SFO3 Diary

Thursday
Afternoon and evening, scruffy clusters of writers, musicians, and label reps filtered into the Press Club's Oak Bar, fishing through "goodie bags" stuffed with the music-biz equivalent of junk mail and dragging down the dress code at the Post Street fraternity by several notches. At one point, a white-haired, gin-blossomed fellow in a beige sport coat -- surely a Press Club regular -- quietly slipped in and ordered a drink, bemusedly surveying the incongruous freak scene from an armchair beneath an oversize speaker, which was blaring Girls Against Boys and Nine Inch Nails. (J.S.)

"Writers Soiree" Writers like myself often abuse alcohol privileges at gatherings clearly intended for self-introductions and handshakes. I was short on flesh-pressing, but I met one seasoned gent using the affair for its purpose. He stared at my name tag with an intensity both desperate and baleful. Networking commenced. After introducing himself he told me that late in life he had heard his calling: He wanted to write music reviews.

"What kind of music do you like?" I asked.
He thought about it, perhaps too long. "Good music," he said at last.
I was about to say, "Me, too," when he ruined a perfectly good ironic intro by adding, "Club music." I sicced him on an editor. (M.B.)

Slim's L.A.'s Eels, one of the first signings to the DreamWorks label, were one of a handful of bands whose summer touring schedules brought them to SFO3 by default. Bumped to an 8 p.m. start time, the group nonetheless managed to attract a pretty good showing, though most of these were industry folks loudly announcing their undying loyalty to David Geffen. During one of the many pregnant pauses in his group's offbeat, pop 'n' angst set, Eels lead singer "E" took offense with his audience's endless nattering: "Shut the fuck up!" he barked.

Later that night, another SFO showcase-by-default. New Orleansian John Sinclair and his pickup band, the Blues Scholars, honked and spluttered their way through a quaint little set of the bandleader's Monk/Trane/"Frogman" Henry-inspired verbiage set to pedestrian 12-bar shuffles. Sinclair is the former White Panther party leader, MC5 manager, and point man for John Lennon's legalize-pot campaign; despite that pedigree, his gassy, jive-ass "poetry" and his bespectacled, sweat pantsed, Confucius-bearded appearance make him a great potential replacement for Bleeding Gums, budding hipster Lisa's sax mentor on The Simpsons. (J.S.)

Friday
A day in the life of San Francisco's hardest-working musician: After morning aikido lessons and an afternoon corporate gig in South San Francisco with Super Diamond, Scrote finishes a gig at the Paradise Lounge with his band Baby Snufkin. He's then on his motorcycle, guitar strapped to his back, heading over to Bimbo's to perform with his latest addition, Herb. The next day he has to make it over to the Press Club where he'll appear on a panel or two, do a bit of schmoozing, play at the supersecret surprise Super Diamond gig at Mick's Lounge, squeeze in a little rock-star-style boozing, and collect payment for his respective groups -- he manages them all as well. Some people just don't want to get a day job. (S.T.)

Panel: "Take Me to the River -- and Maybe You Can Make Me Drink" Before a dappled backdrop of blue and gold tinsel, managers demonstrated various levels of bravado, hubris, and indifference. Moderator Elliot Cahn, who used to handle Green Day, asked members of the audience not to use the Q-and-A period to promote themselves, since this pissed him off.

Choice commentary came from Ron Laffitte, a vice president at Elektra and a former manager of Megadeth and Jane's Addiction. Laffitte made management sound like rearing a severely retarded child: "Let the manager take control of your career -- protect the client from himself." He quoted Aerosmith's manager: The manager's job is to make the talent "rich, famous, and happy. If they're not rich, you're fired. If they're not famous, you're fired. If they're not happy --." Laffitte's demeanor might have been related to being fired by Dave Mustaine of Megadeth -- rich and famous but apparently only sporadically happy -- every four months over several years.

Chris Coyle of Industrial Management brought unusual self-effacement into the proceedings. "Managers are frustrated musicians," he shrugged. The rest of the panel found things upon the table surface at which to stare. By the time Laffitte went into a laborious anecdote about moving Tracy Chapman units, I'd become saturated. (M.B.)

Panel: "It's Only Rock & Roll, But Money Is What I Like" This panel offered a workman's pragmatism that few aspiring pop-gods want to hear. Peter Berliner of Innovative Entertainment, who pimps cover bands, jugglers, mimes, and actors to corporate galas, described the high-end earning power of bar piano players ($150 an hour) and Motown "copy" bands ($10,000 to $20,000 a night).

Keta Bill, a Zasu Pitts Memorial Orchestra veteran, said that corporate bands have to be ready to play anything. Berliner and Lisa Klein, of L.K. Management, emphatically agreed. "They want you to be a human jukebox," said Berliner. "Remember that the check is coming." Klein offered the most world-weary outburst of all: "Be prepared to sing 'Louie Louie' with the drunk company president, and do it well." (M.B.)

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