Simms was on the roof again.
Ronald Simms was a tall lanky friend of mine sporting a floppy, sandy colored hairdo. He had just started in the mailroom and I could relate as a lot of us had begun our careers doing a stint in the ol’ mailroom. Even though I was on the fourth floor of our building at 5533 Sunset Blvd. ensconced in a meeting, I could divine that Simms was on the roof.
Amongst other things, I happen to be a semi-pro magician, but I wasn’t using my mind reading skills here. No, this was more like the deduction process of Sherlock Holmes. I was the brand new Local Album Promotion Manager for Los Angeles and surrounding areas and I was sitting in the office of Del Costello, the head of the Western Region for CBS Records (including Columbia, Epic, and all associated labels) where we were going over some current projects. Del’s desk faced forward with his back to a large window overlooking Sunset Boulevard. He was talking and I was daydreaming when by chance I glanced over his shoulder and noticed a small balsa wood airplane magically appear outside his window! It danced about for a few seconds and then disappeared just as magically as it had arrived.
Del kept on talking while another, and yet another glider cruised by. Eventually I wasn’t hearing anything he said at all, as I began to study the different flight patterns of these planes. Some came by and seemed to circle endlessly, dipsy-doodling around in a curly cue motion while others just nose dived, heading straight for the street below. Pretty soon there was a virtual armada of dozens of little gliders outside of Del’s window swaying this way and that, and my head was beginning to sway with them.
What the hell has this got to do with the record biz, you might ask? Well, Columbia Records was in the middle of launching a brand new rock band named Aerosmith. Yep, Steven, Joe and the boys at the ripe old ages of nineteen to twenty-one.
Columbia’s headquarters in New York had sent each local branch office five, very large plastic bags containing literally thousands of balsa wood gliders with the band’s name printed across the wings. These gliders were to be used as promotional items to be given to press, radio, and retail to heighten and lengthen the awareness of the band. We were big on chotskies in those days. Indeed, I once even made girl’s panties with the Boomtown Rats’ name printed on the front to commemorate the band playing live in the Fredrick’s Of Hollywood lingerie store (remind me to tell you that one one day!). Anyway, the moment I had laid eyes on those huge bagfuls of airplanes I knew what had to be done, and seeing as how Ron was a really cool guy I knew he would dig being a part of my plan.
As Del continued talking I remembered how the week before, Ron and I had grabbed two handfuls apiece of those babies and bounded up to the roof of our building. It was about twelve stories high and really beautiful up there. On a nice sunny day you could see all the way to the Hollywood Freeway, which began its slow winding climb over the hills eventually dumping down into the San Fernando Valley on the other side.
“Betcha I can hit the freeway,” I said, and the race was on! What we hadn’t figured on was how addicting this act could become. Every single day since our first trip to the roof, in the morning, at lunchtime, and after work we went up there and launched dozens of gliders to see whose could go the farthest. You could actually control flight patterns of the balsa gliders by adjusting their wings forward and back, and on a hot summer’s day the thermals rising from the street could keep those things up for ten minutes at a time! I must admit I began to feel more than a little guilty as day by day we began using up all of those bags of planes all the while knowing what they were really intended for. But hey, we broke the band anyway right?!!
Sometimes we even had special guest pilots. Rock stars, record execs, and radio personnel alike, joined us on the rooftop to try their luck. I remember a very young Elton John with his big glasses and platform boots giving it a go. We all decided afterwards that he was a much better piano player than airplane glider pilot – ha, ha.
Anyway, Del finished speaking and said, “Did you get all that?” I nodded yes and raced downstairs to check the carnage that lay all over the street. Per usual, dozens and dozens of airplane fuselages were being crushed beneath all the tires cruising on a very busy Sunset Strip, and balsa wood splinters where scattered everywhere.
I often wondered if we would ever cause an accident seeing as how a good number of out of control airplanes probably careened into cars left and right while searching for a place to land. But interestingly enough there were no accidents and no one complained. Although, I do remember someone stopping very short and skidding to a halt right in front of Cahuenga Boulevard as one of those babies banked, took a sharp turn, and grazed their windshield!
It was at that moment that I immediately realized we had dodged some very big bullets and that I’d better start delivering those Aerosmith gliders to press, radio, and retail!
Ah, the good old daze,