A few days later I was working the register in the record store when a gangly long-feathered-hair type in three quarter sleeves sauntered up. “Michelle said I might find you here.”
“Yeah.” Do I know you? I didn’t say that, though, kept my face blank.
“Bart talked to me about coming to a rehearsal, like maybe next week?”
This had to be Christian. He looked right at me when he talked without looking like he was staring. “Whenever you’re free.”
He shrugged. “Actually, I was thinking you guys might come over to my place to rehearse. I have a kit set up there, and deaf neighbors.” He had a mild New England accent and wide fingers. His hair was a natural shade of dull brown and eased off his shoulders in soft wings. I decided to try liking him.
“How about next Wednesday? No wait,” I had to think. “No we’re playing out on Wednesday. How about the day after.”
“Sounds good. Here. Bart knows how to get there.” He slipped a business card out of his back pocket and handed it to me. We shook hands and it occurred to me that if I hadn’t been up on the riser behind the register, he would have been at least half a foot taller than me, maybe more. The business card was slick, very pro, with his beeper number, fax number, address. It suddenly struck me that Christian might be quite a bit older than I was, too, even though he didn’t really look it. (He was–he’d later tell me he was “twenty nine for the second time”).
He showed up to load in that Wednesday at the Rat and I talked to him more. He played in a lot of bands, he did a lot of session work on drums, keyboards, sometimes producing, arranging. The band he was currently in, Highway Death, had just changed their name to Miracle Mile, and he wasn’t sure if he was going to stay with them. He threw around music biz jargon with an ease I didn’t quite have, yet. “Cool guy,” I said to Bart. “We might learn a lot from him.” He was easy to be around, fun and laid back. I appreciated that although he knew more than me and had more experience, he didn’t make me feel like an idiot.
At the club I called the number Remo had given me and they said he hadn’t checked in yet. There were a couple of hours before our set anyway, though, so I tried not to worry. Christian knew the guy doing sound and they stood around shooting the shit while I hovered. There was still a huge amount about live sound I didn’t know and I wanted to. I was just getting up the nerve to ask the sound guy something when someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned to see a woman with frizzy dark hair and very, very dark-lined eyes dangling a key from a paperclip between her fingers. “Hey,” she said. “You see Ziggy, give him this.” She pressed the key into my hand.
“Um, do I…?”
“I can’t stick around right now. I’ll try to catch the show later, though. Tell him.” She had that wobbly-L sound to her voice that I thought of as Puerto Rican.
“Who should I…?” But she was already stalking out in her pointy-toed shoes.
Ziggy breezed in about twenty minutes later. “I have something for you,” I said, knitting my eyebrows together.
“Oh fuck, did I miss her?”
“Miss Carmen DeSoto.” He held out his hand while giving me a conspiratorial eyebrow double-raise. I handed him the key. “Thanks.”
I didn’t ask.
Around seven o’clock we got together with Christian and dicked with the set list like usual. Christian did the roadie thing, writing out copies to tape up on stage. I was digging a marker out of my case when I heard a heavy step behind me and a familiar chuckle. “There you are.”
Remo took the tan cowboy hat off his head, then eyed Christian and put it back on and offered me a handshake instead. “Remo, this is Chris. Chris, Remo.” They shook and then Christian went to get tape.
“New roadie?” Remo asked.
“Might be our new drummer,” I said. “He’s sure racked up a lot of brownie points tonight.”
Remo nodded one of those knowing nods. “So, how the hell have you been?”
We sat on a couple of road cases backstage and I filled him in on our indie label plans, even though I’d told him most of it over the phone. “Figure if we’re going to get a drummer we better get one now.”
“Yeah, makes sense. But Daron, how are you?”
I shrugged. “What do you mean?”
He shrugged back. “I dunno. I mean, I came to visit you, not your band.” His eyes were on the two bouncers handing out backstage passes to the headlining band, Gargantua, across the empty room.
“Is it too much of a cliche to say the band is my life?”
“Well, no, I guess not.”
“Like, what else is there? You don’t want to hear about how exciting restocking the shelves at Tower is. How the hell are you, Remo?”
He smiled a little. “Yeah, point taken. I guess, I dunno, what do other people talk about?”
“Families,” I said, almost daring him to mention Digger.
He only nodded. “And girlfriends and things like that. It won’t be long now before some supermodel and you are on some tabloid cover together.”
“God, I hope not.” I was sure my aversion sounded sincere, I just hoped it wasn’t too vehement.
I stood up as the security guy came toward me, saying “He with you?”
“Yeah.” I took two passes from him. They were peel-off stickers with the club’s logo on them and the date written in Sharpie. I stuck one to my leg and handed the other to Remo, who put it into the breast pocket of his beige denim jacket.
“Now that we’re taken care of,” he said, “got time to get some dinner? I’m famished.”
“I…” Somehow I had gotten it into my head that I was going to sit here, waiting, until it was our turn to play, like if I went anywhere, something might happen while I was gone. Silly. “I guess. I don’t usually eat before a show.”
“Bring the boys, I’ll pay. I myself could go for some of that eggplant parmesan they have around the corner.”
“Yeah, alright.” We scared Bart up from the men’s room, and Chris, and left word for Ziggy with the sound guy if he wanted to catch up with us. No one knew where he’d gone, but that was the usual state of affairs.
I got talked into having some bread and soup, and everybody talked a lot but not much of anything was really said. We were back at the club at 9:30 and Toxic Topic was on. Then would be Bill and the Rockets, and then us. Typical Wednesday night bill. Gargantua wouldn’t go on until after midnight.
The backstage area was too loud for conversation, so Remo and Christian went out into the club and I fiddled with my electric tuner and waited. Ziggy drifted in and out. Bart changed into an old mechanic’s shirt that said “Joe’s Garage” on the back and “Bart” on the breast pocket. Michelle showed up just before our set time and mentioned they’d given her a hassle at the door. “Gargantua have like twelve people on the list and they give you guys shit for having, like, two,” she shouted into my ear.
I shrugged. “Long as we get paid!”
And then the din of Bill and the Rockets was replaced by the din of prerecorded music, and it was our turn.
Chris had the set lists taped down before I even reached the stage, and the sequencer blinked invitingly.
One wall of the club ran along my right, Ziggy took center stage to my left. He had painted his face in a kind of weird kabuki/tribal pattern, but I got used to looking at it after a few minutes. The crowd was pretty thick out there. As I scanned through the glare I couldn’t pick out Remo or Chris or anyone specific. They were probably in back.
The sound man waved his flashlight and faded out the taped music. While I waited for Ziggy to clear his throat I plunked out a couple of riffs, and then Ziggy stepped up to the mic, and introduced the first song as “a tender love ballad.”
Which it wasn’t. “Grenadier” was one of the roughest, most aggressive songs he and I had ever written, and we played it that way. There was a groove to it that made people grind their teeth while they bobbed their heads. I drove that riff right through my brain, right through Ziggy’s brain, and he sang it raucous and desperate until by the end of the song he clutching at the mic stand for support. By the first note of the next song, of course, he was back on his feet and completely changed again, this time predatory, sinuous, for “Desire.” I took his cat silk walk and wound it up into the solo, feeling the mutual tug of his performance and mine shifting back and forth. I was long gone, flying, living, breathing, and didn’t come down until after we’d finished packing up and I was sitting backstage with a beer in my hand wondering where he’d gone. Oh, right. To Carmen’s. I guess.
Remo said some nice things about the show and said he’d call me before he had to leave town, and Chris stayed until the very end to load out and remind us to be at his place tomorrow afternoon. Bart and I were about to get in the car and go when a maybe thirties-ish guy with a blonde ponytail and flannel shirt came up and shook hands and gave me his card and then kind of ran off before we could talk. He was from Charles River Records, one of the places I’d sent invitations to. The only name on the card was: Watt, and his title was: Janitor.
Bart gave me a ride home and then I lay there on my futon for too many hours, trying to figure out why I was so attracted to a guy I’d never be able to have, why I was so happy just to be near him, why I could even stand to be near him, and didn’t come to any conclusions about any of it, at all.