That night’s show had no collisions. No injuries. And “Candlelight” was the best it had been on the tour yet. On the line about praying, Ziggy crossed himself and everyone in the audience did, too. People talk a lot about God and the holy spirit. I think the most powerful force is humans themselves, the power of human belief and the way we shape ourselves around a belief. Patti Smith was right: people are the power.
And then came Argentina’s sendoff for us, a goodbye party at a different hotel from ours, which I thought was a bit odd, except that if the party was being thrown for us by local record company or media maybe they booked it wherever they had connections. Or maybe our hotel was literally too nice for the kind of party they were expecting? I’m not entirely sure.
It was, I suppose, the equivalent of a the Hollywood hotel scene, where for ninety percent of the people there it wasn’t about us so much as a prime opportunity to A) make connections with each other, or B) score. Whether people were scoring drugs or notches in their groupie lipstick cases or what is up to them.
I was really, really, really not up to an entertainment industry power-schmoozefest, especially one where I didn’t really speak the language, but it was impressed on me that I should make an appearance, what with having inadvertently become Argentina’s media darling and all.
The tried and true method of getting through these things was, of course, drugs and alcohol, neither of which I should have been indulging in. I went to my room to put on something suitably rock-star-ish. I decided wearing a bourbon-aided smile would make a better impression on the media than ending up in the local nuthouse after going postal. Flip and Colin both got in the van with me to the other hotel.
Carynne was already there and upon my arrival at the penthouse suite where the shindig was being held she immediately introduced me to some professional-looking women who said friendly yet slightly condescending-seeming things to me, or maybe it was just that their English was a bit odd and they were both quite tall. I did my best to make a good impression while at the same time not really knowing what I was supposed to say. Maybe I wasn’t really supposed to say anything in particular, just “meet” them. Okay, I met them.
Then I met a passing flute of champagne. Don’t they say alcohol makes some wallflowers into social butterflies?
It didn’t really work, but I had a couple more bemusing conversations with pseudo-important people who seemed to recognize that rock stars are supposed to be stoned/drunk/out of it. Maybe it wasn’t my imagination that people seemed condescending. They were humoring me, the cute pet drunk celebrity. At least I wasn’t the obnoxious kind of drunk who moons people, sexually harasses them, or gets into fights.
I was the kind of drunk who wished he brought a guitar to the party and cursed the fact we weren’t in our own hotel.
But you know, sometimes the universe provides. I ended up in a side room where I figured I couldn’t get into too much trouble because the caterers weren’t passing through with drinks on trays, and at one point a guy with long straight black hair and a somewhat familiar-looking face came in carrying a case. A few moments later another guy followed; this one I definitely recognized from the tango bar. Ernesto’s brothers. I went and shook hands with them. The whole clan was there and they’d come straight from their gig that night.
I, of course, immediately exhorted them to play something, figuring if nothing else that would give me something to concentrate on besides how much I wanted to leave. They, of course, wanted me to play with them. In the end two of them sat down and played together, back and forth duet-style, and it was brilliant and made my heart absolutely ache with wanting to do it myself. It was surprisingly painful, in fact.
What the fuck are you doing here, anyway? I found myself asking. If that’s what you want to do, why aren’t you either in Spain or at least in the best fucking PT program for your hand?
I got a bit angry with myself then. Ziggy, that’s why. I was not angry at Ziggy at all. I was angry that I had to keep having this argument with myself. This isn’t just about me, and it isn’t just about him, either.
And it wasn’t just as simple as one of them handing me his guitar and inviting me to sit down. Having a playing partner who knew me as well as I knew him, being healthy and having all my fingers working, having the freedom to sit down and play for the hell of it, these were all important things I didn’t have right at that moment, and which I wanted, desperately.
What I had was one of the guys handing me his guitar and inviting me to sit down. I pretended to say no twice before I gave in. The young guy with the long hair I’d first seen was the other one playing. Not very many people fit in that side room, maybe twenty, but I was vaguely aware of it growing crowded in anticipation. People were undoubtedly expecting a reprise of the tango bar antics, the legend of which had grown in the retelling.
“Know any Beatles?” I said to the guy.
His face broke out in a huge, miraculous grin. “Yeah!”
I went into “Here Comes the Sun” without hesitation and he jumped right in. God bless the old stand-bys. If I could play it when I was twelve, before I was really that good, I could play it now, injury or no injury. It was also so well-burned into my brain I didn’t have to think that hard about it–or at least I believed I didn’t have to, and therefore I didn’t overthink it. I didn’t even overthink the words. Everyone in that room, no matter what country they were from, knew that song. Various people, including the guy I was playing with, sang with me, and we played around passing a solo back and forth because we could.
The obvious followup song to do was “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” As I suspected, he knew it well. We abandoned the lyrics after a verse or two and just passed the solo back and forth jazz style until my fingers were literally starting to hurt. When it ended, the clapping was the sound of triumph. I stood and raised the guitar over my head like a tennis player winning Wimbledon, if Wimbledon had guitars. Then I handed the guitar to someone else, shook the hand of the guy I’d been playing with, and wormed my way out of the room.
I’ll tell you now because I’ll probably forget to tell you later, that the younger brother I played with that night eventually landed a record contract as a solo rock artist. I don’t think it was because playing with me was such a star turn–probably it had more to do with his oldest brother being a prominent music journalist in the country–but who knows. Maybe it helped.
It certainly helped me feel better about myself for about an hour. Maybe just long enough for me to think maybe I wasn’t in a tailspin and that if I would stop being paranoid about things everything would be great. And then I felt the post-show crash coming on, and I locked myself in a bathroom and cried so hard I pulled my ribcage.
As I was lying there on a somewhat fancy bath mat on a very fancy marble floor, I was thinking, no, no, no, you’re not allowed to be the mood-swingy insane one. That’s Ziggy’s job, not yours.
That didn’t make me feel any better.