Motherf*cker: The Making of Powertrip

Travel back to 1997 for a look into the world of an “A&R man who happened to be a chick.”

The guys in Monster Magnet reminded me of the South Hackensack Lizard Boys I grew up with. High school dropouts who sat around picnic tables in Fochini Park getting stoned and drinking Jack Daniels, when the cops drove by they scattered under rocks. Lizard Boys were guys a real Jersey Girl dated. The boys a father would hate. The chicks were quarantined to a separate bench. I knew more than they did about music and I was a “girlfriend” so I got to sit at the boys’ bench. This way Brian and I could easily make-out; push each other up against trees where we thought no one could see him put his hands down my bell-bottoms.

Lizard Boys blasted “Iron Man” and Zeppelin, but their lives were The River. I wonder who got Mary pregnant? Who got laid off from their construction jobs? Who died in a car accident or of an over dose? I think Brian who ran off with my virginity did. In 1973 his mother sat in a car while the garage filled with carbon monoxide. His father never forgave him. Here in 1997 my Red Bank Lizard Boys weren’t sitting around park benches. They sat around L.A. recording studios. I wonder what a South Hackensack Lizard Boy would give to do that.

I had a rule. No sex with my artists. No sex with an artist signed by the record company who employed me. Along came Dave Wyndorf.  On paper it didn’t make sense. Dave had a long face surrounded by dark stringy hair. He had one of those goatee/mustache things that looked stamped on his face. All of which sat on a short, pale body encased in colossal muscles. Piercing blue eyes that were too close together. Inbred eyes. He was awkward, yet strong like he might explode into a million pieces of a planet from a comic book. Dave’s voice separated him from normal people. The voice, the pale muscles, and that odd face all mixed together…Rule? What rule? I have a rule?  Almost everything about making that record broke rules. But without all of the insanity and hysteria I don’t think Powertip would have been a hit. I don’t think it would have been created at all.

The guy originally assigned to oversee this record locked himself up in a Hollywood Hills mansion with a pile of crack and a cache of guns. It was 1997 and rock was strong. The KROQs, MTVs, VHSs were consuming dirty boys who played guitars. David Anderle, (who I hope is up there hanging out in a groovy lounge filled with reel to reels), my guru and head of the A&R Department, gave me marching orders, “This band has to have a hit record now.” I lived on the East Coast and I was a Jersey Girl. Somewhere along the line I told him that seeing a Monster Magnet show “makes me want to get fucked on a pool table.” I guess I fit all the qualifications.

When producer Matt Hyde first saw the band he didn’t want to get fucked on a pool table. He had the male equivalent of whatever that is. He tracked down Dave Wyndorf, like a 14-year old girl trying to find Justin Beiber.  Generally, producers don’t do that. This project landed in my hands with Matt Hyde, his studio, and most importantly Dave’s songs written and recorded on a little 4-track. He handed us a vision encased in a cassette. Before any of us had even met we’d exchanged conversations, music, handwritten notes all of which created a concept for a record that felt cinematic.

By the time Monster Magnet arrived in L.A. at Northvine Studio, which was leased by Matt, and home to a 48-track custom Crystal Console we knew what our rolls were. Everything was dictated by this enormous vision. Sometimes Dave made sense, and when he didn’t I translated. Our weirdly dynamic Scorpio/Virgo mix served us well. Powertrip was no The Godfather because nothing is The Godfather. However using that film as a template is the easiest way to describe our roles. Matt and Dave together were  Francis Ford Coppola, Dave was Maria Puzo, I was Albert S. Ruddy and A&M Records was Paramount Pictures. Once again, let me make myself clear, I am in no way comparing Powertrip to The Godfather. If I were I should shut myself in a room I never leave.

The skimpy $220,000.00 budget seemed impossible to work with. It had my assistant Ellen walking the trapeze more than once. In the late 90s bands at Monster Magnet’s status had recording budgets double that amount. Our measly $200k budget had to cover Matt’s fee, studio time, engineers, gear, cartage, flights, hotels, car rentals, per diems, union payments (haha), tape, mixing, editing, mastering and surprises. Years ago Dave submitted a demo to major labels as a joke. Accidently he got himself signed to a major label. Thus resulting in a shitty deal. On top of which that man never saw Powertrip coming.

The 90s were sexy. There was a blue dress, socks on cocks, Madonna got erotic(a). Hollywood released Basic Instinct and Showgirls. Television gave us “Sex and the City.” In keeping with the times, one fated evening Dave and I were eating turkey burgers and sharing French fries on the landing of his hotel. By the time those burgers ended up in a crinkled bag I was being led into a room at the La Cienega Park Motel stripped of my denim overalls and cotton panties with Paul Stanley’s face stamped all over them. Our chemistry became part of that record. “I haven’t fallen asleep next to someone for years!” “I never share cigarettes with anyone.” Later it made sense, but I’d never had a sex addict fall in love with me.

From that first night in an L.A. motel until the final edit Dave, sex and the record was all I could think about, and the world according to Dave was, “The only things in my life that matter are this record and you Deb.” We started a succession of watching each other sleep, sharing cigarettes, breaking each others’ hearts, mending them, leaning on each other, exchanging germs, sitting in silence, spending hundreds of hours in studios, being placed side by side in business meeting after meeting after meeting completely in synch with each other.  We were working around the clock. “She keeps me going,” he would say. “This record is going to kill me,” I would say. My closest friend Amy said, “You act like two kids who are grounded.”

 

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Me and Dave Wyndorf circa 1998-definitely should have been grounded.

 

Matt Hyde had recently gotten sober. Dave and I were both abstinent. We were all addicts and addicts always find a substance to enslave them. The record became our drug. It satisfied most of our addictions except a few we couldn’t get a handle on; sex, gambling, cigarettes, voyeurism, eating, exercise, drama.  Even though the record couldn’t possibly satiate all of our combined addictions Powertrip was our primary monkey. Northvine Studio was hidden away somewhere behind Melrose Ave. It was a dark and dingy utopia. I drove onto a gravel parking area surrounded by an old chain link fence with an enormous load-in dock that hid the studio’s entrance. Matt’s wife and I would hang out on that dock, legs dangling over the side, sitting in the sun while the guys sat in a dark room rolling tape.

The first day my motorcycle boots stepped into that studio there was porn scattered everywhere. Not regular porn. Disgusting porn. Packaged in little magazines that can almost pass for comic books, but don’t. The magazines and videos could have been tucked away but weren’t. Dave was a master manipulator, and although this might have been a test. I didn’t flinch. I was there to listen. As long as they were working they could tango with anything else they wanted to. Matt decided I was “An A&R man who happened to be a chick.”  That was ironic.

Matt’s job was to keep the record moving forward and mine was to keep Dave from self-destruction combined we were a blitzkrieg. When our struggles included band members who couldn’t do their jobs, and who had attitudes on top of ineptitude, studio musicians were called in. When the budget bared its teeth I went in to A&M and fought for every crucial dollar. If we had to use a different studio we packed up and moved from Northvine to NRG. Matt’s configurations satisfied the subtleties and the largesse of a cinematic recording. Later on his duality in phasing; specifically microphone placements on the drums and guitars confused the mix engineers, but that was later on. We had moments when we were feeling rotten, complaining, wearing down, tearing at each other, but in the end we believed and that was everything.

Amy, Dana, Cid, Julie and Liz, my closest friends although tired of watching me cry, dealing with my ecstatic ups and downs, helping me through chronic bronchitis, experiencing my burn-out; stood by me and took care of me. Thank god they were spread between both coasts because so was I. Undeniably there was a group of people who were set to breathe a sigh of relief once this record was finished and I could walk away. The day came when David Anderle cut to the chase, “I know how hard you’ve worked to develop a purely professional relationship with Dave.” Because eventually the day came when I had.

Anderle had been notorious for his sexual escapades and since his reputation wasn’t pearly white he didn’t give a shit about mine. It was the 90s, and as Courtney sang, “We even fucked the same.” The industry was an arena where everyone overlapped everywhere. If you were going to stand and judge you were wasting your time. Once a record was completed, music through packaging, the entire visionary process completed, my job was to move out-of-the-way, and Anderle trusted me to. Record companies were diverse groups of departments made up of people with specific talents and responsibilities. A&R people stood in the background watching our babies, but ultimately that day always came when we had to let our records go out into the world and grow up.

Back in the real world the business was flipping. In the 90s the general formula became ‘follow the money.’ A&R people with super empowered creativity were no longer a component of the new formula. If bands were gazing at their shoes, everyone looked for shoe-gazers. If a couple of rock bands crossed into rap territory than that’s what got chased. The artists were going to lawyers for representation. The A&R executives were going to lawyers instead of clubs. Producer managers got into the game too, sad because producers were the originators of A&R not their managers. Over expensive lunches at Trattoria Dell’Arte acts and gossip were being discussed. “Just between the two of us did you know?” Across the room we’d wave at each other while whispered tones exchanged the exact same information. Those lunch tabs were in the $80.00 plus range. We were flying around the country in business class. It all added up, and later it all caught up.

An artist and an act are two different things. We lost sight of artistry. That was more pathetic than the gossip or the overindulgence. I loved an $80.00 lunch, but real artistry is easier to swallow. I made mistakes and signed acts. Which sucked, and through some painful lessons I learned how to stay true to myself. I worked my way into this business at 21. By 1997 a little more than a decade had passed and as I matured clarity followed; I would never be compensated nearly as much as a male peer, and I would never have access to the same type of power men had. I didn’t want to ordain Wyndorf wisdom, “People like us like to dance and we like to fuck so we’ll never acquire power because people who have real power don’t have time to dance and fuck.” I  would have appreciated some power and some money, even if dancing and fucking did nurture my soul. It was unfortunate that he was probably onto something there.

I went scuba diving for a week. Immediately after I came up for air, set my feet back down on New York concrete the Powertrip mixing drama began. In New York Roli Mossimann was mixing. While I was processing giant stingrays and nocturnal octopus Dave was either talking dirty, or complaining. “I miss you Deb,” while kisses, kisses, kisses were sent over the Gulf of Mexico. I came home and fired Roli. I fired people. Joe Barissi one of my favorite engineers was let go after one song. Terry Date was next in line. I don’t know what went on in that studio, but it went something along the lines of, “He’s scaring me with the wine.” Terry was “chasing the low-end,” and no one had seen it running around.

Dave was becoming unhinged and I was beginning to feel like Anais Nin running to save Henry Miller, “He loved her for what she could give him not who she was.” What I could give him was every reason not to have a nervous breakdown and ruin a couch. Larrabee Studios had history. A long and beautiful history involving Carole King, Gorgio Morodor, Michael Jackson recorded Dangerous there! I really hated being Anais Nin to his Henry Miller because it was a line out of a friggin’ Jewel song. Still I was not going to let Dave Wyndorf tear up the lounge. So I ran to him, and hired John Travis.

With every engineer fired Dave and I leaned on each other more. “I want to drive from L.A. to Las Vegas lock myself in a hotel room with you and just fuck for three days.” “I love your mind it’s sweet and devious, and the combination is driving me crazy.” “You are so sexy. If you just sat quietly and looked at people you would drive them crazy. But then you open your mouth and Hackensack comes out,” Fifty percent of that one worked. And of course, “I love you. I love you. I love you.” In the wee hours my fingers were being sucked on while naked and lying on his side I swore Dave looked like Jesus. He just didn’t act like him.

Most of John’s mixes got canned. They weren’t bad, they just weren’t right, and of all the engineers John was the guy I hated letting go of most. He brought an element of joy back to the project, and this group of junkies needed to laugh. Dave could describe the plot of a movie better than if you actually saw the movie. John was quick. Matt was smart and loved banter. I spoke Hackensack. There was non-stop energy and entertainment. Until the realization came that once again we’d failed.

Next stop, Dave Jerden. He was the final solution. He was the Jane’s Addiction guy! Problem #1 Jerden refused us entrance to Paramount Studios. Problem #2 he doubled booked us. Problem #3 when we finally got into the studio we found his assistant mixing our record. Fired. I was kicking myself and A&M were kicking harder. By this time Matt had already recorded two other records, and I had attempted three other signings. Nine months and Powertrip kept wandering around looking for its Oz. We’d spent over three hundred thousand dollars searching.

Every time a Roli Mossiman, Joe Barissi, Terry Date, John Travis, Dave Jerden got hired we were paying their rates, studio time, additional gear rentals, travel and surprises. Combined the guys we hired had discographies that included Jane’s Addiction, Soundgarden, White Zombie, Incubus, Pearl Jam and Deftones. Collectively these bands were saving rock & roll. I believe the most significant achievement of the 90s was the resurrection of rock and roll. I desperately wanted Monster Magnet to be part of that club. Pump your fist and scream “Space Lord Mother Fucker!” The listener is never going to think about the acoustic 90 seconds that open the door to their first fist pump. But we had to.

I was running off frustration with Metallica’s Loud in my headphones. I jumped off the treadmill. Dripping with sweat I flipped open my phone, “Dave!!! I’m Fed Exing Loud. Listen to the drum sound!!!” Randy Staub had a Lars’ library. He replaced every Powertrip drum sound with a Lars’ trigger. Fifteen years later while Lars was sitting on Michael Alago’s lap I fessed up. He was not only honored he loves Powertrip. While working at The Armory a small part of me feared a lawsuit. The one I’d convinced my boss not to a give a second thought to.

Dave and I headed to Vancouver. He strung his room, just one floor above mine, with Christmas lights where late at night, ambient music in the background he could suck on my fingers, the rest of me, and we could finally get this record finished. Honestly by that point I’m not sure which excited us most. It was a tedious process, but Randy Staub studiously fixed the drums, dealt with the phasing, and got this motherfucker of a record mixed. Music, like cinema, is an illusion it can be a room lit by Christmas lights, or Lars’ drum sounds.   You don’t need to know what’s behind the curtain as long as you end up pumping your fist screaming, “Space Lord Mother Fucker!”

We were like the Russian astronauts who were safely yet precariously delivered to earth August of 1997.   One of their less publicized problems was the lost ability to get rid of their waste. Same problem Dave and I had. The Russian government, the press and the poor astronauts were all throwing around blame like a basketball during a playoff game. We did that too. He lied and manipulated and I was guilty for believing him. He refused to acknowledge our relationship. The one that everyone knew about anyway which made me feel worthless.  Yet I stayed and believed it was more than this.  I was in a relationship with a sex addict, and for over a year I reinterpreted the lies with what I wanted to hear. The only thing Dave and I ever had together was a record, and astounding sex. By our second trip to Vancouver we hit bottom, “Is there something awful I can do to make you hate me so much we can just have sex?”

During the entire saga of making Powertrip I couldn’t come up with anything worse than he’d already done; kissing the fire blowing bassist from Nashville Pussy directly after he’d left my apartment for a New Year’s Eve show my roommate booked. Fucking his roommate on the nights he didn’t stay on the phone with me until 5 a.m. “Deb, it’s just sex.” During a period of torrential fighting, aka one of our “break-ups,” they showed up to the album photo shoot wearing matching cat suits. I had to leave until that situation got fixed. The love handles were going to make me light myself on fire. Taking me to the circus with his entire family including ex-wife and four-year old daughter, and still refusing to acknowledge that I was his girlfriend (his family including his ex hopeful I’d end up as wife #2, it would have been very scary to tell people I was once married to Dave Wyndorf). Trotting around with dancers from video, photo and television shoots that I’d helped coordinate. He mentally tortured me, but he never physically hurt me.

Dave was forthcoming about his addiction to sex which is a much more complex fixation than it sounds. Sex is a supersonic concept to begin with. I suppose that’s why we spend a whole lotta time thinking about it. At the outset ignorant of, but once well-informed, I still signed on. My curves fit his muscles like a puzzle. Desire can be excruciatingly rapturous, and I became addicted to my appetites. Our lives mirrored this record, our refusal to give-up, and the sacrifices we made to keep going. Just like junkies.

We had been inseparable since that visionary 4-track tape was brought to life: the tracking, the mixing, the mixing, the mixing, the mixing, the mixing, Northvine Studio, NRG Studios, Electric Lady Land Studio, Bay7 Studio, Larrabee Studios, The Armory Studios, the sequencing, the editing (“Mother Mother” yikes!), the mastering, the styling, the artwork, the packaging, the video shoot, the new management company. Powertrip entered the Billboard charts in the top 50, a coup for a heavy rock record. Monster Magnet had a video in heavy rotation at MTV, “Space Lord” was heard every hour on the hour on every rock station across the country. My work was done. It was time to kiss my $460,000.00 record goodbye.

Monster Magnet’s tour bus was getting ready to depart. The leather clad Bullgod well equipped to take on the unwashed masses. There’d be lots of one night stands, and stories that would make Jerry Springer’s head spin. One afternoon I received a phone call from MTV News asking for verification that a lesbian act had been performed onstage.  I wasn’t clear on who I should ask about that. Standing on the bus Dave put his arm around me. I reached around and scratched his back. We let go of each other as people began to board. I walked down the stairs and back into my world. He had his work to do and I had new artists who needed me. Powertrip had arrived.

A little over twenty years later I was on the phone with Matt Hyde. As we were about to say goodbye, I confessed to him, “The gift Dave gave to me, left me with, is he made me feel beautiful. He made me feel like the most beautiful girl in the world. No one had ever made me feel like that.” Long pause, and Matt said, “He could do that. He made me feel beautiful too.”

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He still makes me feel like the most beautiful woman in the room.

Dedicated to Dave and Matt, my partners in the trenches.

 

 

 

 

 

You Only Live Twice (part one)

 

Six magical months, I’d fallen down the Rabbit Hole, one that would be free of mean queens and weird eggs. Fairy tales converged. I came face to face with The Pied Piper and fearlessly followed him. Wait, where did the Piper take all those people? He was Peter Pan too. What the hell happened to Peter Pan again? This was a boy who ate candy for breakfast and took a bath before he went running, “I don’t think like that.” Six insatiable months lead to 16 months suffering from a heart so shattered I’m not sure it ever healed, and twenty-five years later I’m okay with that.

I was crazy with love. I will never forget that feeling, but I can still feel the pain. Painstakingly physical and unfathomably psychological my love affair was an impassioned journey. It was so easy for me to love someone who hated me, and hate someone who loved me. Denial and desire make harrowing bedfellows. In the end, I felt like I’d been burned at the stake, nothing left but ashes in the image of a girl. Years after the embers were cold, I went back and found a dead boy grinning.

My life was normal, well normal for a female A&R executive, until a frustrated songwriter whose daddy started an empire showed up to buy a new toy; all the Polygram Distribution labels. I was an employee of A&M Records, people lose their jobs during corporate mergers. The money was frozen. Everywhere I turned my colleagues were freaking out. I had a quiet confidence, but I was bored. Idle hands are the devil’s workshop. Then again, the universe loves fools, drunks and dancing girls. Out of thin air, or Avenue B, a beautiful blue-eyed boy came along.

Months earlier Monster Magnet was performing at CBGBs, the record on the verge of radio play. I was wearing a blue slip dress with great big red flowers on it, twenty-five years later and I remember that dress. “You turned around and smiled at me. The whole world disappeared.” I don’t remember him, yet the dress remains indelible. “You were always alone.” I didn’t like baggage or negotiation. I liked everything in its right place. He ruined the groove of my life.

Ginger hair, big blue eyes, a young Lou Reed, and accordingly, “everyone wanted to fuck Lou.” I was at The Continental with Jesse on what appeared to be a normal Sunday night. Cid was performing, and there he was sittin’ on a toad, I mean barstool, and I’m sure he was waiting for me. “I know someone who has a crush on you.” “The bartender on Avenue B… he thinks you’re really hot.” I found it hard to believe, we had him listed as one of the 5 cutest guys on the lower east side. Within thirty minutes I was sitting on his lap. Fifteen minutes later I was straddling him. I grabbed Jesse’s whiskey and downed it as I walked out wrapped up in a beautiful blue-eyed boy.

We commenced to eat each other up.  Rubbed raw, knowing it was going to hurt, yet not able to stop. Night to morning to day to evening, someone had to make it stop, “Baby I think we ate too much.” What happens after you’ve been consumed? When we weren’t together, we were coming from, going to, waiting for. On first look, our friends saw the perfect couple. Imaginary worlds only exist until someone finds their way back out of the rabbit hole, or chances upon the ruby shoes, or ends up in the oven. Little Red Riding Hood and The Big Bad Wolf got so comfortable eating candy in their Avenue B cottage, they forgot about the blazing ovens.

Together we upended ghosts.  Sharing spent, sweating, closeness we ventured into dark places and survived them. We fit into each other whether we were fucking, walking, or sitting across a room from each other. Spanning from one to the other existed an invisible umbilical chord. We drank coffee laced with condensed milk, and danced to “You Only Live Twice,” while the smell of homemade bread smothered us. Made love on the couch listening to Nina Simone, “I’ve listened to this record a thousand times and it’s never sounded like this to me before.” Obliviously holding hands. If one let go, the other might float away. Walking through Tompkins Square Park singing “Perfect Day.” The lyrics still describe us.

 

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Just a perfect day/ Problems all left alone/ We can do this on our own/ It’s such fun

 

Back then he was a sober bartender (I still don’t understand how people can do that), and of course he had a band. I knew he’d been a junkie and a street hustler. I wanted a street hustler. I wanted perilous. I wasn’t built for insipid experiences. This Hackensack girl craved vicissitude. Metamorphosis is painful, and in that I wasn’t alone. In the end I was left burned up and scarred. And it really hurt.

We came together wounded. I was living hard, fast and drunk. Relinquishing the streets left him with run-of-the-mill STD’s. He hated the dick that fit me perfectly. It never occurred to me that he was ceaselessly plunging an instrument of hate into me. I was a clueless, inebriated “angel.” Perhaps being loved and hated conjointly made me the perfect fit. Add in denial and a bartender could mix one gorgeous Molotov cocktail. “You are so perfect for me. I can’t believe I found someone so perfect for me.” I filed “perfect” next to “I adore you,” and that next to “I love you,” and that next to “You make me more human.” Although, “I wish I could crawl up inside you and live there,” was perplexing.

My friends were sending smoke signals. Jesse, “doesn’t it feel weird that your boyfriend had sex with my (male) bass player?” My assistant Ellen, “You’re never in the office. Everyday someone asks me where you are, and I have to tell them I guess she’s fallen in love…” Kelly (rip), “I watched that guy fall head over heels in love with you with my own two eyes, but I should have known something was wrong.” My brother muttered something about, “the wrong side of the tracks.” Ryan, “Be careful. He’s a bad guy. He’s dangerous in ways I’ve seen, and you haven’t.” Dave, “He’s too young for you. You’re playing house.” Dana, “Is this really the life you want? Quit your job, live in a tiny apartment on the lower east side and get pregnant?” Cid, “I hate that guy.”

I found a green camisole in our bed. “If I didn’t know this was yours I would be furious.” I honestly didn’t care. Our sex life was transcendent, so why let a cheap green camisole get in the way? If you could end up in the ER suffering from too much sex we’d have side-by-side gurneys. I found the hidden chicks with dicks magazines (they were under all the pots and pans in the cabinet above the stove). That apartment was all about him, the smell, the stuff, even the single bed we romanticized. John and Yoko needed a king size bed to intertwine, it’s much easier in a single. All his other porn was exceptional, thus I mentally obliterated chicks with dicks. I wasn’t paying attention at all.

There was a box shoved in the back of his closet filled with woman’s clothing. One night he took it out, and started dressing me up. I love clothes. I loved my leather pants, leather midriffs, cowboy hats and boas. Little black dresses with mules. My Levis (or his) with heavy metal baby tees and motorcycle boots. Slip dresses ala Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, a knock off Liz. Those were my feathers. The things flying out of this box were hooker clothes. Cheap clothes the Puerto Rican girls left at the Salvation Army. Those big blue eyes turned feral. He was screaming while pulling out awful whore skirt after whore dress, disgusting polyester halters. He called a friend over. I was put on display. My tears held tight like a corset, which I would have preferred to this. Arms flailing as I tried to cover up the same body that was perfectly comfortable sitting naked in his kitchen. “Oh God, please let this end.” Anal sex never felt like a violation. This did.

We went to Paris. We went to Boston. We went to L.A. We found hideaways in the countryside. We had funny interactions with Legs McNeil, and plenty of New York’s demimonde. We met the parents. A song was written for me. He witnessed the beginning of the next era in my career. I vomited tequila all over him. There was ‘not my lingerie’ in the bed. Looking back he saw details while I saw scope. Not seeing the details propelled me. If I were cognizant of each separate element I never would have seen that they didn’t fit together. All of which to say, I am here and he is not. All of which is for later.

Four months in, “I knew while I was gone you were going through my closets and wearing my clothes!!! Why?” I didn’t understand why we couldn’t work this cross-dressing situation into our sex lives. Shuttered tight, this part of his life was off limits. For me he was all boy, muscle cars, hot musician, punk, flirt, and girl crazy. Playing with sex was a no brainer for us. Which made this piece incomprehensible. “I was doing a lot of acting out around then.” Cross-dressing was his drug. Drugs are a secret. They give us relief from the unaltered world. Drugs demand we isolate. For three solid months were using. Our drug of choice was the relationship. Now he was using something else. If I was heroin, cross-dressing was crack. But I had my own secrets too.

Four months in, the real world came knocking. Twenty-five out of 200 people at A&M Records kept their jobs. Tom Whalley liked the rock chick, Ted Fields liked my knowledge of the roster, and Jimmy ran by screaming, “I’ve heard she’s terrific! She stays!” I was going back to work, and I was psyched. Even though I had the perfect boyfriend, momentum was pushing me out of the rabbit hole. The one with secrets in the cabinets and Pandora’s Box in the closet. My two worlds collided. While I was traipsing to my office in a mid-town high rise my boyfriend was at home wearing my clothes. Still, I was living the dream and he was still living.

-End of Part One

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You made me forget myself/ I thought I was someone else/ Someone good

 

Drug Farm

“Got a knife in my back got a hole in my arm when I’m driving the tractor on the drug farm” Lyrics Dave Wyndorf/ Photo: Michael Alago

 

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.

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Me and Andy Gould at The Four Seasons Hotel. Last call. Good thing my leg was there…

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.

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WWND? Obviously I’d done the thing Nick would do. Photo: Lindsey Anderson

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.

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Me and Brody. If you’re lucky, and I am, you find out there’s a life filled with love outside of the Ladies Room. Photo: Lindsey Anderson

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.

#bandaid

About a year ago Josh Homme said to the press, “Major labels give groupies credit cards and call them record executives.” I squirmed. I’m positive Josh wasn’t directing that statement at me. I am fairly positive Josh doesn’t think about me unless he’s talking to me. So, why squirm? Plus, I love groupies. If it weren’t for groupies our record collections would be terrible.

One evening over dinner a woman, who has been a booking agent for thirty years, got terribly distraught, “These girls today…they have no class. They’re all porned out. They aren’t like we were. I mean, we were the supermodels of rock & roll.” I giggled inside, it reminded me of that last bit in Almost Famous. While Sapphire shamefully picks at her plate she laments, “these new girls they don’t even know what it is to be a fan. Y’know? To truly love some silly little piece of music, or some band, so much that it hurts.” Plus they eat the sirloin.

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1985-kinda ‘splains a lot. Partner in crime Juli Kryslur, she later went on to open Enigma Records NY office.

In the days of Rock Scene Magazine I thought about growing up and becoming a groupie. I loved rock stars. I quit Brownies because no one wanted to talk about David Cassidy. I don’t think it was ever a dilemma, but it also never transpired (except maybe that time I asked Gene Simmons to kiss me-story for another day). I have wrangled with the madness of Jeff Tweedy, Ryan Adams, Jesse Malin and Danny Sage, Dave Wyndorf (for a time I was his girlfriend), Karen O, Alain Johannes and Natasha Schneider, Joshua Homme and Nick Oliveri, and so on and on… I always wonder if life is irrevocable fate or if we make our own realities? Ultimately I grew up to be an A&R executive.

My job did furnish front row surveillance to groupies climbing the stairs of tour buses. I’ve seen mother/daughter teams, and twins. I have seen actresses, models and porn stars. Some of my bands share stories that would spin Jerry Springer’s head like Linda Blair in The Exorcist. I have accidently opened backstage doors that gave me a glimpse into a young boy’s wet dream. Ya’ gotta love Detroit. Climbing those stairs was de rigueur for me, but I always had my own bunk.

The more desirable commodity was having my own hotel room. I like potable water. Danny Sage from DGeneration got a kick out of knocking on my door at 8:00 a.m. Who the fuck is up at 8:00 a.m. during a tour? Danny. He’d lie down on a perfectly white bed with his smelly leather pants and muddy motorcycle boots on. It was innocent, and made me laugh. A few times I had to coerce security (that’s hard work and fast talking) to unlock Dave’s room only to find him sleeping, but like 10 minutes before set-time. And I’ve never gotten a speeding ticket. Once I let QOTSA use my room to shower. I’m the type of person who makes my bed before I check out of a hotel room. I never did that again.

In the 90s I wore leather pants, cowboy hats, boas, and great boots. Jesse told me I would win the Grammy for “The most leather wearing A&R person.” If style makes the groupie, than yeah, I’m gonna do a little squirming. Wetlands, October 9th, 1999. A line of Suits from Columbia Records marched backstage to meet Queens of the Stone Age. They didn’t look like groupies, they looked like lemmings with ties, but I think I might have. As protocol dictated I was wearing leather pants (they belonged to Dave Wyndorf, he’d thrown them at me before a Monster Magnet show in Boston) and a QOTSA baby doll t-shirt. Looking back I wish I still had those abs.

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I forgot to mention sunglasses (essential)

Eventually The Suits paraded out. We were closing this deal. The war had whittled down and I’d be damned if The Suits were going to win it. The president of Interscope Records wanted it done, and I wanted it done. I closed my deals. Sometime after the Wetlands show Josh and Nick laid it out, we looked at them and we looked at you. “Look how cool Debbie is.” We don’t work with Suits. I’d won. Leather pants and baby doll tee me, VP of A&R me.

Maybe you can’t look at the events of your life through one lens. Groupies follow bands. Groupies love bands. A really good groupie loves great outfits. I did too. I also put the pieces together; closed my deals, made lawyers return each others’ calls, assessed budgets, negotiated studio prices, secured recording dates, found producers/engineers, rented equipment, helped make decisions (should Dave Grohl be our drummer), edited singles, handled mixes and sequences, oversaw artwork, videos and marketing, dealt with managers and agents, checked in on tours. My life was music, conversations, business and laughter in no specific order. Josh and I are still laughing about my Olympic leap, the one that kept him from punching Jimmy Iovine in the face-story for another day. Though I carried one, my job wasn’t so simple as using an Amex card to feed musicians.

I lost my job in 2004. Napster arrived, and downsizing became the new black. As memory serves me, a dear friend went over to the dark side as Napster’s head of publishing (an oxymoron). At some point during her impressive career she dated a rock star, and had her portrait painted by Jon Bon Jovi. During the Lullabies to Paralyze tour Josh said, “Between art and commerce you leaned too far on the side of art. That might have been your undoing.” If I want to go deep, it was never about the leather pants.

Cut back to Penny Lane (I promise I will never reference this film again), “We are not Groupies. Groupies sleep with rock stars because they want to be near someone famous. We are here because of the music, we inspire the music. We are Band Aids.” I was never a groupie. However, for right or wrong my take on the job was undoubtedly unorthodox. #bandaid.

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2014 side of stage QOTSA- forever #bandaid

-For Deb B. with gratitude

 

 

The original “Debbie’s Song” published June 2010

The Original Debbie’s Songhttps://insideplaya.org/2010/06/19/debbies-song-3/

Debbie’s Song

The playa has worked with many artists, many executives, and many labels. One of the most interesting periods of a long and creative experience was the time I spent as a young A&R executive on the staff of the EMI Records Group. It was a time immediately after I’d experienced creative success on a world wide basis, when I’d led Giant/Warner Brothers Records into the Urban Music market by playing a significant role in compiling the soundtrack for the crack opera, “New Jack City.” For my efforts, I was rewarded by being shown the door. A former label mate provided an opportunity for me to continue practicing my craft, and I joined the EMI staff in early ’92.

Debbie Southwood-Smith was another young A&R executive at the label with taste, wit and style. We have been friends ever since we worked together. Please find below her brief first person account of her time spent in records, and her most recent career developments. Even though I know the story, I found it to be riveting. I hope that you’ll agree.

insideplaya

I was an A&R executive for about twenty years. I started directly after graduating from Emerson College in Boston, when I landed a starter-kit job with MCA’s regional branch in Woburn, MA. I worked as a promotional assistant, gathering data on radio adds, drops and specialty show plays. I could also be found packing up vinyl to be shipped out to Oedipus’ WBCN or Sunny Jo White’s KISS 108 as well as occasionally driving out to Amherst or Providence to deliver a record personally. After watching REM climb the top 40 charts with “Losing My Religion, I recalled that just a few years earlier I had watched them perform T. Rex’s “20th Century Boy” at The Rathskellar. Michael Stipe’s back was to the audience – which had been scant at best -almost the entire set. I decided I wanted to help bands journey the path from almost complete obscurity to crossover and mainstream acceptance.

Michael Alago Little Steven Van Zandt Debbie Southwood-Smith

MICHAEL ALAGO LITTLE STEVEN VAN ZANDT & DEBBIE SOUTHWOOD-SMITH (THE AUTHOR)

I’m a Jersey Girl, having moved from Queens to Hackensack where I spent most of my formative years. In 1989, I went back to Queens and got an apartment that I shared with three boys, all of whom were upstarts in the music business. I got a job working for an independent label called Rockville Records. I signed a band called Uncle Tupelo, now considered pioneers of the alterna/ country movement. They later split up and Wilco was born from one of their branches. I caught the attention of Brian Koppelman and Fred Davis. (“Who is this girl who is everywhere, every night?”) Brian took me to see The Black Crowes right before Shake Your Money Maker was released, gave me Fred’s number and told me to call him directly. Fred was hiring for the newly consolidated EMI/ Chrysalis/ SBK label group and needed a street kid. My lucky number had been pulled. I did some stuff. I signed a crazy rock band from New York City named DGeneration, who were destined for greatness, but shit happens – and that’s another story for another blog. I signed Blessid Union Of Souls who had the #2 song in the country. I was 29 years old. That was cool. I left EMI and went to A&M Records. Fred said, “People in the business like you, but now you need to have some success,” so I made a gold record with Monster Magnet who tore up rock’s airwaves and created mayhem on every tour stop. A&M was my family until it was kinda torn apart, and the remains absorbed by Interscope Records. Many reading this will remember it as Black Thursday- my ass landed at Interscope. Dazed and confused, I got up off the deck, ignoring the horrible things people were saying about “girls being kept on because we were paid less” – a fact, yes, a reasonable one, no.

I got busy. It was 1999 and I had places to go, things to do and bands to sign. I signed Queens of the Stone Age who had gold records followed by a platinum record. I signed The Yeah Yeah Yeahs who had a gold record and a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist. I got a new boss. We didn’t see eye-to-eye and things got tough. But I still remember Interscope marketing overlord, Steve Berman referring to me as their golden girl. (“What are you going to do next? Everything you touch turns to gold.”)

Debbie's Back

THE AUTHOR

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THE YEAH YEAH YEAHS

Eventually Interscope cut my position in 2005. I had a deal on the table for TV on the Radio, but I couldn’t get anyone to pay attention to me. I had gone from golden girl to lost and confused girl. An antiquated business model that had everyone running on fear threatened all the record companies. There were a whole lot of people out in LA trying to decapitate each other; the whole situation had changed into some sick joke that had something to do with Machiavellian laws, which frankly, I don’t play by. I couldn’t survive in that environment. I did yoga everyday, for crying out loud, I was like all “Om” and shit. In 2005 I was unemployed and completely lost. My identity as “Debbie from Interscope” gone. I did some totally dumb things like giving up my Greenwich Village apartment on Christopher Street, where I had lived for 16 years and moving to the Massachusetts countryside and trying to work at Long View Studios, thinking about many possibilities, none of which worked out. I ended up in Jersey City contemplating my next move while the music business, as I had known it from 1986-2005 was laid to rest. I believe in survival of the fittest, yet even so, I can’t help but feel a tad bitter about being dismissed from a life that I poured my heart and soul into. There will always be a part of me that cries out, “Why me?”

Here, the story takes a turn. I decided to teach. I’d taught a class on A&R for Baruch College on and off for five years. During that experience I had learned that no matter what subject you are teaching, what you are really doing is trying to help people make sense out of life, and in turn those people helped me understand my life, little by little. It was the only time in my life, since I had started working in the music business that I was doing something selflessly, because believe me honey – no matter what your federal or state government is telling you – teaching is never about the money.

I enrolled in Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Master of Education program. I graduated (with a 3.89- ahem) in 2009 and was hired by the school in which I completed my student teaching internship. The high school where I am currently employed as an English teacher is James J. Ferris High School in Jersey City. It is located under the NJ Turnpike overpass in the center of the Montgomery Projects. It is truly what in PC terms is referred to as “an inner city school.” These are the schools placed in minority districts. No matter what your property tax is, I can guarantee that these schools are not receiving your tax dollars in any significant way. These are the buildings in which our black, Dominican, Pakistani, Filipino, Puerto Rican, Haitian and any other economically challenged minorities are placed. Why am I there? Because you go where you are needed.

THE AUTHOR

My students love music. They all have mp3 players of some make or model. They have sneakers and most have cell phones. What they do not have is a future unless they are the few who are determined against all odds to create one. My students are mostly 16-18 year olds who are in their sophomore year. In the record industry we had a term for the second record “the sophomore slump.” This applies to high school as well. The students read and write on a grade level ranging from third to sixth grade. Rare are the kids who are “on track.” Even my honors levels classes are filled with young people who have never been taught how to properly conjugate a verb, capitalize a proper noun, or insert a paragraph. They do not understand the definition of simple words, such as refute, contagious or sinister. They don’t know that Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden are related. They are completely unaware that there is an enormous oil spill off the Gulf of Mexico that will somehow affect their lives in years to come. What they know is the ghetto in Jersey City.

Many of my students don’t live with their parents, or perhaps they live with one parent. They have been handed off to guardians because their parents are still in the DR or Haiti or wherever, or their parents are on the streets, or dead. There might be a myriad of other reasons for the lack of adult guidance in their lives. Every kid has a story and most of them are very sad. Many of my students are gang members, or their blocks are under the control of a gang. An enormous majority of the girls will not graduate before becoming mothers. The kids who make it to college usually attend the community college, an extension of the “inner city schools” they are a product of, and drop out after a year or maybe two. My students live with very little hope for a future that doesn’t involve government assistance.

THE AUTHOR SURROUNDED BY THE STUDENTS OF FERRIS HIGH SCHOOL

When I worked in the music business I always had a bag packed in my living room. I had frequent flyer points on almost every airline. I traveled to and did business in almost every state in the union. I spent time in the UK, and considered myself “bi-coastal.” I wasn’t a girl from Hackensack, NJ anymore. I was exposed to so much, and my life in the Big Apple was filled with art, adventure and people from every walk of life. I knew arty hipsters like The Yeah Yeah Yeahs. I knew important, wealthy men like Rick Wake, Jimmy Iovine and David Anderle. I rubbed up against artists who were nuts and fun and forever creating – such as Josh Homme, Michael Alago, and Ryan Adams. I had friends who were traveling, working, and on the cutting edge of everything, like Marilyn Manson, Natasha Schneider (RIP), Jesse Malin, Ken Friedman…and the list goes on and on. The point that I am making is that many of you, who are reading this, have had experiences very similar to mine and the call I am making to you is to please, go where you are needed and share what you have been blessed with.

I bring to my students, a BIG, juicy life. I bring color, personality, the lesson behind every fire I have walked through and all that has brought me joy in life. In turn they give me love. These children from our ghettos are not to be feared. They live in fear and vulnerability and seclusion. Our at risk kids, living in shelters, living in public housing, living with their uncle the block’s crack dealer, or a tragically addicted mother, or grandparents who are tired, and they need to see us. If they don’t know that people outside the Montgomery Housing Projects exist, they will have nothing in their lives to aspire to. The messages of Albee Al and Joe Buddens are all they will know and it is not enough. I certainly am not asking all of you to drop what you are doing and become teachers in the ghetto. I am asking you to find a place where you are needed, a place where there are children, and do one thing every year to help them. Come speak to the kids in my school. Donate books, technology, or money to a community center, but more importantly donate your time. Spend one hour a year sharing your experience, strength and hope.

I miss the music business. I miss the rewards of hearing a record I worked on being played on the radio; I miss the constant travel and the shimmer of the offices, the free tickets and glamorous parties. Of course, I do, I’m human. However, teaching at James J. Ferris High School is the most fulfilling job I have ever held. Much like the rock & roll that I grew up on, it is filled with chaos, drama, and stresses that I never imagined, but mostly it is filled with love. These children, are our future, and they need us. What we get in return is almost more then my heart can hold. Please share it with me. It’s an hour out of your life. They need you.

Debbie Southwood-Smith

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