Sunday, January 1, 2017

Good Old Mariah

The all-too-typical Mariah debacle on New Year's Eve actually kind of made me... a little nostalgic. I spent a magical summer as an intern at Sony Studios on West 54th before my last year of college. That summer I met Jeff Buckley and got to see him play live in a basement club. And this beautiful genius was recording in ''my" studio no less. No one knew who he was back then and so today, I have bragging rights to being among the first to have fallen immediately and deeply in love with Jeff. I had long ponderous conversations with Steve Perry of Journey about music (though I didn't know it was him the first time we chatted for over an hour) and I met folk legends Peter Paul and Mary among perhaps more dubious acts like The Spin Doctors (I did love their radio hit) and Hootie and the Blowfish.

This once-sheltered suburban Chicago kid was suddenly thrown into the Manhattan fire doing grunt work for my heroes who had become my mentors. It was the best thing for me and I loved it. I learned a ton-- about the music industry, recording, New York and life outside the midwestern Caucasian bubble I'd lived in my whole life.

I had chosen Sony by looking at the back of the CD jacket of "The Red Shoes" by Kate Bush (which had been my very-worthy musical obsession of the moment). I saw the words "Sony Music" and "New York, NY" and that was that. I WOULD have an internship there-- and so I did. And I was starstruck every day at that job as I found myself routinely getting to learn from and was treated with great kindness by icons of music-- everyone from Gloria Estefan to Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls-- and their brilliant producers and engineers. I remember one day mustering the nerve to brazenly hand Amy my homespun recording entitled "Weeping With Philistines"-- and she was so gracious. I'm not sure what I expected her to do with it or how many other fanboys had saddled her with demos that day. But she really took some time talking to me and even complimented me on the title. She was very genuine.

But Mariah...Mariah had always been the trainwreck of ego and pills you saw last night on live TV. The summer of my internship was the summer that Mariah (who was still a hitmaker at the time and was then married to Tommy Mottola, the head of all of Sony Music) was recording her Christmas album across the street at The Hit Factory. But for one reason or another she was always in the Sony Studios building... and for a summer, she was my own personal NIGHTMARE. It's hilarious to me now, but as a 20 year old running for his life through Manhattan every day trying to appease the diva's demands, it was a little scary at the time. Her rider (list of demands) was among the most hilarious of Mariah's bizarre behaviors. It included things like making sure every item in her dressing room was pink (chairs, hair dryers, brushes, rugs-- and guess which lowly intern had to run around Manhattan finding these pink treasures). And while recording that Christmas record, she eventually had to leave the Hit Factory's jacuzzi and its  pinball machines to come across the street to do overdubs with us a couple different days. The first time this happened, it was to overdub ONE WORD. And in order for her to be "artistically inspired" to sing this word, it was my job (in June) to get a live Christmas tree, oak tables with red table cloths, three foot candy canes, coca-cola in the old fashioned glass bottles (though that one was a constant any time she came into the building-- along with the original-flavor Ricolas) and wreaths. Oh, and the word she was overdubbing... was "holy." Ah, the good old days.

Mariah is the stammering embodiment of why the music industry has all but totally imploded. I'm not laying that implosion at her feet whatsoever. She's merely emblematic of the immovable heft of massive executive and star egos sucking dry an industry that mostly abandoned music somewhere in the '70s in favor of 'cool' until by the late '90s the major label industry was nothing but a marketing effort. So be it. Music is now made in bedrooms for the love of it. And in the meantime, entitled divas publicly teeter at the edge on national television. And there may be a certain... artistic inspiration... in that just yet. 

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