Lyn Jensen's Blog: Manga, Music, and Politics

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Location: Anaheim, California, United States

Regular contributor ("Carson City Limits" and other content) for Random Lengths (circulation 56,000) in San Pedro, CA, 2001-present. Manga reviewer: LA Alternative (circulation 150,000), 2005-2006. Some manga reviews also ran in NY Press around this time. Entertainment reporting: Music Connection (circulation 75,000), 1983-1906. Travel writing: Oakland Tribune (1998) and Life After 50 (2006). Other bylines: Goldmine, Star Hits, Los Angeles Reader, Los Angeles Times, Long Beach Press Telegram, Blade, BAM, Daily Breeze, LA Weekly. Specializations include community news reporting, writing reviews (book, theater, concert, film, music), copywriting, resumes, editing, travel writing, publicity, screenwriting, lecturing, and content development. Education: B. A. Theater Arts, UCLA. Post-grad work, Education, Chapman University.

Friday, October 30, 2015

The State of Record Retail in the Nineties

by Lyn Jensen

Just how does music get to the consumer anyway? Circa 1990 I xompared how the major and minor record retailers did it. The round-up didn't get published but it now serves as a look back at a time and place where actual record stores controlled what music got to fans.

One strange thing:  the woman who answered the phone at Sam Goody (the receptionist, I assume) always said the company couldn't do press interviews because "we are in voluntary cooperation with the FCC right now." Or was it the IRS? Every time I called I got the same scripted-sounding answer. Neither the FCC nor anyone else--including the IRS--has ever been able to explain to me WTF she was talking about.  I don't think she knew, either.

In the record retail business, California is an especially competitive market with three of the largest chains in the country--Music Plus, Tower, and Wherehouse--doing most of their business in this state. There's also California newcomer Sam Goody, with few stores in this state but which may be the largest retailer nationwide. Sales aren't limited to the giant chains either--smaller chains and independents still have chances on the retail scene. Such a high level of competition can effect what sells, so anyone looking to sell music would do well to understand how the record chains move product.

To find out how the record chains sell music, we talked to spokespersons for the big three chains. One major difference between the companies is that Tower runs a decentralized operation with each individual store being largely responsible for buying. That means merchandising is spread between more than 50 domestic retail outlets--and there are British and Japanese stores, too. Company president Russ Solomon granted us an overall view.

Wherehouse and Music Plus, on the other hand, each run a centralized operation, with most buying decisions made at the corporate level.

Music Plus is the number-one retail chain in terms of sheer physical space--meaning most square feet, according to Angie Diehl, their Director of Marketing.

Wherehouse is California's largest retail chain in volume, according to Jim Dobbs, the company's VP of Sales Merchandise.

Chains as tiny as Rhino play a part in selling records, too. To get an idea of how a smaller chain compares to the giants, we spoke to David Crouch, the manager of the Rhino Records store in Westwood. He says his store is a joint venture with Rhino Records. There is one other store that's linked to the record company--in New Paltz, New York. "The Rhino in Claremont (California) is no longer connected with us except that we let them use our name," he says.

"We buy from major distributors, we buy from the guy that just walks in the door," says Tower's Solomon. "Small labels must be in a specialized category to compete."

All chains, however, buy primarily from the six major distributors, who correspond roughly to the major labels:  CEMA, EMI, Columbia, BMG, MCA, and Polygram. Solomon estimates these six are responsible for about 85% of all in-store product.

Explains Crouch, "CEMA is the direct promoter for a group of labels--Capitol, EMI, Chrysalis, Enigma, and Rhino. If we were going to order the new Duran Duran record, we'd deal with them. If we wanted to order a new Warner Bros. or Elektra release, we'd deal with them."

Diehl advises that if you're a tiny label in need of distribution, go to "the Big Six," since the six don't limit themselves to the major labels. Labels that consist of "just you and the other two guys in the band," may deal with major retailers, she adds, insisting, "We buy [almost] anything."

"Talk to retailers about who's a good indy distributor" if you're a small indy label, adds Dobbs.

For all the retail chains, the remainder of in-store product is supplied almost entirely by independent distributors. Direct-from-manufacturer buys also happen. Dobbs, for example, estimates that Wherehouse deals with about thirty independent distributors, and for some product--such as Windham Hill--they deal directly with the manufacturer.

Sub-distributors are still another possibility for putting product in retail outlets, and has two different meanings. Diehl explains that sometimes the term refers to a deal between a minor label and a major distributor, such as between Virgin and WEA.

Other times, Diehl adds, sub-distributors may also be called "one-stops." Chains do little business with one-stops, but independent dealers usually get merchandise from them.

Wherehouse is the only retailer interviewed that uses the term "mark-up" to differentiate between wholesale price and retail price. Dobbs explains, "The ticket price is computed on the suggested list price," depending on how good a value was negotiated at wholesale.

Diehl of Music Plus counters, "Mark-up is an oxymoron," because the retail price tends to be calculated below the suggested list price.

Crouch gives this example, "The Red Hot Chili Peppers have a list price of $9.98. We might sell them for less than list price but the company will still want to see the same amount" for themselves, typically $5-6 per record.

List prices involve different factors. Tower's Solomon points out an artist's contract may determine whether the record is given a high or mid-range price when newly offered. "Budget" is the term usually used for older records.

All retailers describe the same basic contractual agreement with distributors. Crouch uses 50 Red Hot Chili Peppers records as an example. The store buys those 50 Peppers records and then returns what doesn't sell. There's no time limit for a return. Only a certain percentage (commonly 10-20%) can be returned without penalty.

That means the distributor will grant a certain amount of credit for that first 10-20% of returns, and then levy a penalty--grant less credit--for a greater number of returns. Wherehouse's Dobbs calls this the break-even point.

The chains rarely use consignment as a retail agreement. Crouch explains, "No one wants to have fifty records sitting around waiting to be sold on consignment." However, small independent stores may take consignments they can get product in their stores.

"A distributor, if one title dies, he has other titles [unlike] a guy with just one record," asserts Solomon of Tower. "Either get a distributor or go on consignment."

One thing all the chains agree on is that consumers play a major role in determining what records get pushed and why. "If it doesn't sell, we don't stock it," says Dobbs of Wherehouse.

Solomon maintains stores take a conservative approach even if the artist is getting hyped. "Buy very lightly, especially a new artist like Sinead O'Connor, and hope it does well, until sales justify you buying more," he says. "When you see in-store displays, you don't know if that means high sales, you don't know what the record company decided to push."

Diehl looks at promotion another way, "A, we can push on our own, B, push for a company, or C, together." She claims the record companies will often mandate promotion for new breaking artists. When Chrysallis wanted to break Slaughter, she recalls, they gave her company videos and pictures and even brought the rock band over to meet the retailer.

"Picks are not handed down. Logic dictates what's going to sell," says Crouch. "Sales dictate what records get pushed," whether it's Michael Jackson's or Sonic Youth's. He sums up, "Some labels promote their releases better than others but any label will help you promote a record."

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Something Changed My Life: Doug Fieger and Exude at Radio City, 11/26/1982

Strange how life happens:  I liked the Knack until they broke up in late '81 or early '82 and then I checked out lead singer Doug Fieger's brief attempt to launch a solo career.  He played Radio City in Anaheim in 1982 and I went to see him.  His opening act was Exude, who I've boosted, publicized, worked for, and been a fan of ever since.  Frank Rogala remains one of my best friends to this day, and it would never have happened if I didn't get the Knack in the first place. 
I wrote a review of the Radio City show that never got published, but I'm sharing it here for the little corner of rock history it chronicles:

Whether you like the Knack depends on whether on not you like Doug Fieger, his talent and just plain chutzpah were what made the group.  (BTW his name's pronounced with a hard g.) As every LA rock scene-watcher knows by now, the Knack is no longer together, leading some to cheer but the band's fans to cry. 
Knack fans will now have to be content with Doug Fieger as a solo act, and to find out what that means, I saw him, with his five backing musicians called Taking Chances, at Radio City, Anaheim, Friday, Nov. 26 [1982].
Fieger insists he's doing things different now (hence, the name Taking Chances).  This new band has a synthesizer and two (two!) drummers, but the only thing they do is muddle the rhythms and obscure Fieger's normally strong clear voice.  The instantly recognizable beat of "My Sharona" isn't so instantly recognizable anymore. The entire set could have benefitted from sparser arrangements.
The best was last, a run of songs that began with "She's So Selfish," then the intriging choice of Bob Dylan's "You're Gonna Have to Serve Somebody," a solo refrain of "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," and finally "Sharona" with the familiar (to Knack fans) "Give it to me now" routine that spins off from the instrumental break.
What Fieger's really taking chances with is not so much his music but his public image. With his new career phase he can quit being the powerpop superstar with the smirk and just begin anew as a mainstream rock singer. He has some of Mick Jagger's showmanship, along with some of punk's edge. His powerful stage presence can make an hour seem like a minute. He plays his guitar often and moves much. The pants are shock-red, the tee shirt's torn, one Beatle-like high-heeled boot sports chains and the frontman wears stage rouge and eyeliner. He could in some ways be called the Mick Jagger of the LA powerpop scene.
Against that level of headline act, the supporting acts, local bands called Exude and Stage One, couldn't compete.  Exude in particular needs a better break. Fieger wasn't the only singer suffering from muddy vocals. Exude's Frank Rogala had the same problem. Neither group's vocals allowed us to get into their songs.

Actually I found Frank to be a very distinctive singer in his own right, and thus began a major part of my rock 'n' roll life that has no ending.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Ginger Mayerson: New Edge to Women’s Fiction

by Lyn Jensen
In the very creative mind of Los Angeles author Ginger Mayerson, Dick Cheney and Condi Rice are collateral damage in a counter-terrorism plot. In another of her feminist novels, a Los Angeles jazz singer named Mabel “Dr.” Hackenbush solves mysteries between gigs. In a third book, a male-male Japanese couple seek romance in the Tokyo fashion and media industries. 

When looking for unique experiences in contemporary women’s fiction, take a trip through the words of Mayerson, who’s creating a new definition of women’s literature. In her Electricland, she twists sideways the formula for macho hairy testosterone-fueled action-packed graphic novels into a sort of prose comic book. Here she tells of female state-sponsored terrorists who commit nightmarish mayhem because they’re obeying orders or disobeying orders or—it’s deliberately vague.

As for the neutralization of Rice and Cheney, it’s in Darkness at Sunset and Vine, a novel-length trilogy of stories that together burlesque the classic anti-Communist novel Darkness at Noon. Mayerson wrote it as a cartoonish sci-fi satire of Bush II’s USA—projected forward to 2016 Los Angeles. At one point a female agent’s boss complains, “You took out Cheney, Rice, and the entire Strag Plans office including the building. It was tough to convince State you made a simple mistake.”

Mayerson now publishes through her own venture, Wapshott Press, specializing primarily in feminist and LGBT literature. (The name Wapshott has no special significance.) “The big publishing houses are focused on blockbusters and so many little magazines that used to publish fiction have gone out of business,” she observes.

Wapshott Press uses a print-on-demand business model, which Mayerson sees as a way to keep literary and alternative press competitive with major corporations. She says of the current corporate-dominated publishing world, “I don’t think print is dead.  I believe the current publishing model is unsustainable.  Print on demand is the way of the future.  I can’t afford to warehouse 10,000 books but I can do this print-on-demand thing.” She further explains, “When you go online and order this book, a machine prints it out and mails it to you.”  She uses such sites as for her print needs. 

 “I got into publishing on a good deed,” she recalls. “We don’t publish things because they’re going to sell, we publish things because they should be published.”   

The good deed:  Mayerson’s Internet friend, Anastasia Whitchhazel, was going through a rough time with her health and finances, and a publisher rejected her short story, “Chase,” after first accepting it. “I couldn't do anything about her life, but I could certainly publish her story.” Mayerson remembers.

So in 2007 she started Wapshott Press. She published Whitchhazel’s story in an anthology called Chase and Other Stories. She themed the collection around male homoerotica written by women. As Tally Keller writes in the Chase introduction, “This erotica playfully thumbs its nose at conventional morality, tastefulness, and all other things proper young ladies are supposed to happily accept.” Mayerson likes to compare the collected stories to Annie Proulx’s “Brokeback Mountain.”

What began as a way to publish a single story collection quickly turned into more. After Chase came a follow-up collection, The Tagger and Other Stories. Since then Mayerson’s divided short story collections between two ongoing journals, Storylandia and Erotique. Mayerson says she wanted to make a distinction between works with very explicit adult content and the ones that contain little or no sex. 

She’s currently changing the focus of both literary journals from collections of different authors to collections or novellas by a single author. She published in 2014 the fifth volume of Erotique, which showcases erotic adult literature, and a sixth volume is in preparation. 

The stories in Storylandia are often in a more romantic vein. The first seven issues were published between 2009 and 2012, and included much adult fantasy and sci-fi.  In contrast Storylandia 8, 9, 10 and 11 each feature one novella.

The eighth and eleventh issues offer the third and fourth installments of Mayerson’s own Hackenbush series, in which Reagan-era jazz musician Mabel “Dr.” Hackenbush plays Los Angeles cocktail lounges while managing day jobs, mysteries, and failed romance. 

Dr. Hackenbush Gets a Job, Mayerson’s first novel, was about coping with horrible bosses. In the nineties no publisher would touch it, so in 2010 Mayerson self-published it with Wapshott Press. Next came a sequel, Dr. Hackenbush Gains Perspective, in which the musician provides a last wish for an AIDS patient. 

Between 2008 and 2009 Wapshott published a non-fiction literary journal, Bloglandia, publishing selected blogs from the Internet because, as Mayerson promoted it, “some ideas are too cool to stay in cyberspace.”  Bloglandia Vol. 2, Issue 1, for example, led with a lengthy postmortem by veteran activist Bruce Hahne on what opponents of California’s anti-marriage Proposition 8 did wrong (essentially everything).  Other topics have included sexual harassment in the Department of Defense, and the medical mystery of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (both by this author).

Wapshott Press is now offering Mayerson’s homoerotic novella The Pajama Boy, which may be her best work.  Here she creates an environment where her prose shows superb texture and depth.  She compares it to, “Looking into a lacquered box.  It’s like you’re looking into something.”

Set in contemporary Japan, Pajama Boy is about a romantic relationship between a young newspaper man and an even younger man who’s so good-looking he semi-accidentally becomes Tokyo’s top pajama model.  Old flames, jealous rivals, and a hypocritical family threaten to
break the couple up.  The result’s part Japanese-style pop culture and part American-style pulp romance.

    Mayerson often attends comic conventions, and that sub-culture constantly inspires her prose.  Pajama Boy is one obvious example of comics influencing Mayerson, because it borrows from the Japanese yaoi genre.  Mayerson is a leading example of an American author who’s inspired by comics created by and for Japanese women.

“For those who wandered in from reality, yaoi manga is gay porn comics created by women,” she offers. The genre was invented by Japanese female graphic artists, but it’s since gone international.

She says she got started with poetry and short stories, “but as a teenager I got too swanky for that and switched to music, which I wrote and performed diligently until about 2000 when I finally ran out of things to say with music.”

Writing by Mayerson and other Wapshott Press authors can be found many places online.  See or search Amazon, Twitter or Facebook.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Random Lengths: Special Election Spawns Dear Recall Attempt, July 9-22, 2015

Random Lengths ran an article I co-wrote, "Special Election Spawns Dear Recall Attempt," in their July 9-22, 2015 issue.  I wrote three articles and managing editor Terelle Jerricks edited them into one.  Here's the link:

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Knack at Perkins Palace, April 4, 1981

by Lyn Jensen

On April 4, 1981, at Perkins Palace, a converted movie theater in Pasadena, the Knack's friends, fans and followers agreed it was among the best shows the rock group had ever done. It wasn't a show for trend-hoppers, it was for Knack fans.

It was for fans who've liked the Knack since "My Sharona" first blasted over their radios--or even earlier, who bought But The Little Girls Understand and didn't care what anybody said about it, who've fought off the punches thrown by Knack-haters, who are primarily in the media anyway.

After all the Four Lads from Los Angeles have been called--in print--everything from vicious sexists to cultural creeps to a smutty Beatles rip-off. "There's been a lot written about us in the last couple of weeks, the last couple of years, and we want to thank you people for being so loyal," said Knack bassist Prescott Niles.  "You can give yourselves a hand."

Many other contemporary rock groups may beg to differ when they're described as "The new Knack," but the fact remains a lot of people think a lot of other Los Angeles groups sound a lot like the Knack.  If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then the Knack may be the most flattered group around.

At the same time, despite charges to the contrary, the Knack are now proving they  imitate no one. All comparisons to other groups, from the Beatles to the Cars, crumble when discussed on anything but the most superficial level. When all that complaining stops, we're left with one of the most versatile, talented, and boldest bands of the new decade. No one should be allowed to knock the Knack until after witnessing how they grind out the beat in concert. If any of the so-called imitators wants to bury the Knack, they'll have to work a lot harder.

This evening they played about half their recorded material, throwing in two cover oldies ("Tequila" and "A Little Night Music") and maybe half-a-dozen new songs along the way. There's enough variety to encompass everything from the sweet-and-innocent "Heartbeat" to that tirade against a tease, "She's so Selfish," from the sultry moody ballad, "Can't Put a Price on Love" to the semi-psychedelic "Monkey and Me."

Their style isn't old-fashioned but it isn't smutty either. They can lay down a jam, and jam they do. They have variety in their work but they've developed their own distinctive style, too. Despite all the media talk about a change in direction, their new songs aren't really all that different. They fit in with the Knack's distinctive sound.

Racy songs about girls still predominate but there are a few songs not about love, or sex, and those fit into the still-developing New Wave that the Knack have ridden to stardom on.

If the Knack's time on the Los Angeles scene may be compared to the Beatles at the Cavern Club, the visual aspects of the Perkins Palace concert must have been as spare as those "Cavern Club" days. Any show had to come from the four band members and nothing else. They have traded their sixties-era black-and-white look in for more casual wear:  Niles wore a punkish purple, drummer Bruce Gary a red-and-white baseball outfit, guitarist Berton Averre looked neo-mod in blue.

Doug Fieger looked sexy in black tight jeans and half-open shirt. Maybe it does take a woman (not a "little girl," guys) to understand and appreciate Fieger. Chances are what men see as arrogant and egotistical women may find charming and charismatic. He's accused of singing smut, but he nearly blushes when a fan storms the stage and kisses him. He's a frontman. He commands the stage in those unisex-looking high-heeled boots, tosses his long hair as one earring glistens, munches on a fan's carnation, gets into a howling contest with the audience, and his face expresses each song as much as his voice does.

Opening the show was the Toasters, another Los Angeles New Wave quartet, but one that hasn't had the Knack's level of success--and this show let us know why. On a scale of one to five, their music wavered between a two and three. Their female bass guitarist was the only member that demonstrated the kind of appeal necessary to win a mass audience, and she was allowed to front the band only twice.