This is it for Crystal Haze, 10 Minneapolis musicians who survived the hard times dreaming of the big time and this is what it is -- a mere glance of a town near a highway, nine miles from Wilmington, 40 minutes from Philly, somewhere between Faust and Frankenstein.
Here, among the fast food, selfserve, parking lots and exit signs they are ensconced, in chrysalis fashion, waiting to be born.
Lee Geissler, the son, the sorcerer's apprentice, is doing the birthing, planning to package Crystal Haze to stardon, with rainstorms of promotion, thunderclouds of projections, streaks of publicity and then poof! Supercelebrity.
The sorcerer himself has blessed this union: Harry Geissler, the street hustler, the carny, who cloud turn a buck into a million bucks, and liked to do it and did it a number of times in the shadow of the Delaware Memorial Bridge.
In the last four years, he has made his money from the flotsam of celebrity, the sediment of fame -- toys and trinkets memorializing the popularity of Farrah, Star Wars, Superman, whatever prism has caught the light. "One thing I learned very early in this world," says Harry Geissleer. "If it's in a box, people will buy it."
And now Harry wants to do to Crystal Haze what he did to Cuban fudge.
The first deal was potatoes. He laughs wheezily through the Winstons. He remembers the first deal was potatoes because it was in the spring; he turned 16 in April and the ground outside Reading, Pa., was finally soft and green again. Potatoes were one of the first crops: they brought a good price. He had already made a deal to sell the potatoes before he bought them from the farmers.
He left school on the day he turned 16. "I told them. 'You have anything you want me to learn, you better teach it before that day, because that day I'm gone.' I was always making a deal," he says, and the eves are open just enough to get a gauge on how he's going over, and the face is creased in grins.
"I knew from the start that that was the line of work I wanted to get into, because where I came from, the only people who had any money were the traveling salesmen. Everybody else, the farmers, they traded in sweet potatoes, corn, whatever. But I liked what money could do. The things it could buy."
He grew up in the Depression. His father was a steel worker. The mills were shut down. "Ten people went to the table to eat. I was the youngest. I had to figure out how to get through my brothers and sisters to get to that food.I had to figure how to get my share of that."
He sold Christmas trees that winter, "All I ever wanted to do was to make money. As long as there was money to be made, I have been in there trying to make it. It's very enjoyable, making money. A lot of people don't know that. Some people," says Harry Geissler, "enjoy playing golf. I enjoy making money."
Dream Come True
In the dampness and dullness of afternoon in Delaware, the band gathers in a white brick-and-frame house on a country road. They look like aging fraternity brothers, a boys' choir gone to seed. "We've been scuffling so long," says Willie Ternoir, lean body, soft eyes, low voice tht urges credence. "It's like a dream come true. It's finally happening to us. It's finally going to heppen."
They are six black musicians who grew up together in a Minneapolis ghetto and played together after that and four white horn players who joined them two years ago for a studio recording. One of the horn players knew Lee Geissler and sent him a tape. Geissler brought them all to Bear.
They want, says Paul Johnson, to "be a phenomenon." To be "numero uno," says Ternoir. The deal with Factors was the only way out of what had been, for the black members of the band, a decade of popularity in Minneapolis and anonymity elsewhere. "Of course we took the deal," says Paul's brother, Peter. "They looked legit. Who wouldn't? It's what I've been dreaming about for the last 13 years."
They tried other ways. They talk about the old days, the old neighborhood, the clubs they played, the booking agents who sent them in snowstorms to all white-towns in the North which threw them out, the ladies who left, the bill collectors who didn't, the trip to L.A. in search of success, the money lost in Tahoe, the time that's slipped away.
"Oh, we paid our dues," says Ternoir. "We earned this one. And when it happens, I'll take the fortune over fame. I want to see what the money will buy."
Harry Geissler likes Crystal Haze. This is important because it was Harry who decided to buy the rights to Star Wars before anybody had seen the movie and Harry who put Farrah on his T-shirts and Harry who said buy the rights to Superman a year before the movie opened.
What is so important about Crystal Haze, Harry Geissler says, "is the attitude they have about themselves. These guys stayed right there on the street with their lemonade and their rice. They're doing exactly today what they were doing before they came here. That's a very important thing."
After he sold the Christmas trees, Harry worked the carnivals. He bought supplies for the stands from the merchants in the nearby towns. The locals knew the deal, they jacked up their prices the minute they heard a carnival was coming, stocked their shelves. Harry knew the deal too. Sometimes the towns heard the carnival was coming from Harry, and then, when the carnival unaccountably failed to show, he thoughtfully offered to buy up all the undesired goods, now being offered at reduced prices. "That one was good for two years," Harry says. "We played the towns, the towns played us."
He went to work in a steel mill, at night, in the place where the steel was melted. He opened up a store in the mill. "Television was beginning to get very hot then." He met an immigrant family who made candy. "I put some white uniforms on them, in case the inspectors should come by. I sold Cuban fudge. What the hell was Cuban fudge? No one knew, but at the time, we were very friendly with Cuba, and it was very popular."
Harry went to Providence, apprenticed himself to a Greek he had met in the Army. "He was a lot older, he could tell me about how to pull off different things. I knew about street suff, I didn't know business stuff."
He worked for the Greek in a restaurant the man had opened in a department store. "We worked all day, and then I would sit up half the night with him asking him questions. At the end of the year, he sold the restaurant to the department store -- 20-to-1 profit. One of the biggest games we ever pulled."
After that, Harry tried it on his own. He opened a restaurant. The restaurant went broke. "Not me you understand. I was never broke. The restaurant went broke."
$50 a Week
The boys in the band like Harry Geissler. He comes by the house every now and then and cooks them steaks or enormous hot dogs. "Everything is big," says Ternoir. "Harry buys everything big."
They came to Delaware in June. Harry's son Lee, the president of Factors, bought them mountains of musical equipment, and sporting-goods paraphernalia. "These guys are very physically minded in the first place," says Lee Geissler. "And being on the road is very physically demanding. This way, they can give the audience their money's worth."
Lee Geissler got them a house and, for a time, a housekeeper and a cook and a musical director and a costumer and a choreographer. He gave them each $50 a week spending money and a five-year contract, and that is about all Lee Geissler has to say about his deal with Crystal Haze.
The allowance doesn't go very far. Which is good, says Ternoir with a smile. That way they can't to very far. There is time now, to rehearse, to write music. Back in Minneapolis, there was always a "lady around, or a bill coming due. At least in Delaware, there's nothing to do but work."
The Delaware Bridge
Harry came to Delaware because of the bridge. "I liked this bridge they were building here -- all the industry moving south and the market still in New York. I figured if I moved here, I could intercept some of it."
For a year, he did nothing but watch. "And analyze the situation -- what was on the truck, where was it headed, where was it coming from."
Motels were springing up like tulips near the bridge and Harry kept busy, supplying the lodgers with fresh food from the farmers. At least it was fresh the first morning. If, the next day, he came back and there was some left over, I'd take it back. Sell it to the next one. But I would always rewrap it and turn the corners a different way, so I could keep track."
He began his gleaning from the harvest headed north. "At the time, farmers' markets were very big -- all these stands, and all the stands needed to be supplied. With whatever. This dress didn't move this year? Take it to the farmers' market. That appliance didn't do so hot? Take it to the farmers' market. I always supplied the secondary markets. I could always make a deal."
"They're like apples,c he says of the "bowling got very big. There were bowling alleys all over the place, and every one of them had a gift shop. They used to put the names of the players on the back of the shirts in script, and it just so happened my wife had a sewing machine and could do that." The shirt cost Geissler $1.25. The shirt inscribed cost the customer$9.
The shirts led to sporting goods, athletic equipment and then T-shirts. "Very big -- but it was a summertime thing then, beach scenes and cars mostly." But Snoopy was very big then too. And Sesame Street. Harry made Snoopy and Sesame Street T-stirts. Harry got sued.
"They never sued anyone for doing that before," Geissler says proudly. "No one had made any money at it before."
Harry settled out of court and started Factors. And started suing anybody who tried the same kind of bootlegging themselves. Like all the people who tried to sell Elvis Presley mementoes after Harry got the exclusive rights. Altogether, Factors filed suits and cease-anddesist orders over 400 suits and cease-and-desist orders against the bootleggers. And won every one of them.
"You should see the stuff we confiscated," he says. "Junk. Real junk. You got to offer a quality product. You should never rip people off. Beacuse if you rip them off, they won't be back a second time."
"The Total Package"
Recently, Crystal Haze played the Stone Balloon, a small, dark little bar in nearby Newark, Del., which normally features hard-rock music and is people largely by 20-year-olds in tight designer blue jeans, scraps of satin and blank expressions.
The band came out, somewhat selfconsciously, in their brand new costumes, space cowboys in silver higheeled boots and variations on the theme of white jumpsuits with assorted slits and slashes and unsought vistas of bare chests, multi-colored ribbons tied to thighs and necks.
Harry's son Lee, 28, darted back and forth through the club, a businessman in a three-piece suit, with nervous, alert eyes, like a small animal whose whole being is tuned to the dangers of the dark.
They're like apples," eh says of the band. "They were ripe for the picking. It's kind of a unique step. You know how in the Middle Ages, in the Renaissance, they had patrons of the arts? Well, that's sort of the way we look at ourselves."
Lee doesn't like it when people say he owns the band. They said it on a short television segment on Crystal Haze. "I don't like that," he says when it comes up again. "Let's edit it out. Take it off our tape.
"They do their own thing," he says of Crystal Haze. "The music is all theirs. And we get into tiffs with them sometimes, like what kind of guitars they want, or what color their uniforms should be."
The band plays a set, and the response is favorable, polite. They sound a bit like Earth Wind and Fire, say a number of the patrons, with a little Chicago thrown in. The engagement yields a booking at the Bayou in Washington, a scattering of other club dates, and a return for a longer stay at the Stone Balloon.
"We've done playing cards, figurines, all that stuff," says Lee Geissler. "Now we'd like to penetrate into the base area with the expertise we've learned from the periphery. We figured, why not do a total package idea?"
Factors grosses about $15 million annually from all that stuff, and licensing agents who deal with the company call them "the most sighificant in the business." "Whenever a company grows as fast as they have, there's bound to be detractors," says one licensee who investigated Factors and their techniques thoroughly before signing with them. "But we have no complaints. They've done everything they contracted to do for us." So why not do a total package idea?
There was one source of inspiration. "Stigwood." Lee Geissler sounds the name as if all the consonants had turned to bass notes, the name behind "Saturday Night Fever," the Bee Gees, "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" music. He describes the lessons learned from observing the Stigwood method as if it were the miracle of the loaves and fishes. "What Mr. Stigwood has taught us is the way you can get a snowball effect from a single event, people in the whole western world get to experience a happening, they get away from the recession and all the other hassles of the world."
Stigwood fascinates him. "When he does a film, it's not just a film. It's something we all share in."
And now Lee Geissler wants his share, not just of stardom's borders, where Factors has nibbled so conscientiously, but of the heart of the matter, where he can create his own stars.
There isn't much room in Geissler's gleaming offices for sentimental notions of how erratic the line can often be between fame and obscurity. There is a lot of talk at the Factors building about "media crossover potential" and "expertise" and "marketing tools" and "honest music." While the wind might carry the keening of all who found art and death on less regulated roads to success, inside, such sounds are drowned in the rattle of statistics and a telephone that plays Muzak when the hold button is pressed.
Lee is president of Factors. Harry is chairman of the board. Harry retired four years ago, when he was 45. "I'm a street person," he says. "My ways are not the ways of a company this size. You have to turn with the modern times."
But Harry Geissler stays involved. "I bring my street smarts. I can save them a lot of steps." Harry still sells programs at rock concerts and goes all over the world talking to people, to see what's going to be very, very big. "I talk to everyone," Harry says. "You don't have to talk Japanese to talk to the Japanese. Mutes. I talk to mutes."
It's not what they tell him, Harry says. "It's the vibes. They all want this clebrity stuff. It's the closest they get to the real thing. And then they throw it away. But this charisma is a matter of timing. You have to feel the pulse. You have to get the vibes. What's ready to be hot?A male? A female? A movie? A swimmer? I didn't touch Mark Spitz. There were no vibes, it never went anywhere. Why Star Wars and not King Kong? When Superman came up, all I wanted to know was what he looked like flying. They said he looked good. That's all I needed to know."
Harry is asked what he thinks of the music that Crystal Haze plays. "I hate it," he says. "But I hated Star Wars when I finally saw it."