Monday, April 26, 2010

Left Behind/Swifty

Madison Capital Times Column
Left Behind
by James Ozell

The headline is tongue in cheek. As in many small towns the columnist knows many of the people he writes about personally, this is one of those times. And when you're wrong you have to fess up to it. A few months ago I was sitting in one of our town's finer establishments of adult refreshment, when I met Michael Desmond. We shared an interest in The Doors and when I mentioned I'd seen them in the 60's his eyes lit up. We also had occasion to see Ray Manzarek down in Chicago, after which he told me he was going to start a cover band. I blatantly scoffed at him and didn't believe. Well, he whipped a band into shape and last night he opened with that band, 'The Unknown Soldiers', which just goes to show you the type of person you can meet in bars. True it may be a dicey proposition, but every once in a while you'll meet someone of ambition and drive. He made a believer out of me. He's someone from our area to keep an eye on and they're playing at that establishment of adult refreshment, 'The Place' for two weeks, so go and see them and don't be left behind.

Swifty's office was in Milwaukee. We found the address Reggie had given us without too much trouble. It was in an old building that must have been from the 30's or something, but I don't know enough about architecture to know what style or period the building was from. Standing in the building's vestibule we realized we had a problem.
"Do any of you know Swifty's real name?" I asked, running my eyes up and down the directory, nothing immediately popping out at me, and nothing looked right. Then Mitchell said,
"Here it is, Maxfield Leonard Representation, LLC."
"Are you sure?"
"Nothing else is even close."

The office was on the 22nd floor. As we walked in I pulled up short. I was expecting an outer office with a secretary, or at least a big office, but the first thing I saw was a window with what seemed a downward view of the city. Immediately behind Swifty's desk was a big wooden frame window that had a latch on it and you could open, like any one you would find in your house. We were only a few steps in front of the desk the floor had a 'creaky' feeling to it. I thought I could feel the building swaying as we stood there, or maybe it was just a sudden fear of heights or claustrophobia. On one side of the room were four or five filing cabinets, the walls held pictures of bands that no one would recognize with the possible exception of the bands themselves, and their mothers. In the middle of the room was a big desk with neat columns of papers lining its top. Behind the desk sat a startled looking Maxfield Leonard, Swifty. He seemed to be of average height, thinning hair. He looked like what you would think someone named Swifty would look like, a cigar stuck in his mouth, the buttons of his shirt straining to contain what was underneath. Not the svelte, well coifed, well-to-do agent I had imagined, but this was the reality of the dream. He looked like he might have been a gumshoe from a Damon Runyon novel. From that moment on, I started thinking of him as a cliché. Clichés, legends, myths, and stereotypes wouldn't exist if there weren't some truth at the bottom of them.
"Swifty?" I asked.
"In the flesh." He said, as he rose to greet us. "You the boys Reggie sent?"
"In the flesh." I said, matching him with an enthusiastic response.
"Come on in, close the door." We all arranged ourselves around the cramped office. Johnny and I grabbed the chairs in front of the desk. The rest of the boys leaned or perched themselves on the surrounding furnishings, adjusting themselves to look cool.
"Can I ask you something?" I asked.
"How'd I get the name Swifty?" He smiled, paternally, "that's always the first question." I shrugged my shoulders sheepishly. "It was sort of a joke. My father was a very dignified old world man, and he disapproved of this as my choice of a career, and he asked ‘what’s next? being called Swifty?’ and it stuck. It became a self-fulfilling prophecy." He looked at us, "now that we have that out of the way, ready to get down to business?"
"That's why we're here, man."
"Good, first things first," he paused for dramatic effect, "you should've never taken the gig at ‘The Place‘, to put it in your vernacular, you got ripped off."
"But we..." I started to protest, Swifty held up a hand to quiet me.
"I understand you had to do it to get on the map as it were, but whoever did the booking is done." He looked at each of us to see if there was any disagreement with the terms. There were none. "Now I understand Reggie wants to book you guys, for a couple more weeks."
"Yeah," I said, with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.
"Well, don't worry about it. Luckily, I know Reggie fairly well. I'll call him and we'll work out a more advantageous agreement. All right then, that's old business. Now about the tour." And he pulled out of his desk drawer a map of the United States and unfolded it spreading it over the top of his desk. He looked genuinely excited like an explorer plotting an adventure. I looked at the pictures on the walls again. How many bands had he sent off on voyages of exploration in search of gold and silver? A journey ultimately he himself could never take. Had any of those he sent off found their new worlds and treasures? I didn’t recognize any of the pictures, I was his Columbus, I would find those treasures of the New World, I wondered if they had any treasured stories of conquest. "Here's the tour I booked for you boys. It's a tour of the Midwest that'll get you to every major city and just about every podunk bar and club outside of them. The bad news is you won't get to see much of the scenery because you'll either be playing, sleeping, or traveling. Chicago first, St. Louis, Kansas City, Dallas..."
"That all sounds good," Johnny said, "but how do we get from city to city? Or is that our problem?"
"Good question, young man. I got you a second hand van, but it's in good condition and has enough space for the equipment and for everyone to fit in."
"A used van!" Brian exclaimed.
"And you're paying for it from the receipts of the shows I have lined up."
"So, we're in debt?" Johnny said.
"Welcome to show business boys." Swifty said, matter of factly.
"I also got you a roadie. He'll drive as well as help move equipment and set up."
"We don't need any help." Johnny said, "we're used to moving our own equipment and setting it up."
"He's also my proxy," Swifty said, sternly looking at each of us to see if there were any more challenges, "in addition to driving and being your roadie, he'll count heads at the clubs so you don't get screwed by the owners. He'll collect our share of the receipts from the venue, make the deposits and I'll send you each a check every week."
"And who pays him?" Brian asked.
"His salary also comes from the shows."
"Who is he?" I asked.
"My nephew, Tom."
"Nephew!" Johnny said, incredulously.
"Wait, wait, wait let's go back to this check thing." Mitchell said, indignantly, "if I wanted a job, I wouldn't have joined a band. I would've gotten a fucking job at McDonalds."
"Then you're welcome to. Any of you are welcome to pursue any path you want, but realize this is a business and a job the same as any other." Swifty said firmly.
"You don't have to make it seem like one." Mitchell grumbled.
"One more thing boys, Michael will be paid more than everyone else."
"WHY!" The band said in unison.
"Because he's the performance, the attraction that will be drawing people in." There was grumbling all around. "Mr. Desmond and I have discussed this, and from what I hear of the show it sounds like it's justified."
"You're going to take his word for it?" Brian asked.
"I called Reggie at 'The Place' also. It seems he was impressed with the performance as well."
"Wait a minute, wait a minute," Johnny said, and then looked at me, "I thought you said we'd share everything equally."
"You didn't take that offer. You called three weeks later, so I felt free to make a better deal." Johnny looked at his bandmates. They all looked upset, but they were in too deep. With the couple of months of rehearsing Doors songs, and paying gigs lined up, if they walked out the door they'd be right back where they started. Stuck in small town USA without a gig, with no one hearing their music, without any money, and nowhere to rehearse, but their integrity would still be intact. "Fine." Johnny said, controlling his temper, "and what do you get for all of this?"
"The standard ten percent," Swifty said. "I also make sure you don't get cheated on the gigs. I do advance promotion buying ads in the local papers a day or two before you hit town and coverage in the papers when you hit town, everything from the Tribunes and Times down to the Beacons and the Heralds. All you have to do is sign the contracts I've drawn up and you start the tour a week after you've finished at Reggie's."
"If we don't?"
"Then you play at 'The Place' for however long Reggie wants you. After that, if you don't have any other local gigs, it's back to whatever you were doing before."

(The Last Stage is available on Kindle, Nook Books, or if you would like a signed copy of The Last Stage they're available from my website (only $20!) at Jymsbooks via Paypal (, please don't forget your mailing address!)

Chapters 19 & 20: Johnny's Father & Calling Deidre

Monday, April 19, 2010

Breakfast of Champions

The next morning the house was buzzing with energy, I woke up after a few hours sleep, refreshed and energized. There was the hum and excitement of women in the house and domestic smells of breakfast being made. Sausage and eggs were in the air. I could hear the radio playing from the kitchen. I went down to the kitchen to find the boys sitting at the kitchen table, each with a girl I recognized from last night's audience. They had finished eating, their plates pushed away from them. The boys were leaning back in their chairs. The cats that ate the canaries, they were all engrossed in their own conversations until I walked into the room.
"Welcome to the Rock ‘n’ Roll lifestyle," I said, "I see the fruits of your labor are paying off, already."
"Good Morning, Michael!" Greeted me in chorus.
"What happened to you last night?" Johnny asked.
"I went down to the lake to think things over."
"Annnd?" Ian prompted.
"I noticed during Five to One Brian was a little sloppy on the solo."
"Man, can we talk about it the next time we practice? I mean let us enjoy this."
"That's not the right attitude for success."
"Cmon, let's bask in our glory a little." Johnny said.
"OK," I said, "did anyone get the paper and see if we got a review."
"Nah, we didn't check the paper."
"A good review might get us a better deal with the agent Reggie was talking about."
"Man, you really need to get laid."
"I've fucked most of the girls in this town," I said. I walked out to the front porch to get the morning paper. I wanted to see if any of my efforts to plant a story, or get a review in one of the papers had succeeded. I leafed through the paper until I found Jim's column. It had a badly printed but recognizable picture of him at the columns head. The headline jumped out at me, but I couldn't bring myself to read the review. I knew we did a good show. I did my best, but what if someone else not as close to it saw something different and didn't like it? It was only a mention in a column anyway, I rationalized, but like my grandmother used to say "you have to start somewhere." I heard the phone ringing, one of the boys took the message. It was Reggie reminding us of our appointment on Wednesday with Swifty, the booking agent, and the directions to his office. I made a note to myself to call Swifty first thing Monday morning.

(The Last Stage is available on Kindle, Nook Books, or if you would like a signed copy of The Last Stage they're available from my website (only $20!) at Jymsbooks via Paypal (, please don't forget your mailing address!)

Chapter 17 & 18: Left Behind & Swifty

Monday, April 12, 2010

Trial Run

Trial Run
I arrived at 'The Place' at about eight on the night of the show. I was dressed in black leather pants, a white Mexican wedding shirt, and silver concho belt that I bought that day. I got a pair of leather pants at the local Harley distributor right off their rack. The shirt and concho belt were a little harder to find because where do you find a Mexican wedding shirt in Madison, Wisconsin? I ended up in the woman's department of a local retailer. There were no Mexican wedding shirts, so I found a shirt that closest fit the picture in my mind. And the concho belt? Well, just about every woman's department in America carries them or a similar design. The sum of the whole was greater than its parts. Since we had started practicing I had let my hair grow out. It wasn't as long as Morrison's, but altogether I looked like Morrison at his apex.

The band had spent the afternoon setting up their equipment and doing the sound check, while I was shopping. I had spent the morning calling the local papers, including Jim who had taken me to see Ray only a few months prior. I went back stage and found the boys in the dressing room. It was small and cramped. On the far wall there was an old couch that was dirty and stained that Johnny and Brian shared. Ian and Mitchell were sitting in feeble looking chairs with their backs to the door, a rickety table was jammed between the couch and the chairs, and all this was only a few steps from the stage out of sight of the customers.
"Well, lookit here, our own Mr. Mojo Risin'!" Brian said, as I walked into the room.
"I never would've believed it, if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes." Mitchell said.
"Well, all right, Michael! We just may pull this off after all."
"What song should we start with?" Johnny asked.
"How about The End!" Ian blurted out, "that way we can make a quick exit, if we need to."
"Ha, ha, very funny," I said, "how about Break On Through?" We sat there waiting to go on. I had plenty of time to think as we sat killing time until we went on. Johnny and Brian were lucky they could pass the time tuning their guitars, or playing little impromptu tunes on the guitars which sat in guitar stands by their side. I tried to get into character I was trying to think like an actor, trying to get Morrison's character in my head and how he would act in this situation. Morrison himself came from a theatre background, having studied at Florida State, he went on to UCLA to study film. Theatre was always one of his intentions. For the feeling of the song I envisioned the promotional film The Doors had done when Break On Through was released as a single, all in black except for a couple of colored lights blinking, each of The Doors in a spotlight separated by darkness, Morrison pouting, trying to seduce the invisible audience.
"Whatta ya gotta do to get a beer around here?" I asked.
"Buy it." The unanimous reply.

We decided to start with Break On Through. It seemed to make sense, it was the first song on the first album and this was our first time in front of an audience. The band went on first. They started to play a drawn out introduction which was typical Doors strategy. They liked to let the pressure in an audience build until the last moment. Then Morrison would come out and release them from the musical trance. I walked out onto the stage and was standing above the heads of the crowd. The room was densely packed and the clamor of voices died down as everyone in the room looked up at me, the audience in anticipation of the show, and the band to see if I could actually do it. The only routes of escape were, singing, or jumping off the stage, pushing my way through the crowd, and out of the club. The band hit the vocal cue for Break On Through. I sang.
"You know day destroys the night." As I sang the words I didn't feel the tension of the audience break, they didn't move, they just sat there staring at me, or carrying on the conversations they were already involved in. I closed my eyes so I wouldn't have to see them and hit the words of the next lyric hard "tried to run, tried to hide" to shock them into some kind of reaction, nothing. During the instrumental I danced around the stage trying to engage them and when I got to "the gate is straight, deep and wide," I made it as suggestive as I could. Nothing. I finished out the song as best I could. When it was over there was silence, no clapping. All I heard was the background noise of drinks being ordered and continuing conversation. The audience didn't seem to be paying any attention to us. I stared at the audience frozen, not knowing what to do. I could see all my hopes ending there, after one song, the shortest career in music history, one song long. The band started playing Roadhouse Blues. I didn't know if I should get off the stage, or stay for whatever humiliation still awaited me. I missed the cue for the vocals to come in, but the band seamlessly went back into the song and started over. I don't think the audience noticed. Then something switched over in me, I wasn't going to allow them to humiliate me. I wasn't going to let them control how I felt. I was in control, I screamed one all for nothing scream, venting all my anger and rage towards the audience, torn from my throat. Then I hit the vocal cue.
"Going to the roadhouse, gonna have a real GOOD TIME!" The audience started clapping and cheering. The infection of the music moving them past the reservations they had, or maybe they were more familiar with 'Roadhouse', or maybe it was just a more up tempo good timey blues song, or just maybe I had shocked them into realizing we couldn't be ignored. During the rest of the set I pulled out all of Morrison's moves that I'd worked up during rehearsals. During the solo on Light My Fire, I went over to Mitchell and watched as he dibbled at his keyboards almost as intently as Ray Manzarek himself. I went into the audience and let a few people scream or sing. I acted out the firing squad scene of The Unknown Soldier. I fell on the stage writhing and contorting, I shocked the audience. In short, I gave them a real Doors show.

To end the show we were going to end it the way The Doors usually did, with The End. From the first lilting tones of the guitar, I was immersed in the song. I became part of the song. I didn't need to remember when to come in, I didn't need to remember the words, I didn't need to react, just act. I just was. I was the song, I was Jim Morrison! When it got to the Oedipal section after delivering the lines, "father? Yes, son? I want to kill you. Mother, I want to...fuck you!" I screamed again as the band lashed out into a musical torrent of primal torment. I whipped myself into a fury, twirling, dancing with the music, no acting, no rehearsed moves, being on-stage was like having sex, you exist outside of time and space, you‘re immortal. I fell to the floor hard and delivered the last lines from the floor. I laid on the floor for a second or two, one arm hanging off the stage, the shirt matted to my skin, my chest heaving, I was empty, devoid of everything, I stood on the precipice looking out into the darkness, as I pulled myself to a sitting position, then it happened...applause, real applause, people waving and cheering. It filled me with me with a warmth and became a power within me, it was birth, a metamorphosis, new worlds lay before me that hadn't existed before, I felt as if I were becoming larger than the room, like the room couldn't contain what I was becoming, I rose up out of my mind "I AM!" I could go on for hours. I didn't want the feeling to end, and I understood why Morrison had wanted to keep the party going. Why he needed to drink just to slow it down so he could feel normal again, to quell the excitement, keeping the hounds at bay. This is where Morrison got that energy.
"Thank you! Thank you!" I said. I decided to throw in an improvised Morrisonesque rap. Not the exact words he ever said, or that I ever heard, but they had the feel of Morrison.
"All right! All right!" I said, "this is work for me, I wanta get outta here and have some fun, fun, fun, and some other words that start with fu!" A final cheer went up as we left the stage.

Back stage we were celebrating, people were crowding into the dressing room to congratulate us. Pressing in to shake our hands and/or tell us how cool we were. It seemed the whole audience had packed in backstage. It was the seed of addiction. I wanted to get up there again and again. I wanted to sing and dance! We were having a beer reveling in the success when Reggie finally was able to make his way to us.
"You guys were great!" I could hear him shouting over the crowd, to Johnny. Johnny looked excited, "I'll book you guys! This Doors act really packed the people in and you guys were really good. If I closed my eyes I could almost see The Doors. I'll book you guys for a couple of weeks, that'll give you some money. If you want, I can set you up with a booker who can get you guys a tour, at least through the Midwest. It'll be a lot of riding around in a van together, sleeping in cheap motels, or in the van on the way to the next gig, but you can get some bucks for it and maybe some groupies. That is if you want to do it?"
"Uh, I, we, uh...." Johnny stammered, and the rest of the band looked sheepish.
Reggie noticed their reaction "This Doors act wasn't just some kind of ploy to book your original act, was it?" Johnny looked at his band mates trying to decide what was the right answer to get the gig.
"No, no...this Doors thing is our act, it's Michael's idea." Johnny said motioning to me.
"OK, then." Reggie said, shaking his head.
"All that doesn't sound too appetizing." Johnny said.
"The groupies do." Ian said.
"C'mon you're in your twenties!" I said trying to motivate them, "this is the time you'll spend sleeping on your friends' floor, not eating, and screwing women you don't know anyway. Why not do it for your career, making some money, and the spirit of adventure? How many people can do that? Do you want to live your life or read about it when some other band becomes famous because they did it?"
"Who's this guy? The booker, I mean," Johnny asked.
"His name is Swifty."
"A little Runyunesque don't you think?"
"Where'd you hear a phrase like Runyunesque?" I asked.
"Probably the same place you did, a book."

(The Last Stage is available on Kindle, Nook Books, or if you would like a signed copy of The Last Stage they're available from my website (only $20!) at Jymsbooks via Paypal (, please don't forget your mailing address!)

Chapt 16: Breakfast of Champions

Monday, April 5, 2010

Practice Gig

We'd been practicing for a couple of months, the band had worked out the arrangements on most of The Doors' songs. They sounded perfect, but not too perfect, they just left in any mistakes, not that they were playing sloppy, it's just those random elements gave it the needed spontaneity. It was a delicate balance. I decided we were ready to find a gig. First of all to see how the act would go over, and secondly the boys were getting anxious and starting to make noises about all the rehearsal being a pointless exercise, and that it was taking them away from their own music, and lastly some money in their pockets would go a long way towards relieving all those feelings. One afternoon I skipped rehearsal and went to 'The Place' and talked to Reggie. When I got back to the house the boys were rehearsing a song I didn't recognize. I looked around the room and realized it had become and looked like a place where four guys lived.
"We gotta get this place cleaned up." I yelled. They stopped playing and looked at me, trying to figure out if I was serious or not. In the time we'd been practicing we had developed a good working camaraderie. Not quite friendship, but bordering on it.
"Hey man," Johnny said, “when do you want to learn more about the music?”
“I don’t want to know too much about the music it might lose it’s magic for me, I don’t ask you to do any of the singing, do I? But I have some good news.”
“Like what?”
"I got us a gig!" I yelled.
"We got a gig!" They all said, excitedly, jumping towards me, wanting to hear all the details.
"Where?" Johnny asked.
"At The Place."
"How'd you do that?"
"I'm friends with Reggie." I said.
"You're friends with...Reggie? You said..." Johnny started, then blew out a breath in frustration. He didn't seem as excited as he had been the moment before. "Well, thanks for saying something to Reggie about us the day we auditioned."
"It's his business which bands he hires."
"But he booked your cover band idea without even listening to us?!"
"Well, he did want to hear the band," I said, "but when I mentioned that he'd heard you guys before, and I told him who you guys were. I guess your performance impressed him enough, it clinched the deal for him."
“But he hired the cover band sight unseen…” Ian said.
"If you thought we were good enough for your cover band idea, and you seem to have some influence with him, you could have mentioned something to him that first day."
"No, I couldn't have," I said, "what makes you think my opinion would have changed his mind?"
"If you believed in our music you could've said something, it might have said something to him."
"Well, I thought you guys would be excited that I got us a gig."
"We are." Brian said, "maybe just in shock."
"So, what're you guys rehearsing?" I asked, trying to change the subject.
"We're rehearsing our stuff."
"Oh, you guys are rehearsing your songs?"
"Yeah, dude, we've been rehearsing every day after you left."
"Oh, well,..."
"Do you mind?" Johnny said, "this is for the band only."
"Well, rehearsal is over, ...uh..." I stammered, "I guess...I, OK." I went back to the kitchen, opened a beer and listened to them work up their songs.

(The Last Stage is available on Kindle, Nook Books, or if you would like a signed copy of The Last Stage they're available from my website (only $20!) at Jymsbooks via Paypal (, please don't forget your mailing address!)

Chapt 15: Trial Run