So I learned a very important lesson about tequila.
The lesson was this: I remembered way more about what happened when I was on LSD than after two drinks of tequila. At least, I think it was two. Like I said: I don’t remember.
Let me back up to what I do remember. We had Indian food downtown at a little place where a sitar player and a tabla player sat in the window and serenaded us all night while we were eating, and I kept getting sucked into listening to what they were doing instead of what Sarah was saying, until they finally took a break, and then I told Sarah what I’d been learning about Indian music and about flamenco and the connections from there to jazz, and she told me about a jazz piano player who had taught her how to improvise ragtime. I was ready to say forget going out, let’s go back to your apartment and play with the piano. But there’d be time for that later, I suppose.
Antonio met us at Danceteria, and yes, there were flashbulbs as we got out of the limo. I’m pretty sure we spent some time in the same exclusive area where Ziggy had glued himself to me while on Ecstasy. I think that was where the tequila was administered because it all gets really hazy after that.
Dancing ensued. That much I know. I have a sense-memory of the sound system being much louder on my left, but maybe I only think that because my left ear rang louder later. Did I really forget to put my earplugs in?
Anyway, I don’t remember much of Danceteria, but what was there to remember? Dancing, and then not dancing. It’s too loud to talk so the not-dancing part isn’t going to be particularly memorable, anyway.
I know we left there and got back in our limo because later I saw photos of it. Sarah’s handler had gotten a tip about a party going on at Limelight, and off we went to there.
Limelight is the place that used to be a church. We’d done a press conference here once, a long time ago, to announce the signing of Moondog Three to BNC. I told Sarah this and we went looking for the room that it had been in but nothing looked the same to me. I think maybe the room where we’d had the presser was now done up like some kind of high-tech opium den.
We were holding hands while she led me through a bunch of tuffets with spaced out people sitting on them and somehow we ended up in a different area. Another exclusive sort of area.
I clued in that we had found the party when I saw a familiar face. “That’s Jordan Travers, the producer,” I said to Sarah.
“I know.” She dragged me in his direction.
“Trav!” I shook his hand.
“Daron!” He gave me a half hug, patting me on the back. “What’s this about you going to Spain to learn flamenco?”
“Who’d you hear that from?”
“Everybody.” He shrugged. “I thought I was going to see you guys in the studio sooner rather than later.”
“Yeah, well.” I was sobered up enough at that point to wonder whether it was a good idea to tell him what was really going on, or not. “Did you hear about the lawsuits and stuff?”
“Not very much,” he admitted. Jordan shrugged his skinny shoulders and rubbed his hand over his short-shorn hair. The hair on his head and in his goatee was the same length. “Just rumors.”
Mine stood on end when he said what he said next, though.
“Speaking of rumors, what about the one that you guys are breaking up?”
“Who’d you hear that from?”
His expression was quizzical, and he spoke slowly, like he was trying to puzzle something out. “You guys have been silent for a while.”
“Some bands take breaks after a big tour–”
“And everyone knows about Zig running off to India, and you running off to Europe.”
“That seems like odd behavior for a band that just hit it big if said band was going to be staying together and doing a followup. People gotta assume.”
I had to agree that’s what it looked like. “We’re not splitting up intentionally,” I insisted.
Jordan’s face was far too serious, I thought. “You’ll be at the thing tomorrow?”
“That isn’t why you’re in town?
“Trav, which thing are you talking about?”
“The screening of Star Baby.”
“In L.A.? Wasn’t it yesterday?” God, I hate that feeling like poisoned ice water is creeping through my veins.
He cleared his throat. “Okay. I knew you were out of the loop, but I didn’t know you were this far out of the loop.”
“Zig and I haven’t spoken since he left for rehab.” In an ambulance, I didn’t add.
Jordan’s eyes scanned the room, I guess making sure of who was potentially listening. Like anyone could hear us over the pulsing music in the background? He leaned closer, talking into my ear, the way you do when you’re both wearing ear plugs. “They cut a B-side,” he said.
“Who? A B-side to what?”
He gestured at me to follow him. He took a pack of cigarettes out of his leather jacket and tapped it like he was getting ready to take one out, but he led me into the men’s room in the back.
It was too dark in there, despite the jewel-like track lights, which were mostly aimed at the black walls. This was a small restroom, three stalls, and looked barely used that night, I guess because it was in theA-list party area. Celebrities don’t actually piss or shit, you know, we just slowly decompose into fairy dust.
Anyway. In there the music was quieter and I could hear it when he said, “They’re releasing that song you cut in New Orleans as a single. And they needed a B-side, so they grabbed Ziggy to cut vocals–”
“And stuck him with some backing musicians.”
Jordan nodded, and put a hand on my arm, because I guess I must have looked or sounded really wounded by the thought.
That’s because I was really wounded by the thought.
Call me weird. But I barely cared if Ziggy fucked everything that moved compared to how I felt at tha moment, not merely entertaining the idea that he might perform with another band, but knowing that he’d already done it? I’ll put it this way: It’s one thing to realize your wife is flirting with other guys. It’s something else entirely to come home and find a slimy condom in the middle of the bed.
It had been years since I felt the surge of rage I felt at that moment. Years. That time when I’d knocked Adan out cold? That had been cold-blooded. Even when I’d fired Digger I hadn’t felt like this. Right now I had that burst of static in my ears that meant my blood was pumping so hard it was like my head was going to explode.
“Who else knows?” I managed to say.
“It’s not in the press, if that’s what you mean,” he said. “It’s just a B-side. Seriously, Daron.”
“Mills wants to replace us.”
“Don’t jump to conclu–”
“Carynne told us that Mills asked her to ask us to bow out.”
“You’re fucking kidding me.” The incredulity and anger in his voice was a balm to me. So fucking good to hear. Understand, Trav was a cool cucumber who rarely showed much emotion. If he smiled, that was the equivalent of cracking someone else up. If he gave a little nod of his head, you knew he really loved a track you had laid down. So to hear him express some outrage… I felt like at least I wasn’t alone. At least I wasn’t crazy.
He squeezed my arm where he had been holding it, and I realized that my hand was balled in a fist. And that my nails had cut crescent moons into my palm.
Awful thoughts come into a person’s head when you feel like that. I knew that, so I tried very hard to ignore the voices telling me to hate everybody, to lash out at anybody. So it took me a while to try to come up with a way to ask Jordan the question I wanted to without it coming out like some kind of accusation. It did anyway. “I take it you were at the board?”
“Yeah. I produced it,” he said, wincing a little because I think he knew that made him complicit in my betrayal. But I wasn’t blaming him. I just wanted to know everything.
“If it’s just a B-side, why you?” I know I sounded suspicious as hell. In the back of my mind a fantasy of me, a shotgun, and Mills was playing like a movie. I’ve never touched a gun in my life, you know.
“I know it seems odd,” he admitted, “but they called me in because I’ve worked with Ziggy before.”
“For musical reasons?” My skepticism dripped so hard it splashed on the floor.
He shook his head. “For personal reasons.”
My eyebrows did the asking, then.
“He’s been through a rough time, Daron,” Trav said. “He’s a little fragile right now. And they needed someone he trusted.”
Way to put a knife through my heart, Trav.
“And nobody called me?”
“You were in Spain.”
“Nobody called Carynne to find out if me and the band were available?”
“I don’t know, D. I got the call from Patty, never even talked to Mills myself, I have no clue what’s going on there.”
Why was I even asking? Like the details mattered? I don’t know. I couldn’t help myself. “Mills told me that album sales failed because I’m gay.”
Trav’s eyes sort of flared then, and one of them started to twitch. “That is… fucking insane. Are you sure that’s what he meant?”
“I’m sure. This wasn’t some kind of insinuation thing. He told me flat out it’s my fault.”
“Yours and not Ziggy’s?”
I put my hands on my head. Apparently I was not in any shape for a counter-interrogation. I could answer, though, because that fucking conversation with Mills was burned into my brain. “He pulled out paparazzi photos of me and Jonathan and told me because people call AIDS the gay plague therefore the album didn’t sell.”
“These photos were in a magazine?”
“No. He paid to keep them out of the magazines.”
“But then the public doesn’t know…” Trav’s eyebrows scrunched together while he tried to figure this one out.
“Exactly. Which means that the reason me being gay resulted in the album not selling has nothing to do with that the American public thinks and everything the fuck to do with what Mills the homophobic asshole thinks.”
“Fuck,” he agreed.
I leaned against the sink and put the heels of my hands in my eyes. This isn’t your fault, I tried to tell myself, but in my mind I was going around again, thinking, if I had been here, if I hadn’t been gone, could they have gotten away with just plopping Ziggy in a studio without even calling Carynne or me? If I had been around, I would have already talked to Ziggy. Maybe we would have split up of our own accord. Maybe. But maybe not. Maybe we would have worked everything out.
If I had been here. Dammit. Fuck.
“Who wrote it?” I heard myself asking.
“The track? Ziggy. If they had wanted a surefire hit they would have bought something else.”
Was that a consolation? Just a B-sde, just a B-side, I tried to tell myself. No big deal. That’s why they didn’t call. They just needed something quick and dirty. It’s the movie, so it’s him, not us.
But it was a Moondog Three single. Wasn’t it? “Do you know the billing? Is it listed as an M3 track?”
“No idea. It was a one-day job. I figured it was just that you were out of the country.”
“Am I making too big a deal of this?”
“Normally I’d say yes. But given everything else, no. You’re getting screwed good and hard, man, and that’s for an industry where asking you to bend over is standard operating procedure.” He had lit a cigarette at some point when I wasn’t paying attention and now he blew smoke at the mirror with a frustrated twist to his lips. “I don’t know what else to tell you. I normally try not to let big company politics get to me. But fuck, man, fuck.”
My rage had ebbed down a bit. I no longer felt quite so much like if a baseball bat had been handy like I might have smashed all the mirrors. “When is this opening?”
“Not an opening, just a screening. Tomorrow. Times Square. Some press and stuff and they’re giving tickets away on the radio stations. You know anyone at Power 95? They’ve got hundreds to give away.”
I didn’t know anyone who worked at WPLJ but I bet Jonathan did.
“Are you sure you want to be there?” Trav asked.
“Will Mills be there?”
“Probably. He’s bucking to move up in BNC Media, into the Hollywood division. So I’d bet yes.”
“BNC merged with American Pictures, and probably within two or three months you’ll see Columbia folded in, too.”
“Columbia Records or Columbia Pictures?”
“They were already the same company,” Jordan pointed out.
“Ah.” So Mills wanted to move out of radio and records and up the corporate ladder that had grown a few more rungs. Interesting. Ugh.
Jordan tapped the pack of cigarettes again. This time he tapped until a joint came out the hole. “You wanna?”
So I smoked a joint in the bathroom of Limelight with a Grammy-winning producer who at that moment felt like my best friend in the world.