Fast forward like another half a year and damn if Watt didn’t come through, on both the tour and Candlelight. For several months we were just completely focused on fame-related logistics, rehearsal, and such. I was still working at Tower. With four of us, and the house to rehearse in, we got into a pretty steady routine and, although I saw a lot of Ziggy, we didn’t really spend much time alone. Which didn’t stop me from dreaming about him or from sitting next to him when I could. OK, call me pathetic, but it was possibly the happiest I’d ever been in my life, despite the fact I wasn’t getting laid.
I was so busy with tour prep and industry stuff that we were already on the way to Los Angeles, in the plane, when I started to worry about Ziggy and Carmen. I hadn’t really spent all that much time with her before the trip–she’d come to hang out a rehearsal now and then, and of course she came to shows, but we had never all sat down and been trapped like that for six hours before. There was nothing as obvious as the two of them bickering, but there seemed to be some kind of tension between them, in little things they said or in the way they said them. Then again, she was snuggled in tight against him, one arm tucked in his, and she rubbed his neck with her nose from time to time. He’d been seeing her for several months by then and I’d been ignoring her for equally long.
I tried to tell myself I had a case of sour grapes and was just nervous in general. Ziggy had brought her, and Bart had brought Michelle, but Chris and I hadn’t brought anyone, so our entourage was a total of six even though they’d said we could bring more. I think they expected a manager, or at least a dedicated roadie, and we didn’t have either. In LA we would meet the road manager, a guy named John Masters, and the road crew, and MNB. Watt had been his usual straightforward blasé self when he’d given me the details, including the fact that the LA show was going to be overrun by business execs, entertainment news types and other muckety mucks. He suggested I make some business cards of my own and carry our press photos everywhere. With “Candlelight” making its crossover from the college charts into pop radio, I knew the major labels might be sniffing around for us. Artie knew all the details, and he’d called Remo to say he would try to get to the other coast to be there, but there were no guarantees. The whole trip was five dates, San Diego, LA, San Fran, Seattle and Portland, short and sweet, a hop on the coattails of another band who had just had their own crossover from the college and alternative market into MTV Top Ten. From what Watt had hinted, MNB’s reputation was possibly mostly hype, and after their one big hit faded they were probably done, but hey, it had worked out for us, I guess.
The airplane felt to me like a giant seagull swooping and dipping as we crossed Colorado. As long as I kept breathing deeply I wouldn’t get sick. Michelle held Bart’s hand–he looked disturbed more than nauseous but I heard him mutter that it was probably a good thing he was sitting on the aisle. I turned my head to get a look at Ziggy and Carmen in the seats behind us. He was staring out the window while she slept on his shoulder. We hit another pocket of turbulence and the plane bounced down a few feet. She looked up then, yawned, and put her head back down. I looked out the window myself.
“Whatcha thinking about?” Michelle touched my hand with her finger.
“I dunno. Ritchie Valens.”
She gave me a sideways look. “Died in the same plane crash as Buddy Holly, right?”
Bart moaned. “You guys are so cheerful.”
“You want some gum? It’ll help your stomach.” Michelle was already digging in her purse. “Here, cinnamon.”
He took it without complaining any more. She handed a piece to me and I unwrapped it, remembering Waldo and his nonstop gum chewing. She was right, chewing it calmed my stomach, if not my nerves. My fingers tapped and fluttered on the armrest and she laid hers gently on top of them. “Nervous?”
“I hate to admit it, but yes.”
“I thought you never got nervous before a show.”
“It’s not the show that’s making me nervous. It’s all the other…” The plane dipped and I broke off. I didn’t have to say any more, so I didn’t. The playing was, as usual, the easy part.
“So,” Bart said, when he could. “Have you listened to the MNB album?”
I admitted that I hadn’t, just seen the videos. “Zig?”
He shrugged. “I’ve heard it a few times.”
“What’s it like?” Bart asked.
Carmen sat up. “It’s real good. Very dancey.”
Bart rolled his eyes which only Michelle and I could see. I wasn’t worried. The videos showed MNB to be a kind of new-era hippie bunch, mixing hip hop and reggae beats in with regular old peace-loving power pop. We weren’t musically similar to them any more than say, R.E.M. or Joan Jett had been to the Police when they’d opened the Police show at Shea Stadium in 1984. I could imagine Michael Stipe and Bill Berry in some old plantation house in Georgia, paint peeling off the walls and instruments lying around a cluttered living room (kind of like the Allston house, actually) and then getting a phone call that they were going to play in front of 70,000 people. I imagined myself in their position, did they jump up and down and whoop? I remembered that show at Shea, the summer before my junior year of high school–a professional scalper Digger played cards with had anted up the tickets. I remembered him opening my bedroom door one night and waving them like a magic charm before I could even get angry with him for barging in like that. We weren’t going out together anymore, by then, what with Nomad and Remo gone, and Maddie’s well on its way to becoming a fern bar, and me having a lot less interest in tagging along than I’d had when I was say eleven and sneaking out at night had been a big adventure to me. He smelled of booze and cigarettes, like always, and his smile was huge.
He didn’t go with me to the show. He didn’t even make me pay him for the tickets. I ended up giving the other one to a kind of burnout friend from school in exchange for him driving us all the way to Queens. I remember him getting stoned during the show and wondering if he’d be able to get us home. I remember Sting in a white cone of light, singing a capella with his arms spread out like a gospel singer, bigger than life on the Diamond Vision screen over center field. I remember getting stoned myself and worrying more about how we were going to get home.
I remember it rained through most of R.E.M.’s set and we heard it mostly from inside the concrete corridors of the stadium.
I don’t know why, but it only occurred to me then, sitting in that plane, to wonder if Digger had really won those tickets in a poker game, or what.