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By George E. Simpson, Neal R. Burger
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1983 George E. Simpson and Neal R. Burger
All rights reserved.
Paul Mizzell got off the elevator and walked into the plush executive offices of Rok Records, the comp under his arm just finished, sprayed and covered. He headed for the marketing director's office, hoping for a quick approval. His worn cowboy boots clumped on the parquet floor. Tucking his shirt into his jeans and running a nervous hand through his beard, he went through the high-tech glass doors into Never-Never Land, so dubbed by the art staff because lately Tony Benedict's customary answer to a creative suggestion coming from anyone other than himself was "Hey—sorry, kids, but never."
From the moment Tony Benedict had come in as marketing director, Rok's homey atmosphere had vanished, replaced by air-conditioned sterility, efficiency checks, and stiffer deadlines.
Paul remembered coming through that door two years ago for his first meeting with the creative director, Linda Sharman, and being impressed by an air of vitality and fun. At that time in his life, after years of grim therapy and enforced soul-searching, the prospect of living normally and having work to enjoy and be absorbed in had seemed a godsend. But all that changed quickly when Tony Benedict arrived and, in a few short months, managed to completely turn around the company that Rocky Holt had founded with compassion and love.
Gone was the lobby display, the tacky collage of old record jackets pasted one on top of the other, making the wall bulge with cardboard—a warped monument to the company's achievements. Some of the staff had suggested having it bronzed and presented to Rocky, but Tony had personally supervised when it was cut up and carted away. The old didn't just make way for the new: at Rok it had to be systematically dismembered first. Now there was a cold brass plaque on the lobby wall—ROK spelled out in bold, slanted letters, trailing a short stream of gold discs. Like a lot of otter jobs lately, the new company logo had been farmed out, and therefore found, little appreciation among Rok's art staff.
Tony Benedict had been brought in to give the company a face-lift. Marketing Director was just a title—The Lone Re-arranger would have been more to the point.
Paul stopped in the outer office and nodded automatically at the secretary, dark-haired with eyes like ice—another stranger. He sat down to wait, propping his art work against the potted palm next to his chair. Another sign of indifference: Rok had become one of those places decorated with a lush abundance of greenery to display with-it extravagance. The plants were removed and replaced every Monday by a local exotic foliage service. The life expectancy of everything at Rok had grown depressingly short.
In the last eight months, Tony had created four new executive positions and had filled each of them with hotshots in their late twenties—his own age. Young fireballs full of ideas, and all of them men. Linda Sharman was thirty-seven and a woman. She had been Rocky Holt's first art designer years ago. He had promoted her to creative director, but where did she fit in now that Tony was in control?
And Rocky Holt, who should have been around to see that things ran smoothly mid personalities didn't clash, was out of town most of the time—traveling, finding new acts, new talent, new music, and in Paul's opinion, abdicating his responsibility.
Paul looked up. Tony stood in the doorway to his office, wearing a sharply creased white tropical suit and a soft print shirt open at the collar, exposing a he-man thatch of chest fur and a heavy gold chain. He was macho down to his Gucci loafers, and his hair was styled in a fluffy mod wedge.
"Let's see what you've got," he said.
Paul closed the door and came in with his art work. There were other men in the room—Rok's sales director, Marvin Beosch; theStruts' producer, Steve Klemer; their attorney, Lou Eisen; and their manager, Jerry Madison.
"Shouldn't Linda be here?" Paul said, glancing at the men.
"I would have called her, but the fellas only have a minute. Come on, let's see. Put it down here." Tony pointed to a glass-topped coffee table.
Paul put the comp down and pulled back the cover sheet on his rendering of the Struts' first album cover. Everyone crowded around.
"What do you think?" Tony said without a trace of emotion. There were a few appreciative murmurs and a satisfied grunt from Marvin Bensch. Jerry Madison studied the work, reluctant to commit himself.
"Maybe I should explain it," Paul said to break the ice. When no one objected, he went on. "The background is the new Main Street in Venice. It's all illustration, to be finished in full-color airbrush. We'll strip in a stock crowd shot for people on the street, give it a one- or two-color tone, whatever works best. And over that we'll super the Struts wearing those turn-of-the-century band uniforms—a full-color photo we can do right here in the studio."
"Strutting, right?" Tony said.
The lawyer nodded and looked at Tony. "Sounds good," he said.
Tony smiled and sat down, pulled the art closer, and leaned over it, his fingers exploring the comp while he made a show of careful consideration.
"It's good," he said finally.
"I think it's terrific," said Steve Klemer.
Tony smiled encouragingly. "Fine work, Paul. You've done real well with the concept. I like the angle on the street there. Perfect depth. And with the Struts up front, I think we've got a solid eye- catcher. Now, Jerry, this is the Struts' first album, and I hope you understand we have your interest at heart."
"Good. Because I've got a way to make this better."
Why the hell isn't Linda here? Paul thought to himself.
"It'll raise the cost, though."
Jerry looked blankly at the art. "What could make it better?"
Tony got up and paced, eyeing Marvin Bensch, who stared back, ready to support anything. Tony patted his midriff in a studied gesture, then looked at Paul and said, "No airbrush, no art work. We do it live. The whole concept, one photograph."
Jerry was puzzled.
"The crowd and everything?" Paul asked.
"Everything. We take a crew out to Main Street, close it off for a few hours—"
"Close it off?" The lawyer was seeing dollar signs.
"Hire a crowd—got lots of folks down in Venice dying to be on an album cover. It's like the movies, only better, because the jacket sits in the stores forever. They can point it out to their friends, start word-of-mouth. We'll do the rest—schedule a Struts concert down there, create a whole cult in Venice, make this a Venice-based group. Local boys with new sound!"
"They're from Watts," Jerry said dully.
"Not anymore. They just moved to the beach. I got another idea!" His eyes flashed with the beauty of it. "The crowd in the street—we'll have them all strutting, like this!"
Tony struck a pose that was too practiced to be off the top of his head. He locked one leg out in front, set his arms rigidly at his sides and flared his Angers. Marvin Bensch laughed and applauded. Steve Klemer grinned and said, "All right!"
Paul stared at Tony. How long had he spent rehearsing this? Nothing wrong with it actually. Good commercial razzmatazz. But why hadn't he brought it up before?
Tony grinned at Jerry. "Get a hundred people out there, put the Struts in the foreground, shoot low, see everyone through their legs. Paul, this is going to be great."
"Hey," Paul said flatly, "whatever you want."
"I like it," Jerry finally admitted. "I think the boys will, too."
"Sure they will. We'll do a whole promotional thing on the day of the shoot—press, TV ..."
"What about cost?" Lou Eisen said quietly. "You're going from a hundred percent illo to a hundred percent live photo. We're on a budget."
Jerry looked at Tony, concerned.
"Not anymore," Tony snapped. "This is too big. Right, Jerry? We want to get your boys launched. We need a zippy cover and publicity on the shoot. I did it for the Gaudies and look where they went—big."
Paul swallowed hard. The design for the Gaudies' album was his.
"We'll do the same with the Struts. Okay, Jerry?"
Jerry nodded. "Fine with me. Listen, the boys always told me they wanted to go with Rok because it's first class. Now I see why."
"You're beautiful, Tony," said Marvin, the quintessential yes-man. Around the company he was known as Oui-Oui.
"You bet your ass," Tony said, laying a strong, firm hand on Jerry's shoulder and rocking him back and forth. Then he picked up the comp, flipped the cover back, and gave it to Paul. "Finish that up. We'll use it as the model for the shoot, okay? Thanks."
Paul turned at the door and said, "Who explains the change to Linda?"
"You do," Tony said nicely, and shut the door.
"Well, the son of a bitch has done it again." Linda sank into her chair and pushed Paul Mizzell's comp across the desk. He watched her stare out the window, drained.
Linda Sharman's office was still small, even after sixteen years with the company. She kept it neat and uncluttered, with wall unit counters and shelves lining every available space. Design trophies and awards were prominently displayed, but there were no other mementos—no photographs, no favorite record jackets, no autographed publicity stills. The shelves were stacked with back issues of Cue, Rolling Stone, and recording industry trade publications. Her desk was a broad slab of oak on chrome legs with no drawers. Three chairs were placed neatly around a single small coffee table before it. There was a picture window that looked out on Sunset Boulevard, a view she could have done without. Hollywood was not home to her—just a place to work.
She stared at the Russian restaurant across the street, fashioned after the country house at Varykino in Doctor Zhivago. She had never been inside it; one of these days she really ought to give it a chance. She started to rub tired eyes but stopped, recalling her teenaged daughter's warning—rub your eyes and you get crow's-feet. Terrific advice from a kid majoring in body sculpture or beauty techniques, or whatever the hell it was. What was the difference? At thirty- seven, you either had crow's-feet or you didn't. Linda had them. It was getting harder to hide skin blemishes, but she was about ready to give up the battle anyway. She was still fresh-looking and careful about wardrobe, staying with skirts and soft pastel sweaters or tailored suits. No jeans—they made her look too thick. She wore her blond hair long and limited herself to one piece of jewelry, a jingly gold bracelet given to her by Rocky Holt on her tenth anniversary with the company.
Linda sighed heavily and smiled at Paul. He looked back sympathetically. "It's not your fault," she said. "He's just playing genius."
"I think he planned it ahead of time. He knew exactly what he was going to do."
"Probably. He's right, though. That cover should be photo. I thought so all along. But on the budget he gave us ... Oh, Christ, I can't get around him. He makes the rules and he breaks them. Nobody else in this company can do that."
"Why don't you have it out with Rocky?" Paul suggested.
"Rocky loves Tony."
Paul frowned. "Why?"
"Because he gets results. You don't see what happens at the other end, just what passes through art. He's got every department head in the company on a short leash. He pulls, we jump."
Paul shrugged and picked up his comp. "Back to the drawing board?"
Paul went out without another word. When he was gone, Linda stared at the phone, anger washing over her so completely that her teeth clenched and she balled one hand into a fist. She couldn't understand Rocky anymore. What the hell was he doing gallivanting all over the world looking for new acts? Couldn't he see what was happening right under his own nose?
Tony had been marketing director at Capitol and RCA, so he knew how to manage volume, and how to handle a talent list as long as his arm. But Rok's success depended on the personal nurturing of a limited roster of quality acts. What had made Rocky think that Tony was equipped to deal with that? So far, his concept of management consisted of radical change and little else. His approach to employee relations was to fire people and farm out the work. Album packaging few half of Rok's artists was now done outside, and the results were good, which frustrated Linda. There was getting to be less and less work for Paul Mizzell and the few artists who remained.
She picked up the phone and punched Tony Benedict's extension. The secretary answered. "This is Linda," she snapped. "Put him on."
The secretary asked her to wait, then went off the line. Long seconds passed, Linda's anger building. She rehearsed a speech in her mind—
"Hi, Linda." Tony sounded cheery. "Hey, I loved your presentation on the Struts. We can really make something out of that."
"It wasn't a presentation, Tony. It was a comp. It was exactly what we agreed on at board, on the budget you approved—"
"Hey, I said I liked it. I just think photo will work better than illo. Don't you?"
"Look, I'm getting really tired of this."
"Tired of what, Linda?"
"Interference. Am I running creative or not?"
"I bought the layout."
"No, you changed it—to make yourself look good."
Tony sighed. "Can't we stop fighting?"
"Sure, but from now on, why don't we budget after you see the layout? Then we can all be geniuses."
Tony laughed. "I'll take it up with Rocky. I can't stay on the phone, sweetie. Got two producers and an artist in here—It's my creative director, fellas. She's on the warpath."
Linda bristled. "You condescending bastard—"
"Listen," he said. "I've got somebody waiting—a reporter from the L.A. Times wants an interview. Do me a favor and take him to lunch, okay? I'm really swamped."
"What are you talking about?"
"I'll send him right up." The line clicked off.
Linda stared at the phone in her hand then slammed it down. It's a man's world, she reminded herself. Especially in the recording industry. She was one of a tiny handful of female executives in the business, and she had a hunch that their number was soon to be diminished by one.
Linda spotted the man throwing down his tip and was off to grab his table before any of the twelve other people waiting noticed. Brian Hawthorn was startled but hurried after her. She sat down and waved him to the other chair. Tibbits' was crowded but fast; Linda hated lingering over lunch. She passed a menu to the reporter and studied him. He was somewhere in his midthirties and running to seed. His suit was awful, straight off the rack from a downtown discount house, ill- fitting and not helped by a ten-year-old tie. He was sort of handsome but looked like he never slept. He put his briefcase under his chair and his portable tape recorder on the table.
Brian smiled and said, "What's good here?"
"Too healthy. They got a nice greasy hamburger?"
Brian smiled at the waiter too. "Cheeseburger, medium—extra tomato, french fries, and coffee."
Linda winced and ordered. "Fruit salad, extra cottage cheese, and a glass of Chablis."
"You on a diet?" Brian asked after the waiter left.
"No. Are you?"
He grinned. "Well, Miss Sharman—"
"Excuse me. You're married?"
"Oh. Me, too. Heather couldn't live with my hours." He glanced at her breasts as she unbuttoned her jacket and smoothed her sweater. She caught him looking.
"Is that going to be in your article? My divorce?"
"No. I'm doing a piece on mob influence in the recording industry." He stood the tape deck up, directing the mike toward her. "If this makes you uncomfortable, I'll just take notes."
"Either way, you won't get much. I don't know anything about mob influence in the recording industry."
The waiter served her wine and his coffee. When he was gone again, Brian said, "You mean Rok Records is clean?"
"Can I ask you a question?"
"What on earth would make you do a story like that? Is that how you stir up news? Couldn't you go out and cover a murder or something?"
"I've done that." Brian sugared his coffee heavily.
"Then try the men's room at the Bijou. Ask the fags what they think about gay lib. That ought to sell papers."
"Sure. Reporter's head found floating in public toilet. I'll stick with the mob, thank you."
Linda raised her glass. "Your choice."
Excerpted from Severed Ties by George E. Simpson, Neal R. Burger. Copyright © 1983 George E. Simpson and Neal R. Burger. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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