Okay. I’ve been talking about New York and talking about New York for what, thirty chapters or something? Yes, we were busy and had a lot to do there. Yes, a lot happened. But the real reason I’ve been going so slowly is I’ve been avoiding getting to this for as long as possible. And maybe I thought that this time, if I really took my time to think everything through, it would all make sense. But maybe it’ll never make sense.
We arrived at the venue to find everything going smoothly. It was a small place compared to the arenas we’d been playing but a large place compared to most dance clubs. It was larger than the Citi Club, the largest place in Boston, by a few hundred at least, and felt even bigger with a huge open dance floor, big enough for hundreds of couples to swing dance or waltz on together.
I had clued the crew in a while back about our idea to be our own opening act, and someone had intelligently placed two stools and two mics in stands side by side downstage center. What was not so intelligent was we had to move them out of the way to do our regular check first, and then the duet setup, but maybe they had wanted me to get a look and approve it right off the bat. I don’t know. It wasn’t a big deal.
We played through a few verses of several different songs while the crew checked out the acoustics, making a lot of adjustments as we went along. Louis had scaled down the lights, too, working a lot with what was in-house and only adding a fraction of our usual stuff. Honestly, I wasn’t concerning myself with any of the technical stuff too much, since they all seemed blase about it and I’d come to trust them all by that point.
After that, Ziggy and I checked the duet setup. That was a lot easier. We played around with some stuff. And we would have stayed there playing around with it if they hadn’t run a floor waxer or something after the official soundcheck was over, which brought me to my senses so we moved to a backstage room to rehearse.
He wasn’t very made up yet at that point, just a little eyeliner and his hair under a “cabbie” hat, and everyone left us alone to work on our set.
He laughed a little nervously as I tuned the strings that had shifted while I’d carried the guitar from the stage to here. We were sitting side by side on a big couch with some space between us. The wall behind us was completely plastered with promo stickers of hundreds of bands. Ziggy’s nervous laugh wasn’t something I hear often. I mean, when was Ziggy nervous?
“It’s funny,” he said. “I want to rehearse because I don’t want to make a complete ass of myself tonight, but at the same time, there’s something kind of exciting about not being totally prepared.”
“I know,” I agreed. “It’ll be fun to do something different from what we’ve been doing for two months.”
“Don’t get me wrong, I wish the accident had never happened, but part of me enjoyed the challenge of having to adapt the set.”
“How’s your arm, by the way?” I asked.
“Fine. Everything’s pretty much over with but for the scars. How’s your eye?”
“Fine. It waters a lot when I yawn now, but that’s about it.” I struck an E major chord to see how it sounded. “You’ll have to tell me when you’ve had enough. I mean, anything I play I can kind of pretend I meant to do it. You’re the one who’s much more…” I hunted for the right word.
“Vulnerable?” Ziggy supplied.
“Exposed,” I said. “Um, yeah.”
“It’s all about selling it,” Ziggy said with a shrug. “Like a cat. It really is ‘I meant to do that.’ Your jazz improv background is going to come in handy tonight.”
“Look, Zig…” I wanted to say something but didn’t want it to come off as insulting. Then I realized if we ran through some stuff he’d get it anyway. Anytime he ran out of words or wanted a break or to think, I could carry it. I could carry the audience, I could carry the song, whatever it was, all by myself. I knew I could. I was kind of looking forward to it.
Meanwhile, I knew Ziggy could carry it, too. He could sell it, if that’s the word you want to use. That was why I could look at a lyric and think it looked stupid, but somehow he could pull it off and make it sound deep and perfect instead of trite or overdone. A lyric like “Siamese twins, joined at the heart.” I never thought that one would work until he cracked it out that day.
Even though we both said we didn’t want to rehearse too much because that would take the fun out of the show, we were having so much fun sitting there playing together that we didn’t really want to stop. We did a full run through of the verses of “Infernal Medicine,” though, and “Moving Parts,” and the thing we did in New Orleans, “Milking It.” Then we played around with other stuff, riffs and progressions I had stashed away which he married with song lyrics he had in reserve.
Do you remember when I fell in love with him the first time? Okay, I know, it depends when you count it. You could count that day in the park if you believe in love at first sight. But I think it was more like the seed was planted that day, and it didn’t bloom until that first show we did as a three-piece. Maybe from that last rehearsal before that show, and then the night of the show. But you remember what I did with the blossom. I chopped it off with a machete, stomped on it, and ran away.
But by that point–in New York, I mean–my surface was pretty well cracked and the flower was trying to grow through the asphalt no matter how hard I tried to pave it over. I wish I could tell you for real what his voice sounded like in my ears, sitting back there on a worn out couch where a thousand musicians had sat before us. No microphone, no mixing board, could ever do it justice.
It was a good thing I had eaten so well earlier in the day because once my heart went to butterflies I couldn’t eat anything. I had that stupid feeling like I used to, like all I needed to live was to be near him. It’s a terrifying feeling, really, because you know it can’t be true, but you feel it so strongly. I suppose that’s what addiction’s like. Later, Chris would tell me. You know for a fact you can’t live on the drug alone, but it feels like you could. And you know you’re destroying yourself with each hit, eroding away the real you, but you need it so much, you can’t help yourself.
Chris once likened my “vice” to his, but he was wrong. It wasn’t sex that was my real vice, the thing that paved the road to my self-destruction. It was love. Stupid, overwhelming, painful, someone-is-stitching-their-name-into-the-flesh-of-my-heart-with-a-rusted-needle painful, love.
And we hadn’t even played the show yet.