“How’d you end up here then?” the bartender had asked.
His question forcing me to take a long, hard look at my life over the past 10 years…
There was no way the entire band would go for it. Not in a million years, not for a million blow-jobs.
Maybe one of them, two at the most, but the likelihood of me convincing all four members of my band 8 Degrees to move from the comfort of Kansas to the shitshow of L.A. was not gonna happen, especially when two of the members had wives and kids.
Still, that didn’t discourage me from asking, and knowing that the odds were stacked against me only served as fuel to be more persuasive with my pitch.
In the five years we’d been together we’d accomplished a lot. We had released two self-made albums that had gotten critical acclaim and a ton of radio play locally, regionally and with the advent of the internet, globally. Our music had been used in sports shows and video games and we had a reputation for being one of the most outrageous acts around where the shows would erupt in chaos, end in bloodshed and people would be hauled off to jail or the hospital.
Still, with all that we’d done the one thing that proved elusive was getting a record deal. A deal that would line our pockets with cash, put our album on Billboard, have us touring the world and catapult 8 Degrees to becoming a true monster of rock.
“Which is why I think we should move to L.A. if we’re serious about having a long-lasting career.” I said, wrapping up my case for the band to relocate. “We’ve hit the ceiling in Kansas and it’s only a matter of time before we get cramped, burn out and self-destruct.”
My four bandmates looked at me like my asshole was on my forehead then one of our two guitarists, Helmut spoke up.
“Stuke, you have a 3 bedroom house and a girlfriend that you love, why would you leave that?”
“She can still live in the house and come out and visit me. See how easy that is, Helmut?”
“It’s easy because you aren’t married with kids like I am.”
“Same.” our bass player Tim said who had a wife, a kid and another one on the way.
“Look, I understand your guys’ commitments and that whole ‘til death do us part thing but is that a good enough reason to not give it our all?” I countered.
“You think giving it our all means moving to L.A.?” Tim asked frustrated.
“If you wanna succeed in a certain industry you have to go where the industry is. We’ve done well here but what we really want is out there.”
“Yeah but even if we do move out there we’re not guaranteed to get a deal which makes it a gamble.” Helmut said.
“True. But whether we do or we don’t we’ll never have to ask ourselves ‘what if?’ because we tried. The regret of not doing it far outweighs any regrets that could come from doing it.”
“I’m in.” our perpetually unemployed singer Aaron said.
“Of course YOU’RE in.” Tim spat. “As long as you know you can find some stripper or waitress to support you you’re up for anything.”
“Don’t hate on my entrepreneurial spirit.” Aaron said with a smile.
“I’m also in.” Our other guitarist Erik said, which was surprising because he had never, ever entertained the thought of leaving Kansas.
With Erik now on board my long-shot proposition had turned into a majority vote to get the fuck outta Dodge.
And although Tim and Helmut weren’t sold on the idea I could see they were torn because we all prided ourselves on our commitment to the band and its vision. We were all bound by a unified purpose. They knew deep down it’d be harder to stay behind than it would be to tell their wives (who were fucking saints) that they were abandoning their families to chase a dream that had a 1 in 100,000 chance of coming true.
So within a few short weeks the five of us were packing our shit in a stolen U-HAUL trailer and saying goodbye to crying girlfriends, wives and children who no doubt thought we were the most selfish and delusional pack of bastards on the planet. And while that accusation may have been true, we were also the most driven, being pushed by a goal that couldn’t be inconvenienced by common sense or reality.
As soon as we reached L.A. we hit the ground running, playing shows every night, winning over fans, industry insiders and promoters who all saw 8 Degrees as the next big thing. We’d also got signed on to an artist management company who had us showcasing for record companies and producers.
The band caught the attention of a platinum-selling producer named Ian who had just been made Vice President of Elektra Records and he immediately saw potential in 8 Degrees.
The next day he met with us and laid out his plan.
“I wanna sign 8 Degrees to Elektra AND produce the album, but two things have to happen first.”
“What’s that?” we asked.
“One, you gotta change your name, its gay. Not West Hollywood gay but Aaron Carter* gay.”
“You think 8 Degrees is a gay name?”
“Yeah, for one glaring reason but I’m sure there’s eight…that was a joke.”
“Yeah, we got it.”
“There’s a boy-band called 98 degrees which everyone hates.” Ian said.
“The whole world ok? And your name is too close to theirs. So no matter how hard you rock no one will take you serious because of that name. And if there’s one thing I’m serious about, it’s being serious.”
“Fine. What do you think about calling the band Dorothy?”
“What the fu- I said NOT GAY.”
“Christ crying on a crucifix…are you trying to keep my dick soft?”
“Ok, ok. How about, um…how about Fever Pitch?”
“Hmmm. sounds sexy. Fever Pitch it is.”
“Great. What’s the other thing that needs to happen?”
“Getting Tony’s approval.”
“Who the fuck is Tony?”
“Tony is the President of Elektra which makes him my boss.”
“Is that gonna be hard?”
“Fuck no. Tony knows I have the Midas touch with every band I produce. So we’re gonna go in the studio and record three songs then I’m gonna let Tony hear ‘em and he’ll cream his jeans or shit his pants… probably both, and then approve the record deal.”
“How much will the deal be worth?”
“A million and some change. And then 8 Degree- I mean…what were you gonna call yourselves again?”
“Right. Then Fever Pitch will be rich-n- famous with a slew of drug habits, STD’s and alimony payments. Long live rock-n-roll, you filthy fuckin’ dirtbags.”
By then end of the week we were in the studio writing with Ian. Also by the end of the week billboards went up around town advertising a new Jimmy Fallon movie called “Fever Pitch”.
We didn’t know which was worse: having had a name that sounded similar to that of a boy band whom the whole world hated or having our new name sharing the same name as a movie that had an actor in it that we all hated.
But at that point we didn’t care. We’d recorded our three songs for Elektra and in a few days we were gonna be signing a million dollar record deal and becoming legit rockstars. All of the perceived insanity by those we’d left behind was going to be vindicated. All the suffering and sacrifice they’d endured hadn’t been in vain.
We’d made our dream a reality.
And then it happened.
Only not the way it was supposed to.
“I let Tony hear those songs and he wasn’t impressed.” Ian told us one night after we’d just come offstage to a packed house at The Whisky.
“You said he’d cream his jeans, shit his pants…what the fuck?” we screamed at him.
“I was wrong. He thinks your music sounds too much like another band on Elektra Records.”
“What band is that?”
“Are you fucking kidding? We’re not clinically depressed, we don’t sound like Staind.”
“I know. But there must be millions of depressed people cuz Staind has sold millions of albums.”
“Ok so even if Tony thinks we sound like Staind that shouldn’t be a bad thing since they’ve sold millions of albums right? That puts us in good company.”
“You’d think so.” Ian said as he finished his drink “Just not this company. Sorry, fellas. Chins up, tits out. Ciao.”
And with that Ian cut his ties to the band and his promise of fame and success were revoked. No million dollar deal. No nothing.
To make matters worse, the music industry operates on a herd mentality. If one record company wants you then congrats, you’re the Prom Queen and everyone wants to bang you.
However if one record company says they want you, goes into the studio with you and then changes their mind the way Elektra did with us, then you’re now the Prom Queen with herpes and nobody wants to bang you.
And just like that, Aaron, Helmut, Tim, Erik and I were standing in the smoldering ashes of our dream.
Helmut and Tim were the first ones to return home, facing divorces, custody battles and the agony of starting over. After that Erik and Aaron left, leaving me as the sole person in L.A. floating around on the wreckage of the S.S. Almost Was.
Although I stayed in L.A. I didn’t know what to do with myself. The band which had been my life was over, my friends were gone and I’d lost a sense of purpose. I started to drift through life aimlessly and the fearlessness I’d always lived by had turned into fear. The fear of trying, the fear of failing, the fear of doing anything but keeping my head down.
I took unexceptional jobs that paid the bills but didn’t inspire any drive, settling for a sense of security at the cost of being mediocre, grinding away my self-esteem and pushing myself further into the darkness that comes from living an unfulfilled life.
And after a decade of living like this I’d met Gums and made the mistake of putting what little self-worth I had into her acceptance of me. And when she left she’d taken that with her.
My life without a purpose had become a disease, one that slowly ate away at me until all that remained was the drunken corpse looking back at me from the mirror behind the bar.
“Yo, Paul Mitchell, 7 shots of tequila and 3 beers enough for one Wednesday?” the bartender asked.
“Yeah.” I said, still looking at my reflection. “I’m fucking done.”
I paid my tab and walked out into the Galleria, thinking about the picture of my life I’d been painting and how it had gotten uglier with each year that had passed.
So I made a promise to myself.
Somewhere in this hair industry that I had just made myself a part of I would find my purpose. I would become something. Something that would rebuild me and keep me intact even when the rest of my world came crashing down around me.
Did I know what that something was?
But it was a start and I had to start over anyway.
*Aaron Carter was the rough draft version of Justin Bieber in the early 00’s. Whereas Bieber has had staying power Carter obviously did not. This wasn’t from a lack of trying on Carter’s part as much as it was a lack of talent in the singing and dancing department. Carter also lacked basic intelligence which explains the shit-dumb tattoo he has on his face.