Monday, September 27, 2010

My Own Spinal Tap Moment: Another Learning Experience

I had what many in the music industry call a Spinal Tap moment this past weekend.

For those of you who have never seen This is Spinal Tap, it is a fake documentary about an aging, has-been heavy metal band. Essentially a satire of musicians and the music business in general, it’s an extremely funny look at a fictional band, Spinal Tap, but with scenes depicted with such dead-on accuracy that many real-life bands have amusingly reflected on their own real-life “Spinal Tap” moments over the years. One such scene takes place in a record store, where the band is there to sign their latest album. Only nobody shows up.

That happened to me this past weekend.

I had arranged a book signing event for Killer Cows at a small-town independent bookstore, which has the distinction of being the oldest bookstore in Oregon. It’s a neat little place, located in one of the town’s older buildings, and stuffed with books by both local and bestselling authors. It’s the kind of place many people romantically think would be a great business to own…a bookstore run by people who love books.

The staff was wonderful, and the manager was a pretty young lady who had read the book and was very enthusiastic; she’d made flyers, put ads on the store web page, and even contacted local schools to let them know a local author of young adult fiction was coming. She also ordered a dozen copies of Killer Cows, which were on display at the front of the store when I walked in after my 80 mile drive from Portland. Nearby was coffee and cookies, and the staff seemed truly happy to meet me. With a few minutes left before the two-hour signing was to begin, I helped myself to some coffes (which was great, BTW), and sat down to do some signing. This was gonna be fun.

The problem was, during that entire two hours, almost nobody showed up. Maybe five or so customers, a few of whom did buy the book. But for the most part, I wandered the store, chatted books and music with the staff, got wired on caffeine and fat on cookies. The manager, bless her heart, was very gracious and offered that the weather probably played a factor (in Oregon, you take advantage of those rare sunny days when they arrive). And on a nice day, during a weekend, most of downtown was as devoid of people walking the sidewalks as an apocalyptic sci-fi movie.

All told, I spent more money on gas to get to the signing than I did selling books.

Still, I met some nice people, and signed a couple more books for the manager and some of her employees. And I have to admit, I do love signing. I wasn’t expecting a mob of people clamoring for my autograph, but during those lengthy times in which no one came into the store, I thought about that scene in This is Spinal Tap and had a good chuckle at my own expense.

Another lesson was learned this past weekend: Just because you write a book doesn’t automatically mean people are clamoring for your autograph, and will set time aside on a rare sunny day just to get one. Hell, I even remember attending a book signing at Barnes & Noble for Charlaine Harris (one of the biggest authors in the world), and being amazed that only about 200 people showed up. A nobody like me? Forget about it. 200 people would be like finding the Holy Grail.

Still, I’ll plug along, doing what I can to get word out about my own book, even if it takes a lot of gas for me to get there.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Meeting Dave Mustaine - A Bit of Middle Aged Hero Worship

For those of you who don’t know, Dave Mustaine is the founder and leader of the band, Megadeth, one of the so-called “big four” of thrash metal (the others being Slayer, Anthrax and Metallica). Mustaine and his band have been remarkably influential on the genre, and are still alive and well today.

The circumstances surrounding the formation of Megadeth is one of the more interesting behind-the-scenes stories in metal music. Mustaine was unceremoniously kicked out of Metallica just before that band hit the big time. Fueled by resentment and anger, he formed Megadeth with the intent of outdoing his old bandmates. While never achieving the level of success Metallica has enjoyed, Megadeth became quite big themselves, with numerous gold and platinum albums. And personally speaking, while Metallica may have sold more records, Megadeth constantly released more interesting ones. All the while, Mustaine’s own personal life was in constant turmoil, dealing with drug addiction, failed relationships of both a personal and professional nature, and his ongoing resentment toward what his former friends in Metallica had done to him.
I know all this because Mustaine writes about it in his surprisingly candid autobiography, Mustaine: A Heavy Metal Memoir. After reading this book (all in one night), I thought it must have taken a lot of guts to be so forthcoming about, not only his career and oft-publicized feuds with former band members, but his own personal addictions and shortcomings. The book is a great read, and I whole-hearted encourage everyone to check it out, even if you aren’t necessarily a fan of the heavy metal genre. It is simply a riveting story.
I have always respected and admired the guy. In addition to being a great guitarist and songwriter, he is intelligent, articulate and unafraid to speak his mind, both lyrically and in interviews. After reading his memoir, which chronicles his rough upbringing, through fame and drug addiction to becoming a Christian (though not the Bible-thumping kind), I came to the conclusion that it’s amazing the man is even alive.

That said, when I heard he would be in Portland for a book signing, I found myself reverting back to my days of worshipping my idols as infallible gods.

It’s fun and exciting to meet celebrities, of course. I met Ronnie James Dio back in 1983 at a record store event (a really nice guy, BTW). I met NASCAR driver Greg Biffle on two different occasions. I even bumped into Leslie Neilson at LAX while he was waiting to check in his luggage. These celebrity run-ins happened at different points in my life. While I was totally gaga over meeting Dio (hey, I was 18), by the time I approached Greg Biffle for an autograph, I was older and less concerned with letting him to know how big a fan I was than getting his signature on my die-cast car to increase its value (still, he was a nice guy, too). But Mustaine was different. I have been a fan for 25 years, and as I drove to the bookstore to get my copy signed, I did what I think a lot of people do…try to come up with some great statement or question to differentiate me from all the other bozos in line, to let him know I was a true fan. Yeah, as if the clouds would part and Mustaine would suddenly realize I’m the fan he’s been waiting to meet his whole life, and he’d shower me with praise, free concert tickets and his personal email address.

I am in my mid-forties (and only three years younger than Mustaine himself) and an author as well (not that this makes us kindred spirits). I felt almost ashamed that I felt like an idol-worshipping teenager as I waited in line to get by copy signed. Part of me felt like I needed to take this rare opportunity to connect with Mr. Mustaine on a personal level, though the rational adult in me understood that I was lucky just to shake the man’s hand.

The rational adult in me won out, which is a good thing.

For years, I had put this man on a pedestal, worshipping him from afar. And when the line I waited in finally moved to the point where I could see him for the first time, reality set in. Dave Mustaine wasn’t a god or some idol to be worshipped. In fact, he looked kind of tired, like he suffered from jet-lag. This was also the first time where he looked MY age. Somehow, I found this sort-of comforting. This was the first time I saw Dave Mustaine as a human being. My 15 year old daughter, who came along with me, commented Mr. Mustaine looked kind-of pissed off. I replied, “Honey, Dave Mustaine always looks pissed off.”

At any rate, despite all my ideas of coming up with the perfect statement or question for him, in the end, when it came time for him to sign my copy of his book, I simply told him I liked it a lot, and asked if it was hard for him to relive those experiences in order to write the book. As he signed, he was congenial and polite, but never really talking to me directly, on a personal level. Why would he? He’d probably been asked this question a million times before. And the middle-aged adult in me was cool with that.

Then I shook his hand, he smiled, and I was on my way. As I walked away, the gaga teenager took over once again, if only for a few seconds - I shook Dave Mustaine’s hand! And you know what? That was enough. I shook the hand of the guy who wrote some of my very favorite songs. It didn’t matter that I probably didn’t ask him something he hadn’t been asked before. He signed my book and shook my hand, as he did with thousand of other fans waiting to do the same thing.

I had a great time, though my daughter was bored. I think she’d have been more enthused if we waited in line for an hour to meet Lady GaGa.