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 very one. Quick, how many albums can you name that he worked on?”
“Oooh, crap, he was…he was Boy by U2, right?”
“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.”
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: