One of the best things about being a small person physically is that it’s not a big deal for me to spend 18 hours on an airplane in coach. They had booked me on whatever they could get at the last minute, which meant I changed planes in Seattle, and then went non-stop to Tokyo from there. The trans-Pacific leg in those days took like fourteen hours because there was some dodging of Russian airspace necessary.
Fourteen hours is a long time to think about something. Not that I sat there thinking about Jonathan, or Ziggy, or anything for fourteen straight hours. Sleeping and eating occupied a fair amount of time, too. But the thing you find about long haul trips like that? Fourteen hours actually isn’t that long. Time passes. What seems beforehand like it’s going to be “forever” actually goes by a lot quicker than you think it will.
Yeah, yeah, insert relationship comment here.
The thing it, have you ever have one of those moments where you suddenly realize something that could go horribly wrong and you obsess over it until the time comes when it either will or won’t happen? Like I was saying, I did a lot of thinking while on that plane. With the relationship over, it was like a whole bunch of areas of my brain that had been shut off now opened up again. Memories and thoughts that had been in dark corners got light shined on them again.
In other words, when we were a few hours from landing, I started to give some thought to the future instead of the past, and started to think about the reality that I was about to tour a foreign country with a band I hadn’t actually played with in years… And all of a sudden I remembered that my denim jacket that was packed in my duffel bag had a piece of tinfoil in the pocket that had I don’t know how many tabs of acid in it. Christian had given it to me the night of the Jingle Bell Rock fundraising show. The night I came out to Carynne. The moment I remembered was one of those “frying pan into the fire” moments: you know, oh shit, what next.
I had rediscovered that piece of foil and forgotten it two or three times since the night I got it, and had never done anything about it or with it. I spent the last hour of the flight in a state of total anxiety wondering what the laws concerning illegal drugs were in Japan.
That kept me good and preoccupied from worrying about what I probably should have been thinking about, which was, one, how was I supposed to hook up with the Nomad entourage, and two, why exactly was Remo so anxious to get me there? In my whirlwind of a breakup with Jonathan I’d gotten so spun around that Remo’s urgency really hadn’t sunk in. I’d just thought he thought I needed to get out of there.
Well, I needn’t have worried about the drugs in my jacket in my suitcase. Customs was most interested in the guitar cases, and gave me some odd looks, but when a cursory search didn’t turn up anything of interest to them, they sent me on my way. I should say, I think they were odd looks, but it was a little hard to tell. Their demeanor was a bit different from the rent-a-cop attitude I’m used to and I didn’t know how to read the cultural signals here. For the first time in months I thought about how long my hair was. It was the longest it had ever been, all the way past my shoulder blades, and yet by L.A. standards for guitar players that was short, you know?
Anyway. They didn’t find anything, and I quickly found the person picking me up, a car driver with my name computer printed on a sign. He had only cursory English and I fell asleep on the drive to the hotel.
It was the last rest I’d get for a while. Talk about frying pan into the fire. Waldo nabbed me in the lobby.
“Hey, kid,” he said, with a hand on my shoulder. “You legal yet?”
“Yeah, how about you, Waldo? That sense of humor is criminal.”
“I forgot what a kidder you are. Good to see ya.” We shook hands. “I’m getting your stuff sent up to your room. Grab the Ovation and let’s go.”
I didn’t ask where we were going and Waldo didn’t give me any additional information. I was used to him being kind of taciturn and shifty around me so that didn’t rouse any suspicions for me. We went straight to a rehearsal studio. At least, that’s what I thought it was. I was disoriented from jet lag and from the fact that the signs everywhere were not in English. You don’t realize how much you rely on that until it’s gone, I guess. So here we were in a room that had microphones and chairs and instruments set up, and I got my first inkling of how in over my head I was.
Remo had a cast on his right hand–his right arm, really, from midway down his forearm up to his knuckles, his fingers clear at the end.
Pretty sure the first words out of my mouth were, “What the fuck happened?”
He was sitting in a folding chair with a guitar in his lap. “Nice to see you, too, Daron. How was your flight?”
“Oceanic. Seriously. What the–”
“Fell off a ladder the day before I left.”
“Putting up a light fixture or something?”
He nodded. “I can grip a pick okay, for a while–”
“Calm down, jeez.”
“Why didn’t you tell me before? You told me Flip broke his ankle.”
“Well, that, too. I’m thinking of changing the name of the band to Doctor and the Medics. Except it’s already taken. Oh well…”
I could see he’d settled into being funny about it and there wasn’t any shaking him. The quicker I caught up to whatever level of acceptance of the situation he had reached, the better. “All right. What am I doing, then? Everything?”
“Don’t sound so worried. It’s not like you never played with us before.”
“Three and a half years ago and that was only half the set.” They’d done two albums since then.
“This is Japan. It’s a greatest hits set. There won’t be much new. I was already planning for Cray Lucas to play some pedal steel and rhythm guitar, then I thought all right, I’ll play rhythm when I can and he can take over the lead, but with you here it makes it all easier.”
I sat down in a chair and took the Ovation out and started tightening the strings I’d loosened for transport. “Easier, huh.”
“I didn’t say easy, just easier. Here, tune to me and let’s go over that thing we did at my house.”
So the next forty-five minutes were spent with me learning the actual parts for a song that we’d played together once. And then fifteen minutes playing around with an arrangement of one of the songs we’d done on that warm-up tour I’d gone with them on in 1986. The tour where I met Carynne, come to think of it. So after an hour we had two songs we could basically do with him singing and me playing and I kept wondering, all right, but when does the rest of the band come in?
And then they set up microphones and two Japanese people came in and sat down with us and I finally clued in that we were on some kind of live radio broadcast. One of them was the interviewer, and one was a translator, and I didn’t have to do any talking at all, I just had to play the guitar when the time came. I’d say it was terrifying except that it wasn’t. I didn’t feel the pressure of millions of people listening or anything. Sitting in a room with three other people it felt more like an audition than like a performance. Okay, and auditions can be terrifying except this one wasn’t. The only person I was concerned about liking it was Remo and I had confidence he was going to like it just fine if I didn’t flub it, and the way to not flub is to not stress. So I stayed calm and did my job and it was fine.
The whole show was over with in under half an hour. And then there was a lot of the same rituals that take place in American radio stations, of autographs and photographs and shaking hands. That, at least, was familiar.
Then they took me to eat. I honestly had no idea what time it was. They told me it was dinner, but I think it was the early afternoon. It was daylight, anyway. And on the chilly side for someone who was used to Los Angeles, but not that chilly when you consider it was December. I think in my mind I considered Tokyo to be like New York, but it was slightly warmer. I wasn’t really dressed for it, but you know the drill, whisked here and there by handlers, it’s not like I saw much of the outside.
Let’s see, though, I should try to tell you at least a little about Japan. If you wonder why so many bands seem to tour there, it’s because after the USA it’s the country that spends the most money on records. If you’re on an international label with strong ties there, you’re going to be going there, regardless of your genre.
Honestly, much as I want to give you a travelogue of how cool and exciting and different Japan was, I basically spent every waking moment of the next 72 hours learning as many songs as I could. “Waking moment” is a key concept when everyone’s so jetlagged you can’t tell if it’s day or night.
Flip. I should tell you about Flip. So this was the guy I had met at a party in L.A. at some point in my sojourn there and we had talked about the Guitar Craft school and bonded over falling in love with the Ovation Celebrity guitar sound. Guitar Craft, for those not familiar, was a thing started by Robert Fripp. I’m sure I’ve mentioned him before. Fripp is legendary, not just for playing on those Bowie albums like Heroes and Scary Monsters, or for being the one guy in all the incarnations of King Crimson, but for being a guitar sonic innovator. And my hero, in case you couldn’t tell. Despite me idolizing him, I still didn’t know that much about Fripp, and had never met him.
Flip had. Flip shelled out the six hundred bucks to take a six-day seminar with Fripp at a ramshackle mansion in West Virginia that was, from his description anyway, kind of like going off and being a shaolin monk for a week except instead of learning kung fu you were learning guitar. I had heard about the seminars and about the New Standard Tuning but Flip was the first person I met who had taken one of the seminars and who kept a guitar in NST all the time.
I’ll try not to get too technical, but NST is basically what if you tuned a guitar like a violin, with the strings evenly spaced in sound by fifths? The bottom string has to get lower, the top string has to get higher, and the fingerings you had to learn for chords that rely on the weird way the notes are spaced normally all go out the window. Scales suddenly become standard no matter where you start. I’d played with it from time to time the way I’d played around with the DADGAD open tuning…. never mind. Too technical. The point about Flip was he was someone I could geek out with and who knew what a crazy undertaking it was to learn the entire set in two and a half days.
It was and it wasn’t. There are two reasons it was doable to get me up to basic competency in that short a time. One, I really do pick things up quickly. Two, the songs aren’t that hard and I did know some of them already. Flip did some smart things to help me, too. Like he made a tape of all the songs that would be in the set list, in order, including the covers, and gave it to me. There were times when I was the only one awake and I sat there with a guitar and headphones and my Walkman and learned.
I suppose a third factor in my favor is that I knew the band pretty well and they knew me.
Except for Cray, that is. It was a little difficult to size him up at first. Like a lot of people Remo employs, he was not a showboater. He was a head-down, get the work done kind of guy, or at least I assumed so at first. He looked to be in his mid-thirties, with a Lee Majors in the Six Million Dollar Man haircut, in jeans and cowboy boots. He had a bluegrass background, and I didn’t see that much of him except when the full group was together. When I say full group this was with all stops pulled out, complete with two female backup singers, a two-man horn section (tenor sax and trumpet), and a percussionist in addition to Cray, me, and the four regular members of Nomad: Remo, Martin, and the Mazel brothers.
That’s a lot of people to keep track of, and we’re all professionals, so I didn’t go out of my way to butter any of them up because I didn’t have to. The road crew was fairly large, too. It seemed like a lot of people for a smallish tour, but I didn’t know the economics behind it. I guessed it was expensive but worth it.
So, the thing is, normally they wouldn’t have rehearsed after getting to Tokyo. They’d rehearsed back in L.A. But with me needing to come up to speed, they rented a conference room in the hotel where we were staying and Remo got us all together a couple of times.
I got my first inkling things were weird with Cray after the last one of those before the actual soundcheck of the first gig on the tour. We rehearsed in the morning, and at one point Remo pointed at me in frustration and said, “You! You need a nickname. Since I’m forbidden to call you what I called you.”
He meant “kiddo.” Which was not a nickname as far as I was concerned, it was just lazy. “Call me anything but Moondog. BNC owns that,” I joked.
“How ’bout Matilda,” Cray called out.
“What?” Martin scratched his head with a drumstick.
“For waltzing in at the last minute,” Cray said with a little snicker. That got a couple of bemused smiles out of the others.
“Mad Dog,” suggested Martin.
“What you call a worry wart guitar player?” Alex asked.
“Fret,” his brother answered, and Martin punctuated the punchline with a comedic drum hit, badump-bump.
“Something’ll have to suggest itself,” Remo said. “Okay, pack up and give everything to the crew. Meet in the lobby for the transport to the venue no later than two o’clock.”
Those who could scattered at that point. I took a little time getting the Ovation put away. Flip had changed the strings the day before. I looked through the case to see if I had anything in there I shouldn’t, like cash. I was closing it up when I remembered, duh, customs had already gone through it, but my brain had been so fried at that point I hadn’t remembered.
Cray came up to me then. “You want to grab something to eat?”
“Sure.” When a guy you’re touring with says that it usually means he wants to get to know you better. “Got something in mind?”
“Let’s get out and see the city a little.”
“You got local cash?” I realized I hadn’t been picking up a per diem like we would in the States. Everything so far had been catered or eaten in the hotel and it hadn’t even occurred to me.
“Yeah, should be enough. We’ve got a couple of hours.”
Two hours, to be exact. Seemed reasonable. The hotel was right in the middle of a busy area, I guess I would compare to Times Square, only less scuzzy around the edges. We walked out the door and wandered for a bit. It was a lot to take in. I felt a little chilly. I was in my leather jacket with a hoodie underneath. We ended up sitting at a counter where you could point at the food and the girls who served us laughed a lot at the fact that we couldn’t speak any Japanese except for “domo arigato”–which I only knew because of the Styx album. They graciously corrected my pronunciation and then dissolved into giggles again. We got bowls of soup and something fried on sticks (chicken skin?) and then something else fried on sticks (some kind of seafood and dough ball?). And generally I thought we had a good time.
But I’d had a lot of practice up to that point trying to suss out unspoken aggression, you know what I mean? And when we got back to the hotel I had the nagging feeling in the back of my mind that Cray Lucas didn’t really like me.