In 1983, a friend of mine, a fellow guitar player, introduced me to a guy who said his name was Roger Cook. Roger, a weary-looking older cat with a beard, was a songwriter, he said. He showed us an album of his, and talked about tunes he’d had recorded by famous artists, mostly mentioning country baritone Don Williams and the songs “Love On a Roll,” “I Believe in You,” and “Listen to the Radio.”
We should have known something was hinky right away. Just a little looking would have revealed that “Listen to the Radio” had been written by Fred Knipe. Our Roger, being a clever and self-serving fellow, mentioned only those tunes with a modest range and tempo, which he had some hope of being able to play and sing on his guitar. He didn’t play and sing much. He confined himself to entrepreneurial tale-spinning.
Well, we were hungry, and we were most hungry to believe, so when Roger told us he had acquired the rights to the name of the band Brownsville Station (best known for “Smokin’ in the Boys’ Room”), we bought it. And when Roger managed to sell this “band” to a talent booker for summer-long stint in Alaska, six days a week, a better gig than any of us had ever had, we went along with the ever-more preposterous deception.
Roger was not Roger Cook at all, of course. Cook, a transplanted Englishman, lived near Nashville and wrote big, big hits: “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing,” “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress,” and many more. And, as one of my musician friends, an old Detroiter told me, the Brownsville Station name was a scam, too. “If it ain’t Cubby Koda (the original leader), it ain’t Brownsville Station.”
But never mind, we were off, under false flags, a false name, and false pretenses, following an imposter to a gig at the Sheraton Anchorage. Halfway through, the imposture collapsed, and our Roger fled the scene, leaving us the stage and the job, and we finished out the summer.
A dozen years later, I was working at one of the major financial services companies in America when somebody new came on board. He introduced himself as one of the coaches of the famous U.S. gold medal-winning Olympic hockey team of 1960 (not to be confused with the Soviet-beating team of the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics). He was personable, in a rough, working-class New England way. He had a well-rehearsed story about how, after the Olympics, he realized he had to find something to do besides hockey. So he introduced himself to successful people with whom he found himself paired at celebrity pro-am golf tournaments. He described how he always sent thank-you notes to his partners, how he made a point of learning what they knew, and of exploring what business opportunities might be open to him.
At the company where I was just then running out my freelance string, he had been hired as a director of corporate marketing.
And about him I caught the whiff of my old imposter, Roger Cook. As my wife put it, “If you put everybody together who ever claimed a connection to that hockey team, you’d have a couple of thousand people.” True. And you can spend a long, long time at a highly-paid job in certain “soft” corporate areas — marketing, communications, promotions, advertising — without anybody suspecting that you’re making it all up as you go along.
I never did find out for sure. But I did learn, just before I left that company, that one of the people to whom I reported had fabricated virtually her entire résumé. The company did not fire her when this was found out (lawsuit fears, probably; she was female and gay). The department where I worked employed two dozen people whose job descriptions were some variation on “writer” — and not one had published a word anywhere (as I found out when I went looking for freelancers to help me with a magazine).
And I think this is typical. Look around, now that the boom years of the 1990s have collapsed, and the Clinton culture palpably rots. How many people are just plain gone? How many names do you suppose you could look up, who did semi-prominent things for semi-large money, who have scarpered and disappeared?
Résumé-padders are the least of it. They’re foolish; they keep their own names. If you’re willing to pull a little bit of a fraud on identity — not hard to do — you can make out like the proverbial bandit, as long as you know when to cut and run. People are afraid to give real information when you call for references nowadays; they don’t want to be sued. Employers never really know. Chances are, an imposture will never be uncovered.
I believe there are hundreds of them, going on every day.