Song Of The Day 3/14/2017: Lou Reed – “Egg Cream”

The Final 16

Sheet Hassle

My favorite music business story isn’t something that happened while in the course of my professional duties. It’s about when Ian punked Lou Reed with his own review.

Ian and Kristina were visiting from Seattle. We found out that Lou Reed was doing a record signing at Tower Records Sunset. This was around the time of Lou’s somewhat underwhelming release Set the Twilight Reeling. Probably around the time that we could start calling it “late-period Lou.”

We thought, hey, when’s the next chance we’re going to have to be within spitting distance of a real punk rock luminary and fall under the spell of his weathered, disinterested eyes? Maybe never, but definitely not for another month at the earliest, we decided. So we got in line at Tower.

Ian and Kristina did not have CDs for Lou to sign, since they were broken of the habit of taking their Lou Reed collections with them on long trips. But I had three in my car, which doubled as an CD bin: Set the Twilight Reeling, New York and Walk on the Wild Side: The Best of Lou Reed.

Ian couldn’t have cared less about celebrity or not getting credibility from Lou Reed—I don’t think that was something he was expecting to get on vacation anyway. So he took the greatest-hits collection. Kristina got New York, which is a spectacular album that anybody would have been happy to sign. I took Twilight because I wanted Lou to think I cared about his latest product enough to buy it outright. There was something on the line for me there.

So we’re in line for about an hour. Exhausted of topics to talk about, I decided to go and get a copy of Tower Records’ free magazine Pulse! so we’d at least have something to read. Smartphone liberation was still a good ten to fifteen years off, so we had to read hard copies.

I leafed through Pulse! to the album review section, which is where I always started. The lead review, coincidentally, was for Set the Twilight Reeling—and they trashed it.

Tower Records, the very establishment that was hosting an autograph signing for Lou Reed’s Set the Twilight Reeling campaign, mercilessly ripped the album apart, giving it a one-out-of-five-star review. We found no small irony in that, and were wondering if Lou had known about it.

Ian came up with a good way to verify that Lou would at least see it: He’d have Lou sign it. Instead of some shambling greatest-hits deal, he’d just have Lou scrawl his name atop a truly unflattering review of his own album, by the same company that was giving him bottled water and snacks for showing up in a cross-promotional event.

I love (most of) Lou Reed’s music immensely. But this seemed like something that had to be done. It was a very Lou Reed thing to do. And Ian was the one to do it, because I had all the bravery of a cocktail napkin.

We got to the table Reed was sitting. Guess what? He wasn’t too into it. I got up to him and nervously handed him Twilight. He signed it and shook my hand with less enthusiasm than anybody I’ve ever come in contact with. Then he signed Kristina’s New York album.

Ian got up to the table, folded the magazine over, ran his finger across the review, and said, “Right there.”

And of course, this being a Lou Reed story, Lou Reed signed it without incident. Didn’t even flinch.

Goddamn, I’m happy to have been part of that episode of Behind the Music.

The Greatest Record Store Ad Campaign in Record Store Ad Campaign History

Working with Clark gave me the opportunity to do something that must seem like something I should have done by that point but mysteriously never did: work at a record store. I mean actually sell people CDs, stock the shelves, choose what to play in-store, straighten the pile of alt-weeklies, look exasperated. Record store employment was something that should have happened when I was 16, but Tower Records by Birdcage Mall in Citrus Heights thought I was desperately trying to look cool when I applied.

After a couple of years in the marketing business Clark opened up Off/Beat Records in Redondo Beach. So I supplemented my marketing income with some real actual store work. It was like Undercover Boss, if I was actually the boss, and if anybody else had been around.

I did fine. But what I was really proud of was the advertisement campaign I came up with for Off/Beat, one that would run in LA Weekly (or whatever South Bay rags there were at the time). This was when I invented the lovable print mascot, Off/Boy.

Have I ever told you about my accomplishments as a visual artist? No? Well, that’s because I have none. I can’t draw to save my soul. Two things I have never done convincingly: dance or draw. So you could say I was approaching the task of inventing Off/Boy from an outsider’s perspective. A novice, if you will. And you had no choice, so you did.

Off/Boy was a stick figure that I came up with by messing around with Microsoft Paint and Publisher. Uh-huh. MS Paint. We had Harvard Graphics. I opted not to use Harvard Graphics. I went with MS Paint for that urgent look.

Off/Boy had a massive head with eyes that peered to the right, a straight line for a mouth, and… look, he was a stick figure, okay? There aren’t too many ways to mess that up. Or perfect it. But at least you can’t mess it up.

The ad copy was different every week. It was basically a short story comprised of short sentences and no prepositions. I don’t have any copies of my work, but it would read something like this:
This is Off/Boy.
Off/Boy in hospital.
Off/Boy get too ambitious with salad tongs.
Tossing accident.
Look, here comes kid clown to make Off/Boy feel better.
Clown has joy buzzer.
Clown squirt Off/Boy in face with tricky flower.
Clown tells Off/Boy all the knock knock jokes he knows.
Off/Boy rings for nurse.
Off/Boy asks nurse to take him off life support.
I was mysteriously not contacted by Adweek for an interview about my innovative approach to print ads.

But—and both Clark and I have noticed this—somebody ripped off the Off/Boy character for some very suspicious memes that have been circulating on the internet the last couple of years.

I mean, it’s a stick figure making some pronouncements that probably any 7-year-old could hack together. But we came up with it. And we had the tools to execute it. What, you think everybody who had Windows 95 had MS Paint on it?

…they did? Oh. Well… we maximized it, pal.

Brentwood Ending

I’m leaving some crucial people out of this part of the story, for which I apologize to the reader, but I’d feel better if I didn’t mention them and I think they would too. Just know that there were other people there.

I did not have a bad time in LA. I’d come to appreciate it for what it was. I certainly had more access to a lot of things down there and I think I took advantage of most of them. If I’d stayed there I don’t know what would have happened. Sometimes I wonder. But I lucked out. I got to work with some great people, including Clark and the late, great, sorely missed Joel Oberstein. I lived in nice places like Silver Lake and South Pasadena.

But after I’d been in Los Angeles for almost four and a half years, there was a window of opportunity to go back to the Pacific Northwest.

For all the crap that happened on a personal level there, I made some very fast friends with whom I did a lot of very satisfying art-type projects. And partly because my time there with WATT was such a shitstorm, I felt I never really got the chance to do what I needed to do.

Shrug Festival wasn’t finished, for one thing. KAOS was my only viable radio outlet. There’s no way actual big-city stations like KCRW (or KEXP) would take on my quivering mass and put me in charge of a mixing board and a turntable, so I thought it would be nice to pick that up again and see where it went.

I was happy to leave Los Angeles with net-positive impressions, gang initiation hits notwithstanding. But I never wanted to leave the Northwest in the first place, and although I’d made a few friends in Southern California, not many of them were close, and I wasn’t really in any of their communities.

So, although Dodger Dogs and Randy Newman put up valid arguments in favor of my staying in Los Angeles, I cashed it all in and headed north. Lock up your hummus, hippies—I was going back to Olympia.

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