The next day’s show was in Hiroshima, which I had been pronouncing wrong my whole life. In my history class in tenth grade the teacher called it Hero-SHE-muh. Rocky spent a while trying to get us all to say Heh-ROE-shima. I think, as Americans, we felt like having bombed the crap out of the place the least we could do was try to respect the name. At least, that’s how I felt about it, and I tried to get it right.
Rocky, who until then had seemed to go about his business with a kind of earnest cheer, got pretty stoic when talking about The Bomb. But there’s really no way to not bring it up when you talk about a place like that.
Quick, name me a song from the 1980s that was about nuclear war or the fact that we all thought we might die in a Russian missile attack. 99 Luftballoons, Nena. Two Tribes, Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Land of Confusion, Genesis. Two Minutes to Midnight, Iron Maiden. Every Day Is Like Sunday, Morrissey. Enola Gay,
UltravoxOrchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. Red Skies at Night, The Fixx. Just Another Day, Oingo Boingo. Russians, Sting. When the World is Running Down, The Police. Ronnie Talk 2 Russia, Prince. The Final Countdown, Europe. The “Unforgettable Fire” that U2 wrote about was supposedly the Hiroshima bomb itself. And this is just what I came up with off the top of my head.
It gets to the point where you think, wait, what else did people write pop songs about in the eighties? Oh right, the top two subjects continue to be love/relationships/sex and music/dancing. But the idea that nuclear disaster was right around the corner was pervasive enough that my elementary school still had bomb drills. They said it would supposedly take 12 minutes for the radiation from New York City getting bombed to reach our town, so we had to get everyone into the basement in 12 minutes. The first time we did that drill I was five and I was terrified. By the time I was seven or eight it had become an annoying disruption of the class routine, and when we got to junior high they didn’t bother to do anything. The building had a sign that said “Fallout Shelter” on the door, but there were huge windows in every classroom and we never practiced what to do. I guess we tweens were expected to fry.
Was I creeped out in Hiroshima? Yes. Rocky apologized that we could not go see the ruins of the one building that had been left more or less still standing near ground zero. It had been made into a peace memorial, but it was undergoing some renovations to stabilize it so the best we could do was drive past the site on the other side of the river, where we could kind of make out the scaffolding and such. It was just as well that we couldn’t see it, I felt, because anywhere you went, you had the feeling that people could have been vaporized right where you were standing.
We didn’t have time to see an actual museum and that was fine with me. I spent plenty of time chewing over the thoughts and implications of the atomic bomb and the United States. When I was a kid I’d had a few macabre daydreams I used to obsess over, trying to imagine what I’d do if I knew I had only twelve minutes to live.
I’m pretty sure the twelve minutes thing was bogus, by the way. I have no idea how they calculated that time, but I don’t think it actually had a basis in reality. I had always thought that, but reading some of the plaques and signs–which were in English, by the way–on various buildings we did see while in Hiroshima, convinced me I was right.
Not that I’m trying to be a downer, but the thoughts were pretty unescapable. If I had twelve minutes to live, would I try to call home? Would I call Jonathan? Or Bart? Or Carynne? Or would I write a letter to everyone and hope that whoever found my corpse would deliver it?
Jeez. I’m starting to get myself down just remembering it. Let’s just say it was a fairly stark reminder that life is short even if there’s no bomb at the end of it and it forced me to confront some of the nagging questions in the back of my head, like what was I going to do next? With my life or my career? I felt like both Moondog Three and my relationship with Ziggy had run aground. In both cases although I may have been at the helm of the ship when it happened, a lot of other factors akin to weather (i.e. outside my control) had contributed to the shipwreck.
A wrecked ship can be made seaworthy again, sometimes, but is it worth the effort? BNC seemed to be saying they were letting it sink, but they wouldn’t let me sail again, either.
I could get on Remo’s ship, like I was now, but I’d never be the captain of that ship. I’d always be the second in command. Not that that was bad. But doesn’t every lieutenant want his own ship? And what’s the point of the ship anyway, is it the sailing or is it the destination? That’s a fancy way of saying, I think, is it the music or is it the success?
Maybe that’s a false division, though, because if I were to win the lottery and never have to make another dime from music that doesn’t mean I’d just sit around in my living room playing to my heart’s content. Sharing it with people was part of what music was. Is. Yes, I needed to make a living. I think I had proved I could do that with guitar in hand if I wanted to establish myself as a session player. But here’s what I couldn’t explain to Jonathan, and which I didn’t even really want to admit to myself while I was in Los Angeles: playing other people’s music was going to drive me insane if it was all I did.
And I realized that was true whether it was filling in parts on a metal album or playing the part of Stunt Remo like I was. It was fun. I was enjoying it. But it wasn’t going to sustain me for years on end.
I could almost hear it in Digger’s voice though: spoiled brat. You’re playing guitar in front of thousands of people a night for good money. You could have real problems, like radiation sickness.
Digger would not be on the list of people I called if I had only twelve minutes to live. He had worked hard to earn my disdain. He’d earned it.
Anyway. Everyone felt a little somber and uncomfortable in Hiroshima, I think, and that made it a good time to show off our somber guitar duet. We played it for the whole band during the soundcheck, with Cray taking Remo’s guitar and microphone, and in the completely empty auditorium it sounded heartbreaking.
Remo stood off the the side, watching and listening, his arms folded. When we were done, he walked up to Cray and said, “You know. I was thinking we needed something in this set that we could dedicate to the city. This could really work. You ready to do it tonight?”
“Of course we are,” Cray said, sounding eerily like me. “Just say when.”
“And thank you for not trying to recreate the Eric Clapton solo parts,” Remo added.
A light went on in my head. “That’s Clapton on the White Album?”
“No, it isn’t,” Cray said immediately.
Remo nodded, though. “Yep. You know he and George are pals.”
“Wow. That explains so much.” Of course it was Clapton. The second he said it I had known it was true. I’d always assumed it was George Harrison, possibly trying to sound like Eric Clapton. “But, yeah, this isn’t a rendition so much as a deconstruction of the song.”
Cray looked annoyed. “Now you’ve got me worrying Clapton played it on his last tour here.”
Remo shrugged. “Does it matter? I love it, the audience will love it.”
“Yeah. Okay.” He still seemed deflated, but by then I was used to Cray always seeing the lead lining in any cloud.
It went beautifully in the show. I didn’t sing. I left that all to him. The vocal harmonies that people identify with the song I hinted at in places where I played in unison, then in harmony, with the vocal line. But more than half the song had no lyrics the way we did it.
I say again: it went beautifully. But something about the performance, and the city, and the thoughts I’d been having, left me emotionally raw.
When I get like that, my usual strategy is to hole up alone until the feeling passes. But Cray wanted to bask in the success after the show and I knew if I disappeared he’d think I was avoiding him. Plus I wanted to prove to Remo that if there was a moody son of a bitch around it wasn’t me. So when everyone was hanging around the hotel bar, I drank too much and ended up literally face down on the bar, making that little prayer–you know the one–the one that starts out please don’t let me puke, and eventually the bargaining gets to please don’t let me puke right here right now while you desperately hope you can make it somewhere appropriate first.
Maybe prayer does work. Remo came to play guardian angel, and the next thing I knew he had helped me to my room. And how’s this for a miracle? Then I didn’t puke.
I did something worse.
When he got me sitting in bed with a bottle of water on the side table and my shoes off and my hair in a pony tail just in case, I asked, “Did you fuck my mother?”
And he said, “Once.”
Don’t ask me why–at that moment–that was the worst possible answer. I don’t know why it turned my entire emotional landscape upside down, but it did. I had no unpickled brain cells with which to process the news, of course, so my heart had a complete flip out.
Not that Remo could tell, I thought, since by then I was sitting up with my knees bent and my face buried in my arms.
There were so many things about it that I did not want to know. Whose idea was it? How did it happen? Why only once? Did Digger know about it at the time or did that come later? Why did he and Digger stay friends? Was I alive when it happened?
I didn’t want to know any of that. Which is to say, I did want to know, but I was sure the answers, no matter what they were, would make me feel even worse. Why the fuck did I ask him that?
The can of worms kept right on squirming. Did he mentor me as a favor for her? Did he stay close to Digger so he could stay close to her?
I raised my head. “Why did you tell me that?”
“You asked. I thought that meant you were ready to hear it.”
“For fuck’s sake, Remo.” I put my head back down.
“You want me to apologize?”
“No. You’re sure, absolutely sure, you’re not my real father, though?”
“Unless you were born two months late. Scared me to death when Claire started showing signs, though.”
“Remo!” I did not want to know that.
“If you don’t want to know, quit asking,” he said.
“For fuck’s sake,” I said again, because I couldn’t come up with anything else.
He stood to go. “Maybe we should talk about this when we’re both sober.”
“I’m gonna get Flip to come babysit you. I don’t want you choking on your own vomit or something.”
I couldn’t really argue with that. He left. A little while later the door opened and closed. I hadn’t moved. I peeked over my forearm expecting to see Flip.
It was Cray.
He was carrying two bottles that looked more like soda than alcohol, but in this country it wasn’t always easy to tell.
He handed me one. “Rocky swears this is the stuff.”
I assumed that meant either a nausea or hangover cure. “Gimme.”
He sat down in the chair next to the bed that Remo had vacated, popped open both bottles, we clinked them, and I took an experimental sip.
What do you know, it did settle my stomach somewhat. Now where was the drink to settle my blown mind?
(this is a fairly recent video and wow this band is tight, they sound amazing -d.)
(If you’ve never heard the all acoustic demo of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” by George Harrison, it’s worth a listen. Very different from the version on The White Album. -ctan)