Episode 035 – Crash Landings
Sometimes, when you think you’ve won, you’ve really lost. And when you think you’ve lost, you’ve really won.
…all of them looking at me, the rockstar covered in blood and shit. Well, you can probably imagine what they were thinking; you ain’t no rockstar.”*
Oh, where to begin? With the children’s book that was doomed from the beginning or with the record deal that the Universe just couldn’t allow?
Today’s episode is a true story. It really happened, and the takeaway is a big one because sometimes it takes a while to see the true outcome of a situation.
Sometimes when you think you’ve won, you’ve really lost.
And sometimes when you think you’ve lost, you’ve really won.
*Trigger Warning: This episode contains a story that, while true, might be upsetting to some listeners.
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Until next time, be nice and do good stuff.
Crash landing. Which is it?
Did we crash or have we landed?
Are we home or are we stranded?
Hey… what’s with all this double talk
Have we got a ride or do we have to walk?
That’s the first stanza to a poem I wrote called, of course, Crash Landings. It was one of forty different poems for a book I was working on. Think Shel Silverstein, complete with illustrations drawn by me.
I had conceptualized a clothing line that would go along with the book as well.
I had a big-time literary agent, interest from Time-Warner Group and on the fringe, watching it all develop, was Russell Simmons, founder of Def Jam Records. Russell was about to sell his clothing company, Phat Farm for 140 million bucks and he was interested in my little project but…only if Time-Warner got behind it.
Very exciting times.
Also at that time, I had just completed my second record, american dream. The early mixes caught the ear of a man named David Corlew, long-time friend and manager to the legendary Charlie Daniels.
David was and still is, the president of Blue Hat Records. If you saw David in person, you’d think he looked more like a Wyoming cattle rancher than Nashville music executive. He dressed impeccably in a fine suit jacket, pressed and tailored shirts and cowboy boots. He was short and stocky, built like a bull with a Teddy Roosevelt mustache and Kris Kristofferson blue eyes.
At the time, David wanted to branch out and do an alternative side to Blue Hat. He brought in some big gun LA dude to run the A & R side of things and he wanted me to be the first artist on the label.
I was thrilled. We set up a meeting to listen to the finished mixes and I immediately called my friend, Roosh, who was doing the artwork for the CD jewel case. There was no way I was showing up to this meeting with a generic cover with some song titles typed on it.
We spent a lot of time and money mocking up a glossy, 8-fold inner sleeve. It was dramatic and impressive and I wanted that to be the first impression when I showed up and slide the disc across the table.
Roosh told me that it wouldn’t be ready until about an hour before our meeting.
Okay, I thought. No problem. Roosh’s house is fifteen minutes from me and twenty minutes from downtown Nashville.
The morning of the meeting, I was nervous and excited. I was dressed to impress, looking like a young buck who believes himself to be a rockstar. New boots, rock n roll jeans, a fine fitting shirt from a Soho boutique.
Let’s go sign a deal.
The morning came. I was to meet David and his crew at the label at 10 am. Roosh knew I was going to be way early to his house to pick up the art insert.
He lived on a small country road just outside Metro Nashville. The two lane wound its way through sod farms and cattle ranches. I passed through the one-lane railroad tunnel about a half a mile from Roosh’s driveway.
Long morning shadows played tricks on the fog lingering in the low sections of pasture. To my right, I saw a huge mound of turkey buzzards. At first glance, it looked as if they were perched on and around one of those large rolls of hay.
There had to be 20 birds out there. I slowed down and squinted my eyes. Before I could release my gaze, a white head – panic stricken – thrust upward from beneath the mound, scattering several of the birds.
They weren’t perched atop a roll of hay. They were attacking a young cow and it was still alive.
I pulled over as far as I could on a road with no shoulder. I jumped out of my van, slide down a steep embankment wet with morning dew and somehow got over the rickety barbed wire fence without ripping myself to ribbons.
All the while, my brain screaming at me…YOU HAVE TO SIGN YOUR RECORD DEAL!
Flailing my arms and screaming at the top of my lungs, I sent the rest of the birds scattering. They took flight and began to circle.
I felt sick to my stomach. The young cow was unable to stand. She was in the middle of birthing her calf. The calf was halfway out of her and dead. She was suffering and I was way out of my zone.
I’m from Philly. I had no idea how to handle livestock or a situation like this but there was no way I could leave her.
I grabbed my flip phone and called Roosh.
Roosh, I need your help. Don’t talk… Just listen.
I’m about a half mile from your house. You’ll see my van in the street.
Christoph, he said in his gentle voice… What’s going on?
Roosh… please. Just get here, now.
A few minutes later, Roosh pulled up and parked headlight to headlight with my van.
He saw me in the field and climbed the fence.
As he got closer to me in the pasture, I could read the anguish all over his face.
I don’t know what to do, Roosh, what do I do?
He said, there was probably nothing we could do and said we should try to reach the farmer. He started making calls to his neighbors to track down the contact.
By now, a road crew had seen our vehicles blocking the road and they too made their way over the fence and into the field.
The young cow was grunting. Her breathing was rapid and shallow. I could see her belly quivering.
My brain screaming: YOU HAVE TO GO SIGN YOUR RECORD DEAL.
I had about 45 minutes before I needed to be at Blue Hat Records.
I needed to call someone who knew what to do with a birthing calf. And that person was the man I was supposed to meet at Blue Hat Records. David Corlew raised cattle. He would know.
He answered tentatively, Hey… what’up?
David, we have a problem.
There was a long pause. I knew he was thinking I was going to flake on him. Tell him the record wasn’t done or something.
When I explained the situation, he said, “You gotta get that calf out of her. And it ain’t gonna be easy. Sometimes we gotta pull them out with a tractor. She’s probably gonna die anyway. You should just call the farmer and let it be.”
I said, “David, I can’t drive away and leave this cow to be attacked by turkey buzzards. You gotta give me another answer.”
He paused again, then he repeated, “You gotta get that calf out of her.”
“How do I do that?”
“Get your arms in there. He said. It’s hips are probably bent at 90 degrees. You’re gonna have to straighten them. Is anybody with you? Have them pull the front feet as you straighten out the hips. You have very little time to get this done. Get off the phone.”
“Wait… get my arms in where?”
He hung up.
I took off my watch. I didn’t look at Roosh or any of the road crew guys.
What did he say?
He said I gotta get my arms in there and straighten out the hips or she’s gonna die.
Roosh was mortified. “Christoph! She’s going to die anyway.”
“Roosh, you gotta grab the little guys hooves. When I say go, pull.”
I got down on the ground. My new boots, covered in shit. My rock n roll jeans, muddy and about to be covered in shit. My fancy Gene Meyer shirt from Soho, ugh…
As gently as I could– I slid my arms almost to my armpits… into the young calf. She protested and squealed in pain. Tears were spilling out of my eyes. I could feel the boney hips of the lifeless calf.
I choked on the bile in my throat but I managed to get out the word, go!
The calf came out with the sound of releasing suction. I fell backwards on the ground and carried the calf with me.
Shit and afterbirth. I got sick.
The road crew walked away. Roosh stood there with an expression on his face that I could draw today with the clarity of a photograph.
Minutes later, the farmer arrived in his Jeep. He got out and retrieved a rifle from passenger side.
He was furious that I was fucking with his cows. Tresspassing on his property. He said he was calling the cops.
I didn’t hear much past that. He was shouting at my back. I drove to Roosh’s house to clean up.
I could feel my record deal slipping away.
With my CD and artwork in hand, I called David. I’m on my way.
“How’d it go?” He asked.
“Just as you said it would.”
“I’m sorry.” Then he hung up.
Walking up to the large glass doors, I could see my reflection. Blood and cow shit.
I certainly didn’t look like a rock star.
The young receptionist… well, you can imagine her reaction. The smell alone…
“I’m here to see David.”
She picked up the phone and before she could ask I said, “Chris. Tell him Chris is here.”
David was at the head of the long conference room table… you know the table…looking as David always did… like a million bucks.
To his left, the big gun LA dude. I don’t remember his name. To his right, his assistant. I don’t remember her name either.
All of them looking at me… the rockstar covered in blood and shit… well, you can imagine.
That first impression I was hoping to make… yeah.
I slide my CD to David. He trapped it with his palm and said…
“Maybe we should reschedule.”
We never rescheduled. I never signed the big record deal.
As it turns out… that’ s just fine. Because 6 months after that meeting, Blue Hat decided to fold the alt side of the label. They fired the big gun LA dude. My record would have been held captive and who knows what would of happened.
The universe stepped in as it has so many times in my life.
Maybe a little heavy handed… I’ll give you that.
But we all make choices and here’s the important part of all of this…
Sometimes what we initially perceive as a catastrophic failure… a loss, actually turns out to be a win.
Oh, and the book? Crash Landings? Yeah… well, the execs at Time Warner decided that promoting a book called Crash Landings a year after several planes attacked the World Trade Centers was a bad look.
Russell Simmons vanished and so did my fancy literary agent. But here I am, 20 years down the road and the last stanza of Crash Landings couldn’t be more perfect, couldn’t ring with any more truth.
So the next time you crash and think yourself stranded
Look closely because you just may have landed.
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