Escape from SoFla
It's not uncommon at a major record label's headquarters to see a hip, bald man in his late thirties cleaning out his cubicle. In his four years as a business analyst at Universal Music, Rob Coe has seen more than 200 people pink-slipped and escorted from the building. What's unusual about Coe is that he's leaving by choice. He's giving up his cushy, $75,000 a year, L.A.-based job to jump in the van and split $100 to $200 a night with his mates in the Enablers -- a band that's played only eight shows in its two-year history and zero in its current incarnation.
To make matters even sketchier, all of his band members live in South Florida, his culturally bereft home. Why would he do such a thing?
"Most people at labels don't know much about music or about business," Coe says in a hushed tone while waiting for his exit interview. "They happen upon something, it could be by chance.... It's based solely on what's the current thing going on. What was Shaggy? He was an accent. Some DJ in Hawaii started playing it. There was no real effort by anyone here. It was an act of fate that everyone ran to take credit for once it happened."
In contrast, his escape from Miami and subsequent four-year exile in the City of Angels was anything but accidental. Coe took a year's sabbatical from his teaching job at Palmetto Middle School, got a master's degree from Barry University in computer education, and returned to teaching for a year before retiring.
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Any of Coe's students who wondered why he wasn't sticking around could have found the answer in a July 2000 copy of Street Miami, where Coe infamously flipped off the Miami skyline in a two-page spread. More than a decade of struggling in the South Florida music scene as a guitarist in hard-drinking punk bands Naughty Puritans, Cell 63, and Fay Wray had so poisoned Coe that he developed this theory: "Florida killed rock and roll." The sentiment came despite Cell 63's sizable local following and the unanimous critical huzzahs that championed both of Fay Wray's CDs for Gainesville's No Idea label. Yet for every favorable comparison with the Replacements, another piece of geographical evidence turned up and Coe, who once wrote a song called "I Think I Hate LA," moved west.
The trip proved anything but glamorous. Coe took up residence in the Hotel Maryland, a flophouse for the would-be famous. "It was pretty skid row," he remembers. "It had a single bed and there were no amenities. No fridge, TV, or stove."
To kill time before it killed him, Coe began appearing at open-mike nights. He soon found that the would-be star whoring wasn't limited to the would-be famous. "Stephen Bishop [Seventies soft rocker of "On and On" fame] played right after me one night," he remembers. "He went on about being with some model: 'I wrote this song after I was with this girl in a hotel room....' I started clapping, and he got surly and said 'You weren't there.'"
Coe began making pilgrimages to Joshua Tree National Park, where he paid tribute to the legendary late folk rocker Gram Parsons by performing in the annual festival dedicated to him. Parsons's musical sensibility had always intrigued Coe, but the musician's biography, Hickory Wind, changed the trajectory of his life.
"His wife was saying that when he was trying to kick the drugs, there was always a steady stream of enablers coming in. He could never cut himself completely off," Coe says. "There was always someone ingratiating -- something that operates within our society -- that never gets called out. It's a very real thing -- people who enable other people. In this case they came out of the woodwork and it did him in."
Thus the concept of the Enablers took hold in Coe's brain. Being in L.A. -- where show biz flameouts happen every day and moderation doesn't exist -- helped immensely
"I updated it," Coe explains. "Robert Downey, Jr. on one of those episodes, the guy calls him up: 'I know you're out of rehab, but I think a trip to the strip club won't hurt.' And it was all over. What I was trying to do was hold it up to the light. Showing it up for the hypocritical thing it is."
Coe eventually hooked up with Interscope executive/bassist Mitch Powers, who helped him recruit a band; the Enablers were born with a weekly residence at L.A. punk club the Garage in June 2002. The band made an immediate impact, which shocked Coe: "You realize that, anywhere, people are starved for a good show. You know, it's L.A. There are a lot of bands. But there's not a lot going on out there. I saw a flyer yesterday that said 'There's 1000 bands playing Los Angeles tonight. We are not one of those bands.'" He laughs: "Then what are you?"
Unfortunately Powers got engaged, and the Enablers soon found themselves sans bassist. But before Powers left, Coe's South Florida homeboy, Quit guitarist Addison Burns, came out and recorded the Enablers material. Coe began e-mailing MP3s of recordings to anyone who ever gave any of his bands the time of day, a shotgun approach that soon paid a dividend.
"I thought I was e-mailing the file for 'Tomorrow' to Russell Remains at Fracture zine," Coe explains. "Instead it landed in the hands of Dave Hopkins, who was just starting [U.K. indie label] Newest Industry. He liked it and said, 'Do you have any more?'"
Newest Industry signed the band, and in March 2003 Coe flew back to Miami for a week-long recording session at Dungeon Recording Studios with Burns, ex-Dashboard Confessional bassist Dan Bonebrake, and Pivot drummer Jordan Keith.
"I blew out my voice on the plane because of the altitude or something," Coe recalls. "I thought, 'I can either take care of it and stop drinking, or I can just keep drinking and go for it.' So I kept drinking. We'd go until we were too drunk to do anything. And you'd have to be pretty drunk not to play. So we'd sleep on the floor of the Dungeon, curl up in one of the blankets that they wrap the microphones in, and repeat the process the next day."
The result is Coe's masterpiece. While lacking the unhinged mania of Fay Wray's best work, Coe's Dylan-meets-Westerberg lyrical stylings ("Dear Beer/Can you say when?/I'll hear the telephone ring/And make her take me back") work wonders, while the music sounds like a three-way street brawl between Social Distortion, the Replacements, and Leatherface. Despite (or perhaps because of) the alcohol consumed at the session, the playing is crisp. Not bad for a band that had never performed together before.
Newest Industry is so thrilled with the record, Sweet Fuck All, that it's flying the Enablers across the pond for a two-week U.K. jaunt next week -- the first overseas tour for all but Bonebrake (whose brother Darryl is now playing drums). That was enough for Coe to put his stuff in storage and go for broke. Is this his midlife crisis?
"It's a prelife crisis," he responds. "I held out for good terms. They are taking care of everything! Flying us out, lodging, renting the back line, the van, getting the work permits -- who gets that opportunity? It ain't rocket science. I'd have to be a moron to pass up what's in front of me."
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