I insisted we get together and play some of the old material the next day. Ziggy never made it back to his apartment that day. He discovered everything in the bag had been laundered. I didn’t remember doing it but I must have, when I was freaked out. That whole week was a blur. Week? However long it was before we went to Mexico. He changed into clean clothes and we hung around all day. I showed him the Mac in the basement. We walked to get a late lunch in the middle of the afternoon at the Vietnamese place I liked.
While we were walking back he said, “I’d forgotten how nobody in this town gives a fuck who we are.”
“You mean that in a good way, right?”
“I’m pretty sure in the Vietnamese restaurant they don’t even know who we are. They’ve been seeing us for years. It never occurs to them we’re anything but metalheads from the neighborhood.”
“Speaking of which, you going to keep your hair long? It’s never been this long.”
It was well past my shoulders now, and when I put it back, I had a real ponytail. “I guess. I haven’t had any urge to change it.”
“I like it long.”
“Then I won’t change it.” I dared a glance at him and he seemed very pleased by what I said.
Bart came over a little while after we got back and we went downstairs while we waited for Christian to take a shower. Ziggy did some vocal warmups while the water ran and Bart and I tuned.
When Chris came downstairs, in a tank top and basketball shorts, his wet hair back in a ponytail, Bart harangued him about going to work. Which was good, because it meant I didn’t have to.
“For Pete’s sake, Christian, I thought you were going to quit that job.”
“Well, they’re down a guy.” He hitched the drum stool under his ass and pulled out a pair of sticks. “I told them this is it, though. As soon as this job’s done, I’m done.”
“You mean it?”
“Yes. Swear it on my sobriety.”
“Because I have a line on some other gigs. They don’t pay great but they pay what a day on a contracting crew is getting you, at least.”
“I hear you. I hear you. I just couldn’t leave these guys totally in the lurch, you know?”
I know, Chris, I know, you’re too good a guy to do that. But maybe if they wanted to keep their workers they should’ve had better job safety.
Not that Moondog Three had such a great job safety record. If we ever hit the road again I was going to make the crew put up one of those “____ Days Without an Accident” signs. Also, “No Pyrotechnics.”
This was not the time to bring that up, though. “What do you guys want to play first?”
“I was going to ask you that,” Bart said.
“Zig, you pick. I have no idea what you’re prepared to sing.”
“Mmm, let’s start with something not too high. How about Walking?”
So we played Walking, and that led to Welcome, which led to Why the Sky. And then Candlelight. Roughly chronological in the order they were written and recorded. We stuck with songs I didn’t have to change guitars for.
I don’t know if I can describe the way it felt to play songs again for the first time that I had played hundreds of times before, but not in a long time, with those three. It felt good. But strange, too, like I dislocated in time, like the ghost of who I had been then misted over my brain.
After Wonderland Bart said, “Still got it.”
We played for about an hour, which was plenty, and then we called Carynne to see if she wanted to come with us to grab some dinner and got her answering service. Answering service? They apparently paged her because she called back before we could decide where we were going. I picked up the kitchen phone.
“Why don’t you guys come down to Axis?”
I could hear from the background noise that was where she was. “Whose playing?”
“One of my baby bands is third on the bill tonight.” She said a name I couldn’t make out. “They would love it if you guys showed, you know.”
“Sure. I’ll tell the guys. We can grab a slice at Pizza Pad on the way.”
Whatever she said next was obliterated by the next band going on. I hung up the phone.
“Where are we going?” Chris asked, jingling the can keys in his hand.
“Axis. One of Carynne’s other acts is there. They’re called Stumblebum or something?”
“Oh, Sugargum,” Bart said. “I heard their demo. It’s a girl band. They’re good.”
“Okay, hang on, if we’re going out I’m changing my clothes,” Ziggy said. “Five minutes.”
He ran up to my room. I resisted the urge to follow him and watch him undress because–come on, people–I’d just been listening to him sing for an hour. If you didn’t expect it to be like an hour of foreplay you haven’t been paying attention.
He took longer than five minutes–more like fifteen–and when he came back down he had done his eyeliner and gelled his hair.
We took the van and parked on the other side of Kenmore Square where Chris knew a side street that didn’t require the resident sticker and where, luckily, there was a space.
The cover was ten bucks. I put down two twenties for the four of us, not bothering to check if we were on the guest list. I mean, come on, it’s forty bucks. That’s as much as the band who was first on the bill got paid, probably, if they got paid at all. The second band was still in their set as we walked in. Axis looked like it hadn’t changed much since the last time I was there. Most of the surfaces were painted black and were marred with scuff marks—walls, floors, even the ceiling. Chris wandered toward the stage. The rest of us took the stairs to the second floor where it was likely Carynne and the band were hanging out.
They were. Carynne hugged me, then Ziggy, then Bart, and introduced us to the three women in Sugargum. They were stage names, which didn’t help me remember them. The singer was some kind of Asian with bleached blond hair. We made small talk for a while. About how we’d played here a couple of times back when, as if it had been a really long time ago. Three years at most? I’d been too young to drink so three years was about right.
“Carynne was telling us no one took you guys seriously until you got a drummer, though,” one of the women was telling me. Keyboard player, I think.
“Yeah, it’s true,” I said.
“We had one, but female drummers who are good, they’re kind of hard to find.”
“What happened to the old one?”
“Tch. Got married and moved to Illinois.”
“I know, right?”
Ziggy and the singer had broken off from the group and were conversing animatedly, complete with hand gestures. I couldn’t tell about what.
The music from downstairs changed from live to pre-recorded. Carynne clapped her hands. “Show time, ladies!”
I helped the keyboard player get her stuff onto the stage while the previous band dragged their gear off to the side.
Some people might have thought doing that kind of thing was beneath me. But I’ll tell you one thing about this business: nothing is beneath you. I’m a fucking musician, not the King of Siam, okay? Just shoot me if I ever start thinking I’m too good to move an amp.
Sugargum weren’t bad, talent-wise. They were fun, which was fitting for a name like that, but I found myself trying to figure out where they fit. Were they post-punk? Rock? Would they be arena rock if they had live drums and a bigger stage? Were they “alternative?”
I decided I was being a douchebag for even trying to categorize them once I realized that’s what I was doing. As if I couldn’t listen to the music for what it was, like I couldn’t understand what I was hearing until I put it in a box or knew which filter to apply to it. Why? Had I been brainwashed by the industry? Probably. It was fucking annoying.
But there it was. I suddenly appreciated Mills’s problem–and Artie’s from way back. That very first meeting with me he’d said he liked what he heard but didn’t know what category to put it in.
This is what I told Carynne when she asked me my opinion later. Her answer? It didn’t matter what musical category they were in because no matter what they did, they’d be marketed as a “girl band.” As if that was a category itself. Which was pretty fucked up in its own way, I thought, but different.
After the show, upstairs, Ziggy had that look in his eye. That hungry look.
“When was the last time you sang on stage?” I asked.
He gave me a pained grimace and I realized with a pinprick of shock that he meant it had been that night in New York. He’d been in the studio, but not live. Somehow I’d thought for sure there would have been a press conference or a party or something…
He gestured for me to follow him into the men’s room. In there, he folded a piece of paper towel, wetted it, and wiped his cheeks carefully so he didn’t smudge his eye makeup. Then he turned to me. “I have a slight problem,” he said, licking his lips. “By which you know I mean a serious problem.”
He was being frank, so I was frank back at him. “Is this a sex problem or a music problem?”
“How’d you guess?”
“Zig, come on. You look like you’re about to climb the wall.” Or fuck it.
“Okay, yeah. Horny as water buffalo,” he admitted. “So I’m asking. You don’t seem ready to go there.”
“Isn’t that what we’re talking about?”
“Yes. Yes, you and me is what we’re talking about.” He dabbed a little more water on his face and took a deep breath. “You’re right. I don’t want to mess things up between us and I know it’s better to be cautious with you. I want to let you…” He had to take a breath in the middle of the sentence. “You be the one to decide when. You make the first move.”
“And you’re worried that by telling me this, you’re goading me into making the move.”
“Can I tell you something? You being this honest with me is one of the hottest things you’ve ever done.” At least, judging by the state of my dick, which was stiffer than a flagpole in my jeans.
“Can I tell you something? You being this ready to hear it: same.”
“Will you be angry if I say I’m not ready yet?”
“Will you be angry if I fuck Pollyann’s brains out instead?”
I gave myself a second to think about it. “No. But Carynne might be.”
“She hasn’t been giving me the hairy eyeball.”
“That is a good sign.”
“When am I seeing you next?”
“Come by my apartment tomorrow? I need help sorting stuff out.”
“Okay, what time?”
“Two or three in the afternoon?”
“Should I call first?”
“I’m not sure the phone’s on.”
“Okay. Sure. I’ll be there.”
I thought that was the end of the conversation, but as he went past me to leave the room, I couldn’t help myself. I snagged his arm and pulled him into a kiss. Every inch of my skin throbbed in time with my heartbeat.
When I let him go, I asked, “Why did you ask my permission?”
“Why did you give it?”
“Because you asked for it.”
“There’s your answer, Daron.” He grinned as he said it.
I had a feeling I’d be untangling that one for a while, but that was okay. I felt good about my decision. And I felt good about the fact I was pretty sure that no matter how good the sex with Pollyann was, it was me he was going to be thinking of.