470. In a Big Country

So by the time we got to Brisbane, it was the next day, which meant we didn’t see much of the place other than the concert hall and the hotel, since the day after that we flew to Melbourne. The main thing I remember is having breakfast in the hotel and feeling a sense of relief that everyone spoke English. I’d gotten used to everyone around me speaking Japanese and I’d forgotten what it was like to be able to assume everyone around you could understand you, and vice versa. The main thing to say about the Brisbane show was we played the same set as in Fukuoka, including Remo playing on those songs we’d agreed on.

Also, after the Japanese audiences, playing in front of Australians was like drinking rocket fuel. Man, they get into it.

As promised, things between me and Mitch did not get weird.

They also did not get weird between me and Cray, perhaps partly because I didn’t see that much of him once his girlfriend joined the entourage in Melbourne. I gather she liked the guitar duet we played.

I don’t remember a lot of Melbourne either. Maybe getting hammered really, really hard two (or was it three?) nights in a row wasn’t good for my head after all. Or maybe there wasn’t a lot to remember because nothing went wrong. Everything was finally clicking smoothly. I didn’t have any memorable arguments, conflicts, fights, disagreements… Too bad the tour was almost over.

Australia is really large. It’s basically the same size as the lower 48 States. All three cities we visited were in one “corner” of the continent, but they were basically the equivalent of doing New Orleans, Washington, DC, and Atlanta–in that order–in terms of distance from each other. So unlike Japan, which is about the size of California, in Australia we spent a lot more time getting from place to place.

Australia is also on the other side of the world. Not in the same way as Japan, I mean the other-other side. Let me put it this way: it was summer there.

On December 23rd we arrived in Sydney to play the last show of the tour. As Remo described it the plan was to play the show, then relax and enjoy the holidays on the 24th and 25th, and then on the 26th fly home. That was all he had told me. He hadn’t yet told me what his Christmas surprise for me was going to be, since then it wouldn’t have been a surprise.

We were staying at a place–I kid you not–called Manly Beach. Don’t get excited. That’s just the name of the town.

We were at a little beach resort where they didn’t really care we were international rock stars. One of the things that was nice about Australia was that people there didn’t give a fuck who we were. Which didn’t mean they didn’t know, just that they didn’t let it phase them. It was a lot like New York City that way, only friendlier.

The show was fantastic. Remo didn’t put down his guitar when he was supposed to, but I guess he figured he would have plenty of time to recover after that, so why not go for it? There were two points in the show where he took off leading the band in a different direction from expected, once turning a song into a ten minute long jam, and once, spontaneously, breaking into a cover of “Money-That’s What I Want,” which the whole band was able to jump in on. It’s a blues tune, after all, and everyone in the world has heard the Beatles version, plus a ton of other bands from the sixties covered it. You really really have to be paying attention to improvise with a ten-person band, but you know, when everyone does pay attention it’s not that hard. It’s kind of magic.

And the thing is, if you really pull it off, the audience doesn’t even know you didn’t rehearse it. It’s kind of like you’re putting on a show for yourselves.

Remo pulling a song out of his hat wasn’t the surprise though. Carynne, Courtney, Bart, and Michelle showing up was. They made it there barely in time for the show, so I didn’t get to do anything more than hug them hello beforehand. Afterward, though? Come on, it was the last night of a tour, of course we had a big party. And what with them being jetlagged and all it wasn’t like anyone was getting any sleep.

Bart and I clinked champagne glasses, standing by the makeshift bar where the caterer was pouring them in the terrace dining area we had taken over for the party at the resort.

“What’d you think?” I asked.

“Of the show?”

“Do I ever ask you about anything else?”

He snorted. “It was good. Do you ever wish we could just take off running on a song on a whim like that?”

Of course Bart would pick up on something like that. “Sure. But that’s hard to do unless one of us is singing.”

“True.” We were both silent a moment trying to imagine what it would be like starting a song Ziggy didn’t know. I did it all the time in soundcheck, but I’d never sprung it on him in front of an audience. Well, unless you counted some of the improvisational stuff we did, just the two of us, that show in New York.

That show in New York. Was that really the last time I saw him?

Bart nudged me on the shoulder. “What are you thinking about?”


“Like hell, nothing. Your face says you’re thinking there may not be a band anymore.”

“Well, that’s true, isn’t it?” I couldn’t separate the pain of losing Ziggy from the pain of losing Moondog Three.

Wait. Was Ziggy lost? When did I decide that? When did I give up? I stared at the bubbles going up and up and up in my champagne flute and had the urge to smash it. Not that my angst was the glass’s fault or anything.

“Anything new on the lawsuit?” I asked.

Bart shook his head. “They sent theirs. We sent ours. Our auditor gets a look at their books on January 8th.”

“Who’s our auditor?”

“A friend of my dad’s whose specialty is forensic accounting. And because he needs an assistant, Colin.”

“Oh, good.”

He raised an eyebrow questioningly at me.

“I’m happy Colin’s helping out.” I don’t think that explained what he was asking, but I didn’t have an explanation. Colin: good. That’s it.

Carynne came over and kissed me on the cheek. “You look tired.”

“I’m fine.” I set my empty champagne glass down, thinking I had better switch to beer. “Bart and I are talking about the lawsuit and the audit.”

“Yeah, Merry Christmas. Sorry about that.”

“The timing kind of sucks, doesn’t it? Not Christmas, I mean, that they tried to sue us right before we’re about to audit them?”

“Well, I’m sure it’s related. They think they’ll get some kind of advantage, I’m sure.”

“But will they? They sue us, we countersue, they know we’re going to audit, now they have even more incentive to hide stuff from us though, because of the suits.”

She shrugged. Bart wandered off with Michelle. Courtney, who must have been reading my mind or something, came up with a couple of cans of beer, still dripping from being in ice, in her hands. She and me and Carynne drank to the holidays and being together.

“So tell me all about Japan!” Court said. “Is it as cool as I think it is?”

“I dunno. How cool do you think it is?”

She hit me on the arm, like only a sibling can hit a sibling.

“Ow. It’s kind of neat. We went to see a big temple with a giant Buddha statue in it. And there’s a whole street of music shops in Tokyo they call Guitar Street.”

“You said you stayed in a hot tub place?” Carynne asked.

“Hot springs resort. There’s geothermally heated water, and they pump it into tubs of varying temperature, and you sit around in them and look at the lagoon. It’s neat.”

And I told them about fried octopus and our translator and how audiences in Japan are super polite. I did not tell them about Hiroshima. Too heavy. Talking about Rocky reminded me though. “I have to show you this.” I looked around for the Ovation’s case–after all, I never went to a party without it–and dug out a copy of the magazine that Rocky had found for me. “Check this out.”

I paged through the glossy photos until I came to a two-page spread. Me and Ziggy.

They oohed and aahed. Then Courtney said, “But what does the text at the bottom here say?”

“I have no idea.”

“You didn’t ask the translator?”

“Um, no.”

They were both disappointed by this. I didn’t imagine the text said anything other than what it would in an American teen magazine. Probably something about our favorite colors or how we met or whatever.

Cray appeared at my elbow. “Hey, wanna jam?” He’d seen me digging around in the guitar case.


I introduced him to everyone and then we went out to the terrace that overlooked the beach. Someone in the crew had a little dumbek and joined in. I don’t remember what we played. I cracked out “Here Comes the Sun.” I know we played around with a bunch more songs, including one that must have been a Blue Licks String Band tune, but I’d be lying if I told you which one.

Remo couldn’t join in. He’d overdone it on stage, and was wisely resting, but he really looked like he wanted in. He sang a little.

I handed my guitar to Flip at one point and rotated out to get another drink. Water first: jamming is thirsty work. And then another beer, which tasted very bready–yeasty, maybe?–compared to what we drank in Japan.

I held the cold can against my thumb, which was throbbing a little, and sat in a chair listening to the music and looking at the empty beach.

Remo sat down next to me. “You want an ice pack?”

“Was gonna ask you the same thing.”

He shrugged. “I’m fine. I’ll be fine.”

I took his word for it. “Thanks for bringing my people here. That can’t have been cheap.”

“It was Carynne’s idea.”

“When did you talk to Carynne?”

“A while back. Seemed only fair since I kicked your dad out.” He was half-joking, but neither of us laughed. “They’re going to stay a whole week.”

“I take it that means I’m staying, too?”

“Dunno. I left that up to Waldo and Carynne to work out.” He waved in their general direction. “Carynne said something about snorkeling.”

“Doesn’t that require going out in sunlight?”

He chuckled. “Moondog,” he said, affectionately.

Then we sat there drinking in companionable silence, listening to the the music. Bart had taken over the dumbek, someone had added an Irish flute, and a woman I didn’t recognize was belly dancing. Cray’s girlfriend possibly.

I had a moment then, one of those deja vu moments where you think you must be remembering something from a dream, since you can’t think of when it happened in real life. In the moment I was playing the guitar, some guy right next to me was playing a drum, and a woman was dancing. Was it from school? A party? Or was it something that hadn’t happened to me yet?

Or maybe, despite my efforts, I’d had too much to drink again tonight and my brain was pickled?

I sat there trying to hear the music in my vision, trying to feel what I was playing, but the actual party around me was too loud for that.

“I’m going to take a walk on the beach,” I told Remo.

“Don’t go in the water. Sharks,” he said.

“All right.” I walked until I got near the water’s edge, then took my sneakers off and tied the laces together to make them easier to carry. And then I walked until I couldn’t hear the party anymore, but whatever my mind had been trying to tell me with that flash of guitar-dancer-drum had slipped away.


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