Once again Gary Harris schooled me, “Debbie stop the bullshit! Get over it. I have never known an A&R person who had hits that didn’t get high. Debbie I have never known an A&R person who had hits that didn’t get high. I have NEVER known an A&R person who had hits that didn’t get high.” This A&R executive had mad crazy skills at both. *An aside-Before this roller coaster takes off, I must confess two important factors: I lived a life where timelines didn’t exist, and I spent many years picking up and putting down alcohol. 1989 through 2004 was a fast lane. Please be tolerant.
The late 80s came with Uncle Tupelo. East St. Louis may be the most depressing place in America. I think in order to live there, which they did, you were compelled to drink. “Whiskey bottle over Jesus.” Plus the beer at Cicero’s cost about fifty cents. Eventually I could outdrink Jeff Tweedy. Although chaotic and potentially disastrous the whole gig was fun. Teenage Fanclub and Uncle Tupelo played CBGBs. My red shoes ended up on the wrong side of the bar. Tony Margherita and I spent a good part of the night shouting for more beer, trying to retrieve my shoes and more often knocking each other over. Uncle Tupelo’s No Depression started a movement, and a magazine. CMJ ruled the 80s and an indie-hit record was still a hit.
While pounding down beers at Don Hills he spoke and I slurred about the Wilco masterpiece Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Also, I may have fallen off my seat. Jesse Malin was so upset he thought the logical thing would be to tell everyone how worried he was. New York City rock & roll rumors do one thing, they get back to you. “I could think of only one person I would want to take to this show.” Jesse was offering to take me to see The Stones. “You’re telling people I’m on pills??? How dare you! I wouldn’t see The Stones with you if you were the last person alive.” I was too high and too arrogant to see my favorite band with one of my favorite people. I never had a hit record with DGeneration, but I did sign them to a major label and in turn they put me on the map below 14th St. the equivalent of a hit.
Around the time Andy Gould arrived, strip bars, the Cigar Club 666, The Ivy, The Palm, chic hotel bars, anywhere fun and everywhere we could drink became the norm. Andy was a combination of Arthur, and Austin Powers (and possibly any role Dudley Moore ever played). We worked ourselves to exhaustion. We drank and joked and danced. Andy even danced like Austin Powers, I had Axle Rose perfected. Andy helped me settle into L.A. The one where you drank Bloody Mary’s at Barneys for breakfast tablehopping to kiss-kiss. Drank Pina Coladas for breakfast while Andy Gould and Bob Chiphardi cheered on that nefarious Gene Simmons make out session. Martinis were as commonplace as naked pool jumping. I was scrupulous about keeping my clothes on, even though most of them were sheer and stained with red wine, they never got wet, and they always stayed on. L.A. is manifest for voyeurism. Andy ensured us a front seat. He was a genius, and I loved being Andy’s wingman. A cheeky twosome who shot for the stars, and every album, single and video we worked on together went big. Went larger than our collective malfeasance.
On “Black Thursday” I landed safely and securely at Interscope Records. Eventually Andy left me for Jordan Shure, and I filled the void with Queens of the Stone Age. I was signing the most important band of my career. I was also heart broken. That’s a story for another day, but involved vomiting a great deal of tequila on one of the cutest boys on the L.E.S. One bona fide fuck up. In absolution I gave up drinking alcohol and eating food. Instead I ate pills. When I walked my purse rattled. Still good fortune shone down on me. Black Thursday + a job = major hit.
Dave Wyndorf cornered me in a hallway at The Chelsea Hotel. “Are you on pills? You look terrible!!! You think you look junkie chic? You look fucking hideous!!!” (P.s.-I’m worried about you) Of course I was doing pills. I was eating pills all the time. My jumping off point were the sleeping pills I discovered that would get me through all the sleepless nights that finally gave birth to Power Trip. Having just been pierced from tongue to toe I did what any pilled, pained, pummeled waif would do ran down the stairs. Space Lord Motherfucker getting you through Power Trip almost killed me! By the way, once we had that hit record the drug farm seemed a very nice place to hang my cowboy hat with matching boa.
Another tour bus, another OzzFest, boys jerking off to another Pantera set, Ozzy performing night after night in those awful sweat pants with that stupid hose. It clicked, “What would Nick do?” WWND? “It must be five o’ clock somewhere.” That’s exactly what Nick Oliveri would do. I was still living in absolution for the tequila incident. So when that first beer got gulped guided by a handful of klonopin my body had a party. Rated R was rearing towards Gold. I was high.
Those days felt magical. Josh and Nick showing up unannounced at my NYC office, “Let’s go do stuff.” Stuff got done. Me showing up at The Academy in London, while a still fully clothed Nick palmed off a handful of Percodan. “Want these?” Josh, his brother and Brody called from Niagara. “Okay, I’ll meet you for ONE drink.” Sitting down at the booth, Josh locked eyes, “I’m gonna get you so fucked up.” Next thing I knew it was 5:00 a.m. and I was barefoot hailing a cab. The February barefoot walk of shame is not pretty. We already had one hit and apparently I was dancing barefoot to another.
Somewhere in the midst of all this self-imposed chaos Asif Ahmed showed up dangling The Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Some people black out and end up in Vegas. I ended up in Copenhagen. Asif and I wrestled on the floor of the Soho Hotel (an evil place). He broke bottles of red wine and drank from them. I drew a line. It was white. “If Jimmy doesn’t come to the L.A. show we won’t sign with you.” It takes a lot of sedatives and liquid fortitude to talk Jimmy Iovine into a rock club. “If you don’t come to the UK we won’t sign with you.” We shoved half eaten lobster shells into the Polygram executives’ man bags. Asif and I never walked into a meeting with anyone, not Jimmy Iovine, not David Joseph, not Lyor Cohen, without bringing bottles of red wine and demanding sandwiches. By this point I could lick my wardrobe and get drunk. However, somewhere between New York, Los Angeles, Lost Vegas and a whole lotta UK, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs signed with us. They delivered not just a hit album, but “Maps.” Fever to Tell made everything I did excusable (even though most of it was Asif’s fault).
QOTSA opened for the RHCP at MSG. It was Josh’s birthday. I drank magnums of champagne with Karen O and during the bacchanalia lost a couple of my hair extensions. One became the centerpiece of the big man’s b-day table. Asif notified me of the sad, sad, loss. Brody and I spent as much time in the Ladies Room as we did dancing and hugging. I was outlandishly skinny, I was highly successful and did not care that I was outlandishly high. Here’s the catch, other people did. Care.
I fell down. A lot. I wrecked romantic relationships with my head in a toilet, a drunk- dial, or a temper tantrum. I threw money around like a member of G-Unit. I was always bruised. I wrecked thousands of dollars of Marc Jacobs clothing. Everything was excessive: dancing, sex, working, the number of people a bathroom could hold, shopping, exercising, apologizing, money, lack of money, travel, dinners, outfits, embarrassing myself…everything. But hey, I had hit records, Grammy nominations, charisma…Suddenly something stalled. I got tired. I got lonely. I’d had it with hits. I stopped getting high.
Sex, drugs and rock & roll compose a contract I signed with no legal representation. I made the mistake of believing the holy trinity must be grossly indulged. I would like to say the “Tractor” stopped there. Now and then there was a drought, or a break down. Finally the day came when the farm sold, and the tractor rotted.
Recently backstage at MSG, one of the most badass women to ever walk the earth whispered, “Debbie, sober is better.” Truth told not all A&R executives who have hits get high; it’s more like 85%. Gary knew I had something most don’t. Stories. When he demanded, “Debbie, stop the bullshit,” he was giving me permission to tell them.
-Dedicated to every person who came to my aid circa 1989-2004. Dave W, Phil C, Nicole H, Matt H, Jesse M, Danny S, Diane G, Steve K, Kristin H, Lisa B, Ellen M-P, Michael A, Thom E, Cid S, Asif A, Liz B, Julie F, Dana M, Mark W, David C, Jimmy I…more than I can list (or remember-oy the mind). I’m sorry if I’ve left you out, you are all my angels. Mom and Daryl you have the biggest wings, by far.