The Producers: “Rock Star,” Missing Cheese, and the End
Music production for film is a different animal from the music production I was used to; once you’ve assembled and installed the band in the studio, you’re all sitting in the control room literally on call to turn out a variety of arrangements of the same song as quickly as possible, depending on the requirements on the set. A couple of times we were required to learn, arrange, record and mix a song, all in one day. This was not a low-stress experience.
For Rock Star, because of the storyline, we needed two separate bands playing the same songs. One band had to sound as though it had been playing as a unit for 20 years. The other was a tribute band, and had to be good, but not quite as good as the older band. In a couple of cases, I actually preferred the tribute band’s finished version to the more seasoned band’s finished version. For the main band, Budd Carr had secured the services of Jason Bonham and Zakk Wylde, so the choices for drums and guitar were already made. After spending a little time with the two of them separately, I knew that I would need someone really diplomatic and cooperative to play bass and keep things running smoothly. I called Jeff Pilson, the bass player from Dokken. Jeff is a great bass player, has a good sense of humor, and is a real team player. He wants things to work, and he’ll do what he has to in order to make sure they do. As it worked out, his presence was quite useful in the studio. We needed a strong, mature lead voice with a huge range, so I called the singer from Steelheart, Michael Matijevic. I had worked with Michael several years earlier on an MCA album, and I had never heard a vocalist with a greater range – especially on the upside.
The only real problem with Rock Star was its release date – it hit the theaters four days before 9/11. Nevertheless, it was a fitting farewell project for me – I’d never been involved with a movie at all, and now I had access to the filming, cast and crew, production meetings (mandatory), casting director, and the occasional party. At the kickoff party, where everyone was supposed to get acquainted, Jennifer Aniston brought Brad Pitt along with her, and it provided me with an opportunity for one of my best impromptu lines – after I introduced myself and told them what my connection to the film was, Brad offered his hand and said “Hi, I’m Brad.” I replied “Nice to meet you – so what do you do, Brad?” I don’t think he heard me over the noise of the party, but I loved the line anyway. Mark Wahlberg played the lead, and proved to be a serious method actor, who go t into character and stayed in character for the duration of the film, making the rounds of the rock clubs, seeing a lot of shows, and probably gathering valuable research material for what would become Entourage.
I also got to spend some time with the actor Dominic West (who became the lead on HBO’s The Wire), and found him to be a really decent and interesting guy. Regrettably, I didn’t get to spend much time with Tim Olyphant, who played one of the members of the tribute band, and who years later was cast in the role of the anguished sheriff in HBO’s brilliant series Deadwood.
Zakk Wylde, who had spent years with Ozzy on the road, was probably the fastest guitar player I’d ever seen. He was a unique stylist, and had perfected a tuning and playing approach to the instrument that was truly his and no one else’s. What this meant was that it was essentially Zakk’s band, and that anything we recorded would have his stamp on it. This was not really a problem in this particular situation, though, because it was a very strong and metallic stamp — but it didn’t leave too much opportunity for experimentation.
Jason Bonham was a fine drummer, and a fabulous character. Of course, he could do all the Zeppelin songs perfectly, and was technically an excellent drummer. He did say to me one afternoon, while discussing his exploits of the previous night, that he had “a reputation to uphold” – that of a major party animal. Now he’s apparently sober, but in those days he would drink without holding back, and one evening while we were doing guitar overdubs with Zakk at Conway Recorders, Jason came in feeling absolutely no pain, and in his mischievous stupor attempted to kiss Zakk on the mouth — all in jest, of course. Bad move for Jason.
Zakk abruptly recoiled, bellowed like a stuck rhino, picked Jason up and literally threw him several yards across the room — and Jason was not a slender fellow. He landed half on and half off the couch, and beat a hasty retreat from the control room. The next day nothing was mentioned and work went on as usual, but there was no visit from Jason. When the movie fell off the radar right after the 9/11 attacks, I thought it would never find an audience. But it has actually done quite well on DVD, and the soundtrack album recouped its recording costs.
Before the dust could settle on the making of Rock Star, I had resumed my daily routine, aiming to move ahead with the sandwich shop concept. When I wasn’t working (which was most of the time in the year 2000) I would frequently meet my good friend Tom Kelly for golf at Calabasas Country Club in the San Fernando Valley, where we both lived. We played about twice a week, and would talk things over as we played. Tom was retired and played golf almost every day; with Billy Steinberg, he co-wrote a lot of big hits, including “Like A Virgin,” “True Colors,” “Fire & Ice,” and also did most of the backing vocal s on almost every record I ever produced. He was aware of my situation, and one day he said “you know, I have a book that you should read,” and then next time we met, he handed me what appeared to be a small children’s book called Who Moved My Cheese?
I read it that evening in 40 minutes, and when I finished, I felt I could literally slap my forehead like the guy does in the V-8 Juice commercial. In brief, this is a children’s book for adults, which tells the tale of two mice who went into the maze every day to eat the cheese. One day the cheese wasn’t there. One of the mice said “Hey, somebody moved the cheese,” and the other mouse said “Well, it must be in here somewhere – let’s go find it.” The first mouse refused, saying “No. I’m staying right here until I find out who’s responsible for moving my cheese.” Thus the reader understood that there were two ways to react to an unanticipated change in your life. You could either sit there and curse, trying to lay the blame at someone’s feet, or you could adapt to the circumstances and pursue another course, which could eventually lead you to the cheese (financial security, love, satisfaction in the workplace, whatever turns you on). As the smart mouse searched the maze for the cheese, he would stop to write little pieces of advice on the maze wall for the impatient mouse, in case he saw the light and followed. One of the more memorable tips was “Make sure to smell the cheese frequently, so you’ll know when it’s getting old.” This was a perfect career analogy, and for me it was a genuine epiphany. I went to my wife Suky and said “we’ve got to go east.”
I sat down at the computer and began to research Bed & Breakfast inns in New England. Two weeks later, in February of 2001, I flew east, rented a car, and visited the towns of Brattleboro, Vermont, and Northampton, North Adams, Great Barrington, Stockbridge, Williamstown and Lenox, all in Massachusetts. I discovered that each of these towns had three or four working B&B’s, except for Lenox, which had 27. Clearly, something was going on in Lenox. I made this town last on my itinerary, and while driving around in a sleet storm on February 22nd, I emerged from a wooded section of the road into a clearing, and there on the right was one of the most breathtaking farms I had ever seen. To make what could be a very long story shorter, we sold our house in Los Angeles within two months, and moved into Stonover Farm in July of 2001. We undertook an eight-month renovation, and I’ve been blissed out here ever since.
When I decided to leave the record business for good, I was so disenchanted by some of my experiences that I literally stopped listening to new music, and didn’t go back to visit L.A. for almost a year. During the Spring of 2001, I had assembled a two-CD set called “Tom Werman’s Greatest Hits & Greatest Misses” — a private run of 500 CDs, packaged professionally with booklet included, and I gave one to family, friends and colleagues so I would at least have a collection of my radio hits on one CD, and on the other my favorite productions which few people had ever heard. The accompanying booklet tells a little story about each song.
In school, we learn very little about change and how to deal with it. Aside from death and taxes, it is one of the few things guaranteed to occur in life. Change occurs when you least expect it, and you need to be able to adapt and, in some cases, to re-invent yourself completely.
We opened our luxury Bed & Breakfast (an oxymoron, really) in July of 2002, with Linda Ronstadt as our first guest. I read four paperback books on operating a B&B, and learned enough to get us going nicely. We have never advertised, and we have a healthy business with a wonderful clientele who return again and again. We have quietly hosted some very big names, and we have resisted the temptation to add more accommodations (we have just five suites). We were named “Hideaway of the Year” by Andrew Harper’s Hideaway Report, an upscale subscription travel letter.
I make breakfast (full, cooked-to-order) and we have a nice wine & cheese service in the late afternoon. Our suites (sitting room, bedroom, bath) have 14-inch-thick mattresses, premium linens, two-headed showers, Jacuzzi tubs, private phones that are free, CD players with CDs, DVD players with over 200 movies from which to choose, big Sony TVs, full cable with HBO, robes, amenities, remote control air conditioning, and wi-fi. There is also a guest computer, a large selection of magazines and books in the library and living room, and 10 acres of woods, fields and gardens, all of which I personally maintain.
We have a separate residence that’s attached to the main house. Summer is incredibly busy, and winter is sublimely cozy and slow. Close by are Tanglewood (summer home of the Boston Symphony), Jacob’s Pillow (the largest modern dance center in the country), Kripalu (the biggest yoga retreat in the country), Canyon Ranch east, Shakespeare & Co. (theater), Barrington Stage Company, Williamstown Theater Festival, opera, five renowned art museums, lakes, skiing and golf, and Suky and I serve on the advisory board of the newly established (five years) Berkshire International Film Festival. Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 3 to 1 in Berkshire County, and the citizens of Massachusetts blew my mind this year by voting to decriminalize marijuana (by 65% of the vote). If any of you reach midlife and find yourself at a crossroads, do not hesitate to read Who Moved My Cheese? It may not lead you into the light, but it will definitely push you in that direction.
I intend to do a lot more writing this winter, and to develop a book using these installments as a starting point. My studio career is clearly over, and rightly so. Few people over 50 should be making music for teenagers. I worship the Foo Fighters’ In Your Honor (the harder of the two CDs in that package) more than I can accurately describe, and it’s still my main motivator at the gym.
Thanks to all you Popdose readers who have sent messages – overwhelmingly positive and courteous. If Jeff wants to print my words, I’ll continue writing, probably on a variety of subjects. This first foray has been great fun. I do love rock & roll music.
Finally, something to ponder, perhaps – a recent letter to the editor of the New York Times, responding to an article on the state of the music business, from one Polk Laffoon IV of Cincinnati:
“When Bing Crosby’s recording of “White Christmas” was released in 1942….it went on to sell more than 50 million copies over the next 67 years. Radio stations everywhere played it, and people everywhere heard it. Today, we download music we already know, or we hear something new within the narrow confines of others who share our auditory preferences. We cannibalize the past, and we starve the future. In the process, we are extinguishing what has been one of th e brightest lights of American culture.”