So you want to be a rock and roll star - by John Sealander


Barbara was the first person I knew that owned a cell phone. It was heavy as a brick and cost $3000. She could afford it because she owned a little company that rented Lamborghinis and Ferrari Testarossas to the likes of Phil Collins and Rob Lowe when they were in Dallas for the weekend. The whole concept was basically not that different from Hertz or Avis, except that the cars cost $1000 a day and $1 a mile. Well, the more cars Barbara rented to members of Aerosmith and Black Sabbath, the more she became convinced that her destiny was not in the car rental business at all. She began to see herself bathed in laser light, playing stadium shows and hanging out with Mick and Slash. Barbara wanted to be a rock and roll star.

Now there's nothing strange about this. Probably thousands of people every day have similar fantasies. But very few have ever thought that I could help them turn their fantasies into realities. In fact, Barbara was the only one. We were introduced through a mutual friend who knew Barbara wanted to sing as much as I wanted to write songs. Actually, neither of us knew what we were doing, but we had big dreams. Huge dreams. I was determined to be Bernie Taupin to the first Elton John that came along, and Barbara was it. Over a three year period, I wrote at least forty songs for her, all sung by others. She said she wasn't ready for anyone to hear her sing yet, and instead came over every week to listen to the new songs I had written and recorded, telling me with absolute conviction which cut they were going to be on her first album.

I should have been suspicious. The singers who were singing my demos, certainly weren't talking about putting them on their next album. They were talking about paying the rent, getting a better job, finding a better boyfriend and simply getting through the week in one piece. They sang for me, because even if they thought the songs sucked, they got a free demo tape that they could use to pursue their own dreams of singing in some little piano bar at a local hotel. All of them sang wonderfully and had exceedingly small dreams. Barbara didn't sing at all and knew Phil Collins.

Eventually she said she was ready. She got her brother to take over the car rental business, took a tape of my best songs and moved to Los Angeles. She got an apartment in Studio City and dropped off the face of the earth. I called her number once, but it had been disconnected. "Nothing ventured, nothing gained," I thought, and forgot all about her.

About three years later, I get this telephone call. It's her. "Guess what," she says. "I think I've got a record deal." "Great!" I say. I'm amazed actually. Through all the years we hung out together, I never actually heard her sing. "You know those songs of yours," she says. "I still want to record them." I'm starting to get excited. Finally after two publishing contracts that netted me absolutely nothing, and hundreds of fruitless phone calls to Nashville and LA, I am going to get lucky. "That's great, that fantastic," I say. "What songs do you want to record?" "All of them," she says. "But there's just one thing. . .would you mind if I put my name on them?" I'm confused. "Well you are the singer," I say. "No, no," she says. "I need my name on them as the writer, or I can't get a record deal." I'm not believing this. "What do you mean you can't get a record deal?" I say. "The record companies like to sign artists who do their own material so they don't have to pay as much in publishing royalties," she tells me. This is probably true, but it's starting to make me mad. Real mad.

"Let me get this straight," I say. "You didn't write these songs, your didn't arrange these songs, you didn't play any of the instruments on these songs, you didn't even sing these songs." "And now you think you have some kind of claim to them?" "Well, we did kind of work on them together," she says. "What exactly," I say, "was your contribution?" Silence. A very long silence. Finally she says, "Well, you can't stop me from using them." And she hangs up.

Now here's the fun part. I keep looking in the new releases section at every record store in town for the next year. Looking for Barbara's blockbuster superstar album filled with my stolen songs. Nothing! Absolutely nothing! She didn't get her record deal after all. The record company executives, or Phil Collins, or whoever, didn't even want my songs. They didn't want Barbara. The whole thing was a non-event. And what started as a friendship between two people chasing an impossible dream, was trampled and totally demolished. . .for nothing.


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copyrightę1995. Contact John Sealander at: john@sealander.com 19547 readers since 3/30/96