New York City Serenade

Jay Buchanans CMJ diary

Last month, Fullerton singer/songwriter Jay Buchanan and his band landed a much-coveted showcase slot at the big, boffo College Music Journal (CMJ) conference in New York City. On the confab circuit, CMJ is mega: an annual record-industry schmooze-and-booze-athon that attracts hundreds of bands from around the world, an event rivaled only by Austin's South by Southwest. The idea is for bands and musicians to sell themselves—to cultivate the sort of useful industry connections that could help them get to the next level, however that level is defined. What follows is Jay's journal of four days in the pursuit of Making It.

WEDNESDAY, OCT. 18

4:30 a.m. Ron Kaufman's house, Costa Mesa

An early start for those of us accustomed to lying down at this time. I believe this is why everyone seems to be wearing black mourning attire. Though early, Chris Powell, our drummer, has his usual bring-it-on-'cause-I'm-ready vibe, while Ty Stewart somehow manages to duct-tape his guitar cases together and glow at the same time. Bassist Todd Sanders sips and smiles while talking about his coffee and what its mass would be on one of Jupiter's moons. Ron, our manager, paces, checking and re-checking. When most people pace, they're nervous. When Ron paces, he builds momentum. I have the flu and a fever, and I want to die.

6:20 a.m. LAX

Ty and Ron work the counter while the rest of us move gear. Do I look like a man with a half-ounce of marijuana in his pocket? Guess not. I pass through security while Ty's gear bag gets searched for bombs. Flight boarded without a hitch.

8:15 a.m. Somewhere over North America

I get stuck in an aisle seat next to an asshole who refuses to acknowledge my existence. The band sits together in the back. Every time I look back there, they smile, and so do I. I try to sleep, but the magic 90-to-91-degree-angle recline button doesn't seem to help. If the asshole next to me were nicer, he would let me borrow the stick he has up his ass so we might both have something to prop our feet on for the rest of the flight.

4:15 p.m. Limousine to hotel

We get off the plane, and there is a man standing there in a black cap and jacket holding a sign that says, "JAY BUCHANAN." I can't believe people get used to this. We all recline and toast with a beer—"Here's to New York!"—while a complete stranger drives. The frequent phrases of "This is fucking great!" and "Good times!" are traded among the band like a peace pipe.

5 p.m. The Soho Grand Hotel

Imagine you are stuck on the set of an Aaron Spelling movie. The enormous lounge is decorated with 30-foot, Romanesque pillars and very good-looking people. There are A&R's [Artist & Repertoire] from various labels, publishers, and money—plenty of money walking around. The crew takes a walk for pizza while I have a stout with a promoter friend from LA in the hotel bar.

8:30 p.m. Posh restaurant: the Jezebel

We meet an A&R man and his boss there. The food looks good, and the wine is very expensive, but I can't taste a fucking thing due to my cold. Rapport is a bit strange. We love the A&R, but the boss is a different breed—very quiet but definitely a cool head. After talking a bit, I find him both an intellectual and artistically sensible. Conversation moves along, and we decide we like the boss. The band gets restless, and we step outside for a smoke. Somebody says, "We're in New York. Let's hit it." We agree and walk back inside to say goodbye.

10:30 p.m. Underground bar: the Cellar

We meet with a publisher and the same A&R we went to dinner with. Good times, but the place is so alive that nobody can hear a fucking thing. The publisher is a good friend, and he's excited, so we're happy to follow when he says, "You guys have to see this band in Times Square tonight." We have more drinks and then step outside for a talk with Mary Jane. Hoping to surprise the Killingtons and show up at Brownies, Ty tells us we're already late. Ron flags down the cabs, and we're off.

11:15 p.m. The WWF Nightclub in

Times Square

WWF? The crowd is young and pissed by choice. The band comes on, and we all look at one another. The publisher tries to keep up the excitement, but it's no use. Four songs and two beers in, we are out. Right away, the publisher says, "They're really big with the women." I observe that there were no women in there, but you just can't shoot down a true optimist. He recovers: "If they had a midget in the band, they'd go platinum!" Everybody cracks up. This becomes the running joke of the night.

12:15 a.m. More NYC

We hit three more bars, play pool, and get beaten by a San Bernardino-style speed-whore in leather pants. We have one for the road and call it a night.

THURSDAY, OCT. 19

12:15 p.m. Soho Grand Hotel

Waking up in New York. A hot shower and the best tap water I've ever tasted. Ron, Todd and Chris shoot across town for CMJ passes while Ty and I stay behind to visit a deli across the street.

1:15 p.m. Walk to nowhere in particular

We get pops and falafel and head underground to eat on the steps in the subway. Something about this place makes even your pulse change. On our way back upstairs, we bump into our friend Mary Jane and decide to walk to the World Trade Center.

3:45 p.m. Hotel room

Ty and I work out some new ideas on guitars, and Todd sits by the window smoking a cigarette. Chris picks up a guitar, and we start a new jam. Todd immediately gets up and snaps a few pictures. I love this band.

6:15 p.m. Sound check: the Shine

The club is a good size, with wooden floors and high black booths lining dimly lit walls. In the corner, there is a brass plaque over a big booth with the words "This booth is property of Bone-Thugz-N-Harmony" inscribed on it. We jam the empty room pretty good for about five while the soundman gets a feel for us. Todd and Ty start with the telepathy. I want to make love to Chris's kick drum, as usual. A gear back line has served us well, and everything sounds good. A pretty woman at the coat check with glitter on her face agrees to sell our T-shirts out front while we play.

8:30 p.m. CMJ Festival ASCAP Showcase: the Shine

There is a good all-female band called Lift playing the club before us. The club is dark and crowded. We get drinks and relax over a few record meet-and-greets with some industry friends who are excited to see our show.

10 p.m. Show time

The lights go low. From the stage, we see the place has filled out nicely. We see the same faces that we've seen over expensive plates and good conversation since the band's inception seven months ago. We are charged, and we have got to play. Ty asks, "Are they going to announce us?" Todd shakes his head and tries to squint past the stage lights. "Fuck it," he says. We open with "If You Leave" and lock in. As is all too common, the sound check turns out to have been a complete waste of time, but we get over it quickly. For only a second, the lights flash over the crowd. With the sight of swaying heads and flailing arms, we know we have an audience. Throughout the show, we exchange glances that communicate each song's dynamics. With our last song, the place goes nuts, and we like it. Afterward, I am surprised to bump into OC Weekly's Jeremy Zachary at the side of the stage. We get the gear back to the hotel.

10:45 p.m. Soho Grand Hotel

Having been offstage for less than 10 minutes, everyone is still sweaty. We discuss the show. Both hugs and black eyes are exchanged. Overall, we had a good show.

11 p.m. The Shine: drinks and a lot of talk

After handshakes and introductions, we get a booth. We are sitting at the Bone-Thugz booth. Our friends Jackie and Wade from ASCAP are very happy, and we take some pictures. After a few more drinks, we head out for pizza.

12:30 a.m. The Rumba Room

After hitting a few more clubs, we find ourselves at the Rumba Room. This place is upstairs and dimly lit. There, we get a cocktail and meet D'Angelo's A&R. Chris is immediately locked in a heavy discussion with him on the world's greatest funk drummers. They talk for more than half an hour. Our A&R friend from last night is there, and we are talking shop. Couples salsa around our booth, and times are good. By 2 a.m., everyone has had enough to drink, and it's time to go back to the hotel.

2:30 a.m. Soho Grand Hotel

Todd, Chris and Ron hit the sack while Ty and I walk to a deli across the street. We get sandwiches and pop and eat on the sidewalk. Empty cabs pass. We go upstairs to smoke one in the bathroom with the fan on while discussing a new set list.

FRIDAY, OCT. 20

1 p.m. Still asleep.

2:30 p.m. Lombardee's Pizza

This is the oldest pizza joint in New York. Fucking rock & roll pizza. We walk all over the city for a few hours.

7:30 p.m. Soho Grand Hotel Lounge

We meet our ASCAP friends in the lounge and have a few drinks. We decide to go to dinner.

9 p.m. The Cellar

We sit at the table drinking and discussing new projects. The band is ready to start the night, but our friends are very tired. We have a few rounds, eat some dinner, and depart.

10:30 p.m. Drink Land

We meet our A&R friend inside. The white ceiling has a thick black spiral leading to the center of the room. The whole place is shoulder-to-shoulder packed with bodies grinding together like a stash of M&M's in a fat kid's pocket. Chris and I go outside for some air. We hang out for a bit, and our A&R friend goes home. We get the private room in the back and meet there with another A&R friend. After a few drinks, we head out to another club. After that, we hit another, and soon this A&R gets tired, too.

3 a.m. Real New York pizza

The good times are off the scale. We get a cab to a pizza parlor that is packed even at 3 a.m. Ron walks out with a huge drooping box of pizza. We look for a table. Ron says, "Right here"—indicating a traffic-directing rig on a street corner. He hangs his suit jacket on the side of the rig and says, "Dig in." Todd takes a picture. We stand there for a minute in a drunken moment of perfect clarity: "All right, you guys—Times Square."

4 a.m. Times Square

We get out of the cab and stumble around under the lights. Unlike everything else on television, Times Square is bigger in person. We walk past a sword shop; Todd, Ron and Ty start acting like ninjas. With a surprise kung-fu spin kick, Ron proves right there that if the three of them were ninjas, he would be the baddest.

4:45 a.m. We surrender

We run out of red paint and get a cab back to the hotel.

SATURDAY, OCT. 21

11 a.m. Farewell, NYC

A huge brand-new Excursion takes us back to the airport, and we eat shitty airport junk food before boarding our flight.

We can't wait to go back.

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