Saturday, January 30, 2010
“Wham, Bam Thank You NAMM”
"Trade shows" are a bit like cruise ships that take place on dry land. Groups of people move about like schools of fish, occupying a limited amount of space in a convention center that functions like an ocean liner. They also take over all the nearby hotels and dining facilities within reach. Wearing name-tags and smiles, they spend each day shaking hands, handing out business cards, attending panels, and visiting booths displaying new products and brochures.
It seems every industry, from computer software to construction materials, from shoes to psychology, holds one of these events. And while most resemble large gatherings of average, everyday folks, there are a few which could be described as full on freak-shows, theaters of the absurd and proof of life on other planets. Falling into this latter category would be the convention for comic books (ComicCon), the Adult Entertainment Expo(AAE), and the one from which I’ve just returned, National Association Of Music Merchants (NAMM).
NAMM is a migration of odd birds flocking to sunny Southern California for the Winter. It takes place for four days each January at the Anaheim Convention Center, drawing characters from all walks of the music industry, all over the United States and the rest of the world. While its primary purpose is to connect gear manufacturers with buyers from music stores, schools and other institutions, it wouldn’t be the country’s largest music convention without some of the pomp and overall excess associated with the our industry.
The key players at NAMM are the ‘reps’ who tend to look like the epitome of 'normal,' probably not much different in appearance than attendees of any other convention. Ranging in age from twenties to sixties, some have suits and ties, while many are dressed ‘business casual,’(trousers, jeans, dress shirts etc...). They keep their operations running, conduct business transactions for their companies and set up and tear down their booths. Although their jobs represent the very purpose of this convention, these folks are overshadowed by the colorful flare of characters from the music scene, musicians and otherwise.
A-list rock stars, D-list rock stars and even more non-rock stars pretending they are rock stars troll the convention floor. Trailing alongside or behind are friends, hangers-on, staff, groupies and some who just want your attention. Wannabes abound, from goth superstar Marilyn Manson lookalikes to deadringers for the late Jimi Hendrix. Groups of twenty year old boys who look like Warrant or Poison in 1989 are there, along with rappers, hipsters along with those representing glam, punk, country, metal, ska, blues, new age and every possible look that's ever been connected music, a moving encyclopedia of music fashion music of the last 50 years.
Then there are the NAMM girls. Among the many normal looking ones are those wearing fishnets, tights, cocktail dresses, mini skirts. It is especially hard not to notice the girls in swim suits, hired by select companies to give their booths the feel of a ‘bikini car wash.’
As I'm doing a signing for Seymour Duncan pickups, I'm trying to give each fan my full attention- a look in the eye, handshake, smile and autograph. But I have to admit, it is hard not to be thrown off by the distractions.
In the distance, I hear a great, unknown jazz guitarist jamming at a nearby booth, demoing pedals. He sounds good. But he's being blasted out by this idiot across from me, some shred monkey who's sweating up a storm, playing too loud, not connecting with any listeners, acting like he's onstage at Donington even though people just pass by like he's not even there. "No one cares buddy!" I think to myself. Whoa, here comes legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins, he looks like a cross between a seven foot tall NBA star and a green clad Liberace. And was that just Gene Simmons that walked by? No, just one of several make up clad Gene impersonators lurking about promoting products that the real Gene is endorsing. And that guy over there looks just like Slash. Get a life dude, find your own look and uh…wait a second,. That IS Slash. The bodyguards surrounding him are hustling him towards the Gibson booth where he’s doing a signing. Oh, here come's Mick from Slipknot, who I know from NAMM. He and a few others I run into regularly are like 'NAMM buddies.' He's wearing his mask, it reminds me of a scene in 'Pulp Fiction.' He's next up to sign. We high five each other and take pictures together for the Seymour Duncan reps. Now my manager is hauling me off to my next event.
As we rush through the crowd, ordinarily dressed sales reps seem to disappear amongst the colorful melee. They're like tiny goldfish floating alongside an array of eel, seahorses and other deep sea creatures... (To be continued)