We ended up convening in the back around J.’s little gray tape recorder.
“Okay, first thing, my usual thing. If there’s something you don’t want to answer, just say so, or wave your hand like you’re passing your turn,” Jonathan said. I didn’t remember him ever saying that before, but Bart and Ziggy nodded like they knew what he was talking about. “So, if you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?”
“You mean if we weren’t on tour right now?” I asked.
“If you want. Though I kind of meant it more as if you weren’t pursuing a career in music, what would you be doing?”
All three of us pondered that for a moment. Ziggy spoke first. “I have no idea. I guess probably by now I would’ve quit the job at the video rental store and moved up to waiting tables somewhere.”
We laughed, because he said it like a joke, but then he went on. “Seriously, it’s that or I would have come up with something else as crazy, wonderful, wild, and creative as what I’m doing now, just different.”
It was me who said, “You mean like starring in a movie?”
“Yeah, or something even weirder. Who knows? Without the band that movie wouldn’t have happened. But maybe something would have.” He shrugged. “When I was a kid, I always thought I would be famous.”
“What do you mean by that?” Jonathan prompted.
“I mean, when people always ask little kids what are you going to be when you grow up my answer was always ‘Famous.’ It’s kind of… amusing… actually, that it’s come true.”
“What about you, Daron?” Jonathan asked.
“Did I want to be famous? I didn’t really think of it that way. I just…” I looked at my hands. “I mean, guitar is what I do. And I want to do it well, and successfully, and if success is fame, then, I guess so?”
“What about the original question? What would you be doing now if you weren’t pursuing a career in music?”
“Well, but I’d still be pursuing it, I think, I just wouldn’t have got here yet,” I said. “I’d still be working a cash register at Tower Records, I guess.”
Bart shrugged. “I imagine if I hadn’t met this one…” He knocked me on the arm. “…I might’ve stayed on the orchestra track. But probably not. I’d have gone postal by now if I did. I’d still be in music somewhere, somehow, though. Session work. Half the reason I worked so hard on the electric bass is because there are a hell of a lot more gigs for the bass than the bassoon.”
“He’s not half bad at the standup concert bass either,” I added.
“All right,” J. said. “Let’s talk influences. You’ve told me a little before about the other rock and pop artists who’ve influenced you. But what about other genres? Bart, do you have classical influences?”
“Well, sure, but the classical influence comes more from composers than from artists or musicians. So, you know, Brahms, Wagner.” He pronounced it “Vogner,” of course. “Jazz, though, I took a lot from Jaco Pastorius.”
“I don’t know if I’d call it a LOT,” I said. “I mean, I hear the Jaco in what you do, but it’s only a little.”
“What else do you hear in Bart’s playing?” J. asked.
“I hear John Taylor, for one thing.”
“Which John Taylor?” Bart asked, intrigued.
“Both of them. Queen and Duran Duran. And Porl Thompson. And T-Bone Burnett.” I waved my hand suddenly. “Wait, no, I mean T-Bone Wolk.”
Jonathan squinted at me, one of those disbelieving-skeptical looks. “T-Bone Wolk? Doesn’t he play with… the David Letterman band?”
“Close. Saturday Night Live. And he was all over those Hall and Oates albums, like Maneater and the one before that, the one with Kiss on My List,” I said.
Bart snorted. “You nailed me.”
“Not really,” I said. “You and I grew up in parallel universes, totally different worlds but where we were hearing exactly the same music. That’s… that’s why it works. And listen, I hear all these other guys in what you do, but that’s like twenty percent, and the other eighty percent is you, man.” I shrugged.
Ziggy tapped his hands on the table. “Can you do the same thing back? Who do you hear in Daron, Bart?”
“Well, I do hear some Brian May,” he said, looking at me with raised eyebrow. “And Robert Smith. And I used to hear the influence of Andy Summers and Robert Fripp but you’ve pretty much exorcised that.”
“Got rid of it. I have no idea how. Maybe it was just a phase you were going through when we were in school.” He seemed pleased with himself.
“Fair enough,” I said with a shrug. “As for outside the genre… I’m influenced by everybody. Andres Segovia. Stanley Jordan. Even whatshisface.” For a moment I couldn’t think of the name. “He influences everybody because he teaches at Berklee and every guitar player in the Fenway sounds like him.”
“Leo Kottke?” Bart guessed.
“No. Shit, why can’t I remember his name.” My eye itched and I reminded myself I couldn’t rub it. “Whatever. I’ll think of it later. Ziggy still hasn’t answered the question.”
“Okay so what do we define as the genre?” he asked. “Rock, or all of pop?”
Jonathan waved in the air. “Who do you have in mind?”
“I’d say I was pretty well influenced when I was younger by Michael Jackson, for example. But maybe not musically, so much as… just inspired by how he could be. How captivating and unique. Like none of the rules applied to him. Prince, same thing. But as far as actual singing style, I guess I have to say Edith Piaf.”
“Who?” I piped up immediately. It’s very rare for me not to know who someone’s talking about.
“French torch singer from the forties and fifties,” Jonathan told me quickly.
“My mother idolized her,” Ziggy said. “She used to play her albums over and over, and I would stand up on the couch like it was a stage and sing using the cardboard tube from a roll of toilet paper as a toy microphone. So I probably internalized a lot.”
“Edith Piaf?” Jonathan repeated, with a little touch of incredulity.
Ziggy took it as a dare, a challenge, and hopped up on the little dinette table, holding onto the pole, and crooned out something in French that sounded familiar to me, like something I’d heard in a Disney movie. Then he slid back into his seat with a thump.
“What’s the translation?” I asked.
“No idea,” Zig said with a shrug. “I memorized it by sound.”
But Jonathan had it covered: “When he takes me in his arms, and speaks so low, I see life all in rose. Or something like that. But Zig, you really don’t…” He stopped. “No, wait, maybe you do.”
“Do what? Warble? Meow?” Ziggy asked.
“I take it back,” Jonathan said. “You do warble and meow and growl. You just don’t sound like Edith Piaf.”
“Well, for one thing, English is a terrible language for meowing, though it’s better than German,” Zig said, stretching his arms upward in his seat. “And we’re not a very warbly genre of music, really. I save it for when it counts. And, you know, if I had a voice like Kate Bush it’d be more obvious.”
Bart made a little swooning gesture with his hand and his forehead at the mention of Kate Bush.
“Big Kate Bush fan?” Jonathan asked.
“I’d have her babies,” Bart said.
“Pat Metheny!” I shouted, slapping my hand on the table like I was hitting the buzzer in Jeopardy.
“Yes!” Bart agreed.
“Who?” Ziggy asked.
“The guitar guy I couldn’t think of the name of. Who teaches at Berklee.” I slumped in relief. “Jeez. You’d think I hadn’t walked past a poster of him every day for a year when I worked at Tower.”
“Oh, now I know who you mean,” Ziggy said. He gestured like his hands were sprouting from his head, approximating the way Metheny’s hair looked on the posters, which were all over that neighborhood. I’m not sure Pat Metheny wanted to be remembered for his hair, but well, there you have it. “Hey, let’s sing a song.”
“Come on. You start.”
“Me? You’re the singer.”
“Sing that one that goes like this.” He hummed a bit of melody and I suddenly remembered one of the songs we’d been working on before we’d left Boston. Right. That one. He patted the air in a kind of count-off and we sang the verse together, and then went to the chorus, where I still didn’t have words, just a kind of na-na-na thing, and he harmonized it with me. But I knew the real duet part was coming.
Neither of us remembered the second verse, I think, so it worked out that we just repeated the first verse again, and then this time while I sang the last line of the verse and went into the chorus, he did his Bowie quote thing, with “Changes.”
Jonathan’s eyes lit up.
We went through it one more time and then broke off, because with just the two of us singing and no instruments that was as much as we could do off the cuff.
“It’s good, isn’t it?” Ziggy said.
“Really good,” J. agreed. “What’s it called?”
Zig looked at me. I had to think for a second. “Oh, um, Moving Parts, I guess. In my notebook it’s just labeled ‘fucked up relationship song #45’ or something. But, yeah, Moving Parts makes a good title.” I flexed my left fist. “Dammit, now I want to work on it, but I think I should save it for the show.”
“I’ve got that portable Casio,” Bart pointed out.
“Oooh, get it, get it,” Ziggy said.
Bart dug a keyboard about the size of a dozen box of eggs out of his duffle bag and turned it on. It had a built-in speaker and a couple of pre-programmed timbres. He handed it to me to work out the chords right-handed. I ended up handing it to Ziggy while I went and fetched my notebook.
We traded when I came back. This little Casio was nothing fancy, you understand; it wasn’t like a MIDI controller or something. It was just a two-octave toy. In fact, I think he bought it at Toys ‘R’ Us. Not that that mattered. It also didn’t matter that I wasn’t any kind of keyboard player, but when you’re playing by ear it really does not matter that you don’t “know” what you’re doing.
It wasn’t long before everyone in the bus was in the back listening to us go around and around with it, stopping to write new bits, and try them on for size, and then playing it and singing in three-part harmony.
Forty five minutes later it was time for a Stuckey’s break, and we had all the verses done and Jonathan was out of tape.