Thursday, June 19, 2008

Bait and Switch

One of my least favorite tricks in dealing with performing artists is the ever-popular bait and switch. What happens is the writer contacts the headliner. The headliner's people say the star is too busy or busy focusing on the show or busy going for a world masturbation record (it really doesn't matter, it's all soft-soap for 'no.' Everyone smiles about it, but we all know it's because the 'star' doesn't like talking to the press), but they still want some press. They want people to come to the show. This is when they roll out the opening act. They throw him out front and say, "Well, he can't do it --he's busy doing smack in the back of the bus, but I hear the other guy is giving great interviews."

Uh, yeah... great interviews. Like an interview is a blow job.

They will even provide you with a phone number.

A good part of the time, the opener is just fine. Often, a good opener on a major tour is someone to watch later, particularly in country music. I've talked to a lot of guys who started out as C-list or B-list and have moved up the ladder after a couple more hits and a follow-up album.

What's funny about the bait and switch is when they lure you in to do it. For instance, a guy named George is headlining a show and he has an opener named Joe. George has the misfortune of picking a date in an area when there are going to be a lot of other musical acts to catch, many of them cheaper. Not only that, it's a bad time for the economy and a lot of people might be hesitant about coming to the area because their big ol' pickup trucks suck down gas. So, maybe, ticket sales aren't so hot. The local paper isn't doing anything about George's show because they're full up. It doesn't really fit in with the coverage they already have planned.

And besides... George doesn't do interviews. He doesn't talk to minor press and barely talks to the majors. He's a big star. He's a big old star, a red giant who is bigger than he ever was, but doesn't shed exactly the same kind of healthy glow he used to. Maybe his gravity isn't what it used to be either.

So, George's show gets a polite mention, but not much else. Ticket sales are down. The opener is still willing to do press, may be eager to do press if he has a hit on the charts, but nobody is calling.

What happens is word is circulated that the headliner and the opener, in this hypothetical case George and Joe, are both willing to do press. The headliner was an unexpected possibility, considered so impossible as to not be worth the time to try. So, the writer contacts the designated rep for George. George's people get back fast and explain,"Oh, wait, no... sorry. George is still busy. The tour, you know? But I hear Joe is willing to talk and Joe is blah-blah this and Joe is blah-blah that and if you ask, he'll do a unicorn dance. You will believe he is a real unicorn."

So, the writer tells his editor. His editor rolls his or her eyes and shakes his or her head. You have to be fucking kidding me. After that, the writer gets to call them back and tell them, "no." He also gets to mention that in a career spanning five decades of hits and a couple dozen tours, many of them coming right through your little town, George has (to the best of your knowledge) never done an interview with the local paper. It was news that he wanted to. It's not news when his opener wants to. Everyone knows that already.

There is an apology: another time, another show. And really, another time, another show.

You still get to feel good that you turned down the designated hitter and got to at least remind the star's people what the word "no" sounds like. Maybe it isn't quite so cut and dried. Maybe nobody cares, but it fees pretty good regardless.

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