Life is filled with near-misses and the occasional ripoff moment. I’ve done my best to put those moments behind me but sometimes I’m reminded of them. It happened again Thursday night at the Tidball’s show. Someone reminded me of a major ripoff in my life. A time I won, then lost a rap/r&b/soul talent search in Memphis. The winner of the contest was to receive a recording deal with Sony Music, which probably meant recording time instead of an actual contract to release music.
This happened in 2005. And I won the contest. They announced me the winner, right there on stage in the New Daisy Theatre on Beale Street. And then about a week later, I was informed that there had been a mixup on the vote tally and I had actually not won. The true victors were a four-piece r&b group who weren’t even in the contest but performed on the show anyway. I knew it was a ripoff and there was nothing I could do to change it. The organizers never tried to make any restitution to me for my loss. The underhanded nature of it gnawed at me for years afterward.
A year later I returned to that venue to perform a full set opening up for Black Francis on his solo tour. The staff remembered me and how upset people at that talent contest were about me winning. They thought it was funny how a guy drove all the way from Kentucky and won the whole thing over an entire city of Memphis hopefuls. But it was a ripoff.
Then there are the near-misses, the moments that a cool thing nearly happened. Like the time I nearly wrote a song with Black Francis. Let me explain.
“Threshold Apprehension” is a song from his 2007 album “Bluefinger”, a concept album about Dutch singer/painter Herman Brood (1946-2001). Charles invited me to submit some lyrics for the “Threshold” instrumental track but the caveat was that they had to relate to Herman Brood somehow. I did a little research on the guy and wrote a few sets of lyrics that weren’t used, which I don’t blame Charles for because I wouldn’t have used them either. To be fair, the subject of Herman Brood was not my fixation. It was his idea and his concept and what ended up on the album was far superior to anything I came up with.
My lyrics were mostly about Herman taking speed in the 60’s and playing with a band on US military bases. Interesting subject but lousy execution on my part. “Threshold Apprehension” was listed as one of Rolling Stone’s top 100 songs of 2007. Missed the boat on that one. A few extra dollars in my pocket, just a few.
Another near-miss was one of my songs nearly being released by another artist. Shooter Jennings produced one of my songs for singer Julie Roberts. That was over three years ago. I have a copy of it for my own listening but I’m pretty sure the entire project has been mothballed. A few extra dollars in my pocket, just a few. Julie has a new book out, “Beauty In The Breakdown”. I follow her on Instagram and she seems to be well and happy.
Every now and then, someone will bring up that I was on a Comedy Central game show, “Beat The Geeks”. I did ten episodes back in 2002 for their second and final season. Another lost opportunity, even though I actually got to do the show. They had me penciled in for fifteen episodes. I blew it. A few extra dollars in my pocket, just a few. Maybe the entire two years I lived in Los Angeles was a lost opportunity. I was surrounded by so many talented people who were working and making things happened but I was not in the right mind to do anything about it. Too mentally fried to catch the train. Full blown manic behavior, folks. I always thought I was on the verge of a breakthrough.
Was “Beat The Geeks” my moment? I’d hate to think so. I was twenty-four years old. I tried to build on it but I couldn’t. I joined an improv class at a comedy club but flamed out after eight weeks. I started a band that played about five gigs to mostly empty venues (some of these were the Los Angeles pay-to-play type of gigs, another outright RIPOFF scheme concocted by music business scumbags).
The pay-to-play thing is like this. They put you down for a date at a club, let’s say the Dragonfly club on the 21st. They’ll give you a block of tickets and tell you to bring them a certain amount of money on the day of the show. For us, it was $250. They didn’t care how we did it. Whether we sold 50 tickets for $5 or 25 for $10 or just showed up with $250 of our money and the same block of tickets they gave us to start with, it didn’t matter. That’s how you get on stage with pay-to-play. You have to hustle for weeks and weeks to get anyone to buy a ticket, even if they couldn’t actually come to the gig. Your name will be on the list of advertisements for the week of shows in the newspaper but unless you’ve got that money you don’t play. Ripoff. No wonder house shows became so prevalent. This shit has been going on for decades, going all the way back to the 80’s. Jane’s Addiction famously played house parties and built a following in Southern California while avoiding what was then a new pay-to-play scene.
The more I think about it, the more old moments like these come up and it makes me sad. I want to make this clear: the deals with FB and Shooter or Beat The Geeks were not ripoffs. They were just bad luck. Not my moment. Such is life. You weren’t meant to have that placement. You weren’t meant to have her for your girlfriend. That a&r guy wasn’t meant to show up in time for your set in Manhattan in 2007 (see? It’s all coming back to me and I HATE IT). You are where you’re meant to be and that sucks if you’re in a shitty place. You’d still be relatively broke. Still need help with things. Still not have what you need. Still not have that girl. Still not have all those songs recorded.
I hope nothing good happens to me again because I’m certain it will get fucked up somehow, either by me or by extenuating circumstances. Angels avoid me.