The Garden State Arts Center. Of all the places we played, this was the one I’d been to the most. When I was growing up, we lived so close, and there were always people with tickets, and when I was in high school there really wasn’t anything else to do besides go to the Shore or the mall. (One of several malls, actually, but in New Jersey all shopping malls are “the mall.”) Sometimes promoters even came and gave tickets away at school if a show wasn’t sold out.
Some of the kids I hung out with liked to go and party in the parking lot, so to them it didn’t really matter who was playing. In fact, they thought the worse the band was the better, because then there was very little incentive to bother going over to the lawn to see the show. I did go and see the bands sometimes, sometimes because I wanted to and sometimes because the guy whose car it was wanted to make out with his girlfriend in the back seat.
We got busted once or twice for alcohol, but not full-on arrest type, jut the confiscation and threat of warning our parents or even our school. Venue security weren’t real cops anyway, and we weren’t making enough trouble for the real police to be called. We never ever got caught with drugs. I don’t know if we were lucky or clever. Now that I think about it, weed was hard to get sometimes, which suited me fine. I never liked it that much.
Merely thinking about it makes me feel like a depressed, lonely, angry teenager all over again.
I wondered, while I sat around backstage, how many of those kids left the area and how many of them stayed. Colin and I jammed a bit–couldn’t really call it a lesson. We did a long soundcheck because I turned it into a mini rehearsal for the show at the Ritz.
Then I looked out into the seats and saw Jonathan sitting in the front row. I tamped down the urge to cut things short. J. had a notepad and a tape recorder balanced on one thigh, and he tapped his foot in time with what we played. Then when we quit playing, he had sewing-machine leg.
Yeah, hi, I’m eager to see you, too.
Ziggy saw him, too. He looked back at me with one of those unreadable expressions. “Do you think I should learn to play the saxophone?”
I don’t know what I was expecting him to say, but that was definitely not it. “The saxophone? Why?”
“Like Sting did for Ghosts in the Machine.”
“Oh. I don’t know, Zig. I don’t really see us incorporating a horn.” Sting had also learned the oboe for Synchronicity, the pretentious bastard.
“But then I could improvise with you,” he said.
“You can improvise with me fine, with your voice,” I replied, and I meant it. “We should do more of it.”
That was apparently the right answer to give. He beamed. “Yes. We should. Now let’s give the stage back.”
So, that was the end of that soundcheck.
Backstage it had started to get more crowded. More of the muckety-mucks had started to show, and I saw Belle was there, too. I rushed over to say hello to her just as Jonathan made his way back to the catering table and I ended up introducing them, although they kind of already knew each other.
“Belle, oh my god, Belle. Jonathan, meet the woman who saved my life at the end of the MNB tour when I was sick as a dog.” I gave her a quick greeting-type hug. “Belle, this is Jonathan McCabe, the guy who wrote that SPIN cover article.”
“Oh, right, I know you,” she said and shook hands with Jonathan. “You also did that interview with Rosie and the Rosettes, the one on the boat.”
“Yes, ma’am, that was me,” Jonathan said with a grin, pleased at being recognized. “Did you move into the promo department?”
“I did. Just in time to start paying for an expensive college, too,” she said with a laugh.
“Oh, can I ask which one?”
“Which child or which college?” she joked. “My oldest, Cynthia, the nut didn’t fall too far from the tree. She’s at Marquette studying media and broadcast communications.”
“And she wants to go into the music industry?” Jonathan asked.
“She says she does. I hope she come to her senses by the time she graduates, but if she doesn’t, well, at least I can introduce her to some people.”
“And speaking of college and young women in the business, Daron, I hear that’s your little sister over there.” Belle pointed one manicured pinky toward Courtney and clucked her tongue a little. “Your papa should know better than to drag a young thing like that out on the road.”
“Actually, she ended up tagging along by accident,” I said, not sure why I was defending Digger other than I wanted the story straight. “We didn’t know where she was. She showed up at a show in Texas and the next thing you know, well, you know how these things go. Carynne took her under her wing. Now we couldn’t get by without her.” In the back of my mind meanwhile I was thinking, wait, was that Texas? I think it was…
Courtney was, at that moment, giving some guy from the venue who was twice her age a hard time about something, and the guy was wringing his hands and saying “Yes, ma’am, right away.”
Belle gave a little nod of her head, like well, okay. Then she looked back at me. “I don’t have to tell you it was a mighty tense few days around the office after your accident.”
“Mm-hmmm. Until we got word that you were both going to be okay, everybody held their breath. I see he’s still wearing a bandage.”
“Just a small one, now,” I said, looking around for Ziggy but not seeing him.
“Well, it’s good to see you.” She patted me on the shoulder, then on the cheek, and then moved on to greeting someone else.
I turned to Jonathan then. “Does that mean she’s not Mills’s assistant anymore?”
“Yeah. It’s a big deal because at BNC, you know, something like 65% of the employees are women, but almost all of them on the lowest tiers of the ladder. Only 10% of those in hiring positions and only 5% of those at the executive suite level are women. So her moving to the promo department and also up a step is big. Also being African-American. BNC has been pretty good about signing and pushing black music acts, but they haven’t exactly been quick to hire.”
“That is such a Brown University way of looking at it,” I said.
“Yeah, well, it’s true.”
“I know.” I gestured for him to follow me over to the buffet table, where I picked some things off the tray onto a plate. “So how have you been?”
“Not bad. Pretty busy. I bought a new car.”
“Well, not new-new, but new to me.”
“What did you get? Buying a car is on my to-do list for when I get home.”
“Nothing too fancy. It’s a Honda Accord.”
“Well, it does have a stereo.”
That made me laugh. “You have it here? Let’s see it.”
He grinned. “I’ll give you a ride back to the city tonight if you want.”
The reality that he could, in fact, make off with me for a couple of hours after the show tonight hit me like a splash of cold water. Right here. Today. Tonight.
What I should have said was something like you got a deal. But what I actually said was, “Let me check with boss lady to make sure I’m not supposed to be anywhere. We’ve already done more press in the past two days than we did on the whole warm-up tour. Insane.” The urge to get away from everyone was very strong, but somehow that only strengthened the resolve of my responsible side.
“Okay,” he said. “Hey, is that Rob Tannenbaum? He’s another Brown grad. I should introduce you to him.”
And so it went. I wasn’t used to backstage being quite that much of a cocktail party, where the chatting and the meeting people and the hobnobbing were sort of endless, and then bam it was time for the first band to go on and only a small number of people in the room seemed to even notice.
I excused myself to the men’s room, wondering if I’d find Ziggy there.
(Thought we should have a band from New Jersey here. So here’s Skid Row. -d)