Then there was the day Sarah Rogue called me up in tears.
Good thing I was home and not at a session. I had actually turned out to be pretty busy and some of the gigs were actually fun. But that day I was home. “Hey, hey, are you okay?”
“I’m totally totally totally fucked,” she said, punctuating it with a wet-sounding snort.
“Yeah, but aside from that, how are you?” I joked.
She let out a very snot-heavy laugh. “Ah, you bastard. Hang on.” She blew her nose. “Okay. Seriously. I need help.”
“Okay, which kind of help? I’ve got connections in drug rehab and digital audio processing. If it’s either of those two things, I’m there. Otherwise, you’re out of luck.”
“It’s neither of those things.”
“Thank god. The number of people in my phone book who are hooked on coke is larger than the number who aren’t. Okay, let me guess again. Shoulder to cry on?”
“Wrong again. I need help with a song.”
“Aha! Why didn’t you say so? Want to meet me at Remo’s?”
“Great. I’ve already got clothes on so I can be there lickety split.”
“You’re my hero. Be there in an hour.”
I got the company voice mailbox when I called to try to tell Jonathan where I was going and I didn’t leave a message. He didn’t have a direct line himself at the production office. So I left a note for him in case we didn’t connect by phone later and he got home first.
I got to Remo’s before Sarah and figured one person I may as well call while I was there was Remo himself. I mean, I couldn’t call him directly, but I called his answering service to see if they had a number where he could be reached today. They didn’t, but they took a message, and they knew the answer to one of the questions I had, which was what date he was coming back. He’d be back in about ten days, actually, but only for two weeks for Thanksgiving, and then it was off to Japan for Christmas. I wondered if they celebrated Christmas in Japan. The Young Adults had a song about that, didn’t they?
Sarah showed up soon after and we went into the studio, where it was easier to talk about music because she could sit behind a keyboard and I could sit behind a guitar and we could communicate more that way.
“Okay, so what’s the problem? Is it really a song or is it that my old man is making you cry?”
“Your old man is a shyster and an ass, but I’m starting to think those are necessary traits in a manager,” she said. “But seriously, let’s not talk about him. It’s Mills who’s the problem.”
“What’s the problem?”
“Oh, just that he’s hated everything we’ve sent. Everything. To the point where he fired the producer, stuck us with another, and the new guy is hiring songwriters, and writing songs himself, and I’m like what the fuck do you even need me for if I don’t have a shred of input? For fuck’s sake the production job their doing on my voice it may as well not even be me singing, either.”
“Can I ask you who the new guy is?”
“Huh.” The guy who had produced megahits for both Madonna and Whitney Houston. “Were you working with him in New York?”
“Yeah. And now I’m here because I had a meltdown and they said everyone take a week off. So I decided to get as far away as possible.”
“Shit. It’s too bad we’re not in Boston because we could totally put you up, take you to all the good live music, and make you forget it all.” I shrugged. “Here, it’s like we’re still figuring it out. But anyway. Go on.”
“Yeah, well, I’m supposed to be taking it easy, but of course what I’m actually doing is trying to make demo tapes like crazy so I can bring them something good, something they’ll grab and run with.”
I nodded and silently thanked the stars in the sky that my experience making 1989 hadn’t been like that. My heart and soul was in that album. So was Ziggy’s. Jordan hadn’t made us compromise on much–mostly only with each other, not our artistic principles.
“The problem, of course, is that they think everything I do sucks. And I’m starting to believe that everything I do does suck.”
“Which it doesn’t, so shut up about that. What do you need, though?”
“At minimum I need two things: a power ballad with some kick and a love song that I won’t barf while singing.”
As soon as she said “love song” I thought of the silly love song I’d written for Jonathan back in Boston, the day after we’d had a date. Remember that? I could never picture either me or Ziggy singing it. I mean, come on, a silly love song? But a girl singer, now that could work…
So of course we worked on the power ballad instead. “Okay. Show me what you’ve got. Let’s pick something and work on it. Got a riff? A lyric?”
She cracked her knuckles and played a scale to warm up her fingers. “How about a riff. Here.”
She laid down a chord progression. With the piano you didn’t really get a “riff” in the same way as with the guitar. I picked up the progression and turned it into something. I gave it texture. I made it rock. She had some bits of lyrics.
I’m not going to describe everything we did, because it’s a lot more boring to describe than it was to do. I will say we were doing it until almost nine, though, when hunger forced us both to stop, and I tried calling Jonathan. I got the group voice mail at his office again, and got the machine at the apartment.
“Hey, I’m still in the canyon but about to knock off and head home I think? Okay if I bring Sarah Rogue with me? Or do you want to meet us somewhere? Wait, I know, meet us at the deli if you want to have dinner. We’re going to go there right now.”
Sarah and I took separate cars to the deli, ate like absolute pigs, lingered over cheesecake and coffee, and then made a plan to meet again the next day. I drove back to West Hollywood with my windows down, singing on the highway.
When I got in, J. was just stumbling in the door, too. He collapsed on the couch with his car keys still in his hand. “Oh my god, my eyes are crossing. It’s amazing I was able to get home.”
At first I thought he meant from drinking too much and I was about to scold him for that, when I realized as he went on he meant cross-eyed from working too much. Apparently there had been some kind of deadline that day and they had cranked until late in order to meet it. That was why no one was picking up the phone either, I guess.
“I’m taking the day off tomorrow,” he declared. “You know what that means.”
“You get to sleep late?” I guessed.
“Mm. Or at least stay in bed until later.” He gave me one of those smiles that still warmed me down to my toes when they were aimed at me.
I smiled back. “Okay. But I actually have a gig tomorrow.”
“Sort of.” I explained Sarah’s problem while we got ready for bed.
J. was nothing if not knowledgeable about the industry. “See, that’s one thing I don’t understand. They’d never do that to a male artist. Jellybean Benitez? She’s a folkie at heart and they’re trying to make her into the next Paula Abdul? How does that make sense? It doesn’t. But they think they’ll make a lot of money or they wouldn’t do it.”
“She said it to me herself, the main things she has going for her are a fantastic voice, and that she’s thin, white, and pretty. She knew what she was getting into. It’s just a grind for her to realize how little of Sarah herself is going to end up in the end product.”
“So tell me, how much of Sarah ended up in the song you wrote with her today?”
“Oh, um, probably 45 percent?”
“You don’t sound so sure.”
“Well, you know, it was a collaboration.”
“Daron, you wrote a song for her.”
“I didn’t. I did the same thing a producer like Keith would do. I took her raw materials and worked with her to make it into something.”
“That’s the line you can give to me when I’m in reporter-mode,” he said. “What’s the truth?”
“The truth is that even if I did hardly anything, this is an industry that is going to believe I wrote it and not her anyway.”
“Hm, that’s true.”
“So that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. It’s Sarah’s song.” But I was right. A week later when she went back to New York she had two whole songs that we’d worked on together. They both made it onto her album. The power ballad would become one of the highlights of her live show. The love song would eventually be a Top 40 hit. But if you mentioned that song at an industry cocktail party, you know what you were likely to hear? “Oh, you mean that song Daron Marks wrote for her?”
The really ironic thing being, of course, that was the song I wrote for Jonathan.