Jewish widows and drug addicts who were my neighbors.

About two months into the new arrangement, my alleged superiors summoned me to Burbank for a conference held in the secret subterranean executive bunker beneath the building. Before I was allowed inside, I was blindfolded, and those with whom I conferred imitated various Mel Blanc-voiced cartoon characters to make doubly sure I’d be unable to identify any of them before a grand jury, or even a more modest one. They hadn’t been very pleased with the blurbs I’d been writing, but they were prepared to continue to pay my weekly retainer if I would disappear the boyfriend of a girl singer they’d just signed, Bliss Rampike, who they believed might become the next Janis Joplin.

I had never heard disappear used as a transitive verb before, and wasn’t entirely comfortable with the idea, but it was clear that to refuse them would be tantamount to handcuffing myself to the steering wheel of my car, or a borrowed one, tossing the key well out of reach, and letting the engine run at length in a garage around the periphery of which hand or other towels had been crammed.

Bliss was the apple-cheeked daughter of a God-fearing dairy farmer and his elementary school wife from Eau Claire, Wisconsin. One of the company’s talent scouts had discovered her singing in a bar in Milwaukee though Bliss herself was a tee-totaler. It was only after the company had flown her out to the West Coast to work with a noted producer my attorneys have cautioned me not to identify that things began to go wrong, as she fell under the spell of a session musician we’ll call Rex who was addicted to heroin. Bliss felt the producer she’d been assigned didn’t really understand her music, and would often flee her own recording sessions in tears. It was on one such occasion that she “fixed” with Rex for the first time. She was soon a full-scale addict, Decade before it was fashionable either to hate your record company or to have a tattoo, Rex persuaded her to have the words Fuck [name of company withheld] tattooed across her sternum.

Rex was known to carry a knife and to know not only feng shui, but other, even deadlier Oriental marital arts too, so I was in no great hurry to confront him, but getting him out of Bliss’s life turned out to be no more difficult than dropping a piano on his head from a fifth floor window on Colostomy Street in San Francisco when he and the rest of Bliss’s band flew up to accompany her on a series of Bay Area dates. I like to imagine, even though I realize that he was an irredeemable scumbag, that he never knew what hit him.

It was all in vain. Bliss was dismissed by Rolling Stone as a poor man’s Janis, and her album reached only No. 192.

Nonetheless, Amy Winehouse’s record company decades later asked me to arrange a similarly tragic end for her own scumbag boyfriend, Blake Cecil-Fielder, but by this time everyone was using electronic pianos, which weigh a fraction of the real kind. In order to kill someone with one, you’d have to drop it from at least the 12th floor, but from that height, your chances of actually hitting him would be negligible. In response to my offering to write a couple of songs for Amy instead, her management told me to fuck off, which isn’t nearly as scalding an imprecation in the UK as it is here, because they’d been saying fuck there for centuries before Columbus was so much as a tingling in his father’s loins. Oddly, it’s cunt that the Brits think of as the foulest word in the language.

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