At the last moment “Not Really Green Eyes” snags you a three-record solo deal; a lifeboat miraculously within jumping distance as the scuttled Dark Victory sinks. And the only thing you need to do to square this deal with Triumph Music is ensure that lightning strikes again (and then maybe one more time). But you’re not worried; this isn’t the hard part–well, at least not yet. No, the terrible price is having to sing that song each night on tour. Every encore you look out over a glinting sea of lofted, disposable lighters, and then take care of business with the crowd-pleasing anthem about a spectral woman. Afterwards, as you leave the stage, you always wave and shout Good Night, creating the impression that both these things are intended for the crowd. Said fast and with devastated authority, defying questions to form.
In this way, the Dark Pack Rat again returns, this time for your new, uncompromising start, leaving in its place something thin and fraying–but potentially lucrative and thus shiny. It feels like Faust 101, or something very close to it–a back-ended bargain you should have refused had you not misplaced your balls.
Your deal produces two acclaimed disasters, and the final release repeats the pattern–cursory support and tepid sales precede the cut-out racks. But this time there are no glowing reviews to cushion your collision with the bargain bin. You learn pop success is a ménage à trois: commercialism, critical acceptance and fan love in tangled intimacy–in essence, the circumstances guarantee at least one of them will wind-up hurt. So when your contract with Triumph isn’t renewed, there’s no real surprise. In the middle of open and empty sea, your lifeboat finally sinks.
You try hard to hard not to think about that third release; it was a classic Hail-Mary pass. Triumph had driven the wedge of nonexistent sales between your taste and tenacity: it was time, they said, to get Deeply Serious, because the music world was changing. And further, they said, you had to stop acting like it was 1973. And, after consideration, that was exactly what you did–by resolutely entering the studio and recording Mercenary Love.
Long before “Not Really Green Eyes” had made its unexpected way up the charts, music critic Chuck Mancuso had done his enfant terriblething, ordaining that in a crowded field, you were the only new songwriter to watch (as many years later, with a drug-proof consistency, he’d also praise your first solo album). But his Uncutreview of Mercenary Love was just a single, terse paragraph: “Like his namesake city in World War II, singer-songwriter Anthony Dresden is now a bombed-out shell of his former talent. Which explains why ‘painful’ is the only way to describe the wanna-be pop songs on his new release. Each track is like driving a blunt nail through my hand with the hammer of his vanished intelligence.” Oh yeah? Well, fuck you too, Chuckie M–both you and that hammer / intelligence thing. Because if you stop and really think about it, what the hell does that even mean?
What follows is three years in the wilderness: ad agency jingles, session work and the odd, increasingly infrequent gig. And although no one in the business ever calls you, the checks for “Not Really Green Eyes” still appear.
But what should have happened is something you’ve forbidden yourself to dwell on: after the Triumph crash-and-burn, you’d worked hard to trust yourself again, and then recorded a small-label album that was a genuine return to form. But the critics never saw it, much less any of the public, because, goddamnit, it was never released. The four-person indie had suddenly folded–before the promos were even unboxed. And later that day one of the newly unemployed with taste and what turned out to be foresight, had walked with all those unopened cartons containing your new release. For years afterwards, you’d see your “lost album” selling to collectors for crazy sums. So much money, in fact, you stared at your own copy longer than you should have–until, thank god, self-disgust had flooded-out the temptation. The hollow-shell essence of your bombed-out career.
Ultimately, of course, this can’t go on, and you have to do what’s always filled you with dread: acquiesce to that long-deferred sit-down between yourself and industry reality. So you turn off the TV, ignore all calls and ask pointed questions about where you stand. And hours later, after taking stock and realizing there’s no way out–or rather, in this case, no way back in–you finally pick up that jangling phone and find Jack Magnus on the other end.