Over the tops of the heads of everyone I could see Ziggy was up on a riser with a microphone, working the crowd. It was so noisy I couldn’t hear him until we got close. Antonia pulled me round the edges of the room to that side. I saw someone had moved the guitar over here.
Once we were both in place on tall stools, and they got me plugged in and a headset microphone on my head, and we did about five seconds of very quick checking, the party went mostly quiet. At this half of the room, anyway, all eyes were on us. A whole bunch of people sat down on the rug, giving two other cameras full line of sight to us, and then other people stood around them.
Antonia had said we should do four to six songs, and chat with a veejay in between. A guy whose name I didn’t catch took the microphone and introduced us. We did “Wonderland” first, a straight rendition but minus the bass and drums, to intense applause.
The veejay hopped back up then. He was dressed casually, more of a “guy next door” look than a rocker. “And here we are back again with Ziggy and Daron from Moondog Three. How are you enjoying Toronto so far?”
Ziggy didn’t hesitate. “It’s been great. We’ve only been here a few hours, but you guys have really made it awesome.” He indicated the whole audience and got cheers.
“I’ve got some questions here from the audience and viewers at home,” he said, holding up a stack of cards. “Let’s see what everyone wants to know about you.” He sifted the cards in his hands and pulled one up. “Ziggy. Are you married?”
Ziggy burst into laughter. “No. Not married and no plans to be. I’m too busy.”
“No truth to the rumor that you and Jennifer Carstens, your co-star in the upcoming film Star Baby, have a thing going?”
“Hah, I wish. She’s a babe. I’m afraid it’s on-screen only, though.”
The host then turned to me. “Here’s a question for you, Daron. What kind of guitar do you play?”
“I play a couple of different ones but this one here is my favorite.” I knocked on the body affectionately. “It’s an Ovation Celebrity, I wanted one for years and years when I was too poor to afford it.”
“And with fame and success you finally bought one?”
“Actually, this particular one was a gift from Remo Cutler.” Three years ago, I realized. It felt like a really long time ago.
“Let’s hear another song, now. What are you two going to play for us next?”
Ziggy and I looked at each other. We’d very sketchily discussed our “set.”
“How about ‘Why the Sky?'” Ziggy asked, as if asking the host, but I nodded.
This was one of those songs that sounded drastically different played on the Ov’ instead of the Strat, with no effects. That made it interesting, though, and jazzy as Ziggy played with different vocal flourishes and styles, filling up all the empty space that was left with just the bare instrumentation of me alone, semi-acoustic.
I realized partway through I didn’t know if this was being filmed for later or if it was being broadcast live. Well, it was Ziggy’s problem as to whether he sang the full lyrics or the cleaner version. On the album and live the word fuck was in two of the verses, but for the video version we’d modified it slightly to fit American TV rules. I wasn’t sure what the rules were, here.
He went with the safe version.
Ziggy and I smiled at each other at the end of the song. It just came out so sweet.
Host man came back then. “Fabulous rendition of that song! It was in the top five of our video countdown for a month, back in May, was it? Excellent job. Love it.”
“Thanks,” Ziggy said. “Can I ask you a question?”
“But of course.”
“Are the words you can’t say on television in Canada basically the same as the ones in America?”
The host raised an eyebrow. “I would say basically yes, to be on the safe side. You know, I have a question here from someone in the audience who must be American. What do you think of this?” He pulled out a card and read, “What are we going to do to stop Tipper Gore and the PMRC?”
“Stop her? I think we’re mostly trying to ignore her,” I said.
“For those of you who may not know what we’re talking about,” the host clarified, “the PMRC is the Parents Music Resource Center, an effort being led by the wife of Tennessee Senator Al Gore to clean up rock and roll in the United States.”
Ziggy answered then. “The sad truth is that we’re already censoring and I’m against anything that restricts art. But I don’t believe putting warning stickers on albums is hurting them. I mean, if you put a sticker on an album that says ‘Rated R For Strong Language’ like on a movie, that’s not actually going to stop teenagers from buying it. If anything it’s going to add to the interest. Movie theaters don’t card and I’m betting record stores aren’t either.”
“But what about the stores that have stopped carrying the stickered albums? What then?”
“Okay, now we’re talking full blown censorship. But they’re stupid to do that. The stickered records are going to be the best sellers. All they’re doing is shooting themselves in the foot. I mean, seriously, who wants to buy an album that their local PTA approves of? That misses the point.”
“And seriously,” I added, “Tipper talks about how rock goes too far and cites Elvis as an example of a ‘more innocent’ time. Has she forgotten they tried to censor the fu– hel– crap out of Elvis? The wouldn’t show him below the waist on TV and he had his live shows stopped by local police, all that sh– crap.” Fuck, I was terrible at censoring myself. “They had frikking John Denver testify to Congress because even he had been censored. John Denver! How tame can you get?”
“We’re just the Elvises of today,” Ziggy said. “Elvis pushed the envelope of blatant sexuality for his time. We push it for ours. That’s our job.”
“Very interesting. All right, how about this one. If you were a tree, what kind of bird would you like to nest in you?”
Ziggy and I looked at each other and laughed about that one. It was just a funny question. “You can go first,” Ziggy said.
“Me? Thanks. Man, now I have to think.” If I was a tree? “The only thing that comes to mind is blackbird, and entirely because of this.” I started picking out the Beatles “Blackbird” from the White Album. To my surprise Ziggy leaped in. I didn’t even know he knew the words, and I figured we’d peter out at some point. Then I realized there really are only two verses. I hadn’t played it in a long time but it was one of those songs that I played thousands and thousands of times, from when I was ten years old on.
Come to think of it, it’s probably the song that defined the sound in my mind that led me to fall in love with the Ovation in the first place. So crisp and clean and perfect. I played it over and over to get it that perfect, but it took the right guitar to really reach that sound in my mind.
The song starts with the guitar, and after the verses end, ends with it. So it was easy to bring it to a close. The applause was so loud I don’t think anyone could even hear my last flourish.
Ziggy didn’t let the veejay say anything then, as he jumped off his stool and exhorted the audience. “Did you like that? Yeah? Want to hear us try something totally new?”
There were, of course, massive cheers.
He turned to me. “You want to try to do that thing?”
I knew which thing he meant. “Sure.” Moving Parts.
He got back on his stool and faced me. We didn’t usually need eye contact, but for something like this where we didn’t have a set plan and hadn’t really rehearsed what we were going to do? It helped.
I figured the structure was my job. I played an intro, then went into the chord progression, then gave him a little silent count-off to it coming around again for the lyrics to come in.
He changed them a little, but they were still largely the same as what I had written, just a little smoother.
A story today
A film today
Reminds me of you
So full of moving parts
Just run away
I can’t sit through
So many moving parts
Hard to say
between me and you
Sparking the gap
So far apart
from you to me
too many moving parts
Nothing’s the same
From day to day
Can’t get across
The chasm’s too dark
What’s funny is I’d written them almost more as a sketch of a song, not intending those to be the full verses, figuring we’d flesh them out later, but somehow Ziggy could sing even the shortest fragment of a sentence, or even just a single word, and make it feel like he’d sung a whole verse. Like Michael Stipe turning the single word, “fire,” into the entire chorus of R.E.M.’s “The One I Love.”
In this case the chorus turned into a duet, where I sang the words “moving parts” and he sang “changes” and then we just stayed on that and played with that for a while.
And then I saw host dude hovering. I gave Ziggy a nod, and we kicked it up a notch before bringing it home. It was glorious. It was everything our little face off in the bathroom at the hotel had been, with both of us sort of unsure what the other one was about to do, and it could have all gone wrong, but somehow holding it together and making it work.
You take a big risk and sometimes it pays off, I guess.
The host was trying to say something like “Moondog Three, ladies and gentlemen” and break in and I didn’t let him. If this was live and they had to go to commercial or something they could just fade us out. I went straight into the intro to “Candlelight” and didn’t take my eyes off Ziggy. I figured for this one he’d work the audience and go out to the edge of the stage, but he didn’t. He stayed on his stool, leaning toward me, like there was no one else there. Like it was just him and me.
And then we were done. Time started moving forward again. People were clapping and cheering. We took bows, Ziggy and I holding hands. There were flashbulbs. We climbed off the riser, and the DJ kicked on a song.