Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Bald Milestones (2001)

FROM THE ARCHIVES, Jan. 28 - This originally posted on, 1/28/01

I've conveniently scheduled all the weird anniversaries for January just to get them out of the way. Fifteen years ago the space shuttle blew up. Ten years ago the Gulf War was raging. Ten years ago also marks the birth of Vermiform, Inc, at least in the sense that Pinocchio was finally "born" as a real boy. It wasn't an easy delivery. The third ad I'd put together (for the Born Against EP, VMFM 1) featured a photo of a screaming toddler waving an American Flag, taken from USA Today. At the bottom of the ad I'd absentmindedly scrawled "patriotism = " with a small hand-drawn swastika. I ran the thing a few times in MaximumRocknRoll and forgot about it. A few months later MRR's editor, Tim Yohannon, called me. "I just got a nasty phone message from an attorney representing the mother of the kid in your ad. He says they're going to sue us, and you, and Don Fury [we'd recorded at Don's studio and he'd had the misfortune of plugging us as one of his clients in the same MRR] and The Associated Press!" I was 21 and - for the first of several times in the history of this label - facing a threat far beyond my capacity. I asked in a terrified whisper what should be done. "Nothing," Tim said, chuckling. "Just don't sign for any registered letters and maybe the problem will go away." I talked to Don Fury the next day and he didn't sound quite as amused. But none of us signed for any registered letters and, sure enough, the problem eventually went away.

Meanwhile, I incorporated. American tax law grants incorporated businesses the same legal status as an individual, shielding the owner of the company from direct liability in the case of, say, statistically implausible lawsuits stemming from fanzine ads. The whole thing was arranged in a sterile office on the top floor of a Secaucus, NJ law firm. The presiding lawyer met me in the lobby, took me to his office and confided that he wanted to "jump" his secretary. I stared out his window at a horizon of stale marshes. A social security number was created for this new entity. 100 corporate shares were issued and stored in an unseen vault. They resembled diplomas from an especially prestigious high school. Feelings of paternal pride briefly swelled. Weeks later, during the weird interval of war, my official deed arrived. Like the adoption papers for a Cabbage Patch kid, the whole thing felt at once heartwarming and disturbingly tacky.

I think of the kid from that ad every now and then, roughly the same age as my record label. Did his having an overly litigious mom help or hinder his development? Years later, some snotty whelp outed Vermiform's status as a corporation in the letters section of MRR (I'd already done the job myself in a 1992 Profane Existence interview), righteously quoting certain Born Against lyrics in the wrong context. Tim wrote a polite response, clearing up some of the mysteries of corporate tax law and why it was sometimes beneficial for record labels to take this approach. Were these two kids one and the same? Considering the plodding, 4th grade level of irony that seems to lubricate all of existence, the answer seems kinda obvious.