The venue in North Carolina turned out to be another college campus, and Jonathan had to tell me all about the Duke Blue Devils since I didn’t know squat about college sports. It was a basketball arena, seated just shy of ten thousand, but from the outside it was all covered in gray stone and looked like a monastery.
There were already fans there, waiting for us to show up for soundcheck. A group of about twenty. Like usual they were mostly girls with one or two guys floating around. One of the girls was pen pals with one of the girls Courtney knew, the discovery of which fact produced much squealing. I think Carynne delegated fan wrangling to Court, actually, or maybe it just happened that way. Zig and I spent a good twenty minutes taking pictures and signing autographs and answering the question “Are you sure you’re okay?” a few million times. Jonathan wasn’t the only one who watched the video of the explosion a million times. My eye patch was deemed “cute.” Then when the girls heard that Ziggy had decorated it for me, THAT was deemed cute. Jonathan seemed to think the whole fan club thing was cute.
Then Court bossed us inside to take care of business. She was definitely taking lessons from Carynne.
The green room was a converted locker room. There was a kind of rhythmic sound coming from an open door toward the back and at first I was trying to imagine what kind of instrument it could be, and then I realized it was a huge clothes dryer, already in use, going clackety-thump. I honestly hadn’t been keeping track of what all was going on with our show clothes beyond the fact that someone always took the sweaty post-show stuff away. Unlike when we’d toured on our own, doing our own driving and laundry, this was a whole different set-up. Good thing someone, by which I mean Carynne, kept track of all that stuff.
Carynne hit me with the schedule the second I sat down to change my socks. “No extra encores tonight,” she warned. “Not only is there a local zoning thing, it’s an eleven hour drive to Bloomington so we’re rolling overnight. We’re meeting up there with Wednesday’s Child and The Blissmen. It’ll be their first show of their tour so we don’t want to be late. Then it’s another eleven hours to Toronto.”
“Jeez, isn’t that a bit tight, scheduling-wise?” I realized the lace of one of my high-tops was getting frayed.
“There’s a day off in Toronto before the show. Well, not a real day off, there’s press and a getting-to-know-you party with the other two bands, a big Much Music thing.” She sat next to me on the bench and flipped through the day book.
“It’s the Canadian version of MTV,” she assured me. “That’s kind of how the whole ‘faces of alternative rock’ thing came together, through them.”
“Both these bands are from England?” We’d put a cassette of The Blissmen into the bus player a few days ago but it hadn’t left much of an impression on me.
“Um, U.K. anyway. They’re both better known in Canada than the States I guess, and BNC are trying to break them to a bigger US audience.”
“Okay. So why Bloomington, Indiana, then?” I kind of drew a map in the air. “If it’s eleven hours over to there and then eleven hours up to Toronto…” Seemed like a really big detour when if we went straight north for eleven hours I was betting we’d be there. “Unless my geography’s off?”
She shrugged. “You’re not wrong. The arena’s big, and it just kind of worked out that way. I agree, not the most efficient route. But sometimes you can’t get what you want.”
“Sixteen thousand. No, wait, eighteen with the general admission on the floor.” She shut the book again. “If only we could play a couple more really big places, this tour might actually make some money.”
“I thought we were making money?”
“We are. But you know, we’re still skimping on some things, the crew’s overworked… If every show wasn’t a sell-out or a near sell-out, I’d be worried.”
“Would you really?” I was thinking back to that day in the kitchen when she showed me all the spreadsheets. “Does it have to be best-case scenario to work out?”
She gave me one of those looks, like she was trying to decide if I could understand what she was about to say. “We’re lucky, Daron. We’re just high enough to reach that upper tier where we make money on tour instead of spending it. And then we make money because the tour generates publicity which sells the record. Some bands knock themselves out on the road and the only profit they end up with comes from the record sales.”
“I know that. Isn’t that why we had the big fight with BNC about who would pay for what?”
“Yeah, pretty much.” She chewed her lip. Her hair looked very dark red in the fluorescent lights. “I hope these new bands aren’t assholes.”
“I mean, you’d think… you know some headliners don’t cover half the costs that we do? Some don’t cover catering, require separate equipment riders… and Megashit just didn’t appreciate any of that.”
“They thought they were entitled to it,” I said. “They think they walk on water and their shit’s gold.”
“So what’s it mean that we paired with a metal band in the south and now we’ll be with these British pop bands?”
She shook her head. “I don’t know. Nothing maybe. Sounds to me from talking to your dad like BNC is going to keep trying to hammer you into one round hole after another until they find a fit.” She blew out a breath, looking tired. “Okay, check-in time. How much pain are you in?”
I flexed my hand. “I should re-bandage it and then see.”
“Do that. I’ll go look for Zig.” She got up and hurried out.
I followed her into the hall, past Antonio who was watching the door, and down to the next room over, where Miracle Mile was. I was about to saunter into the room when a hand on my chest stopped me. Adam, looking very blond and bad-ass at the door in a shirt with the sleeves torn off. He jerked his head toward the interior of the room.
Aha. Prayer circle. The others were all on their knees and Dave was going on as usual, just not as loudly as he had that night in the parking lot.
“I’ll come back later,” I whispered. “Just wondering if you’d…” I held up my hand.
He held up a stop-sign hand like an Indian chief in a movie, silent and imposing. Okay. I stayed put, while he went and dug something out of his bag. Then he tossed it to me. I caught it against my chest as he shut the door in my face.
In my hands was a roll of the rubbery over-bandage wrap. I suppose it was nice of him to give it to me, considering that everything else I felt from the exchange had been hostile. Maybe it was rude of me to drop by at prayer-time? Except then why not just shut the damn door in the first place?
Between me and Ziggy and Colin we did all the re-bandaging necessary on both of us. Then it was time for soundcheck and the door to the Mile’s dressing room was still closed.
I decided to say something to Carynne about it, which meant Colin and Ziggy both heard me. “They’re having a prayer meeting,” I said. “I got the door slammed in my heathen face.”
Carynne’s expression darkened. “Well, they can kiss my heathen, non-believing time schedule.” She marched off and came back with Christian in tow, as well as Dave and Adam.
We kept the soundcheck short. I wanted to play around with “Moving Parts” but this wasn’t the time, not with me and Ziggy both trying to stay healthy and a quick turnaround until the show tonight.
Carynne didn’t even let us get more than two steps off the stage. “Well?”
I shared a look with Ziggy.
“Let’s split another one,” he said.
He and Carynne moved toward the dressing room while I handed my guitar to Colin. Dave and Adam were coming onstage then and Dave came right up to me and said, “I have some words of advice for you. Regarding Chris. Since we won’t see you after tonight.”
“Okay, cool,” I said.
“It’ll have to wait until after this, though,” he said, indicating the stage.
“I’d appreciate it if you were in a clear state of mind to hear it,” he added.
Ah. “I’ll wait until after we’ve talked to take the pain medication, Dave,” I said.
“I appreciate that,” he said, with a little nod of his head, and then he went up on the stage.
I admit, I was a little creeped out by how formal he was being. I didn’t really know what to think of it, though. I went and got my eyeliner on, and got my half a pill but just put it in a paper cup and walked around with it.
I went back and heard the end of MM’s soundcheck and stood in the wings waiting for Dave. I was a little surprised then that in the end it was him and Christian and Adam who all came to talk to me.
The tech crew was running pre-recorded music through the sound system, Peter Gabriel’s “Passion” album, which had just come out. Too ironic when you consider what they said to me.
“Daron,” Dave said, and put his hand on my shoulder in this really deliberate way, like he was proving something by it. “I know this is going to be difficult to hear, but we all do things that are self-defeating.”
I really thought he was going to tell me not to take the painkiller. I really did.
“Your sinful ways are what have caused the rift between you and your brother,” Dave said.
I’m stupid, or at least I hoped I was. “What sinful ways?”
His expression was total condescension. “The Bible clearly states it’s a sin for a man to love a man. It’s no wonder Christian turned to drugs to blind himself to the evil and filth around him.”
I think my mouth just fell open at that point and I stared at him with my eyes round like a doll. Because I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I wanted to say, “Are you fucking kidding me?” but I was too stunned to get the words out.
“I know you’re scared. I know you’re lost. I know you feel weak,” he said. “But we can help. You just have to accept the Lord Jesus Christ as your savior. Christ forgives all sins. His love is boundless, and will fill every empty heart.”
Holy fucking shit what a line, I thought. What a fucking line. I shrugged out from under his hand, a nauseous feeling rising. “You really believe that?” is what came out.
“I know it,” he said, completely earnest. “Please let me help you. Let us help you.”
Finally. “Are you fucking kidding me?” I backed up a step. They were all much bigger than me. Dave seemed all mild-mannered benevolence, but Adam looked positively pissed off.
Chris, on the other hand, looked like he wished he was anywhere else. He wouldn’t meet my eyes.
Dave tried again. “Daron, brother…”
“I’m not your fucking brother!”
“Homosexuality is unnatural and sin against nature as well as God’s law!” Dave shouted back, his patience wearing thin.
This entire conversation having taken me by surprise I didn’t have any snappy comebacks. So I settled for, “No, it isn’t!”
“Isn’t it?” he pressed.
“Fuck! You’re fucking crazy.” I’d had enough, and I moved past him toward the hallway to the dressing rooms, almost daring him to lay a hand on me.
He didn’t. I resisted the urge to run. I went straight into our dressing room, blowing straight past Antonio, who said “Whoa, whoa, something wrong?”
“Holy fucking shit,” I said, turning in place. I couldn’t figure out whether to sit down or stand up. I wanted to kick something. “You got a problem with me, Tony?”
“No, sir, boss man, no problem a’tall,” he said in that New York street-smooth voice.
“No, I mean, with me, being… me.” I’m such a fucking coward I still couldn’t say it.
“If you mean of the ho-mo-sexual persuasion, then no.” He stood with one foot in the hallway and one foot in the dressing room, occasionally glancing down the hall. “My big brother’s gay and he can still whoop my ass. My only problem is if you’ve got a problem and it’s something I need to do something about and you’re not telling me what it is.”
I finally decided to sit. I plopped down on a folding chair. “That motherfucking righteous preacher shit who calls himself a singer just told me I’m a sin against God’s law.”
He snorted. “You gotta be fucking kidding me.”
“Not kidding. I can’t fucking believe it.” I stood up again and started to pace. “I want to… spit. I want to smack somebody.”
“Well, somebody needs smacking,” he said, “but I wouldn’t recommend it. And as your bodyguard I would definitely recommend against all violent acts.”
That stopped me in my tracks. “Are you really a bodyguard?”
He gave me one of those one-eyebrow looks that said I was being dumb.
“I thought you were hired to protect the… stuff.” Equipment. Lights. The vandalized bus.
“You are the stuff,” he said. “Here comes boss lady.” He stepped out of the doorway so she could come in without having to squeeze past him.
She looked back and forth between us. “Something going on?”
“How does everyone know something’s up?” I asked.
“Well, you look upset,” she said, without explaining further. “Did you take the pill?”
I held up the cup. “About to. But I have to fill you in on something.”
I sat back down. “Dave just told me I’m a sinner and it’s my… my evil and filth that made Christian turn to drugs.”
“What!” She hit a high note that made my ears ring.
“Does the Bible really say homosexuality is a sin?”
“I don’t fucking think so!” She turned to Antonio. “Tony, does it?”
“I don’t rightly know, ma’am. In my momma’s church they never brought it up.”
She turned back to me. “Wait, who the fuck cares what it says in the Bible. It also says no sex before marriage and last year the Pope said condoms are a tool of the devil, so go figure.” She let out one of those frustrated barks. “The nerve!”
“And this is the line of shit he’s feeding Chris?”
“I guess so…”
“Oh, that is just too fucking precious. Oh for fuck’s sake.” She crossed her arms. “Well, thank god in four hours they are out of here.” She blew a lock of hair off her forehead. “Unless you’re so pissed you want to throw them off the bill.”
That hadn’t even occurred to me. “No. That’s not necessary. Tell them to play and then get the fuck out.”
She went to give them a piece of her mind. I went to find a bottle of water so I could take the pill. I dug one out of the cooler in the corner and took it, then went and checked my eye patch and makeup in the mirror. Checked my clothes: I was stage-ready.
I wondering if the pill was going to make me feel on top of the world again tonight, or if it was going to help me not care that some people I’d considered friends thought I was evil filth.
No, I’m not, I thought. I’m just… fucking not. Because if I am, I should just kill myself right now.
Not an option. A laughable idea, really. Though in the back of my head I realized it might not have been so laughable to me a few years ago. When you’re so desperate you pay your band’s take for the night to a hustler, okay, that maybe I could see falling into the “sin” category. It was wrong. Getting sucked off through a hole in a men’s room wall, well, if it wasn’t hurting anyone, then maybe it was only a little bit wrong, but still more wrong than right. Sneaking away to get laid? Kinda wrong. But not like Chris made it out to be, right? What made it right? I didn’t believe in the Bible or marriage or any of that. So, when was sex right?
Jonathan found me sitting in a chair with my hands in my hair, hunched over, sort of rocking back and forth in the underwater haze that the drug turned the world into.
I looked up at him. “Do you love me?” I asked him.
His smile was warm like a heat lamp coming on. He cupped my cheek. “You know I do.”
“Good. That makes it right,” I said, and pulled him down into a kiss.
He kissed back, then patted me on the shoulder as he stood up. “Break a leg,” he said, still beaming.
“Is it that time already?”
“It is.” He took a step back as Colin held out a hand.
“Come on, boss. Let’s go.”
“I’m not that drugged.”
“Like hell you’re not. Your eyes are so dilated you might want sunglasses while you’re on stage,” Colin said, taking my hand and pulling me to my feet.
“Oh, that explains why the lights seemed so… Last night, they were…”
“Uh huh,” Colin said with a chuckle. “You’re such a lightweight.”
“That’s good. That means I’m a cheap date. Right?”
He handed me the guitar in the wings. The cheering was intense, extremely loud indoors, and I remembered to put my earplugs in.
It felt so good to have a guitar in my hands.
(Quick site news! The audiobooks of Daron’s Guitar Chronicles 1, 2, and 3 are now on sale on Audible.com! You can find all three on the DGC series page at Audible.com. Meanwhile, I talked to the T-shirt guys today and Kickstarter T-shirts and tote bags are being delivered on October 26. With any luck the book will be in hand by then, too! More news on that as soon as I have it!)