CHAPTER II: It's An Honor Just To Have Been Nominated
So Nancy is sitting behind her desk at work and the phone rings,
which isn't so odd, she's a secretary after all. What's peculiar
are the words coming into her left ear. After the caller has determined
he has the right number and is speaking to the wife of your's truly,
he enthusiastically declares, "Congratulations, your husband
Richard X. Heyman has been chosen as one of the six finalists out
of twelve hundred entries in the Disc Makers Independent Music World
Series contest!" "Wow, you're kidding," my wife confusedly
responds. "I don't remember entering any contest." "Well,
you must have," the man from Disc Makers replies, "because
you will be competing for thirty-five thousand dollars worth of
musical gear and music-related services!"
Through a little research, Nancy figures out that a website called
CD Baby, who sells my latest release "Basic Glee", had
an option on the computer to enter this contest for a fee of twenty
bucks that they would simply deduct from my sales. So Nancy clicked
on and promptly forgot about it.
Now, the only contests I've ever been in were the limbo dance competitions
at several bar mitzvahs when I was twelve and thirteen years old.
I'm proud to say I usually won, though that skill hasn't helped
much in the real world. The one other contest was the Battle of
the Bands on Zacherle's Disc-o-teen TV show in 1966. My band, the
Ascots, aced that year-long skirmish and won a recording contract
with Bell Records. Then there was a long contest drought. Thirty-six
years, to be exact. This contest gap was filled with the usual stuff
-- girlfriends, music, break-ups, crummy dead-end jobs, more music,
sex, drugs, more hirings, more firings, love, marriage, more music,
cats, etc. etc. And now I'm back, back in the contest world. And
I'm two for two, baby. Like Ali, Frasier and Forman, you can't keep
me down. I'm a little contest-rusty but I'm a fighter and I don't
intend to go down quietly. I intend to come out on top.
Here's the thing, though: my band doesn't rehearse. Rehearsal,
reshmersal. Which is in direct opposition to my perfectionistic
nature. It's just that our drummer lives out in New Jersey and he's
so good he picks up on the arrangement of new material on the spot,
not to mention we can't afford renting one of those practice spaces,
and I live with the bass player, who happens to be my wife, so we
never rent a rehearsal room like we ought to and run through our
songs. But it's OK, we've been at this for so long it's like breathing
The contest is held at a club in the West Village called The Lion's
Den, a kind of hard rock joint Nancy and I played at back in the
80's and swore never to return. Kurt, our drummer, doesn't even
want to soundcheck, so my wife and I go over and play with the guy
from Discmakers, who happens to play drums. Pretty damn good, too.
So we're set and ready to rock the house later that evening. We're
on fifth out of six, and each group has twenty minutes to prove
their case. The club is packed and there is a panel of judges consisting
of a&r types, critics and God-knows-what-else. But there they
are, stage right, on an elevated platform. I almost expect them
to hold up big white cards after each song with 8.5, 9.0, 7.5, like
they do in the Olympics.
The first act is a woman and her backing band from Philly. She's
got a cultivated nerd look going, with the glasses and 50's Lucy
Ricardo-style polka-dot dress, but she plays a mean piano and can
sing with some soul. Kinda like a female Elton, you could say. Band's
super tight, though the songs are your usual fare, sound OK going
down, can't remember them as soon as they're done. She's gone and
up comes an a cappella group. Hey, what's going on here? Why is
there an all vocal group in this battle of the bands? I start to
smell a rat. How can a group compete with this crowd pleasing, I-swear-I-hear-a-drum-set-and-stand-up-bass
consortium? They're more fun than a barrel of screaming monkeys
and they're killing, killing I tell you. The contest is over, as
far as I'm concerned. I'm not even a judge, but I'm going to vote
for them. Damn they're cute! They're even multi ethnic and racial.
Hell, I'm going to see if they need a middle-aged Jewish\ folk rock
type as a seventh member.
Next was an ethereal groove band with a female singer. No songs,
really, but funky atmospheric mood music. Again, nice and tight.
I bet they rehearse and probably crammed for this exam. The crowd
is being kind to everyone, it seems. Good positive energy in the
room and up comes yet another band with a woman lead singer. I have
a feeling the original panel of judges (who, by the way, made their
decisions based solely on their opinions of the CDS of the various
entrants) were all men. This is standard, cliche-ridden hard rock,
well performed and again, no real songwriting going on. If the only
criterion is songs, I'm a shoe-in, but of course it's not. You've
got your vibe category, whatever the hell that means, and then there's
musicianship and performance. It's all over anyway, the a cappella
group had the whole place smiling, including the judges. Nancy and
I, who never had any kids of our own, are thinking about adopting
the six of em.
Where's our drummer? The band before us is doing their last song
and we haven't seen hide nor mod hair of Kurt. Yikes! I'm starting
to have a panic attack. I actually offer a hundred dollars to the
drummer from the last act, who I happen to know, to sit in with
us as I frantically tell him how each song ends. I figure if we
can just end together, we can bluff our way through this thing.
The final chord and feedback of the fourth band's closer has faded
as Kurt casually walks into the backstage dressing room. Whew! I'm
getting too old for all of this shit. We busily move our equipment
into place, like a team of worker ants, which always depletes most
of the energy I had been storing up for the performance. I set my
guitar sound and put the microphone at mouth level, and wait as
the emcee from Discmakers introduces us. If the contest was about
clothing, we would have wiped the floor with these ragamuffins.
Nancy is exquisite in green vinyl pants and lavender beaded sparkly
top. Kurt, who is a great looking guy with perfect chestnut 60's
rock hair, always makes a strong impression and tonight is no exception
with his cool mod shirt. And I'm decked out with my multi colored
striped jacket as seen on the cover of "Basic Glee", with
tight white pants and white Indian shirt, with lavender suede shoes
that look like they might have once belonged to Steve Marriott.
Even the emcee has to make a comment when he notices Nancy's paisley
So without further ado, blah blah blah, ladies and gentlemen, Richard
X. Heyman. I launch into "Call Out The Military". We're
hyper, the crowd is right in our faces, as I step up to the mic
and, help, the damn emcee who was using my mic had lowered it down
about six inches so it is now chest level. I make a desperate attempt
to raise it, which means I have to stop playing guitar, and I'm
the only guitar playing and the stand won't budge. I've already
compromised the beginning of our first song, so now I have to think
fast, which means lowering my height by half a foot. So I'm crouched
down in an awkward hunch and all my moves that I've cultivated over
the years are out the window. All I can do is stand motionless and
try to look like this is how I intended to present myself. A catatonic
hunchback. If that's not bad enough, each time my lips touch the
microphone, the whole stand sways forward on the verge of toppling
into the audience. This is the only stage in the world that is slanted
down toward the front, right where the mic stand is located. So
I can't even dare move my head back and forth. I'm a pro, though,
and a trooper, and I wish I was home in bed. The song ends and I'm
so paranoid about the mic falling over I don't even touch it. I
simply spread my legs like I'm doing warm-ups in gym class, which
lowers me down about six inches, and sing the rest of the set as
if straddling a vault.
After our fourth song, I mercifully switch to piano where I can
finally sit. Ironically, I hunch over when I play keyboards, so
as far as the crowd and the judges are concerned, I really may be
a distant relative of Quasimoto. The song is "Sidetracked",
from the "Hey Man!" record, and when all is said and done,
we've put on a high energy if slightly ragged set. We close with
"Wouldn't That Be A Riot" from "Living Room!!"
and get as good a response as the four preceding acts, with the
exception of the a cappella outfit, who I think a couple of them
could do an uncanny impression of a stadium full of screaming people.
One to go, and guess what, another female singer with a bunch of
seasoned and rehearsed, I'd wager, musicians. Even my wife admits
this gal is a looker and looks like a rock goddess under the lights.
Nice earnest pop voice and songs, but come on. I may not be the
most handsome man in the world, and I may not play the slickest
guitar or piano. And I may not sing as good as some people you've
heard and I can't dance to save my life. (I'm starting to sound
like Chris Farley, for God's sake.) But I can write songs, damn
it. I write em the good old fashioned way, with melodies and chord
changes that no one else has thought of and lyrics that sound like
I care about things and...oh I'm sorry. Anyway, it's crunch time,
the judges deliberate in their chamber (platform, stage right) and
the short dude from Discmakers steps up to the perfectly positioned
mic. He requests that all six acts come to the side of the stage
so when he announces the winner everyone can see the disappointed
faces of the losers. Or at least the feigned sincere good sportsman-like
phony grins forced into place. Me, I hightail it to the men's room.
I'm locked in the stall. I don't need this humiliation. Just give
it to the a cappella group and end this thing. Call it a day and
thank about the karma of an a cappella aggregation winning a drum
set and cymbals, electric guitar and bass, and an amplifier. Alright,
they'd also win some nice recording equipment that Nancy and I could
have used, but c'est la vie.
By then I start to think, hey, I have just as good a shot as anyone.
More seasoned, better songs, certainly better dressed...less rehearsed,
but very spunky. Kurt was the best drummer of the night for sure
and Nancy had the coolest moves. So there I am standing in the stall,
still in earshot of the final verdict. And the winner is... As the
man from Disc Makers announces the name of the winner, there's an
audible moment of silence. It's the O.J. verdict all over again.
The name doesn't register at first. I just know it wasn't Richard
X. Heyman. Then it registers. It's that first chick from Philly
with the motionless back-up band. What?!? Where's my a cappella
kids? It's Florida again. I want all chads recounted. Oh, stop it,
I chastise myself. You lost! Be a man, don't be so petty. It was
just a stupid contest you didn't even know you entered in the first
place. Fuck that! Who are these so-called judges. They even made
me go up on stage with the other losers for a final photo. I'll
tell you what, though. I'd like to go one on one with that four
eyes from Philly under the limbo bar!