Wednesday, January 10, 2007

"Look What the Cat Dragged In..."

One of The Sav’s old drug buddies from the store’s mid-70’s glory days happened to be an A&R guy with Capitol, so over the years we had a lot of Capitol acts make in-store appearances. The first in-store I ever worked was for hair metal band Poison, at the time signed to Enigma, which was a subsidiary of Capitol.

Had The Sav realized that Poison was a bunch of dudes, he’d probably never have asked for a booking, but The Sav was convinced the band, with names Bret, Rikki C.C. and Bobby, were chicks. Hot chicks.

The night before the album was released, The Sav stood at the front counter gawking at the album sleeve and fanning himself. Whenever he was hot and bothered he always fanned himself whilst tugging on the fourth button on his shirt. It was one of his many quirks. Sometimes he fanned himself when he was angry with one of us, but usually he fanned himself whenever good looking girls were in the store, or when he was checking out the centerfold of High Times magazine.

So The Sav fanned himself for a bit before showing the album sleeve to Reynolds and Tom. “Check out this hot band!” he mouthed conspiratorially so that I wouldn’t hear. Tom and Reynolds both looked at the cover and then at each other, puzzled. No one had heard of Poison at that time, but the guys were pretty sure they were looking at glam rocker dudes rather than hot chicks. The Sav pointed to the top left hand corner of the album and said “I’d do her in a heartbeat!”

Reynolds snatched up another copy of the album and flipped it over to read the back. “Greg, I don’t think these are chicks,” he said, shaking his head. “One of them is named Bret Michaels. That sounds like a guy name to me.” Tom agreed, picking up a third copy to peruse. The Sav was having none of it. “No, these are definitely girls. Look at the lips on this one—that’s all girl right there. And have you never heard of Bret Ekland?” So the guys did what was expected of them, which was to let his bastardization of Britt Ekland go and deviously agree with him that yes, Poison were hot chicks.

Tom caught up with me at the back of the store and relayed the news, to which we had a good laugh. Naturally I went along with their assessment when The Sav showed the album sleeve to me and asked the question. “Well they certainly look like girls to me!” I admitted, although like Tom and Reynolds, I was fairly certain they were guys.

The Sav had his Capitol contact on the phone the next morning to find out Poison’s itinerary. As luck would have it, they would be rolling through our neck of the woods in a few months, opening for Ratt at Hara Arena. The Sav immediately insisted that the band do an in-store before the gig, and Mr. A&R said he’d see what he could do.

By the time the Ratt/Poison tour made it to our city in January of 1987, everyone—The Sav included—knew they were guys. We’d been selling the album moderately well since its August release and The Sav had it in the evening rotation at the store, much to our chagrin. It was starting to drive us nuts.

Having never worked an in-store, I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but The Sav and Philbert, both in-store veterans, warned me that it would be as manic as Christmas Eve, and much, much louder. The Sav had also informed us girls that we needed to “dress like rocker chicks” for the appearance, which was probably his own little fantasy, or possibly because he hated my normal thrift store attire and faded Chuck Taylor’s. I borrowed a fringed leather top and a pair of zebra print spandex tights, and I was ready to go. Jenny, I noticed, paid no mind to The Sav’s pervy suggestion and came in wearing a pink Oxford shirt with the collar flipped up, and baggy jeans.

Fans began lining up hours before the scheduled appearance. We employees had to remove all the Poison albums from the shelves and stack them up on the front counter, so that fans wishing to purchase a copy could do so without having to fight through the crowd. It also meant that less than honest fans would not get a five-finger discount by slicing one open during the melee and pretending they’d bought it. We made sure to open and remove the shrink-wrap from each album we sold before handing it over, in an effort to keep the store clear of debris.

Jenny and I spent the morning decorating the back of the store, plastering Poison posters and flats over every available surface. The guys dragged in the stools and dusty tables from the back hallway, wiped them down and we draped posters all across the front and around the sides, like lip-gloss glam table skirts. We opened several boxes of Sharpie markers and placed them strategically on the ledges behind the tables, within easy reach of the band when they arrived, then sat back on our heels and waited for the mad rush.

By 4 p.m. the store was heaving with fans. The queue stretched the length of the store, out the door and halfway around the building. People were freezing outside and starting to get antsy. We’d been blasting the album non-stop for the last two hours, and already my nerves were as frayed as that stupid leather top.

After Mr.A&R rang from the arena to say the band was finished sound checking and was on their way, The Sav sent Philbert through the back hallway to wait at the emergency exit door for the band to arrive. The Sav and his buddy had done enough in-stores together over the years that things ran like clockwork. Even the fans at the back of the building didn’t realize when the band arrived, because they had been loaded into a non-descript white rental van. Not very glamorous for the guys, but extremely discreet.

I don’t remember a lot about the actual in-store because I was working the front checkout, selling shedloads of Look What the Cat Dragged In to rabid fans, but I do remember how friendly and down to earth the guys were after we’d cleared everyone out and they did some shopping. C.C. Deville was the only one who we felt was stuck-up, because he didn’t talk to anyone and wouldn’t take off his stupid mirrored sunglasses, but later on I found out that he had been nursing a severe cold brought on by the freezing midwestern weather.

Two months after their in-store appearance at our store, the album was exploding off the shelves, thanks to the single “Talk Dirty to Me” receiving heavy rotation on MTV.

Bret Michaels ended up dating a Middletown girl named Susie just after the in-store. I’m unsure whether or not they met in the store that day, but for years afterward, whenever the two of them were in town visiting her family, or when Poison was in town for a show, Bret would always stop by the store to shop and say “Hi.” He told us he’d never forget the store that took a chance on them before they were famous.

If he’d only known…

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