In 1988, we got to hear a new rock anthem that's just right for Orange County: "It's Money That Matters."
Randy Newman's sarcastic lament applied most obviously to the boom mentality in real estate. Orange County was that rare place where affluent burghers were reduced to the same tactics as scruffy Deadheads, camping out all night so they could be first in line--not for concert tickets, but for first crack at new subdivisions.
Clearly, it paid to be in the real estate business here in 1988. But how about the pop music business? What prospects were there for local musicians to be heard--let alone to prosper? And how reliably could county music fans depend on seeing their favorite touring pop and rock acts without having to go to Los Angeles?
Some hope for improvement on both counts emerged in 1988, largely because a bit of money began to flow from entrepreneurs willing to back pop music ventures.
Club Postnuclear in Laguna Beach was the most expensive, the most promising and the most enigmatic new development. Owner Max Nee, a wealthy real estate investor, advertised that he had pumped $2 million into the club, which opened in July with such striking amenities as a foam-supported aluminum dance floor, arena-style lighting, and designer decor and architecture. Postnuclear was also unusual for its no-smoking and no-alcohol policy. Unfortunately, through its early months, the club also had no coherent booking policy. Money clearly mattered in keeping Postnuclear going through muddled months that would have killed a less well-capitalized nightclub.
By December, though, Postnuclear's growing pains appeared to be giving rise to real growth. The club landed sellout shows by Edie Brickell & the New Bohemians (canceled at the last minute due to Brickell's voice problems) and Information Society.
Nee is now seeking approval for a beer license, which would widen Postnuclear's audience base. The 499-capacity club could emerge as an important presence in 1989, but it's hard to tell what kind of presence it will be. Key questions are the club's willingness to venture beyond its core offerings of reggae and dance rock and whether it will make an effort to showcase local rock talent. It seems a natural marriage for the county's emerging nightclub to take a prominent role in cultivating an audience for the county's emerging bands.
In an irony that crystallizes the depressed state of the Orange County club scene, Bogart's, a nightclub across the county line in Long Beach, emerged in 1988 as the venue most committed to supporting Orange County talent.
Dr. Dream Records is another example of how money matters in building a local music scene. Backed with substantial financing from his father's insurance business, label president David Hayes took important steps in 1988 toward forging a national reputation for his Orange-based label. Dr. Dream released strong debut albums by such local acts as Ann De Jarnett, the Swamp Zombies and National People's Gang, and with help from booking agent Jim Palmer, the record company sent its bands out on tour. If 1989 brings growth for Dr. Dream and success for its acts--no easy order in the precarious world of small, independent rock labels--the Orange County rock scene as a whole could gain national stature.
Local pop venues that already have attained stature in the music industry saw to it that county music fans had plenty of chances to see top-flight talent.
On the club level, country music fans could depend on seeing their favorites show up at the Crazy Horse Steak House in Santa Ana, while the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano maintained a virtual monopoly on national talent in all other pop genres.
With its open-to-anything booking policy, a cozy, comfortable atmosphere, clear sight lines and impeccable acoustics, the Coach House came close to being a truly great club in '88. The only missing ingredient was an unstinting commitment to developing local talent. What local rockers need more than anything else is the exposure that comes from opening shows for compatible national acts--a profile-raising chance to win fans and influence tastemakers. Unfortunately, such opening slots have been more the exception than the rule at the Coach House.
Diversity was also the hallmark at the Celebrity Theatre in Anaheim. Besides establishing itself as the only county venue committed to consistently booking top black music acts--ranging from Motown oldies to hard-edged new rap groups--the Celebrity spun its revolving stage for Latin, country, rock, punk, heavy metal and middle-of-the-road pop. In the ongoing battle of the open air giants, the Pacific Amphitheatre and Irvine Meadows both set new attendance records with '88 seasons that brought many of the touring pop heavyweights to Orange County.