In 1994, JEN TRYNIN's first album, "Cockamamie," was the object of a huge record label bidding war. Just as she was about to break out, her fortunes changed. By the time her second record was released, she had pretty much decided to hang up her lead guitar. In excerpts from a new memoir, "Everything I'm Cracked Up to Be: A Rock & Roll Fairy Tale," she returns to the heady days that saw her leap from Cambridge dives to MTV, and back again.
Signing the Deal
Buck and I head back out to L.A., alone. It's our final round of meetings with Warner Bros. and Geffen. As we lift off and my ears begin to pop, all I can think about is the plane falling quick and straight as a pumpkin smashing to the ground. . . .
When we land, we go to a few meetings with potential managers that whip past as if I'm watching them from a speeding car.
We check in to the Sunset Marquis, where every room has its own veranda, and my room overlooks the pool. . . .
At Geffen, Preppy Boy and EdR lead us into a spacious office with lots of open windows and the sun outside. We sit down on a long white couch as some guy comes buzzing in with a nice smile and very short hair, dressed neatly in white slacks and tan shoes, everything cuffed and tucked.
''You must be Jennifer Trynin," he says, as he's shaking my hand. ''I'm David Geffen."
I pull my hand out of his, laugh, say Sorry, take his hand back, and begin shaking it again. ''You're, umm, David Geffen?"
''Last time I checked," he says. Then he takes a painting of a ship from the wall and holds it up right in front of me. He tells me it's an illustration from the Iliad and how strongly he feels that in life, it's the journey that's the real reward, more valuable than the actual arriving -- how life's about the doing, not the getting. And I'm thinking, Yeah, I totally understand. Me and David Geffen, we get it. And even though Neil's told me that Geffen Records has been sold and that Geffen himself is moving on to other things, I convince myself that he still has his finger on the pulse over here, that if I come here he'll have his finger on me.
And at the same time, his Iliad story is ringing that unfortunate bell in my chest, the one that's telling me that maybe I've already done what I'd set out to do, that I'm afraid I don't have the energy or wherewithal -- no less the talent -- to maneuver my way through this new land of major-label artist. I wish I could ask David Geffen if there's a way for me to quit while I'm ahead, to take the money and run.
Shooting the Video
I'm drinking a Diet Coke and smoking a cigarette when a woman approaches in red sweat pants, an oversized baseball shirt, and two long ponytails sprouting from each side of her head like big dog ears. She introduces herself as Patty, Makeup Momma.
''Ready to be transformed?" she says.
''I guess," I say. . . .
''So, I hear you're not really into the whole image thing," she says.
''Not really," I say, which of course couldn't be farther from the truth. It's just that the image thing I'm into is the anti-image thing. . . .
Patty unfastens her many-tiered makeup kit, which opens not unlike the mouth of that monster in Alien, with tiers of makeup advancing like rows of teeth. ''Safe to say we don't wear much makeup?"
''I guess I've never really gotten too into the whole thing," I say.
''Good," she says, slapping me on the knee. ''Good for you. That's very brave. I really think that. Especially with your coloring."
I decide to take this as an insult. ''You mean my paleness," I say.
''No," says Patty. ''We don't use words like 'pale.' The washed-out look can be very sexy if you do it right," implying that clearly, I'm not doing it right. ''So what're we going for here?" she says, eyeing her makeup kit, picking stuff up, rubbing colors onto the back of her hand and holding her hand next to my cheek. ''Should we stick with the wan, washed-out kinda sexy thing, leaning into a tomboyish I-don't-wear-dresses-because-I-don't-have-to look? Or do we want to skew more into a druggy indie-rock chick thing?"
''Have you heard my record?" I say.
''You know, I haven't had the chance," she says, ''but word is it's way cool, like a cross between The Pretenders and X or something. And that you play guitar like Keith Richards."
I can hear these exact words coming out of Randy's mouth, like he's memorized them to say to people like Patty.
''So, let's get down to business," she says, coming toward me with a skin-colored sponge, and though I try not to, I can feel myself grimace. . . .
When she's finally finished, Patty spins my chair toward the big mirror on the wall. The most surprising thing is that I don't look all that different, just like a better version of what I already look like, with my ''features" (as Patty refers to them) perhaps a little more enunciated.
''You likee?" says Patty.
''Yeah, I do," I say.
''This is only the beginning, you know. A few more videos and you're gonna look like me," she says, which totally harshes my post-makeup buzz.
Hitting the Road
Where am I where am I where am I? A phone is ringing, right there on that night table beside this bed where I am. Today is today is today is . . . Thursday. I'm being picked up at 7:45 for the photo shoot. . . . Did I oversleep? -- I grab my teeny-weeny travel clock radio: 6:56 a.m. Okay. I'm okay.
I sit up, rubbing my face in my hands, shaking my head. I pick up the phone.
''Oh my god, I got you."
My mother never says hello.
''You must have a trail of messages from me," she says.
For nights on end, there've been slips of paper clipped to our reservation cards at check-in. Jen's mom says call her. I've managed to forget to do this every day for the past four days.
''What is it there, eight?"
''Seven," I say.
''Oh," she says. ''It's just that I've been calling and calling and I keep missing you and you never call me back. Are you all right? Did I wake you?"
''I'm sorry. Do you want to hang up?"
''I have to get up anyway. I have a photo shoot."
''Well, that sounds good. You must be happy about that."
As usual, I can tell my mother's not impressed. Never mind that Cockamamie is going to be Rolling Stone's summer Hot Issue's ''Hot Debut Album." Except for the day she heard me on NPR, her general attitude is rock star, shmock star. A few weeks ago she described this ''whole music thing" as a ''good experience," as if it were nothing more than an elaborate preparation for some other life she pictures me leading, the one where I work at
''I can't believe they make you get up so early to do these sorts of things," she says. ''Are you going to be on the cover?"
''No, Ma, not the cover."
''Well, if they're not going to put you on the cover, you should tell them to take your picture later in the day."
Meeting the Fans
After soundcheck, we head downstairs for a meet-and-greet in The Wreck Room, which is just a cinderblock basement with the walls painted black. Cockamamie is blaring out of some two-bit ghetto blaster and there's a disco ball spinning fast in the middle of the ceiling, shooting specks of light around the room like swarming bugs. There are Cockamamie posters all over the walls and streamers hanging every which way and beer and Doritos and tons of pizza and a trillion people. Okay, maybe thirty people -- DJs and reporters and people from KCRK and plenty of Warner reps, including Peg, who's arranged the whole thing and is flitting about as if this were her Sweet Sixteen. . . .
''Isn't this great? Aren't you just psyched? I mean, this is only my second meet-and-greet and not nearly this many people came out to the first one! Don't you feel special? Don't you just love it?" She pinches my skin at the elbow. Then she leans into me. ''I told you you're gonna be a friggin' star," she says, her breath reeking of Doritos. . . .
The hotter the fever-pitch of the party, the more suspicious I'm becoming, as people touch me and breathe on me and grab my arms, offer me pizza, napkins, beers, advice (You shoulda STARTED the record with that song), and then there's some guy, kinda cute, just looking at me and saying, 'You know, I mean, Spin, what do they know, right?" And I'm like, ''What are you talking about?" And he's like, ''The five, you know, the review." And I'm like, ''What? What review?" And he goes, ''You know. The review." And I go, ''Spin gave me a five?" And he says, ''Yeah, but I mean don't worry about it cuz everybody knows that that writer hates chicks" -- but all I can think is:
-- and then this little dude with yellow hair is coming at me with crazy eyes and a big black Sharpie, which he pushes into my hand. ''Do you know Juliana Hatfield?" he says. . . .
I sleep for a few hours and then throw on my jeans and walk down a curving stretch of highway until I reach a small town center and find myself a copy of . . . Spin.
There it is. Five out of a possible ten stars. The accompanying review describes me and my music with the following words in the following order:
arm's-lengthdeadpansparing with her passionslapdashworkmanlikeparalyzedemotionally exhaustedgrovel . . .bittersarcasticsmart . . . It ends: In theory, Trynin's chilly personality is alluring, but in reality, the record can leave you cold. Cockamamie veers between Boston new wave, generic advertising-jingle rock, and watered-down PJ Harvey. . . .
I call Tim.
''Did you see that Spin review?" I say.
''Uh, yeah," he says. ''When'd you see it?"
''Just now," I say. ''When'd you see it?"
''About a month ago."
''A month ago? A month ago? . . .
''Why didn't anybody tell me?"
''Nobody wanted to weird you out."