I was having a quick lunch today in a local restaurant and I overheard the conversation at a local table. It was obviously a boss and three of his employees. There was nothing about work and everything else was very mundane and superficial. What dawned on me how different their professional lives were from mine. Especially the life I lived when I worked at Columbia and MTV.
It is hard to explain, but it has always been difficult for me to feel comfortable at gatherings of people outside of the industry. Mostly because we had so little in common. Their professional life occupied the hours between 9 and 6pm every day. My professional life started at about 8 and ended at midnight several days a week as a rule. The days I got home early (8:30) my thoughts were either occupied with the events of the day, or what was going to happen tomorrow. It was time consuming, but it was like an endorphin. My mind was always occupied with relevant things. It was a gift as well as a curse. I never had a job. It has always been so much more than that. I also knew far more about the people that worked for me and that I worked with, than almost any other business I can think of. Not because we spend that much time together out of work. But because we spent so much time in work. At lunches, dinners, etc.. Most of the time spent strategizing about whatever project were were working at the time. We often had 5 or 6 going at the same time. All of which required a great deal of attention. We were also expected to deliver. I also had my family life that obviously was the most important thing in my life. So there was very little time for rest. My head was full, as was my heart.
When other people were talking about their week in Florida on vacation, I was coming off a week of working closely with the Stones, Aerosmith, or Springsteen, Elvis Costello, James Taylor or a host of others. Stuff that didn’t often come up in conversation. I felt if I did talk about this stuff, people would either thing I was bragging or lying. It was just my life at the time.
I got to know many of these artists very well. There are things I know that I will never reveal. There are also memories of some astounding moments that still stick with me. There was the day I was called down to the studio to meet with Bruce. The session ended up with him asking me which single we should release to radio. Pretty hard to fathom. There was the week or so where I worked with David Gilmour one day and Roger Waters a few days later. I heard many details surrounding the then recent separation of Roger from Pink Floyd. It was amazing to hear both sides of the story. All without asking. I was just a sounding board. Again, not stuff you can talk about with other people.
The main thing is that I have come to realize that most people in the music industry are much quicker mentally than most people. Since I left the corporate side of the industry I have had contact with several other industries. In every situation I found that it was painful to have to explain to people the thought process. I was typically five steps ahead. Not that I am that smart. It is just this is the world in which I have spent my adult life. The most frustrating thing is that few people understood the jokes. A true sign that of trouble.
I never liked feeling like I was the smartest person in the room. In my time at MTV or at Columbia, I never felt that way once. I was a sponge, picking up as much as I could. Struggling just to stay up with the thought process. One of the people who inadvertently taught me about radio was Scott Shannon, then PD and morning show host at Z-100. To say Scott was quick, was a huge understatement. Every week, when the other promotion people were waiting in the lobby of Z-100, for their weekly 15 minute meeting with the Music Director, Scott and I were down the block at the Marriott, having lunch. I learned more about the industry from these lunches. But, it was all I could do to keep up with Scott’s frenetic mind. He was and still is truly amazing.
I always felt that doing my job well would insure that I would succeed within the corporation. It worked that way for a long while. But in order to get to the very top you have to really play the corporate game. I was never good at that. I didn’t have the killer instinct to step on people to put myself in a better place. There were many things I could have done, but I didn’t have it in me. I also believed in telling people on “my team” the truth. I eventually found out they didn’t want to hear that most of the time. They could also use that against you.
The other difference between the music business and the real work is the Political Correctness in the rest of the world. We weren’t so concerned with that in the music business. This doesn’t pertain to racism or things like that. These things never seemed to have any part in the music business. But, we were not afraid to speak our minds. Most businesses would find out language horrific. We used the “F-Word” like most people would use “the”. To us it had no meaning. Just a way of stressing our point. But we would say things that would probably get us fired in any other industry. But these things were everyday parts of the music industry. I was able to say things to my boss, that you could never say in most industries. He expected that. He wanted to know my thoughts and my feelings and my opinions. They didn’t have to agree with his…as long as I turned out to be right. He would also say things to us that would get him sued in any other industry as well as fired. It was a relationship built on mutual trust. Very similar to that of soldiers in a fox hole together while the shells were flying. What you said in meetings, what you saw in meetings stayed there when the doors closed and the meeting ended.
In general, it means that those of us who either work in the industry or have worked in the industry, have very little chance of success in the real world. We can try to re-invent ourselves, but at some level, that tenacity is always there. It is difficult to harness. The world is not ready for us. At least not now.