It all started with a simple e-mail. Replying to a bulk message sent by Brian Lisik, who plays in the local band Giants of Science, Christine Young expressed her concern about the treatment that a "friend" had received from "a very large bookstore chain in the area." Without naming names, she wrote about her "friend's band," which was supposed to play, but "chose to not take the gig to set a precedent" after it was offered gift certificates instead of cold, hard cash.
"His concern is that this store will feel it no longer has to give monetary compensation to any musician," she wrote. "The more musicians who are willing to take these gift certificates instead of money, the less likely anybody is to get paid. If musicians/performers begin to accept gift certificates as payment, eventually no money may be rendered at all. Word gets out to other places, and eventually nobody pays anybody."
Michael Devine, the "culprit," soon 'fessed up. Devine, who plays in the local group the King Dapper Combo and handles bookings at Borders in Westlake, responded by saying that he was indeed sensitive to the plight of the small-time artist.
"Many bands, myself included, have and still play local clubs that do not pay much more than gas money or free drinks," he wrote. "I have no problem with this whatsoever. It is just the way local clubs have to survive to bring national acts to town. I feel it is worth it."
He went on to explain that, by offering gift certificates, he was trying to "stretch the budget" to provide for "two extra days a week for entertainment." According to him, using in-store credit is the best way to do that. And given that Soundbites has heard of the Grog Shop paying artists as little as 25 bucks and the Euclid Tavern threatening to stiff a band altogether, a hundred bucks in gift certificates doesn't sound like such a bad deal.
"I believe I have a fabulous opportunity to bring a variety of entertainment to Westlake," Devine wrote. "I also have some of the same acts back with more regularity, opposed to once every six months. Next, most musicians usually spend money at our stores in the first place. And Borders certificates do have a value. I am trying to provide a wider spectrum of musicians and to do something of value for the community via my occupation. I am sorry if this means some musicians do not make as much money as they have in the past, but I have seen the results in making the venue I am responsible for multi-faceted and less restricted and a hub for many musicians to be heard."
Despite Devine's explanation, the hysterical exchange of e-mails continued. Members of local bands chipped in to voice their outrage. How could a corporate bookstore not pay the musicians who play there? Who cares about getting gift certificates? Give us the dough, they clamored, airing their grievances in sometimes hostile tones. "Some of us musicians are trying to make a living performing and selling CDs," wrote local singer-songwriter Tracy Marie. "What if Borders offered you a smaller salary with a monthly supply of Borders gift certificates? Can you pay your rent with a Borders gift certificate? Perhaps you can find a better strategy to alleviate your budget woes."
After a few more e-mails about etiquette and the trials and tribulations associated with being a "local band," we had had enough.
"Just getting paid at all is quite a feat, so who cares if it is in gift certificates anyway?" concluded Vinny from the band Krank.
Finally, someone with some sense.
We couldn't get a straight answer from the Rock Hall, but its annual New Year's bash is a no-go. It was canceled because of what we can only assume was either slow ticket sales or unavailable talent. It's a shame, too, given that we heard nothing but good things about Wilson Pickett's show there last year. But the cancellation leaves Clevelanders with little from which to choose for rocking in the New Year. Maybe a trek is in order to cities that really rock -- like Detroit, where the White Stripes, Mitch Ryder, Ted Nugent, and the Violent Femmes all have gigs, or Chicago, where acts such as the Flaming Lips, Third Eye Blind, Nina Gordon, the Jayhawks, and Giant Sand will be playing.
When the Indianapolis hardcore group Burn It Down played at the Agora on November 30, it played its last show -- ever. Frustrated that his bandmates couldn't adhere to a straightedge lifestyle, singer Ryan Downey, who didn't even share a hotel room with the other members of the group after the show, left them behind the next day. "There were rules that were set at the beginning of the tour that were broken," says Agora assistant manager Sue Dunn, who gave Downey a lift to the bus station. "They weren't happy with each other, and Ryan didn't hang out with them the whole time. He went to the dressing room that they made a huge mess of, and he was embarrassed." The group, which formed three years ago and broke up once before (in May of this year), was three weeks into what was supposed to be a six-week tour with In Flames, Shadow's Fall, and Nevermore. It was also to be its first trip to the West Coast before its premature dissolution -- all of which puts an ironic spin on the title of its last record, Let the Dead Bury the Dead.