What’s in a Name?



I really think creative freedom is overrated.  Honestly, I truly believe life would be a hell of a lot simpler if people just wrote and thought and did what others told them.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were all a bunch of drones; a clan of borgs or half-wits or puppets happily traipsing through a carefully scripted life bereft of spontaneity?  It sure would make my job a hell of a lot easier.

What was I supposed to do, tell the damn guy with his anxious look and his damn raggedy nails that the crap he put down on that five-lined paper ain’t never gonna sell to no one?  I guess I could; after all I read some interview or other where he said he doesn’t want someone to be his yes-man, so maybe I could fill that role quite nicely.

It’s always the songwriters that get the fuck-over.  They spend the time and harness the muse and do whatever else is necessary to channel that runny, slippery thing called inspiration…and what do they get?  Jack shit.  They get “This I Promise You, by *NSYNC,” instead of “This I Promise You, by Richard Marx, vocals by *NSYNC.”  And sometimes it pisses me the hell off.

I know the artists I represent aren’t that great.  Some of them don’t even have deals; they just contribute to soundtracks or what have you, just to get their names out there.  Some of them, the really good ones, are fucked in the head.  They’re afraid to sing, even though they have to do it to hear what their songs sound like.  They clam up and quiver and tremble like a pile of oysters when you ask them for a few bars of their newest hit.  Some people like to play it like that damn movie with the rowdy tramp bar and that floozy “songwriter” they called Jersey”Oh! I couldn’t possibly! I’m too full of stage-fright to sing!”  But really…they’re more terrified of failure.  All great musicians are aching to have their voices heard.  That one’s a fact, my friends.

Some of them get that chance…they guest on an album or dabble in production or something along those lines.  Some of them go for that elusive contract and end up watching their heart and souls smashed like their show flyers on the floor of a cab.  Candi.  Left Eye.  You know the drill.

And some of them…some of them are just plain bizarre.  Big name, big lights, but still determined to be considered an “artist.”  These boy bands fall into that category.  They rant and rave and huff ‘til they’re blue in the face about the songs they write…but…what the hell is unique about those songs, anyway?  Take away their vocals, and you got nothing. The song could belong to any one of a hundred fabricated teen dreams. And most of them don’t want to hear it.  When asked for their musical influences they’ll earnestly name the heavyweights…your Stings, your Brian McKnights if you like something a little lighter…your Dylans and your Bonos.  People with credibility.  The reality is that their little ditties are more akin to New Kids…they’d fit right in with those boys.

Some of them take it to the extreme…they’ll throw themselves into crazy circumstances just to feel like they’ve got something to write about…they’ll pick fights with their girls or do a hit or two off a pipe or turn off all the lights, watch “Leaving Las Vegas” and go on a three day bender.  Strange shit.  It isn’t any use though, because they’re still rhyming “girl” with “babygirl” and singing about true loves and love in general.  Don’t they understand that love is out of style?  You know what’s in?  Anger.  Guilt.  Remorse.  Maybe a few current events and some religious references, if you’re a little more in tune with the “real world.”  But love…the kiss-kiss huggy-huggy Valentine’s Day extravaganza…it’s passé.  And people are tired of hearing about how true and happy love is, because the reality is that no one gets love anymore.  And it’s awfully hard to be happy when you’re crying your eyes out.

So while these little groups continue to push their issues and press for their songs on their newest albums, giving label heads and A&R teams ulcers and coronaries…nothing changes.  The song remains the same.  And I wish one of them would come up with something original.

I feel bad for some of them…the one fella in *NSYNC, in particular.  He went all-out trying to see if a song of his could go out on its merit instead of his name.  He submitted it under an alias (Edmund Dantes. Clever, clever) and everything.  I listened to it one afternoon through headphones and without even thinking I tossed it in the trash.  More love.  More cheating.  More angry teen-pop.  Better off alone.  You know the drill.  And I tossed it.

I got a phone call three days later…middle of the night.  It’s not terribly unusual, I guess…LA’s up all night and crazy people like me can’t find sleep without a box of Nytol and a healthy shot of Jack.  I picked up the phone and muttered hello…and got the weirdest vibe from the caller on the other end of the line.

“Mr. Clemons?” The voice came, sounding unsure…unnaturally deep, like it had been disguised.

“Yeah…” I mumbled, groaning as I snapped on the bedside light.

“This is Edmund…uh…Ed Dantes. I was wondering if you got my song?

I blinked, sifting through the endless names floating through my foggy brain.

“Refresh my memory.  Song’s name?”

“'Pay to Win.'”

Oh. That one.

“Yeah, kid…I got it.”

“What did you think?”

It’s crap, kid…teen pop is over.  You don’t have the life’s experience nor the message my company is looking for.  I’m sorry.”

Silence.  Choked breathing.  A shuddering sigh.

“…But my label liked it…”

The voice was wafer-thin, soaked through with uncertainty…it sounded like there were tears hidden beneath the layers of disguise.  Lord.  When will these people ever learn?

“What label’s that, kid?” I asked, just to be polite.

“Jive Records.”

I sat up a little straighter, rubbing my face vigorously, trying to ward off sleep’s magnetic pull. “Jive, eh? Who you write for?”

Pause again…a sniffle here and there…and a swallow.

“*NSYNC.”  Whispering now.

“Yeah?  Well.  They seem to be the right market for that…but…let’s be honest.  They’re really only here until this whole pop boom is over.  Honestly, they can’t write for shit, and if you’re looking for free advice, I’d tell you to try a different style of writing.  Write about something that really matters.  No one gives a damn that you lost your girl because they’re too busy looking for their own.  You get me?”

Moments passed, and the voice breathed the word, “yeah.”

“Look, kid…it’s four in the morning.  I’m gonna go to bed.  If you want, I can forward your song to someone in soundtracks, and see if they find something they like.  It won’t get you much…but…your song ain’t worth much, either.  You gotta try a little harder, okay?”


“All right then.  I’ll send it over tomorrow.  What did you say your name was again?”

Chasez.  JC Chasez.”

Fuck me.

I coughed and sputtered and tried to pull it together, but the damage had been done.  The poor kid murmured a hasty apology and got off the line, and I knew that even Nytol and Jack wouldn’t lead me to sleep that night.

It’s funny how songwriters get the fuck-over…even from guys like me.



© 2002 ~A.