Posts Tagged ‘Joey Lawrence’

I don’t think I understood what was going on – Mom had just gotten off the phone with my agent. I had heard Mom’s side of the conversation, and I pieced together that something serious was going on – I just didn’t know what. We had a brick cell phone – I mean one of those huge, blocky things with a long rubber antenna, terrible reception, and cost a small fortune to talk on. I knew this call must have been important – otherwise, Mom would have surely pulled off and called back from a payphone. She looked at me thoughtfully.

Mom: The agency is closing its doors.

Me: What!?

Mom: They’re done. They’re bankrupt.

I was floored. The agency was huge – one of the largest in the industry – with offices on both coast and stars on their roster.

Me: What in the hell…

Mom: I don’t know. We’re supposed to stop in tomorrow and talk.

When we stopped in to the office, everything seemed different. I mean, the furnishings and whatnot were pretty much the same, but the mood was totally different. You ever watch a hive of bees when they’re slightly drugged or sleepy? They move, but it’s like they’re underwater. That’s sort of how it felt. What once was a bustling hive of activity was now a dying colony. Nobody had a spring in their step. Desks were empty. Some people were even in the process of putting things in boxes. We had heard rumors – clients were jumping ship by the truckload. Some people weren’t getting their checks, and hadn’t been for some time. The previous owner of the agency had somehow embezzled millions, or the new owners – who had taken over only a couple years prior – had run it into the ground, or maybe it was just an innocent accounting error. I had heard the owner himself was involved in some sort of insurance scam – that he paid thieves to steal his art so he could file an insurance claim. Allegedly, he paid the thieves off and kept the art for himself. Even if half of these were true, this was not what you wanted to her – not, at least, when you worked for (or with) one of the biggest agencies in the business. Besides, going belly up as an agency  – at least one this size – was nearly unheard of at the time.

We sat down across from my agent of many years, who explained to us that we should start looking for other representation. Yes, the rumors were true, and the agency was broke. Embezzlement was suspected – accounts were frozen. The agents hadn’t been paid. Big stars weren’t even getting their checks. I let the conversation break over me like a wave, and didn’t say much. I just watched the two adults – my mother and my agent – talk, and soaked in the office. I liked that office, had practically lived there since I was 8, and was disappointed. I also knew it may be difficult to find an agent – if people were jumping ship like rats from such a big agency, other agents would be flooded with too much talent to even deal with. I sensed changes may be afoot, and they were.

We ended up moving to a smaller manager – Mom’s logic behind this was that we had a history with this person, and a manager might be better than an agent. (If you sign with an agent, you’re exclusive with that agent. If you sign with a manager, they send you out through many different agents, and you can kind of get a feel for who you work well with). I guess it was a good move, or at least a move that made some kind of sense. She was worried we’d get lost in the shuffle at a bigger agency, and I suppose that was a real possibility. I was still doing a significant amount of acting work – still making a living, supporting myself and 3 other people. Work had started to slow down a bit, but I attributed that to the fact that the agency was going under. When I signed up with my manager, I did work less. But the business always went in cycles – sometimes you were up, sometimes you were down. That’s just the way it was.

Mom felt she had some sort of personal relationship with the manager – they were quasi-acquaintances I guess – and she would talk to her quite a bit on the phone. I think she may have let her in on some of her craziness – her theories about the Mafia and Russ – because I eventually started getting the impression that she thought something was funny. Not funny as in off, funny as in ha ha. Especially as things wore on, whenever we stopped in, she’d just sort of sit behind the desk and listen to Mom and sort of have this smirk on her face. You know like when someone says or does something really stupid, and you have a hard time keeping a straight face? It was sort of like that, with maybe a little bit of patronizing thrown in. I can’t explain it any better than that. When I look back on this, I feel an odd mix of protectiveness and indignation, mixed with shame. Indignation, not that Mom should have been taken seriously by any means, but that she should have been respected. At the very least, not made a joke out of. Shame that she was obviously crazy, and I was lumped into that – it reflected on me, and affected my career trajectory.

I can see why maybe the manager got fed up – Mom would call and try to pump her for information, or try to get more auditions out of her. Add in the paranoia – Mom’s fear that certain people were my “competition” and out to get me, like Joey Lawrence or others – and I can see it seriously wearing thin. She even went on a kick for a while that this band called The Moffats were my direct competition, and taking away music opportunities from me. When she presented this to me, even I laughed at her. I stopped laughing when she bought several of their cassettes and listened to them over and over in the car, analyzing them. I managed to find one of their videos, so you guys can know what I’m talking about. What pissed me off even more is when this stuff got stuck in my head (which it unfortunately did). Watch the video and weep with me over the indignity I suffered.

 

Not to long after this, SAG went on strike. There had been strikes in my time, but none this widespread. If I recall correctly, they were striking over contracts for new media – things like shows and commercials on the internet, and higher wages. What I think the union hoped for was a short lived strike that got the clients back to the bargaining table, once they realized they couldn’t live without union actors. There was one problem: The clients realized they could live without union actors.

Reality TV started to pop up – things like Survivor and Big Brother – and as the strike wore on it became more and more commonplace. Networks decided to bypass the sitcoms of old, and just do more reality TV. It was cheaper – sometimes the “actors” (who were real people, at least in theory) weren’t even paid. Total win. What that meant for us as actors was that we couldn’t work, unless we wanted to do non-union stuff. That meant crossing the picket line, which meant losing your benefits and maybe getting kicked out of the union. I had years vested in the union at this point – a great health plan and a pension for when I retired. If I was kicked out, that was gone. Plus, non union work paid chump change by comparison. Non union might give you a few hundred dollars in a lump sum, vs a union gig of a thousand plus they paid you every time it aired. I know a lot of people who weren’t able to work. Auditions dried up. When they did come up, it was for junk. Gone were the big payday bookings I had grown up with. Those were bad days.

Mom didn’t know what to do. We had depended on my income for so long. She was afraid to get a “real job”, because it would tie her down for driving me out to auditions. So she tried things like stuffing envelopes, and get rich quick scams. When they didn’t work – and things became more desperate – she decided to deliver phone books. She took Tim and I along to help. I remember the interview process. The boss – I can’t remember his name – looked at the three of us skeptically. Me, my little brother, and my Mom.

Boss: You guys want to deliver phone books…?

Mom: Yes. My sons are actors – very famous actors, actually, you’ve probably heard a lot of their stuff on TV. Timmy was just in a movie…

Boss: Okay…

Mom: The union is on strike and they can’t work. So, we’re making ends meet right now. Yes. We’d like to deliver phone books.

He shrugged. I don’t think he much cared about our life story. We were just warm bodies to get the job done. We loaded up our car with phone books and drove our route. As per instructions, he didn’t want them tossed at the bottom of the driveway, but actually delivered to the door. It was my first real job – Tim’s too – that didn’t involve doing something we loved doing. I was game for it – I understood it was short term – but Tim was deeply unimpressed and complained the whole time.

The system was that we did the deliveries while Mom sat in the car. I remember one house we went to, and it had this really long driveway. Tim and I got out of the car together, and marched up towards the house. I watched him freeze in mid step. I was about to turn and ask what was wrong, when I heard a low growl. Across the yard was a huge behemoth of a dog – slobber was dripping from its jaws, and it was baring its teeth. It looked like it would eat us feet first if we came any closer. I was pretty freaking worried, but at the same time, I knew we were supposed to drop the phone book at the door of the house. It looked incredibly far away, though. I glanced from the house back to the sanctuary of the car – we were sort of between the two. I took a tentative step forward, and the dog let out another unholy growl.

Me: What do we do?

Tim: Fuck this. I’m going back to the car.

I was about to argue with him, when a second dog – not quite as big, but looking every bit as eager to consume human flesh – rounded the corner of the house.

Me: You’re right, bro. Fuck the phone book.

We backed slowly away, and at first it seemed like the dogs would stay put. I don’t know what it was – whether it was some arbitrarily determined distance or the sound our sneakers made on the blacktop – but the big dog decided to go for it. He started loping towards us and Tim and I broke into a dead run back to the car. We got in and breathlessly slammed the doors.

Mom: Did you do it?

Tim and I almost shouted in unison.

Me and Tim: NO!

Mom: Why?

Tim: There’s two freaking huge dogs. I’m not going to that door.

Mom leaned forward in the driver’s seat – she had been reclining it to shut her eyes – and saw the two dogs about halfway up the driveway. They never made it all the way to the car, but they were clearly pissed – growling and snapping.

Mom: We need to deliver it to the door, or we don’t get paid.

Me: There are worse things than not getting paid.

Tim: If you want to get paid so bad, you deliver it. I’m not going out there again.

Mom could see this was a losing battle, but I don’t think she really wanted us to go back out there again. To end the debate, I rolled down the window and chucked the phone book halfway up the driveway. I didn’t have a very good arm – it landed several feet in front of the dogs, and a little in the grass.

Not long after, Tim started refusing to go on deliveries. Although I dutifully went along for a while, I wasn’t much use to Mom other than as company – I’d usually get out of the car only with great reluctance. When she started delivering at 5 AM, I started refusing to go at all. It wasn’t long after this that she stopped delivering phone books altogether.

I’d like to tell you that things went back to the way they were – auditions once again became plentiful, and money rolled in. I’d like to tell you that Mom was wise and saved up the money Tim and I had made over the years – that it was somewhere safe, perhaps in a savings account or something. I can’t. The industry- or at least the part that I was involved in – did come back, but it was drips and drabs. There would never again be 5 auditions in a day. We’d be lucky if we went into the city a couple times a week. I worked, a little – my audition to booking ratio was still rather good – but it never did recover. Perhaps the title is a little misleading, in any case. It wasn’t the end, but rather the first couple serious body blows that would change things irrevocably. But if you think about it, you don’t wake up one morning and find all your plants dead. You wake up one morning and find them dying. You think to yourself “Oh…they’ll come back. Let me water them a bit.” But they don’t come back – they continue to wilt, little by little until they’re gone.

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It was decided – I don’t remember how, why, or by who – that I ought to start making demos of the songs I was writing. I had done one or two  before, when I was around 9, but at 12 I was writing several songs a week and it was time to start doing something with them. This is one thing that I’m very glad I did – going to the studio gave me a lot of experience, and as a writer there is nothing like hearing your music brought to life and reduced to tape or CD (though in those days, it was tape). The first few songs I did by myself – they were simplistic, and I was able to knock several out in just a few hours. I played piano myself and sang on them. Conversations were had between Mom, Russ, and myself, about picking a genre of music and sticking with it. At the time, I was writing literally everything – I wrote Reggae, I wrote Pop, I wrote Rap, Rockabilly, whatever came to my mind. In the early 90’s, Country music was enjoying a bit of a boom – Billy Ray Cyrus was dominating the air waves with Achy Breaky Heart  and I think Cotton Eyed Joe had come out around then too (if you haven’t heard it, do yourself a favor and don’t). I remember having a conversation with Mom about which genre I should focus on.

Mom: You should do Country. Joey Lawrence will never go country in a million years. That way, he can have Pop and you guys can both be successful.

I didn’t really care, and I thought Country was pretty good (some of it still is, but let’s face it – most modern music sucks regardless of genre). Somehow, Mom got it into her head that Russ should produce my demos. Initially, he was reluctant – I honestly don’t think he wanted to spend any more time with Mom than necessary – certainly not in the close proximity that a studio would have demanded. Eventually, though, she won him over with the thing that rules us all – the checkbook. She offered him a ridiculous sum of money to produce me. She paid him for lessons he’d miss on either side of any studio gig, plus gas and expenses – in addition to whatever she paid him for coming into produce. Between paying Paul (the studio tech) and Russ, each demo probably cost around $1,000 – easy. That’s not counting if we needed to go back in and remix, either, which we usually did. So the final product was probably a bit more – maybe closer to $1,500.

Don’t get the wrong impression, here. Russ was (in my opinion, anyway) a top notch musician and producer. He may have also been a top notch bullshitter, but anything involving music was relatively bullshit free – at least in my estimation. My feelings about him are complicated – especially looking back over the years with the benefit of hindsight – but my respect for his talent has never waned an iota. Watching him work in the studio was a learning experience in and of itself, and it went a long way to making me the musician (and producer) I am today. He’d come in to Paul’s studio and sit in the “Captain’s Chair” (a rolling desk chair that he commandeered specifically for his use – no one else was allowed to sit in it). He’d rock back and forth, listening to a take.

Russ: No, no. More strings. They need to swell.

Paul played the strings with more swell.

Russ: No, Paul, like this!

And he’d draw an illustration in the air of what he wanted the strings to sound like. Paul got it. If you’re a musician, you can probably understand this too. There’s a secret language among us – a nod, a raised eyebrow, a fist above the head waving in time to a beat. We get it. We know what it means, even if others don’t. From my perspective, Russ looked a bit like a sorcerer – throwing invisible bolts of magic at some unseen enemy. He’d look over at me and grin, smoothing his hair back into place.
Russ: You feel that!?

Me: Yeah!

And I did. I could feel the strings, but it wasn’t just that – the Muse was in the room with us. That’s what he was talking about, I think. It was a trip.

Russ would pack that song with so many tracks it taxed Paul’s systems. Paul used to joke that Russ would look at a blank track sheet and start to go snow blind – he needed to fill that sucker up. Brilliant arranging and producing aside, it always irked me that Russ and Paul never let me play on my own recordings (the ones Russ produced, anyway). As a kid, it pissed me off to no end. They’d let me sing on it (who else would sing on it, anyway? Hiring a studio singer would have just been more money) but Paul played all the tracks via a Midi keyboard. I argued with Russ that I could easily play it live – a real guitar or piano would sound so much better. He waved me off every time. I get it now, though – it was just easier and quicker for Paul (who knew his own keyboards) to jump in and play. Although granted, I did know my own songs better. Having someone else take and mold your songs into something other than your vision can be a horrifying experience – and of the hundreds of demos I recorded with Russ, that happened more often than I can count.

Me: Uncle Russ, the drums shouldn’t do that.

Russ: Oh, okay.

Then he’d tell Paul to keep doing what he was doing.

I’d be furious – I’d spend the whole session glowering at Russ’s turned back. But in the end – when I listened to the track objectively, I’d hear that Russ made the better call. It wasn’t what I had in mind, maybe, but maybe what I had in mind wasn’t quite as good.

I am of two minds about this whole process. Firstly, it didn’t make any sense to do things the way we were doing it. If Russ argued about it (and he surely knew better than Mom or myself) I never heard it. Maybe he just knew that Mom wanted what Mom wanted and there was no point in standing in her way (he’d have been right about that). The way things normally work (at least in Nashville) is that songs go through a process – you bounce it off a lot of people before it becomes the final product you hear on the radio. So, for instance, if I bring in a demo that I just spent $1,200 on, and the head of Capitol Records tells me the chorus needs to be changed totally, I’ll have to re-record my song. Thus, $1,200 down the drain. It ended up locking me into some songwriting decisions I might have rethought otherwise – when hearing from different publishers (or artists, or whoever) that such and such a thing ought to be different, I would realize that the song could have been made much, much better. But to redo it would be too costly, so instead I went on to the next one and tried to make it “perfect” without the benefit of industry opinion (spoiler alert: it never was). The way things seem to be done is you record something simple and relatively cost effective, bounce it off of people, and then do a “final demo” once everything is basically all tightened up song-wise. So I can make a pretty convincing argument (and have, at least to myself) that a small fortune was flushed down the toilet. On the other hand, it was worth every penny to learn the things I learned in the studio. I would be nowhere near the producer I am today (or the writer, for that matter) if I hadn’t watched someone who really, truly knew their craft as closely and often as I did.

On studio days, Russ was either early by half an hour (or better) or late. If he was on time it was a true rarity. Paul, ever sarcastic, called him the Guru of Soul. Tim and I laughed a good bit at that. But you know what? He did have soul – quite a bit, in fact. Sometimes, in my head, I am back in that room – the one that smelled like Yankee Candles and inspiration. I am a child sitting on a couch watching The Guru of Soul work his magic.

We had just sat down in the studio, and Uncle Richard was talking excitedly about a book.

Uncle Richard: Have you ever heard of the Bermuda Triangle?

I shook my head.

Uncle Richard: It’s interesting. Amelia Erhart’s plane got lost there. Countless ships go through there and never return. Sometimes they see old ships that have sunk hundreds of years ago. Sometimes they see ghosts.

Goosebumps prickled on my arms, and I was instantly intrigued.

Me: What do you think it is?

Uncle Richard: Some say it’s a natural phenomenon – like gigantic magnet. Some say it’s a doorway to another dimension.

He was so excited about this book he was reading, and so impressed with this author that he actually went to hear her lecture on the subject. The thought of a place that sucked ships in – a place where people saw ghosts – stuck in my head. In many ways it never left. I asked Russ about it the following week, and a funny look came over his face.

Russ: There’s something to it, man. I went through there once. I was doing a gig on a cruise ship and we went really close to the Triangle.  Anyway, during the night my Dad walked into my room – we had this huge conversation while I was laying in bed. I’d fall asleep for a while, I’d wake up and he’d be there. This happened a few times. Then, one time I woke up and he was gone. My Dad had been dead for like, 10 years, though. Swear to God.

I imagined being on a ship and seeing people who weren’t really there – and maybe being stuck in that place forever. I got goosebumps again. Thinking about such things was a nice diversion from the other things going on.

By this point in my life, I had begun to have severe headaches – migraines, really. They’d come on suddenly, and I’d clutch my head and just scream. My stomach, too, was in knots all the time – it felt like I was digesting balls of icy glass. We went to several doctors, but nothing ever showed up on the tests. As a kid, I didn’t understand what was going on, which only added to the phenomenon. As an adult, I see that I was under severe stress – the Mafia was watching us, and Joey Lawrence was plotting to ruin my career (I say this with tongue planted firmly in cheek, of course). Mom’s delusions about people being out to get me got more and more elaborate. Every day, she’d issue new warnings.

Mom: I don’t care where you are, if you put a glass down and walk away from it, you never drink from it again. Understand?

Me: Because it could be poisoned?

Mom: Or drugs. Someone could be trying to get you high so you get addicted to drugs and arrested.

I took the advice to heart, and to this day I never drink out of a glass if it’s been out of my sight for even a second. While as a kid this was fueled by pure paranoia, as an adult it is simply an empty habit which annoys and confounds people (though maybe there’s a little paranoia peeking out every now and then).

One day, Mom appeared particularly happy. I asked her why.

Mom: Because I made a deal.

Me: Oh, did The Answer come back?

Mom: I wish! No, it’s nothing like that. But I think I found a way to get Joey off our backs.

Me: Okay, good.

Mom: I told Russ that if they’d let you have music, Joey could have acting. You guys can split it, that way you won’t compete with each other.

Again, looking back, I was no competition whatsoever to Joey – he had a totally different look. He played the teenage heart throb, and any acting roles I got would be the egghead. Besides the age gap, we wouldn’t have been going up for the same roles in anyone’s wildest imagination. Regardless, Mom was in no position to make deals of any kind – let alone the kind she thought she was making. The whole premise is ridiculous, and I see that now. I imagine that it’s a lot like a cult, though. From the inside, everything makes perfect sense. You hear it every day and you live with it, you breathe it, you eat it. From the outside, it’s utter nonsense. Thank God I’m on the outside now.

Anyway, she had absolute blue convulsions when Joey came out with an album. She literally threw fits – she felt that “they” had gone back on the deal and now we would get nothing. She stormed into Russ’s studio to confront him about the whole thing. As usual, her anger completely melted when she saw him – she kind of went into a trance and got that far off, glassy look. She did ask repeatedly things like “Is The Answer coming back?” and “Did Joey take our spot for real?” Russ gave his typical assurances (which were somehow both positive and vague at the same time) and Mom was mollified temporarily. The Joey thing flared up repeatedly, though, and still does to this day. Not always with him specifically but every once in a while she’ll latch onto other people (usually celebrities or semi-celebrities) and insist they are plotting against us. Most recently, she’s been telling me with a straight face that The Jonas Brothers took my spot and I have lost another shot at superstardom. What the hell do the Jonas Brothers have to do with whether or not I’m a successful musician? Still, she insists they plotted against us and sidetracked my career. It would be funny if she wasn’t completely serious. It is kind of funny, though.

I remember sitting in a makeup chair, on a commercial set. The hair and makeup lady was fooling with my hair – combing, spraying, styling. Suddenly she paused.

Makeup Lady: Oh, hey.

I raised my eyebrows.

Makeup Lady: You’ve got gray hairs.

Me: I do?

Makeup Lady: Yeah, you totally do. A couple, actually.

Me: Huh.

She called over a colleague who also marveled over this.

Makeup Lady: I wonder how a kid your age gets gray hair? Must be a sign of high intelligence.

Or stress. When you spend enough of your childhood in the Bermuda Triangle, gray hairs happen.

Woah.

Posted: March 19, 2013 in Acting, Life, Mom, Russ
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

With Nancy in the mix, Mom started getting concerned that Russ’s other students were vying to take my place. She was concerned with stuff like that in general – she’d be at auditions, checking out the “Competition”. She’d get worried if some kid came along that looked similar to me but gave a great read, or was more handsome or had a cooler look. She had these little rivalries that went on in her head with people – they rarely ever even came to the surface, beyond private conversations with me. She would decide (based mostly on whether or not they were “Competition” and whether or not they were any good) that the mother was nasty, or the kid was ugly, or they were out to get us. I remember one kid, who was always at auditions with us, and his mother would sit there and talk to my Mom. Now, I grant you, this lady was a little creepy. She was always talking about how hot her son was or how if she were a girl she’d be into him. This went on for, oh…maybe a couple of months. One day – for no reason anyone was aware of – Mom blew her top. If there was a conversation that preceded this, it was simply the average banter of stage mothers sitting in a casting office.

Mom: Tommy has had his day in the sun! He’s finished! It’s our turn.

Tommy’s Mom: …what?

Mom: And…and…if you think he’s so hot why don’t you just sleep with him, then!

The kid’s mom was flabbergasted. Her jaw was open and she was just stunned into silence. She never talked to Mom again, which was just fine as far as she was concerned. I thought it was kind of funny, though a little uncalled for.

Occasionally – and this happened maybe a dozen times over my career – Mom would latch onto someone and consider them a real threat. Usually this was someone we had zero contact with (or maybe, at best, saw them once or twice) – yet somehow she got it into her head they were behind the scenes scheming against us. One such person was Joey Lawrence. You guys might remember him from the 90’s sitcom Blossom – he was famous for saying “Woah.” a lot.  He was one of Russ’s students – hence, we had a tenuous (at best) connection with him. To my knowledge, though, we never met him in person so I really don’t know how he popped into her head like he did. I remember Mom insisting Joey and/or his family were tapping our phones (they weren’t), or that Joey would try to set me up to go to jail for drugs. This is literally the conversation we had, at least a couple times.

Mom: Danny, I want you to keep your backpack zipped up all the time.

Me: …okay? There’s nothing anyone would want to steal. Just books…

Mom: No, I think Joey might want to put something in it.

I knew exactly who she was talking about – she had been fussing about him nonstop. She had even called and asked my agent if she knew and worked with Joey. I guess she was trying to find out information or something.

Me: Mom, nobody is going to plant drugs on my backpack.

Mom: Well, they might! And if they do, your career is over! You will be in jail!

There was no point in arguing – she was really wound up. I have only ever seen fervent defense attorneys and earnest TV Preachers speak with as much passion and emphasis as she did.

Mom: You. Will be. A DITCH DIGGER.

I laughed – I couldn’t help it. The word struck me funny.

Mom: I AM SERIOUS! If you don’t zip up your backpack and keep it with you AT ALL TIMES, you will rot in jail and be a ditch digger.

Me: Okay, Mom.

I had to look out the car window – I could no longer suppress the big smirk that was coming and I didn’t want her to see it. This whole conversation – especially how grave she was being – struck me as amusing for some reason. Besides – I was about 80-90% sure she was confused, at best. But there was that little part of me that wondered if she wasn’t right – I was a kid after all. As far as I knew, my Mom knew more than I did (at least, she claimed to have a lot of important knowledge about things I “couldn’t know yet”). Even today, with years of therapy under my belt I question my own perceptions often. I am sure – fairly sure, anyway – that I perceive something a certain way. But maybe I’m wrong. And then the self doubt sets in. As a result, I’m probably the most thorough person I know (besides my brother) – I research things to the end of the earth, just to be conclusively sure. Still, doubt sometimes lingers. I think it’s habit formed from growing up in a household where questioning perceptions was a daily (even hourly) activity.

She’d harass Russ about Joey too – asking Russ if Joey was conspiring against us (Russ told her he was not). Asking Russ if we had anything to “worry about” in regards to Joey. Russ would usually tell her no or give her one of his ambiguous answers. Regardless of what he said, she would analyze the hell out of it. If he was straightforward and told her “No, Joey Lawrence isn’t plotting against you” she would inevitably decide it was not the “right Russ” that told us this – it was possibly a Russ who was in league with Joey and the shadowy powers aligned against us.

I asked Mom a few times why all these people I didn’t even know were out to get me. I assumed these people had lives and families – surely they couldn’t have time to just come after me 24/7. I don’t remember her exact wording, but the upshot was that i was so talented that I was a serious threat to the “system”. And they either needed to “make” me (i.e. the Mafia backing me) or they needed to get rid of me – get me thrown in jail, or assassinated. I don’t care how old you are – if hearing that doesn’t give you one hell of a complex, I don’t know what will.

 

 

When Russ was in the mood, he liked to talk about these wild theories he had. Most are very interesting (though probably amount to pop psychology at best), but I think he liked them because they added to this aura of mysticism about him. Anyway, one day we were sitting in his studio – I think it was after a lesson – and he was talking about people.

Russ: You know, gang, I think there’s two sides to everyone.

Me: Oh, really?

Russ: Yep. Everyone has a bad side and a good side, and they’re equal.

Me: Interesting.

Russ: Separate but equal!

He chuckled at his own joke. Mom and I laughed.
He got up from the piano bench, his 60’s style black shoes making shuffling noises on the carpet.

Russ: I’ll show you!

He grabbed a piece of sheet music and ran over to his wall.

The wall of his studio was covered – nearly every inch of it – with headshots of students (the more notable ones, at least). He ran up to one and placed the sheet music evenly over their face, dividing it in half.

Russ: See?

Me: Huh. Looks normal.

Russ: Right! Now…

He moved the sheet music to the other side.

Russ: What do you see?

Me: Huh. Kind of creepy looking. A little evil, maybe.

Russ laughed.

Russ: Wild, huh?

Mom and I agreed, and he ran around the studio doing the same thing to many of the headshots. He finally made it over to mine. A picture of Joey Lawrence with Johnny Carson stared down above me.

Russ: Even you, I bet. Look.

I looked. He was right.

Me: Huh. Interesting.

Russ: I know, man, I know!

He started talking a little bit about Freudian psychology – how one side of us is the “higher self” and the other side is the “lower self”. He called the lower self the Ud Factor, for some reason, and thought this was pretty amusing. Thereafter, Mom announced that this was a different “Russ” and she called him “Mr. Ud Factor” (or “Mr Ud”). The talk of psychology, along with the fact that his hair was several shades lighter, got her convinced that this was a totally new person dressed up as Russ. I actually noted myself that his hair was more blonde than usual – almost a white, really – and filed that information away for later examination. What I determined was that he was dying his hair, which accounted for the shade difference – a fact she flatly rejected.

Mom: No, no. It’s a different Russ. It’s a different personality and everything.

Me: Mom, I don’t think so. Honestly. He’s just dying his hair.

Mom: Well, don’t you remember when Johnny Cash came to teach you?

I was quiet.

Mom: And Ross Perot? And Gaffe?

I held my tongue and my breath. I had strayed a little too far into unknown territory. I had never outright challenged her perceptions before – at least, not in any direct way. She looked thoughtful for a moment, then got that thousand yard stare. She started mumbling to herself just under her breath – having what appeared to be conversations. I sighed.

Mr. Ud would only appear a couple times – usually whenever Russ was due to dye his hair again, or was in a bad mood. But Mr. Ud didn’t interest her as much as the others – Roy Orbison, Buck Owens, Andre the Giant – all the celebrities who supposedly dressed up as my music teacher and came to teach me. When I pressed her on why exactly they were doing this, Mom insisted they were “scouting talent”.

Me: That doesn’t even make any sense. Why would they do that?

Mom: Because it’s an easy way to do it. They can see how people are when they’re not starstruck or intimidated.

Me: And how is this related to the Mafia?

Mom: Because they’re laundering money through there. It’s a front.

I didn’t really see the logic in this, and told her. She got extremely edgy.

Mom: Dammit, Danny. Just stop. I know what I know, okay?

I stopped.