I should tell you about everything I learned that night at dinner, but I can’t remember that much of it. Archie and Jonathan had read and loved many of the same books and had seen and loved many of the same movies, and the two of them being the two intellectuals went off on long, rambling discussions about literature and film-making. And plays, which was sort of where literature and film met in the middle, I guess.
Matthew and I, being the music industry guys, were quiet. But don’t think that just because we’re quiet we’re not having a good time. It was fun to listen to them hold forth, and it was like watching a kind of tennis match, where they’d serve the topic back and forth. Well, maybe a dance more than a tennis match since they weren’t really trying to beat each other. It wasn’t competitive.
Archie was a vegetarian “but don’t hold it against me” he said, and robustly recommended the calamari and the french onion soup. About halfway through the meal another friend of Matthew and Archie’s came in and pulled up for a glass of wine and the talk turned back to art and photography and Matthew was coaxed into talking more about his art. The name Robert Mapplethorpe was thrown around a lot. At the time I had never heard of Mapplethorpe, but he’d been dead of AIDS for a couple of months at that point, and a bunch of conservatives in Congress were griping about how NEA funding shouldn’t have been used to fund such “controversial” work. The full controversy over his photos in Cincinnati wouldn’t erupt into national furor until the following year, though.
The friend, whose name I didn’t get or have forgotten, then said his goodbyes, and somehow that turned into Archie going with him: I guess they were neighbors, too. We still had coffee and dessert coming. It was nice not to be in a hurry anywhere. He and Matthew parted with a kiss on the cheek.
Jonathan went to the men’s room, and that left Matthew and me alone at the table. He was across from me, we were in the two seats adjacent to the brick wall.
“So you’re off the road indefinitely,” I said.
He nodded. “Archie and I had decided I’d stay home for six months, but then that became a year. Now we’re coming up on the end of that year, and Nomad’s got this big tour of Japan coming up… But as he gets sicker, I’m less and less willing to be apart.” He looked up as the waiter swooped in with three cups of coffee and looked around confused at there being only two of us. I motioned him to put the cups down and he did so and then moved off without a word. Matthew went on. “And no, there’s really no hope for a miracle cure at this point. Not for Archie, anyway.”
I opened my mouth but couldn’t figure out how to ask what I wanted to ask, what I needed to know. “I’m so stupid about all this,” I said.
Fortunately for me, Matthew already knew the question I didn’t know how to ask. “It’s okay. Everyone struggles with it.” Then he said the words I was longing to hear. “I’m not infected. I’m lucky. Although it’s hard to feel lucky when so many of your friends are sick.”
I was naive, you know. And it wasn’t that long ago he had been a kind of mentor-figure for me. I sounded like a kid when I asked, “Is it that bad? Wait, don’t answer that. The photographs say it all. Forget I said that.”
Matthew smiled and changed the subject. “So tell me about Jonathan, quick before he comes back.”
“Ahh, okay, Jonathan McCabe in twenty words or less. He went to Brown and saw me play back around the time you and I first met, and he’s really down to earth and normal, you know? He’s a freelance writer who writes for all the music rags, and yeah I don’t know if having a rock journalist for a boyfriend is brilliant or idiotic.”
Matthew shrugged. “Sometimes your opportunities are limited,” he said.
I don’t think he meant it as a comment on what had gone on between him and me, but I suddenly realized it could be read as one. And then I remembered what a dumb-ass I’d been. “Thanks for taking me in back then. And I’m sorry I turned into kind of a jerk at the end there.” Right here in New York City.
He laughed a little. “You’re welcome and apology not necessary. You were young. You were going through a lot.”
I almost wanted to say, I’m still young and I’m still going through a lot, but at the same time I realized how long ago that had been. “You helped me a lot.” I felt a little pathetic that one person being kind and honest to me meant that much. But I was experienced enough at that point to realize that being surrounded by sharks and fakers and assholes was the norm in the music business, if not in real life, and I appreciated someone calm and loving.
Like Jonathan. Who slid back into the seat next to me and who drank his coffee black.
“You’re turning out okay, Daron,” Matthew said, as I slid my arm across Jonathan’s shoulders (much to J’s surprise).
The talk turned then, finally, to music, and we rehashed Steve Lillywhite’s career and Matthew talked about taking the photos for Remo’s album sleeve. And then I insisted on paying the bill and Matthew put up a token argument until I explained that on the night of his own gallery premiere he shouldn’t be paying.
At that point I thought we were going to go our separate ways, but the waiter came by with fresh coffee so he could flirt shamelessly with us. When he went away, J. finally asked Matthew something I’d wanted to ask but hadn’t felt the moment for.
“What did you think of the show the other night?”
Matthew had a big grin for me. “Fantastic. I didn’t realize from listening to the record what interesting stuff they–you–are doing.”
“Really?” I asked.
“Well, you know, I put it on at home or in the studio and then don’t really listen to it. But seeing you live brings out so much. You’ve made the bass another lead instrument, basically, am I right?”
“And I also didn’t realize what a front man you have there. I should have from the videos but you know, videos can be misleading. He’s a firecracker.”
“And a master at whipping the girls in the audience into a frenzy,” I added. “That’s kind of new. We weren’t drawing the teenage girls until this time around.”
“Well, it’s that you’ve got traction in the teen press now, too,” Jonathan said. “A lot of Ziggy pin-ups.”
Matthew looked amused. “Are there Daron pin-ups, too?”
“I’m sure there are,” Jonathan said.
I shifted uncomfortably. “Carynne’s never bothered to send me one, thank god.” I knew from all the photo shoots that there were probably going to be even more of them.
“Uncomfortable with the idea that a pretty photo of you sells albums and concert tickets?” Matthew asked.
“No. That’s all part of the rock and roll package,” I said. “It gets a little intense sometimes though when they see you and they burst into tears.”
“You do realize that when they burst into tears it’s because it’s the best moment of their life, right?” Jonathan said.
“I know. I’ve got to hope that they all grow up to have better lives than that, though. If catching a glimpse of me getting into a limo is the highlight of their life, I mean, man.” I looked Matthew in the eye. “Okay, the truth. Do you hear the Remo in me?”
“Honestly? Not really. When you play with him it’s different. When you’re by yourself, not really.”
I sat back with a smile.
“That was the right answer,” Jonathan said with a laugh.
“Are you coming to the show tomorrow? And Sunday?” I asked.
“Probably just the charity show,” Matthew said. “It’ll be nice to see you somewhere smaller for a contrast.”
“Plus I think me and Ziggy are going to be our own opening act,” I said.
“What are you going to do?” J. sipped his coffee but didn’t look like he was tasting it.
“Make it up as we go along, I guess.” I poured sugar into mine but wasn’t really interested in drinking it. “We’ve rehearsed a bunch of things here and there… I don’t know. What’s fun is that I don’t know.”
“That’d be terrifying to me,” Jonathan said. “Though I guess it’s like actors. Some love improv, some hate it.”
“Pretty much. Not many singers are willing to go there. Seems mostly instrumentalists who like to jam. But you know Ziggy. Always has to be pushing some envelope.”
Matthew pushed back from the table. “Well, I look forward to it.”
I got up and gave him a hug and we said our goodbyes.
We went walking after that. In New York you can do that. Just walk. You never know what you’ll find. Okay, there are some neighborhoods you stay out of, but we went north and west, toward the Village.
One of those things about New York. In the thousands of miles of streets that criss-cross all over Manhattan, you’ll still run into someone you know. We were walking north from Houston Street toward Bleecker when a large, familiar figure was coming south.
Antonio. We exchanged low five and a fist bump. “How’re you doing, boss man?”
“Great, Tony, great. Went to a gallery, had dinner. Drank too much coffee. And now we’re looking for trouble.”
“Well, you found it. I’m heading over to the club. Wanna come?”
“Which club?” Jonathan asked.
“Tony here used to bounce at the Palladium back when I was too young to get in, yet I somehow managed it a few times anyway,” I explained.
“I’m serious. You dudes want to come on down, we’ll go VIP-style.” Tony gestured in the vague direction of the place. “I was just walking down to Houston to catch a cab myself.”
Jonathan and I exchanged glances.
“Sure, why not?” I patted my breast pocket. I had a pair of ear plugs in there. “Let’s go.”