365. The Flat Earth

I walked. Digger didn’t try to follow me, though the cabbie yelled at me as I slammed the door. I cut over one block and then kept walking uptown. Summer heat rose up out of the sidewalk but it felt good to be walking, because then at least I was doing something beside thinking “what the fuck?” over and over.

What the fuck.

It sounded a lot to me like my father had just told me I should sleep with Ziggy because it would be good for Ziggy’s mental health. And he’d come to that conclusion because of his own experiences with my mother’s fucked up priorities. And he was saying, therefore, that I had fucked up priorities? Maybe?

Wait a second. So my mother always accused me of being too much like him, and now he was going to accuse me of being too much like her? What?

And what was that dig about Remo about? Like it was a bad thing that the people who worked for him thought he was great? Or that the people who worked for me did?

He’s drunk. He’s just drunk. Is he even going to remember this tomorrow? I kind of hoped he wouldn’t.

Twenty blocks later I had chewed it over another way. I’d never even considered the possibility my parents had been in love. Thinking about it that way, a love gone sour, gone wrong, made more sense than my childhood assumptions that they’d always been like that. I mean, your parents are your parents, and they seem like they’ve always been however you know them.

Thinking that my mother was younger than me when she had Janine… The whole thought that her life might’ve been derailed because of a moment of lust, hers or Digger’s didn’t matter… It brought a bunch of my old gut-churning fears raging to the surface. Fears about my own career. That getting caught in the wrong place or with the wrong person could end it. Or catching the wrong thing. That could end more than just a career.

I walked all the way to the hotel, which was about 45 minutes of walking, at the end of which I wanted a shower. I didn’t see anyone I knew in the lobby and I showed my key to the guard by the elevators and up I went.

Jonathan was up there, writing in his notebook, sitting at the desk by the window. He got up when I came in, though, and met me halfway across the room, and I kissed him so he wouldn’t have to wonder whether he should kiss me or not. Putting Digger’s bullshit out of my mind was easier than I thought, like reality shifted back to normal once I was with J.

“Have you been in here writing all day?” I asked.

He yawned and stretched and I ran my hands around his bare back when his shirt rode up. “Pretty much. I got room service and didn’t let anything distract me. I wrote a ton.”

“That’s great. Hey, I’m a sweaty mess and I want to clean up before this thing tonight. You’re coming with me, right?”

“Wouldn’t miss it.”

“Come get in the shower with me.” I pulled him with me to the bathroom.

It was already eight by this point, so we were going to be late, but right then the thought of some steaming hot skin against my skin was too enticing to let go. We used our hands on each other in the water and that was just about perfect.

We took a cab to the gallery, which was down on Broome Street on the East Side, a couple of blocks from Bowery. The place was two floors, the front wall completely glass, so we could see right in as we approached. It looked like two floors of cocktail party, which it was.

A very cute young thing with a rakish haircut and his shirt untucked checked our names on the guest list by the door and welcomed us in. It was noisy in the room, lots of people talking and laughing and all their voices bouncing off the hard surfaces. It was fairly crowded, making it hard to look at the photographs hung on the walls, and the raucous chatter gave it about as un-museum-like a feel as possible. Somehow this hadn’t been what I imagined, but it wasn’t a big deal. We accepted glasses of white wine from a caterer with a tray.

I didn’t see Matthew anywhere, so I tried to get a look at the art before we ran into him, so I’d have something to say. Some of the images were blown up huge, four feet by four feet. Along one wall seemed to be mostly shots from nature, rocks and trees. These shots weren’t black and white but they seemed almost like it, black tree branches against a white sky, white foam of a waterfall against black rocks. I wondered where they were taken.

Jonathan, not surprisingly, ran into someone he knew. I watched from beside him as they went through a greeting ritual that reminded me of exotic birds, or maybe French films. They both threw their hands wide in surprise, then came together, exchanging a kiss on each cheek.

Then all of a sudden they turned to me. Jonathan said, “Daron brought me. He’s an old friend of Matthew’s. Daron, this is Peter Gill. He writes for the Voice.”

Peter shook my hand and didn’t try to kiss my cheeks, thankfully. He was a tall man, mid-thirties I would guess, maybe a tad preppier than I would have expected from the Village Voice, but then again he was a writer, and it hit me that he was gay. Or if he wasn’t gay, he was passing for it, here in what I realized was a room where there were probably more gay men than straight ones. How I could tell, I’m not even sure, since it wasn’t like I did an inventory of the people around us. It felt like it in a way I couldn’t quite describe.

“Nice to meet you,” I said.

“You, too–oh.” He suddenly looked at me more closely. “That Daron.”

“The band plays tomorrow night at Madison Square Garden,” Jonathan said.

“Yes, dawn breaks over marble head. Matthew certainly has friends in interesting circles.” Peter held up his empty wine glass. “Anyone need a refill? They’re pouring in the back.”

“No, I’m good.” I still had most of the glass and so did Jonathan. Peter ran off then, and we went back to looking at what was hanging. I spent half my time looking at the art and half of it watching the people around me. I saw a lot of those cheek-kiss greetings. I looked at how people stood, what they wore, what their gestures were like, like I was some kind of anthropologist. It was like going to California that first time. They speak English but they’re not like us. This was a different part of America, too. And it wasn’t just art-world America, I was sure. It was gay America.

I had never seen Jonathan with other guys like him. He fit in with this crowd completely. It wasn’t bad, not at all, but it was eye-opening.

After a bit we made our way upstairs. Up here, all the photos were of people. They were arranged in series. Each group was of a single person, taken at different times. We moved to read the sign on the wall that explained.

“Oh,” Jonathan said, and I felt his hand in mine.

I squeezed it back as my eyes caught up to where he had read. These were all people who had been diagnosed with HIV.

You know I didn’t want to look. But I did. That’s part of what art does, right? It challenges you. Otherwise it’s just a pretty picture.

Some were men, some were women. Mostly men, though one of the women I remember most. A ballet dancer. The card by her series said she wouldn’t allow her face to be photographed, so the were all of her feet and legs.

Another that hit pretty hard was all the hands of a piano player. Lesions. Wasting. Terrifying.

It was right after staring at that group for far too long I caught sight of Matthew, holding court near the front windows, accepting accolades and describing his work to a semi-circle of admirers. He was grayer than I remembered, and gaunter, and I was about to move to join them when he very clearly said, “Now if you’ll excuse me,” and disengaged himself from them so that he could come toward me and into a bear hug. I don’t know whose idea that was. Both of ours, I guess.

“Daron, holy shit, I didn’t think you were going to make it, I saw your name on the list but I thought no way in hell is he making it here with everything he’s got going on.” He pulled back enough to look at me.

Good thing, too, since until he let go I couldn’t breathe enough to answer. “I wouldn’t miss it. Remo told me about it and I realized we’d be in town, and I made Carynne make it happen.”

“Carynne! Where is she? Is she running your life now? That girl!” He was wearing a long black jacket, longer than a normal suit-cut, with a shirt the color of a sunset peeking out from under it.

“I thought she was going to try to make it, too,” I said, “but I wouldn’t blame her for taking a bubble bath and going to bed on a night off. It’s been a long tour. And yes, she runs my life. When I’m on the road, at least.”

“Always knew she’d be good at it if she put her mind to it.” Then he looked past me to Jonathan.

Right. Time to see if I could get this introductions thing right. “Matthew, I’d like you to meet Jonathan McCabe. He writes for just about everywhere.”

“Ah, okay, nice to meet you.” Matthew shook his hand and nodded like he knew who I was talking about.

“This is… this is some stunning work,” Jonathan said. “Just… stunning.”

Matthew shrugged. “It used to be a hobby. More recently, though, it turned into a… a calling.” He seemed sheepish about admitting it. “Daron, there’s someone else I want you to meet.” He beckoned me to follow him along the front windows and then the wall on the other side where we hadn’t looked at the pictures yet. I caught one that was very definitely Remo in silhouette, against the LA sky.

We stopped at a chair where an older man was sitting beside the photos that were of himself.

“Daron, this is my partner Archie.”

The man stood carefully and shook my hand. His hands were warm and rough. “Thank you for coming,” he said, and then lowered himself back into the chair. “I’m so proud of Matthew for this. For all this.”

Matthew also introduced Jonathan, who also got a handshake from Archie but from a sitting position. Jonathan started asking Archie about the photos and Matthew started asking me about, what else, the explosion.

With him I could go into a tiny bit more detail, since he understood what stage set-ups were like, and the next thing I knew I had told him a huge chunk of the whole thing, including the graffiti on the bus and that bullshit. He shook his head and cursed sympathetically.

“But how are you,” I finally forced myself to say. I didn’t know how to come out and ask. I didn’t know if that was considered rude or what. I didn’t even know what words to use. Do you have the virus? How long do you have to live? “I mean… how are you.”

He patted my hand. “It’s okay, Daron. I’m doing fine. Archie won’t be with me much longer, but I’m holding up so far.”

That raised more questions but it did answer one. “That’s why you didn’t go with Remo to the summer festivals.”

“Yeah. I have to be here. When your partner’s dying, you can’t be ten thousand miles away when it happens.”

So matter of fact. I felt like he’d just hit me in the chest with a hammer. “I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t be. It’s life. You live it. You make the most of it. You count your blessings for the time you have together. We had two perfect years.” He glanced at Jonathan. “So?”

“Is it that obvious?” I was probably blushing.

“Only if you’re looking for it,” Matthew said with a grin. He still had that same mustache. “What are you two doing for dinner? Do you have plans or did you eat already?”

“No plans that I know of, but this is your night, Matthew. Don’t let me monopolize you.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Look, no pressure. But if you’re still around when we clean up here, there’s a bistro around the corner where we can grab a bite and where they make some things Archie can eat.”

Jonathan was at Matthew’s elbow, then. “Pardon the interruption, but Tim Wong from ArtNotes is dying to talk to you and is too timid, and wants me to introduce you.”

“Oh, lead the way, Jonathan. Daron, I do want to catch up, though, if you have the time.”

“Yeah, okay.” I watched Jonathan lead him over to a short Asian man in a beige linen jacket, then come back to me.

“How are you holding up?” J. had a fresh glass of wine in his hand. “I know cocktail parties aren’t your thing.”

“There’s a whole wall we skipped,” I pointed out, and so we went back to look at what we’d rushed past. The crowd was thinning now and it was easier to see.

There were two of Remo, actually, the one I’d mentioned before where he was in silhouette against the sky, and one that was a performance shot, taken from in the pit, looking up into the lights. You couldn’t see his face in either one, but for anyone who knew him, there was no mistaking who it was.

“That’s David Byrne over there,” Jonathan said matter of factly.

“I didn’t think I could possibly be the only person from the music industry to make it here,” I said. “Go on, go talk to him. I can tell you want to.”

“You don’t want to?”

“I didn’t really like that last Talking Heads album and I’m afraid I’ll say so. Go on.” I was only half-kidding. I didn’t want to go meet him just for the sake of having met him and I hadn’t thought of anything worthwhile to say.

I was still standing there looking at the photos of Remo when a man next to me said, “That’ll be the gatefold, how much you want to bet.” He had a British accent. It took me a moment to realize he was talking to me.

“Gatef–? Oh, is this the album art for the solo record?” I asked, turning to look at the guy.

“Steve,” he said, holding out his hand to shake mine. “And you’re Daron.”

“Yes,” I said, and we shook.

“I believe it will be,” he said. “Or one from this shoot.”

“That’d be like Remo, to put his picture on the album cover but you can’t see his face.” I realized the horizontal line in the photo was the railing of his deck. “I think this is his back porch.”

“Indeed I believe it is,” Steve said. “We recorded nearly the entire album there. Well, at the house, not on the deck itself.”

“Wait, you’re Steve Lillywhite.” I looked at him more directly.

“The same.” He gave a little bow.

“He wouldn’t tell me a thing about it, you know. Barely would even admit he was working on an album. All he’d say is he was playing around with some Appalachian folk songs and what he’d been doing with this steel guitar. So it’s really going to happen? A solo record?”

“Solo acoustic. A bit of a vanity project, but I’m sure it’ll make money.”

“When’s it out?”

“I haven’t the foggiest. Wenco isn’t exactly rushing it to the shelves. I’m sure it’s scheduled now, but I haven’t been told the date yet.” He waved to someone over my shoulder. I looked and David Byrne was beckoning him. “I’m being summoned. Dinner reservations. Lovely to meet you. Cutler speaks highly of you. I hope we have a chance to work together someday.”

We shook hands and off he went.

Jonathan came back over. “Who was that?”

“That was Steve Lillywhite.”

“The producer?”

“The very one. Quick, how many albums can you name that he worked on?”

“Oooh, crap, he was…he was Boy by U2, right?”

“Yep.”

“Ahh, and… and…” Jonathan racked his brain, pressing his fingers to his temple.

“Peter Gabriel,” I prompted. “And Simple Minds, Morrissey…”

“You win. I’m getting him mixed up with Daniel Lanois.” He set his empty wine glass down on a low table. “He and Byrne just worked on an album of afro-cuban music together.”

“Really? That’s different.”

“Yeah, I think that’s the impression most people have. It sounds like they went for more of a trad approach than, say, what Paul Simon did with Graceland.”

“Graceland is… Graceland is Graceland.” I held up my hands as if I could show how the shape of it was real. “No other album can occupy the space that it did, because it made a space where there wasn’t one.”

So Jonathan and I stood there talking about the music business then, and music in general, and folk traditions and pop music, and the next thing you know we were the only people left.

“Matthew wanted to know if we wanted to join them for dinner around the corner or if we had plans,” I said.

“No plans,” Jonathan said, taking my hand. “Totally up to you.”

“Well, we have to eat sometime…”

He squeezed my fingers. “If you want to, let’s go. If you don’t want to, I’m happy to take you somewhere else.”

“Let’s go with them, then,” I said. “And we can go for a drink after if we aren’t ready to go back yet.”

“Okay.”

So that’s how me and my boyfriend ended up going out to dinner with Matthew and his boyfriend in New York City.

The original song “The Flat Earth” by Thomas Dolby:

But I had to include this video of Dolby doing the song live these days, though:

38 Comments

  • Amy says:

    It’s really good to see you having a good night out with Jonathan, especially after the stupidity with Digger. It’s almost like you’re growing up and out of the dumbassness that plagues us all in our late teens/early 20s.

  • Connie says:

    HIV only a partner away from you worries me, Daron. You’re being careful always, right?

  • Averin says:

    Superb longer post.

  • deb h says:

    loved it ,I always liked Matthew ,he really helped you a bit.I don’t know if you could have even started to “date”Jonathan without him.It really helped him open up a bit(still in the clothest).I think it funny how Remo always seems to find a way to fit into your life(even as a picture).

  • Joe says:

    Superb post. Really, really excellent.

    Where to start?

    “A very cute young thing with a rakish haircut” – really? You calling someone else young? Too funny.

    “oh. […] That Daron.” – I’ve got a *very* bad feeling about that.

    • daron says:

      Hey, I’m old enough to have graduated college here, and this kid couldn’t have had a two in his age. (But besides that I think “cute young thing” was his identity…)

  • Joe says:

    And, finally, Matthew. You’re breaking my heart, ctan.

    “It’s life. You live it. You make the most of it. You count your blessings for the time you have together. We had two perfect years.”

    You are Breaking. My. Heart.

    I came out in the mid-80’s and somehow — thankfully — managed to only be on the fringe of it. To remember a time when two perfect years seemed to be enough…I’ve tears in my eyes, here.

    Beautiful, wonderful, masterful post. Thank you.

    • Averin says:

      At about the same time this episode of Daron is happening, I was a student at Cal State Hayward (East Bay, now). I’d take BART into SF and walk to SFMOMA. The exhibit I remember best is “One Year of Year of AZT/One Day of AZT.” You went into a room with capsules painted onto the walls and the floorspace had giant capsules lined up. I’m not sure if all three artists had AIDS but I know that two died as the third took care of them.

      • ctan says:

        I think I’ve forgotten/blocked out a lot of the art installations I saw back then… Hey, is RENT still on Broadway? It only occurs to me now that it’s now a period piece. There’s that one scene where everyone takes an “AZT break”.

        • amy says:

          Sadly, no. The Broadway production closed September 7, 2008. And the off-Broadway revival closed September 9, 2012.

          • ctan says:

            I remember something closed recently but I couldn’t remember what. I suppose it’s time for it to move on to being produced by ambitious high school drama clubs everywhere now…

    • ctan says:

      When I think about the fact that every guy I knew from high school who we had suspected was gay (but who wasn’t out) was gone by the mid-90s, it hits home. There was a period of my life when the news of deaths and the funerals seemed almost constant. I went to John Preston’s funeral at an Episcopal Church in Maine in my full leathers and sat in a section of leatherfolk. I rode my motorcycle there. (In fact, I had an accident on the way back–rear-ended by a Cadillac while I sat at a stop sign…)

      I never saw the AIDS Quilt. I didn’t think I could cry that much and survive.

      I knew I had to put it in Daron’s face sometime. Like the looming threat of nuclear war, it wasn’t something you could avoid.

      So, thank you and you’re welcome. 🙂

      • Joe says:

        I worked the Quilt every chance I could. Philly, DC & somewhere else, I can’t remember, at least 8 times. One of my prize possessions is a thread spool pin I got from one of the SF folks while we did a display at the Drexel Armory in Philly, though I don’t remember what I did to get it.

        I remember being on the Mall in DC once, on duty, and we felt a few raindrops. Someone blew a whistle or whatever the signal was and, very literally, inside of about 75 seconds the entire Quilt was folded and wrapped in plastic. There’s a documentary that was made at that display, IIRC, that I appear in (in the background).

        I even managed to get my parents to come see it in Philly, on Mother’s Day, too. I haven’t thought of that in years; it must have been hell for them. They still thought at the time that I would die of AIDS — it’s what happened to gay people.

        It’s one of the things I love about DGC, how much I can relate to shit that happens around him, because that was my time, too.

      • Joe says:

        And the nuclear war reference — no one who didn’t grow up then will ever understand how omnipresent it was. I still can’t describe the feeling to people.

        • ctan says:

          Maybe I’ll add this link to the next liner notes, but here’s one to show people who can’t quite understand how prevalent the nuclear war thing was. This is a directory of the hundreds of pop songs from the 1980s about nuclear war: http://www.inthe80s.com/nuclearwar/a.shtml

          I tell people you can tell in the poetry, when there’s an unspoken “it” in poetry from the 70s and early 80s, the “it” not spoken of out loud is the threat of nuclear annihilation. After 1985, the unspoken “it” is AIDS.

        • LenaLena says:

          Growing up in Holland, I walked in so many demonstrations to stop the NATO from putting a nuclear arsenal in our country. The nuclear threat was a BIG part of my teens. I remember Reagan, or one of his cronies, claimed ‘The world could probably survive a small scale nuclear war with Europe as the battle ground’.

          And I remember videos like ‘Dancing with Tears in my Eyes’ by Ultravox were on heavy rotation on MTV Europe…..

          • daron says:

            There’s the Genesis video, too, with the Reagan puppet hitting the red button. And Frankie Goes to Hollywood “Two Tribes.” And a ton of Clash songs. The Police “When The World Is Running Down.” Even Morrissey has a really whiny one: “Every Day is Like Sunday”.

  • Cris says:

    There are a couple of things in this chapter that scare the hell out of me, not going to lie- the Voice journalist for starters. You being there with Jonathan, to begin with, Matthew’s saying that it’s obvious if you’re looking for it (and you can bet this guy is looking for it)…. and then on top of that, the way he says “Oh. THAT Daron.” Like Jonathan’s been talking about you. YIKES. Let’s hope this journalist has a non-outing policy.

    And then there’s Matthew, who may or may not be positive, and his partner, and yeesh. I know you said in an earlier comment that you’re careful, but shit happens. What year are we at now? Is there actually a test yet? Oh, hmm, but I guess going to get tested might still be a double edged sword at this point, if it’s still primarily attributed to gay men. Yikes. I was born in 1983, so I really have no idea what those earlier years were like. I don’t remember ever hearing about HIV at ALL until Magic Johnson said he had it, but even at that, I was still pretty young and it didn’t mean anything to me at the time. I imagine it was utterly terrifying being in the gay community in those years.

    • Averin says:

      Daron got tested when Carynne dragged him to a doctor.

      Two professors that I had classes with died of AIDS and no, students didn’t know until after. To be in class, two-three times a week with someone who was melting before your eyes! They were dynamic and vibrant and suddenly (10-week quarter) battery low. One made it through the rest of the term, the other was replaced with a series of substitutes and then there was a small notice in the newspaper that he’d thrown himself in front of a BART train.

      • ctan says:

        One of my friends from college, Stephen Gendin, was diagnosed when we were freshmen in 1985. He turned into one of the most influential AIDS activists of the 90s, and pushed a lot of aggressive and radical therapies. The disease finally caught up, but I think partly thanks to him, many of those who came slightly after had a much better chance of survival.

        Going through my mental rolodex for the first time in a long time and realizing other than Stephen, pretty much everyone I can think of I know who are positive and managed to survive the 80s are still alive today. Lucky. (And privileged with Boston-area healthcare.)

        Just read that Issac Asimov died of AIDS. He got it from a blood transfusion when he had bypass surgery and they hid it for ten years until he died, and then kept it a secret for more years after that because of fear of the stigma. His wife apparently finally admitted it in her own memoirs later. Wow.

    • daron says:

      The “THAT Daron” seemed more like the “Oh, the token (straight) punk I’m on the verge of ignoring…? I just realized he’s someone famous.” It didn’t feel like he was recognizing me from J. having talked about me.

      And yeah, there’s a test, and I had it before we left on tour. Nerve-wracking as hell, waiting for the results, and they kind of fuck with you before they give them to you, to terrify you a little bit, as if that’s going to do anything to help stop the spread. (What do I know? Maybe it did help.) And it is a double-edged sword at this point, my doctor even warned me about people losing their insurance and stuff.

      And… yeah. Terrifying. I’m playing it cool, but it’s fucking scary.

  • LenaLena says:

    On a lighter note: I remember seeing the Graceland tour in Rotterdam 25 years ago, when I dragged my dad along (he was a fan of Simon’s early work, but never went to concerts). And seeing the reunion tour last summer in Amsterdam. I dragged my son (and dad) along.

    And my dad still owes me for leaving the vinyl album out in the sun, so it got ruined.

    • daron says:

      My favorite is still “One Trick Pony” but Graceland is so ambitious and yet approachable, so utterly different than everything that came before it and yet so instantly became a part of the fabric of American pop music it was like it had been there all along.

      • Lenalena says:

        My dad had One Trick Pony too, but I was only 11 when that came out. I was raised on a steady diet of Paul Simon and Cat Stevens. And the ‘Hair’ soundtrack.

        • ctan says:

          I just remembered there’s a movie of “One Trick Pony” also. I know I saw it, but I don’t really remember much about it other than Mare Winningham is in it, too, playing a small part as a kind of regular groupie. No memory of the plot at all (if there was one…).

  • s says:

    Wow. What a powerful chapter.

  • Bill Heath says:

    Jonathan fit in because in addition to being gay he is culturally gay, an entirely different phenomenon. Daron, yes you’re gay, no you’re not culturally gay. You probably will never be culturally gay, in part because you don’t need to be.

    Your self-identification includes gay but is not defined by it. Your self-worth is defined by your music, not your chameleon melting into your surroundings. Those create their own problems, but they allow you to pursue opportunities and to grow.

    You are the Richard Chamberlin of music. Exquisite in your craft, famous and successful for that craft, with no need to rely on your sexual orientation for self-fulfillment.

    Bravo.

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