A van was waiting for us at LAX along with two guys to collect our luggage. With some reluctance I handed over the Ovation’s case. The majority of our gear had been shipped already, including the Strat and my newer electric, an Ibanez, but this one I didn’t trust to anyone, yet. Funny how I was less worried about the Strat these days and, expensive though it was, I wasn’t attached to the Ibanez yet. I’m not the type to get all cutesy about my instruments, like naming them or something. They were more like extensions of myself and that’d be like, I don’t know, giving nicknames to my hands. (Okay, let’s just drop that line of thought right now.) I watched the man in a BNC T-shirt place the Ovation in the back of the van and shut the door.
We spent the next two days in and around the hotel. I’d heard the term “media circus” before and this fit it, with all manner of photographers and movie producers and MTV news folks and so on marching in and out of MNB’s suite at the end of the hallway. We had rooms on the same floor, just the other side of the elevator bank from them, and so I got to see it like a parade. I took to leaving my door open sometimes, propped with a washcloth, and once or twice, when they had downtime but couldn’t leave, the guys from MNB would saunter in, Pepsi in hand, and we’d chat or maybe jam a little. It was always Pepsi or some Pepsi-brand soda like Slice, because MNB had just done a Pepsi commercial and I was never sure if they were required to carry around ice chests full of the stuff all the time or if they automatically got a lifetime supply or what. Honestly, I’m a Coke person, myself, but when it’s free, who’s arguing? I drank a lot of fucking Pepsi that trip.
I was having trouble remembering all the names of all the people we met, between the other band, crew members, record company folks, and so on. MNB’s bass player’s name was Tread, and he hung out with us the most, so his name stuck first.
The show in San Diego finally arrived, my first outdoor gig unless you count busking in the street, and I found the feeling of the wind on my face while we played disconcerting. It reminded me of hanging my head out of a car window as a kid, going down a night time highway, slightly dangerous. This was good, too, in its way, and we played sharp and tight. The lights were so bright there was no seeing the stars or anything like that, but the other difference between this and the little clubs we’d been playing was that I could actually see the audience. It was a general admission crowd, pressed tight against the stage–I even saw two women in the front singing along to Candlelight. Watt’s master plan was at work, clearly. I wanted to point the two of them out to the other guys, but there was no way that deep in the song to tell them. Not when the stage was that huge and there was so much else going on, with light cues and everything. I decided to save it for later.
Afterward there was a small party at the hotel, just bands and crew–the real party would be tomorrow night, after the LA show. We turned in early, remembering that 2am LA time was 5am for us, and knowing I had to be up at the crack of noon to meet some reporters that Charles River had set us up with. I noticed the discrepancy, of course, between the way it was with MNB and the way it was with us. It seemed like there were two levels of fame. At the lower level, you do all the work, begging and scraping to get mentioned in the media and so on. At the higher level, everything reverses, and the media come begging to you to get your picture, your life story, what have you, and then you have to resist. MNB were at the higher level and we weren’t, and I lay there in my room that night wondering for a while what kind of strings Watt had had to pull and why it was us that was opening for them and not someone more famous than us. But then I thought about it more, and what Watt had said privately to me sank in; although MNB were shit hot at the moment, they only had two hit singles and could be gone by the end of the year. They needed someone not as famous to be their opening act, or they could get upstaged. There was something petty and sad about that. I thought about the Pepsi sponsorship and the small army of execs in and out of their suite and began to doubt my two-levels of fame theory. That kind of fame didn’t just happen to MNB, it was… manufactured. I suppose this was something I knew already, but it felt like I was realizing it for the first time, and I felt cold and paranoid about it for a while. I wanted to talk to Remo about it, he’d probably have something really down to earth and sensible to say about it. Then I thought about Watt, and his staff of two, at Charles River, who were doing their darndest to manufacture exactly that kind of fame for me, and I felt better, and slept.
It was a busy day, first two hours with the reporters, and then it was soundcheck and shake hands with some more people with suits and backstage passes, and smile for some more cameras and shake some more hands and all I wanted by then was to get on the fucking stage and get it over with. Remo was there, too, but I was too wound up to have a decent conversation. I think he knew, so he gave me a little clap on the back for good luck and left it at that. I’d have to try catching his thoughts on fame another time.
When we did take the stage I felt an odd kind of relief. Now it was just the four of us, exchanging looks, and doing what we knew how to do. We were on a wireless system to allow us to roam freely over the large stage, but Ziggy stuck close by me much of the show, and once or twice we got into a knot with Bart near the front. Later, while watching the videotape of it, I thought it obvious we were used to playing in a much smaller area, but at the time I wasn’t bothered. It felt right to be there together, the music passing back and forth among us with little looks and smiles. Ziggy danced in circles around me and we leaned on one another, back to back, sweat and heat mixing. And then our short little opening set was over, and we trooped off backstage to get clapped on the back some more and shake more hands. The gladhanding was less painful this time. A driver took us to the hotel while MNB was onstage. The party hadn’t started there yet.
When the party did start, it was mostly a blur to me. At first I had the tail end of my performance high, and then I had a little bit of shakes as I began to crash. Booze (and Pepsi) was flowing freely among a California-clad crowd of what might have been executives and fashion models and who knows what, or might have just been people who dressed and acted like them. Most of the attention was on MNB, so I just floated between the bar and the hors d’oeuvres, smiling at random people. Bart and Michelle had sat down in a corner and seemed content to stay there. I saw Michelle shake hands with someone and then nestle closer to Bart. That’s when I thought to wonder where Ziggy had gotten himself off to. He was probably boffing Carmen in their hotel room, I decided, but then I saw Carmen in a group conversation with some of the guys from MNB. He was nowhere in sight.
That was when MNB’s singer, a white guy with blond dread locks, put his arm around her. She rested her head on his shoulder. Then the two of them broke away from the group and were heading for the door. I followed them into the outer room of the suite, toward the hall, threading my way through clumps of people. I saw someone else doing the same thing, cutting a path through the laughing, talking crowd–Ziggy moving to intercept them.
By the time he caught up with them they were partway down the hall and around the first corner. I heard the shouts, Carmen’s high-pitched nasal whine and Ziggy’s easily distinguishable voice. My thought: oh god, if I could hear it, everyone in the room could. As I rounded the corner, Ziggy was pointing a finger at the other singer but still looking at Carmen, and yelling at her. She pulled the singer by the arm, took a few steps away, telling Ziggy to go fuck himself. He called her a lying whore, and then took a swing at the other guy. The fellow deflected the blow, a look on his face that showed he was more amused by this whole episode than threatened. He rolled his eyes at me like “can you believe this little soap opera?” He was quite tall and that gave me the feeling that he was, literally, above it all.
Ziggy didn’t seem to care how tall the guy was, pushed Carmen aside and balled his hands into fists. Shit. As he was about to launch himself forward to tackle, I grabbed him from behind. Carmen pulled the other guy down the hall (saying “Come on, Jay, come on” and I remembered his name), a few more steps and they disappeared into her room. Ziggy’s room, I realized as I struggled to hold him still.
“Jesus fucking Christ will you let go of me!” He thrashed and cursed in a stream, but I had my hands locked together in front of his chest. I didn’t even try to argue–what was I going to say? I hung on until he stopped thrashing and then I let go.
“Lying fucking whore bitch,” he said then, and pounded his fists on the hotel room door. Tears ran down his face and through the eyeliner he was still wearing from the stage. “You’re dead!” I wasn’t sure who he meant, Carmen or Jay, and didn’t want to find out.
“Ziggy don’t…” I tried.
He kicked the door once, hard, before turning his attention to the mirror and vase of silk flowers next to it. The whole floor was decorated this way, every couple of doors was an identical mirrored alcove with marble-topped table and vase of fake flowers. I knew what he was going to do the moment he looked at the mirror, which was not soon enough for me to stop him from kicking over the table and smashing his fist into the glass.
People were coming down the hall. I pulled my own room key from my pocket with one hand, and lacking any more elegant method, wrapped my free hand around his mouth and dragged him backward into my room.