Mellissa Ferrick Does Seven Black Cats
Melissa Ferrick does 7 Black Cats
(Dearly Beloved Reader: why this article has turned out so long and rambly, I dunno. Why I still haven't completed it nearly a week later, I dunno. I almost never write like this. I write more like in parentheses here -- real pithy, even stubby. Guess I'll blame Melissa Ferrick for it. Yeah, that's it. Here's Part One:)
THE SEARCH IS NOT ON. All over America, record company executives aren't, repeat clearly, are not, looking for the Next Big Thing. Never mind what Courtney Love and George Michael have been saying, let me quote somebody I know (uh... knew): If Bobby Farrell, composer of 40's mega-hit "Harbor Lights" and a few other memorable pop grandpa tunes knows whereof he speaks, Big Record Companies are trying to squelch The Next Big Thing like King Herod tried to squelch Baby Jesus.
"Whatever you do," Farrell uttered mordantly to me one day, "do NOT accept a recording contract." They'll buy you cheap, he recounted, and treat you cheaper.
A promising singer he managed signed with Sony records against his advice. And now her carcass is on private view on a basement shelf, out of the way of their other promotions and hidden from competing Big Record Companies. She was working nights at a 7-11 in Albuquerque when Farrell told me the unpleasant denouement of this story. The advance they gave her didn't last long.
He said they're doing that with just about everybody. They'll hook you by the zipper, feed you a few shekels, and suddenly you are unsalable product, moldering on the shelf.
Once you comprehend that your career and artistic freedom have been mummified by Big Record Company arachnids, your heart skips a beat at how much lawyers cost to beg you off for being young and naive and greedy too. You'll be too old to rock'n'roll when they settle it. Madonna will have had her fifteenth butt-lift by then, and nobody will have ever, ever heard of you.
BY THEN BRITNEY SPEARS CLONES WILL BE RUNNING THE SHOW. Charming chunks of readymade female pubescent matter bubble perkily even now in a test tube in a secret Big Record Company lab in Singapore. They are chunks of the Next Big Perky Thing.
Female artists birthed of the common population are too prone to making non-perky songs. They aren't of proper genetic design. The world gene pool needs a new rendition of Sammy Davis Jr's' signature hit, "The Candy Man, " and artists like Melissa Ferrick ignore such necessities, so they fired up the ol' cloner.
It's really best that way. Little kids want happy musical sex candy to fantasize over, hairy old record company men want to give it to them, and if the economy doesn't consume twice its own weight in profits every hour we will all die and George W. Bush will get to vote for himself in every state.
Cloned "Britnoids" are designed to digest and retain important demographic behavioral data yet avoid monkey business like Sinead O'Connor Bic-lighting a photo of the pope on TV. These units will be guaranteed to obediently shake their lifelike teen-protuberances only to lyrics and music personally approved by a clone of Senator Jesse Helms. No more indecently opinionated young ladies for us, thank you.
Contractual arrangements dividing profits were made before they even switched on the cloner. This is the new future of music. Everybody who counts is happy.
You'll never meet these people who count. They bought their own islands with the money they made denting gifted young artists in their thoraxes and squirting in a paralyzing poison -- which churned their insides into a mush they then drew lustily back up their hollowed fangs, into their swelling, disgustingly furry bellies. Plus, they voted for George W. Bush, and they've eaten their mates.
SO WHATEVER YOU DO, DON'T ACCEPT A RECORD CONTRACT. Unless you're really planning a career as an office manager. Then GRAB it and use the advance for a few courses in Business 101 at your nearest community college. Good deal.
OKAY FINE. In that case, artists who can't help but sense their own worth start their own record companies from the shoestrings up. The initial paperwork is relatively nothing, if there ever will be more to do.
I'm here to tell you that the hundreds of Insanely Independent Record Label productions I've heard, and the dozens of small-time, nay, miniscule-time projects I've helped on, represent less than a little lagoon in a vast sea of vital personal creativity. There are millions and millions of creative artists working out there who make up whatever they feel. You may conjecture, probably in deep spiritual ignorance, that most of this vast sea of independent creators is mediocre.
SO TOO IS THE SEA MOSTLY WATER. Great Creatures can break through the surface for air anywhere in it, and your yappering mouth can be shut by awe at a magnificent intrusion into your musical Candyland.
The vast surface of seeming mediocrity has broken frequently with Great Creatures sounding in the past few years (but really, Elvis Presley's story started no differently). Lots of nationwide hiphop began as cassettes sold from the trunks of the artists' beat up old cars; we won't bother mentioning Metallica, but we'll holler about Ani DiFranco, whose shoestring start mushroomed deservedly.
Ani DiFranco is what put my buddy Dee and me onto Melissa Ferrick. Dee brought some of her work over awhile ago; it shut my mouth for over a week. I'd heard one of Ani's songs 8 years ago, took the long way home to hear all of it on my car radio, and didn't find out her name until Dee showed me. My goggling over Ani DiFranco prompted Dee to flip a Melissa Ferrick song my way. Honestly, I haven't much cared about anything I've heard since Vartinna in 1993, and since an Ethiopian album I produced myself for an Ethiopian named Gib in 1994. But Dee is on to something.
Dee and I thought we might catch a glimpse of another Great Creature sounding at 7 Black Cats, on Congress St., Tucson, Saturday night. Melissa Ferrick is her own independent record company, tours around, and is supported by fans who love the daylights out of her music.
Do NOT believe the peppermint fairy tales about the overnight successes of those pampered little songbirds of the Trilateral Commission. How hard is it really to even afford your own house and your own car by driving from town to town, singing and selling your recordings? Hint: before Willie Nelson became the venerable old tax dodger that he is, he once walked out of the bar he was playing in for $30/night (they still pay that much sometimes IF you're lucky) and laid down in the middle of the road, giving the 2 a.m. traffic a good long opportunity to run over him. By then he'd already written a hit for Patsy Cline. This is just to show you what a fabulously rewarding field music really can be, all considered.
...OR... HOW ABOUT BUZZY LINHARDT? What do you mean, you don't know who that is? I met Buzz when he was 48, living on the charity of some friends, nursing 2 broken hips that had healed wrong and suffering from advanced glaucoma. By wild coincidence, he'd got the broken hips in a car accident in Trumansburg, New York, a little nowhere where I had just moved from... or nearby. He'd been traveling, doing gigs. No insurance. A friend recognized him begging prostrate from a NYC sidewalk, and towed him to a little room in an old hippie house in Berkeley, California, where I met him through a gay woman musician pal.
Buzzy said he never got a nickel for "Friends." It's a song about how you need friends to get along in life. He said Bette Midler's attorneys say she never heard of him. Buzzy tells everybody that. He also tells everybody they were lovers for awhile. As a grand finale, he'll show everybody the album wherein his band recorded (and credited him with) "Friends" and released it some years before Bette Midler did. Funny thing, too... you'll notice that Buzzy's song "Friends" and Bette's song "Friends" are exactly the same song. But hey, maybe Buzzy will die soon if he hasn't yet and Bette Midler's attorneys won't have to bother with pesky questions about it any more. Where was I? Surely I was on a more optimistic story than this. Oh yeh:
HOW WE CAME TO 7 BLACK CATS AND BOOSTED MELISSA FERRICK'S REVENUE BY $36: Dee asked me would I go with her that coming Saturday night to hear this performer. She'd downloaded a Melissa tune called "Drive" from the internet, which she especially wanted me to hear. It didn't work immediately. I hate downloading and I hate screwing around with computers a millisecond longer than I absolutely have to. So I went looking for the album and finally found a copy at Zip's.
I hardly ever buy CDs. I bought this one because I know something's up. Dee has been listening to a vein of music that could spawn a whole Next Big Thing. You never know. The "girl music" she's showed me the last few weeks is bristling and sparkling with tell-tale vitality.
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 10, 2000, 5:39 P.M.: Dee stops in after work. I hand her the CD. Trouble getting the heat-shrink wrapper off. Solved with big nail clippers. Melissa Ferrick Album "Freedom" into CD player. Near-field speakers angled at 45 degrees toward couch. Samson Servo 240 amplifier, Yamaha ProMix 1 digital mixer. Medium volume, EQ flat. Start CD. No sound. Oops. Plug in external jacks. Okay. Start again. We settle in to listen.
RAW, UNCENSORED REACTIONS, song 1, "Freedom." (narrated more or less in sequential time): Uh-huh. Hate that acoustic guitar pickup sound. Don't plug the damned thing in when you're in the studio, use a microphone. Woops, you flubbed a lick. Anyway I'll just get used to it and listen. Lyrics about what, now? Wants freedom from a lover, can't think what's at the core of it, blames a fear of love's enthusiasms flowing and ebbing as it ever does; honestly it sounds to me like she's left the door open for PMS defense and that's why her lover would call her a liar. That's not very responsible, girl. Fine melody and delivery, though... I guess...
SONG 2, "Hold On": Whaaaaat the fuck? What is that sound?? Is it... intentional? Is it... a good thing? It sounds like some tracks were recorded through a boom box. Is it... is it... what is it? The melody sounds like that 60s hit "I Wonder What She's Doing Tonight," by Bobby somebody and his partner. I wouldn't call it stealing. But if she meant to echo that song in hers, that's really very poetically clever. Good chorus, too... who's singing the harmony? Check album. Marika Tjelios. It's a little Beatlesque to Balkan, or some stripe of traditional Greek. Very original. The harmonies turn hauntingly beautiful as the songs play on.
"WHATTAYA THINK," proposes Dee already, the pair of us having listened in silence for the length of 2 songs. Not a good sign. Well, she sounds... really tough, I say. No... intense. She's really intense. I babble something about the peculiar mixdowns (and beef up the EQ). We both agree there's a touch of Ani DiFranco affectations so far.
I do hear this inimitable intensity, but it's a bit smeared by unnecessary vocal inflections and somebody screwing around with technical recording things. I don't buy the flattened-brow, snake-wiggling angry-mother voicings lately popular with a few singers. They obviously didn't grow up under my ma and don't know how to portray truly terrifying use of it... when it's not terrifying, it's kinda silly, like on the Morissette girl's last album. I don't mention to Dee that I really do want to like this Melissa Ferrick... to the point that I feel a twinge of conscience about what I think I'm hearing. Naw. She's not just an imitation. Naw. Can't be. Is she? Next song.
SONG 3. NORTH CAROLINA: Swwwwwwwoooooop! The beat and munchy riffs have opened the door and we're in the back seat now as Melissa drives us into North Carolina. Having been there for the same reasons, I imagine us crossing a railroad track in a beat-up little old North Carolina town on the way to a gig we don't really feel like doing. The three of us are going to fester in a musty motel with the TV on. Desolation and a maddeningly vague queasiness compete like a couple of flies buzzing the dumpster where our hearts have lately been dumped. How Melissa can turn the mute button on and still hear her "money making peers" talking through the TV, I don't know, but don't slam the brakes on it for that. Her song rolls us along, bone-weary, lost, and maybe we're just too bumbling not to've hurt somebody we loved back home more than we let ourselves believe.
The part of my mind still listening analytically notes the line "intensity has never been a problem for me." Aha, I thought so... she knows. This wasn't Asheville, was it, dear? But suddenly this album is becoming worth the price.
FROM HERE, DEE AND MY MINDS ARE BLOWN. The album is all intensely raw and beautiful now. Insistently unique and beautiful. The old folk-rockin' chords strummed through the too-high pitched guitar, the simple low-tuned bass and matter-of-fact drumbeats float and swim and fly in insistently beautiful original inner sonic colors. The lyrics trigger nearly 3-D imagery that dovetails with the simple music and compounds the emotional errors she writes us all about -- to the point that we can't deny, we've all been where those songs are and are going to go there again.
I'm over 6', over 200 lbs, and some kid asked me last week if I'm in Hell's Angels. I'm not, but Sonny Barger would think severally about tangling with me until he discovered I don't care about motorcycles. Add an overgrown goatee and picture tears trying not to well up in this figure's eyes over "The Stranger."
HECK, NO. Go buy it and listen to it yourself. Write her record company if you can't find it. The song emerged from the album like a Greyback leaping from the sea. "She knows!" I thought to myself. "She KNOWS."
HAD TO go see this lady perform live. HAD to.
END PART ONE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Tom Dark single-handedly created the 'zine in the mid 1980's by talking some guy in Wisconsin into putting out a newsletter made by a copy machine and staples "For People Who Have Feelings They Don't Know What To Do With." He coined the term 'zine. By either wild coincidence or recognition that millions and millions of people have feelings they don't know what to do with, this one, called "Sumari Bulletin," spawned millions of inimitable imitators around the globe.