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After three albums that didn't sell, his career was going nowhere fast. Then a movie gave new life to his single, "Wicked Game," and suddenly he was on his way to the big time. Welcome to the club. Bruce Springsteen was calling for tickets. So was Madonna. And Sean Penn. And Sylvester Stallone. And Laura Dern. And Rickie Lee Jones. And Mickey Rourke. And some of the cast from Twin Peaks. They all wanted to see one of the most compelling rock & roll acts to hit the Top Ten in years: Chris Isaak.
``Bruce called about tickets?'' says Isaak, every inch the Fifties-style rocker in his tight black jeans, pointed shoes, white T-shirt and brown leather motorcycle jacket, as he looks up from his plate of noodles at a cheap Thai restaurant on Sunset Boulevard. In a few hours he will headline a sold-out show at the Wiltern Theater, in Hollywood.
Adopting the voice of a rube, Isaak, who grew up in Stockton, California, drawls: ``They gonna give 'em free tickets? They git in for free?''
He's grinning now. ``Come on, Bruce,'' he says. ``You sittin' on a big ol' pile uh loot. Git up off it!'' ...
Fingering a wooden tiki head that hangs around his neck for good luck, he says: Five years from now, it could be like Oh, man, him Plays a guitar. Everybody else has got keyboards, he's still got guitars.' Or in ten years: Oh, those guys still actually try to sing. It's boring. They sing.' You never know.''
Isaak adjusts a pair of wraparound shades that look like something Jean-Paul Belmondo wore in the Jean-Luc Godard classic Breathless. As if he were quoting from some official music-business rule book, he says, Usually, right after you make it, you can count about seven years until people go, How totally square.' ''
The ship has sailed,'' one Warner Bros. executive told Isaak's manager-producer, Erik Jacobsen, in the summer of 1989. The ship has already sailed.''
The meaning of those words couldn't have been clearer. Heart Shaped World, Isaak's third album, was dead; the company had no interest in spending another dime promoting it. Jacobsen contends there was never much enthusiasm at Warners for Heart Shaped World. Executives from the company had flown up to San Francisco to hear it that spring. Not a favorable word was spoken,'' he says about the awkward playback session. It was just the most deadly reaction that I have ever seen to anything in my life. As for getting it on the radio, all they said was Tough, very tough, extremely tough.' ''
For Isaak, those were dark days. Although he was loved by the media when his debut album, Silvertone, was released in 1985, his songs didn't get on the radio and his videos never made it onto MTV in any kind of meaningful rotation. No less an authority on authentic American rock & roll than John Fogerty described Isaak as being like a skyscraper against the
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