Time was even if you scribbled for some second-rate rag, you could eat, drink and be merry on the record-company dime, tearing up Trader Vic's with Slade or getting into all-night pissing contests with folks like Lou Reed. Those days, however, are long gone. Sure, some fortunate souls like Rolling Stone's Neil Strauss get to contemplate the meaning of life while lying in bed with Jewel or talk about, um, like, really cute guys with Christina Aguilera. But for the most part, lesser talents like myself spend their days doing long-distance phoners with obscure bands named Bevis Frond, Neutral Milk Hotel and Slobberbone -- groups whose career takes are probably less than Ricky Martin's weekly eyebrow-waxing bill.
Worse still, being stationed in a non-industry outpost like Phoenix means that the opportunities to bask in the radiant glow of "genuine" rock stars comes but once in a blue moon.
However, we were recently blessed with the unexpected -- a call from the local Warner Bros. representative inviting us to a special VIP meet-and-greet with Nina Gordon, solo artist and former front woman for Chicago alt-rockers Veruca Salt.
The affair was held at a posh downtown Tempe eatery, where there wasn't a trace of fried food or watered-down beer to be found. No sir, the Wabbit was shelling out the big bucks for top-dollar ales and eats -- Bucatini al Arrabbiatta, Pollastrino alla Diavola, Salsiccia di Cinghiale and a whole host of other ridiculously overpriced, unpronounceable Neapolitan delicacies.
Juxtaposed against this lavish backdrop was a crowd composed mostly of scruffy record-store employees, the occasional business type and a few random nubiles, invited, no doubt, to spruce up the scenery a bit. All this in addition to the usual disturbing cadre of men with health-club physiques, Banana Republic credit cards and tanning-bed complexions; such creatures seem to perpetually hover over this kind of event.
Since you, the great huddled masses, may never get the chance to partake in the staggering glory and opulence that is the rock 'n' roll "biz," we offer the following narrative of our experience. In the process, we hope to provide some helpful rules and recommendations, on the chance, however slight, that you might someday make it to "on the list, plus one" status.
After repeatedly confirming that all the booze is free -- and earning a big roll of the eyes from our server, a woman who correctly senses this crowd of freeloaders won't be tipping very well -- Bash & Pop places an order for three beers. This is the first and most important rule of the VIP event -- order as much free liquor as possible.
You never know how long the complimentary libations will flow, so take advantage. If they cut things off early, you're well-stocked and probably completely bombed, anyway. And, if they keep the tab open all night, we recommend bringing along an Igloo Port-a-Cooler, to squirrel away those extra bottles. Most important, always order up. If you're normally a Bud Light person, try a Steinlager. If, like us, you prefer Miller High Life ("The Champagne of Beers," it should be noted), then go all chichi with a cold Hacker-Pschorr. Remember, foreign beers won't kill you, and if you drink enough of them, even world music starts to sound good.
A brief how-d'-you-do with the Warner rep, who despite his errant fashion sense (sockless loafers, jeans with creases sharp enough to slice bread), turned out to be far less unctuous than the standard industry reptile. Warner Man discreetly gives Bash & Pop an advance copy of the entire album, not just the single being handed out to the other partygoers. This is rule No. 2 of the VIP affair. Even under circumstances where technically everyone is a "special guest," recognize and exploit the subtle hierarchy, one in which the writer sits atop the proverbial food chain. Unless, of course, there's a radio jock in the house, at which point we plummet to second fiddle.
Surprisingly, Gordon's meet-and-greet time is actually spent meeting and greeting. Unlike most male artists, who usually don't deign to cast their gaze upon anyone not bearing silicone torso torpedoes, Gordon makes it a point to chat up everyone in the place. She even goes as far as to learn and remember the name of each partygoer -- a schmoozing technique no doubt gleaned after ordering one of those late night "Mega Memory" programs.