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.
"It's been very interesting because I've always been on the musicians' side of the business, and now I'm kind of pulled onto the side of . . . not necessarily the enemy, but almost like the parents of the children. When you're with the musicians, it's like playing with the kids. There are no boundaries and no rules, but once the record company and management and agency get involved, then they have to get the kids in line, and it's like, 'Okay, guys, this is all fun and games, but here's what you have to do to succeed.' And that's where the boundaries come in, which has to happen or they'll be stuck playing in garages for the rest of their lives. I literally sent Time Bomb hundreds of tapes over a year and a half before they picked one."
(The one they picked was Disappointment Incorporated, whose debut was released in August. She describes their sound as what you'd get if you put Beck, Bowie and Jane's Addiction in a blender, and she hopes they don't mind the comparison because it's a compliment.)
This is unbearable. Her vision is infectious. She's growing larger than life as the minutes tick by. The Cult of Linda is closing in on me. I think I love the Doll Hut. I must leave the faux dark of the interior and head back into the garish light of day, where I'm comfortable with the way everything sucks. Left to her own devices, she'll find a way to change that, too. "I may be a dreamer," she says, "but that's how things get done."
Lipping With Linda
OC Weekly: What's your advice to bands that are trying to make it?
Linda Jemison: I work with so many different bands, and the longer I do this, the quicker I can figure out whether a band is going to do well or not because there are criteria. At the beginning, I hear a tape. And if I think the songwriting and vocal ability are good-and players all seem to have good quality in their playing-then the next step is to see them live. Then when you see them live, [you judge] if their live performance is exciting. If you're having the worst day of your life and you have to play a show that night, you've still got to put on a show. You can't let the world know that you've had a bad day. I think a lot of bands sometimes concentrate more on their playing than their performing, and I think it has to be a real 50/50. A good attitude and wanting to work hard are so important, too. It's really a group effort, and a lot of times, it all falls into one person's lap, and that can be the death of a band. And then there's touring-bands have got to get out on the road. Bands that sit in their hometowns and play the same places over and over again very rarely get signed.
Bands who just play their hometown don't get signed because . . .
Well, some get signed. What's important when a label signs a band is knowing that they are able to tour because it really is a mental strain to get out on the road day after day after day with the same four or five guys stinking in a van. I think it's important for a band to route their own tour, book it themselves and learn how it's done so when they do get a booking agent, they can tell the booking agent how to do his job. Because if you leave it in someone's hands and you don't put any demands on them, they'll book it how they want to, and you may end up playing to no one in the middle of nowhere. So educate yourself before you have someone doing your job for you. Know how to do your job.
What's the best thing about the scene?
The best thing is that major and independent labels are finally recognizing that OC bands have talent: OC bands are finally getting signed and getting recognition. That's the best thing for the musicians. As far as for the fans, I think they may not realize how good they have it right now. There are a lot of clubs open, and there are a lot of avenues for them to see live music, and they should take advantage of it while we're all here because I've survived through many clubs closing down and it being very dry as far as live music.
Are there any clubs you really miss?
Cuckoo's Nest-that was ages and ages ago. It was the place to see punk bands in the '70s and '80s.
What do you think is the worst thing about the scene?
Lack of support for bands. I think people are so caught up in their daily jobs that they go to work, go home, eat dinner, watch TV and go to bed. That's fine for some people, but if you really love music, you should come out and support your local musicians because sometimes that's how they make their living. I think if people took just a few more risks and stayed out a little bit later and came out to support the local scene, they'd be surprised. They'd have a good time.
Do you think there's an OC sound?
I think there's definitely an OC sound. You hear it so much in music now. Social Distortion and the Adolescents and Agent Orange created an OC punk-alternative sound, especially some certain guitar riffs that you hear and just think, "Oh, my God! That's the Adolescents!" or "Oh, my God, they sound so much like Social Distortion!" And even now, I can hear bands emulating the Offspring.
Some people think the only music in OC is punk and ska.
It's funny you mention that because I haven't done much ska. I've done very little because it's such an all-ages music. There has always been punk since I've owned this club and even before that-at least 10 years before that.
What are your feelings about ska?
Ska is fun music. It's happy. Kids love it.
Do you like it, though?
Sure. Especially old, traditional ska. It's fabulous. I haven't heard a ska band I really don't like. I don't really go to many ska shows, though. I tend not to go to all-ages shows because they're so hot! But it's a great scene. My nephew's into it; I buy him records and take him to see shows like that. There's room for all different types of music in this scene, so the more the merrier. If it's good-quality music with good musicians with good hearts that want to make people happy, it sounds great to me.
What do you think about the swing revival?
I think it's great. God, it's about time. That's one of the music scenes that took 50 years to come back around. I think it's wonderful. I love swing dancing, and I love that kind of music. I don't know if I particularly like some of the bands that are at the top-I won't name names-but there's one in particular that I think is just not as talented as they could be for where they are. I think Brian Setzer is probably one of the top ones that I like to listen to because I think he has a lot of style, and he does it his way, which I think is great. He's not trying to emulate anybody. I think Big Bad Voodoo Daddy is awesome. I think Royal Crown Revue have been totally underrated as a swing band; they should be where that other band is that I won't mention-and I think you know who I'm talking about. This band right now is just on top of the swing scene; they're okay. But Royal Crown Revue has just paid so many more dues. I don't know that much about that other band, so I won't talk about them. I don't like to bag on people, so I don't want to go there with that.
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If you could have any band play the Doll Hut, who would it be?
I would love to have the Dead Kennedys here. That would just be so amazing. That would be my favorite punk band to ever play here.
What are your thoughts on women in rock right now?
I think there's a lot of attention being paid to women in rock, which is great. Unfortunately, I think some of it is so similar that I can't tell some of these women apart, you know? That's unfortunate. I'm hearing a lot of women play really poppy, melodic, acoustic-type stuff-which is good-but not many women playing harder music. Harder alternative music is what I think we're lacking.