I turned out to be much busier as a session player than I expected to be. And despite all best intentions of Carynne’s to manage it for me, guys like Chernwick and some of the other producers couldn’t resist calling me directly, which meant I would then have to call her to make sure she hadn’t already booked something else. It’s funny. When you’re a kid growing up playing guitar you learn to play like all the big players. You imitate everything. Eddie Van Halen, ZZ Top, Carlos Santana, Neil Young, you name it. Okay, maybe I shouldn’t generalize, but that’s what I did. At the time I didn’t expect it to come in handy: it was just something you did. I did. Whatever.
But that inadvertent training was very handy. I’d brought the Strat with me when I returned from Boston and it saw a lot of use. More than half the jobs were of the “can you play something like so-and-so?” Fill in name of big name guitarist here. For me, the answer was always yes.
Chernwick summed it up in a conversation at a party he took me and Jonathan to at a mansion somewhere. Sorry to sound so vague about it but I have no memory now of where it was since I didn’t drive and I don’t think I ever knew whose house it was. Some movie producer’s, probably, since it was more of a film industry party than a music industry one. I could invent something, sure, for the sake of making myself sound like a genius, but honestly, it doesn’t matter where the hell it was.
I ended up in a bathroom bigger than my old Fenway apartment with all the music industry people doing coke. That came out wrong. They were doing coke, I wasn’t. Yeah, I was back to that old routine. The entire bathroom was done in black and gray marble and had flower arrangements the size of ostriches and a Jacuzzi tub. No one was in the tub.
Chernwick had lost his hat somewhere during the night and the top of his head was disturbingly shiny. I think cocaine makes people sweat. Anyway, how he could think about business while coked up I don’t know but he turned to me and said, “Do you play anything else?”
“What? You mean genre-wise? Or instrument-wise?”
“Don’t use such big words when I’m high, Moony.” He had started calling me Moony a while back, but no one else had. “I mean besides the guitar.”
“Eh, you know, I can get by with the mandolin, ukelele, that kind of thing, but if you’re talking about for sessions you don’t want me trying to figure out how to play something while the clock is ticking.”
“See, that’s what I like about you. So focused.”
It was easy to be more focused than everyone else when you were the only one not on coke. But anyway. “Why, you have a gig you need something else for?”
“Naw. Just seeing if you were even more outta sight than I thought.”
Chernwick talked like he was from the sixties a lot. Far as I could tell “outta sight” translated to “awesome.” I just shrugged.
He went on. “No, seriously, you show up on time, not hung over, you can play anything anyone asks for, you work hard, you can fucking sight read, you do good work, and you leave it all out there. No one feels like you’re saving the good stuff for someone else.”
“It’s not like I’m going to run out of notes,” I said.
“Tell that to some of these assholes who act like they’re using up their mother’s inheritance every time they play.” He mopped his forehead with a handtowel. “And you never say no.”
“That’s not true. I told you no two weeks ago.”
“Until you said yes.”
“And that was the first time. Which is okay. And you should, you know.”
“I should what?” Talking with people on drugs can be confusing.
“You shouldn’t say no to me, except when you have to, but you know, overall, it’s important to know when.”
“Chern, you’re not making any sense.”
“I know. That’s all right. Hey, I know any day you’re probably going to hit the road and I’ll have to find someone else to do what you do.”
Which gave me pause. Who was doing it before I started doing it and was that guy out of a job? Or was he on the road himself right now? Or was it that Steve Lukather was next in the Rolodex?
Then there were the gigs where they wanted me to sound like me. The Ovation came out a lot more often on those. I was starting to feel like the hip color of the month, like everyone wanted mauve accents in the decor, except it was Moondog accents in their mix.
I was surprised to find Jonathan said something similar to Cherwick, though, one night when I came home with my thumb aching from playing too much.
“Let’s eat in,” he said. “I’ll cook and you can soak your hand and keep me company while I’m doing it.”
“Soak my hand?”
“You’ve never soaked in epsom salts?” He was giving me a surprised look, like I’d just told him I didn’t know how to tie my own shoes.
“Sit down. There are some in the bathroom.” He retrieved a white cardboard box from under the bathroom sink. “I used to get cramps in my hand from writing in longhand,” he explained. “This helps.”
So the next thing you know I’m sitting there with my hand in a Tupperware container of warm water with epsom salts in it, while Jonathan decided to make pizza.
“You’re going to make pizza?”
“Yes,” he said, pulling out a block of mozzarella from the refrigerator. I didn’t remember him buying it, so he must have been to the store when I hadn’t noticed.
“What else would I make it from?” He started the oven heating up.
“Have you done this before?”
“You sound skeptical.”
It was just I had never heard of anyone making their own pizza. Which didn’t mean I wasn’t game to try it. “It couldn’t be worse than the pizza they sell around here.”
“This is true.” Both being from New Jersey, we agreed that the pizza in LA was atrocious.
He had bought flour and other things that were necessary for making dough, and we had a jar of Prego sauce in the cabinet, and while the dough was rising I got bored of sitting there with my hand in the bowl, so I shredded the cheese. And while I shredded the cheese, he cut up mushrooms, and we sang along with the radio and danced in the kitchen.
This is notable because I might have previously given the impression that it was some kind of angst-fest every minute of the day living with him. And it totally wasn’t. In fact, I may have danced a little too energetically and got some cheese on the floor. Only a little though. There was still plenty for the pizza.
Anyway, while it was in the oven I was stretching my fingers and thumb and Jonathan said, “It’s not worth hurting yourself for some session, is it?”
“I’m not hurt. This just happens sometimes.”
He pulled me into a hug. The song playing then was a slower one, and we slow-danced around the kitchen floor. “But do you ever worry that you’re sort of using yourself up for all these other people’s songs and albums?”
“Chernwick asked me that, too. Honestly, it’s not like fossil fuel and I’m going to run out. How can you run out of music?”
“I might get tired like my hand today, but that’s not the same thing. My mind is still full of ideas.”
“Okay.” He was taller, and liked to kiss me on the hair when we were close like this.
By the way, the pizza was not anything like New York area pizza, but you know, when you make it yourself it’s flavored with satisfaction.
(By the time most of you read this, I’ll be on my way to Barcelona for my first real vacation in years! While I’m gone, next week I’m going to have Jonathan’s story posting which I know folks have been waiting for! -ctan)
(yep another hit from 1989… co-written by Tom Petty…)