(Okay, you know I’ve reverted to a really messed up state of mind when I get the posts out of order. *THIS* is the post that should have been posted today, and the post you may have seen before, “Destroyer” was for Thursday. Well, you got a sneak peek of how jumbled my mind was! I’ve just moved “Destroyer” to Thursday so I guess at least I saved some of you guys from a kinda cliffhanger? -daron)
I really thought if I could just finish that last show, I’d be in the clear. We arrived in Rio two days before the final show and the finish line was in sight. Maybe that meant everyone let their guard down a little—me and my handlers included.
“Just push through” seems like a really good strategy when you can count the days until you can sleep in your own bed on one scarred-up hand.
I also want to point out that what happened was not Flip’s fault. Maybe if I’d been more proactive about managing my intake from the start of the tour, we wouldn’t have dug the hole so deep. (Also maybe if most of the rock stars he’d medicated over the years hadn’t been twice my size.)
Anyway. I was feeling pretty much just as bad as I had been on the cold turkey days in Sao Paulo by the time we arrived in Rio. But I sucked it up and tried to keep it to myself as much as possible, which also meant keeping to myself as much as possible.
Ziggy was having a moment. Brazil is Latin America’s largest music market and is usually in the top ten of all countries where the music industry is measured. (The US is number one, Japan is number two, and the UK is number three, FYI.) I saw the photo on the front page of the newspaper sitting on tables in the hotel lobby, before Barrett told security to pick them all up in case any other guests recognized him and blew our cover. (As in Sao Paulo, Ziggy, the dancers, and band had been moved to a more exclusive location from the rest of the crew.) The newspaper had used a photo taken at the end of one of the Sao Paulo concerts, his face radiant, his arm over my shoulders, but they’d cut me out of the picture. You could see the headstock of my guitar and my fingers on his opposite shoulder, but that was it.
I couldn’t read what the article said, but I didn’t have to speak Portuguese to know it was a big deal to have a front page news story–not the front page of the entertainment section, but of the whole paper–in one of the biggest cities in the world.
Of course, Ziggy’s relentless promo schedule did not let up. He had two full days of it before the concert. That was two full days for me to be sweating out my lack of cyclobenzaprine.
I gave in and let Carynne book me a massage while Ziggy was out at a big television appearance. Two very nice Brazilian women came to my room with a massage table and candles and some nice-smelling oil. I mostly tried not to think about what they were doing to my limbs and concentrated on the fact that the music they’d brought with them sounded basically like Enya but without any vocals at all. As I was lying there, I realized Enya would be the worst possible karaoke choice ever.
That might have been the last sane thought I had. As the massage gals were leaving, I was saying goodbye to them and trying to make sure they got paid, and I kept slipping into Spanish to try to say things, which made them laugh, and I was holding the door to my room open while they lugged the massage table out into the hall (it folded up and went in a big gear bag). Anyway. They were laughing and touching me as they left, and as I stood in the hall and watched them go toward the elevator I looked up and saw Ziggy coming down the hallway with an angry, disbelieving look in his face.
It was like a moment from one of those movies. I think I even said, in a panic, “This isn’t what it looks like!” while every bad thought I had tried to crowd in all at once.
“What?” His voice was all wrong and I panicked again. “Daron, are you all right?”
And then my mind did several more flips as I realized it wasn’t Ziggy at all, but a short woman wearing his clothes and made up like him. “I… what?” I couldn’t even figure out what question I was trying to ask.
“Where’s Flip?” She asked, and I finally figured out who it was. Stella. Dressed like Ziggy. No, not just dressed like him, but wearing his actual clothes. I was sure of it.
“Um, dunno,” I stammered and retreated back into my room. My heart was hammering like I’d seen a ghost and I stood there with my back against the door, like I was keeping out a zombie horde. I had broken out in a sweat (a weirdly perfume-y sweat, thanks to the massage oil) and my throat had gone dry.
I raced through a ton of scenarios why Stella might be wearing Ziggy’s clothes. I was sure of it. Some of the reasons I came up with were logical–i.e. they’d probably done it for the TV gig…except then why was she in his actual clothes? Did he know she was impersonating him? Why would she be doing that? I came up with some pretty off-the-wall reasons and I won’t repeat them here because I’ll sound nuts.
Except that’s the point: things that weren’t real were more believable to me at that moment than logic.
I decided the number one thing I needed to do at that point was calm down. I’d just had a massage, you’d think I’d be calm, but I wasn’t. I fell back on one of my nips of bourbon, knocked back a second one just to be sure, and then put myself to bed.
When Bart came to check on me, far as he could tell the massage had worked and I was taking a nap. He went back out.
A while later it was Flip who came in. It was probably midnight by then? My memory’s fuzzy. One guess why.
“Flip,” I said into the dark, “I think I’m having a panic attack. A really… long… panic attack.”
“That doesn’t sound good. What’s your heart rate?”
“Well, it’s okay at the moment, but it’s like a had a panic attack and it just never went away. I need help.” It was really hard to say those last three words, but I felt desperate enough to say them.
He came close to the bed and turned on the bedside light. He smelled like he’d been in a bar, like cigarette smoke and alcohol and sweat. “Are you asking for me to talk you down or are you asking for one of the prescription anti-anxiety pills I’ve got sewn into the lining of my jacket?”
“Naw, naw, I’m kidding about that part. But not about having them. First thing I did when we got into the country was get my hands on some Valium. I’ve also got some anti-depressants that might work for anxiety but I’m not going to mess around with trying to give you those. They take like a week to start working.”
Valium was a drug name I knew because sometimes when my mother would reach the end of her rope she would take one. Or she would threaten to take one, whether she did or not. You know the Rolling Stones song “Mother’s Little Helper”? It’s about Valium.
You know I was nuts if I was considering my mother a mental-health role model. “Can I take half a Valium?”
“You can. But you’ve got to one-hundred-percent stay away from alcohol with this one. Mix them and you’re the next rock star statistic, you get me? I know we’ve been modulating the Vitamin F with it but this is a whole ‘nother level, okay?”
“Okay.” I sat up and my fists were clenched and I could barely take a breath, as if I were about to burst into tears.
“I’ll get it right now.” He went into the bathroom and I hid my face in my knees, rocking myself forward and back.
He came back with half a pill and a glass of water. I washed it down with the water and went back to being a literal ball of stress, waiting for it to work.
Flip rubbed the spot between my shoulder blades with the flat of his hand. “It’s going to be okay, D.”
I made a nodding motion into my knees.
“You should feel it taking effect pretty soon.”
I began to wonder if I should have told him when I’d last had a drink and how much. Too late now, though, I thought. I’d already swallowed it.
Just to keep you from worrying, though: I did not pass out or have my breathing stop. There were no negative physical effects of the half-Valium so far as I could tell.
Psychological effects, though, I’ll let you be the judge.
I did relax enough to uncurl. Eventually I lay back down. Flip was patiently sitting with me.
“Feeling less anxious?” he asked.
“Yeah.” Less anxiety meant my thoughts had quit racing and I was now turning over my mind’s various nutty ideas and conspiracies much more slowly.
“Like you could sleep a little?”
“Maybe. I’m going to at least shut my eyes.”
“Okay, that’s good.”
I closed my eyes. But I still didn’t fall asleep. That’s how bent out of shape my brain was: Valium didn’t knock me out. Some of my tense muscles did relax, though, and my brain fell into a kind of slow rhythm that felt like I was hypnotized. It was the most comfortable insomnia I’d ever had.
But insomnia is insomnia. That was the third (or was it fourth?) night in a row with maybe ninety minutes total sleep. I got a twenty minute nap on the way to the venue in the van.
I really don’t remember much of Rio. A soccer stadium. People screaming. The weather was warm. Ziggy was ascendant. I remember being happy about that. In my memories the show was in the daytime but I’m pretty sure that’s not right. I’m pretty sure it happened at night. But my senses didn’t extend beyond the edge of the stage. It was like the stage was all I knew and everything else was in another dimension. It was kind of like being in a glass cage.
The hypnotized feeling the Valium had given me had never really gone away. I was on autopilot and the good thing was that by then I could do Ziggy’s show on autopilot. My hand didn’t hurt. I didn’t feel much of anything, in fact.
Not even during Candlelight.
That’s when the dread hit. This is it, I thought. This is all there is. You have this one song that came from your heart and reached the world and now you don’t even feel anything when you play it.
It hit me that I was going to be playing that song and an assortment of shit that Jordan Travers and a committee wrote for the rest of my fucking life. That was what was at the top—not a peak so much as a long dull plateau of choreography and backup dancers and television interviewers eyeing your wedding rings curiously but being too polite to ask.
If I’d felt anything I would have cried.
The big finale dance party on the stage, which had felt genuine in Sao Paulo, now seemed a sham. Well, it did what it was supposed to: make the audience feel happy. But I felt cheap, like a prostitute who doesn’t like sex anymore, but pretends to because it’s the job to make the customer happy.
This is your job, I reminded myself. You’ve always wanted this job. You’ve always wanted to treat it like a job and were pissed off when others didn’t. How can you be upset that now it feels like a job?
Except I wasn’t upset, really, because I wasn’t feeling anything, other than an odd tightness in my chest and throat. I figured that was Flexeril withdrawal spasms. Other than that all I felt was tired.
Back at the hotel, of course, the biggest end-of-tour party ever awaited everyone else. All I was looking forward to was the other half a Valium.
But I never even took that other half pill. The end of my rope had already come and I didn’t even realize it until I was in freefall.
(Jeez Pete can really cut the heart right out of you with a song, can’t he? -d)
Well, now the next chapter makes a little more sense. I still just want to hug you so hard.
Uh, yeah. Makes much more sense.
Although recounting it to myself now, it only makes a tiny bit more sense than it did at the time.
I’m not sure what to say except hugs, even though I know what happens next. I’m going to need hugs before too long.
Hugs for everyone. Unless you’re in painkiller withdrawal and sore to the touch.
I got absolutely spooked at a huge arena show about four years ago, sitting on the fourth row and close enough to look one of the performers in the eye during a segment of the band being out in the audience. I honestly wish I hadn’t, because this guy, with ten thousand people screaming his name and a couple dozen women surging in his direction when he got close enough, had a smile pasted on and a look in his eyes that was so miserable and blank it made my heart hurt. I haven’t been able to watch a live performance since without wondering if the musicians actually like their jobs anymore, if they get to actively enjoy making music and performing.
On the up side, I saw the same band again last year, from the second row (we have seriously good ticket karma), and the same guy seemed much more present and engaged. The opening act was a group in a similar situation to the main draw, with a couple of decades in the industry behind them, and those guys? There was clearly nowhere else on earth they wanted to be and nothing else they wanted to be doing.
I’m with S on the hugging. I think this chapter is actually harder to take than the one posted earlier.
Some days any job can be like that, no matter how much you love it normally, I guess. But that’s show biz. You go out there even if you have the world’s worst sinus headache, ear infection, toothache, whatever it is that’s making you hate life at that moment. And you hope it’s just that day.
I should add, though, that for a lot of us–maybe even most–the performance high is still the best feeling in the world.
You look at the guys in Queen. John Deacon knew himself well enough to say no thanks when they decided to try a festival reunion with Adam Lambert as singer, but Roger and Brian, who are both millionaires a couple of times over and never need to play another note in their lives, discovered they really enjoyed it again.
Next thing you know some more festivals followed… and then a world tour… and then ANOTHER world tour… Because they love doing it, not because they had to. Brian goes through crippling bouts of depression sometimes. But he’s found a new life on the road at age 70. (Yeah, seventy. Holy shit.)
Try to remember that not enjoying a thing now doesn’t mean you’ll never enjoy it again in the future.
Remind me of that again in the future and maybe it’ll stick? 🙂