I meant it when I said that “compromise” is part of the package if you’re going to be a professional musician, if what you mean by compromise is you accept that you might not just be able to scream the word “fuck” two hundred times and call it a song. Or any other thing that you might want to do. Understand, you have every right to scream “fuck” two hundred times if you want: It’s that no one gives you a right to make a living doing it. If no one wants to hear you, that doesn’t mean your art isn’t valid or important or good, just that it isn’t commercial.
Where the music business sucks the worst, of course, is that what if there are people who want to hear you but the only way they can find out about you is through the industry machine and the machine itself crushes you beneath its wheels before it even notices you? or in its gears after it swallows you whole? Sorry for the Pink Floyd imagery, but it’s the case that the machine wants to spit out the same sausages it sold before. It’s not good at finding new customers and it’s not good at selling new sounds to old customers.
But those are the two extremes. Most professional musicians I know are somewhere in the middle: they’re neither at the stage where they have no living and no audience nor at the other end where all they do is pump out imitations of what’s come before. This isn’t about scale or fame, either. You have wedding bands and Muzak session players and Top 40 manufactured acts all on the imitation end and you have both the undiscovered and the so-famous-they-don’t-give-a-fuck so they make inaccessible shit at the other. Most of us aren’t at either extreme. We’re somewhere in a very wide middle.
No judgment on the wedding bands or Muzak players, either, don’t think I’m saying that’s wrong or “bad” somehow. It’s not. Anyone who works hard to entertain people has my respect, and if you think it isn’t hard work you haven’t been listening to me.
But anyway. The only real question about the future of Moondog Three was an existential one. I didn’t actually know what the word “existential” meant before. I’d always heard it with “existential angst” and associated it with pretentious philosophy students in berets. But as Ziggy explained it, lying there in his bed–which had black satin sheets, by the way–the question was whether the band would still exist in the future. And if we rebranded, even if we kept the four of us together, would that count as “existing” since it might not be the “same.” You know what I mean?
“Would you be able to stomach it if the thing with your name on it went on without you while you did something else?” he asked, while we were lying there, side by side. He had the window cracked open now, and cool night air seeped across us, cooling the sweat on my skin. He was curled next to me, holding the back of my hand to his cheek like a baby with a security blanket.
“I don’t know. You know what I bet, though? I bet if you did one album as Ziggy and the Moondogs, by the next one it would be just you, they’d drop the band name completely. Did you hear what John Cougar Mellencamp is doing? On his next record, they’re finally getting rid of ‘Cougar.'”
“Huh.” Ziggy said.
“You know he paints, too.”
“Interesting. You might be right about the name thing, though. Transitional. If it’s just a studio band anyway they won’t think twice about firing them.”
I almost felt sorry for this mythical band that didn’t yet exist. Then again they were probably going to hire veteran session players who were used to going from gig to gig…
I shook myself. I was thinking like it had happened already. No wonder I had started to feel a little ill. The afterglow of sex was most of what was keeping me calm and un-anxious.
Yeah, me. Remember when I used to have panic attacks after sex? Okay, mostly just that one time. But I thought it was worth noting.
“But what do you want, Daron?”
I rubbed the back of my hand against his cheek. “Maybe it’s just timing, but right now I think if I knew it could always be like this with us, I wouldn’t give a fuck what happened with contracts or whatever. But is that just sex talking? I kinda think it is.”
He gave me his Cheshire Cat smile. “Well, maybe.” He kissed the back of my hand again before he sobered, saying more seriously: “I mean, there’s the question of whether it could be like this if, for example, our careers pulled us in different directions. Or if you were having angst over money.”
“Yeah. But you know. When you’re Romeo and Juliet you think that drinking poison is a totally reasonable course of action.”
“I know.” We shifted position so that we were still lying down, but now different parts of us were glued together. “Which one of us is Romeo and which one is Juliet?”
“You’re both,” I said. “You’re the one with the swagger and you’re the pretty one.”
Then it was my turn to be serious: “I will say this: I think if we don’t come up with some way for you to get this contract, you’re going to resent it for the rest of your life.”
He was silent, letting that sink in, or letting the fact that I’d come out and said it sink in. When he spoke, he wrapped one of his ankles over mine. “You might be right about that.”
“You said you want everything. All of it. What if there’s no way to have it all?”
“That’s why we’re talking so much. Trying to figure it out. What our priorities are. Another way to put it: what are we willing to sacrifice? Or what can we sacrifice without losing our minds, our souls, our hearts?”
“That sounds like a song.” I was half-joking, the way I often do when something gets melodramatic.
“Let me write it down.” He slipped away from me on the bed, to grab a composition notebook jammed between the headboard and the wall. It had a pencil tucked into the pages and he scrawled down a couple of lines. I was content to watch him, one leg folded under him, as he moved the pencil against the paper.
When he was done, he stuck the notebook back where it had been.
“That’s a handy place to keep it,” I said.
“Yeah, always in reach if I get an idea in the middle of the night. And it keeps the headboard from knocking against the wall when we fuck.”
That made me laugh. Always multiple motives with Ziggy. Everything has more than one reason.
“Let’s fuck again,” I said. “My brain is too full to talk anymore.”
“Are you ready to go again?”
“Check for yourself.”
He lay alongside me and reached down. “What if I could get your mortgage paid off, Courtney’s tuition paid off, Digger paid off to get out of our fucking hair, and still keep five million for me?”
“Is the five million really important?” It was going to be difficult to keep up this conversation if his hand kept doing what it was doing.
“Only in a symbolic way, given it’s how much they offered, so topping it is important. Overall? It represents how hard they’ll work to make back their investment, by ensuring my success. But imagine. What if I could get all that? The only question left would be the existential one about the band.”
“That’s too many ifs.”
“There are never too many ifs. What if I could rule the universe, get revenge on everyone who’d wronged us, and justice would reign supreme?”
“Or, you know, hit number one, make them all eat crow, and write my own ticket from there. Well, maybe that’s the same thing.”
“If you could do all that, why couldn’t you just get them to okay the band staying together?”
“Well, maybe I could. I’m just asking, what if. Trying to see how we feel about various scenarios, some best case, some worst case. Something to think about.”
I had plenty of time to think about it then, since conversation had to cease while his mouth took over for his hand. Except I wasn’t about to get much thinking done with his wicked tongue taking up all my attention.
That night I had a dream. In the dream, I worked as a busboy at the Ground Round, while Ziggy was the host who seated people. It was one of those startlingly realistic dreams, and the problems and complications at the restaurant kept getting worse, and the entire thing was grind-my-teeth stressful. Which meant that when I woke up in the middle of the night with nothing resolved yet regarding the band and Ziggy, I felt oddly relieved.