The Legend would have said, “No way.” She would have laughed, shaken her head and said, “I’ll have no part of this job. I’ll take my cigarette breaks elsewhere, thank you.” She was a fearless sort. But me? Well, I had a graduate degree in English and a need to do something besides haunt the Green Hills Library and lie on my mother’s couch all day, racked with worry over my fate.
You could argue that I’d been warned. When I interviewed for the job, the administrator in charge asked me, repeatedly, “Do you know what’s involved here? Do you understand that maybe the work is, well, boring?”
“Yes,” I told him. “It’s in the imaging department. I’ll be working with computers.”
He nodded. I was hired. It was official: I was now in the music business. Or at least all signs pointed that way: it was a large publishing company; there were free CDs, two weeks at Christmas and a dress code that included shorts and T-shirts—anything, really, so long as you weren’t naked.
But working on Music Row and working in the music business are similar in the same way that belting out karaoke in a club is like singing at the Opry. The hordes of music business majors swarming across the campuses of Belmont, MTSU and even Vanderbilt might want to listen up: for eight hours that first day on the job, I pulled staples from stacks and stacks of paper. For eight hours the second day, I scanned those same papers into a computer. The people were lovely, the perks great, but this was not the music business. This was me fighting daily panic attacks and thoughts like, “So it’s come to this. Washed up and not even 30.”
The floor where I worked was a large open system of cubicles. Everyone wore headphones, and the silence was maniacally oppressive, the only sound the soft clatter of office-mates furiously typing. Email was my lifeline to the world outside my cube, and on more than one occasion I wrote messages to friends that said, “Do you think I’ll die in here?”
This is why I say The Legend would have walked out before the scanning even began. My onetime childhood babysitter, The Legend never paid my eye-rolling 8-year-old ways much mind. Even after she graduated from high school and wasn’t on the babysitting circuit anymore, we still saw her on a regular basis, my father always an easy mark for a loan of 20, or even 50, bucks. When the secretary at his publishing company left, he hired The Legend to take her place.
It’s here that her name was made, behind the desk in a mid-’80s Music Row office. Young and completely inexperienced, she nevertheless possessed a seasoned approach to songwriters, producers, publishers and publicists: in short, she wasn’t impressed. When hopeful songwriters would walk through the door, asking if they could please just drop off their demo, she’d take a long pull on her cigarette, give a sighing roll of the eyes and say, “Hell, I guess so.” Major names in the business would call up, and The Legend had no problem butchering, or perhaps even forgetting, their names. “Some guy—Ronnie somebody—called,” she’d say, relaying a message. “I forget what he wanted.”
“It’s Milsap,” my father would reply. “His name’s on the outside of the building.”
“Yeah, that guy,” The Legend would say, shrugging her shoulders, a master of industry ennui before the age of 23.
Because of this approach, and because, as my mother said, “She just isn’t afraid,” my father fired her.
“I had to,” he said in his own defense. “All she ever did was smoke cigarettes and read trashy novels.” But he added, “I didn’t actually fire her. You can’t fire her. All you can do is tell her your intentions and hope she might seriously consider them.”
Not surprisingly, The Legend didn’t fret about her unemployment. The day after her termination, she picked up and left for a beach vacation in Florida. She also sent a large bouquet of dead flowers to the office. Mottled and brown, they were delivered to her former desk to sit center-stage as one final, withered goodbye from the worst employee the office had ever seen.
I, however, am much too chicken to make such a gesture. What if I hurt someone’s feelings? What if—God forbid—I let the powers that be know that the work is wretched and bad for self-esteem? One late Thursday afternoon, the vast, inhuman silence proved too much. I had been scanning for five hours straight. I had gone vfrom royalty statements to copyright correspondence to one too many song lyrics that employed the phrase “river of dreams.” I had reached my own come-to-Jesus, and so I did the most natural thing in the world: I fell out of my chair. Just slid right on out and sprawled there on the cream-colored, industrial grade carpet.
It was an act so juvenile, yet somehow so appropriate. A cry for help, for sure. One that, distressingly, no one noticed. No one ever glanced my way. Not until several minutes later did anyone even think to look up and say, “Did Lacey just fall out of her chair? Is she all right?”
I was fine, of course, but it was obvious that I needed to look elsewhere for a paycheck. I didn’t hear the music anymore. I didn’t care for the free CDs at all. I would take my liberal arts education elsewhere. No stench of dead roses would follow, but in some way—I hoped—The Legend’s fearlessness would. Maybe next time I’ll skip the passive-aggressive theatrics and just turn down the job.