Five days to go on Ziggy, three days to go on the scoring gig. J. and I had some breakfast together in the kitchen and then went to our respective work rooms.
It’s hard to describe what it was like working alone. I mean, I was used to sketching out tracks and writing lyrics and practicing alone. But this was being completely on my own both to make the music and to decide what it was going to sound like.
There were moments where it was weird, like I’d gotten so used to taking everyone else into account during the creative process I forgot what it was like to just… fly. Float. Me and my strings and my riffs and my ideas. It was almost scary, but I got used to it again real fast. I didn’t even have to teach it to anyone else. This must be what it’s like to be a painter, I thought. Standing there in front of the canvas with everything in your control and doing whatever pleased you.
I might have talked some shit to Chernwick that night about emotional states and guitar sounds, but it wasn’t ALL bullshit. I really felt that way.
I stumbled out some hours later because I paused in my track laying to check email and then got bounced offline by the actual phone ringing. I answered it and was surprised to hear Cadmon Molina’s voice.
“How’s it going?” he wanted to know.
He must’ve heard from Remo, because it didn’t sound like a casual question. “Um, okay, I guess. I’m getting hung up on some technical things, but…”
“But nothing. I hear you haven’t got time to get stuck.”
“Well, that’s true but…”
“Come down to the Front 242 show tonight and I can answer all your questions. I’ll guest you.”
“Uh, plus one?”
“Sure. No problem. See you later.”
He hung up before I could ask him anything. Okay. I went and stuck my head into Jonathan’s writing room.
He looked up, but wasn’t really focused on me.
“Hey, how much work do you have to get done today to go to see a show tonight?”
He blinked at me. “Might depend on which show.”
He looked skeptical. “Let me call an editor I know.”
“I already got us on the guest list.”
“Not for that,” he said with a smile that finally snapped him out of his work daze. “To see if I can turn it into a writing gig.”
“Ohhh. Smart. Let me know. I’m going back to it.” I went back to it.
By dinner time I had five or six pretty solid snippets of music laid down, I thought, using just some instrumental washes on the synthesizer and playing the rest double-tracked with acoustic guitar. I still wasn’t happy with my own performance on two of them, but for background music no one but me would hear what I didn’t like. I was trying to do a thing with a hammer on–maybe I needed to try it with a Takamine instead of an Ovation. Or maybe I needed to give myself more time for acoustic takes and spend less time programming the computer.
We hit a drive-through and then ate in traffic but still made it to the club in a reasonable amount of time. I should mention that a reasonable amount of time in a car in LA is equal to the amount of time it takes to drive clear across most New England states. Anything under two hours was considered “good time” in SoCal, or so I was repeatedly told by people there. Jonathan had his reporter notepad, the kind with the spiral binding on the top, tucked into his back pocket. I was in rock star standard.
As promised, we were on the list. The place was dark and a little dingy inside, and smelled like fake fog. Have I talked about fake fog? A fog machine is not something I ever want to have in our stage setup. For one thing, there’s no way it’s good for you. It’s not smoke, it’s some kind of chemical that the machine turns into mist. I’m really not fond of how they smell, but it could be worse. If you look in the stage equipment catalogs, when you buy the liquid that goes in the fog machine, they sell regular and scented. And the scents are stuff like pina colada scent. I have never smelled pina colada scented fake fog and I hope I never do. Just thinking about it makes me a little queasy.
Our timing was good. The opening band was just starting. I put my earplugs in and waded into the crowd at the front of the stage. Biggest advantage by far to being my height is that almost no one gives a fuck if I end up in front of them in a general admission crowd. Jonathan hung back. The opening band was loud and industrial and not much to look at, so I didn’t pay attention so much as I merely soaked in the noise the way you stick your feet in a pool but don’t go swimming. They were only on for a half hour, anyway, and then I meandered back to the bar to get a drink and see what Jonathan thought.
We ended up discussing Einsturzende Neubaten. Here’s the funny thing about the conversation: he was surprised I knew of them, and I was surprised that he knew of them. If you don’t know Einsturzende Neubaten, I’m not sure what to tell you about them.
“But what do you like about industrial music?” J. asked me. “It just doesn’t seem like it would be your thing.”
“I mean, it’s not very musical.”
I made the losing buzzer noise. “Wrong. It’s not very melodic, but it’s intensely musical. It’s all the energy and aggression of punk and the angst of goth but presented in waves of mathematical structures.”
“Huh. Was it Eno who said all music is math?”
“I don’t know, but it’s true. We’re not conscious of it usually, but there are physical, mathematical realities to why notes sound how they do and why we respond to sounds the way we do. I had a class on this. I can’t remember any of the details but I don’t have to. Just knowing the equations exist is enough. Music is sound, sound is waves, wavelengths are a mathematical measure… that’s all you really need to know. That DX7 I’ve been using? The big breakthrough in sound synthesis was in figuring out the math of wavelengths to recreate realistic sound. Yamaha got there first, which is why the DX7 is what everyone has.”
“Huh. It’s funny I didn’t know that. I guess I never thought about that side of it.” J. pulled on his beer. “So who’s your favorite industrial band?”
“Honestly, it’s probably the Revolting Cocks. KMFDM a close second.”
“You know, I heard KMFDM were supposed to tour this year but it keeps getting put off for some reason. But really? Revco? Not Nine Inch Nails?”
“Nine Inch Nails are…” I paused to think about it. “I think they’re the next step. I hesitate to call them industrial when I feel like they’re beyond that. Besides, Pretty Hate Machine is their only record so far–I reserve judgement until there’s a larger body of work.”
At that point Cadmon found us. He took me upstairs where it was quieter and let me pin him to a wall with a steady stream of questions about fades and breaks and tempo and dynamic range, answered them, and then told me he’d really have to hear some of what I’d done to know if I nailed it or fucked it up.
“I have to turn in roughs day after tomorrow,” I told him. “Can you come up to the house tomorrow? Remo’s house, I mean.”
He shook his head. “I’m pretty much booked solid.”
“Are you going to be at the thing tomorrow?” I tried to remember what Digger had told me about the party. “Something at the Bonaventure?”
“Yes, perfect,” he said. “Bring a tape and a Walkman, and don’t be late because if they get into doing blow I might not be in any shape to hear it.”
By then the band was on stage and had played a couple of songs. I waded back into the crowd, and let myself get knocked around a bunch at the edge of the pit. I wasn’t in the mood to get right in the middle of it, but that way I got right up close. I got hot and sweaty and forgot who I was. That’s probably the best thing that ever happens to me at concerts, where the music somehow just takes me right out of myself. For me that’s the sign of a really good show. And that was true before I got “famous.” (It was also probably why I liked industrial even though it wasn’t a style I played myself.)
When it was over I stumbled into the men’s room to splash my face, feeling every bit as wrung out and horny as I often did when coming off the stage myself. Only here I didn’t have a dressing room or a shower or a bus to go back to.
I had an SUV and Jonathan, though. He got in the driver’s seat and took us down an industrial side street and parked. I kissed him until my lips felt as bruised as my shins. He sucked me off for a while, then, but didn’t finish, and made me wait until we got home. I suppose that was a lot safer from all perspectives. LA had a lot of random carjacking and stuff going on then, plus who knew who might see, yeah yeah. No one at that show had given a fuck who I was and that was great. But that didn’t mean someone walking down the street might not recognize me in the car.
Somehow I just wasn’t able to muster up my usual paranoia. When we were done and lying there in bed together, I actually felt okay. Like for once my life wasn’t on the brink of disaster. Then I remembered I had 48 hours to finish this soundtrack and four days until Ziggy, but even thinking about those things wasn’t enough to make me panic.
I attributed it to Jonathan. “You’re really solid,” I told him.
“Does that mean I should lose weight?” he joked.
“No. I mean, it’s like you’re like a big piece of ballast and it keeps me on an even keel.”
“That’s a very nautical metaphor.”
“But it works, doesn’t it?”
“The metaphor? Or me being your emotional ballast.”
“Both, J. Both.”