Make it in the music business (part six): The Funk Machine

One of the things I had to be in possession of for my job at Sony Music was an automobile. I was already working full time to put myself through university and did not have a single cent left to spend on the bus to get around our college town, let alone a car and insurance, especially one that would be reliable enough to drive bands around the entire huge Bay Area.  I did not know what I was going to do.

Of course, Grandma came to the rescue. I got the job around Christmas time. There, on the tree, on a higher bough so that the dog could not get it and chew it up was an envelope. ‘Jenny’ it said on the outside. I opened it up to reveal a check – for $1000. Now this was a LOT of money to me. I lived on about $100 dollars a month ALL IN- this was TEN TIMES MORE than that! However, even in the 1990s, this was not much money for a car. But this was my budget, and I was very grateful for it.

We started looking around for a car. I had only had my driver’s license for a couple months and had not really been at the wheel far out of my hometown. The Sony job wold require me to navigate many cities, freeways and suburbs, way beyond my current experience. My parents were obsessed with me getting something safe. I just wanted something with a stereo.

We came to a compromise when our family mechanic, knowing we were on the hunt for a motor, called my dad. He had just gotten a 1967 green Volvo sedan in. It had high mileage, was a stick shift, and was only $600. It had a sun roof but no stereo. After purchasing insurance, I would have about $30 left over, just enough to get a boom box- my ‘stereo.’ It was less than ideal in my eyes, but I was keen to get officially started on my new job, so agreed to the deal.

This car and I were together for four years. It was christened ‘the Funk Machine’ by a band called The Ocean Blue who I picked up and drove around to radio interviews in Sacramento before a gig. The interior was all bright green leather, with the speedometer a bar which stretched across the dashboard. The horn made a ‘Wah-WAHHHH-Wah’ sound which sounded like a duck being strangled. In short, everyone loved it. It was instantly memorable, and I never lost it in a sea of parking lots. One of my favourite things was to have artists who I was driving around pick out a tape and then hold the boom box- the ‘stereo’ – as we went from one interview to a gig to eat and back to a hotel. A lot of the bands asked for a spin at the wheel. Some of my favourite memories from these early days in the business are not the gigs but seeing Kurt Cobain try to not lose his shit on a steep hill with the clutch popping while taking a turn in San Francisco or having the guys from the hip-hop groups Cypress Hill banging MC Hammer and ‘dancing’ in the back seat of the car.

However, The Funk Machine was not the most dependable of cars. The bigger the band, the more important the tour or campaign I was working on, the more likely Funk was to give me two big huge fingers up and break down at inopportune moments. Remember, this is before cell phones. One time I was driving Pearl Jam back to their hotel. We were on a stretch of the road that ran along an area called ‘Colma’ near San Francisco. Colma was known for having more dead residents than living, for when San Francisco started getting really populated, all of the graveyards were dug up and the bodies moved to Colma. It was a cold and foggy night, after a gig. We were listening to David Bowie on the ‘stereo,’ I don’t remember who had picked it. Suddenly, our 75mph rate of cruising in Das Funk came to an abrupt end, as the green machine started gurgling and shuddering. We had to pull onto the shoulder, right next to endless grave markers. There were a few rounds of Roshambo to decide who would walk the unknown miles with the dead on one side, the rushing of cars along the dimly lit motorway on the other, in search of a pay phone and help, and who would stay with the Funk. It was not the best way to end a night. The band were just starting to get major airplay, the video for ‘Jeremy’ added on MTV. And here we were, on the side of the road, surrounded by the deceased, shivering in a decrepit car.

I met up with Eddie Vedder again, fifteen years later, in an entirely different context. He looked at me like he was trying to place me; then, you could see the connection in the brain firing away, as he exclaimed, ‘The Funk Machine!’

Jen developed our BA (Hons) Commercial Music course and she’ll be back on the blog sharing more of her story soon.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *