March 6th to May 12th

These entries are taken from my journal over March-May 1997. They read exactly as I wrote them. I was a 33-year-old A&R Director for A&M Records.  

*This is not an excerpt from my book.

Anything that appears in italics is me now, a 56-year old woman, writing to my 33-year old self, and/or to you.

March 6th, 1997

I haven’t written in over a month. Wow. Missed all of February. So much has happened and just as much remains unchanged. I went back to AA meetings. I am officially on my “third day back.” That’s the lingo. What drove me to it? Getting so drunk on Saturday after a Green Door Party I threw up for 4 hours Sunday afternoon and had sex with one of my girlfriends in the office of Coney. (the club Coney Island High). I cannot drink. It doesn’t work for me. There’s so much more but I’ve been energy deficient lately.

I gotta say last week was hard, and this week will be harder. Funny how as soon as I decided to go back to AA all my protection devices activated. Working hard, stayin home at night, cooking, wearing loose comfortable clothes. I’ve slowed down. I spent the New Year in Paris thinking this year would be all about poetry and sensuality and beauty. Instead it’s all about recovery. Well, I have a great deal to recover from so this is not a bad thing.

It seems like all my words have dried up. Got sober, stopped thinking. Actually, I’m trying to get through the days without dropping from exhaustion. I’ve got a terrible crush on Jeff Tweedy. As a result of all the hot sweet talking we did in Raleigh and again in NYC when I saw Wilco a few weeks back.   I was glad I flew one of my best friends from Boston to SXSW to hang out with me. She and I spent some time with Jeff in Austin. We babysat Spencer while Jeff and Sue went out to do Austin stuff. God, he’s so beautiful. He practically screamed in that NC dressing room, “Do you ever notice how much sexual tension is in the air when we’re in the same room?” Thank you Jeff I’m excited to know your entire band and road crew have ownership of that information. He’s so beautiful. So married. Beautiful son too. Nothing but trouble. What is my problem lately? It’s either booze or completely inappropriate men.

The new guitar player for The Jayhawks is a total babe. I’m trying to transfer all my inappropriate feelings for Jeff to Kraig “Jayhawk’s guitar player” Johnson. Then that bartender (who I fucked during ‘Sex Month’-in the book) calls and starts talking all kinds of sweet shit and then Danny (Sage) calls at 4:00 a.m. to tell me I’m the only one and he wants to run away with me. (I regret not taking him up on that) What is going on? Why can’t I find someone true and sane? Why are they all married, or alcoholics or off their heads? Just doesn’t seem fair.

Been staying sober. Didn’t drink a drop during SXSW. The meetings are working their magic. I really just make myself go and I listen but I don’t feel like I’m working a program. I don’t even know what that means. All these fucking alcoholics in these meetings seem so unhappy too.  (Self-centered, egotistical, full of self-pity I wasn’t ready.)

I was really happy in Austin. We laughed so much. Saw amazing music and oh the food. But we didn’t hit one of the infamous Austin strip joints. Are they full on nudie or something? I know there is something ‘special’ going on there. Next year. That’s the cool thing about SXSW. There’s always next year.

I’ve been listening to music, living with my head in a speaker these days. It’s like I can be alone but not alone. Music makes me feel sane but free. I can shut my mind off and collapse into it or I can sort through my shit and escape into it. It’s all good.

L.A.  

I dropped Lustre today. David Anderle didn’t like the demos and I couldn’t give him an honest thumb’s up after I went to NC to see them. It’s the same songs that didn’t work on the first record. You can’t have a sophomore slump when your first record wasn’t a hit.

Plus, I decided not to pursue Chemlab. That was becoming a slightly abusive situation. There was cocaine available at any hour and I wasn’t resisting. And what the fuck with the girlfriend walking around with a cucumber up her ass? That’s what I need, to listen to you talk about your naked porn-actress girlfriend, who happens to be walking around with a vegetable in her bum while I’m trying to explain why my boss isn’t ‘getting it.’ It’s good to know I can spot a potential horror show before I commit. Do I hate musicians?   (I loved musicians and I did not know how to spot a potential horror show or else I wouldn’t have a book in me)

Had more hassles with Alan Moulder and Monster Magnet. We have to find a new mixer. Dave Wyndorf is starting to freak out and he’s overworked, way too tense and starting to crack a little. So am I.

April 12th 1997:

L.A. (I believe throughout this time period I flew to Los Angeles 3x, Austin and N.C.)

The months are flying by. I can’t believe it’s almost time to dye my hair again and I haven’t made a diary entry in weeks! I’m back in L.A. for a few days. This is a strange trip it feels almost without purpose, but to see if I can do it. I’m doing everything in my power to conjure up enough energy to get through the days. I’m tired. I don’t have the energy to dress up. I crave cooked vegetables and remember to take my vitamins and have my teeth cleaned. All the boys at Coney Island High looked silly and young to me. I’m not getting too worked up by the drama Jesse and Danny dragged home with them. (When DGeneration moved from EMI to Columbia and I moved from EMI to A&M I remained their Band Mother) All these things could change, but right now they are my life. Plus work. I have gotten very good at smoking though.

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DGeneration sent postcards from the road. Looks like Jesse’s handwriting.  Buy wow did Danny get ripe on tour (in the book).  Howie Pyro’s postcards were the best but he usually remembered to sign his name.

One of my L.A. comrades came to pick me up from my hotel as soon as I checked in. Hit the pavement as soon as I landed. I really liked Scott Thomas last night. It’s something I would very much like to do. This year I just need to do and do and do. No more pussy footing around.  (I didn’t do ANYTHING but work so I don’t know when I was pussy footing anywhere) I need to get some acts signed. That’s all there is to it.

Yesterday I had a fantasy about turning into a character in an Andre Dubus short story I read on the plane.  She’s a housewife in rural Massachusetts. Her life consists of taking care of her husband and three children. She doesn’t work. She spends every waking moment completely in the moment. Her simple life allows her to give full attention to whatever she happens to be doing at the time. Waking up her children, washing clothes, food shopping, all come with their full significance. My life is the polar opposite. I’m so busy. My schedule is bulging. I don’t have time to notice what moment I’m in. It limits my ability to be observant, to be thoughtful about myself, my environment and others. The carousel day in Central Park made me feel completely in the moment. If I could relax. If my body didn’t hurt all the time. If I had money and didn’t have to worry about the rent every month. (I was severely underpaid compared to men in the field) If I could live in nature I might be happier for all these things. I wish I could walk 5 miles a day.  In nature-everyday. I wish I wasn’t so burnt out on my days off. I wish I had time to live fully in my environment and give something back to it.  (It makes me sad that I didn’t realize what I was giving)

I’ve been thinking about all the kooky men in my life.                                                     (The following is funny and heartbreaking)

-This morning I realized something about Wyndorf. His world in Red Bank is so small that he’s developed a huge imagination to make it bigger. He’s childlike. Dave has incredible communication skills, he is a visionary musician, he can’t make a decision to save his life yet knows exactly what he wants to do. He is a fascinating character. The huge, sexy rock god and yet he can’t drive himself to the airport.

-Jesse (Malin) is another one I’ve been pondering. He’s caring and giving yet one of the most selfish people I’ve ever known. Jesse is loving, gentle yet into scary scenes with very odd people. He loves drama. Loves creating it and then basking in it.

-Danny (Sage) is the one I probably love the most. So smart and observant and another great communicator. One of the biggest and most damaged egos I’ve ever encountered. He wants it all and can’t figure out how to get through one day of it. Danny has no tools to help him live. But he wants it all and I admire that in him. Still, he’s total id. An Aries. Probably can’t help it. Still he loves so hard.

-Speaking of id, of course we come to Ryan (Adams) last. It’s so hard for me to look at Ryan because I know all about him.  (BTW-I never had sex with Ryan and I have no idea why I thought I knew all about him except that he stayed with me a lot but still…odd)             He is so young and talented and great. Handsome, sensitive, charming, silly-Ryan has it all going on. He’s a huge alcoholic. He doesn’t see what it’s going to do to him. He doesn’t know what a sad disease it is. He doesn’t know how hard it’s going to be to stop once it isn’t fun anymore. He’d better figure it out though. He thinks he’s feeling-he’s really running away. One Dubus story said we make ourselves scared by running away. If we stand and defend ourselves we are not feeling fear we are feeling strength. Ryan doesn’t know about that yet. I hope he doesn’t die before he figures it all out. He’s the closest to me. When I dream him, I dream me. It is just the way it is.  (THAT is scary)

-How have I come to collect all these kooky men? It’s so weird to have a bunch of loonies in your life. For now it works, but I change everything all the time. We’ll see where they all end up.

I took an L.A. vacation day today. Didn’t speak to anyone except out of necessity. It’s amazing the restorative properties in not speaking. I spent a lot of time outside. Next to the pool. Swam some laps. Or on my little deck or walking on Sunset Blvd. This day really brought home the reality of how tired I am. I hope it helps me get through the next eight weeks until I can take a break.  (Never happened. Eight weeks later I was in the trenches with Monster Magnet.  Head on over to Motherf*cker if you wanna see what 8 weeks later looked like.)

I’ve got to do something to get rid of the fatigue. I’m tired of waking up with my entire body aching. From my toes to my shoulders I hurt. I’m just one big hurt. Can’t get out of bed when I feel like this. The mood swings are horrible too. From soaring happiness to the emptiest loneliness. It’s not much fun. All I’ve been doing is working and its not getting me anywhere. Anderle is ignoring me. Phelan is as frustrated, but at least he is doing projects. At least he makes a lot of money.  Told Anderle I would go to L.A. But I’d rather not, I will if I have to. I need more money. I need to get rid of these aches and pains.

I’ve been an emotional train wreck of my own doing this week. I’m listening to Alejandro Escovedo’s Gravity and I’m trying to process my pain and my healing and my next steps forward. I think I might have fallen in love with Jeff Tweedy AGAIN!!! It’s so stupid and too drama laced and too all of those things that are bad. The irony, of course, is the reflections I had in Paris of the life of a mistress. It was my fantasy to be the other woman because I want to be someone’s muse and the mistress always ends up being that. My fantasy has been to be ‘the other woman.’ I’m not sure how good it would be after all. God damn after all the ruminating I’ve done over this. Life takes some odd twists and turns and I never did think I would find myself here again. We didn’t actually do anything but flirt heavily. I did some things for my own protection but I could have succumbed fairly easily too. I want so badly. I want and want and want. When do I get to have? Could there possibly be happiness behind this curtain? I sense misery, despair, heartbreak and lies. So why do I want it so badly? I need to do some serious meditating on this. I need to get strong. I need to put this out of my head. I know what I need but God I’m drawn to what I want.

It’s been such a marvelous week in so many ways. Particularly my whole life circa 1990 re-lived! The Rockville Records days. Soul Asylum, Wilco, Son Volt all we needed was The Jayhawks and I would have to get another tattoo! Geez, the things that have changed since I got my tattoo in Minneapolis-the Uncle Tupelo, Jayhawks and Soul Asylum weekend! Staying in a hotel with a female record exec who had a corporate card, cocaine, alcohol, rock boys and rock girls-oh yeah it was a party.  (My highs and lows are freakish-I wasn’t mentally ill-it feels more like the speed of life and a good spattering of loneliness but you can come to your own conclusions.) 

I’ve been so lonely and so busy. Feeling unfulfilled in everything. I respond to affection so quickly. That’s why Jeff was difficult to ward off this time. It’s odd how violated I felt on Friday. I didn’t have sex with him. We just talked about having sex. Would I have felt better or worse if we’d acted on the passion? I also wonder what part of this is sex and what part power. I also wonder what part of it is about his marriage and my disillusionment with relationships? It is all there.

(For the record: Jeff Tweedy and I never had sex after he got married.  We did a few times during the Uncle Tupelo days-I was 25 & he was 19-when we were beautiful and stoned and young and drunk.  It pretty much ended in some ferocious hangovers.)

I let him in. I fell in love with him watching him sing, “So You Wanna Be a Rock-n-Roll Star” with Roger McGuinn. I did. All the old emotions, the things I felt at Cicero’s standing in the front row, came flooding back. Wow, I’m so in it. I gotta remember he’s the guy who wrote, “Outta Mind Outta Site.” He’s home tonight with Sue & Spencer. He’s got a family. He made promises. He shouldn’t break them with me. Yet, how flattering. It’s all an ego boost. It’s a bummer too. Big time. Would I be happy if he were here right now? I don’t know, I can’t even begin to have a clue about that. Would I be happy sitting in some hotel room with him some night at 2:30 a.m.? Maybe for about 60 minutes! After that I don’t know. I don’t know shit.

I’m still sober today. I have that on my side. I’m sober, I’m beautiful and I’m trying to sit through my shit. I’ll find out some things on this journey. I just don’t want to hate myself for what I desire. I don’t want to hate myself anymore.

Ryan and Phil (Wandscher) arrive tomorrow. (Whiskeytown signed to Outpost not A&M. I did my damndest, it’ll be in the book, but I still gave them a couch to sleep on, records to listen to and a cat to love) I awoke with a bad head cold. I’m trying my hardest to take care of myself. Don’t know why it’s so damn hard. I ran into my ex today. It was a little startling, but it was okay. He kept smiling even as he told me bad news. The smiling caught me off guard. As I started getting visibly nervous he abruptly said goodbye. You know, it was all about work. My work, his work, other people’s work-it was ultimately our workload that did us in. Also, I’m not attracted to him with the exception of his hair. He had a new jacket on. It was ill fitting. I sneezed and was glad of it. I’m cute when I sneeze.

All I want to do is lie in bed eat Frosted Flakes and listen to country music. Oh, and obsess about Jeff Tweedy. I’m tryin’ so hard not to. The reality would never beat the fantasy. Never. The fantasy has gotten way too good! It’s all about babies and homecomings, cooking and care taking. The stuff that really turns me on! Fuck the satin and leather-bring on the baby food! (I had a job people would kill for yet at 33 I wanted to be married and have a baby. As the years progressed and I became more and more successful I forgot about all of this stuff.)

I wonder if my musical taste is horribly out of style of if I’m ahead of the game. I think I hit my A&R peak at EMI. (funny). I’ve been wondering lately what else I could do. I think I could be a wealthy housewife (I would still like that job-any takers?). I could be a book publisher (it’s the same bloody job as A&R but with books and a lower salary). I could be a clerk in a bookstore or a waitress (this is really getting funny). I could do marketing (although I’m so not in that world and it would take a huge shift in attitude and discipline). I could write but that would take work and practice (she got something right). I’d be a great muse and somehow that’s the closest I come to anything profound in this job.  Danny once told me I was probably Anita Pallenberg.  I look more like Bianca. I wish I was on the bus with them now.  Once you get on the bus it’s hard to get off.  (Debbie you were fated for far better things. Even though Anita had the best clothes ever.) 

I’ve gained weight. Don’t know how because I haven’t been eating very much. I haven’t been exercising very much either. Would love to get down to a size 8. I’m above my perfect 10 and I hate that. Got to get back to yoga and running. It’ll keep me sane and young and get me down to a size 8. What more could a girl want? (A girl could want so much more. This body issue situation got dangerous-the book)

Ryan was supposed to come to NYC last night, but I never heard from him. Either he’ll show up today or he won’t. Funny, I don’t much care either way. Actually I prefer he doesn’t. I don’t mind the lack of drama & activity. I won’t miss feeling like a mama hen either. (The very young Ryan Adams that I am writing about showed no indication towards what he later became or I wasn’t paying enough attention.)

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I wish I could remember the Charlie Watts story. That’s my cat Marley.  Ryan and Marley were super tight.

 

Went to see The Jayhawks last night. They were beautiful-wished I had someone to waltz me around the room. Spoke to Gary and Maggie about picking up the Golden Smog record. That could happen. It would make me so happy. Of course I walked into Irving Plaza and they were showing the Wilco show filmed here for HBO. Jeff Tweedy larger than life, and I’m even in it for like 20 seconds dancing and smiling in the crowd like I always am. Love of my life. (drama queen anyone?) I’m trying to work this out of my system so hard. I thought visions of Kraig Johnson would help. They didn’t. I think he may be dumb and also dates Jessy from the Fibbers (Geraldine Fibbers) and they are so cute together. I realize she’s not his wife, so I could go for it, but they seem happy together. Oh, Jeff Tweedy! What am I going to do?

I’m sick and I’m tired all the time. I had a massage that shifted all the energy in my body. It made me feel like I could be doing a better job with myself. This cycle of fatigue feeds on itself. I just had an idea to title my diary Chronicle of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I know what to do I just have to do it. I’m tired of feeling like shit all the time. It sucks.      (It never stopped. The feeling of constant fatigue and pain in my body. I covered it up throughout my career but it was almost always there. Psychosomatic disorder. It’s given more credence in the book)

Laguna Beach-L.A.

I’m hoping that I’ve finally resolved, in my head, that I’m not going to have this affair with Jeff. I am hoping that I will continue to feel strong and act wise when I see him. I deserve all of it. Not some small piece of someone who doesn’t have a whole lot to give back. I want all the crazy passion, the physical stuff plus some heart & soul. I won’t get that. It’s unavailable to me. Of course I worked the speech out in my mind. Have no idea if or when I’ll get to deliver it. I’ll call his hotel room in the middle of the night if I have to. He’s done it to me. I want him to know how incredible he makes me feel and how much he means to me. Whenever I’m at a Wilco show he makes me feel so beautiful and I don’t feel that way very often. I want him to know that if he can’t make it work with Sue he should call me first. I want him to call me first.

(Before I sound like a COMPLETE dumbass idiot or just another young dreamer: Jeff means a lot to me, as a musician who has made some of the most beautiful and meaningful music I have ever heard. For years both with and without sexual tension we shared great times together. I am truly grateful that he got Sue.  She is and has always been the special one.)

I saw whales yesterday! I have wanted to see a whale for my whole life. There were three and one was a baby. I think a mother, a father and a baby. They were teaching the little one how to eat. The baby came maybe 10 yards away from me. I wish I could say something awesome & deep about whales because the moment of seeing them was enchanting. I felt like a message was being sent to me, or maybe it was just a moment of purity. Hurray for whales! (A mother, a father, a baby…hmmm…)

Had an intense day today. Went to a psychic and it was really exhilarating, also intense and perhaps a bit challenging. Actually very challenging. He sees people. I was told by another A&M employee that he is the closest thing to an angel she’d ever met.

(For a variety of reasons I don’t believe in this stuff any longer. I did succumb to it during the 90s. Tarot readings and the like, in spite of that, this one man was something beyond anything I can elucidate.)

He saw me and who I could be. He called me out on a lot of my shit. He spoke to me about my power-where it comes from & how I might use it. He said I can have it all and I will if I don’t, “get in my own way.” He said I will have a great love and I will raise a great son. He spoke of my ying & yang. He told me that the part of me that is a woman is where my power is and although my “girl” part is healthy I need to move into my womanhood. He told me to stop using seduction. I don’t need it to prove my connection with men. I have gorgeous femininity (yin) and also powerful masculine energy (yang) wants to see it click more in my career. I don’t play games professionally. I play them personally. I am very strong and can make clear, perceptive decisions. Sometimes I weaken myself so that someone else can feel good. It’s a co-decency thing. I should deal; with the discomfort of being in my strength and care a little less how it makes someone feel (yin).

Mark Helm Sessions: A few from the notes in my journal -I recorded it. Much of what he told me would transpire did indeed.

-He named almost to the date the release of my first hit record. June-Nov 1998 Monster Magnet dropped in June 1998

-Men with blue eyes and my future love life. Correct. Next two relationships: one had sharp blue, and the other a blue I could’ve swum in. Both feature in the book.

-The advice he gave me was right on the money and it was specific.

***I went back in 1999 and some predictions had changed

-He didn’t see me married or with kids this time. I would be happy with or without.

-Although in both sessions there were predictions that never happened. There are situations he predicted that are still happening. They keep coming to fruition. It is weird and often spooks me.

-Going back to school. I did and got a masters degree.

-Seeing me surrounded by children. Teaching. And on and on.

-Picturing me in some form of publishing venture. And on and on.

*** Mark Helm. I last heard he moved to Oregon.  I would like any information if you know of him.

Later on in L.A.

May 12th, 1997

Had dinner with Jim Scott before the Wilco show. He was my date, and a good one because he’d mixed Being There and worked with Whiskeytown.  (Jim ended up working with credits as Engineer or Mixer on Summerteeth, Kicking Television: Live in Chicago, Sky Blue Sky, Wilco The Album, Mermaid Avenue, Alpha Mike Foxtrot: Rare Tracks 1994-2014, The Complete Studio Albums and maybe I missed some. His entire discography is crazy amazing.)  My goal was to show off that I am a ‘real’ A&R person not just a dumb groupie. And Jim was keen to connect with the band. Over a fun dinner Jim said, “You’re the marrying kind.”  Jim was married so I didn’t think it was a come-on, but I wasn’t sure.  He knocked me off balance because I wasn’t sure what that meant and part of me felt that he was right. I was hoping he didn’t notice how nervous I was. I thought sweat was going to start dripping through my sleeves. And then I didn’t have to make my speech his wife was there! I’m so glad I went into the situation the way I did-strong plus having Jim there made me feel comfortable. I loved the show and will fall in love with him every night I see him play & that’s okay.  I don’t have to do anything about it. I can flirt & fantasize and love him onstage. I don’t need to seduce him to have a connection. I discovered him & brought him to the attention of the world-in a small way but a significant way. We will always be connected.

(Seventeen years later: 2014 in Newport, RI backstage I ran into Jeff. We talked briefly about a  transition I was going through. How twisted life gets, “Yeah I know all about that.” He bragged about Spencer’s musicianship. That was cute. Directly before Jeff walked onstage he said, “Thank you,” and hugged me goodbye. I haven’t seen him since.)

-I think this is for every fan who loves not just the music but the people who make it.  In that way I suppose it’s for me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

insideplaya RIP