Mekhi Bessel was maybe the top indie promoter in all of Greater Boston. He could get anyone to come to anything. He could get the Saudi kids from BU to show up to a football game at BC. He could get the cokehead finals club WASPs from Harvard to a poetry slam at Chocolate City, the Afro-theme house at MIT. And he knew from experience he could get the Euro-Latins from Emerson to dance salsa in the freezing cold to Israeli rock music in the parking lot outside the Beanpot hockey semi-final. He had been an indiscriminate impresario since his sophomore year in college when he produced his first play and charged for it in violation of Theater Club rules. Now, at 24, he had a whole series of gigs under his belt: nightclubs, rock and roll bands, hockey, football, girl’s lacrosse, good seating at the Head of the Charles, poetry reading, hip-hop (battles, a-cappella, and instrumental), dj’s, album launch, magazine launch, school committee candidate (Alan Price, Democrat, victorious), class day at Lesley University, ill-fated steak-and-live-blues restaurant, not-ill-fated brunch-and-live-blues restaurant, independent movie premieres, and the highly lucrative after-hours party. Boston shut down at 1 a.m., so the party had to go somewhere just as it was getting going. Mekhi found the lofts, bought the liquor, paid the dj, and collected the bar and gate.
This is how he had run afoul of the Tygers brothers. They cooked all the nightlife in Boston. Last night was the first time they had given him such a serious beating.
Targeted Age Group:: adult
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
While in law school, I spent evenings writing this account of Boston’s rock and roll scene.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Inspired by the people I met during my evening spent writing about Boston’s rock and roll scene.
The Next Boston Band
by Michael Fertik
“Good Morning, Boston! It’s one minute past the hour, and you are listening to the Sunday Morning Zoo with Elephant-Man and Danny on 95.3-The BOX, Boston’s Critical Hit Rock! Very exciting news, Danny. It is official: Steve Tyler of Aerosmith and Ric Ocasek of The Cars are winging their way into town this afternoon to emcee the kick off of the Battle of the Bands at the Lansdowne Street Music Hall tomorrow night.”
“Is that right, Elephant-Man? This news came out of nowhere!”
“Yes! Mayor Menino will be joining our show tomorrow afternoon. He has officially made the Battle of the Bands part of his new Boston Revolution Month, which is highlighting all the great things about Boston. Boston is a rock and roll town, but it has been a particular sore point with this mayor—and a large number of our city’s residents, let me tell you—that we have had no big bands, no really big bands, come out of Boston since the 80’s. We have great clubs in this town, and great talent, but no one has broken out like Aerosmith or The Cars.
Now things are looking up. The Mayor is out to change all that. Tyler and Ocasek, two hardcore Boston natives, have been talking about doing something to restore Boston’s rock-ominance for years now, so the Mayor invited them back to Boston to judge the Battle of the Bands this year. Well, they’ve gone and turned the dial up a few notches themselves and made this into a huge deal. Tyler and Ocasek are coming in for the entire two weeks of the Battle to pick a winner and then launch that band’s career. They have already lined up a $500,000 record deal with Sony for the top band of the Battle. Ocasek will produce the album, and Aerosmith will have the band front their upcoming world tour on fifty of eighty arena dates! Finally, Danny, finally! Boston is going to have another huge band!”
Mekhi Bessel opened his eyes twisted his neck to stretch and immediately wanted to vomit. He touched his fingers to his lip and felt the swell. The Tygers brothers had beat the shit out of him at 4:30 in the morning. Then he had come home and drunk the Macallan’s 18 year because he had no Advil. Now his head split and he couldn’t get up because of the bruising on his stomach. He breathed through his nose to avoid moving anything and looked down at his feet past this girl’s matted hair and shoulders and stretched them from the heels to see if his calves were sore. They were not. He had not run fast enough.
What was he hearing? Mekhi programmed his clock radio to this station every Sunday at 11 a.m. because it was the best music show the entire week. Danny and Elephant-Man were Boston guys. They knew everything about rock and always had first scoop. Did they just say Steve Tyler and Ric Ocasek are coming to town to launch a band? He wasn’t sure if this was exactly what was being said, but if it was it was huge. He waited and heard again. Yes, that was it. This was huge.
Mekhi Bessel was maybe the top indie promoter in all of Greater Boston. He could get anyone to come to anything. He could get the Saudi kids from BU to show up to a football game at BC. He could get the cokehead finals club WASPs from Harvard to a poetry slam at Chocolate City, the Afro-theme house at MIT. And he knew from experience he could get the Euro-Latins from Emerson to dance salsa in the freezing cold to Israeli rock music in the parking lot outside the Beanpot hockey semi-final. Mekhi was the guy who thought of selling “Yankees Suck” t-shirts not only down the Fenway during games, but also at the bars on Comm. Ave and Boylston, which were crammed with drunk fans and ten-dollar bills. Anticipating that he might have bought too many shirts, and that the other hawks would soon invade his market, he arranged to have them silk-screened with the five middle letters left out, so he could turn the banner into “Yaliees Suck” in time for the Harvard-Yale game in November. It wasn’t the right spelling, but his pitch that the “e” was for “suck extra” went over with 95% of buyers, amazingly. He was surprised at how easy the Harvard girls were when he knocked on their doors to sell t-shirts. It was as if the guys in their classes never smiled at them. And twice someone had called the cops on him, but Harvard cops were fine. Mekhi had a convincing Boston accent. One time he told them he was from Reveah, one time from Me’for’, putting himself through Tufts by running this little business on the side selling t-shirts to the rich kids at Hahvahd. They let him go with a smile and whispered encouragement without even looking inside the box at the shirts or finding the ribbed condoms below them.
He had been an indiscriminate impresario since his sophomore year in college when he produced his first play and charged for it in violation of Theater Club rules. Now, at 24, he had a whole series of gigs under his belt: nightclubs, rock and roll bands, hockey, football, girl’s lacrosse, good seating at the Head of the Charles, poetry reading, hip-hop (battles, a-cappella, and instrumental), dj’s, album launch, magazine launch, school committee candidate (Alan Price, Democrat, victorious), class day at Lesley University, ill-fated steak-and-live-blues restaurant, not-ill-fated brunch-and-live-blues restaurant, independent movie premieres, and the highly lucrative after-hours party. Boston shut down at 1 a.m., so the party had to go somewhere just as it was getting going. Mekhi found the lofts, bought the liquor, paid the dj, and collected the bar and gate.
This is how he had run afoul of the Tygers brothers. They cooked all the nightlife in Boston. Last night was the first time they had given him such a serious beating.
Mekhi’s dream was to manage and promote big bands. He wanted to take bands to the top of the charts and make loads of money going all over the world putting on the greatest arena rock shows anyone had ever seen. His most perfect man was Bill Graham. Graham had walked out of Russia when he was a kid to escape the Nazis—walked out of Russia—and slammed anybody who got in his way with a huge fist to the face. Graham had practically invented rock promotion and had made millions launching bands like Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, and The Who, and with his Fillmore venues in San Francisco and New York. Then he died in a helicopter crash in 1991 after he forced the pilot to fly in a storm.
To Mekhi promoting bands was better than promoting anything else. It brought girls, fame, and dough when you got big enough. And there was a real something you were selling, a legit product. This wasn’t true with dj’s or bars. With dj’s, indie promoters had what they called the Folger’s Crystals test. They would advertise DJ KlueMe and maybe three people in the club out of a thousand could tell the difference when they played their kid sister’s mix tape. The real dj couldn’t sue because then he’d be found out.
Mekhi looked down again at his feet and at the clock radio. 11:05 a.m.. Elephant-Man and Danny were going on about Tyler and Ocasek. They would be on the ground for two weeks, pick a band, and run with it. Mekhi tried to think what he would do. He was alert enough to know he had to work his brain through the fog and split to come clear on the other side with a plan. Over the vomit taste and throbbing lip he mouthed the words reflexively that God was giving him the opportunity he had waited for the last five years and so help him he would grab the ball. Thinking of a plan was going to take all of his effort right now but what this girl was doing at the moment was distracting. So he decided to wait it out because he couldn’t move anymore or argue.
This girl was from an MIT sorority. Technically there was an excuse to that since she was actually the Wesleyan friend of an MIT sorority girl, but it was close enough that he couldn’t tell anyone about her. She and her friends had been at the after-party last night, and she wouldn’t let go. She acted as though they knew each other, hanging on his arm and talking about a previous conversation they’d supposedly had. She helped him home after the incident.
It was finished eventually and she slid up closer. He swung his legs out on the floor and then stood and walked into the bathroom with his right arm hugging his stomach. He looked in the mirror. He had a fat black eye, a busted lower lip, swollen upper lip, and a scraped cheek from planting the pavement. His right ear looked cut or sliced, though he didn’t remember them having a knife. His entire midsection had the early-warning light gray and yellow coloration of a rich black-and-blue bruise. So did his right side. His hands were a mess. This would not go over well at work.
Mekhi worked during the day in sales at AdapTrade, an enterprise-class software company in Lexington, Mass.. His title was actually “Regional Sales Director,” since the company was so small, only thirty people, but he didn’t direct anyone. He didn’t have a region, either, because there were only two full-time sales guys to cover the whole world, which meant North America. He sold a million-dollar piece of software, an electronic derivatives trading engine for financial exchanges like the Chicago Board of Trade and investment banks like Goldman Sachs. There were not too many people in the world who would buy something like that, and Mekhi already knew all of them by name. It was his first job after college. He could talk for hours to the financial guys about Black Shoals and Single Stock Futures and to the technical guys about Service Level Agreements and high-availability failover. He could talk about strip clubs and golf with the CEOs and drink scotch in New York and beer in Chicago. He could smoke cigars with the middle managers and talk about the difference between a Macanudo Robust and a Partagas Black Label so that they would nod and look at him like he knew something and tell their bosses that it was clear the firm needed to buy the AdaptMarket Trading Engine. He could talk to anybody and make him feel like the most special person in the world. That was his gift.
At the office they knew Mekhi by his real name, which was Michael Benjamin Bessel. He was a direct descendant of Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel, 1784-1846, the Prussian astronomer who recalculated the orbit of Halley’s comet at age 20 when he was working days as an accountant for an import-export firm. The 60 year-old alcoholic business development guy who Mekhi considered to be a jackass and who was a happy repository for the world’s useless information recognized Mekhi’s last name and made the connection. A few guys picked up on it from him, and the business development guy’s longtime alcoholic jackass friend the CEO took to calling him “Friedrich” at company meetings. He also called him Herr Bessel once but stopped after thinking that might appear to confer too much authority on a 24 year-old.
No one at the office knew what he did after hours. It didn’t pay to tell. He didn’t want them coming to shows, and they wouldn’t understand how he could do two jobs and not blow either one. The reverse was also true. It wasn’t as if Chiqui the bouncer at M-80 would take him any more seriously if he knew he had made $70,000 last quarter in commissions selling software. Chiqui didn’t know what software was.
This stuff on his face, though, was going to pose a problem at work. His hands, too, would need bandages at least for a few days. They would ask him questions, and he might have to reschedule sales calls. He twisted his neck around to see the full extent of the damage and tried to come up with a plausible explanation.
“Hey, Mekhi?” The girl slipped into the bathroom behind him wearing his powder blue Turnbull & Asser, the Sea Island cotton. There was blood on the collar and sleeve. “Did you hear the radio? Are you going to put one of your bands into that contest?”
He heard her and saw her in the mirror, but his mind was already tilting the tables in the allegedly free and open elections of the Battle. How to meet the judges? How to prep the bands?
“Aren’t Tyler and Ocasek feuding or something?” she asked. He didn’t answer and she asked again. “Are you even listening to me?” She sounded reproachful.
“Oh yeah, of course. They’ve been feuding for years. One time Ric Ocasek set fire to Steve Tyler’s horse barn and killed his favorite Arabian jumpers and then Tyler took a shit inside Ocasek’s offstage guitars at Tanglewood with Seiji Ozawa and Itzak Perlman from the Clash. It was real political. I guess they worked it out, though. Can you swing out onto Mass. Ave. and score us some Dunkin’ Donuts?” She agreed and left humming. Mekhi sat down on the edge of his bed with his head hanging to minimize the throb and put a pen and piece of paper on his knee.
List of Things to Do this Coming Two Weeks in Order to Win the Battle of the Bands
Then he wrote down Pistola underneath and underlined it. Of the bands in his stable, Pistola was the clear choice for the competition. They had a big fan base, looked good, sounded good, trusted Mekhi, and—important—he was officially signed as their manager. Their sound was in the category of disposable rock, like Aerosmith and the Cars, and the guys in the band didn’t have personalities that would threaten anyone.
1. Call the guys.
2. Have meeting. Get them focused.
3. Do not hump Tina.
Of course Pistola had their problems. Allen and Charlie called Mekhi on Friday after rehearsal and announced they were finally and definitely kicking out Patrick the drummer. Mekhi said on the phone it sounded like a good idea and planned to deal with it later. It was a bad idea. Patrick had something like a thousand friends in Boston and the band’s fans were essentially his. He had also written 21 of their 30 songs, including the two that got radio play.
There was another problem. Charlie’s fiancée Tina was smoking hot with big fat red lips and Mekhi had sworn to hit that. He had come close two weeks ago when she had gripped him backstage at the Middle East during the set and given him her cell phone number. Charlie worked days with retarded kids at a special ed state school, and like most band fiancées Mekhi had seen, Tina had begun to doubt the marquee future after a year and a half of rehearsals in her living room. It was imperative that Mekhi not hit that in the next two weeks.
4. Meet the judges.
5. Reputation of other bands?
6. Go over play list.
7. All equipment working and must be where it needs to be.
8. BUILD CROWD FOR PERFORMANCE
Rock crowd but also diverse ( 1) Prada 2) Polo 3) boarding school)
Judges see crowd who wouldn’t come otherwise.
9. Article in Boston Phoenix (Jeff Katz?)—emphasize broad appeal of sound.
10. Press kits.
11. Call Gigi.
Gigi was the rapcore groupie who ran booking at the Middle East. Gigi would get Pistola on the round list for the Battle of the Bands in an hour, because they certainly weren’t on it now. What would have worried him even three years ago he now knew to treat like an administrative matter. He knew Gigi—had hooked her up with the guy on Newbury street when she was looking for a Brazilian wax and then afterwards with a doctor when she got burned. Before this morning Gigi was probably desperate to fill up the slots for the Battle, anyway. In the past it had been mostly for unbroken high school rockers in study hall bands, a decent way for the clubs to spike the crappy month of March with a load of all-ages shows.
Mekhi bit a lip to concentrate and the pain shot through his face. Then the nausea surged so he rushed into the bathroom knelt and hugged the bowl with the pen and paper still in his hands. He heaved dry but spat bloody phlegm. In his left palm he felt the paper get wet with the schmegma from the side of the toilet and he thought how terrible is the friggin’ maid and then he thought he should wash the gashes on his hands after this passed.
He pressed the paper against the backside of the toilet seat. He breathed heavily from his throat and let his eyes droop to let in less light.
12. Tygers Bros.
Mekhi had a running feud with the Tygers brothers. To his knowledge he was the only person in Boston except for maybe an uncorrupt politician and some drug dealers who had a running feud with them, because they were the whole bottom line in Hub show business and it was a mess to rumble with their program. They owned every single club on Lansdowne Street, plus Trio, the Paradise, M-80, and O’Reilly’s in Faneuil Hall. That was already 75% of the venues to dance or hear music in the city. Mekhi knew that unofficially they also had half interest in the Middle East and Raza, and that they collected 20% payola from another dozen bars on top of that. Dan and his zero-calorie I.Q. brother Swap were 6’5” and 280 pounds. Mekhi could tell them apart early in his career because Dan had a ponytail and never let Swap say anything. They wore dark navy Ralph Lauren wool trenchcoats and walked with surprising speed and agility. They also always appeared with henchmen in puffies or trenches, though the brothers usually worked as their own muscle.
Their methods were crude. They originally came from New York but went bankrupt there twice and then moved to Boston 15 years ago when it was still sleepy and applied the same brute force tactics that had beaten them out of Manhattan. Now Boston was their one-horse town. It was next to impossible even to open a new place to compete because they controlled access to entertainment licenses through a connection to city hall. Even Aerosmith’s club Mama Kin had sold half to the Tygers brothers in the 90’s and finally sold out the rest a couple of years ago. Dan and Swap renamed it the Lansdowne Street Music Hall so that everyone would know. Only Whitey Bulger was higher in the Boston underworld foodchain.
Mekhi was feuding with them because he didn’t obey their rules. If a guy wanted to do nightlife business in Boston, Cambridge or Brookline—throw an after-party, run craps—he had to ask the permission of the brothers and then kick them back a third. Mekhi did neither. For a while he’d been getting away with murder. He didn’t flaunt it, but the town knew.
He got away with it because he made the brothers good money which they could not get elsewhere. Mekhi’s crowd followed him, not the scene, and if the brothers broke him they broke themselves. Every promoter worth mentioning in the same mouthful as Mekhi had his own crowd, but only his and one other guy’s had any size. The other guy was Ferguson, a Haitian whose birth name was Jeremy. Ferguson didn’t make problems for the brothers or for Mekhi because he carried 30-something professionals, an iffy and surprisingly stingy bracket in Boston, and worried too much about maintaining court-mandated access to his 9 year-old to rumble with anyone’s program.
Until now the brothers had tolerated Mekhi’s portfolio. They showed up occasionally at his party to break everything, and twice they robbed him because he hadn’t back-doored the cash fast enough. But mostly they laid off his gigs and never once barred him from their spaces. Still, every time he had a meeting with them they took him to the back office and wanted to talk with him alone. Then they gripped the table hard the whole time and looked ready to leap across it and massacre him.
His beating last night was just them tightening their belts, Mekhi figured. Watching him bye out of punishment for so long had given the newer guns the stupid idea they could push envelopes, too, and some of their vig had been arriving loosey-goosey the past two months. The beating last night was way more public than it had to be.
Mekhi scrunched his eyes and thought through the main problem. This girl would be back any minute and he would tell her he liked Hazelnut not Columbian and she would return to the store. The main problem was that every show in the battle was on a stage owned by the Tygers brothers, that they would be pushing their own managed talent in the contest and would load the dice, that they had tenterhooks into every dj in Boston, and that on a dime they could decide this was the week Mekhi Bessel was not to be let near the doors of their establishments. He looked at their name on the list and thought of what he should do.
Mekhi picked up the phone and started dialing numbers.
About the Author:
Michael Fertik lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts for nine years, where he went to college, worked in software, and moonlighted as a band manager and impresario. While in law school, he spent evenings writing this account of Boston’s rock and roll scene. He now lives in Palo Alto, California, where he has kept away from the music business.
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