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January 23, 2009 / Brittany Hendrick

You’re taking the fun out of everything: Lei-zhoo-ray, and lots of it

I interrupt my crappy-yet-somehow-funny Charlie Brown story to bring you a completely crappy story.  I can’t even tell the story eloquently; my vocabulary disappeared somewhere, and I don’t know when it will be recovered.  Break open a bottle of wine.  Go ahead, crack your homophonic joke.  I’ll wait.

Good, now that you’re finished rolling your eyes…
2008 was not a great year.  It started on 12/31/07, actually, when I got a phonecall that a friend of mine had been reported missing.  She was found a few weeks later… at the bottom of a lake in a park.  She was murdered, but the police ruled it “accidental drowning,” which is bullshit.

– Then my grandmother died.
– Then my dog had cancer.
– Then I paid the IRS money.
– Then my truck’s transmission died.
– Then some white-trash cunt stole $600 from my bank account.  Funny business was going on with my postal mail, too.
– Throughout the year, I’d been having trouble sleeping, my hair was shedding profusely, and my skin was a grosser shade of pale.  Believe it or not, I’d ruled out stress– I usually handle it very well.  Yet I still looked and felt like shit.  After a lot of docs and tests, by October, it was determined that I was right– it wasn’t stress– I had low iron.  I take supplements now.  All that time and frustration, and all I had to do was snap into a Slim Jim.

But 2008 ended well, I thought.  Oddly, I was 2/3 out of debt despite how costly the year was.  But I was saved by a November eggsale.  I started looking at new places to reside, to move closer to work.  I wrote a book proposal.  My hair looked better, and my cheeks were pink.  2009 couldn’t be anything but an improvement.

Back at work, after our week-long winter recess, I dove right in with the usual: I pulled our sales reports for 2008, shook my head and said, “Oh, no.”  I did that after every month.  But seeing results for the entire year by now, this was particularly sickening: our top-grossing account was down over 50% compared to the year before.  This was not good.

The next couple of weeks were… quieter.  I had a quiet 4th quarter, too, I noticed.  Something was brewing.  Layoffs happened around this same time last year.  It’s going to happen again.

In December, we got a preview of our new company logo that went into effect this year: just a red, splattery, half-circular swipe that resembled bloodshed rather than music.
“If I paint the logo over my office door, does that mean I won’t be laid off?” I joked.
“Ahhhh.  No,” my boss said in a short tone unusual for him in casual conversation.  Hmmm.  Either he didn’t get my Passover reference or it was a sore subject.

My boss had told me awhile ago: if something bad was going to happen to our jobs, he’d warn me the best way he could.  “If you’re talking about buying a new car, I might advise you against it,” was his example.

Last Wednesday, we went out to lunch, as we normally did.  One particular record label had just had layoffs a day or so before, so we talked about that.  He asked if I’d heard anything about who got let go.  I thought it was strange that HE was asking ME.  I said, “No, I don’t get in the middle of those things– I don’t ask around– I just learn about things as they happen.”

Besides, my source was laid off last year.  She was so cute, this Indian lady.  We didn’t talk on the phone too much, but she was a part of my everyday business.  When she did call, most of the time it’d be for my boss or she had some other matter to ask me about.  At the end of our chats, she’d lower her voice and say, “Brittany, it’s so quiet here… I just don’t know… they say there will be layoffs…  there is something going on…”  It used to crack me up that she’d practically whisper in the phone.

My boss said he was “starting to look at other things,” which took me aback.  Was I supposed to take that as a hint?  I knew if I asked him anything specific, he wouldn’t be able to tell me.  I kept my startlement to myself.

The next morning, I was laid off.  And my boss.  And his boss.  And our Los Angeles counterparts.  In total, 40 people.  The Atlanta office is closing for good.  It was an awful, confusing, overwhelming day for everyone– for those newly unemployed as well as those staying on.

I had been expecting the ax– the music industry has been, and still is, a sinking ship, we would say.  I just wasn’t expecting the ax, uh, last week.

Before the final lunch with my boss, earlier that day, I felt awash with inexplicable sickness as if I wanted to throw up.  I didn’t feel sick otherwise, and I can’t remember the last time I puked– I’m a master at making sure that doesn’t happen.  Feeling like this was out of the ordinary for me.  Perhaps it was discomfort or agitation that contributed to how I felt.

In retrospect, items I’d suspected were amiss made sense now.  I anticipated trouble would be around the corner when:
– the new sales president came from Best Buy
– higher-ups were being demoted
– new sales president visited L.A. (and maybe Chicago) office, but not Atlanta
– we had to draw up a list of our job responsibilities
– we were allowed to carry over vacation time to 2009
– 4th Quarter wasn’t as busy as in the past
– new release schedules were light throughout 2008 and beginning of 2009

When I was a kid, I used to say that I wanted to be a pianist when I grew up.  Then I changed to doctor.  By middle school, I made my final decision: I wanted to work in the music industry.  Around that same time, the Penny Muck/Marko Babineau debacle at Geffen Records was happening (look it up).  I wouldn’t say that excited me (no pun intended) about the music industry, but it didn’t deter me.  If anything, it warned me to the environment.  I learned one of the possible pitfalls, and learned that I wouldn’t have to stand for it.

I’ll skip over the part where I put a lot of hard work into achieving my goal.  I almost gave up on it, too.  By the time I made it, I didn’t feel the same way about music as I did when I was younger.  My interest in new music declined; I had a hard time finding ANYTHING that I liked.  I rarely walked home with a CD from work.  Getting a concert ticket for one of our own artists was like pulling hippopotamus teeth.  Braves baseball and Thrashers hockey tickets were cut.  No more holiday parties or meetings.  I rejected the iPod craze.  People who talked about music all the time started to annoy me.  The industry sucked.  Music sucked.  The ’90s were long gone.  Basically, I was born ten years too late.

Yet I loved my job, loved my environment (no creepy dudes in my office.  There was one asshole who everyone avoided, but I took care of his ass when I was an intern– I didn’t give a good goddamn who his father was).  Despite how I felt about the negative things, I knew I still loved the industry– because it made me sad to see its irrelevance increase, its business model grow almost to obsoletion.  The industry I fell in love with is unrecognizable now.

That night of being terminated, I went out for drinks with a group of friends who were also given early walking papers from the music industry in the past and that same day.  We met at Criminal Records.  As we stood around going over the day’s news and waiting for everyone to arrive, I glanced at the used CD section.  Blur’s 1991 album, Leisure, with its bright, simple yet profound cover art, caught my eye.

“See?  This is when music was good,” I said, walking over to the CD and picking it up.  Aware of the multiple ironies of me spotting the CD, I announced that I’d buy it.

Long ago, I’d already been thinking about what I’d do if I lost my job.  I could go into PR, advertising/copywriting or teaching (last resort).  I could go back to visual merchandising, which was my previous job.  I could go back on the road.  I could get my master’s degree (No!  No more school debt!).  I could work for my brother; he has his own business (last, last resort).  All of this is overwhelming to me now, because I could go anywhere and do many things.  It’d be much simpler if I were an accountant.  The answer would be easy– I’d just do the same thing, get an accounting job somewhere else.

This is the first time in my life that I have not had work or school.  I’ve always been on the go, always busy.  In the meantime, I make sure to accomplish something everyday, keep making plans, or else I’ll go insane.  I applied for a passport.  I did my taxes already.  I cleaned out my office at work.  I signed up for a writing seminar.  I’m making plans to take a REAL vacation–  I didn’t even use all my vacation days from last year!  It’s still a weird, frightening feeling… not working.  Yet it’s also liberating.  It’s forcing me to learn what to do with leisure.

I know the music business is still going on even though I’m not a part of it anymore.  Yet I feel, truly, with this round of layoffs– with the gravity of who was terminated, and the now-disrupted structure and workflow– that the industry we knew and loved has ended.  I will miss it.

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