36. The Most Expensive Record

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S Rhatigan/ C Charles © 1993

Today the future looks bright, so I’m able to look back, without feeling bogged down in the past and I’m able to remember with more fondness than regret, the adventures and mishaps of my life till now and the joy of re-acquaintance with old friends.

I’ve been very slow with this latest blog  for many reasons, among them my on going efforts to move forward with new music and the feeling that perhaps all this reminiscing is counter productive. Nostalgia is big though, it’s everywhere. Retro this, vintage that, particularly music. I heard a Hawkwind track on the Marc Reilly show on BBC 6 music the other day and thought it was the next breakthrough alternative band, I should really know about…

The bands and songwriters I’m seeing around Dublin are happy to seamlessly weave their interpretations of classic and obscure covers into their own original songs both live and on record, to the point where unless you’re a musicologist you wouldn’t know where one ends and the other begins…

Last night was a case in point. I headed into Whelans to play a few tunes for John Byrne’s Song Cycle night, I particularly wanted to try out a new song but the lyric was frustratingly unfinished… The standard was high as usual but unfortunately the noisy bar made it difficult for the players. Nonetheless through the noise I heard some gorgeous tunes from Kevin O’Rourke, front man with Massachusetts based alt folk band Lo Fine. Among his own fine songs he slipped in a cover of Blondie’s Dreaming. All atmosphere and melancholy, nothing like the original which I love, but something else, something quite fresh surprisingly. While listening to Kevin I even managed to get a good working lyric finished, so I succeeded in playing my new song, which bucked my spirits up considerably.

Then I headed down to another great Dublin institution, The Stags Head, to a new Monday night session upstairs, ‘De Grand Old Oprey’, hosted by two wonderful musicians Tony Mc Loughlin of Dublin band The Young Folk and singer songwriter Niall Thomas, who has one of the most appealing voices I’ve heard recently. Together they turn their hand to a range of songs, mostly covers, across a vareiety of genres but in their own very appealing lounge, alt country style. They usually have one main guest, on this occasion a chance to hear Kevin O’Rourke again and his Blondie cover. Tony and Niall accompany the guests, and there are contributions from other musicians hanging out, so I had the pleasure of chipping in a tune too. As a result this morning I feel renewed and motivated to move forward with my new music, but also to put another story from the past out there, finally…

This shot from the THWL artwork predates pantigate but serves as an omen of what was to come!

This shot from the THWL artwork predates pantigate but serves as an omen of what was to come!

I want to upload The Most Expensive Record now, because I hope that will really put an end to it…

The song is quite ‘old school’ in its composition and arrangement, if not exactly retro. It’s funny, most tunes are timeless but arrangements and particularly lyrics can betray an old song masquerading as a new one. The lyric of this monster is a good example, referencing MTV as the ultra important outlet for music and video, that it was, back in the 80’s and ninety’s. TMER is a parody, chronicling, sort of, the madness and mad money spent making and promoting To Hell With Love. This song and a number of other tunes were demos for what should have been the follow up album, which of course never happened. We had just finished a European tour and things were looking up…ish. We had great support from RCA/ BMG around continental Europe particularly in Netherlands and Germany, but weeks later, shortly after these recording sessions I was dropped from the label and my band, recruited during my time in New York were let go. It was over.

It wasn’t all bad you know! I did have some great times in NY, particularly playing live with the band. My right and left hand man, guitarist Matt Backer and I, held auditions in New York for the touring band and we really fell on our feet. Jack Daley is a world class bass player. He lives and breathes his instrument. He plays in a kind of groove induced trance, the heavier the better. He was the bottom and we built up from there. Jack brought drummer Julius Klepacz in and together they were a great rhythm section. Julius, aka ‘The Count’ a larger than life hilarious and sometimes terrifying mix of wild cat and pussy cat. You wouldn’t want to rub him up the wrong way, but when you did, you just let him cough up his fur ball and he was soon purring away happily again. Piano virtuoso George Laks was the baby, a wonderful sensitive beautiful man, just starting out on his career, but with an old soul. After a while we added violinist Deni Bonet. Deni was and still is one of life’s optimists. When the shit came down as it often did, Deni would stay positive. We travelled in the states, Europe and Australia together and we had some laughs, many laughs.

SO, in between I was wheeling around in a maelstrom of marketing mayhem that was the set up for THWL. Meetings were endless and it seemed that any suggestion of ways to get my name out there was up for discussion. All parties had their say and one idea after another thrown into the mix with quite spectacularly disastrous result. There was the whole ‘I Hate Suzanne Rhatigan’ campaign for example.

Only a few pics of the stickers in action survive

It started innocently enough. I sat down with my good friend, writer Neville Farmer. to work on a biography and as we chatted a pattern seemed to form. One unfortunate life event leading to another, one failed demo/band after another. I was a bad girl. A bad girl in school, bad girl at the office bad bad bad. This all sounded like a fun, harmless way of setting me up, you know, the tough rock chic turns out to be not so bad after all. Ok, not such a good idea either and not particularly original, but it was sort of true. However a few sessions around the table at Imago with press and promotion, chairman and VPs, artiste, management and entourage and before you know it the full blown ‘I hate Suzanne Rhatigan’ campaign was in production.

car-sticker-300Thousands of speech bubble stickers with snappy slogans like “Suzanne Rhatigan stole my boyfriend” Suzanne Rhatigan ate my lunch” and on. Yeah how much $5000, sure ca-ching! How about mail them to every radio station, retailer, journalist etc in the US along with the record and some merchandising. Sure! T shirts are boring so how about a few thousand Teddy bears with “Suzanne Rhatigan is a Bitch” T shirts on instead? Yeah, ca-ching. And take out ads in all the music/trade papers, with famous characters on, I don’t know, how about Ghandi with a “Suzanne Rhatigan stole my laundry” speech bubble, yeah that’s funny, isn’t it? yeah. why not. Wait how about, a ticker tape on Times Square every 10 minutes for a week running up to the album release “TO HELL WITH SUZANNE RHATIGAN” etc etc etc $$$ ???? CA-CHING.

Well if a setup like that isn’t going to kill off a record I don’t know what is. As the campaign started heating up I was sick inside. It started sinking in how completely shit it all was. How mortifying. And now to make matters worse I would have to endure hours of interviews and questions, about why everyone hates me so much. What do I do? Explain that no, I’m not really so awful it’s all just a publicity thing wink wink? Or do I live down to my reputation, tell press and radio one or two ‘stories’ about my unfortunate life and act a bit stripy now and again, a bit ‘Prima Donnaish’ so they might believe the hype? And then do what? Play the record? Write about it? Unlikely… Well amazingly thanks to the efforts of one of the best Press Officers in New York, Sandy Sowatka, quite a few people did write about the record and even said quite nice things. But no amount of press is enough to generate the kind of sales Imago needed to break even on this thing, so more drastic measures were necessary!

Money must be spent. And fair play to Terry Ellis he spent money alright. 1st we needed to introduce THWL to the retailers. Very important back in the day when people ‘bought’ records in ‘record shops’, or Walmart and Woolworths or wherever. So… the record company bought a prime slot at the NAMM convention that year, one of the US Music Industry’s most important events. I had 6 minutes to wow the 10,000 strong audience with some songs from THWL kind of mashed together. The band rehearsed the edited songs for several days and boredom had well and truly set in. Matt had taken to playing the last few bars of his guitar solo ala Hendrix, guitar thrust behind his head and out of devilment, while he was in full flow I deftly undid his belt and his jeans slid to the floor. Oh how we laughed particularly Matt who thankfully had reasonably well fitting and clean underwear on that day.

And that should be the end of that little anecdote, but no. Out of this this harmless japery the idea that we should repeat the pantymime during our costly 6 minutes was now on the table for discussion and it kind of snowballed. Here’s where I want to set the record straight. I did not want to do the, unbuckle the belt trick at all and I said so. More than once!

But the hilarity of it all and the ‘potential’, of such a stunt, in a convention situation like this, where every record company in the land was pushing their new product for that year at the retailers, to get everyone talking, about  ‘Suzanne Rhatigan’, the same Suzanne Rhatigan of “Is A Bitch Fame”, and her album, was just too irresistible for the label, the pressure was on… So when my good friend Matt in his easy going ‘let’s do it for the Gipper’ kind of way said he didn’t mind, I acquiesced.

Well we turned up at the convention centre all suited and booted as you might expect and headed on to the stage of the enormous convention centre, with giant screens all around the arena for any delegates unfortunate enough not to have front row seats and we launched into our truncated show. All was going well and the moment of truth was almost upon us… Again I wish to remind you I did NOT want to follow through with the stunt so I left the decision to Matt. We agreed if he put the guitar behind his head then I could assume he was up for it, if not fine. So I glanced at Matt as the moment drew near and he winked, threw the guitar behind his head and walked, guitar hero like into the spotlight. That’s when everything kind of became a bit weird. It was like the stage was made of foam and the moment had a strange slow softness about it. I reached out for Matt’s belt, flipped the buckle open (I’m good at that) and….

Nothing happened…

New jeans!

The bastards were standing up alone and not budging. So thinking on my knees, because for some reason I had dropped to them, I decided to give the jeans a tug.

Nothing…

The last few notes of the solo were ringing round the room when in a last ditch attempt I gave them a yank and low the reinforced steel jeans and brand new red silk boxer shorts gave way, and Matt, his manhood and me on my knees gaping mouth open in horror were broadcast around the convention on giant screens. So no one and I mean no one could miss it.

Matt was needless to say extremely embarrassed and I was horrified. The record company on the other hand were over the moon. A small price to pay, dignity, for the promotion we got. Everyone knew who Suzanne Rhatigan was that day. Thankfully Matt being the professional he is and the friend and ally I was so in need of, recovered himself and though I’m sure he would rather not think about it, he’s pretty much over it now, though I’m not sure I am!

While having a long overdue chat with the man himself recently about ‘Pantigate’ and my plans to write about it, Matt gave me his blessing. “On the plus side” he said “I haven’t had the naked on stage dream since!”

I love you Matt Backer hope we hang out together again soon.

PS: I promise not to pull your pants down!

PPS: I did transfer this recording from 24 track and remixed it. I tried to re do the vocal as I remember struggling to sing through laryngitis that day and I hear it in every note. However I couldn’t improve it. Some things are better left in the past…

Vocals Suzanne Rhatigan
Guitar Matt Backer
Piano George Laks
Bass Jack Daley
Drums Julius Klepacz
Violin Deni Bonet
Backing Vocals Suzanne Matt and Deni

5 thoughts on “36. The Most Expensive Record

  1. A really catchy tune. The album should have catapulted you to stardom, this is second track I have heard from that follow-up album to be, it would have been great. I think a lot is expected on debut albums (and books) and a lot of money goes in, I had same experience with first book, with huge promotion clause, and I don’t think you nor I could have done anymore to promote our work more. For whatever reasons, even with all the money, promotion, etc, it’s hard to get a home run first time around. I’m kind of glad I don’t feel I have to answer to any of that anymore,. I’m sure you feel the same now too. We are older and wiser. My love to Cathy and Tossie, I hope he recovered and you and your family are all well. Much love Suzanne. Cathy x

  2. Great story, and a
    Serious point behind it about the pressures on artists to abandon dignity in the desperate struggle for sales in what would be the last gasp of the recorded music industry:-)

  3. What a delightful, if not horrifying, entry Suzanne! I have limited experience in the musical world, and your narration is entertaining, educational and refreshingly, honestly open. Perhaps the bio is still on the table? 😉 <3

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