I’m not going to tell you the name of the band. It doesn’t matter anyway.
I showed up at Sound City driving Remo’s truck. The place was in Van Nuys, and was in yet another one of those low, flat-roofed industrial buildings that are everywhere in Southern California.
No one from the band seemed to be there yet, but I introduced myself to the woman who seemed to be the secretary in charge, and she introduced me to an engineer named Pike. We got to talking shop immediately and the next thing you know we’re crawling under the board where he’s showing me the circuits. It was the biggest Neve I’d ever seen, but then again the studios where I had worked like the Aquarium had been a little smaller than this place, and the loft where we’d recorded 1989 had been more of a jerry-rigged setup. Not all twenty-four track setups are created equal is all I can say.
Primo desk or no, though, the rest of the place was a dump. Pike saw me looking at the suspicious-looking stains on the couch and said, “It’s always been like this.”
“Grody as hell. Shivaun will tell you, business has been dropping off for a while now. Everyone’s moving to drum machines and stuff. If you’ve got a machine, you don’t need a room like this to record in.” He shrugged.
I took some time to examine the gold and platinum records on the wall. Fleetwood Mac, Rick Springfield, Pat Benatar, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, REO Speedwagon, Dio… Okay, there were a lot of them.
Next to show was the manager-slash-producer: the impresario who was putting this “project” together, meaning he’d be the manager of the band, and produce the songs, apparently.
We shook hands and sat on the least stained-looking of the couches. “You come highly recommended,” he said.
I didn’t ask by whom. “I can play a lot of styles.”
“I’m looking for straight up pop rock here, something in the style of that Kenny Loggins song from that Tom Cruise movie.”
I was pretty sure I knew which song he was talking about. “Danger Zone.”
“That’s the one. So here’s the thing. I want to get this out of the way early. I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t push the issue of credits.”
“Um, sorry?” My brain scrambled to figure out what he was talking about. “If you mean which name to use for me–?”
“That’s the thing. We’d like you to go uncredited. Things are a little sensitive with this thing so close to getting off the ground, you know? We don’t want any rumors going around that you might be ‘joining’ the band.”
“I’d be happy to avoid those rumors, too. Honestly, I don’t care if my name is on it. Or call me Scrooge McDuck if you want. I have no problem with it.”
He was obviously relieved. He shook my hand again as he rocked back and forth on the couch. “Whew! Great. Come on, let’s get set up.”
So he had apparently written some lyrics and had an idea for the riff, which he threw out the window once he heard what I cooked up, and while we were working on it the other band members drifted in and out. Honestly, I was never totally sure who were the members and who were other hired guns like me.
The bass player, I’m pretty sure, was the main musician involved. Once he got there, things got more focused and he took over a lot of the discussions on the musician side of the glass, while Mr. Impresario went to work the board.
By the end of the day we had a pretty workable three-minute song, and we laid down one solid take of it with a guitar solo in the middle. I had thought that was probably just going to be filler and they’d cut that out and put another take in there, or put in whoever got the lead guitar gig later. But I would later realize that was the take they ended up going with. Kind of funny.
I got back to the apartment around nine or so. Jonathan was in his office, a pair of Walkman headphones on his ears, typing away. I could make out the tinny sound of Elvis Costello leaking from the headphones. I knocked on the door frame and he jumped and looked over his shoulder. “Startled me!” He slid the phones off and came to give me a hug and a kiss. “How was work, dear?” he joked with a wide grin.
“Not bad, how about you, dear?”
“Not bad. But I am starved.”
“Me too. Let’s go grab something? Falafel?”
“Eh. The food’s good but that place is so grungy.”
“You should hear about where I was today.” We ended up walking to a taco shop and bringing the food back with us, eating half of it along the way while I told him about Sound City.
Jonathan knew about it. Of course. “Yeah, one of the owners was at one of the parties we went to a couple of weeks back. Joe Gottlieb. Managed Rick Springfield.”
“You are like a walking Rolodex. You never cease to amaze me.”
We finished eating while sitting in the living room. The windows were the kind we put on porches back east, with slats of glass on metal crank louvers, and a breeze brought the scent of some kind of night-blooming flower into the room. Don’t get me wrong, LA mostly smells like car exhaust. But that was nice.
J. threw out the wrappers and napkins and stuff and then paced back and forth like he was getting ready to say something. Which, apparently, he was.
“I have to get up early and be in for a meeting,” he said.
“Okay.” His car was in the garage. Mine was on the street. I wasn’t parking him in. I tried to figure out what else about morning logistics I needed to know.
“I guess what I’m trying to figure out is do you want to have a quickie now, or can it wait until tomorrow?”
Oh. God, I’m so dense sometimes. “I think we’re both a little full from dinner for a quickie right this minute.”
“Eh, yeah, you’re probably right. I’m probably too full to go to sleep right away, too.” He stretched. “I think I’ll get in bed and read and hopefully get sleepy.”
He came and kissed me goodnight “in case” he was asleep when I got in bed, and then off he went.
I got out the Fender and played around with some things. No amp, just the strings, just enough to get my brain working. My thumb was a little sore from playing so much earlier, though, so I didn’t do that for very long. I could hear the TV of our upstairs neighbors. Sounded like they were watching a movie since I didn’t hear any commercial breaks.
J. was asleep with the light on and his book on his chest when I looked into the bedroom. I got ready for bed myself, and by the time I was done with that he hasn’t moved. I plucked the book carefully out from under his fingers and put it on the nightstand, and then I turned out the light.
J. had picked the left side of the bed to be his. I climbed in on the right, then set my alarm clock so I’d remember to get up and drive back to Sound City. It was only like 15 miles, but with traffic that could easily be an hour.
I wondered what the likelihood was that I’d be able to get five grand for a gig each month. In my mind I tried out the math. Five grand a month for a year was 60 thousand. Of course a big chunk went to taxes, plus a percentage to Carynne. But I could live really easily on half that. Well, okay, it might get tight keeping up the mortgage payments and actual renovations that might be needed on the Allston house. But there would be some residuals coming from Candlelight, through BMI and ASCAP, separate from album sales. And I still had a little money in the bank. So I wasn’t in any danger of money stress, was I?
The real question was whether Carynne could live off what we could afford to pay her…
No. The real question was whether there was still a band when Ziggy returned to this continent.
I fell asleep while having a complicated daydream, trying to imagine for myself what he was doing in India and what it must be like, and my daydream involved elephants and singing and women in saris, because I didn’t know anything about India beyond seeing the movie Gandhi in a history class in high school. Once I fell asleep it became a dream that had something to do with a beetle crawling across the back of his hand while he was meditating and I couldn’t decide whether I should disturb him or not. I had a vague notion we shouldn’t go around killing beetles at a monastery or wherever this dream was, but I didn’t know for sure. So I watched it, shiny black and green, as it crawled up his arm.
I woke myself with a start before it could crawl into his sleeve. Oh, I get it, I thought. A beetle. The Beatles. Rock stars who went to India. Good one, subconscious.
(I know, I know, you were expecting this one:)