A&M Chapter Four

Time for my sentence in tape copy was at hand.

It was kind of an unwritten rule that runners did a stretch in “Post Production” in order to get time in the rooms. Post Production in a recording facility/record company, meant tape copy. Bill Lazerus ran the tape copy suite designed and implemented by Steve Barncard and the ridiculously smart and talented A&M tech squad.

Barncard killed it. By that I mean he nailed it. He designed that room so intuitively well, it was clear he saw the whole thing in his head. Barney is one of those guys that functions above the rest of us in ways we don’t quite grasp.

I was to be flattered to engineer for Barncard years later.  The artist, some crazy but sweet child psychiatrist, flew me to Detroit, put me in a suite and didn’t work me very hard.  Decent cake.  Good gig.

It was brilliant. There were one hundred black, rack mounted, Yamaha cassette machines stopped, started and synchronized entirely by a crude little MAC in the middle of the room. We had quarter and half inch ATR’s and Studers, DATs and U-matics. There was a headphone listening system that fed five or ten seconds of audio from each of the hundred cassette decks. You wore the cans to listen to the job while you typed the labels.

You were mandated to hear every project you did.  Not merely listen.  It was about the discipline of hearing. Not a bad gig on it’s face, as your job was to hear new, unreleased music all day or night.

I knew Paula Abdul had a hit with Straight Up before you did. Not my music but I knew.

You assembled the package by inserting the “J card” into the cassette shell, affixing labels to the tape itself, packing them in boxes of ten, all with the A&M logo.  There were jobs that ran into the thousands of copies and that was your day.  One song over and over.  The caveat here is you’re not working on that song.  You are copying it over and over, hearing it over and over, without the remotest power to affect it any way.

Some thought me lazy because I grabbed the small jobs and although that was true, I didn’t listen to the same shit all day either.

We learned to align analog two tracks and to listen, and really hear. You had a window of just a few seconds to identify a bad copy out of a hundred and pull it.  I used to touch the lid before I hit eject.  Sometimes I could feel it in the machine.

After that, 1/4″ and 1/2″ copies and transfers from one medium to another including the brand new and fabulously shitty sounding DAT format. Sixteen bit chaos.

CD burners were years away.  Mp3s?  I remember working in a vinyl record store when CD’s first arrived.  I kept blowing fuses on the store stereo with Pachelbel’s Canon.  I’d make it through the whole thing,  the first cannon would fold the fuses and the amp would die and then a faint gust of ozone.  Never figured out where the fuses were, so Tom always knew who and what the next morning.

I learned all I needed within a month or three.

What it was, was a factory with ears.

My plan was to do four to six months and exit Dodge.

I liked it at first.

Bill, my boss, a female deer……. an ugly but charismatic little man, did analog edits, the occasional voice over, smoked cigarettes and redlined unpredictably. I’ll put a finer point on that. He erupted like a dwarfish, silver haired, angry and frustrated man. Marriage to Sheri Lazerus must have been a fucking nightmare.

Copious amounts of hair and a round waist that was slipping. It was nearly a front butt.

He always wore sweaters and cheap cologne. He drank coffee like it was water and I’m sure did the rest of his drinking at home. His breath made me think amphibians.

He could cut two track tape like a bastard.

It didn’t work the way I thought it would. I was ready to go long before Bill was ready to let me go. The roster of runners had stagnated. None had quit or been fired for months. Weird. No slots for me to assume. Purgatory.

By then, the entirety of studio staff had begun to liken tape copy to Alcatraz, as in “Lazatraz”, named after it’s redfaced warden.  My boss.
I met nice people up their too. David Chow and Ron Rogers are two of nicest people to use air. Ron turned out to be this excellent artist and musician. He had this great band called the Bowling Ball Mechanics. A friendly Texas twang; he pronounced my name like “mahckul”.

My good friend Keith Woods was down the hall in the tape library and our friendship came into it’s own then. I had to go the library several times a day. Keith died some ten years ago of Mad Cow Disease. Bovine spongiform encephalopathy. That’s another story, but may he rest in peace. It was so fast. There wasn’t then and there is not now, a single human who would or even could, disparage this man in any way.

He was an excellent and loyal friend to me.

I began to make friends in the A&R department and Bill Lazerus did not like that one bit. He was jealous. He told me it was a mistake to make friends and that it would only get me in trouble. He was wrong.

Bill spent the last three to five months kicking the shit out of me. His breath stank from coffee and cigarettes and he took great pride in being militaristic. He was a miserable bastard, but I have to tell you, I stumbled upon some James Taylor records he did and they are gorgeous. Beautiful recordings.

He had the gift.

I lost almost a year up there. Cheryl Engles, head of QC, became my Betty in shining armor by witnessing Bill meltdown on me. She was horrified enough to go right to Mark and Shelly. Meet Mark Harvey, aka The Harvinator, hard drinking intellectual and Studio Manager. Shelly Yakus, Giant Vagina, President of Recording, will entertain you much, later.

I think I was getting used to the abuse because her move confused me. I was further confused to have Mark and Shelly intervene on my behalf and bring me back downstairs into the lowest echelon of any recording studio’s gene pool.

I couldn’t wait to dive back into obscurity. I’d attracted too much attention.

Drinks for my friends.

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