"Did you see them? Actual label people! In the audience tonight! Here
to see us!"
"Uh huh." Oz barely acknowledged Devon's news. Oz was too busy watching
Xander. The brunette was rather intently reading... something. Oz wasn't
sure he really cared what Xander was reading as long as he could stare.
Xander's head snapped up, eyes fixing on Devon. "Dev, have you seen
this?" He held out the sheaf of papers. "You might want to before you
decide that you need a record contract. Steve Albini seems to think that
major label record contracts are just a way to screw over bands. Check it
The singer sighed dramatically. "Do I have to read it? Isn't that why
we keep you around? Well, that and to keep Oz happy."
While that comment would have sounded like an insult to many other people,
Xander just grinned. Since he and Oz had embarked on what Xander was
slowly realizing was a relationship, he was becoming more and more crucial
to the band. The musicians -- and one slacker singer -- didn't want to
spend their precious free time dealing with boring details like where they
were going to play next and how much (or even whether) they were going to
be paid, so managerial duties fell to Xander. Not that he minded. In
fact, he relished the responsibility. "Well, I don't want anyone to think
of me as Yoko."
"Nah, you're more the Susan Silver type." As blank stares were turned to
Oz, he clarified. "Soundgarden? Their manager? Chris Cornell's wife?"
When the confusion didn't clear, he sighed. "Chris Cornell? As in the
lead singer? She manages a bunch of bands. Alice in Chains. Bands like
"So." Dismissing Oz, Devon turned to Xander, decisive tone set in his
voice. "You're apparently our manager. You think you can handle us?"
Xander frowned. "Um..."
Oz interrupted. "I think Xander and I need to have a little chat."
Minutes later, a very nervous Xander was facing an equally nervous Oz.
"So you said we need to have a chat."
"Right." Oz sighed, dragging his fingers through his hair. His eyes
remained fixed to his hands once they resettled, clasped between his
knees. "I'll just say this. If you do become our manager -- officially
-- you're going to be stuck with me for a long time. You've already been
doing the job, but now it looks like things are going to be getting
serious for the band. It won't be something that happens right away. So
I guess what I'm saying is that if you do accept this manager thing, it's
going to be a long-term thing." With that, Oz glanced up at Xander,
hoping the younger man could fill in what Oz couldn't bring himself to
say. His reluctance to continue had nothing to do with the fact that he
had a boyfriend but everything to do with the fact that he wasn't sure if
Xander was looking at the future.
Xander nodded. His voice was as carefully bland as his face. "And what
would you like me to do?"
Suddenly, it occurred to Oz that they had never actually discussed this.
Sure, they made plans for the next weekend or talked about going to a
movie not set for release until months later. But that didn't count. Or
did it? Xander was still sitting there silently and patiently, waiting
for Oz's answer. How many times had they made plans for 'later' or 'some
day' -- and then followed through on them? Countless times, if Oz's
memory wasn't playing tricks on him. And the only times that plans had
been broken, illness had been involved. Everything had unfolded
effortlessly. And, even more importantly, the mere thought that Xander
might not stick around made his stomach lurch. "That's why I thought we
needed to talk. I want you to do it. But you need to understand that
half of the reason I'm saying this is Oz the guitarist."
"And the other half?"
Oz shrugged. "All that half will say is that it has one hell of a time
concentrating on anything that doesn't involve you. So it gets along very
well with the guitarist as long as you're around."
Xander's grin made Oz very happy he had simply spoken without thinking.
"Yeah." He cleared his throat and attempted to fix his features into a
serious expression. "So. About that management thing..."
After meeting with just a few of the record company representatives that
descended on Devon like frat boys on a keg of cheap beer, Xander had mixed
feelings about agreeing to represent the band. On one hand, it was a good
thing that there was someone not actually in the band who was able to
question motives. On the other, he was really using a lot of shower gel
after meeting with them. The reps were just so sleazy that he had to
immediately shower to get rid of the slimy feeling. Sure, they promised
the moon and the heavens, but just try to get anything on paper.
Suddenly, lawyers were mentioned, and Xander preferred unarmed
hand-to-hand combat with vampires than lawyers.
So this time, he had asked the band to try a different tack. This time,
Xander would play the part of a vacant, vapid hanger-on. At least until
he decided that the band was being yanked around by yet another record
company weasel. Hell was surely filled with over-eager A&R reps with
slicked-back hair and cutting-edge suits who took them to dinner at some
hip, upscale restaurant. Oz and the rest of the band agreed. If nothing
else, Oz and Xander could get in some quality groping time.
"We're meeting her here?" The establishment in question was a dive
Mediterranean restaurant in a small town forty-five minutes away from
Sunnydale. No one was really sure what the person they were meeting
looked like aside from the fact that she was female.
As they entered the dining room, they discovered that it didn't matter
whether they knew who she was or not. There was only one person in the
place aside from the server. Dressed in a basic outfit of jeans and a
t-shirt, she was sitting at a table, face buried in a magazine they
couldn't quite identify. "Ahem." This didn't catch her attention, so
Devon tried again. "Are we supposed to be meeting you?"
"Huh?" Now she pulled her eyes from her magazine -- an old issue of
Spy, Xander observed -- and fixed them on the tall singer in front of
her. "Oh! Yeah! Hi. Sorry about that. Please sit down." She waved
the server over to the table. "Give them whatever they want." At their
confused faces, she sighed. "Let me guess. Not Greek food fans." She
turned back to the server. "Okay, let's go with that platter thing,
okay?" He nodded and moved back to the kitchen.
"Come here often? Or is that a friend of yours?"
She shook her head. "None of the above. He's my brother. I stay at his
place when I'm in town." As if finally realizing that she had yet to
mention her name, she extended her hand to Devon. "Jean Marie Mercer.
Introductions were made, and Oz was the last to speak. "So Devon didn't
tell us. What does GTS stand for?"
"Gutter to Stars. You wanna know why?" They nodded. "There's this
Pretenders song. 'We are all of us in the gutter/ But some of us are
looking up at stars.'" She shrugged. "It seemed to work, so there you
go. So who have you talked to so far?"
An hour slipped by. The steady stream of food did not let up. Oz and
Xander found a nice, dark corner to hide in while the rest of the band
just chatted about nothing with Jean Marie. Finally, the talk turned
"So. Are you guys ready to take the big step?"
The question somehow made it to Oz and Xander, wrapped around each other
in the corner. They stifled simultaneous snorts of laughter. Devon shot
them an amused glance before answering for the group. "Maybe. But how do
we know you won't screw us over? I mean, how do we know you're not one of
those sleazy record company reps sent in to lull us into signing before
you swoop down and hand us a pile of last-minute contract changes because
the executives at your company made you?"
She shrugged. "Aside from me telling you that GST is not affiliated with
a major label, basically, you don't. And you're not going to get all the
perks that you will with one of the big boys. A tour bus? A new amp? A
nice studio? Unless you're going to front the money for this stuff
yourself, forget about it. But the reality is that you're going to get
screwed no matter what. It's up to you to pick the best people for you to
get screwed by."
Devon nodded thoughtfully. "So are you a record company weasel?"
"'Weasel?'" Jean Marie smiled. "I'm not sure. What do you guys think?"
"Well, you're the record company rep."
"I'm also the receptionist, accountant, chief executive officer, and
janitor. I will guarantee that you will never hear two things come out of
my mouth, aside from in this discussion: 'I have to run this by
marketing.' And 'Your album just went platinum.' So you have a choice.
Fame and fortune -- which, I have to tell you, and not just because I want
you to record for me, will not be guaranteed no matter what label you go
with, and anyone who tells you differently is lying their ass off -- or
knowing that the album with your name on it is truly yours, even if you
only sell fifty copies to your family and friends. And you would have to
keep your day jobs."
Now Xander spoke up. "Are you going to want us to sign a letter of
"No. All that does is make you guys think something's going to happen
when it probably won't. The instant you sign that, you're legally bound
to the company whether you actually sign a contract or not. I've seen too
many bands break up because nothing ever happens after that letter. You
can't even go to another company and try for another contract. So." She
folded her hands and fixed her gaze on Xander. "What do you think? And,
no, I'm not demanding that you sign now. I just want to know if you think
this is a fair offer. Take it home, look it over, discuss it with your
buddies in law school." She slid a sheet of paper across the table to
He glanced at the paper and then turned his eyes back to her. "And why
are you pushing this to me?"
She smiled. "They wanted to know about things like studios and tours.
You asked about the letter of intent. You're obviously the business side
"You're right." All eyes turned to Oz. "Xander, it's up to you. We'll
do whatever you think is best."
Xander turned his attention to the lines of print in front of him.
Funny. This was the sort of situation that would normally result in a
heavy feeling of dread. Fear that the wrong decision was about to be
made. Instead, as he read through the terms and conditions, there was
only the knowledge that only one option existed. He had long ago learned
to trust his instincts. "Got a pen?"