11 Gladys Alone: Snap Me!

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Gladys on Venice Beach

Here it is Gladys has reached California and the final chapter in this series about the girl who wants to make it big as a pop star. We do hope you have enjoyed this series and the music. Listen out for her latest song – it’s really fun – and it’s called Snap Me !

Read by Natasha
Written by Bertie
Illustrated by Chiara Civati
Song by Gabriella Burnel

The inside of LAX airport was shiny and silvery like her laptop. The taxi driver who picked her up was Russian born and bred, but actually of Korean heritage. He had won a Green Card in the lottery that gave him citizenship in the USA. The ride into town took them past randomly placed tower blocks, long straight roads, huge cars, numerous cheap shops and liquor stalls, endless signs in bright colours – orange, yellow, red… There were few pedestrians.

“The only people on foot are muggers,” said the driver in his laconic Russian accent.

The outskirts of the city seemed random, purely commercial, chaotic, and above all, vast. Where were the pavements glistening with gold?

It was getting dark when the taxi turned into some narrow streets with houses built on a human scale and she caught her first glimpse of the ocean.

She had chosen her hotel on the internet – but what a find! She had a studio to herself overlooking Venice Beach. From her window, she could see palm trees and a huge desert of sand and then the deep blue Pacific Ocean. The only thing that spoiled the view were the down and outs sleeping on the dunes. A lad on a skateboard whizzed past playing an electric guitar, Jimi Hendrix style. He had a battery-powered amplifier. Although she was tired and jetlagged after the thirteen-hour flight, she was too excited to sleep. She took a walk along the crowded sidewalk. She looked at the other strollers and the diners in the cafes where people ate outside in the warm evening air. Super-skinny women picked at salads. The men seemed twice the size as Europeans, broad-shouldered, thicker-necked, square-chinned, and muscle-bound. Many of the hangers-out on Venice Beach sported the torsos of film-stars, but a few were more obese than anyone she had ever seen before, or thought possible. It seemed like a place where everything was on a grand scale. A police car was built like an armoured vehicle. Six robocop officers were interrogating a dilapidated old drunk. A Baywatch dune-buggy scuttled along the beach to rescue a distressed surfer. Bicycles, skateboards, and packs of joggers sped past her. The stalls were hip, in the sense of being stuck in the 1970s, selling beads, string bags, and tattoos. She shuddered at the thought of a tattoo by the beach. Some of the buildings were with turn of the century brick and very pretty, others were UGGGH! They were made of bare concrete and so ugly.

There was no shortage of down-and-outs. Rather worryingly, quite a few of the homeless either strummed guitars, or slept with a guitar shaped bag by their sides. Had they too been hopeful musicians drawn by their dreams to California? Had they once naively thought that they could strike it big just by artistic talent alone? Had they thrown away their chances of education and betterment, and bet everything on their vocal cords? Was she glimpsing her future in this land of opportunity that cared about failure the way the way people feel about disposable nappies? She realised who the true-life ghosts were. Most strollers looked straight through those who never quite made the grade. She saw a man throw a dime to a bum. His wife asked, “Why did you do that? He should get a Job.” The husband replied, “He’s just a guy who made a few bad decisions in life.”

Those were not the only remarks she overheard. Somehow, the sea breeze carried people’s conversations clearly to her ears, almost like whispers in shells. Two female joggers went past saying, “We are all carrying around fat issues.” Two men sitting on the concrete side were saying, “There are great girls there, but the music is no good.”
She loved Venice Beach. She thrilled to it. However, she was glad she had a return ticket in her bag.
She walked on until she came to a sign saying “Santa Monica.” It was like the border post to another country. The bohemian shops and cool cafes came to an abrupt stop, and suddenly there were a millionaire condominiums, palatial hotels, and massively pretentious restaurants. This was probably where a few film and rock stars lived, but she knew she was more at home at her end of the beach in her cosy studio with soft armchairs and coffee bubbling in a pot, and the view through her window of that gigantic horizon over the Pacific Ocean.

The next day she saw more of Santa Monica, because that was where she was meeting Laura. She had to admit that the shopping streets were oh so beautiful – perfect pedestrian walkways with gorgeous boutiques on all sides. It was like London’s Bond Street with the addition of sun and palms, and it wasn’t just one street; every street was like that. Her sister was in her element.

“Still the same old Gladdy,” she said, kissing and hugging her. They had not seen one another for two years. “If you’re going to meet my record label, we’d better get you some designer gear. Can’t let the family side down with that gypsy dress sense of yours.”

When Gladys took the taxi back to Venice Beach she was laden with shopping bags of clothes and shoes, all bought on Laura’s various credit cards. She wouldn’t have chosen any of it herself, but hey, if that’s how her rich and successful sister wanted her to look for the important meeting, that was fine by her.

By chance, or design, or a bit of both, Darren Wolf was flying out to LA the week that Gladys was there. His agent was in touch with Laura’s, and the deal making was taking place behind the scenes. Gladys’s commodity was being dealt in the market place for talent and she hardly knew about any part of it.

The business meetings took place around the pool of the hotel where Darren was staying in Beverly Hills. Sleek mums stretched their bony bodies out beneath the autumn sun. The kids of filthy-rich parents splashed in the water. Hollywood execs traded the names of actors and musicians under the striped awnings. The palm trees leaned over the pink-painted walls and eavesdropped on the gossip.

“My agent told me not to take the show,” bemoaned an actor, “He said the money wasn’t good enough, but it was better than not working for six months. I shouldn’t have listened to him.”

Not far away at another table, Gladys was meeting Darren Wolf and the music specialist from his talent agency. The agent was another of those men who looked like he had been chiselled out of stone. While Darren greeted her with kisses on the cheek, the agent gave her the most bone-crushing handshakes she had ever felt. There was something about his lips she didn’t like. They were a bit purple like a Roman emperor who drank wine for breakfast, she thought. His wide smile with his expensive teeth, his sculptured hair, his powerful aftershave, his baritone voice, all came across as artificial to her European sensibility – but what did it matter? He was so much more upbeat than the down in the dump Brits.

“So your contract with your current manager has ten months to run,” he said. “It’s no big deal. We shall agree to sign an agreement in ten months’ time. The record company is set to expedite this. They are ready to put their publicity machine at your disposal. They’ll give your image an immediate makeover.”

Gladys smiled, but she thought quietly, “Even Laura’s designer rags aren’t good enough.”

Laura and her boyfriend, Simon Ferg, turned up late – perhaps they might be forgiven, as 11.30 in the morning was early for them to be out and about. They got lost in the hotel’s extensive tropical garden, before finding their way to the winding steps that led down to the pool area. When they breezed in, Laura was all sisterly and kissy-kissy but didn’t quite feel like family to Gladys. The celebrity couple were very nice to everyone, generously scattering their stardust around, but obviously a bit too used to being the centre of attention. Darren was even more famous than they were, but much more genuine.

“Is Shamus here yet?” Laura asked, as she leaned back with Simon’s muscly and heavily tattooed arm around her skinny shoulders. Shamus was her A&R director at the music company.

“Not yet,” said Darren – but it didn’t matter, because nobody was in too much of a hurry to leave such a nice spot by the pool. At least Shamus apologised with charm when he turned up a little after noon. He ordered pancakes with berries, tropical fruit, and ice cream.

He shook Gladys’s hand and spoke in a soft Irish accent. “So we need to get you signed up and making an album with us,” he said.

The agent explained that the legal situation with her contract was a little delicate. Shamus swallowed a mouthful of pancake and wiped his mouth with a heavy linen napkin.

“Don’t fret. Where there’s a will there’s a way. That’s what we pay our lawyers for.”

It all seemed so casual. They weren’t really any more interested in her music than the British company had been, but they were all positive that she had a great career ahead of her. Nobody gave her any lectures.. Actually they largely ignored her, and talked about her future among themselves, like she was a stock or a bond. Gladys decided that the wisest thing she could do was to say as little as possible and stay inscrutable. She sipped on her freshly squeezed pineapple juice and nibbled at her salad like a true LA lady – but then again, perhaps not: she heard a woman at the next table customise her order until it was an entirely different dish from the one on the menu… the poor waiter was practically taking down a recipe.

“No onion, extra spinach, and just a little cucumber. Now pay attention to the next part, because this is the only way I like my salad dressing, it has to be just so…”

“It’s like the Great Gatsby,” Gladys thought, “Only on the other side of America.”

The next day Gladys invited Darren, Laura and Simon over to Venice Beach because an all-day rock festival was taking place on the beach. Gladys soon realised that the person who would have enjoyed it most was her Dad, but he was back in Teddington listening to his vinyl records.

Some of the longhaired and wildly bearded bands must have been going twenty or thirty years and not hit the big time, but you couldn’t help feeling that these old-time rockers loved what they were doing. They all seemed very chummy with one another, as if they had all been around on the same circuit for decades. As the day wore on, the acts got younger, and frankly, the music got better. Gladys was starting to wish she could take a turn up on stage behind the microphone. Naturally, Laura and Simon turned up so late and they caught the best part. By this time, the audience contained more famous faces than the acts on stage, so it wasn’t really that surprising when a photographer for a music blog sold pics of the onlookers, not the stage performers, to an image agency. The next day snaps and rumours about Darren and Gladys were circulating once again on celebrity websites, Twitter, and the Daily Post. The record company that Gladys had seen in London dropped her an email asking her to revisit them. She forwarded it to Darren to ask him what to do, and he sent it to his agent.

Shamus kept his promise to stoke her publicity up, even though the label hadn’t signed her up yet. They arranged an interview with a music journalist. It took place at a super posh restaurant in the centre of Hollywood. Gladys had to endure lunch with a journalist and a publicity agent. She didn’t actually mind the woman who was interviewing her – she seemed articulate and smart – it was the PR man who irked her.

The questions were fair enough. “What are your musical influences? How was her music different from her sisters?” Even so, she had to be careful. She wanted to say that she was more serious about her art than her sisters, but that might irk them, and Laura was helping her, and the last thing she needed was a public slanging match with Mandy and Sam. She said that she was taking a less commercial approach, and then realised that the record company probably didn’t want to hear that – after all, commercial meant “money” and that was what they were most interested in. Her sentence was floundering. The PR butted in and spoke for her. “Gladys has staying power because she fits into the classic tradition of singer-songwriters.”

Gladys realised that the PR guy hadn’t actually heard her music because she wasn’t quite a traditional singer-songwriter, she was more the serious end of pop . Even so, she nodded.

Then suddenly, as if to try and get at the real Gladys, the journalist said, “Do you promote girl power?”

“Sure,” said Gladys.

The PR man clarified. “We wouldn’t really want that to go in the article. Girl power suggests Brit Pop from the 1980s. That is not what Gladys is about. She fits into the contemporary scene.”

“Okay, let’s put it another way,” said the journalist, “Are you a feminist?”

“Hmm,” said Gladys, “interesting, I suppose…”

The PR man butted in quickly, and said, “Those sorts of questions are not really appropriate. Gladys is here to talk about her music.”

Therefore, the interview never really got anywhere, because Gladys couldn’t overrule the PR Man, as she really needed to sign the contract with the record company. She could see that the journalist was disappointed with the interview, and really hoped she wouldn’t write anything nasty. If only Darren had been there. He would have managed the conversation more subtly, and let Gladys be herself and speak her mind. The journalist would have got a great double interview. Then again, she didn’t want people to think that she and Darren were an item. Oh it was all so complicated!

Gladys flew back to England a different woman from the ghost girl who had come out – yes she did feel more like a woman now, although she was only sixteen and a half years old. She hadn’t had a boyfriend. She hadn’t had a first single out, let alone an album. She really should have been at school, but the 10 days in the navel of the entertainment industry had taught one big thing – that she must have kind of a detachment from her own career – like she was a ghost girl, but one who was going to float to the top. She felt she was talented, but she didn’t kid herself that her talent had got her this far – it was luck. The wheel of fortune had spun a few times and eventually the little ball had fallen into her number. Another equally talented girl could have kept on trying and trying for years and never got further than playing at weddings and birthdays. She had met the right person and he had helped her. Had not Darren taken an interest, even her own sister Laura wouldn’t have lifted a finger for her. Once others scented her potential to make money and be successful, they all wanted to be part of her. They treated her like she was their property. The press, the PR people, the agents and managers, the record companies… to them she was just a commodity to package up and sell. Thinking this all over on the long flight back home, she wrote the words to one of her most catchy songs, “Snap Me!”

[Play out on “Snap Me.”]