Shooting a Video (and Getting My Rockstar On)

| 16 Feb 2015 | 04:52

    Get Your Rockstar On DJ Rap is a bombshell and a half. She's an East London girl named Charissa Saverio, small of height and wide of hip. She is just not ugly at all in the least. Which is kind of unlucky for her, 'cause she happens to be quite the ill jungle DJ. I'm staring into a video monitor watching her hit the key along with a video director guy named Clark Eddy, a techno producer named BT and a somewhat skittish assistant from BT's manager's office. We're shooting a video for a track of BT's on which I did a vocal. Charissa has absolutely no musical involvement in the track. She's here because when I was doing the vocal, I was up on the mic, singing directly into a Mac G3, and I was getting my DJ Rap riff on. "Donde está los digits du DJ Rap?" I said. BT knew her and he had a copy of the CD?cover picture of Charissa in a rather open lotus position in one of them 70s Mork from Ork chairs?lying around his studio. So, on the mic, getting my shoutouts on, I go: "Right on to all them little blonde English girls named Charisse!" Sic. "Fuckin' blonde English girls with ghetto names. I love that shit!" Both remarks made the final cut. Let me stress again just exactly how not ugly DJ Rap is?were she a friend of mine I'd have begged for her fine ass to be in each and every video I've done in my career.

    "Dude," I say to BT. "She's got that Joe Elliot Union Jack shirt thing in action. When's she gonna get her Pour Some Sugar On Me on?"

    It's 5. We got here two hours late, and of course it'll be two hours before either BT or I have to be on camera. We'll be shooting this thing until 6:30 in the morning.

    So I got a CD from BT?that skittish management lady used to work for my manager, and I guess she suggested me?when I was out touring, and I listened to it in the back of the bus, and the next thing I knew I was flying out to L.A. and staying at BT's kind of massive and very, very white-interiored home on the edges of Studio City. He's got a pool set into the hill, with stone steps running up and verdant verdantness all around it, and a very sporty little automobile, and a pretty shmancy-looking digital mixing desk that seems to function mostly as a way station between the speakers and the Macintosh, which is on the right side of the shmancy line as well. He's got a framed poster for Go, which he did the score for, leaning up against the wall. I live in two rooms in lower Manhattan with a busted DAT player and bunch of shorted-out patch cords. I don't have any of this stuff, nor could I get it if I just relocated my white ass and got my Studio City on.

    Now it seems appropriate to mention that the track on which I do the vocal is a fucking hit if I've ever heard one. It's got that big-rock happy feeling good-thing part that my man David Kahne calls the release. BT is getting his KROQ on in a very serious way. By that I mean the L.A. station that basically invented alternative rock, back when it was modern rock, the station from which a lot of heavy MTV employees came from in the 90s. The station that pretty much could turn anything into a hit, when it was all about that particular sound, just by unilaterally adding it. The Offspring, for instance, and the Goo Goo Dolls. Basically everything it touched blew up, with the exception of the first single from my band's first record, which mystified us, despite the fact that the fucking song basically amounts to me saying Los Angeles, Los Angeles, Los Angeles for four minutes. Huh, a song about the radio in Los Angeles gets played a lot on a Los Angeles radio station but mysteriously fails to set the world on fire. How you like them apples?

    Now, here's what I'm wondering: Why the fuck would BT want to get in on the rock game? If I lived in the dance music world there is no way you'd get me in the backwards-ass arena of rock music. But my band's a live band, and if you play live and are white, you're a rock band, end of story, musical tendencies be damned. BT, on the other hand, is strictly on the programming tip. Why would you want to go to the world of 10 people?say, four band guys, five roadies and a bus driver?on a stinky bus, with all those dreadful overhead expenses, when you could just get on a plane with a bag of records and not have to spend a dime putting people up in hotels? I'm not saying BT sat down and thought, Right, to KROQ we go, let me just plug into the KROQ box and punch the hit single button and I'll be the king of rock. I don't think anybody can just boom, make a hit, just decide to be huge like I always assumed Phil Collins could do. But BT didn't make a strict progressive house?a genre basically he and the limey DJ Sasha invented?record either.

    The partial answer, I discover, is that the guy doesn't deejay; he plays live appearances with a little mixer and some analog keyboards and devices galore. Which means he tours with a couple of folks. In fact, some guy offered him stupid bucks to deejay in Denmark and he thought, you know, maybe I should get two decks and figure out how to work 'em. The guy picks shit up fast, that's for sure. He plays bass and keyboards and, on the computer, slices and dices waveforms of sound with speed I've never seen before. Doing the song, he just has me get up on the mic after I've smoked some weed out at the pool, and I do five takes just bullshitting and throwing shit out there over the beats. Now, I'm not the cleverest freestyler, so I'm kind of reaching into my bag and pulling out melodies and words I've just been looking to plug into a song someplace. And then I go downstairs for a couple hours, and when I come back, he's constructed this intricate edit of vocal bits and pieces. The computer screen shows the vocal as a bunch of splices of squiggly lines all chopped out and glued together. He's freaked this one melody line such that I seem to have left my crappy pipes behind and gained the throat of Liam Gallagher. That would be the hook, and it's totally huge. KROQ here we come. "We're gonna get our Carson Daly on," I say, stunned. How many show business points will I get if I manage to have a hit song out of a record that was so labor-unintensive it's ridiculous?

    Charissa, too, is kind of bittersweetly fixated by the rock world. There was a song on her record called "Bad Girl"?the first track, hello! Pole position, people!?that Columbia never worked as a single. Stunning. Because it's a hit. It's got that release thing, too, with her voice fucked up by this insanely evil effect, I don't know what it is, but I've never heard anything like it, repeating, "This love is a hole." She does all her own programming and writes her own shit. I think she's kind of feeling that Gee, I gave them a hit and they didn't make it a hit feeling. She keeps sort of balefully namechecking gigantic rock bands that sell millions of records. Now, this woman has more credibility than Christ in Alabama?she's part of that British jungle clique and has a bagful of dub plates?test pressings that don't get sold to the public, but rather are passed around DJ to DJ?from the cream of drum 'n' bass producers. They all master their tracks at the same studio?every single dubplate has the little palm tree and guitar-playing Rastafarian logo of the Music House.

    On the other hand, she's just supermainstreamable gorgeous; she just did a Calvin Klein ad, which I believe will be put up building-size on the corner of Houston and Broadway, so we all have to stare at her. On the plane back to New York after the video shoot, I find an article about her in Gear with much bigger photos than people who put out their record a year ago and didn't sell a half million of them usually get, and fawning copy like: "She hates planes. They remind her of childhood, a loveless place which haunts the conversation." And, needless to say, BT and I are banking on her getting a lot of people to stop channel-surfing and listen to our song for 10 seconds.

    The woman who works for BT's manager is trying to get me to wear groovy techno-guy pants. BT wants me to wear this Paul Smith suit that I suckered my record company into buying me for a tv show, and, actually, I'm starting to think I'm not really a groovy orange-techno-pants kind of a fellow.

    "I'm a suit guy," I tell her. "But that's what we had the wardrobe meeting for," she says. "I really am kind of a suit guy," I say. "But look at what BT is wearing. You have to match." She gives me this supersincere look. "It's for the good of the video." "He looks good in the suit," says BT, who is donning groovy silver techno-guy pants. "I don't think he should wear the suit. I'm not feeling the suit." "I think he looks really good in the suit," says the wardrobe woman, whose name is Lala. "I think Clark disagrees," she says. She goes off looking for Clark. "Clark says he likes the suit," says Lala after the management lady leaves the room. The wardrobe battle gets really pitched, and this huge bad vibe starts coming up on the set. The management lady gets Clark off the set and into a corner, where, I'm sure, she just absolutely pelts the poor man with a thousand reasons why it is totally vital to the entire enterprise that I be filmed in orange techno-guy pants.

    I'm back in wardrobe, trying on the suit. The hairstylist wants to spray-paint my hair white. "Is that what he's wearing in the shot? Because once we spray his hair he won't be able to take it off without messing up his clothes," she says to Lala.

    "I think it's very important that you spray-paint my hair right now," I say. Clark, looking sheepish, comes into the room, followed by the lady who works for BT's manager, whose arms are crossed. "Clark says no suit," she says. Clark sighs. "You know, I understand that you want to wear the suit. But that's kind of why we had the wardrobe meeting." "I think he should wear the suit," says BT. "Can I talk to Clark please?" I say. "Sure," says the lady from management. She doesn't move. "Um, I'd really like to speak to Clark," I say. "Okay, so go ahead, talk to Clark then," she says, not leaving the room. "Um," I say. There are a couple more exchanges of this. Finally, she leaves the room, BT closing the door behind her.

    "Look, Clark," I say, "if you as the director are thinking 'I need this guy in orange pants,' then orange pants it is, but if you're just getting pressure from the manager, well, you know, they work for BT..." "I definitely think he looks good in the suit," says BT. "I'm in a very difficult position here," says Clark."Fuck it," I say. "I'm wearing the suit." For BT and my first setup of the evening, in which we follow Charissa into the nightclub, there's a really bad vibe on the set. And then it just kind of goes away, and it's like nobody ever had any thoughts about anything having to do with what I wore at all whatsoever. Because nothing about it really mattered at all in the first place. And that's why I love show business.

    There is a semi-complex plot to the video involving something about me and BT hacking into DJ Rap's supersecret set-list file and replacing it with our song, and going to the disco she's deejaying at and hijacking the speakers from her, and all kinds of narrative nonsense. I've done five videos for Soul Coughing and one with 808 State, and, look: they all have plots that are described in detail in the faxed treatment that you read two weeks before the video is shot. But in the end, nobody can discern the plots of the videos except the folks that made it, and basically every video is you lipsynching in an expensive shirt.

    I'm staying at BT's house. (Charissa, being beautiful, is of course staying at the Mondrian.) We're doing a track that I plan to put out because, you know, something tells me that once the track that BT and I did gets out there, people are gonna want more stuff like that. We're basically doing the same process as last time. The song is called "The Heat and the Hate." It's about this thing an old tour manager of mine used to do in his Floridian youth; he and a friend would combat the tortures of July by putting on layers and layers of winter clothing and driving to the beach with the heat in the car cranked up. Then when they got there they'd strip and suddenly the thick awful Florida air would feel wonderful. The drive from his friend's house to the beach was known as the heat and the hate.

    I tell the story and throw out a couple of lines I've been working on, plus this one guitar riff, and then I go downstairs and max out on BT's couches. I love staying out here. Because BT and his girlfriend are sweethearts, and the house is so nice and so chill it's hardly like working. When I get antsy I walk down to Ventura Blvd., Tom Petty-ized main drag of the Valley, schlep intrepidly next to the whooshing traffic, among the towering desert trees. Plus he's got satellite. MTV2 is running this promotion in which they're playing every single video in their library. That's 19,000 videos, and it's gonna take four months. When I finish my five takes, I switch it on and find them in the Ns. It just so happens that BT's and my song is called "Never Gonna Come Back Down." And MTV2 is just starting a marathon stretch of songs whose titles being with "Never." The superfoxy Jancee Dunn comes on and tells us there're 68 of them total?a whole day's programming. So me and BT are about to shoot what will be the 69th song starting with "Never" to enter the MTV2 library.

    I pick up this one linguistic tic from BT: the getting-your-blank-on disease. "You want me to drive you to Starbucks so you can get your Venti on?" he asks me one morning. And when his dog is a little too insistent on playing fetch, he sighs, "Man, she's got to get her squeaky egg toy on."

    The next day we laze around watching the movie Senseless. When it concludes, I turn to BT and say, "I guess we could've worked today, but, you know?we had to get our Wayans on."

    The video goes early into the morning. We haul ourselves out to Hollywood Blvd. and shoot a stalking-Charissa sequence in which I find my mark by noting that I start walking on the star of Maureen O'Sullivan and stop roughly when I walk over the star of Jack Klugman. "Who's Jack Klugman?" asks BT. Shocking! "Man," I tell him, "you've got to get your Quincy on."

    Charissa's getting a little cranky. "All I want is a big spliff and a video of Die Hard," she says.

    "Huh," I say. "Action-movie explosions and weed. Interesting. Could you tell me just who exactly is a jungle DJ on this set?"

    Her mixer and turntables are set up on the stage inside Vynyl, and because the room is full of a bunch of raver kids who saw fliers announcing that BT needed a bunch of people to simulate a disco, she gets on the decks and starts playing a dub plate of a new DJ SS tune. The crowd?especially this one awesome little acned Asian kid in preppy clothes who just goes off when the snares hit?get into it. Of course, because they've been standing around all night being pushed out of the way by camerapeople and guys hauling lights from the trucks parked out front. I wouldn't wish a video shoot on anybody. In fact, they hired like 20 pro dancers just in case?this being L.A.?people were wise to the boringness of filmmaking.

    We do a whole bunch of takes where the three of us jump around on stage and I lipsynch and the crowd plays disco-populace. It's a little difficult for me, being that the verses are mostly stuff I just yelped out, so I'm fumbling the words and jumping around, sticking my head through BT's keyboard rack, which promptly collapses on top of me. And I think: I have the best job in the whole entire world. I will not be applying at Taco Bell.

    And I'm smiling, because I know every time I fumble a lipsynch they're gonna cut to DJ Rap?whom I'm now calling DJ Rappity Rap Rapstein?and some sucker off in audience land will gasp and his thumb will freeze millimeters above the channel-up button.

    The lady from management bitches out BT's friend Carlos for bringing in liquor (the dancers are largely underage and if one of the on-set cops saw the bottles he might shut the whole production down), but Carlos hands me a flask that fits nicely in my suit pocket. Double ha, management lady! Carlos also has brought a steel apparatus for doing whippits, which he does standing in the middle of the crowd of very badassedly still-chipper ravers, and which I find sorely tempting on the boring set of a video. But I keep having to get up onstage to perform, and by the time the crew breaks for dinner, Carlos has figured out what dullness the process consists of and has split. We get dragged out on the street by the lighting trucks and some kid from a techno website sticks a video camera in our faces and asks some question about overground and underground.

    "I'm the overground, BT is the underground," I say, "and Charissa here would be the ground."

    Charissa laughs. I think she loves her job too.