A Phone Call with Lenny Zumpano

Image by Sašo Tušar

The following is an off-cell scene from The Stars of Everywhere and the Remy Bell – Storm series.

December, 1988

“Hello Lenny? It’s Josh Donovan. I hope I’m not calling you too late.”
“Oh, hi Josh,” Lenny said cheerfully. “Not a problem at all. I just put my daughter to bed and Judy and I were about to watch some TV. How’ve you been?”
“Doing good, can’t complain.”
“You still on tour? I heard your record is doing pretty good.”
“Yeah, it was nice to see it on the charts,” Josh said, feeling a little glum. Although the Annie Day album had charted and the tour went relatively well, none of it quite met his expectations. “The tour’s over and I’m flat worn out you know?”
“My friend, that is exactly why I quit traveling,” Lenny said and laughed. “I was so miserable going back and forth from L.A. to New York that it’s a wonder I even have a job anymore. I’m glad to be back in California. If anyone needs mixing, they can come to me now.” Josh chuckled. It was true. Lenny was fairly unhappy when they first met two years earlier in New York to mix the Bad Area album. He warmed up to him towards the end of the session and they wound up becoming fast friends, but it was very apparent that Lenny was almost always dying to just get done with it so he could go home. “So, last I heard, you were building your own studio. How’s that coming along?”
“I’m standing in it right now,” Josh said as he looked about the place. “Well, where it’s going to be. It’s a mess though. Barely got the walls framed in and it’s a long way from being finished. That’s sort of the reason I called you actually.”
“Nice, nice,” Lenny said. “You’ll get it done. You’re young and you got plenty of time. So what can I do for you?”
“I wanted to pick your brain a bit, if you don’t mind.”
“You’re talking to a former hippie, Josh,” he said, chuckling. “There’s not much left so don’t pick too hard. Whatcha got?”
“Lenny, I got offered a pretty big job…like the biggest job I can imagine actually.”
“Good, good. Congratulations.”
“Well, it might be a little out of my league and I’m just not sure if I should just let it go and hang back and finish my studio. I’m really trying to decide here.”
“What do you mean out of your league?” Lenny said, astonished. “Josh, the Bad Area album you produced is probably one of the biggest albums of the decade.”
“I know but…”
“So, who’s the artist?”
“I saw that you had mixed her last album, so that’s why I called. Do you know Remy Bell?”
“Of course I know her!” he said enthusiastically. “I’ve mixed all her albums. Super sweet girl.”
“Well, she’s asked me to produce her next record, and I want to take the job but at the same time I don’t,” Josh said.
“What’s the problem?” Lenny asked, hearing true indecisiveness in the younger man’s voice. “That’s a fantastic gig. You should take it.”
“But I don’t know a thing about her,” Josh said. “I’ve never met her and I don’t think I’ve even listened to one of her songs all the way through. She’s just a kid and…”
“Whoa now, hold on,” Lenny said seriously. “You’re mistaken about that. I know she only just turned eighteen, but she’s one of the most level headed artists out there.”
“You really do know her well?”
“She’s like a daughter to me,” he said, and thought for a moment, remembering the last time he saw her. “So, she contacted you?”
“Yep, right out of the blue.”
“That’s so funny,” Lenny replied. “The last time I saw her…gosh, I guess it was this past August, she was asking about you. Wanted to know everything about you. Who you are and what you’re like to work with.”
“I guess you must have talked me up,” Josh said and chuckled.
“Of course, my friend, but she was the one who brought it up in the first place. She didn’t hear about you from me. She found out I mixed your album and couldn’t stop asking questions about you.”
“What do you reckon she wants with me, though. I don’t do the kind of music she does.”
“You’re still a pop producer, even if you’re on the heavier side. I got the feeling from talking to her that she’s looking for a change. She didn’t seem too happy to be honest.”
“Yeah, my agent mentioned she wanted to go more rock.”
“More grown up too, I suspect,” Lenny added. “She told me herself she was trying to get away from the teenybopper image.”
“So, what’s she like?”
In his mind, Josh could see Lenny scratching his beard as he leaned back into his captain’s chair. “Hmm, let’s see. She’s a cute kid…still very young, but way more mature than most I deal with. She’s very friendly, and…well, humble, for lack of a better word. She’s a little like you and I mean that in a good way. Very down to earth.”
“Oh geez Lenny, come on.” Josh laughed and spun around with the phone cord wrapping around his waist. He wished he had something to sit on, but the studio was still bare and very much under construction. Sawdust and cutoff boards littered the floor, yet he had already installed a phone since it was easier to do with the walls laid bare. As unfinished as it was, he loved just being in it, looking around and wondering what it was going to be like when it was finally complete. It might have to wait though, from what Lenny was describing.
“No, I’m being serious,” he said. “You know, I’m pretty sure she writes all her own music, which is unusual with performers like her. I know she’s got a lot of talent and can play several instruments. Not to mention she’s got the voice of an angel.”
“That’s what I was going to ask you next…about her music. Do you think I could fit in with it?”
“Josh, you’ll have no problem, I promise you. If you work with her the way you have with me and Bad Area and that other band…oh what were they called? You’ll have no problems at all. What’s the worse that could happen?”
“I can think of a lot of things.”
“Trust in yourself son. You can do it. If I was your age I’d have taken the job without even bothering to ask some old mixer-man’s advice. You’d be a fool to let this one go.”
“I’m leaning towards it,” Josh said, leaning against an unfinished wall. “It’s just my studio…there’s so much to work on.”
“Son, it can wait,” Lenny assured him. “You got your whole life ahead of you and this is a chance of a lifetime. If it was anyone else I might tell you to hold off and finish your studio. But Remy Bell is…well, she’s different.”
“Like how?”
“Imagine every other pop-superstar you can think of, with their egos and their stupid, ridiculous habits like picking out all the brown M&M’s and whatnot. She is totally the opposite of everyone else in the business. Trust me, she’s real…she’s good people. You’ll like her a lot.”
“Thanks Lenny, that’s just what I needed to hear.”
“So, you’re going to take it?”
“Yeah, I am.”
“Good,” he said. “You won’t regret it. Just promise me one thing okay?”
“Anything my friend.”
“Let me mix it when you’re done.”
“Lenny, that’s a given,” Josh said and laughed. “You got it, my friend. Thanks for talking to me.”
“Any time, Josh. Take care.”
Josh hung up the phone and thought for a minute while his eyes wandered around the dimly lit room. It would be months at least before it was finished enough to even start hooking up the studio. There was so much to be done that he didn’t have the skills to do anyway. Jim, the restoration expert he hired to fix up the old building, would be doing most of the work anyway. He didn’t have to be here for that part and besides, a recording session with a big star would give him something to do while his building was being restored. Not to mention that the payout would be bigger than just about anything he had seen before. It was win-win, even if it meant that he would have to go to Atlanta for a few months. He’d have Tasha with him so it would be like nothing had changed at all. After the job was over, then they could finally start the rest of their lives together like he planned, only with a finished recording studio and a massive amount of money in the bank. He picked up the phone to call his agent.
“Aaron, I’m taking the Remy Bell job. I’ll go through the contract tonight and send it up to you, probably tomorrow so you’ll have it the next day.”
“Excellent decision, Josh,” and excited Aaron said. “I knew you’d come through. This is going to be big, really big!”
“I think so too,” Josh said calmly. He still wasn’t totally sure he was actually making the right decision, but he had to do something and had weighed it all out. Making any decision was better than not making one at all.
“You don’t sound too excited, Josh. What’s the matter?”
“Well, I am excited,” he said, “but like you said, it’s a big deal so I’m nervous.”
“Don’t be, my man. This is going to be life changing for all of us! You can do it. Shoot that paperwork off and let’s get it rolling.”
“I’ll have it on Fed Ex in the morning.”
He hung the phone up, then went into what would one day be the control room of his studio. There were only two working lights down there, so he switched off the far one and made his way towards the stairs leading up to the apartment on the second floor. When he rounded the corner he almost jumped out of his skin.
“Tasha you scared me to death.” She was harmlessly sitting on the stairs, but he hadn’t heard her come down and had no idea she was there…and had no idea how long she had been listening.
“Sorry,” she said. “You were so quiet down here I was wondering what you were doing.”
“I guess you heard I was on the phone.”
“Yeah, and I heard you accepted the contract with Remy Bell.”
She turned as she said it and stood up, and although he couldn’t see her face, he could hear it in her voice that she wasn’t happy.
“I did,” he said and sighed as he followed her up the stairs. “Just a couple of small items to iron out and I’m signing it.”
“It’s your life and your decision,” she said as she opened the door at the top. She didn’t look back at him, and without further comment, went into the living room and turned on the TV.

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