62. The Ever-Popular Tortured Artist Effect

An hour later, I was doing that. The audience didn’t seem to care much what we did. The place was only about half full and those that were there were indifferent. We adopted a “so what” attitude and drew into ourselves, like a tight rehearsal. Bart and Chris were grooving together and for the first time I thought of them as a rhythm section, not as Bart the rebel-from-conservatory and Christian the hired gun. I hoped Chris decided to stay with us. After the third song Ziggy even stopped playing to the audience and started playing to me. I had to smile a little as I watched him prance and stare at me. Then he shook his hips and his tongue crawled out of the side of his mouth… I played back to him, egging him on with riff after riff, gritting my teeth while my hands did their work. In the chorus of “River” he slid up to me on his knees, sort of like he did that day in the park way back when. When I shook my head sweat flew off and he lifted his face to catch it like rain or a blessing. I closed my eyes as I slipped into the solo there, and from that point on I don’t remember much until there was some polite, obligatory applause coming from the audience and we were leaving the stage.

Backstage the food was pretty much gone and someone had propped a door open, letting chilly air in. I had no urge to sit in one of the folding chairs and paced up and down while the others poked through the trays of wilted lettuce. Ziggy threw himself down into one of the flimsy chairs, but the move lacked dramatic effect because the chair just wouldn’t catch his weight. He blew a damp strand of hair out of his eyes. His face was dark with annoyance. He saw me watching him and said, “Tough fucking crowd.”

“Yeah, I guess. Glad we didn’t do this show first.”

“Well, who the fuck cares, we’re in the middle of nowhere, right?” But he didn’t sound like he didn’t care.

Bart chuckled. “Just wait. They’ll be begging for us next time. Right?” He put a hand on Ziggy’s shoulder, but Ziggy shrugged it off. Bart shot a look at me with a sidelong glance at our illustrious singer.

I spread my hands. “Let’s wait this out in the bus. It’s warmer and we can listen to whatever we want.”

Christian put a fist in the air. “Right on. Let’s blow this popsicle stand.”

Our driver, a clean-mouthed middle age guy named Milton, was asleep on the wheel. I knocked on the door. “Milton!”

He swung the door open. “Time to go already?”

“In a while. Mind if we…?”

He jerked his head toward the back. “My home is your home.”

We piled in and Ziggy slipped into one of the upper sleep berths right away.

“Sleepy?” I said to him. He did not shrug my hand off his side, but he didn’t answer. “Look,” I said in a quiet voice, “sleep with your head at this end.”

He looked at me like I was speaking another language.

“Come on, turn around. Your neck will thank you for it.”

He got on his knees to turn around and stopped with his face inches from mine. “You know, you’re going to ruin my perfectly bad mood.”

“I know, I’m such an asshole.”

He showed his teeth but stopped short of smiling and said, “No, you’re too nice for your own good.” Then he lay down and I went up front where Bart, Chris and Michelle were sharing a bottle of something. Drambuie. I stood in the aisle and took a swig and felt it burn like fire down my throat.

“Oh fuck,” I said as I handed the bottle back.

“What?” All three of them looked at me.

“I meant to try to call these people again. Oh, never mind. It’s the middle of the night on the East Coast and I wouldn’t get anyone anyway.”

“Yeah, Daron,” Christian said, pushing the bottle toward me again. “Relax, willya?”

I took another swallow. Ziggy’s mood and the fact that we wouldn’t have any time alone tonight gnawed at me. The whole unresolved BNC/Charles River/Wenco thing gnawed at me. The dull audience gnawed at me. But right now, there wasn’t anything I could do but sit and drink with friends. Okay, I told myself, life could be a lot worse. Tomorrow we’ll be in Seattle, and then we’ll see.

We passed the bottle until it was empty, which was probably a mistake, and swapped stories about our crummy childhoods (all four of us from divorced or separated parents, even Michelle, which made me wonder about Ziggy) and then strapped ourselves into berths to sleep. Sometime before the bus actually got moving though, I climbed back out to make sure Ziggy was strapped in. He wasn’t, and I had to reach over him to get the belt that would keep him from pitching out of the bunk. He didn’t move, though, so either the jostling didn’t wake him up or he pretended it didn’t. Just protecting my investment, I thought as I buckled him in.


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