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Nighttime has a way of turning something somewhat tacky into something magical. Like sex. Or thick black eyeliner. Or Linda's Doll Hut.
It's 11:30 a.m., though, and the Doll Hut-undoubtedly charming the night before-looks all wrong cooking in the bright sunlight. Striking, shiny and impossibly red, the wood-slat-covered shack looks like one of those plastic Monopoly houses plopped down in lackluster environs by the side of some Anaheim railroad tracks.
While the rest of the world works, the Doll Hut should sleep, but people keep dropping in to visit owner Linda Jemison. It's not surprising, considering Orange County's love affair with the woman. In her nine years as owner and operator, she's become a legend, consistently lauded as the Best Promoter running the Best Club doing the most for the Scene. People seem to connect with her on a personal level, seeking her advice, inviting her into their lives, and occasionally calling her "mom." She's known for her generosity and support, allowing bands to sleep on her couch and practice in her venue.
Ask any local musician about the scene, and Jemison's name will eventually come up. All roads lead to Linda. But ordinary praise doesn't quite seem adequate for her devotees. Working their way into an odd frenzy in which they Must Express How Great She Is, common parlance gives way to words like "saint," "godsend," "inspiration" and "guardian angel."
So naturally, I'm skeptical. I mean, no one is this great. Heck, my band, the Angoras, even played the Doll Hut. It was nice and all, but it wasn't the warmest, fuzziest, gooiest, happiest, good-vibeyest night of my life or anything. I don't even know if she was there (a crew of able-bodied musicians helps her run the place).
But as I watch her talk to her friend Derrick, I sense that I'm catching a bit of this Linda fever. She's just so friggin' nice and enthusiastic.
"Get a pager, would you?" Derrick teases, leaning against the bike that he wheeled into the Doll Hut.
"No," says Jemison flatly, as if they've had this fight before. "A pager is pointless if you can't call someone back right away."
Welcome to Linda's world, where people call back, keep their promises, and truly believe they can change the world.
"It sounds very unrealistic, but I have this goal," she says. "I think every person should do something to change their surroundings to make them better."
This is how she talks. She's not sarcastic, for the most part, and she's not ironic. She speaks with the straightforward earnestness of someone who doesn't want to risk being misunderstood.
"I have my own issues: I want people to not use drugs, and I want people to clean up from drugs. I was in a [verbally] abusive marriage due to low self-esteem," she says. "I wish people had higher self-esteem so they wouldn't use drugs and get into abusive relationships."
She looks like Minnie Driver if Driver didn't have that weird jutting thing going on and that horsey awkwardness. But the phenomenon that is Jemison is much more akin to Sandra Bullock in that girl-next-door, imminently approachable, nicest-person-you'd-ever-want-to-meet kind of way.
But like the movie stars, even those next door, there's a certain distance about her. She's cagey with the press, and she chooses her words carefully. She will not say anything bad about anyone, declining to comment on overrated Orange County bands with a simple "No need to make enemies." She won't be the chatty girlfriend who'll bond with you by bitching about people behind their backs, that's for sure. She speaks with the diplomacy of a public figure-a very positive public figure.
"Well, if we were all pessimists, nothing would change," she'll say earnestly, which is fine for public television and self-help books. But for the world of rock & roll, that dead flower bed of cynicism, that jaded beast that eats innocents for breakfast?
Talk with her long enough about the music she loves and the projects she's involved with, and you begin to believe that the music industry, too, is a magical place filled with creativity and exciting (she uses the word "exciting" often; everything is "exciting" or "awesome" or "amazing" or "wonderful") people who recognize talent and do important, fascinating things.
Over the years, Jemison has become more and more involved in different parts of the industry. In addition to the Doll Hut, she's working on a soundtrack for a movie that's "a cross between Pulp Fiction and Raising Arizona" to be released next year; is producing albums for her sister's band (the Back Door Blues Band) and Scarlet Crush (going into the studio is one of her "passions," she says); and is in her third year of working as an A&R person for Laguna Beach-based Time Bomb Records, which means scouting bands for the label. It's a natural move, considering all of the bands she comes in contact with.
"I'm a little different than most A&R people because usually it's a 9-to-5 job: you sit in an office and listen to tapes and then go see bands at night," she says. "I think the reason Jim [Guerinot, Time Bomb's owner] picked me is because I already do that for a living.
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