That night after Carynne had gone home and Chris had gone upstairs to call his new paramour, and Bart, Lars, and Colin had gotten into some video game together, and Michelle, Tina (or was it Tanya? Dammit…) and Betsy were all in the kitchen talking, Ziggy beckoned me to go downstairs.
“I wrote something last night,” he said, as he took a seat on an overturned milk crate.
I sat on the recently cleaned but still ancient shag rug. “Were you up all night?” I asked. “It’s hard to tell when you’ve got bags under your eyes and when it’s just smudged eyeliner.”
“Pretty much,” he said. “I’ve still only got pieces of it, you know. But… you know.”
“Yeah,” I said, even though I didn’t really know which sort of “you know” he meant. I figured I would try to figure it out.
“I just don’t want you to take it the wrong way,” he said, and kind of wrung his hands a little, like being this honest was painful. “I mean, like, I didn’t write it as a… Don’t read too much into it, is what I’m saying. It’s not like a message or a letter to you, okay?”
“Okay.” This was interesting. Because of course him saying that only made it sound kind of like there probably was a message for me in it. “I’ll take it at face value, how’s that?”
“It’s called ‘Mano a Mano.'”
“‘Man to Man?'” I guessed.
“Well, see, that’s sort of the pun. It actually means ‘hand to hand’ like hand-to-hand combat, but in some slang it could also be ‘hermano’ so, brother to brother.”
“I take it it’s going to mean all those things?”
“Yep.” And he started to sing. He sang with his eyes closed, I guess so he wouldn’t make eye contact with me, or maybe because he was picturing his lyric sheet in his head.
And yeah, the song was all those things.
When he was done, he opened his eyes and before I could say anything, said: “It has two problems, though, far as I’m concerned. Want to take a guess what they are?”
“Mmm, the melody’s too similar to ‘Fire and Ice’?” I guessed.
“Bingo. And the other?”
I shrugged. “That was the only obvious thing.”
“And it needs a bridge,” he said.
“They always need a bridge. We’ll work that out when we learn it as a group.”
“Yeah, I know. Just between all the things you’v been writing, and I’ve been writing, we’re going to have a helluva lot of bridges to come up with when the time comes, and I’m worried about repeating ourselves.” He stuck his hands between his knees and fidgeted.
“We’ll figure it out,” I said. I really wasn’t worried about that. “As for the melody… just let it stew on the back burner for now. It’ll sound really different if we back it up differently, and… yeah, just don’t stress over it.”
“We’re writing a lot, aren’t we,” he said, looking at me directly.
“That’s good, right?”
“Yeah.” What was the expression Carynne used? I think Remo used to, too. “Ride that horse as far as it’ll go.”
He nodded, but looked glum. “Okay. It’s hard, though.”
“What’s hard?” Stupid me, I thought he was talking about songwriting. I really did.
“Being alone. I mean, I’m not stupid. I’m not going to mess with it. But it’s hard.”
Which was what Carynne had said. I took a deep breath, trying to tread carefully now. I didn’t want to mess it up either, after all. “I know. But if it works, it works.”
“I miss you.” He whispered it, like maybe I wouldn’t hear it, even though I was sitting right there. Then he went on in a louder voice. “We wrote a lot when we were together, too, remember.”
I didn’t want to get into a fight about how we weren’t “together,” about how he kicked me in the balls all the time, but apparently he didn’t remember that part. My blood did boil a little, but I took a deep breath, trying to think of something disarming to say. “And maybe we will again. Right now, let’s keep it like this, okay?” Please, Ziggy, don’t make me beg.
“I will. We will,” he agreed. “I said I wouldn’t mess with it and I meant it. I don’t know if you realize what a good thing we’ve got going here.”
I wasn’t sure if he meant “we” as in him and me, or “we” the band.
It was “we” the band. “Have you seen the latest sales numbers? Digger thinks Candlelight is going gold. That’s five hundred thousand sales. That’s… so many bands never get close to this. Never get a whiff of it. It’s against all odds. It’s kind of scary to think about.”
“Is it? I thought you were one in a million,” I joked gently.
He snorted. “Yeah. But seriously. It’s like… I can’t even compare it to anything else.”
“Been talking to Digger a lot?”
“Not since I got back, but when I was in LA, he talked my ear off. He’s such a numbers guy, numbers numbers numbers. Did you know 80 percent of the bands who get signed to major label deals lose money?”
“Yeah, I knew that.” Carynne had quoted me the same statistic.
“We’re already out of the 80 percent. It’s like… all those guys trying to make the big leagues. Some quit after Little League. Some make it to the minors. Some make it to the majors but don’t stick.”
“And what are we, then?”
“We’re winning the Rookie of the Year right now and on our way to being All Stars if we can just stick in the lineup.”
“I didn’t know you knew anything about baseball.”
“I lived in Baltimore when the Orioles were kind of good.” He shrugged. “Anyway, you get my point. I’m trying really really hard not to fuck this up.”
“Okay. Me, too.” We sat there in a kind of tense silence for a bit and I wondered if the conversation was over, or not.
Not. “There’s something else I have to tell you,” he said. He looked directly at me when he said it, and his eyelashes seemed impossibly long at the time.
“Carynne’s the only other person who knows. Even Digger doesn’t know. But I thought you should know.”
Now he was making me nervous. “Okay, what?”
“I’m on Prozac.”
Oh. I relaxed. “Okay. Good to know. Um, does it work?”
“Seems to. I’m getting off it the second I feel like it’s interfering with my songwriting. But right now, I guess it’s working. C’s going to remind me to take it while we’re on the road because I might forget. It’s weird… you don’t really feel it when you’re taking it, so you don’t have something reminding you, like a headache or something, when you don’t.”
I wanted to ask how long he’d been taking it, but I was pretty sure the question would come out rude. “Well, thanks for telling me.”
“Sure thing, boss.” He grinned. “Okay, your turn.”
“To write the next killer song.” He stood up. “I’m heading home. See you at rehearsal.”
I just laughed. “Yeah, see you.” No joke, when he said that, I’d gotten an idea. Upstairs he went, and I plugged in a guitar and started to work on something.
Another song about him. About honesty and masks, about image and truth. I called it “Face Value.”