May 05, 2009

Requiem for a Music Geek: Blockbuster Albums and Happenin' Tunes

The first day of middle management began as a tough one for Russel S. O'Deen. His usual can-do, eager attitude had just been dealt a nasty blow, and as he raced upstairs to report to his superiors—like a good useless drone should—a foul idea began to percolate through his young brain, and he hoped that he hadn't stumbled on a fatal error that would bring down the entire glorious enterprise of Farm G, the music industry conglomerate to which he was enthusiastically employed. He quietly prayed to Elvis in case anyone decided to fire him today.

O'Deen barely paused on the fifth-floor landing before barging into the executive suite, pushing through a power-trio of secretaries (all of whom had drunkenly shot him down at the last Christmas party) to the inner sanctum of presidential offices. He tried to compose himself, knocking briskly on the door of CEO Reg Defahi. "Sir, sir—I'm sorry to interrupt, sir—this is O'Deen from Logistics, and I need to speak to you right away!" He jerked back as one assistant wrapped her tentacles around his ankles and pulled mercilessly. "Sir, please, it's urgent!" O'Deen yelped.

Defahi's thousand-watt smile was already deployed when he opened the door and calmly called off his horn-rimmed harpies. "Russ! Good to see you, son! Come on in." The Farm G head honcho was an affable figurehead of a man, and O'Deen mellowed significantly when the CEO's paternal paw landed on his shoulder. Russel soon found himself enveloped by a cushy armchair and plied with a glass of Wild Turkey from Defahi's private stash.

"Cheney's balls, boy, what's come over you?" The CEO, whose past held its own share of panicked meltdowns, regarded his flunkie with amused concern. Sure, O'Deen was an excitable dude, but he could be counted on at crunch time. "You look like your 401k just got outsourced to Hyderabad."

"I'm sorry, sir," gulped O'Deen, "but I had to see you immediately. It's—it's the year-end reports, sir, they're...well, they're driving me crazy, and the data just isn't adding up."

"What's not adding up about it?"

"The music division, Mr. Defahi. The geeks are saying they're missing some key components that, well, that we can't wrap up the year without, sir."

"Really? If I recall correctly, we had no shortage of Happenin' Tunes for the '08/'09 fiscal year. Big names, too—U2, Costello, Dylan—and the Next Big Things like Lewis and Adebimpe/Malone took up the slack. Even Lowery and Hickman checked in today. Hell, the shattered economy's had no effect on Farm G, son. What's to worry about?"

"Y-yes sir, I know that, but..." O'Deen swallowed hard. "...but there's, um...there's no Album of the Year yet, sir. Not a hint, and we only have about a month left before close-out, and, and...and the I.R.S. will totally screw us over if we don't report that, Mr. Defahi."

The CEO pursed his Armenian lips in a Jaggeresque manner while taking in O'Deen's information. His eyes wandered across the vast office and took in the floor-to-ceiling view beyond—the Capitol Records building, the Soter Financial building, the 101—and then, ignoring his flunkie for the moment, pushed a button on the intercom. It crackled to life and a harpie on the other end happily implied Defahi's wish was her command.

"Thank you Nicki," said the CEO. "Could you call Eric Provarta up from Marketing, please? I need his opinion on something." Nicki the harpy chirped an affirmative and crackled off again.

"Relax, Russ," beamed Defahi. "Eric will sort this out. He probably found, like, eighteen solutions as early as two weeks ago." O'Deen nodded, but the two men waited in an uncomfortable silence after that. Neither knew much about the other except for what the Farm G Employee FunLetter divulged in one issue dedicated to "Our Kick-Ass Personnel!" and both were loathe to quote from that ugly trash.

A flutter of giggles outside the door soon betrayed Provarta's approach, however, so when the Marketing Director sauntered through the door some minutes later covered in harpy-bites, Defahi and O'Deen were ready for him, and pointedly refrained from commenting on any indiscretions that may have happened outside.

"Eric, thanks for coming!" The CEO handed over another glass of bourbon and bade Provarta sit down next to O'Deen, who gave the company rock star an envious smile. When Defahi began speaking again, though, Provarta held up his hand to interrupt.

"Reg, this isn't about the album problem, is it? I was right in the middle of preparing my report on that for you, sir—but I can talk about it a little right now if you wish."

Defahi gave O'Deen a gallant wink and motioned for his marketing director to continue, so Provarta reached for a remote on the CEO's desk and pointed it at the wall—the surface of which swished open to reveal a massive LCD screen. Seventeen album covers instantly materialized on-screen, with fiscal year dates below each, dating back to the 1991/92 campaign. "I love seeing this," giggled the CEO. "Every goddamn time. Gives me goose bumps, you know?"

"Sir, as you know, our records do precede 1991, but it's a bit fuzzy before then—influence from the parent multinationals becomes heavier the further back you go." Provarta hid his sneer quickly enough for Defahi to miss it, but O'Deen caught a glance as the marketing director continued his speel. "Seventeen years of good solid progress, then, gentlemen. These albums of the year built the foundation of wealth and taste that we stand on today, and each of them has become a bastion of comfort-food security." Provarta flipped the remote to "laser pointer" mode and highlighted a few choice platters. "'Achtung Baby,' 'Yes,' 'OK Computer,' 'Sea Change,' 'Cookie Mountain,' 'Our Love to Admire'—all instant hits with every segment of our consumer constituency."

He pointed to a few more and continued. "Of course, not all of them came easy. 'Grace' was something of a retrofit, 'You In Reverse' had stiff competition from 'Z,' and at least two other albums—most notably 'Summerteeth'—hail from dates outside their respective fiscal years. Something a bit like that is where we are right now." Provarta pushed another button and fourteen albums from the '08/'09 year popped up. "'Science,' 'Acid Tongue,' 'Horizon,' 'Rust.' All good, all influential," he said, "but none had that grab-you-by-the-balls urgency, did they?" His colleagues squirmed in their seats, but agreed.

"Now remember," Provarta continued, "there are all kinds of unwritten selection rules at play here. They may seem frivolous, but I can assure you that the male music nerd's mind places paramount importance on each of them." He rattled off some familiar directives: "No repetition of artists. No rule against previously ignored or written-off artists, however. Date of release must be within twelve calendar months of the applicable fiscal year, and so on and so forth."

He pushed another button and the screen went blank for a second before displaying a familiar grayscale, stylized photo—an album cover that both Defahi and O'Deen knew well. "Gentlemen," said Provarta, "may I present the blockbuster of the year, the 'Consolers of the Lonely' album from those scruffy yet huggable Raconteurs."

O'Deen's brow furrowed. "But, but...'Consolers' was an April 2008 release, Eric—we put the title track on the '07/'08 Happenin' Tunes comp behind Interpol, Elbow, and British Sea Power, remember?"

Provarta waved off his colleague's concerns. "Correct, but in this case, irrelevant. Are we not in desperate times, my friends? Don't forget the surge in popularity of the disc in question on those endless road trips to the OC and points south, gentlemen. The numbers for this thing went through the roof in the third quarter." He looked to the CEO. "Surely something to consider, sir?"

"I agree," said Defahi definitively. "We'll have no chickenshit hanging-chad situation here, boys. Eric, call Mr. White immediately and inform him of my decision. His check will be in the mail."

O'Deen should have felt better, but he sat quietly, uneasily taking in his boss's speedy choice. He knew Defahi would never second-guess himself—not after the debacle that was My Morning Jacket after their late-round defeat by Built to Spill back in spring '06—so Russel began the arduous task of acclimating himself to yet another corporate compromise.

Indeed, O'Deen had told himself that this would be his life from here on out—the career of a middle manager is by nature humiliating—so while Provarta struck his staged poses over the phone with the White Stripes frontman, and Defahi pumped his fists between snorts of Wild Turkey, O'Deen pasted on his least-brittle, go-along-to-get-along smile and tactfully backed out of the office.

Nicki the harpy was obviously waiting for Provarta to emerge first. Her smile dissolved upon seeing Russel, but he threw back his biggest shit-eater in her direction anyway. Hell, Eric would make mincemeat of her frozen heart soon enough, Russ thought to himself. And he was not a man to pass up seconds, sloppy or otherwise. Russel O'Deen was, after all, a middle manager—and the earth was his to inherit.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts with Thumbnails