The Discount Rack
Joe E. WhiteGood evening, welcome to my home. Come on in. I am surprised that a star like you would seek out an old fossil like me. Thanks, yes I have been in the music business along time. I think I was there when the first rock and roll song was born. Memphis, yes I started there but now L.A.'s where the music's at. I need to be where the music is so I've been in L.A. since '67, agents have to be where the musicians are you know. Over the years I've found that L.A. suits me just fine, not very cold you know. Say, before we get down to business would you mind indulging an old man? I so seldom get visitors anymore, sometimes I just need to talk. You wouldn't mind? Excellent. How about some coffee? No, then I'll tell you a story - after which we can get down to business. It's a story about Felix J. Wert, I used to be his agent, he preferred to go by the name of Blither. Blither was a rock star who let the pressures of the business get to him. His troubles started on a Tuesday if I remember correctly, August I believe, about a year ago. He wasn't quite himself that day, his latest CD release had just fallen off the charts. Rather I should say plummeted off the charts. Blither hadn't had a hit for over a year, after having been at the top of the charts for the previous two years. I am afraid that Blither couldn't come to grips with the downturn in his career. Toadd to poor Blither's misery he had just found out that he had been assigned to hell. Of course, for a rock star you understand, hell is finding yourself in the discount rack at the local music store.
"What the hell is this shit!" screamed Blither, "Just what the fuck is this? Nobody puts me in the discount rack, where the hell's the fuckin' manager?
"Would you stop it asshole, your making a seen," hissed Lena, Blither's current girl friend.
"Fuck you bitch, I want the manager," yelled Blither as he began to trash the store.
"What are you doing, stop it," demanded the manager who had just got back from lunch. "I am going to call the cops!"
"You just fuckin' do that," sneered Blither as he proceeded to empty the easy listening bin onto the floor.
Blither continued to trash the store despite the managers threats. Finally Blither tired of his "sport" and went to leave.
"So much for the fuckin' cops asshole, just send the bill to my agent," laughed Blither as he grabbed Lena, jumped into his car and sped away.
As you can see, Blither wasn't known for his huge vocabulary or sophistication. He'd gone home where he liked to smoke a few joints while listening to his own music. This always calmed Blither down. He liked nothing better than to listen to himself. Lena, who didn't love Blither - just his music, finally convinced him to go see his producer. Lena may not have been the brightest woman in the world but she knew how the business worked. If Blither didn't get a hit soon his money would run out. Lena had no desire to hang around a has been. Her therapist said it was bad for her self-esteem. So later that day Blither and Lena, against my wishes mind you, went to his producer's office.
"Look man, I need some tunes. I need a single and a whole fuckin' CD worths right now. I need to get back on the god damned radio. That old fossil of an agent of mine says to wait, wait for fuckin' what? I want to go gold, shit platinum, this year. I can do it Collin, but you've got to get me the tunes," Blither was still a little high so he may not have sounded quite so coherent. Old fossil? No I don't mind, I just never get close to the LaBrea tar pits, they make me nervous.
Blither was lucky, his producer Collin, had been in the music business a long time. Collin had taken many a young unknown and made them a star. Excuse me for a minute, you've just started in the music business haven't you? Yes, I thought so. Collin had gotten his start at Sun Records and could remember when rock was young. When Collin had to deal with young rockers like Blither - he hated names like Blither - he really longed for the old days. When he started, rock stars did what they were told and the business was easy. You wanted a hit, you payed off the radio stations, simple as that. Now he has to deal with semi-talented prima donnas that think a few hits make them immortal.
Well, let's get back to Blither. "Collin, man don't you see? Discount rack, hell, discount rack, hell, discount rack, hell. The words mean the same thing, an I ain't ready to go to hell just yet," lectured Blither, poking his dirty finger into Collin's face.
"Listen Blither, your not in hell yet. I have an idea that should work just fine for you," Collin said as he began to dial the phone.
"A fuckin' idea, how marvelous! Are you going to share it or is it a god damn fuckin' secret?" Blither as usual was yelling again.
"I am leaving," said Lena as she headed for the door, "I don't need to listen to you yell anymore. I am going to have to go back to therapy."
"Get the hell out of hear you fuckin' whore," screamed the ego bruised Blither, "my fuckin' careers on the line and all you can do is think about your own lily white ass!"
"Go to hell you asshole," cried Lena. Then, just before she slammed the door closed, she got in one last shot, "I hope you spend forever in the discount rack you son-of-a-bitch!"
Blither turned back to Collin, only to find him talking with someone on the phone, "Yes, he'll be right down. No, he hasn't spent anytime in the vault before. Yes, he'll need some help picking out songs. You will, great. Thanks Tom, I know I can always count on you. Yes, I do remember how you helped that Jim Morrison guy. I expect nothing less for Blither." Collin hung up the phone and turned to Blither, "Go down to the vaults right now and pick out about fifteen or sixteen oldies from the fifties."
"From the fuckin' fifties? Well, I guess if it was good enough for Jim fuckin' Morrison," Blither interrupted.
"Right, now go down there and get some real hard driven' tunes. Bring them back up here and we'll see what we can do with them in the studio. Remember, nostalgia sells, " said Collin. Collin then began to look through his old Sun Studios scrap book, the signal that meant the meeting was over.
Blither just stared at Collin for a moment before heading for the elevator. The vault was in the sub-basement so Blither couldn't miss it. Excuse me again, have you ever been to a record vault? I see, then you'll appreciate the story even more. In the vault was almost forty years of rock and roll kept carefully under lock and key. Blither began to think - something that he wasn't to practiced at - as he rode the elevator down, that he should be able to find something. Hell he thought, if Jim Morrison paid a visit to the vault why shouldn't he. When the elevator came to a stop the doors opened onto a dimly lit corridor.
Blither made his way down the corridor until he reached the desk of a little old man. What was that sir? Yes, I know the old man, I've talked with him often. Myself, Collin, and Tom - the old man - all worked together at the old Sun Studios. But please, let me continue the story.
"Are you Blither?" inquired the man as he watched a soap on TV.
"No fuckin' shit," exhaled Blither.
"What was that?" asked the old man.
"Nothing," said Blither impatiently, "I need to get into the vault. I gotta look through that old fifties crap you got locked up down here."
"Everyone has their own opinion young man," the old man said as he moved towards the vault. "Help me get this door open, the motor's shot and I can't open it by myself."
"Shit," Blither muttered as he wondered why he always had to be the one to get things done.
When the vault door was opened Blither couldn't believe what he saw. An old phonograph, the old automatic repeat-changer type, was in the middle of the room. The walls were lined with thousands and thousands of old vinyl pressings. The old man took an old forty-five off the shelf and placed it on the turn table, then started the player. The turn table came up to speed as the tone arm moved over and gently came to rest on the spinning record. The needle began to track the record groove and the strains of Teen Angel could be heard coming out of the small speaker, "I was out on a date in my daddies car..."
"What the hell is that shit," snapped Blither.
The old man raised his eyebrows and reached for another forty-five. Taking the record from its sleeve he handed it to Blither, "Here, try this one, it has a faster pace."
Blither read the label, "Not for public release, for record company internal use only. What the hell does that mean?"
"It means it's really hot, it was too much for its time," said the old man as he stopped the phonograph. The old man carefully placed Teen Angel back on the shelf. "Aren't you going to play it," he taunted Blither.
"Yeh, sure old man," Blither walked over to the phonograph and began to put the record on the turntable. As the record started only static and scratches came out of the speakers. Soon a very quite but hypnotic drum beat was heard. Blither could feel himself slipping into the rhythm, he was almost totally lost in it when he noticed he had changed. He was dressed in duck tail, white shirt, black pants and blue suede shoes. He couldn't believe his own eyes when he realized that he was watching the record spin on the turntable - even though his hands were covering his eyes. When he tried to move his feet all he could do was dance the twist. Blither looked up just in time to see the old man closing the vault door like it was made of paper. Blither began to flay around violently but he couldn't stop doing the twist or move from beside the record player.
"Hey! What kind of place is this?" cried Blither as he tried to stop the record from playing. He looked in horror as his hand merely passed through the phonograph.
"The discount rack, hell, perdition, what ever you want to call it Blither," said the old man just before he closed and locked the vault door.
What's that? Oh, my no. It's just a story that I like to tell when given a chance. Now, let's get down to business. So, you want to be a rock star.
Acknowledgments: These people gave me especially helpful suggestions for revision: Joe A. White and Shannon De Witt.
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