Sunday, June 24, 2018

Jobs To Nowhere (Take II): The Return To Michigan

Suggested Soundtrack: Chinatown (Closing Credits)

<Storyteller's Note: The following account is true, though strictly personal and anecdotal, is true. The names have been changed, masked or omitted to avoid retribution from the guilty.>

Lou Reed it said well: "Things go from bad to weird." Long story short: Chicago didn't agree with you or the wife. Throwing in the towel didn't feel like an angst-inducing decision....not after three years of slaving for $9.75 an hour for eight hours a day. Three years of getting up by 7:30 a.m. and walking four lengthy blocks to the pigeon shit-splotched bus stop (where you spent an hour day commuting to and from the well-off suburb, where your employer was located). Three years of living in a mouse-turd-infested apartment that your slumlord shrugged off by saying, "Just get some traps." 

Bottom line: You and Illinois are breaking up what's now a hate-hate relationship. Funnily enough, the return to Michigan materializes faster than you'd imagine. You apply to several reporting jobs, including one in Holland, whose editor advises that they've just filled that particular spot. 

But their sister paper in southeast Michigan has needed somebody for awhile, so it sounds like they won't get terribly picky, the guy suggests: "Want me to send your resume and clips down there?"

"Yeah, sure," I shrug. "Might as well check it out." 

What happens next recalls a quote attributed to Hunter S. Thompson: "The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side."

Compared to some job searches, this one feels more painless than most. You only need a week to work out terms (including two interviews). Your new boss also has you call up somebody to get information on some topic or other, for a story that'll never see the light of day. Obviously, it's your audition, but it's a weird experience, especially when the woman you call waxes suspicious: "If you're a reporter there, how come I've never heard of you?"

Your response is the essence of breezy reassurance: "Oh, don't worry. I'm new to the area. I just started this week, so I'm still getting used to it."

A couple weeks later, you and the wife settle in. You wanted a change? You got it.  You're in another small town, though far more rural and right-leaning than those you've experienced. There's no lack of self-styled home churches and militia leaders here. It's the kind of place where even the occasional millage renewal doesn't pass, because people are so suspicious of government (what do them damn revenooers want now with my money?).

It's also a place where you have to get cable, because you're so remote, only one "regular" TV channel comes in. Once the sidewalks roll up, mostly by five or six o'clock, you have to improvise your own snacks and entertainment. That's OK, for now. The low cost of living is enough to convince you that your money will go a lot farther here.

Your first few months pass in a haze of the usual city, county and township government meetings, the occasionally interesting feature, and endless busy work -- like typing up briefs or obits, plus cranking out additional articles for tabloid sections (or "tabs," as they're called, an experience you'll mortally despise -- more on that next time).

All the same, things go from bad to weird, and it doesn't take long. Your boss's preferred communication is the bitchy memo that she slaps on your desk, preferably after you've gone home. For example, she gripes that you're only working a 70-hour pay period, instead of the 80-hour mandated one (two weeks, Monday through Friday). 

Lunch hours don't count, though you're often working right through them. You never heard about that reality during those interviews, a situation aggravated by your boss's "snipe first, explain later" mode of leadership. You wonder what difference it makes, since you're hardly working a 40-hour week, anyway. The time cards that you turn in are pure fiction.

The Wednesday staff meeting poses another struggle. You must show up by one on the dot (a mistake that you only made once, as it earned you a bitch out). Most weeks, you're lucky to finish by two, even 2:30, depending how long your boss feels like expounding about the lameness of city government, the virtues of time management, or whatever else crosses her sprawling mindset.

It's an interminable gabfest that's barely a notch above your boss's preferred topics: big city paper jobs that she's already worked, big city paper jobs that she's scheming to get, or big city paper jobs that somebody else shouldn't have got. Evidently, the current gig doesn't feel satisfying.

But your boss has it all figured out. Once that fancy job in a bigger town falls in her lap, she'll find a cheap apartment, so she can commute on weekends. That is, if she wants to commute.

"Doesn't your husband get a vote?" you wonder. "Where does he fit into all this?"

Your boss's face pinches into its familiar dismissive sneer: "Oh, he can follow me."

You nod a fake assent, and trudge back to work. Your reflex is that of the consummate lifer: don't go looking for trouble. It's not worth the hassle.

That September, your world gets a jolt when your boss resigns, even though there's no big city paper gig waiting. The ad manager has just gotten promoted to publisher, and she's just furious. Why's that, exactly?

Like many who scale the promotional heights, the new publisher has impressive advertising  and business credentials, but zero on the journalistic side. Not that he seems to care, since he mastered the part that really matters: the workplace politics Olympiad. The office gossip is that, for years, he "ran" the original publisher, who's now retiring into the sunset.

Not surprisingly, then, your new publisher appears unfazed by his promotion. He seems most excited about the possibility of getting more golfing time with his drinking buddies, who include major advertisers like the local Spartan store. You get the feeling who he'll support, if push comes to shove about a story. That's how Mayberry RFD really works, right?

Still, the itch to resign proves to be one catchy virus. Within weeks, your two coworkers also quit, one to join his wife at a plum teaching job, the other back to her hometown, from which she'd commuted an hour a day. There's no dream gig awaiting her, either, but she's ready for a career rethink.

All these events come off as shocking and dismaying to the night editor, an old friend of my (now) ex-boss. She'll grit her teeth and hang on for another year or so, though not out of any real joy, but the dreary, mechanical grind of "gotta make a living, gotta make a living" ringing in her ears -- and yours, too, for that matter.

The irony's lost on you now, but it'll fall sharply into focus later, as the atmosphere continues its freefall, and your own standing grows ever dicier. As crazy and dysfunctional as the Bad To Weird Era sad as it sounds...soon, you'll realize look back and say, "Those were the good old days." Because your situation is about to get nightmarish. --The Reckoner

Monday, June 11, 2018

Punk Rock Art Photo: "Punk Sandwich (Exhibit A/B)"

<"Punk Sandwich (Exhibit A)"
Photo: The Reckoner
Sandwich: The Squawker>

This weekend, The Squawker and I celebrated the arrival of our first kitchen table in 20-odd years of urban/small town living, and all the ups and downs that go with it. We got it free last Friday at a mission about 10 miles and 20 minutes south of our apartment complex. I think Squawker found it via the usual diligent online searching, but what a find it made -- as their policy is to put out whatever furniture that they don't expect to sell, right in front of their warehouse, for free. First come, first served, no questions asked, and all that.

So that's the brown surface you're seeing in the above photo. Time will tell if you see more of it, but at any rate, it'll make a wonderful addition, one that'll likely see many a dinner, and many an artwork, plonked down on it. As soon as as I screwed on the bottom component -- from the legs flowed -- bam! We were in business, all right.

Today's art photo reflects a different kind of diversion, one that came together hurriedly, as Squawker and I began fussing with our daily afternoon ritual: what are we gonna have for lunch

The title came to me as soon as i picked up my plate: "Punk Sandwich," because of all the ingredients weren't in the right place.

"Hey, I was tired, and hungry," Squawker laughed. "I couldn't wait for any longer. So I just slapped it together."

"No problem," I said. "I can make do." Spirit of CBGB's, and The Roxy circa '77, right? 

Make it happen. No matter what. One shot, that's all yet get. Sure, you're always under the gun. So what? Take your chance, and make it count. Take no prisoners. That's the game: no exceptions, no excuses.

So there you have it: "Punk Sandwich." Feel free to try this at home. or on the road. Oh, and -- don't forget to kick-start the immortal Ramones-ish countoff in your head: 


Oh, uh...and...bon appetit! --The Reckoner

<"Punk Sandwich (Exhibit B)"
Photo: The Reckoner
Sandwich: The Squawker>

Punk Art Corner: We Salute The Dawning Of Michigan Medicaid's Work Requirements

"This legislation is a twisted joke.
Even with the changes made in the House, 
it’s still a turd, a shiny turd, 
but a turd nonetheless."
<State Senator 
Coleman Young II (D-Detroit)>

"And those who are opposed 
to this legislation 
that encourages and enables 
someone on Medicaid
to go find work
or get degrees 

and still remain eligible
 for Medicaid are looking for reasons 
to prevent people 
from enjoying the joys of work."
<State Senator Mike Shirkey

<"Welfare should always
be a hand-up, not a handout.
But instead our current system
takes millions of dollars
from hard-working Michigan families
and gives completely free benefits
to people who are oftentimes
perfectly able to work 
and earn their own
health coverage."
<Tom Leonard,
MI Speaker of the House

"Republicans used 
every rule in the book 
to silence the voices 
of House Democrats
 and the people we represent, 
and when that didn’t work, 
they threw out the rulebook.
 I am disappointed 
in Speaker Leonard, 
and I expected better."
<Sam Singh,
MI House Minority Leader
(D-East Lansing)

“We have had a meeting of the minds 
to say let’s find that common ground. 
It’s a complicated thing, 
so we’re working through that."
<Governor Rick Snyder>

"Medicaid is not a jobs program, 
it is not a work program. 
It is a health care program."
Rep. Yousef Rabhi
(D-Ann Arbor)


"If this is going to be a Christian nation
that doesn't help the poor, 
either we've got to pretend
that Jesus was just 
as selfish as we are,
or we've got to acknowledge 
that he commanded us
to love the poor
and serve the needy 
without condition -- and then admit
that we just don't want to do it."
<Stephen Colbert, Comedian>

"We have this strange thing 
in our politics
 where people get elected 
promising to bring back 1950s jobs,
 when we can’t fill 2015 or 2017 jobs.
That’s the core conflict 
that is unresolved in all this.”
<Scott Miller, 
Trade policy expert,
Center for Strategic
and International Studies>

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Jobs To Nowhere: Your Questions Answered

Seeing yourself discussed anywhere is a strange experience. That's certainly how I felt after scanning some of the Reddit links -- and reactions -- to my last post, "Jobs To Nowhere (Take I): The Post-College Comedown." The idea came from discussions that I had with The Squawker about how, and where, things went wrong for us, and what (if anything) we could have done to avoid getting burned so badly.

Or, as Hüsker Dü's Bob Mould aptly stated (on signing their major label deal with Warner Bros.): "To me, you think, 'Finally, we're changing things.' But you're being changed by things as much as you're changing things. It's a two-way street. I only know this years later. At the time you have no idea -- the tornado spins and if you can grab your shoes as they go by, you're doing well."

With that in mind, I'm simply describing how each particular job affected me, and how I'm looking back on it. This is a personal account, not a news story, so there's no equal time rule here. Don't look for me to ferret responses from any former bosses, because they wouldn't do it for me, if the roles were reversed. 

Now, for the housekeeping bit, starting with this question from our friend, Top Hyena:

>I guess there will be more parts?<

Yes. I'm planning to write about three more jobs. I suspect that means three more posts -- maybe four or five, depending on where I break off the narrative. To simplify my task, I've emphasized some facts or aspects more than others, or else you'd end up writing a book, which isn't the goal here.

That brings up our points of clarification, starting with this SuaveMiltonWaddams nugget:

It sounds like Dad was buoyed up to the middle class as a beneficiary of the Cold War, and raising his son as a "little gentleman" who can go on a Grand Tour of Europe, dabble in music and the arts, etc., was his way of reminding himself that he'd made it. Trophy son. :) <

Trophy son? Not really because my dad and I weren't getting along at the time. Not all of it stemmed from wanting to go overseas, though. His business was falling off, so the resulting stress did a lot to stoke tension in our household, anyway, about how we were paying the bills. 

Nor was he a "beneficiary of the Cold War," because he was German, not American. That's why he came to America, as he and his family were barely surviving in a defeated, war-torn country whose "economic miracle" was a long way off. 

Even then, he spent about a decade working for others before starting his business -- and, like most small business owners, waited at least a couple of years to reap any rewards from his new venture. We lived modestly in a small coastal resort town (population: 8,700). I don't recall seeing any Ferraris or Lamborghinis whizzing through my neighborhood. 

>"Unfortunately, most never realize Adams' corollary, "If you get the children of your enemies to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain, they will never study politics and war, and our own positions of power will never be threatened."<

Nobody slipped that memo to Robert Mugabe and his guerillas, who cited Bob Marley's music as a big part of their soundtrack while fighting in the bush. Their affinity for reggae music didn't stop them from toppling Ian Smith's regime, and forcing his government to step down by 1980, did it? I think not.

How about George Orwell, one of many, many artists who picked up a rifle and fought for the Republic against Francisco Franco's Fascist cohorts during the Spanish Civil War, in the '30s? I don't recall him saying that his day job (columnist, journalist, novelist) handicapped his military service there. 

For similar examples, please go here: short: nice try, but no cigar.

Now, let's move on, to this little tidbit from CakeBoxTwo:

>Wah! I had to cut my post college Europe trip short to get a real job! So relatable...his privilege is showing.<

During my six-month stay in London, I held two clerking jobs. The high cost of living wouldn't have allowed anything else. The first job paid £125 a week (or $200 US then). After three months, I transferred to one that paid  £150 ($240 US) a week. With rent set at £28 ($44) per week, not to mention food and transport, I still had to watch every pence and pound coin carefully.

I took two trips to Europe during Christmas and Easter breaks, just like my co-workers. My musical activities usually happened on Saturdays and Sundays, which were my days off -- just like my co-workers. My bandmates all had day jobs, as well. So, no special breaks there, I'm afraid.

Going to the UK meant joining a program that handled all the paperwork, so you could work there legally. I paid an $850 fee, which didn't include the airfare ($450, nor the initial cash I brought to tide me over ($500, I believe). After all, the program only allowed you to apply for the jobs. You had to take it from there, which I did.

To raise the money, I worked every weekend for my dad in the last six months of college -- plus another four months after graduation. We worked Monday to Friday, depending what needed doing, but I remember pulling quite a few Saturdays, too. 

>Yeah working real jobs instead of playing Guitar Hero in Europe sucks>

I've never been a Guitar Hero, then or now. 

As a bass player, I didn't figure in that competition. The band was a psych-punk-garage ensemble, so the traditional weedly-weedly merchant wasn't relevant to the songwriting or the stage presentation.

<...but that's what adults do.<

Not according to a Gallup poll from October 2017, where 85 percent admitted hating their jobs and hating their bosses (when surveyed anonymously). Most other polls that I've seen consistently peg the amount of unhappy workers at one-third to two-third, at any given time, so I assume they're not skipping in the air and singing, "Hi ho, hi ho."

Changing the future means confronting little items like hostile work environments, and the psychopaths who run them. That goes for the other themes I've tackled, whether it's food insecurity, health insurance woes, or the digital sweatshops that would make a 19th century robber baron swoon with delight. This blog is a small, but needed, step in that direction.

We owe it to ourselves to challenge these things, instead of marching about like zombies, muttering, "That's the way it is...that's the way it is....that's the way it is." 

Imagine if the East Germans in November 1989 had gone that route, instead of hitting the streets, and speeding their horrible regime's collapse. I remember that image, too, like yesterday, and it's one of many reasons why I refuse to give up. So...on with the series. --The Reckoner

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Punk Rock Art Photo: "Ghost Handprint On TV"

<"Ghost Handprint On TV">
<The Squawker>

<Click on the above image, 
to get the full effect!>

Sunday afternoon: The Squawker and I have just come back from the beach, and a little drive around town, taking shots of whatever suits our fancy. We've just come home, when Squawker frowns, and puts down the camera.

"What's the matter?" I ask. "Is the lens stuck, or something?"

"No. Look at the TV."

"Huh?" I shoot a glance over at the TV set. "Oh, wait, you mean..."

"Yeah. There's a handprint there. Did you put your hand there?"

"Hell, I don't know," I shrug. "Maybe. It's not the kind of thing I'd remember, if I did..."

"Just put your hand there, and see if it matches."

I duly walk over, and compare my right hand against the print. "Kind of matches, I guess. Satisfied?"

"Yeah." Squawker sighs, as only Squawker can. "I just want to make sure nobody's coming in here while we're gone."

"Fair enough."

Note to Casper, and all his white-sheeted friends: next time, leave a better calling card. Or, at least...more definitive proof of your existence. --The Reckoner

Friday, June 1, 2018

Jobs To Nowhere (Take I): The Post-College Comedown

Suggested Soundtrack: "Fast Car" (Tracy Chapman)

<Storyteller's Note: The following account is true, though strictly personal and anecdotal, is true. The names have been changed, masked or omitted to avoid retribution from the guilty.>

Fall of '90: You're 26, and starting your first newspaper job out of college. You're not exactly doing cartwheels, having returned from Europe...where you played in a band, for God's sake!...but you cope by telling yourself: it's a means to an end. That's all.

You are working on a music bio, that might punch your picket out of this humdrum small town reporting job that you just accepted. Or maybe you'll find a better, hotter job, in some bigger city. Who knows?

Your boss also happens to be your former college editor, so you won't feel alone. The $250 per week wage isn't overwhelming, but should keep Dad off your back, as he didn't approve of this European lark that he felt certain would turn into you a couch potato for life. Little did he know that, in only a couple years, the mainstream media will seize on this image (I sleep in Mom's basement, so I can do the rock band thing), and package it for mass consumption, with a label to match ("slacker").

Alas, though. Not much will change, except for an exponential increase of crappy movies aimed at this newly-minted demographic, accompanied by a slew of instantly forgettable soundtrack albums, and pre-ripped jeans that can now fetch $25 and up at the mall. 

You duly put your head down, and dig into the job. The first year passes uneventfully, aside from the odd bust-up about this or that assignment...until the unthinkable happens, and your boss quits, just as your first year is coming to a close.


She hints darkly at her reasons. From what you gather, the demands of juggling home life against the daily grind have grown too difficult. Oh, and the nearest competitor -- located a half hour south, along the lakefront -- is offering her more money. An offer you can't refuse, as the Godfather would say. 

Now that your boss is flying the coop, she won't miss any of it, judging by remarks like these: "Hell, look at all the time I spend in the darkroom every week, developing all this film every week. When i started, that was never even discussed."

You nod grimly, and go back to work. The novelty of a second shift schedule (I start at 1 p.m.? Wow, I can sleep in!!) has long worn off. You feel your prime years slipping away in a haze of government meetings, the occasionally interesting feature, and plenty of busy work. The only relief comes on Friday, when your boss leaves at 5 p.m. 

The paper is delivered nightly to a printer -- actually, a sister paper in the chain -- some 60 miles away. You quickly suss that the building empties out once the driver shows up, which frees you up to leave by 8 or 9 p.m. It's only a small perk, but one you can milk to the hilt.

This issue surfaces at your last evaluation, just before your boss heads out the door. "I know you're not staying till 11 p.m. on Fridays," she comments, casually. 

You fight the urge to panic (Ah, shit, she figured it out!). Instead, you smile, nod, and before you ask if all is forgiven, quickly change the subject. She doesn't respond, because it's not her problem anymore. 

How much you can enjoy isn't clear, since you typically get home when people are in bed. It's a situation that bodes ill for any social life, let alone a dating one. How do you explain you're still living at home, because you can't afford your own place? That's a real romance killer right there. 

In any case, you don't have time to ponder the finer points of your existence. By years two and three, the atmosphere is sharply deteriorating, The general manager you first met got fired. His replacement is a great photographer and amateur human being whose home life inspires endless office gossip -- especially after he starts moving all his personal items, including his daughter's bed, into the rear storage room, kick-starting a period that lasts several months.

You constantly butt heads, not least because he's a stickler for Prussian-style punctuality -- not a minute late, dammit, or risk getting bawled out, or written up -- and arbitrary decisions, like his sudden decree to show up at 9 a.m. on Sundays. Aside from getting a head start on  the police log, or chasing the occasional fire, this whole thumb-twiddling exercise is largely pointless. To your new boss and general manager, though, it's all about looking busy.

In response, you begin working on your own projects, using the raw materials -- reporter's notebook, folders within folders, and the Recycle bin (a great way to temporarily hide rough drafts) -- to mask those efforts. The $100-400 you're now picking up per freelance article is proving a welcome supplement to your crap wage. Oh, yeah, and after a year of searching, you've finally found an agent for your book. Things are looking up. On that end, anyway.

You receive no raises for years two, three and four, but your bills never sleep. Among other responsibilities, you're carrying a $250 per month car payment, plus another one for your $1,750 college loan. (You're so poorly paid, it feels more like $17,050.) This is why you're still living at home, and putting bigger purchases -- like new pants -- on layaway. That even applies to leisure pursuits like the CD player and dual deck you need to dub, sell and trade bootleg live tapes, which you then sell -- yet another sideline you've developed, out of necessity.

The new general manager fares better. He comes and goes at odd intervals: no 10- or 11-hour days for him. His shirts and pants always look rolled right off the laundry press, and -- like all members of his class -- he drives a tanklike SUV that you always have to maneuver around, to avoid hitting in the parking lot.

Your overall mood towards the town you cover verges from bemusement, to outright contempt and distaste, depending on the assignment. There's the series of drug busts that the newly-arrived police chief orders,during the summer of your second year, to burnish his reputation. The total haul is $4,800 of crack cocaine and marijuana, between a dozen arrestees, or $480-something per person. Hardly enough to melt the paper, as Richard Pryor might suggest.

Those subtleties seem lost on the beat cops whopping up their success (small as it is) back at their HQ, where they're chowing down boatloads of pizza and bread sticks that the chief has ordered for them. You don't support the drug war, but there's no point in arguing here, so you just focus on getting specifics on the raid. You're a stranger in a strange land, and that's the end of it.

By the fourth and fifth years, your exit strategy is in full swing. You begin looking westward, to Chicago, which seems a bigger, more inviting target than the Grand Rapids and Lansing job markets you've failed so miserably to crack. The woman that you've met, and plan to marry, has moved there ahead of you, so it's long last, make it official.

Your home life, such as it is, is crumbling. Your father's contracting business is withering. due to a lethal combination of an overextended credit line, his own mistakes, and an equally flatlining economy that's scared people from spending money. Your job passes in a haze of fruitless attempts to form bands, or getting your book up and running, amid the never-ending mind games at work.

There's the memo, for instance, that suddenly pops up on the bulletin board, ordering you not to cash your meager paycheck until the official end of business, at 5 p.m. It's a handy reminder, if you needed one, of the paper's shaky underpinnings. Maybe that's why you're starting to see gaps in your paychecks that don't match the pittance you're used to getting every two weeks.

You feel uneasy, but say nothing. With your freelance career in full swing, you can make up the losses, for now. Being a young man, you're not sure what your rights are, and nobody seems in any hurry to explain them. But the biggest reason for keeping your mouth shut is the simplest: you might lose your job. As crappy as it's gotten, you'll need it to earn some additional money for your long-awaited Chicago move.

By the fall of your fifth year, you finally make it official. Even though you haven't lined up a job in Chicago, you resign from the paper anyway. Enough is enough. Being a risk taker by nature, you're itching to move on. You've saved around $1,700, after following your future wife's advice to stop paying all those pesky bills. You'll need money for the move, and you don't anticipate seeing Michigan again any time soon. Your creditors will have to get over it.

Anyway, the money from all those reviews, retrospective articles and short pieces should tide you over for awhile, right?

Wrong. The $1,700 that you worked so hard to set aside will evaporate after your second month in Chicago. The struggles don't stop, although there are consolations. You live only 10 minutes or so from a lakefront ringed by glitzy restaurants, stores and luxury housing that neither you nor your girlfriend could ever afford. Welcome to city life. --The Reckoner

Until Next Time: After a failure to make urban life halfway tolerable, Our Humble Narrator flees back to Michigan, where he and his wife claw their way up out of poverty, and find some measure of hard-won stability. Before long, however, Our Humble Narrator's new job soon finds ways to spoil that old maxim: "The devil you know is the better than the one you don't." As you'll quickly find out, the former can be just as bad as the latter. Stay tuned, then.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Life's Little Injustices (Take XII): No Drummer? No Booking

Image result for hipsters suck

Every musician experiences their share of misadventure. I'm no different. I weathered many of them after My First Band, which probably sounds like Your First Band. 

Take the issue of getting shows, which are Your First Band's lifeblood. Without them, it's tough to justify all that time spent polishing those nuggets into songs, let alone recording (God forbid), or assembling, a release that somebody might want to buy (God forbid, again).
You wouldn't hire a plumber sight unseen, so why buy a record you've never heard, right?

However, unless you're well-connected, getting to play venues that don't treat you like dirt, and pay decently, is next to impossible. I'm as DIY as the next man, but surely, Your First Band benefits from treading a few well-established boards, right? Remember, whether you book the gigs, or someone else does, you face the same challenge: getting people to show up (God forbid, yet again).

Then why's it so hard to score decent shows? Because the venues that matter are often run by a clique that spends much of its time and energy clanking up the drawbridges of their real or imagined castles against those dreaded outsiders. Every local music scene suffers from this syndrome, to varying degrees. Some places are better than others; such is life.

I learned this lesson the hard way, when I tried booking My First Band at Club Snoot. Our guitarist suggested it, because their management worked in tandem with our hometown watering hole, Romanov's (an hour and 70-odd miles south).

"If you're in, you're in," my guitarist prompted. "Bands that play one of those clubs usually play at the other."

Thus encouraged, I dutifully phoned Club Snoot's booker, the bass player and frontman for a hot local prog-metal band. We'll call Grey Matter Cartel. (Storyteller's Note: Names have been changed to avoid retribution from the guilty. It sucks, but it is what it is.) 

I ran down My First Band's sound and credentials, such as they were, after roughly a year of existence. We seemed to get on okay, until I mentioned our present lineup: my guitarist, and yours truly (bass, lead vocals). "We're between drummers right now," I explained, "so we're getting by with a drum machine. That's how we started, anyway, so it'll do, for now."

Grey Matter Cartel's mainman immediately took issue. In several exhaustive sentences, he claimed that Club Snoot's crowd weren't used to such fripperies, which they might take for self-indulgence on our part.

Hmm, I thought, doesn't bother the industrial music crowd! Ministry, Skinny Puppy, Sisters Of Mercy -- you name it, nary a drummer among 'em, and nobody's ever asked for their money back! Hell, even conventional bands have done it, including Echo & The Bunnymen,  (sparking a rumor that "Echo" referred to the machine, one the band hotly denied using).

I thought the objections were stupid. This being the late '90s, drummers had often become increasingly sidelined by all manner of mechano-beats, which those big hotshot producers found more expedient to use in their increasingly over-arranged, overly polished scheme of things. Time is money and all that, right?

But I never got to explain those subtleties, such as they were, to Grey Matter Cartel's guiding light. The catch in his throat rang loud and clear: get lost. You aren't what I expect. You're dead meat.

He hemmed and hawed a minute longer. Finally he decided: "I'll book you when you have a drummer. Let me know when you do."

Click! There you had it. We didn't have a live human keeping the beat. Ergo, we couldn't be part of rock's holy trinity, its nuclear family, of guitar, bass and drums. That was that.

Club Snoot has long since closed, like so many dysfunctional dens of iniquity. Grey Matter Cartel itself called it a day in 2001. By then, the fellow I'd spoken to had replaced the whole band, with himself as the sole remaining original. So much for tradition, I suppose.

but after scouring the Internet, I've found no evidence of him releasing music after the mid-2000s. Aside from a couple of Grey Matter Cartel reunion shows that happened four years ago, he seems to have disappeared from the scene that he once lorded over.

So, while My First Band didn't go on to massive acclaim, neither has this gent, apparently. I'm still working, mostly on my own, which feels way more satisfying than dealing with the egos and excesses of trying to break My First Band. Or Your First Band, for that matter.

Roy Orbison said it best, I believe, and mind you, I'm working from memory. But the quote goes something like this: "Time takes care of a lot of things." That's my solace, and I'll have to take it. --The Reckoner