A lot of the time when I play, it’s like my brain shuts off. Later, I kind of wake up in the middle of a song and I can remember everything that has been going on, but it’s almost like someone else was doing it. I don’t realize it when I’m slipping into that state, but when I come up sometimes it’s a cold shock and I hate it. This rehearsal was a lot like that. We got grooving right away, everything so bright and real while it went on, but then I was coming up to a solo, and there was Ziggy with this crazy maniac’s grin on his face, like he was waiting for me to deliver the note that would drive him over the edge, and as I started that first pick up note, I came to. I was walking toward him at the time, like I was going to do something, but what I don’t know since suddenly real life flooded back and I not only flubbed the note, I physically stumbled.
I went down on one knee and kept my eyes on the ground. Bart had stopped playing but the drum machine droned on. Ziggy took a step toward me — are you okay? –but I pulled away, getting to my feet and stamping on the pedal that shut the drum machine up. It was quiet now, but my head continued to pound. The other two were staring at me.
“Are you okay?” Ziggy repeated.
“Head rush,” I said, my voice almost too quiet to be heard. I’m not trying to brag when I say I couldn’t remember the last time I’d missed a note. That was probably why Bart was staring at me like I had two heads. “I’m fine, really.” Ziggy was coming toward me again. “No really.” I looked him in the eye. What was he coming toward me to do? What had I been going toward him to do? Maybe I did feel a little rush-y; maybe I really wasn’t okay. Everything seemed cloudy and confused.
Bart swung his bass of his shoulder and said “Let’s take five. I could use some fresh air, too.”
I guess it was hot in there, the little concrete room with no windows, and I was watching a bead of sweat travel down Ziggy’s forehead. “You need to relax,” he said to me.
Yeah. Could be. I slung the Strat off my shoulder and laid it into its stand. Ziggy was watching me. I stuck the guitar pick into my back pocket and brushed my hair out of my eyes, trying not to watch him watch me. He was between me and the door. I resisted the urge to pace and almost wished for a cigarette to light. He took another step toward me and I brushed past him and out the door.
I went to the loading dock and sat with my legs hanging over the edge. This was definitely why people smoked, to have something to do at times like this. I looked at my hands while I tried to take deep breaths. Relax, I told myself. He’s right, relax.
But when I wasn’t thinking about Ziggy I was thinking about the dickhead music publisher, and I knew if I wasn’t thinking about that I’d be chewing on my calluses while I tried to line up gigs for next month and trading nights working with people so I’d have off, and …
Ziggy coughed quietly behind me. I jumped a little but didn’t turn around. He sat down next to me, bouncing his heels off the concrete wall under us. “What’s eating you?”
“Nothing.” The automatic answer, could mean anything. I cleared my throat a little while I worked up something better. “It’s this whole music publishing thing, I guess.”
“Forget it,” he said, his voice low, serious. “Just worry about what we’re doing, not what we’re not doing.”
“What do you mean?” I looked at him sidelong through my hair.
“I mean, we’re a band, right?” He cocked a Mr. Spock eyebrow. “What were we put on God’s green Earth to do? Play music, right?”
“Yeah, I guess. But–”
He cut me off with a hand held palm-out like a crossing guard. “But nothing.”
“No, Zig, listen to me, the business is important…”
“Not as important as the music. The creative satisfaction.”
I didn’t want to tell him how naive that sounded coming from someone who wasn’t even a professional until he’d thrown in with us. “Dammit, I don’t want to work in a record store the rest of my life.” I still didn’t know what he did for money. I’d never thought it polite to ask if he didn’t offer the information, and thinking about it now I couldn’t picture him working retail, delivering newspapers, bartending… He wasn’t a trust fund case like Bart, but I couldn’t quite make it all add up. “And what is this ‘creative satisfaction’ bullshit?” It sounded creepily like something Roger would have said. “Before I met you you’d never even written a song…”
That was a mistake. He was glaring at me now while I tried to think of something else to say. He spoke first. “Who made you such a self-righteous asshole?”
Fuck, I’m sorry, I wanted to say. But although I was sorry, I still thought I was right. “No, seriously. When have you ever really thought about what we need to do to make it? Maybe if you concerned yourself with it a little more, I wouldn’t have to worry about it so much.” He opened his mouth to speak but I didn’t let him. I guess maybe his attitude about business did bother me. “Maybe this is just a fun trip for you, but it’s my fucking life, and I’m sick of your whither-it-comes attitude…”
“Well if I’m such a fucking burden why don’t you fire me, boss!” He made like he was about to get up and before I could think I grabbed him by the wrist.
“Look.” I didn’t face him, but I held him there and spoke. “I don’t want another singer, I want you.” I even said that without stumbling. “I want to make this work. I want us to make it. That’s all.” He relaxed a little and I let go of his arm. “If you don’t know it by now, I happen to think you’re a fucking genius, okay? I just wish, sometimes…” I had to stop before I said anything else too stupid. “I wish you’d be a little more responsible.”
“Hey, I’ve been good,” he said. It was almost true. He hadn’t missed a rehearsal or been late to a soundcheck in a while. The last thing was when he didn’t come back from New York for like a week and had us wondering what had happened to him. “Give me a break.”
OK, say it now, you stupid ass. “You’re right, I’m sorry.” I rubbed my face. “I’m just kind of stressed out. I didn’t mean to take it out on you.”
“That’s okay, boss.” He cuffed me on the shoulder and gave a little laugh. “‘Whither-it-comes…’?”
“You know what I mean.” I couldn’t quite manage a smile. “Come on.” I went back to the rehearsal room with him in tow. Bart was noodling around waiting and drinking Yoo Hoo out of a carton with a straw. I guess he’d been to the convenience store. He gave me a quizzical glance as we came in but I didn’t acknowledge it. “Candlelight,” I said, as I picked up the guitar. “No drums. One, two, three, four…”