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I'm the co-host of THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO with Dana & Carl (Sunday nights, 9 to Midnight Eastern, www.westcottradio.org).  As a freelance writer, I contributed to Goldmine magazine from 1986-2006, wrote liner notes for Rhino Records' compilation CD Poptopia!  Power Pop Classics Of The '90s, and for releases by The Flashcubes, The Finkers, Screen Test, 1.4.5., and Jack "Penetrator" Lipton.  I contributed to the books Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth, Shake Some Action, Lost In The Grooves, and MusicHound Rock, and to DISCoveries, Amazing Heroes, The Comics Buyer's Guide, Yeah Yeah Yeah, Comics Collector, The Buffalo News, and The Syracuse New Times.  I also wrote the liner notes for the four THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO compilation CDs, because, well, who could stop me?  My standing offer to write liner notes for a Bay City Rollers compilation has remained criminally ignored.  Still intend to write and sell a Batman story someday.

Friday, December 16, 2016

The Road To GOLDMINE, Part 6: Buffalo Mining Disaster 1986

I freelanced for Goldmine magazine for twenty years, with my first GM reviews published in November of 1986. Thirty years later, I'm taking a look back at my road to Goldmine, remembering my life in Buffalo 1982-1987. I recommend you start reading with Part 1: Approaching The Minefield, then continue with Part 2: You've Got To Pay Your Dues If You Want To Write Reviews, Part 3: Fools Gold, Part 4: A Rockier Road, and Part 5: A Shaft. A Light. The road rolls on here....

I've written previously about my Goldmine audition (detailed here), my first, failed attempt to sell my writing to GM editor Jeff Tamarkin. It was an unsolicited review of two then-recent albums--Stop! by The Chesterfield Kings and Different Light by The Bangles--which I mailed to Jeff on January 29th, 1986. It was quickly rejected, for a whole bunch of reasons: it was too long; it was unsolicited; both records had already been assigned to other reviewers; and it contained many, many violations of Jeff's editorial edict for writers to keep their first-person references out of the damned review--the word "I" was virtually verboten in Goldmine reviews.

But it was the most encouraging rejection slip I ever received. Jeff liked my style in general, and he thought I demonstrated knowledge of the subject matter. He was open to having me write for Goldmine; we would just need to agree on an assignment first.

1986 was, for me, the year of The Monkees. If you needed proof of the extent of MTV's influence in '86, just ask someone who was running a record store at the time. Kids--young kids, teens, preteens--had seen reruns of The Monkees on MTV, and they were hooked on Micky, Davy, Peter and Michael. These new fans didn't care that this was an act from twenty years ago, nor that it was an act that was dismissed by serious arbiters of cool from the friggin' get-go; to them, The Monkees were as cool as anyone--Duran DuranA-Ha, anyone--and maybe cooler. The new fans were the young generation, and they had something to say...thanks to MTV.

I didn't have MTV--Brenda and I couldn't afford cable--but our neighbor Cheryl did. On days when I had the afternoon off, I went upstairs to watch the noon rerun of The Monkees with Cheryl in her apartment. After our confrontation with her neanderthal ex-boyfriend Chuck, Cheryl seemed to think of me as a friendly big brother, and she was fine with having me hang around to watch The Monkees. (Cheryl was a blast. I remember one time that she accompanied Brenda and I to a show at The Continental, and she realized that she hadn't brought any ID. She laughed it off, and said if anyone tried to card her, she'd just open her jacket and say, Do these tits look like they belong to a minor? She got into the club just fine. I think I was carded.)

A Monkees reunion--even one without Michael Nesmith--was a dream come true for me. When I discovered that their concert tour would include a stop at Chautauqua, about 80 miles from Buffalo, I bought a pair of tickets immediately. But Brenda couldn't go. The Monkees' show was the night before Brenda's big state teaching certification test, and she couldn't risk a late night prior to such an important exam. I made the drive solo--a longer drive than I anticipated in those days waaaaay before Google Maps--and dispatched the extra ticket to this sold-out show at face value as soon as I arrived. I wished that Brenda could have accompanied me, but I understood, and she was right to skip it.

Things continued to cruise along at Cavages. The uncertainty following the Main Place Mall pink-slip jamboree had given way to confidence, security. My Thruway Mall store was a well-oiled machine. I felt like Cavages' golden boy, referred to by warehouse personnel as a walking musical encyclopedia, and called upon by upper management to run their Boulevard Mall store for a week while its manager was away. Issues? None! I believed that. Once upon a time, I also believed in Santa Claus.

The Main Place Mall location wasn't doing as well. I didn't know its story first-hand, but I gathered that it was chaotic, disorganized, insufficiently maintained, and in need of stronger managerial guidance. One of that outlet's best and longest-standing customers complained, and suggested with great conviction that there was only one guy for the job: Louie the Mad Vinyl Junkie wanted Cavages to make me the new manager at Main Place.

Mad Louie, wherever you are: I know you meant well. It wasn't your fault.

The customer has been known to be right on occasion. Cavages listened to this customer, and I was transferred back to Main Place as its new store manager. Adieu, Thruway Mall. You were the best job I ever had.

But I felt no sadness or trepidation at the time; it was a fresh challenge, and I was sure I was ready for it. I was welcomed back by Mad Louie and The Mystic Eyes' leader Bernie Kugel, and then started re-organizing the store immediately. I would accomplish my goals here quickly. I was certain of it.

And then my Spider-Sense finally warned me of danger, too damned late. And I heard the unctuous tones of the stiff, humorless suit who ran the chain, trilling in my ear: Oh, by the way, Carl: we do need you to take a lie detector test. We're giving you a lot of responsibility. We just want to make sure that we can trust you.

Ah, hell. Hiya, Spider; I'm the fly. But I guess you already knew that.

Would this have occurred if I hadn't returned to Main Place? I'd guess it would have, eventually. Another Cavages executive assured me that the polygraph findings would not be used against me, they just wanted to clear the air. I told myself it was a chance to clean the slate and move forward as the company man I wanted to be. It would be a good thing. It...it....

Cavages asked for my immediate resignation.

I try to look back on it objectively, and I have to concede that Cavages had a right to toss me aside. I had known that the previous Main Place Mall store manager was selling dope in the store, and not only had I not snitched on him, I lied to an officer of the company when asked about it. I had also once pocketed $20 when a cash drawer was over--a singularly stupid move on my part--though I had also kicked in money from my wallet when a drawer was short, so I thought it kinda balanced out. It was still wrong, and I'm not trying to excuse my action. And I should have known better than to believe that above-mentioned store manager when he said a bunch of sidewalk sale bargain LPs had already been written off and paid for as far as the company was concerned--go ahead and take as many of 'em as you like, Carl, and all you guys. I took a stack, some of which I kept, and some of which I traded to Gary Sperrazza! at Apollo Records in exchange for more garage fuzz. It wasn't until much later that it dawned on me that these "free" records still belonged to Cavages, and it wasn't the manager's call to let me have them.

I was a fucking idiot. My blood still boils at the thought of what a cretin I was.

So yeah, you could say Cavages was right to give me the ol' heave-ho. I still think it was a mistake. I'd been trying hard to do things better, to do things the right way, and I'd succeeded in doing all of that. They'd seen my success, seen the results of my efforts. I was worth keeping. 

But I was gone.

I didn't see it coming. I'd convinced myself that I'd be allowed to continue with the company from that fresh point--see above reference to "fucking idiot"--and I was blindsided when the axe fell. I picked Brenda up from work, and I just broke down sobbing when I told her I'd lost my job. I felt desperate, depressed, and...lost. Just lost. Lost. Loser. Stupid, pathetic loser....

Before my sudden exile from Cavages, Jeff Tamarkin and I had agreed on an assignment for two reviews: Laughing At The Pieces by Doctor and the Medics, and a garage compilation called Beasts From The East. I owned a copy of the first record, and had planned to buy Beasts From The East at work that weekend. Now, I had no work, and no money to buy the record I was supposed to review. (Also no money for rent, food, gas, or anything else, for that matter; there would be no unemployment benefits, either, given the disgrace and shame that now clung to me like a shroud.) And I kept asking myself, in absolute, awful terror: What am I going to do?!

I have gone through bouts of depression in my life. This was one of the worst of them. I did not see any way out. I still can't articulate, or even understand, how I got through it.

The Goldmine part was easy; Mad Louie felt terrible about what had happened, even blamed himself for it (which was nonsense). But, because of the circumstances, he broke his personal rule of never lending out any of his records, and let me borrow his copy of Beasts From The East. I wrote the reviews, mailed them off to Jeff Tamarkin, and quickly returned the Beasts From The East LP to its rightful owner. Louie also tried to get me a job over at Record Theater, but it was to no avail. I'm not sure whether it was just a matter of no openings, or if I was now considered tainted. I suspect the latter.

I looked for work, and I wasn't too picky about what I considered. I found myself applying for a job selling major appliances at a local store; I didn't get the job, but I listened carefully to some of the things my interviewer was telling me, about how he required his employees to do things differently from sales staff in other appliance stores. I committed his words to memory, and thought to myself, Maybe these other stores will want a salesman who does the things this guy says his salesmen aren't allowed to do.

That knowledge paid off in my next interview: I said the opposite of what that other store's interviewer said he wanted, and I was hired on the spot. I could be a fast learner when I had to be.

My subscription to Goldmine had lapsed, and I hadn't yet been able to afford renewal. My debut as a Goldmine freelancer hit the stands in October, cover-dated 11/21/86. I tried to keep an eye out for the issue, but I missed it; I didn't even see a copy of it until many years later. 

The new job sucked. It didn't matter. I didn't have a choice, anyway. It was a new store, a chain from Rochester and Syracuse trying to break into the Buffalo market. I was inexperienced, but earnest, hard-working, desperate. I made it through Christmas. Money was still tight, but I made enough for us to get cable and a VCR, albeit all on a shoestring. I survived the chain's purge of excess employees, and was still working there as spring approached.

And I hated it.

I'd enjoyed a teasing taste of what it was like to do something you loved and get paid for it. I'd run a record store, and life had been good. Now, I was trying to convince reluctant shoppers to purchase a new refrigerator or television set. But it was a job. I reminded myself: it was a job. It was not an easy time. It wasn't going to get any easier. We needed to do...something.

We had to get out of Buffalo.

WHEN The Road To GOLDMINE RETURNS: Our final chapter, Workin' In A Goldmine

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