Everything I'm Cracked Up To Be: A Rock & Roll Fairy Tale
In a series of dizzying, hilarious, heartbreaking snapshots, Jen Trynin captures what it's like to be catapulted to the edge of rock stardom, only to plummet back down to earth. "Everything I'm Cracke"With plenty to say and ample musical gifts with which to say it, Boston newcomer Jennifer Trynin is poised to join the upper ranks of Gen-X alternative rock queendom -- One of the year's best debuts. A revelation." — Billboard
It's 1994 — post-Liz Phair, mid-Courtney Love, just shy of Alanis Morissette. After seven years of slogging it out in the Boston music scene, Jen Trynin takes a hard look at herself and gives "making it" one last shot.
It works. Trynin sparks one of the most heated bidding wars of the year. Major labels vie for her, to the tune of millions of dollars in deals. Lawyers, managers, and booking agents clamor for her attention. Rolling Stone picks her as that summer's "Hot Debut," Billboard puts her on the cover. Everyone knows she's the Next Big Thing. But then she wasn't.
In a series of dizzying, hilarious, heartbreaking snapshots, Trynin captures what it's like to be catapulted to the edge of rock stardom, only to plummet back down to earth. "Everything I'm Cracked Up To Be" is the story of a girl who got what she wished for -- and lived happily ever after anyway.
It's early on in the story. Just as Jen's self-released record, "Cockamamie," is making its way around the music business, Jen and her bandmates (Buck and Robby) do a few shows down in New York where they meet A&R people galore, including Philippe Rosenberg from Columbia Records with whom they're going to "take" their first meeting at a major label.
Philippe meets us in the lobby of the gargantuan building in which Columbia Records is way high up. He asks us if we're ready for "the dog and pony." Then we're hustled through I.D.-showing and security-pass-getting, then into this elevator, down that hall, into more elevators and through more doors, each new area leading sleekly into the next like the opening-credit sequence of Get Smart.
When we finally reach the inner sanctum, I realize that I've been imagining the offices of a major label to be a whole lot more like a rock show and a whole lot less like regular offices. There's not even any music playing. Philippe leads us down a plain old hallway into a plain old room where a couple of guys are sitting pushed back from a conference table and talking. One of them is wearing a purple silk shirt with a red silk tie and black slacks. The other one has on a stretched-out brown sweater and stonewashed jeans that have a hole just above the right knee — a small hole, very manageable and unfraying, a hole definitely made by a hole-making machine. They're both wearing sneakers.
"Sixty-three f***in' yards!" the guy in the purple shirt is saying, motioning above his head as if to throw a pass, using a "Cockamamie" CD as his football.
"Unf***inbelievable," says the guy in the ripped jeans.
Phillipe makes the introductions and we sit down. The guy in the purple shirt turns out to be Philippe's boss, Captain Talent. The ripped jeans belong to Marketing Maven.
"Okay then," says Captain Talent, putting his elbows on the table, holding my CD flat between his hands. "What I want to know is where have you guys been hiding. We get tapes and tapes and tapes and then this," he says, waving the CD in the air and then smacking it down on the table. "Perfection." The Captain continues in the usual way — your record/voice/songs/real deal/special/substance... He says he sees big things for us. Really big. Then he sits back and Marketing Maven leans forward.
"It's obvious you know what you're doing, or we wouldn't all be taking time out of our day to meet with you like this," he says, looking at his watch. "All we want to do is help you get to the next level. Our goal is to take the initial excitement you've created with Squint — that's your own label, right?"
"Right," I say.
"See, that's great. That's a great angle." Marketing Maven nods his head, wagging a finger at me. "So the first thing we do is develop a well thought-out, fully integrated, long-term — " he says, finger in the air " — marketing campaign that includes all facets at our disposal, every arm of the company. Next, we pick the singles. Then we gear up for the major rollout. Radio, press, videos, TV. We get you out on the road, starting in the U.S., then branching out. Europe. Australia. Maybe Japan, depending on reaction at radio. And the radio promo guys are already chomping at the bit for these songs, but I want you guys to know that we'd also be keeping focused on the more subordinate goal of building your career because we're not just about racking up hit singles. Although we like hit singles. Who doesn't?"
Buck and Robby and I shrug our shoulders.
Next, Philippe leads us down the hallway to meet with the biggest wig here at Columbia Records. He keeps leaning into doorways, around corners, waving to people, pointing at us and saying, "This is them," and everyone's smiling and saying You guys gotta come with us! and You guys rock!
We approach a reception desk where a woman with bright red lips tells us to go on into BigWig's office. But Philippe knocks anyway and opens the door slowly. He peers in, then looks back at us with his finger across his lips, making a shushing sound.
BigWig's office is like another world. It has huge windows and wood-paneled walls and all the furniture is too big or too low or too high — very PeeWee's Playhouse, but with a lot less color and zip frivolity. BigWig is pacing around the room, smoking and yelling into a headset strapped to his skull: "WHADDAYA WANT FROM ME? BUT WHADDAYA WANT FROM ME?" He glances in our direction, sticking his large index finger into the air and winking. One sec. "BUT YOU'RE NOT EVEN F***IN' CLOSE! I MEAN, WHAT THE F***?" He motions for us to sit.
Everyone takes a seat and when I plunk down into one of the gigantic brown leather chairs, it makes a small exhaling sound. The tips of my toes barely touch the floor. In the middle of where we're all sitting is a low coffee table the size of a pool table that appears to be made from a solid block of iron. On the table are flowers and bowls of oranges and apples and lots of neatly arranged magazines. The big black desk behind which BigWig is now pacing is enormous and gives the entire room a tilted, wrong-side-of-the-telescope feeling. "THEY CAME BACK WITH WHAT?" yells BigWig, slamming his fist against his desk, which makes me jump. He takes a drag off his cigarette and I wish I had a cigarette. Do I have any cigarettes? Could I smoke a cigarette, or would that be disrespectful? Or is that what people do? Is that what rock stars do? My mind is racing, even though number one on my list of Things Not To Do is to let my mind race.
Suddenly my neck feels prickly and now my knees are itchy. So is my hair. My throat is going dry and I'm staving off visions of coughing fits and back-pounding and vomiting on other people's shoes. That's when I realize I really have to pee, and my pits go damp. Don't raise your arms is number two on my list of Things Not To Do.
Number three on my list of Things Not To Do is Do not climb atop BigWig's desk and take a whiz. Ever since I heard a story about Courtney Love doing just that, the image of me peeing on someone's desk keeps popping into my mind like a Tourette's thought. I think it's less that I actually want to do it than that I want to be someone who could do it — or better yet, someone who'd already done it. But not only can't I imagine myself really doing it, I can't imagine how it's done. How do you get up on the desk in the first place? What do you wear? A skirt? Do you just reach up underneath and slide your underwear to the side, or do you somehow swingle your underwear off beforehand? Or do you plan ahead and just not wear any underwear at all?
"OF COURSE I WANT THIS TO HAPPEN," yells BigWig, stomping over to his fully stocked bar and stubbing out his cigarette in a glass ashtray the size of a pizza. "YOU WANT F***IN' BLOOD? IS THAT WHAT YOU WANT? CUZ THAT'S ALL THAT'S LEFT!" BigWig looks at me and mouths, Sorry, holding his finger up in the air again. Just one more sec.
The fact that BigWig is giving two s***s that he's keeping me waiting is blowing my mind. It's only been two years since I sent out my earnestly wrought twelve-song cassette, which didn't register even a 1 on the Who's-Going-To-Get-Signed Richter scale. I still have my carefully compiled list of each and every person to whom we'd sent padded envelope after padded envelope, and at this very moment, I'm staring one of them right in the eyes.
Next on my list of Things Not To Do is Do not make any reference to this bygone, we-don't-like-you period.
BigWig finally removes his headset, apologizing for taking so long, but he's sure that we all understand that sometimes people are just real f***ing idiots.
"No problem," says Philippe. "This is Jennifer Trynin," he says pointing at me. "And this is Buck," he says pointing at Robby, "and Robby," pointing at Buck.
"Actually," says Buck. "I'm Buck. He's Robby."
"Great," says BigWig, coming out from behind his desk, walking over to the coffee table and grabbing an orange. "Anybody hungry?" BigWig throws the orange in the air and catches it. "This fruit is the best in the f***in' city. Catch," he says, tossing the orange to Buck. "You like oranges, Bob?"
"Buck," says Buck.
"All right then." BigWig goes back behind his desk. "Listen. I acknowledge that I'm in no way the first person telling you this, but your record, you know, it's really something, nice piece of work. And that song —" and here he begins snapping his fingers and bouncing, swinging his head from side to side, "I'm feeling goo-ood, I'm feeling goo-ood... well, fuggedaboudit!" He looks straight at me, raising his big hands over his head and waving them around. "HIT HIT HIT! Do I have to spell it? H-I-T! HIT!" BigWig talks like he just walked off the set of NYPD Blue. "And, I mean, sure," he says. "Hits. We love hits. We live for hits, let's face it. But you got the hits, and when you got the hits, we're talking about a career here." BigWig lights another cigarette and takes a drag, making the tip glow red as a stoplight. "You?" he says, blowing smoke. "You're a career artist. And we're a career label. I mean, take Toad the Wet Sprocket. Now those are some talented guys. Just like we're gonna do with you guys, we picked up their first record and released it as is. But then what happens? A lot of nothing. Second record, still nothing, but we make a third record with 'em anyway, right boys?"
The Captain, Marketing Maven, and Philippe all nod their heads.
"Did we drop 'em just cuz things weren't going as big-time as we'd anticipated?"
No way, no way.
"F***in-A no way. And why? Cuz that's not who we are. We're just not made that way here at Columbia. So then what happens? Third record, bam! Hit! Gold! Fourth record, bam boom! Hit hit! Platinum! And now we're making our fifth record with 'em and we couldn't be more excited. See, cuz we got patience. We're artist-friendly. We believe in careers." BigWig stands, takes another drag from his cigarette, and rests it in an ashtray on top of some shelves behind his desk. He walks over to his stereo and hits a button, then returns to his desk and falls into his black leather chair. He twirls it around once and stops, facing us. He says, "Listen to this."
Some music comes on, sounding very slick and Top 40 in a trip-hoppy sort of way. Then a woman begins singing about "knowin' watcha doin'" and there's tons of baby baby and yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah. It's not that I don't like the song, but it's making me nervous that BigWig is playing it for us. I'm afraid it means that he's seeing me like he sees this chick, as a solo act instead of as a band. And while the truth is that I am a solo act, I'm a solo act doing a band thing. It's essential to me that I'm marketed as a rock singer, a rock band, not as a solo, singer-songwriter act, because as I already know from my days in the Sunday-through-Wednesday-night-folk/acoustic-chick-band wasteland, that doesn't work for me. That's the main reason I want to bring Buck and Robby to all the meetings, so that it's clear that "we're" a band (even though we're not).
BigWig's elbows are resting on the top of his desk as he snaps his fingers to the song. His hands are the kind I like — square, big-knuckled, wide, not fleshy but sturdy — and I can't help but feel what I always feel staring at those kinds of hands: I feel them on me. A shiver goes up my spine. I've heard stories about this label, like how BigWig's boss married Mariah Carey and that's when her career really took off. I wonder if that's what it takes. Screw BigWig's Toad-the-Wet-Sprocket story. These powerhouse labels are known for a lot of things, but sticking with their artists isn't one of them. I'm afraid that if I want to be a star I'm going to have to leave my boyfriend and start wearing tight dresses and lip gloss so I can get some big scary dude like BigWig to marry me.
Something small falls to the carpet behind BigWig. Now there's smoke curling up under his chair.
It's his cigarette.
BigWig's eyes are closed as he nods his head to the beat. The Captain's and Marketing Maven's eyes are closed too, and their heads are nodding. Philippe is checking his watch and glancing out the window.
I guess I'm the only one who knows this place is about to go up in flames.
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