I haven’t yet succumbed to the temptation to write a song about being on the road. I mean, jeezus, it’s all been done before, said before, it’s almost a cliché in and of itself to just be out there living the lifestyle.
But if I was going to write a road song, I think I’d try to write about the transition from stage back to the real world. Because this is where it gets tricky. This is where you’re energized and tired at the same time. This is when you look forward to relaxing or partying or sex or whatever, but it’s also a depressing let-down to have to deal with all these people.
They say when Tom Petty tours, he’s in the bus and already on the road to the next place before the lights come up in the arena. He travels in a bus separate from the Heartbreakers. I don’t know why, but I can imagine that being a dangerous time to be around him. Maybe he’s learned over the years that it’s better to cool down in the dark isolation of the bus, than to mix and mingle. Maybe someday I’ll get to ask him about it.
Up to that point, with me, it was not always the same. Sometimes I’d come down and be left with a serious jones for something, sex, drugs, something to fill the proverbial hole. Other times I just felt fine. And sometimes, the rarest thing, I’d get weirdly angry, like something was not right and I couldn’t find it to fix it. The same way I can’t predict what kind of a show I’m going to have from my pre-show mood, I can’t predict what I’m going to feel like afterward. I can have a shitty show sometimes and then feel fine, relieved even. We can have a good show and I’ll get angry. I just don’t know. It’s this anger thing that makes me wonder about Petty’s decision.
Remo, on the other hand, always seems the same. Before the show, a mixture of restless and smug, if you can imagine that. And afterward, a kind of keyed-up satisfaction not that different from the way he was before. I wish I knew what he was like when he was my age (or what he would have been like if he were playing these kind of shows then). Remo doesn’t even do drugs anymore, shrugs them off like why bother, though he usually lets himself have one good Scotch afterward. That Scotch is his reminder that yes, he’s living the good life.
We came off the stage to a flurry of congratulations. Remo was impressed, I could tell by the look in his eye, and it was funny to me that although I’d worried about it so much beforehand, now that I had his approval I was unconcerned about it. Digger was whistling appreciatively. Colin gave me two thumbs up as he skipped onto the stage to start breaking down. Bailey, from her stool, gave me a closed-eyed nod like–well, alright–and the promoter’s guy wanted an autograph.
I sat down on a chair backstage and peeled my soaked shirt off. I held it balled up in my hands while I sat there, elbows on knees, like I was waiting for my ears to stop ringing. (I took my earplugs out, too.) I stared at a piece of concrete floor about two feet in front of me while I waited to find out what kind of a come-down I would have tonight.
My managers were here, my crew was taking care of things. There was nothing I had to do now but sit here and feel.
I looked up and there was Ziggy, leaning on the back of the couch, ankles and arms crossed, looking at me. I gave him the chin up–hey. He gave it back and sat down in a chair next to me.
“Well,” he said, cucumber cool, “that worked out well.”
“Yeah, I guess it did.” I let my wet shirt drop to the floor with a dishmop sound and cracked my knuckles. “My thumb is killing me.”
“Here.” He took my hand in his and rubbed it gently, first the ball of muscle in the web between the thumb and forefinger, then the tendons in the knuckles. I let him. It felt good. It hurt some, but felt good. Shit, man, I wanted to say, if this is what antagonism gets us, then let’s have a screaming fight every sound check. But that’s not what I actually said.
“Hey, Zig,” I said, my voice quiet in the bustle of the room, “do you think about what you’re going to do next?”
“What do you mean, like, how far in advance are we talking?” He looked from our hands to my face and back down again.
“Long term. I don’t really imagine us playing like this forever.”
“What, like the Rolling Stones or something?” He laughed. “No, I don’t figure we will. But maybe when we get old we’ll be saying ‘oh, but we know better now.'”
“Well, for theory’s sake let’s say that we stick with our principles and we don’t succumb to nostalgia reunion bullshit. Do you think about what you’re going to do next, after the theoretical band days are over?”
He stopped rubbing my hand and held it still. I would have thought his hands would be sweaty but they were dry. “Yeah, I think about it. You know your old man thinks I should make a movie.”
“Yeah. That guy who directed Why The Sky, he’s developing some thing, Digger’s kept in touch, and maybe he wants me to do it.” Now he was looking across the room at Digger, who was in earnest conference with the promoter’s guy, the two of them hunched toward each other in one corner. “So but that’s possibly the short term, I mean, they’re talking about trying to do principle lensing before we hit the road again. The whole shooting schedule is like eight weeks.”
“Man,” I said, somehow not at all surprised.
“But if you want long term, I figure, I don’t know, acting, singing, there’ll be something, I hope.” He put his hands to his face then, rubbing his eyes with his fingertips. “What about you?”
“There’ll be something,” I echoed. “Start another band, write soundtracks, I don’t know.”
“Now wouldn’t that be the shit, if you wrote the music for movies I was in.” He smiled, a regular this-thought-makes-me-happy smile.
Wow, this is almost like a real conversation, I thought. We’re sitting here talking to each other meaning what we say. Hallellujah.
It wasn’t until he got up and walked away I wondered if he’d heard more than I’d meant. “Well, okay then,” he said as he stood up. “Okay then.” And he walked away.
And here I was still wondering what kind of a come down this would be. I motivated myself to find a dry shirt. Now I was even feeling a little chilly, the loading dock was open and foggy air was coming in. I put on my denim jacket. Didn’t Journey do a song about San Francisco? I hadn’t written a song about a city, yet. I didn’t plan to.
Sidenote: In reference to the title of the chapter:
I saw Jackson Browne live last year…These guys better hope they sound as good as him after years and years of touring. I’m sure they will 😉
I got one of Browne’s acoustic live albums for Christmas, too. D. and I both love it.