Hot Pastime

Impressive Mark Seymour rant on schmoozing from Rolling Stone.

Author: Mark Seymour.

Date: August 1989.


Article Text

Schmooze has sex, drugs, money and fame – the perfect social interaction for the paranoid age.

The US tour is cancelled as we, Hunters & Collectors, wait in a squalid guest house. London 1988. The band finally gives up and goes home. Me?  I’m whisked off to America, to schmooze; to shake hands, smile, laugh, accept flattery laid on like wet concrete, to groan inwardly, to meet the industry, through every one-horse radio station in New Jersey.

“Hi, I’d like you to meet Mark Seymour,” says the record company person, with a pearly smile and a stonewash ensemble, “from Hunters & Collectors… from Australia”.

“Hey man,” says the station publicist, smile gleaming from a stonewash jacket, “Bruce Springsteen sat in that chair. Yep! That one right there. That one you’re sittin’ in. Feels good, don’t it?

“Oh wow! Wow, hey, aren’t you…you know you really remind me of someone… (here it comes again). Hey, that’s right, you’re the brother of that guy in Crowded House. Am I right? Yeah. You bet I’m right. You know, they’re from Australia too. Wow, what a coincidence.” (Fantastic! I’m thrilled to bits!).

Meet the industry. Why? Why not just plug in and rock out? Why not do what comes easiest and let the music speak for itself? Well, look I’d love to, but this is America. America is supposed to take years and this will only take two weeks. Besides, I’m not getting any younger. So, the alternative is schmoozing.

There you are, quietly nursing your own private mediocrity while everybody else is terrified of theirs – and the social phenomenon that emerges from all this is what we in the industry refer to as schmooze.

Schmooze is this year’s catchword and it’s rapidly becoming an artform. We’ve given it a name so we can do it without feeling guilty. But God and me are guilty as hell. Let’s face it, you never know when you’re going to shake the hand of a multi-millionaire and swap anecdotes about the ‘old days’. “Remember when we used to drive all the way from Melbourne to Sydney. You know, the car? It’s got four wheels and a roof.” You glibly bullshit in a four am dive. In fact, you’re still getting around in a car, but you keep it to yourself for fear of seeming less successful. After all, you’re talking to a tour manager who is six years younger than you and travels first class complete with Gold Wing Frequent Flyer Card.

Schmooze becomes part of your lifestyle in a number of ways. First of all it is the new brand of grease on the pole of success.

Secondly schmooze is a form of social interaction whereby you maintain your social image by never offending anyone; never feeling strongly about anything for fear that someone else might not agree. It’s a tough world out there and we need all the allies we can possibly get. Schmooze keeps us together.

For instance: the planet is dying. I have friends who are terrified. They don’t want their children growing up in a greenhouse. The end of the world is nigh… has been for years.

Three weeks ago I was in a groovy Italian restaurant in Perth. There were seven of us… three Hunters & Collectors and assorted guests. Several drinks into this and the boys started arguing ferociously about Paul Keating and whether or not the country was going down the tubes. The results were devastating. When we finally paused to catch breath, the others were silent, embarrassed. It was as though we’d dropped our pants in public.

I honestly believed I’d get away with it… “serious conversation”. After all, I was on the other side of the Nullabor. Nobody important would hear. Didn’t matter.

It has to be said these days you can’t argue anymore. You disagree?  Well, sure, it’s cool for Jana and Ron Casey to sling off on national TV; that’s called politics. But when do I get the chance? Bad luck, pal. You’re a rock star… so you’re expected to be either stupid or so altruistic that nothing you say has to be taken seriously.

By the end of a solid week flopping round in a rehearsal room I disappear into the night seeking company, the release of total immersion… beer, fags, and crowded nightclubs… to talk, I say. To get down in it all. But do I hear the exchange of ideas, beliefs? No way, Jose.

There we all are, agreeing with each other. Everything is groovy, light-headed and silly, and down we all go.

All people seem to talk about these days is drugs and/or money. And if, by some strange mental twist, some idea grabs your brain, you can’t tell anyone because the music’s too bloody loud.

The other night somebody said to me, “the longer you’re in this business, the better it gets.”  She was screaming into my ear. The disco was awesome. I felt like I was unwinding in the middle of a war zone. There were rock-stars all around, and everybody else I ever knew who ever had anything to do with selling pop music. Somehow we all seemed to be performing in one way or another, and the real movers were the richest and the deafest.

John Archer, the Hunters’ bass player, has taken to wearing ear plugs. He and I have developed an intricate system of grunts and hand movements to indicate to each other what we really mean. It’s very sophisticated.

On this particular night, a band was launching its first album. There were two very famous performers in the crowd, and when it got too much for them, they quit the premises along with most of the audience who followed them outside like several hundred little lambs with terminal industrial deafness. Meanwhile, the poor bastards on stage were still thrashing and wailing their little hearts out.

There are three things I like in this business: performing, making records and getting paid. The rest is icing, that melts in the morning as you nurse the hangover you worked so hard on the night before, in pursuit of some small muttered truth, some spiritual morsel, that could change your life forever.

Sex, drugs and rock & roll…the hoary old truism that will not be denied… yes the three are indispensible and in the wisdom of my years I’m finally realising why. Most of us simply get ‘out of it’ to cope with the mediocrity of it all. But don’t get me wrong. Sometimes, I really enjoy destroying myself.

In your quiet moments you realise that it all comes down to your very own conception of wealth. I mean, I think my landlord is rich but he doesn’t. I can tell you. There are some of us who are rolling in it. We’re talking big assets here…office blocks, yachts, restaurant chains, fully restored Studebakers. I get so green I make myself sick. And as I indulge in these profoundly material thoughts, I wonder, does this filmmaker, who is raving on to me about how much money they’re going to blow on the next video clip, share the same obsessive weakness, the same human frailty? I wonder, “do you wish you were someone else, are you sad, are you in love?”

But schmooze requires cold, hard detachment. It is never personal, never angry, never honest. You’ve gotta be tough, my friend, to hang out with someone who totally rubs you the wrong way. “My God, you’re really irritating me,” you think as you glance furtively at the drinks card in his hot little hand; anything for another strawberry daiquiri.

So, what does any of this have to do with you the consumer? Why everything. One of the most pervasive beliefs we share in the industry is that even your motives are guided by the same basic principle – schmooze.

The more money the punter pays to get in, the more of a good time they are prepared to have. Nobody likes to walk away from a $35 show feeling like they were ripped-off. But we all know there’s a thin chance as you file through the turnstile, that ripped-off you will be. You have every intention of giving the artist the benefit of the doubt for as long as humanly possible. Come on… it’sIggy… the man, the myth. Despite the atrocious mix, the dangerously overcrowded room and you can’t see anyway because you’re only five-foot-seven. When the only place to be is down the front, hell bent on destroying yourself. That was always the only place, centre stage, between the wedges, right in the middle of the inferno. And you too are sometimes schmoozed, platitudes tossed from the stage in a desire to bring the audience into the confidence of the performer.

As I write this I wonder “will I offend anyone?”  That’s schmooze again. Can’t I escape it for even a second? No way, because everybody knows that rock & roll is pure cut-throat capitalism. That’s what makes it such fun. And what we’re left with, as everybody files out and the cans are being swept into a corner, is the overriding need to survive. You’ve got to perform at all costs, and if you can’t stand the heat, get out while you’re still young, or before you go platinum in the States, then of course it doesn’t matter anymore. By that stage you’re gonna be addicted to schmooze anyway. It has that effect. Some of the most altruistic rock-stars I ever met are better at it than anybody.

Finally where does business end and friendships begin? That fine line of faith, where is it?  You grasp it briefly when you meet another band on the circuit, in a blizzard in West Canada. The situation is ridiculous, two buses broken down on the interstate and for a moment you forget to schmooze. But inevitably it’s back to the flesh pots, the hangouts, where something important is meant to be happening. There we all are, brown-nosing to the max.

Last week I was interviewed by a German for a European syndicate. I was hit with a barrage of questions about pollution, racism, nuclear war. They were coming at me fast and furious. I was racking my brains for some pearls of rock-star wisdom. “Keep it brief,” he said. “Keep it brief?”  Come on. We’re talking about the human condition here.

In America it’s on a par with breathing. Everyone’s a fan. Every DJ, journo, taxi driver, from Boston to Kalamazoo. In the States, if you’re a rock musician with a dream, everybody loves you. Never will you walk into a hair salon with a friend eager to let the assistant know who you are only to be greeted with a giggle. That only happens in Australia.

You see the difference between here and there is that, if you’re an Australian aspiring to be famous, but unknown among other Australians, you’re a suck. Whereas in the US, everybody wants to be famous, so any attempt to get attention is fair cop. Everybody is into schmooze… guilt free.

I did two weeks solid of back-breaking schmooze, from New York to LA, layer upon layer of sickening flattery. It’s like the first whiff of the dentist’s breath as he leans over you, prising your jaws apart. “Oh my”, he says, “what wonderful teeth you have.”

Day breaks with a call from Paul the promotions man. “Hiiyaa! We have a nationwide TV hookup scheduled for 9:15 this morning in your hotel room. Clean your teeth.”

As I wake up I find myself mumbling to a gorgeous TV personality named Jane, across a mushroom omlette. I feel sick. My breath is foul. I remember recording an interview for The Ray Martin Show  with tooth paste around my mouth. They scrapped it.

What follows over coming weeks is a relentless barrage of in-store appearances, T-shirt giveaways and live-to-air serenades.

“You know they like it,” says my record company person as we walk into Q101 Toronto. “It makes them feel as though you really care.” I do. I want to be famous. Here I am with my guitar and I’ve taken the trouble to go all the way out there just to sing to them.

Two radio stations in Boston – both ‘male-oriented, 15 to 25’; one mainstream/alternative and the other alternative/mainstream. They hate each other. I serenade them both. My guitar case is smothered in stickers. Sometimes they’re desperate to have me, bellowing my way through some Hunters & Collectors anthem, only to be informed that, as yet, they can’t play the single because “it doesn’t fit the format”. And then they put on “Dead Heart” by Midnight Oil as you’re leaving.

This is what we rock-stars do before we make it. We’re out there doing it at this very moment. There’s nothing weird about an in-store appearance – sure it feels weird. But no, it’s as natural as throwing up. I walked into Boston’s Tower Records store, only to be received by the bewildered gaze of a retailer.

“Who, Hunters & what?  Oh, you guys. Yeah, I remember you from years ago. Sounded like a zoo burning down. Loved it. Well, it’s nice to meet you, but things are pretty slow. So, when are you going to tour?”

Schmooze cuts corners – radio, retail, video, phoners. I did every college radio station in the US by phone in thirteen days; every Canadian daily in two. I repeated myself ad nauseum every fifteen minutes, ten hours a day. I’m getting pretty good, as you can imagine – serious and flippant at the same time. Then, after a while, the journos start to fall into categories.

I’m on the phone with Barbara. She’s in San Francisco. I’m in Atlanta. She’s making you delerious with flattery. I’m so far gone I narrowly avoid telling her how good she looks.

“Of course I do. Ha Ha. Never forget a face,” I lie.

“Really, what was I wearing?”

Well. She seems to have forgotten about the band entirely. Too bad. It’s 6 pm. I’ve had it. I wanna go home. I don’t care anymore.

“Jeans, T-shirt, red hair. You’re short with a limp, you don’t drink and you thought the mix was atrocious.”

She’s mortified. Speechless. There’s a gasp, then silence. Terminate. I’m off. One voice in twenty-four, four voices an hour, give me a break.

Believe me, everybody joins in, one way or another. No matter how ideologically sound you may appear to be, no matter how sensitive or correct-line, you’ll do it in the end. You’ll soil yourself just like the rest of us because purity is only skin deep. When the curtains are drawn, it’s I love you love me – who do you love?  Besides, purity is boring. You’ve got to live a little. Why are rock-stars so bloody nice these days?  Whatever happened to the arseholes? I suspect they’re still around hiding under a thin veneer of schmooze.

Compromise is rife. My tooth is chipped but I’ve still got a great smile. Personal feelings don’t enter into it until you’re so strung out you disappear for a week and your manager starts to panic. I have refined a talent I used to keep for gigs and I’ve become an actor in real life – boy can I bullshit, I can tell them what they want to hear – “Sure, it was a great gig”, when you know it was awful. If you can’t lie then shut the fuck up and lock the band room door from the inside.

Meanwhile, in the real backrooms, where the hierarchies fall into place, where money and drugs are the diet upon which we schmooze, nobody discusses the things that matter. Instead, we…schmooze. Hail Dante! The man who drew the map.


~ From Caelie’s collection