458. Big Time

Our last night at Budokan I got around to asking our translator about the magazine thing. He was a kind of skinny, nervous guy with glasses, who I would have described as nerdy in America, but in Japan I think was normal. His nickname was Rocky. I did ask for his Japanese name and he assured me I should call him Rocky. He said he would ask around about the magazines and would get me some as a souvenir if he could find them.

While talking to Waldo after soundcheck that day I found out there were three Australian dates at the end of the tour. He was futzing around with the daybook and I asked him, “Hey, Wald’, did you book me a flight back to L.A. at the end or to Boston?”

He looked up with that long-suffering look of his. “L.A. You want to go somewhere from there, you’re on your own. Besides, flying all the way from Sydney to Boston would be a bitch and a half.”

“Sydney? We’re going to Sydney?”

Long-suffering look got longer. “Did you not even look at the itinerary?”

“No one’s given me one to look at.”

He grumbled and dug out a copy of the schedule and handed it to me. “Don’t tell me Remo didn’t mention Australia.”

“Now that I think about it maybe he did, way-way back? But that was before I knew I was coming on the trip.”

“It’s real convenient that their summer is our winter. They’ve got festivals and all that going on. Their concert season is when ours is dormant.”

“What about here, though? It’s winter in Japan.”

He shrugged. “I guess winter here doesn’t keep people home the way it does in the States. All the big acts tour here in the winter. Clapton’s coming through on our heels, Metallica was just here…”

I guess it made sense that if all the big English language acts were tied up all summer with the North American concert season and the big festivals in Europe, Japan would have to get them in the winter. Not that half of what goes on in the music industry even makes any sense, but maybe that was how it worked. I wondered if Jonathan knew that. “Hey, you talk to your niece recently?”

“No. You?”

“I should call her, now that I think about it.”

“Well, it’s two in the morning there now, so you might want to wait until tonight to try her.”

“Yeah, true.” Halfway around the world, it was easy to forget things like my father being hospitalized and Ziggy being AWOL. I figured if anything had happened with either of them, Carynne would call me. But it was probably a good idea for me to check in.

The show that night was not as fantastic as the night before, but it was still quite good. Cray and I had been avoiding each other since the non-conversation in the bar, but like Martin had said, he was a professional, and what came out on stage was terrific. I could certainly live with that. I’d gotten a little more of his life story from Alex, too. Apparently Cray and I had more in common than I thought: he’d been playing in his family bluegrass band since he was tall enough to stand on the stage. His mother was a singer of particular repute.

Now that I’d looked at the schedule I saw we had two days off in Tokyo before we were leaving for Nagoya. Which meant we didn’t have to get up early to go anywhere. That meant we were having a small party for the Tokyo crew at the hotel. Which meant that I did a little drinking and was mostly a wallflower, which suited me just fine. I talked for a little while with Svetlana, actually, the woman that Martin was hanging out with. She was smart and funny and was ethnic Russian but had been raised in Belgium and now lived in France. She spoke seven languages. Japanese wasn’t one of them, but that didn’t stop her from coming here on an art collecting trip. She was some kind of a curator for a big institution but I wasn’t clear on what exactly. She was kind of fascinated by the whole rock star life, you know, something you hear about but don’t think you’ll ever get to experience.

She and Martin went off together after a while, and the number of guests dwindled. I thought about going back to my room to call Carynne, but did the math and realized if it wasn’t quite midnight here, that meant it wasn’t quite ten in the morning there, and maybe I should give her another hour. I thought about calling J. too and realized he must be back in New Jersey by now, but that I didn’t have his number. Was he staying with his parents? I wasn’t sure. And then Flip and I got into a conversation about guitar playing and the next thing you know he and I were sitting together with guitars. I half-jokingly picked up the Ovation classical style, and we played through a couple of things, a Spanish-sounding progression of his that was probably a song I couldn’t place, Sonny’s Song, a Beatles song (“Here Comes the Sun”).

Cray was one of the people sitting around with us. When we wound down at one point he said to Flip, “Hey, I play guitar, too,” or something like that.

Flip said, “Be my guest,” and handed him his guitar.

“What should we play?” I asked.

“I bet you know this one.” He lit into a version of the Beatles “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” It’s actually a sort of tricky song to play entirely on the acoustic guitar, because the recorded version that everyone knows relies so heavily on the piano. If you just play the actual guitar part, it doesn’t sound like much, and you have to be a pretty accomplished player to manage to get it all going: the melody line, the chords, and the flourishes people recognize from the album which are the bass and piano.

I think it’s probably one of those songs that nearly every young guitar player tries to do, though. I know I had a version I used to play on the floor of Remo’s living room.

Cray’s version was pretty decent. A little swing-y, like he put some syncopation in that didn’t make sense to me, I felt it took away from the earnestness of the song. But it wasn’t bad. I picked up when he got to the change into major mode, and he was able to carry the melody, and then we went back to the verses and we started trading the solo back and forth, improvising on the melody and taking it into other worlds. Because that’s what any solo improvisation is, really, it’s a transportation into a parallel universe where the underlying stuff is the same but the result is different.

He didn’t have the facility I had, he couldn’t go as many places as easily, but the six-string guitar wasn’t his main instrument like it was mine so I didn’t expect him to. When we wound down the George Harrison we moved on to another Nomad song, “Safe Haven,” one of the older hits that I knew well. It was a shame Remo couldn’t join in. I could see he was itching to.

“Sing,” I said.

“No, you sing.” He pointed at me.

I chuckled and sang the chorus when it came around. I’m not much of a singer, you know, but my pitch is good and I at least have a modicum of expression in my voice.

We got to the end of the song and I had to crack my knuckles and pop my thumb. “I always think of that song as being about your living room,” I said.

Remo laughed. “That’s because it’s about my living room.”


“I wrote it about you, Sundog, back when you had nowhere else to go.”

“Okay, that is hilarious because I always thought the song was metaphorical.”

He laughed again and tousled my hair. “You never see yourself in things.” Then he stood and stretched. “I’m hitting the sack. You all stay up as long as you want.”

Once he wandered away, though, the crowd dissipated until Cray was the only one still sitting there, staring at me.

“Nice rendition of Harrison,” I said to him.

“What was that about?” he asked, like I hadn’t said anything.

“What was what about?” I took a quick glance around to see who was within earshot: nobody.

“All that about you and Remo’s living room…?”

There was no way around it, then, I was going to have to be the one to tell Cray my own superhero origin story. I decided to keep it short. “When I was a kid, my mother wouldn’t let me play the guitar in the house, so I played at Remo’s, couple of hours a day. He wasn’t even there all the time, working a day job, so I let myself in, and put albums on his stereo, and taught myself the entire classic rock oeuvre.”

“No kidding.”

“No kidding. When Nomad got their first big record deal, though, they went to L.A. to record it and never came back. I would’ve probably gone with them except for the little fact I was only fifteen at the time.” It occurred to me then that if part of why Remo had moved the band to L.A. was to get away from Digger, then that was one more reason why they couldn’t’ve come up with a way to keep me around. If they’d taken me, they would’ve been saddled with him forever. Or at least until recently…

Maybe I would’ve come to this moment either way, touring Japan with Remo and the guys. But I was probably a better musician now than I would’ve been. Music school had taught me some things. And so had Moondog Three.

Cray digested what I’d said, his face a little flushed. “How old are you?”

Of course I’d asked him that the other night and he’d refused to answer. I couldn’t resist throwing it back in his face. “None of your business,” I said, same as he had.

“Yeah, yeah, point taken.” He got up, holding his guitar by the neck and no longer looking at me. “See you in the morning.”

That was a retreat if I ever saw one. I guess that means I won that battle.


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