When I excused myself to go to the bathroom I did not expect to be confronted by a man with a machine gun. He was a rather large African-American man. He and two other men stood positioned at the three entryways to the sitting room. They each wore dark suits and black t-shirts. They each had ample bellies and a surplus of over-sized jewelry. They each carried machine guns.
They never told me in film school this was how it was going to be. There is a lot of talk in film school. A lot of talk. They pretend to teach you things, but they never tell you how it will really be.
They never tell you everyone will assume you are technologically ignorant because you are a young woman, everyone will assume you are Jewish because you have a Slavic last name, and everyone will assume you are a liberal because you are breathing.
This is all information that would have come in handy.
They most certainly never told me I would find myself in a recording studio blockaded with sand bags and reeking of Dr. Dre’s marijuana. Yet, here I was. I stopped cold when I saw the man with the machine gun. He stared at me. Making eye contact did not seem like a good idea. I waited and he said nothing.
“I’d like to use the restroom,” I offered.
He threw me a reverse nod in the direction of the bathrooms. I tiptoed stiffly across the plush carpet of the lounge, passing the white leather couches and glass table tops, acutely aware of the three sets of eyes on me. I got to the restroom, pulled the door shut behind me and exhaled.
I was torn between thinking this was cool and thinking of all the reasons one would have to blockade the front doors with sandbags. Thank God we came in the back way. Thank God for Mariah’s paranoia that we were in the studio at the back end of the building and nobody knew we were here. Dr. Dre could have the front studio. The vibrations of the bass came up through the floor and into my forehead as I leaned against the door.
I needed to get back to the studio, but I gave myself a moment to enjoy the high-end soaps and poke through the various toiletries on the bathroom counter. This was always one of the best things about visiting studios, recording or otherwise. Celebrity sightings and fancy soap. And Twizzlers. Everybody always had Twizzlers. I was discerning for myself the useful information in my profession.
Because, they never tell you how to get yourself through a producer’s meeting when the composer you work for has just downed a handful of pills.
They never tell you to be ready to answer to the word “Darling” because no middle-aged mixer, former hippie and failed musician, who thinks you are the coffee girl, is going to remember your name.
They never tell you how to lie your way into the union and they certainly never tell you how to break all the union rules once you are in.
It was one in the morning and we were just getting started. I made my way back across the lounge, keeping my eyes on the floor. When did shag become cool again? The three men were like statues. I wondered if they had ever actually used those things.
In the back hallway Mariah was whispering to some of her entourage. She glanced at me and pulled them into a side room. I heard the click of the door lock. She knew who I was, but she was sure we were all sent by him, that someone was out to get her. We thought she was crazy until her single got leaked. Turned out she was not so crazy after all.
I slid into my seat, next to the recording engineer. This was my station and my safe spot. Here I am the organizer, the note taker, and the only one who remembers which hard drive is which. The engineers teach me editing tricks. They trust me because they know I am paying attention. I am the only one paying attention. Everyone else is playing their game and playing their character.
I am okay with that. I am okay with my little side chair. Here is where the music happens anyway. Behind us, the producer rues the day Mariah discovered ProTools. We pitch her voice up and down through the night.
They never tell you where the best fluff-n-folds are and how much you will need one by the time you realize you have not seen daylight in weeks.
They never tell you that a fair amount of your co-workers will be on their second or third wife and their children have stopped speaking to them.
They never tell you how to handle producers hitting on you and you wondering if your response will leave you out of a job.
Sitting next to producers, sitting next to recording engineers, whether it be mixing stage or recording studio you can find me in my chair, just off to the side, with my binders and endless paperwork in front of me. This is my throne and I am the Queen of Information, ready at any given moment with the right answer. Ready with a “Yes, sir,” no matter the question, no matter how good or how bad the idea.
This is the same seat I sat in every week we recorded live jazz for the sitcom nobody ever heard of. It was the best job I ever had. It was the best music for a show you never saw. I worked for the only punctual Brazilian ever born, one of the founders of the Bossa Nova, and a phenomenal human being.
The music was fantastic, but lunch time was better. We ordered in and sat around eating sandwiches while the musicians told stories. They were crotchety artists, finicky old virtuosos. Geniuses. In the studio I marveled at their ability to perform perfection almost immediately, together, spontaneously. At lunch, I soaked up their tales. “You’re too young to remember…” so many of them began.
They never told me I would get paid to eat free lunches and listen to jazz legends tell their life stories.
They never told me I would sit in the studio where Michael Jackson recorded and where the Beatles recorded.
And if you had told me, when I was a little girl obsessively reading the liner notes wrapped around my cassette tapes, that I would someday work with Jimmy Jam and Terri Lewis, I would never have believed you anyway.
Maybe it is just as well that film school never taught me any of these things. I got out of the business before the dark rooms and Twizzlers took their toll on me, but sometimes I still miss the energy of those walls, the history in those couches, the feeling of being part of something bigger.
And sometimes I just miss the fancy soaps.