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Celebrity Customers

When we started the FSM record label, we did our own fulfillment. This lasted until the fall of 2004 when I reached total burn out: if somebody’s booklet has a crease in Belgium, they email you (or sometimes even call) in the middle of the night and it’s a constant game of whack-a-mole with all of these problems...declined credit cards, address updates, people amending their orders on the phone...I don’t want to belittle people with legitimate P.T.S.D., but that was the joke I often made. It’s giving me shivers just to mention it again.

My dumb joke is not nearly as good as the one Craig Spaulding makes, the proprietor of Screen Archives Entertainment who took over our CD distribution (and still has it today). Whenever there was a defective album or some kind of production or shipping screw-up, Craig would just mumble in his unique, soft-spoken way, “This is worse than when I was in Vietnam.” (Craig is, for real, a Vietnam veteran.)

By 2004 I was already interested in filmmaking and came to the realization that if I didn’t get the CD fulfillment out of my life, I would wake up one day and be fifty years old and still apologizing on the phone, “I’ll find you a new booklet without a crease.” (I am now almost fifty anyway, and don’t have a career. Ack!)

So I called Craig, quickly made a deal, and put the entire CD inventory on pallets for a cross-country truck trip to Virginia. (That’s a story in and of itself. First, we needed pallets. So we stole some from grocery stores. I asked a friend with a pick-up truck to help. We went to a few stores in Culver City checking by the dumpsters and grabbing anything we could find. I remember one guy from a store was like, “Bro, you can’t steal our pallets.” I was like, “Too late, dude.” That was awful—but that was how desperate I was.)

Oh, another story. So we put the pallets out on the sidewalk, stacked all the CD boxes, and used shrink wrap to get them ready for the Fedex Ground pick-up (which cost several thousand dollars). This was at the intersection of Washington Blvd. and La Cienega Ave. (which is not La Cienega Blvd., but a side street one block west, as I explained to prospective visitors on the phone a thousand times).

I looked out my office window (on the second floor), and I kid you not, but there was a blind pedestrian crossing the street, with his cane going back and forth...slowly approaching our preposterous obstacle course of obstructing pallets. It was like a slow-motion nightmare. So I went out there, or opened the window (I forget) and called out, “Excuse me, sir...? There are some pallets in your way. Just—let me help—I’ll be right there—to your left a step—so sorry!”

This was the same window where Jon Kaplan and I once saw Ed Norton pacing on his cell phone, obviously lost on his way to a meeting.

I am also reminded of the time a homeless guy decided to make camp on our doorstep. The police came and escorted him to the city limits (about a block away). I asked, “Is that really all you can do? Doesn’t seem like a good system, does it?” They were like, “As long as he’s out of Culver City, we don’t care.”

Boy, this is bleak.

Anyway—when we off-loaded the fulfillment, it gutted our cash flow (which I knew would happen, but I had to do it). I tried to keep FSM going bimonthly, but shut down the print publication a year later. I’ll talk about that some other time.

But wait, the fun part! Back when we did our own fulfillment, from time to time we would have celebrity customers. Not “real” celebrities, but celebrities to us, anyway.

I would come back from lunch and see a phone order taken for the Wachowskis, or another time Bad Robot (J.J. Abrams’ company). I remember Jeff once being on the phone with Harlan Ellison, but not sure if that was an order or an interview. I seem to remember Harlan doing most of the talking.

When we released the first Man From U.N.C.L.E. 2CD set, I noticed one day that we had gotten a phone order from one Terry Austin, in upstate New York. I wondered, hm, is that the comic book artist?

When we did one of the Man From U.N.C.L.E. sequel albums, the phone rang, and I answered—and the customer gave his name as Terry Austin. I asked, “Excuse me, is this Terry Austin, the greatest comic book inker who ever lived?”

And he was like, “Aw, shucks, I wouldn’t say that,” but it was—and I proceeded to talk his ear off for 20 minutes about how much I loved his artwork and so many of his Marvel colleagues, when I read their books in the 1980s.

Turns out he’s a huge Man From U.N.C.L.E. fan, and would call to order all of our U.N.C.L.E. albums. I remember mentioning that we also did Jericho, which sounded a lot like U.N.C.L.E.—but he was specifically only interested in U.N.C.L.E. (which I can understand).

Super nice guy and that was a great nerd experience for me. If he’s not the best comic inker ever, he’s easily one of the top five. Check out these examples.

I had previously gotten to meet and interview the great comic writer/artist Walt Simonson, as I discovered he had gone to my college, Amherst College (he’s class of 1968, I am 1996). He and his wife, Louise (“Weezie”) came up to campus when I was a student and did a little talk/seminar about his life and work.

Back to the FSM “warehouse”—when we were doing an open-house (maybe our final closing sale, I don’t remember), there was a familiar face amongst the visitors, looking to add to his collection. I sort of recognized him...

It was the terrific actor Jim Beaver, from Deadwood, Breaking Bad and a hundred other shows.

I hope I am not outing people as being soundtrack collectors. It seems mostly harmless.

This is the old mailing bay where we would sit to pack the CD orders—first Jon Kaplan, then his brother Al, and I would do it sometimes myself, especially after hours when there was a backlog.

The office was preposterously undersized, and the furniture was all crap.

I am glad it’s all over with!

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