“The Horror” by Ramsey Dean
“Music industry veteran Ramsey Dean’s venture into the heart of darkness reveals that the independent, compared to the large corporation, isn’t always the lesser of two evils.
“Everyone gets everything he wants. I wanted a mission. And for my sins, they gave me one… It was a real choice one. And when it was over, I’d never want another.”
Captain Willard – Apocalypse Now
I watched the news boards lit up again: Reuters, AP, The Times, Yahoo, and every rag in the entertainment biz:
“Due to recent events we have decided to leave Victory Records. Our departure is anything but amicable. We have decided to leave Victory in part due to the actions of the man who sits at the head of the label, Tony Brummel. Tony Brummel is a man that cares more about his ego and bank account than the bands themselves…”
It was the beginning of a two-page statement from the band Hawthorne Heights, the independent success story of 2005. They were seen as a pleasant group, playing unpretentious pop-punk and the idols of 14-year-old girls everywhere. But that was just appearances. Behind the glare of stardom lurked the torture that anyone who’d been out to Chicago knew all too well.
The statement continued:
“Why did they (Hawthorne Heights) sound so happy in that interview??? Like being in an abusive relationship we let certain things slide as we were afraid, as many of the bands on Victory are, to stick our neck out for fear of being “beaten,” in this case represented by the threat of not being promoted as has been the case with certain bands on the roster. We’re done being abused.”
“It is impossible for words to describe what is necessary to those who do not know what horror means. Horror. Horror has a face. And you must make a friend of horror.”
We’d all seen Brummel threaten people, both physically and, his favored form of communication, e-mail. In person he wasn’t intimidating. He didn’t appear to break 5’7″ and I doubt he weighed in over 150 lbs. To compensate for this, he inked up with a bunch of tattoos including the cobweb on the elbow and “Victory” tattooed on his forearm and across his back as if it were a gang sign. Something by his own admission, he did within the course of a year when the hardcore bug hit him. To further project the image, he was a skinhead, which he shaved almost daily to obscure his receding hairline. The remnants of a chubby childhood still lurked in his face and his belly, leading me to believe his bullying attitude was programmed many years ago at the hands of a schoolyard oppressor. Brummel was a Chicago native. He liked to boast that he didn’t go to college, but in fact, he dropped out after the first semester. I think he said he never went because of his distain for anyone who made it through. It was the same with his own musicians. The more they broke through, the more hostile he grew toward them. He’d started as a singer in a band, but his artistic efforts were denied, depriving him of the spotlight. The label he started in the wake of this failure, Victory Records, was at best a vindictive dream against those who rejected his creativity.
The physical threats were usually delivered via e-mail or the phone; sometimes to the more diminutive or aged, like the computer consultant or the old landlord, in person. “You better watch out, I’ll kick your ass, motherfucker!” he’d scream, his Midwest over-enunciation giving the swear an adolescent twang. “I’m a hardcore guy! You better respect me!” was often added on, as if the reputation of this dejected genre preceded him.
“He was obeyed, yet he inspired neither love nor fear, nor even respect. He inspired uneasiness. That was it!”
Just about every interaction turned into a crisis, with him yelling, threatening and screaming in a frantic rage that the sky was falling. It didn’t matter if it was a label head or an intern; but the kids there couldn’t see what I saw: he was just trying to mimic what he’d heard about David Geffen, Irving Azoff, Walter Yetnikoff and the other icons of the business. He wanted their legend as much as he wanted their fame. Instead of a bulldog, the label mascot should have been a parrot.
Technology put him in arm’s reach of everyone and he wore his Blackberry like a six-gun. The whole company down to the receptionist was outfitted with one, which they were expected to nurse 24/7, and he fired at will, straining their relationships outside of work with his never-ending need for attention. The messages reached for vehement vitriol, but were received by the office and the industry, as nothing more than colicky complaining.
20 e-mails a day from him was considered a slow day. The broadcasts were constant, starting before six AM and continuing all through the night. Brummel complained of insomnia, even naming the Victory Records tour “Never Sleep Again” after his condition. Employees would often wake to a barrage of messages from him, demanding to know why they weren’t responding.
From: Tony Brummel
I have a meeting to prepare for and now I am pissed off and aggravated. I took a 15 second shower, threw on my clothes and am wet because of this. I do not care if anyone feels this is petty. I am pissed off about this. It is childish and ridiculous.
You guys are driving me nuts. I am going to start writing people up for being ignored. I am tired of following up on my following ups. Obviously, you guys are playing some kind of game against me.
Are you trying to drive me fucking crazy on purpose????
HAVE YOU LOST IT OR DO YOU PEOPLE THINK I AM A MORON??? I NEED PEOPLE HERE THAT HELP ME!
MOVING FORWARD I AM ELIMINATING PROBLEMS AND FRUSTRATIONS. I CANNOT TAKE IT ANYMORE. I NEED PEOPLE HERE THAT ARE PART OF THE CAUSE. AND THAT DOES NOT MEAN CAUSING ME PROBLEMS, HEADACHES, FRUSTRATIONS AND MORE E-MAILS.
I HAVE NO PROBLEM WHATSOEVER WITH HAVING LESS PEOPLLE HERE IF THAT IS WHAT IT COMES DOWN TO.
THERE ARE PLENTY OF PEOPLE HERE JUST DOING ENOUGH TO SKATE BY AS IT IS.
When I send a message it is very important that you respond to it and do so in its entirety.
I do not have the time to follow up the way that I have to! If I have to follow up I will have to start writing peope up. I need help to get the company to the next level. I want to win and I am going to! I hope that all of you have the same goals and desire.
I AM GOING TO BE EVALUATING MANY THINGS OVER THE COMING WEEK. THERE WILL BE SOME CHANGES COMING. I ALSO FEEL THAT MANY OF THE MESSAGES THAT I SEND ALL OF YOU ARE PASSED OVER, NOT READ, NOT ACTED UPON AND RIDUCULED. That is not acceptable. If you think that I do not know what I am talking about then why be here?
They were endless; a constant stream of threats, castigation and abuse. Why would an employee go through that? Much like the bands that dream of stardom, music aficionados will sacrifice to get into this dying business, enduring hellish conditions just to get closer to that dream job at a record label. Brummel knew that, exploiting it to the fullest and riding roughshod over their dreams.
“There is no way to tell his story without telling my own. And if his story is really a confession, then so is mine.”
It was no accident that I go to be the caretaker of Anthony K. Brummel’s memory, anymore than being in Chicago was an accident. I was no angel. Kind of like Henry Hill’s “I always wanted to be a gangster,” I always wanted to be a record guy. I knew what it was going in, but I was attracted to the lifestyle and, so I thought, the money. Out of college it seems like a great idea. I lived off of open bars and hors d’oeuveres for years (alcoholism was considered a natural cause of death in this business) and owned thousands of CDs, none of which I paid for. But now, as the business slid into its death throes, we were dropping like flies. Nobody expected to retire from this line of work.
In a lot of ways it was like the mafia. It was controlled by a small group of families (Universal, Warner, Sony/BMG and EMI), it attracted the dregs of the society, we always had backstage passes, drugs and strip clubs were practically in the job description, and it seemed corruption was our main function. Corruption in the music business is really a company’s only edge. A hit song is nothing more than a collective opinion and more often than not, the last thing that formed that opinion was the music. Hits are made by controlling the avenues of exposure. A radio programmer could tell you the song isn’t good and you’d have to say, “How can I make it sound better?” Since they survived on our ad dollars (the big picture) it was an offer they couldn’t refuse.”
I’d started my career at an independent marketing company back in New York. Outfits like these are popular in this business; they serve as middlemen for things a major corporation wouldn’t want direct ties to. My first job was rigging the Billboard Top 200. Best Buy was one of my best relationships. The peak of my career was getting AC/DC to 3 on the Billboard chart when they should have been closer to 30; my work earned me my first platinum record. From there it was just one scam after the next. You get numb to it after a while. I felt guilty when I sold a promotional copy of a CD; but I was making $150 a week. It was below minimum wage but the company’s scam was that I was a “consultant”. Quite the title for someone who was an intern a week earlier; and an intern who had already graduated college at that. I was actually losing money working for them, so to even it up, I started dealing some of the CDs on the side. Selling promos was even like dealing drugs in the Mafia: Everyone did it, just don’t get caught. When you find out later none of the money is going to the artist anyway, the guilt goes away. I was just getting over on someone who was getting over on me.
I was in sales & distribution, just one head of an eight-headed snake. Eliot Spitzer was trying to cut off the radio promotion head, forcing the labels to plea bargain on payola. But it wasn’t going to do much. The bright side was that, much like the mob, we were also in our twilight. The glory days were long passed and wouldn’t be coming back. The business had been shrinking since the mid-90’s, with the CD reaching saturation. Other, more advanced, entertainment options like video games and the internet turned music into background noise for most people. The days of idols were gone. Even the groupies disappeared. Now there was the digital dilemma, or maybe it was the digital coup de grace. We all knew it was coming, we just didn’t want to do anything else. This business is more of an addiction, but it was becoming harder and harder to stay tweaked. Like a bar brawl on the deck of a sinking ship, we were more concerned with beating each other than finding a way to survive.
The advent of the digital age condemned the model we operated on. The record business was run like the Carnegie Deli. We sold you more corned beef than you wanted on your sandwich. And we charged you for it. Maybe you only wanted one or two songs, but we made you buy the whole album, and every deli in town was the same. Now there would soon be more iPods in circulation than the top selling albums of all time. And they were being filled not with the nine songs of chafe we were making our margins on, but the singles, for a mere 99 cents. Unlike the advent of the LP, 8-track, cassette or CD, the digital download meant people would be buying less chafe.
Tony made a very public battle against iTunes, firing off one of his infamous e-mails, refusing to sign up for the service unless he was given special treatment:
From: Tony Brummel
To: Steve Jobs
Music consumers would look at your (Apple) tactics as worse than those employed by the major record companies. I am surprised that Apple operates in such an authoritarian manner when its public image is that of a company run by creative types. This “take it or leave it” stance is anti-entrepreneurial, anti-creative and anti-American…My staff and my artists are asked every day why Victory’s content is not on iTunes. When the explanation is given, people understand why we are not in business together. In fact, it bothers them. The power of word of mouth is undeniable, especially in the age of the Internet. It may take awhile to resonate but when it does, people typically react accordingly.
He thought that by holding out and publicly castigating Steve Jobs for not having the music of the “1 Independent Rock Label” they would most certainly bend over backwards for him. In a classic bit of egomania, he followed by sending around an editorial to his own statement, which he again circulated.
The peculiar thing was his affection for Steve Jobs. At one point he bought everyone in the office New Balance sneakers, which he insisted they all wear as a sign of cult-like solidarity. He’d heard Jobs did the same thing at Apple, buying all 100,000+ employees a pair. He seemed to believe that with the right footware, Victory could be the next Apple.
Any time he fired off these impotent rants, we were all required to forward them to our contacts and forward all responses immediately. Invariably, responses were light and the rest of the day would be cluttered by e-mails from him, deriding my contacts for not being moved to words by his latest piece.
“I was going to the worst place in the world, and I didn’t even know it yet.”
The day Hawthorne Heights sent out The Real Manifesto, I’d been trying to forget I’d ever worked at Victory, particularly since I’d left Manhattan for the job, but later that day I got a phone call. I’d be getting a subpoena. I thought it odd when only a few hours later the thing came; but this one was for another former Victory band with unfinished business, Taking Back Sunday. Things were getting interesting. Taking Back Sunday was Victory’s largest band, who managed to bail out and go to Warner Brothers. They’d now join Hawthorne Heights in their claims of malfeasance.
The phone rang all day. Tim Smith, who managed Atreyu, the company’s third biggest band said they’d hired Marty “Mad Dog” Singer, a Hollywood lawyer with an A-list of clients that included Arnold Schwarzenegger and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Atreyu’s accountant turned up over $700,000 in unpaid royalties and they wanted answers. “Expect a subpoena if it goes down,” he said. I was starting to feel like Joe Valachi, the wiseguy who revealed the secrets of the Mafia to a grand jury. It was true, there were millions in squandered royalties buried in the Victory books. And I didn’t just know where the bodies were buried, I was the grave digger.
Hawthorne Heights hired attorney Rhonda Trotter of Kaye Scholer. She was also a big gun who’d won a case for TVT Records, my former employer, where reneging to TVT on a Ja Rule album turned into a $135 million judgment against Universal, and then-President, Lyor Cohen. Brummel knew they were serious, and the lawyers gave him a chance to settle quietly, but he was like a serial killer: Murder was fun, but he lived to see his deeds in the newspaper, even when it cost him. Instead of coming to the table, he instructed his lawyer to dismiss the entire claim as “frivolous,” knowing it would launch a wave of publicity. As the adage goes, any publicity is good publicity. If there was a contest for Worst Boss, he’d want to win just for the press. Victory Records was his long lost band and his ticket to stardom, and like any tabloid star, he needed controversy to keep his long lost fame. I received many calls that day; Brummel was the kind of guy who made enemies faster than he made money. The swell of schadenfreude was overwhelming: bands, industry people, ex-employees; all hoping Victory would be blasted like the Bismarck this time. Tim said other bands were lining up to get their due. Thursday and Hatebreed, two other bands that since moved on to major labels, were considering similar action. This was the Victory way of doing business. Brummel saw it as part of the indie D.I.Y.(Do It Yourself) ethic. The lawyers were thinking of a more familiar term: R.I.C.O.”
“He’s out there operating without any decent restraint, totally beyond the pale of any acceptable human conduct.”
Victory had quietly known success in the past, taking more than a year to break artists that start-up urban labels could accomplish in a matter of weeks. But Brummel had a thing for hardcore, and despised the way the “Jiggy” people, as he often called them, were able to turn a hit so easily. He perverted the hardcore ethos of “being in it for the long haul,” “fighting the good fight” and it being “a way of life” to workplace slogans, ironically to satisfy his capitalist ambitions. In addition to the brow-beating e-mails that the staff was barraged with during the day, they were asked to stay late. The 6:00PM e-mail of “I’M STAYING LATE, WHO WILL STAY LATE WITH ME???” was common, a transparent equation he’d worked out where the more hours a salaried employee worked, the less he was actually earning. I was once ambushed at 9:04 with “YOU’RE LATE! WHERE’S YOUR SENSE OF LEADERSHIP???” finding out things like grace periods were considered a sign of “weak” companies. Like schoolchildren, doctor’s notes were required when sick, employees would be “written up” and even sent home when they made him “frustrated,” he would withhold compensation when he felt it hadn’t been “earned” and he even charged employees, right on their pay stub, $1.75 per week for coffee, something he felt he shouldn’t have to pay for.
There were also cult-like rules: only current Victory music could be played in the office and that employees weren’t allowed to associate with ex-employees. He took Caligula’s “Better they hate me, so long as they fear me” approach to management. Each morning employees were required to stand before him for their “daily measurements,” a process where they would need to recite the accomplishments for the previous day and what they planned on doing today. He would flippantly belittle and editorialize at will, and then ask that what was said be typed up and sent to him, it seemed only so he could further pick apart the words. It was a redundant exercise because each employee was also required to file and End of Day report (or as we affectionately called it, the End of Days report) where again the accomplishments of the day were listed and the evening could be spent bouncing Blackberry messages as everyone tried to justify their existence.
Although Brummel was newly married to a ravishing French woman, Delphine Pontiveux, he would often work until the wee hours, where is activities included reading through employees e-mails and confronting them when he found personal messages; he had even fired a few people upon discovering they’d referred to him in an unflattering way. We clued in the newbies on the more fascist policies just because the constant firing and hiring was another major drain on company resources. Why Delphine was attracted to him was a mystery, particularly since she said her first impression was his striking resemblance to Nazi SS commander Heinrich Himmler. Delphine’s presence was stunning, imported as she was, but it appeared this acquisition ended up was just like all the other mis-matched Robb Reports items that cluttered his life. After approximately three years of marriage they had failed to have children, casting even more doubt on the validity of the arrangement.
I recall one of the first times I was called to his office to witness one of his fits. To see him in his office made him seem even smaller: behind a desk that was, I’d estimate, fifteen feet across by six feet deep; he’d sit in a corner of the monstrosity, beneath two computer monitors the size of large flat panel televisions. I’d find myself looking under his desk to see if his feet could touch the ground. He was ill that day. Snot ran recklessly out of his nose to distraction, as he yelled, “I won’t let you be subjected to this sort of treatment! My God, they have to know that Ramsey Dean was the one that did this!” He was referring to a promotion for a punk rock endcap I’d set up at Best Buy, the music industry’s top mover. Our distributor, RED, was trying to take credit for it, when really all it took was a phone call to a long time associate over there to put the program together. I didn’t think much of it, shenanigans as usual, but he hadn’t been there before and he felt persecuted.
“And if he’d pulled over, it all would have been forgotten. But he kept going. And he kept winning it his way.”
“…Tony was more upset that we had told the press that he actually wrote the letters (not us) because he was more worried about “rumors” surrounding Taking Back Sunday and Thursday’s exoduses being justified than the credibility and reputation of his current biggest band… Our situation with Tony Brummel is indicative of issues that all the bands on Victory Records encounter on some level or another. We have decided to remove ourselves from the negative situation so that we can continue to do what we love best…”
People in the industry questioned if it was a ploy by Hawthorne Heights to parlay their success into a deal with a major label, but “rumors” was a polite way of addressing the mountain of evidence that could easily be uncovered. How many bands had Brummel lost? All the top sellers. Hatebreed was first to bail. Thursday followed Hatebreed when they’d had it with Tony. Taking Back Sunday and Atreyu managed to escape in the last drama-filled year, and now Hawthorne Heights was jumping.
How many employees had he lost? There was me, the sole VP at the company. Heather West, Director of Publicity; who walked out when she reached her limit. Same for Stephanie Marlow, head of Marketing. Jason Deal, the I.T. guy, got into it with Brummel when his wife developed pregnancy complications and needed to be hospitalized. I remember Brummel shouting the day before he whacked him: “She’s the one in the hospital, what does he need to be there for? I”ll destroy him!” Then there was Katie Robinson in Marketing, where his unwelcome advances such as “If I weren’t married, I’d be with Katie,” disturbingly seemed that her consent in this relationship wouldn’t be optional. A few months earlier a promising young Long Island band, Bayside, hit a patch of black ice out on a highway in South Dakota. The van rolled, breaking the back of bass player Nick Ghanbarian and killing drummer John “Beatz” Holohan. It was the most difficult time we went through there. Beatz was the kind of guy who reminded us we were also in the business of making dreams come true. Tony quickly signed another Long Island band called The Sleeping; his great idea was to run ads with the tagline “Your Heart will stop Beatz-ing.” Katie walked out in disgust: “I was tired of working for a Wizard of Oz who makes threats while hiding behind a Blackberry.”
“Tony is a man whose greed knows no bounds. After selling more than 1.2 million copies of The Silence In Black and White and If Only You Were Lonely, we have never seen a single dollar in artist royalties from Victory Records. Tony will claim that we have not “recouped,” a term used by those in the music business which means the label has spent more money in advertising than has been made by CD sales. In fact questionable accounting practices are the culprit and we are in fact owed substantial amounts of money much like audits from Taking Back Sunday, Thursday and Atreyu have uncovered. Despite earning more than $10 million, we’ve yet to see a royalty.”
They earned more than that, but after over 15 years in the business, I’d heard this song before: the successful rock star claims he was screwed. It happened all the time. There was an equation in the music business for royalties: Once you start earning money faster than we can spend it, you’ll get paid. Paying royalties is like throwing money out that could be buying the one thing this industry worshiped, market share. This business was driven by charts, unit sales, airplay, and anything else you could measure yourself by. Marketing costs (marketing, advertising, parties, lunches, etc.) can be charged back against the band’s royalties, so the thinking is that it’s better to spend the money on promotion, where it greases the wheels of the machine, than pay the artist their cut.
The thinking at Victory went beyond that. Even if the bands did sell faster than we could spend, we found a way to spend it, and for one reason: not to promote the band, per se, but the Victory brand. Brummel’s contracts, which he wrote himself, were a myriad of draconian deals that egregiously cross-collateralized: a frowned-upon term used in the industry where the more stable streams of revenue like publishing and T-shirt sales, are funneled into the forever money-losing area of CD sales. Printing T-shirts can be like printing money in this business. Stores like Hot Topic would order thousands, filling the Victory war chest with additional marketing ammo. Instead of paying bands, he saturated channels like Fuse and MTV, buying all the advertising he could with their money, all touting the greatness of the Victory brand. He even took out infomercial-type blocks of time, appearing like the Ron Popeil of punk rock. Everyone knew the money was dirty, the stores that sold our stuff might as have been selling conflict diamonds, but they didn’t care where the margin came from.
Tony did sometimes recoup and pay a small royalty, but it was smoke and mirrors, pennies on the dollar. He would tell a band they were re-couped, and start throwing a few bucks their way, but the big checks never came. It was done mainly to say that if they were at a major label, they wouldn’t be recouped, but at Victory, they were that much closer to that dream check. But it never came.
And if success shined on any band, so came the scorn and eventual falling out. Bands would be deemed “disloyal” or “disrespectful” for embracing their fame and their end of the bargain would be flushed into “marketing expenses.” Royalties were payable quarterly and, before each quarter ended, I’d get the amounts, totaling into millions of dollars, that were to be dumped into bogus marketing programs to prevent the band from getting a royalty. It was nothing short of malicious. “Fuck those guys, they’re not entitled to that money,” was his quarterly lament. The royalties, which ranged into hundreds of thousands of dollars, would be calculated and I’d get the amounts I’d need to spend. The last quarter I was there he laid $360,000 of Taking Back Sunday’s money on me. I couldn’t even find enough places to dump it: television advertising, print ads, sale pricing, endcaps, and then we’d play around with dating to try and make it stick, but sometimes even that didn’t purge it all.
In this business people asked you to do unethical and even illegal things all the time. There is a whatever-it-takes attitude to breaking artists; as if we were fighting a war, we did it for the glory. But the things Brummel was asking went against everything me and this miscreant-filled business believed in; these were war crimes. A very small percentage of artists ever get a record deal. Most that do, never even make it to a second album. That very rare artist who has the talent and the drive to get himself to where he sees a royalty is as rare as a four-leaf clover. But when a Victory artist had this grail in his grasp, Tony kicked it away. If “indie” was supposed to be synonymous with integrity, then he’d sold out the entire indie community. He wanted it all to belong to him because that’s what Victory Records was about; the brand, and the man behind it should be the lead story. Much like his distant idol Steve Jobs, the focus should be on the company he built and the brand he created. Unfortunately, Brummel was in the business of selling people, and they deferred on his contribution to their research and development as a product.
Victory was a boutique label that cultivated the white, suburban, 14-24 demographic; kids who’d outgrown Britney Spears and N’SYNC. “Emo” was the sound they’d matured into. It was more a matter of being in the right place at the right time, and Victory was trying to be the new Jive Records. Tony believed that with a solid brand, the music would be secondary and he relentlessly promoted the name, even referring to himself as “Tony Victory.” The industry bestowed a better nickname, “Victony”, because it was all so shameless.
Freud would have had a field day with the way his slogans begged for attention, things like “We Run The Streets,” the conflicted “The Best Music, First” and “The 1 Independent Rock Label,” a claim the rest of the industry, including Billboard magazine, begged to differ with and was about as significant as “The 1 Midwestern Farm Team.” Even the name Victory illuminated his insecurity, along with a bulldog as the company’s virile mascot. He never owned a dog; it was something he said came to him in a dream, ironically the same image used by Mack trucks.
“What do you call it when the assassins accuse the assassin?”
Brummel’s main form of self-promotion to the industry were his acerbic e-mails. It’s his own form of “propaganda,” a word he frequently used to describe his promotional efforts. Often he would write an e-mail to the head of a major label, such as Sony/BMG, and then cc or even bcc his own mailing list. He would spam many of the top people in the industry with claims of his greatness, often labeling his achievements “unprecedented,” and alluding to a David and Goliath type struggle between the independent label and the major labels. It didn’t matter that his label was distributed by a branch of Sony/BMG, or that he didn’t even know the person. They represented “corporate mentality,” a conscienceless machine, whose sole purpose was greed. He was better than that, he liked to think, the valiant knight, fighting the corporate dragon.
I never bought the whole indie/major argument from him or anyone else. I knew the indie mindset all too well. It was like a pedophile trying to tell a rapist he’s less of a criminal because the kids put up less of a fight. We were all peas in the same pod.
The e-mails turned into conversation pieces. “Did you see the e-mail Tony sent? What balls!” People didn’t see how they were duped. One of the reasons he was sending the e-mail and bcc’ing the industry was to get himself noticed. It truly was propaganda because the victims responses weren’t able to be heard by all the bcc’d shills who would forward the messages to their friends.
What was peculiar about these broadcasts is they were focused on Victory and Tony, not the bands or even the music. The e-mail attacks became so prolific, to ‘brummel’ became a word:
Brum?mel – [brom-uh l, bruhm-uhl; Ger. brawm -uh l]
–verb (used with object)
1. to bcc someone to display one side of an argument or attack: How do I know? He brummeled me on the e-mail attacking the CEO.
2. to cc someone in order to publicly castigate or embarrass the recipient of the e-mail: Erin got a brummeling she (and the whole company) would never forget for being late with the sales report.
3. to use an obnoxious tone via e-mail and then appear demure when confronted: Bob changed his brummeling tone once the meeting was called and he had to speak face-to-face with his co-workers.
4. to falsly inflate, needlessly repeat, or manipulate data an idea in an effort to look superior: Being a small company, our increases are minor, but let’s put it on a spreadsheet and brummel the percentage growth. The big boys can’t compete with that.
—Synonyms 1. ambush, attack, assail, harass, molest, to set upon someone forcibly, with hostile intent.
It was probably the only thing he’d be remembered for. I think even he knew he wasn’t the next Richard Branson. He was more our own Mark David Karr; he wanted fame, even if it included notoriety, and even if he wasn’t worthy of it.
“But out there with these natives, it must be a temptation to be God. Because there’s a conflict in every human heart between the rational and the irrational, between good and evil. And good does not always triumph. Sometimes, the dark side overcomes what Lincoln called the better angels of our nature.”
Back in February, on the eve of Hawthorne Heights’ historic debuts, Brummel was about to achieve the rock star status he once dreamed of. But it was how far he was willing to go that became his legacy.
“Many of you are familiar with the greed driven letters sent out by Mr. Brummel: his manifesto calling rock supporters to arms and virtual declaration of war on hip-hop and Ne-Yo done under the guise of a band message… At the time of the letters we were branded as racists by some, all over a letter we did NOT write, targeting a genre which we have NOTHING against whatsoever.”
During their interview at MTV, Hawthorne Heights was asked why they would issue a “manifesto,” as it was billed. It called on their legions of a coming war between Rap and Rock. Seemingly out of nowhere, a new artist named Ne-Yo began burning up the singles chart, the projection for first week sales now targeted at 200,000, the exact number Hawthorne Heights was pegged at. The manifesto demanded that real fans of the band go out and buy not one, but two copies of the new album, to ensure that in the end Rock beat out Rap. Where this document was misguided was the intent: Why would a 14-year-old girl care where Hawthorne Heights debuted on a chart? Even more damning was the implication that this was a white-against-black issue.
The first wave of headlines focused on how a band could issue such a poisonous statement. “We didn’t write that, our label did,” was leader of Hawthorne Heights, Eron Buccarelli’s response. The second wave focused on the author of that statement, Tony Brummel. It wasn’t the first time he’d been accused of wrongdoing and manipulating the image of his bands for his own aggrandizement.
Months earlier he drew the ire of the estranged Taking Back Sunday by making an unauthorized “tour booklet.” The band wanted nothing to do with Tony or Victory, but each night Victory Street Teams would infiltrate the shows and hand out the booklet, which featured Taking Back Sunday on the front.
The band had publicly talked about the abuse they’d suffered, the day and night nagging, the name calling and accusations, racial epithets, the lying, the contracts, the deceptive accounting statements but it still didn’t stop fans from being sucked in. Victory defined punk rock, and many kids would support the label’s releases based on faith alone.
“You have to have men who are moral, and at the same time, who are able to utilize their primordial instincts to kill without feeling, without passion. Without judgment. Without judgment. Because its judgment that defeats us.”
The commitment of these kids created a labor pool to draw them into the Victory street team. A network of kids who would work for free. It was a way to impress their friends and entertain their fantasy of working at a record label. But it was mostly thankless hanging posters and handing out samplers. Vandalizing was practically in their job description. They’d even hit other label’s offices when they were in the right town. If they were good, we’d pull then off the streets, give them a van, and put them on salary. From there they might even make it to the home office. “Kids are sheep, we are their shepherds,” Tony would say.
Like a Trojan horse, when the Taking Back Sunday tour brochure was opened, the pamphlet hawked the current roster of Victory bands the kids should be buying instead of Taking Back Sunday. The back page featured a full-length picture of Brummel in a disturbing rock star pose, along with a “We are the culture,” message from the 37-year old to the kids. Months later he riled the band again with an unauthorized re-issue of their first album with additional material which, the band claimed, along with the unwarranted marketing blitz, was a breach of their settlement. Ironically, this was an album Brummel vindictively refused to certify gold, his first, despite sales far above the 500,000 mark, just to deny the band the satisfaction of the hard earned plaque.
“In a war, there are many moments for compassion and tender action. There are many moments for ruthless action. What is often called ruthless, but may, in many circumstances, be only clarity. Seeing clearly what there is to be done, and doing it directly, quickly, awake.”
Articles on Hawthorne Heights’ declaration of war started appearing all over the net. They all highlighted one disturbing passage:
“…as well as the “street-team” letter which instructed people to re-arrange our CDs, putting them in higher visibility areas in stores. Unfortunately, the head of street-team, Abby Valentine, who understandably resigned following the incident, took the fall for this.”
This haunted me every time I saw it. The infamous street team e-mail that leaked the day the band’s new CD came out.
For months Brummel was bragging that Victory would have the #1 album. When that was threatened by Ne-Yo, we came up with an “unprecedented” solution to ensure that rock would beat rap. “We have to do everything we can to fuck with these guys,” Brummel said, as we outlined how we were going to use our street teams to attack Ne-Yo. We were about to take “whatever it takes” a step further.
The street team’s orders were to go into stores and attack Ne-Yo product:
“As for Ne-yo, the name of the game is to decrease the chances of a sale here. If you were to pick up handful of Ne-yo CDs, as if you were about to buy them, but then changed your mind and didn’t bother to put them back in the same place, that would work. Even though this record will be heavily stocked and you might not be able to move all the stock, just relocating a handful creates issues: Even though the store will appear to be out of stock, the computer will see it as in stock and not re-order the title once it sells down and then Ne-Yo will lose a few sales later in the week”
The two-page directive listed detailed instructions on how this operation was to be carried out, listing name brand stores to sabotage: Wal-Mart, K Mart, Target, Best Buy, Coconuts, etc. and how to displace the product without being detected. With 150 street teamers hitting 10 stores a day, moving 10 Ne-Yo CDs over a one week period, we would displace over 100,000 CDs (roughly 20% of the stock Universal laid out there) and cripple Ne-Yo’s chances of snatching the 1 slot.
“I am unaware of any such activity or operation, nor would I be disposed to discuss such an operation if it did in fact exist, sir.”
The e-mail closed with a quote that some found disturbing:
“Victory at all costs, Victory in spite of all terror, Victory however long and hard the road may be; for without Victory, there is no survival.”
Once it hit the net, it took on an ominous tone, being credited to everyone from Brummel to Hitler. But anyone who knew me better knew it was the quote in my e-mail signature. I wrote the infamous street team e-mail. I sent it to Abby. She cut-and-pasted it, inadvertently cutting off the quote’s author, Winston Churchill.
That day Tony become angry at Abby for not being specific enough and asked me to step in. Like most employees at Victory, Abby had been an intern, this was her first job. I knew the ins and outs of this end of the business better than anyone. I was also known as an innovator when it came to marketing and promotion tactics. So I wrote up the marching orders, nice and specific, and then showed it to Tony.
From: Tony Brummel
Sent: Monday, February 27, 2006 5:44 PM
To: Ramsey Dean; Abby Valentine
Subject: RE: VST e-mail
THIS IS FINE. IT SHOULD LOOK LIKE IT CAME FROM ABBY.
And that’s how it went. In the hours this was in operation, I received reports from street teamers of stores being “de-Ne-yo-ed” and digital pictures of the empty bins came pouring into my inbox.
Then Tony got even more specific:
From: Tony Brummel
Sent: Tuesday, February 28, 2006 7:04 AM
To: PROMO STAFF
Keep in mind that moving Ne-Yo in a white, middle or upper class neighborhood will have less of an effect than moving Ne-Yo in a more urban location.
A few hours later, someone on the street team flipped. The e-mail with their mission was all over the net and we were being crucified. Earlier Tony was thumping his chest, hoping to become the new indie poster boy, and come to find out this was how Victory planned to lay claim to being #1.
The worst part was the collateral damage. Since we did it on the floors of the retail outlets who were supposed to be our partners, they were more than pissed off and threats were made as the back-peddle started.
The press was relentless. Indies were supposed to have integrity; that was Brummel’s whole shtick. Now Brummel was being called worse things than the majors; industry pundit Bob Lefsetz said he went “from hero to zero” in a matter of seconds. If Bob knew what had been going on all along, he wouldn’t even have said that.
Universal was threatening criminal action and we needed a way out. Even worse, we were messing with Island/Def Jam, one of Jay Z’s pet projects. Most rappers thought baggy pants and public assistance qualified them as gangsters, but I’d worked with Jay Z protégés the Gotti brothers. Before they formed Murder Inc. they were over at TVT, and they were the real deal. The FBI had been trying to pin everything from drug trafficking to money laundering to shooting 50 Cent on them. And now Tony was on their radar.
His idea was to blame it all on Abby.
From: Tony Brummel
Sent: March 1, 2006 9:57 AM
It has come to our attention a joke e-mail sent to some of our street team members by a junior ranking staff member was posted on the Internet and has created some commotion. First of all, the message was by all means a joke. The day after it was sent this was reiterated to the recipients of said e-mail. Victory as many of you know are the only label that is not on iTunes. We strongly support our friends at music retail day in and day out. Please rest assured that the message was a joke that backfired. Unfortunately it fell into the wrong hands and was anonymously posted on an industry gossip board. From there this joke somehow became a truth and began spreading around cyberspace. It is extremely upsetting to us that someone would go out of their way to cause harm and ignite random and malicious innuendo towards our company. Victory Records supports all artists of all genres on every label at all of your stores in hopes that everyone sells a lot of music. We absolutely want your music section as heavily populated as possible. That is good business for everyone. Thank you for your support.
Nobody believed it and there was another round of Victory bashing. Abby was suddenly a celebrity. People were calling and e-mailing her. She received so many nasty posts on her MySpace page she had to take it down. “He was seriously a total asshole to me about that whole thing. He acted like it really WAS my fault. Didn’t say anything like, ‘Man I’m sorry this happened,’ or anything like that at all. So that Friday I was pretty sure I was gonna quit, but I was going to take the weekend to think about it. Then Tony spent all weekend FORWARDING me hate mail (like I wasn’t getting enough of my own). And when I didn’t reply to any of it he sent me one of those, ‘Let me know when you are out of blackout mode,’ emails. And that was it.”
She resigned Monday and I couldn’t have felt worse. Then I heard the spin, it was just the excuse Tony was looking for: “That person is no longer with the company,” was the official line, making it look like we fired her for misconduct and distanced ourselves from any wrongdoing.
But Hawthorne Heights had been irreparably damaged. The band’s statement continued:
“Because of these letters, our second album debuted at 3 on the charts, an incredible feat, which would normally be cause for joy, but now is tainted much like Barry Bonds’ statistics.”
Hawthorne Heights, one of the most promising bands of last year, now saw their career go into an abrupt tailspin. We’d been riding high at Victory Records for so long that we didn’t think anything could touch us. I’d crashed and burned more times than I’d like to remember, but Tony Brummel had never known the downside of the rocket ride, let alone worked for someone else in the business.
“…this army of his, that worship the man like a god, and follow every order, however ridiculous.”
“I never worked at a label,” Brummel liked to say, claiming to have started it with $800 when he was eighteen. He also didn’t like people with experience working at his label. The isolation from New York and Los Angeles was intentional. He believed the industry was categorically wrong, and anyone with previous experience, “tainted.”
“We need people with malleable minds,” he once chillingly told me. Chilling because the only place I remembered that phrase was from Pol Pot; the Khmer Rouge was built on eradicating anyone with ideas, education or contradicting opinions, leaving a population of workers that could be programmed as drones for the state. And that’s what I found at Victory; everyone needed to be “working” at all times and casual conversations were strictly prohibited. He would often call people if he saw then talking, demanding to know the reason and why it couldn’t have been conducted via e-mail. The no-meetings policy was a big bragging point for Brummel, as if that’s all the major labels did; he didn’t realize his employees were spending a much larger portion of their day fielding his e-mail interrogations.
I was the exception to the “untainted” policy, a necessary evil. At the time I left, Victory looked like a hot stock; good fundamentals and a nice upward tack. I was known as a person who could accelerate that situation so we were a good match. I was brought in because he needed solid relationships with Best Buy, Target, Wal-Mart and all the other big players. I was brought in to turn the company into the next TVT Records; my former employer was the undisputed 1 independent label, currently enjoying success with Lil’ Jon. I resigned after 9 years when I’d had my fill of the mendacity that is the lifeblood of this business. I thought I’d try other things, stayed out two years, but that’s where the money was, and like the Godfather, just when I thought that I was out, it pulled me back in.
Tony really wanted me to take it “to the next level,” as was so often said in the business. I went to the task at hand, fixing what I could of the jerry-rigged company. There were so many things about it that just didn’t make sense, until I found out it was all Brummel’s doing. It was as if he read the beginning of a book on how to start a record company and made up the rest. Now with its success, the only yardstick or compass this business used, Victory Records grew into nothing short of The Gospel According To Tony.
Where his model was failing was that with each band’s success and defection, the noose tightened around his neck. His uncontrollable antics were career suicide. The horror stories of being signed to Victory circulated endlessly through the small business and even the unsigned bands knew to avoid the label. But there were desperate bands that looked at the success of a Taking Back Sunday and saw it as a last ditch effort, if not to grab the money, at least some degree of fame and the hope that their contract would be bought out. Taking Back Sunday had said they wouldn’t record again unless the contract was re-negotiated. An arrangement was made where their contract could be bought out and soon they found a home at Warner Bros. Records, home of alternative holdovers like the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Jane’s Addiction. Taking Back Sunday had made it through the Victory meat grinder, been used, abused, ripped off and pissed off. Despite getting over $2 million dollars for the band, Brummel sent a castigating e-mail to the man who wrote the check, Warner Brothers’ President, Tom Whalley, calling him an “employee” while Tony was in the vaulted position of “entrepreneur,” not only cc’ing many of the top brass at Warner Brothers, but bcc’ing the berating to competing labels. His last words to Jillian Newman, Taking Back Sunday’s manager, were “you fat fucking kike!” He was our own Mel Gibson, only he was drunk on his own fluid. A Victory employee once confided to me, “Dude, the level of anti-Semitism in this place is out of hand!” Just another one of the rules in the Victory employee manual Brummel wasn’t going to play by.
Even when he was being friendly, there were racial connotations. Employee Brett Greenberg was his “favorite Jew,” and Tom Wojick referred to as “Tommy Polock;” they were meant as terms of endearment. Competitors were no exception. John Esposito, President of WEA, was referred to as a “guinea.” He referred to Universal President Jim Urie as a “mick.” After one heated e-mail exchange (which I was bcc’d on) Brummel quipped, “Real men like to fight, Jim.” Later he told me he’d be sending him a bottle of Jamison for further goading.
“After that, his ideas, methods, became… unsound. Unsound.”
“John G is a dago cocksucker!” Brummel shouted, loud enough for half the office to hear, as he hung up the phone with Hawthorne Heights’ manager, John Germinario. John said the band wasn’t happy with the way they were being treated and wanted to set up a meeting. The argument with John was ironically brought on by the upcoming gold record party for the band, and the absence of royalties thus far. The guys were broke and, if this was all they had to show for a gold record, things needed to change.
The gold record party was on a boat called El Presidente; a boat big enough to hold only the staff and the band, no outsiders. Most employees had the life expectancy of a tail gunner, so it wasn’t the coming together of those who’d fought long and hard, just those who were around at the time. The boat was an old one, purported to have delivered Eisenhower, MacArthur, Ghandi and a bunch of other dignitaries around their token cruise of the Chicago lakefront. The invite said there would be food and drinks so nobody bothered to eat dinner. There were drinks, but the food amounted to nothing more than a couple of small appetizers. It was a recipe for disaster.
After cruising the dank Chicago river and drinking everything that was on board, we were forced to sit through the aggrandizing moment. Tony presented each member of the band a gold record, and then an envelope. The envelope contained a check for $5,000 – an insult by any standards. The wholesale price of a Hawthorne Heights CD was just over $10.00. Gold certification is for selling 500,000 copies, so in effect they’d earned Victory Records over $5 million dollars. To collectively give the five members of the band $25,000, or a mere .5% of the take, Brummel felt was generous since they were still “in debt” to him.
“He kept complaining to me that the band didn’t send him a thank-you for the checks,” said John G, “I didn’t tell him the band was totally pissed off by it.”
At the docks, one of the guys who worked in screen printing took a dare and jumped into Lake Michigan, getting everyone kicked off the boat. We all caught up later at Brummel’s favorite bar, a dive called Couch, to keep the party going. The bar was a non-descript dump, but it was crawling distance from Tony’s house, which was a 10,000 ft. converted garage on Grand Avenue, one of the city’s main arteries. The rumor was he bought a business address so he could list it as a Victory office. As a private business owner making a profit, he needed expenses or the money would just go to the tax man. We’d had a party at Couch a few weeks earlier when the Warped tour came through town. Atreyu stopped by for an angry moment (knowing their time would be done soon), along with Hawthorne Heights. Brummel, in classic form, was the last one standing in the wee hours as the bartender went for last call. Tony brought up the idea of a fake bachelor party at his house, where we’d invite over hookers and he’d be the guest of honor. His wife, Delphine, was out of town, it was an easy play. That he brought this up in front of the girls in the office wasn’t even exceptional. A few days earlier he called out Jillian Newman as incompetent merely for being a woman right in front of Heather West, Director of Publicity, and Stephanie Marlow, Director of Promotion. I’d seen the kind of hookers he ordered, too. Cabrini Green girls that looked like he was shopping quantity over quality. We held a party at the office with the band Action Action, another case where it was closing time and we kept going. The four women looked older and tougher than all of us; tattoos on their necks, stretch marks on their guts and a lifetime of smoke on their breath. When we wouldn’t touch the merchandise, Tony became incensed. “You guys are pussies! Am I the only one here who’s a real man? Ramsey, you’re a Vice President, you should be a leader on this!” Still with no takers he tore off his shirt. “I’ll take them all.” They closed in on him, and he led them back to his office to get his money’s worth. I was with John G, who was working with Action Action at the time. When we were about half a block away from the building we heard the fire escape burst open. “They stole my money!” A half-dressed Brummel staggered down the fire escape. They’d gotten into his pants in more ways than one, and lifted $2,000.
The morning after the Hawthorne Heights gold record party John and Tony met. “He seemed perfectly normal in the meeting, and then schizophrenically blew up at me outside his office.” This was classic Brummel: He needed an audience, and walked John to a point in the hall where everyone could hear: “I’ll kill you, motherfucker!” he shouted, “I’ll bury you in the street! Right now, man! Come on, let’s go, do you want to fight me?” He caught the attention of everyone. John held a reputation as a class act. Friend to all and enemy to none, so much that he only did handshake deals. “Hit me, motherfucker! Hit me!” Brummel begged, turning flush red and pointed to his chin, but we all knew it was nothing more than drama. He offered it because he knew John wouldn’t stoop to his level. John shook his head in disgust, turned and walked out.
When the band found out what was said in the meeting, Brummel was again made the fool, confiding in John that drummer and founder of the band, Eron Bucarelli’s, wife was a “gold digger” and calling Eron a “poison” that should be kicked out of the band, a claim that constituted tortuous interference for which he would later be held liable.
“These are all his children, man, as far as you can see. Hell, man, out here, we are all his children.”
Talking smack about someone might be overlooked, but putting down someone’s wife was unforgivable. Weeks later, when Victory’s Never Sleep Again tour came to the House of Blues, Brummel noticeably avoided his headliner. Eron sent him an ominous note the following day: “I’m disappointed that we did not see one another… You crossed a line and I’m extremely upset by that…”
It wasn’t the first time one of his bands threatened a beating. After a perceived disloyalty by Atreyu frontman Alex Varkatzas, Brummel tried to talk the much-smaller opening band on their tour, Scars of Tomorrow, into giving Varkatzas an attitude adjustment in exchange for preferential treatment. Instead the band, which was brought to the label by Varkatzas, told him of the plot. He fired off an e-mail to the office, telling Brummel what he thought of him and Victory, more than happy to settle the score man-to-man. The e-mail leaked to the industry and Victory was again the subject of widespread ridicule.
Brummel forwarded Eron’s e-mail to singer JT Woodruff and guitar player Casey Calvert, apparently seeking to divide the band and playing himself as the victim to his bcc’d audience.
From: Tony Brummel
Sent: Monday, December 12, 2005 9:15 AM
To: JT Woodruff
cc: Casey Calvert
Subject: FW: Missed you
…I now believe that he (John G) recorded that “meeting” we had a couple of weeks ago which, of course, is illegal. I had a feeling that this was happening as he did not take his jacket off and was extremely nervous. We will look into this further. We now know that he is not someone that we can trust. Because of this, I will have to put a moratorium on communication with him. I do not have time for this counterproductive and juvenile nonsense. ..It is truly a shame…It is mind boggling when artists attack and dismantle the very things that got them where they are… Eron’s e-mail makes me physically sick.
The obvious flaw in his logic was that if he suspected John G of recording the meeting, he wouldn’t have threatened him with physical violence, which constituted menacing and/or harassment, where a criminal conviction could have been easily obtained, and which still held a great liability for Brummel since there were no less than six witnesses to the display.
“The charges are unjustified. They are, in fact, and under the circumstances of this conflict, quite completely insane.”
In August, Hawthorne Heights made their biggest headlines, filing a lawsuit against Victory Records that could genuinely be called “unprecedented.” Everything from the docket to the deal memo was up online. It listed Brummel’s unethical conduct, and the damage it caused to their career. The suit not only claims the contract, which Brummel wrote himself, as invalid, but that his threats of physical violence to a radio station programmer and their manager John Germinario turned what was once a promising partnership into a gross liability.
But their case was already won in the eyes of music industry just by stepping forward and putting it all on the line. This is the sort of honesty fans love to see. The Real Manifesto, as they billed their statement, went directly to over 500,000 fans; the new paradigm of the internet. It was a bunker buster Brummel didn’t see coming. He thought he’d be able to control the press with his ad dollars but only tired industry rag HITS, refused to cover the story. A bunch of middle-aged men wouldn’t decide the fate of Victory Records, the kids would. Tony Brummel always wanted to be famous, wanted to be a rock star and now he was about as relevant as Kip Winger. The kids who had rejected him as an artist were now rejecting him yet again for his crimes against art. Hawthorne Heights turned him into the Goliath he once rallied against and beaten him at his own game. They’d stripped him of his scepter of integrity and turned themselves into the next Pearl Jam in one deft move, becoming not only heroes to their fans, but to every musician in a band who’d ever been screwed. It was more than the fame they’d already gained, which Brummel had been chasing with this whole endeavor; they managed to attain the one thing that would forever elude him: r-e-s-p-e-c-t. Not bad for a bunch of kids from Ohio.
The kids were shouting “Burn, Victory, burn!” on MySpace. But it was more a call to burn a Victory band over buying the CD: either way, it seemed, the band wasn’t getting anything so who was the thief? It was as if the whole industry was outed; for all they had done to educate fans that stealing music was wrong, it appeared the labels were the real thieves. The naiveté I felt in my guilt at selling promos had been lifted years ago once I saw how the game was played. Now these kids had their eyes opened to the scam. There was no indie and there was no major. There was just corporatism as usual, with the fans and the bands as the exploited.
“I am unconcerned. I am beyond their timid, lying morality, and so I am beyond caring.”
Victory would always be an open book; running on charts and numbers, it’s easy to spot strength and weakness. And when you’re selling people, musicians, who are in the business of writing how they feel, the truth will never be far off. In hindsight, Brummel might have fared better with stuffed animals instead of bands. They’d weather the abuse, and maybe do a better job of filling what was really missing in his life.
Brummel liked to brag that he’d never been to court, his implication being that he’d never done anything wrong. He’d actually been filed against many times but, as he’d also said to me more than once, “I always settle, it’s cheaper.” The real reason was there were too many people out there to testify against him. He couldn’t even show up in court for fear of what would be put on the public record. Settlements were just a way to avoid the truth. The lawyers coming after him now knew this, and they’d probably drag him the distance on principle.
Hawthorne Heights, Taking Back Sunday and Atreyu didn’t just want their money, they wanted retribution. And they aren’t alone. Surrounded by three bands, supported by his brooding ex-employees, Victory was set to burn like Berlin. It was an attack on multiple fronts even his high priced advisors couldn’t repel. Even if he managed a settlement, it was too late; Tony would go down in history as the bad guy but somehow I think the ruler in hell option might have been part of his plan.
I’d be a key witness. Much of their claims hinged on my testimony about their missing royalties. The other gravedigger was Marion Williams. She was another former intern Brummel programmed. He put her through school to get her an accounting degree; with only Tony and her education for guidance, she would be the perfect patsy. But there was one other guide Brummel didn’t count on when subpoena time came: Marion was a devout Christian. She’d have to choose her true God when she put her hand on the Bible.
“Horror and moral terror are your friends. If they are not, then they are enemies to be feared. They are truly enemies.”
Things weren’t going to change. Days after I left the company I got a call from John G. Tony was in the hospital. There was a company outing to Wrestlemania, where some employees, along with the band Aiden, whom John also managed, racked up a thousand-dollar bar tab in a sky box, and then (surprise, surprise) went back to Tony’s place for a fake bachelor party. Not even the band, who where notorious for their sexcapades, would touch the low-budget girls. Brummel castigated the band, grabbed the girls and disappeared into his bedroom. The following day he called in sick for work. When he showed up later (without a doctor’s note) he asked one of the employees to drive him to the hospital, where he spent the next two days. Tony has a bad heart, and apparently the strain of the all-night binge put him over the edge.
I ran into one of the employees on the street a few days later. Brummel sent a paranoid e-mail from the hospital: he knew people were slacking off just because he was out and there’d be hell to pay when he got back. Weeks later I heard from someone else he was installing surveillance cameras: not to protect the employees, but to keep an eye on them. I’d already seen the Orwellian computer program he used that cycled through every computer in the office, delivering a snapshot of the screen to see what people were up to. Now he wouldn’t even need to move to see if people were at their desks.
A corporation is defined as a business entity with all the rights of a human. Brummel, in his quest for the ultimate corporation, became that business entity. He’d crossed over to become a dark alien life form created by business men. He’d ankled his humanity, holed up in his office, and uploaded himself into his Blackberry, and now only sought to satisfy his insatiable inner shareholder. Singular compared to the collective mentality of the major labels, there was something ironically fascist about the independent world, and in Tony Brummel I saw something much more sinister. I had come face-to-face with The Horror; not a dark and powerful entity, but a human who had hollowed out his own humanity to satisfy his own lust for power. I always dreamed of the big score in this business, we all did. But with the morphing morality, the conflict of human emotion against corporate emotion, I’d seen what side that one common emotion – greed – favored. I wanted nothing more to do with it. His horror, if it really was his own, wasn’t a horror that inspired fear, but rather repugnance. It was the worst traits we all possess, growing unfettered by any trace of conscious or moral code. Like a mutation, I saw him more as a medical oddity, a nightmare in evolution where our very humanity would be self-extinguished as we fought for survival in the monetized world we created.
Before the Hawthorne Heights album came out, there was an e-mail that Brummel must have sent 30 times to the staff, night and day, even while he was vacationing in the Bahamas, about the coming “David versus Goliath” showdown the first week. He was obviously impressed with himself for writing it and it came sometimes multiple times each day. He’d change the title and trick us into opening it and reading the sermon again:
What we do is REAL. What we say is REAL. A lot of the things that happen and even things that I say might not be sexy but it is REALITY. Reality is not debatable. Reality is not sexy. Facts are facts. This is it you guys.