In the long cold Winter of 1995, I was living in Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina in a rented beach house on the intercoastal waterway. I was driving a slowly-falling apart car and was in a slowly-falling apart relationship. Having been recently seriously disillusioned with the music business, I was trying to figure out what the next move in my musical career, and in my life, was going to be. The rented cottage on stilts where I lived did little to inspire me. It came furnished with alot of wicker chairs, wicker ottomans and wicker bookcases. But it was comfortable and had a nice little floating pier in the backyard and a place to tie my boat, if I had a boat. What I did have was a huge mountain of debt, on account of the fact that my so-called business manager had neglected to manage my business.
I was rapidly running out of money, and the few concerts I was doing were not paying all the bills. So I looked around for other sources of income. What else could a singer/songwriter do to bring in some cash? Hey, I like books! So I applied for a job at the chain bookstore in a touristy mall-type section of North Myrtle Beach. To my surprise I was hired. I had a sort of bohemian impression of myself casually strolling through the book aisles, drinking coffees at the cafe there, occasionally answering a question from a customer and earning a nice little weekly paycheck. I would continue to write and record my songs with my band Grayson Hugh and The Mooncussers (I was reading up on the local pirate lore of coastal North Carolina), work days at the bookstore, and be surrounded by friendly volumes of poetry, stories and biographies. It would be inspiring!
The first major blow to this pleasant fantasy happened in the first ten minutes of my first day, as I was rounding the Religion aisle. The Assistant Manager, a cheerful lad of twenty three, steered me gently to the children’s section and whispered in a somewhat over-dramatic way “Uh, the manager asked me to tell you you can’t wear that hat”.
Well, suffice it so say, I didn’t stay on at a place that wouldn’t let me wear my beloved Stetson on the job.
Thank God for Auto Trader Magazine! Only days after my crushing experience at the bookstore, I was driving around coastal South Carolina, merrily taking photographs of peoples’ cars, boats and RVs! Auto Trader in turn reimbursed me for gas and paid me a pretty decent wage for my artful shots of Chevys, Plymouths, Toyotas, Airstreams, Winnebagos and Country Coaches. I only got lost 463 times! As this was before the advent of GPS trackers and smart phones, I relied on verbal phone directions from clients who explained where their vehicles were. They relayed their directions to me in perfectly audible voices, spoken in their perfectly indecipherable deep Southern accents. But this worked to my advantage, since the hundreds of miles I drove around the neighborhoods of Little River, Murrells Inlet, Georgetown and Conway added up to a nice gas reimbursement check. After four months of logging several hundred thousand miles on my wheezing black Mazda, Auto Trader finally decided they couldn’t afford me. My superior couldn’t have been nicer when she let me go: “Your pictures of the cars were the best we ever had!”
I did survive, thankfully, and I now look back at my time is coastal Carolina with a fondness for its beautiful dunes, piers, wispy dwarf pines and dreaming Spanish Oaks. The craziness of it all was just part of the journey.
Here is one of the songs that I wrote and recorded with my band The Mooncussers during those days and nights of ’94 and ’95. It tells you a little about my state of mind at the time. It’s a song about broadcasting on a radio show after a nuclear bomb has wiped out the rest of the world. It features Rico “Mad Dog” Milazzo on guitar, Lynwood Salvo on bass, Tony Blunt on drums and myself on vocals and keyboards. I call it “Downtown In Eden”.
To listen to “Downtown In Eden” click HERE.