The word came via voice mail a few days later that Ziggy was flying to New York on Monday, so I called Sarah to see if she was around for the weekend and if she wanted company. She said yes and yes, so I got on a train on Friday morning (where by morning I mean 12 noon) with a guitar and a book (and then slept the whole way anyway).
I thought I heard a camera shutter snapping when I walked up to the lobby of her building. The door man greeted me like he remembered me. He was a slim hispanic man with very short cropped hair and creases around his eyes.
“You might want to check for paparazzi,” I told him. “In the bushes or something.”
He shook his head. “There’s one. He’s a trouble. Photographing everyone going in or out. We’ve run him off a couple of times but he comes back and comes back.”
Upstairs, once we’d sat down in the living room I mentioned it to Sarah, too. She made a face. “Ugh, I was pretty low profile here until Remy Harris moved into the building. Doesn’t it just make you want to stay in and order a pizza and write some songs?”
“That’s my idea of a good time anyway,” I reminded her.
“True. Let’s do that, then, but tomorrow we’re going out.” She clapped her hands together with a little burst of manic glee. “I know! We’ll go out for brunch. Make it look like we spent all night doing whatever decadent and deviant thing people want to believe we do together.”
“Sure.” I’m sure for some people staying up all night songwriting probably counted as that. “Okay if we visit a friend of mine in the afternoon?”
“You bet. We can go out dancing tomorrow night. Is your friend the type to want to join my entourage?”
“Um, don’t think so,” I said. “He’s like forty and I don’t think he’s the clubbing type. So who’s Remy Harris?”
“He’s a big daytime star.”
“Like the Sun?”
“The Son? Son of what?” Then she laughed. “Oh, the Sun. I forget how funny you are.”
“Hate to disappoint you but it was actually that I couldn’t figure out what you mean by big daytime star but now that I think about it, you mean soap opera star, right?”
“Right.” She still had a big grin on her face, though. “You’re still funny. Okay, pizza first or music first?”
“Music. Otherwise the piano keys get all greasy.”
She laughed again. “Okay, I’ll put my hair up. Come on.”
I followed her to the bedroom.
“I hate my hair,” she said casually as she piled her hair on top of her head and twisted it in a cloth scrunchie. She was in a tank top and basketball shorts and bare feet and her hair didn’t look that different to me from usual–straight reddish brown, shoulder length, with layered sides.
“What do you hate about it?”
“I have to do so much to it to make it look like anything. But I can’t do it super short: Annie Lennox already owns that look. Sinead O’Connor. It just won’t go over. And I’m just not butch enough to pull it off.” She sighed. “I envy yours.”
“Mine? Mine definitely doesn’t look like anything.”
“Which is kind of the point, right? You look like you roll right out of bed and it looks exactly like that. And that’s like part of your casual image, your whole look is like…” She searched for the words. “Working class vagabond.”
I chuckled. “Like a Nomad?”
“Oh yeah of course, you’re right. I mean, guys don’t have to get as dressed up anyway, but rock musicians especially maybe. Like you give the impression that you dress like that because you don’t have any other clothes.”
“Sarah, I don’t have any other clothes.”
“Okay, but you could.”
“I don’t see myself having a closet full of, like, Benneton or something.” I followed her back to the piano.
While I got out the guitar and tuned it, she went on. “Seriously, though, even punk bands are dressed up in their way. If you’re going to spend hours putting two hundred safety pins through a pair of jeans and spray paint on things and all that.”
“If you want a low maintenance hairstyle or lifestyle, I wouldn’t recommend punk or goth industrial,” I said. “It takes a good hour for Colin to put his mohawk up.”
“Okay, but that’s the thing I guess. You go on stage, or to an industry function, in a T-shirt and jeans and it totally works.”
“There’s a reason we call that Rock Star Standard.”
“I just can’t get away with that is what I’m saying.” She opened the piano and started warming up her hands without touching it, stretching her fingers and cracking her knuckles.
“Are you sure? I’m pretty sure that’s all Chrissie Hynde usually wears.”
“Yeah, but Chrissie Hynde is badass. My image is not badass.”
“Okay, well, but what is your image?”
She didn’t miss a beat. “Quirky ingenue songbird.”
“Huh. I guess you’ve thought this over a lot.”
“You better believe it. And I had to fight for the quirky part.”
“What would the options have been?”
“Well, you know, I could have been an ice princess, untouchable and inaccessible but highly romantically desired. Except I didn’t think I could keep up the poise and it would be boring as shit. I could have been a hot young temptress, except I really didn’t want to go in such an explicitly sexual direction. Madonna kind of cornered that market, too–”
“Okay, okay, I get the idea. Hm. Quirky ingenue songbird. Presumably you won’t keep the ingenue part in a couple of years?”
“Well, yeah, images can always change. Quirky songbird lets me kind of acknowledge my folky past and also gives a kind of edge to the songwriting and musicality. It lets me be the smart but not too smart girl, the smart but still sexy girl.”
I was done tuning but found myself turning these thoughts over in my mind. “And what’s my image again?”
“Six-string vagabond. You’ve managed to construct an image that says ‘image doesn’t matter, only the music does.'”
“Sar, that’s not an image. That’s what I really think.”
“I know, but don’t think that isn’t an image. It’s what you project.” She swiveled on the piano stool so she was facing me. “It’s probably one reason why Mills doesn’t take you that seriously. And maybe why he thinks you’re replaceable.”
“Because I’m a guitar for hire? I could see that.”
“And maybe why he’s so worried about you being labeled gay. Since you don’t have any other image. I mean, think about Elton John. His image is flamboyant arena showman. It kind of doesn’t matter then if he’s gay.”
“Hm.” I wasn’t sure that all added up in my head. “Is this advice or are you just thinking out loud?”
“Just thinking out loud. It’s kind of weird, but you’ve avoided the guitar god image. Maybe because you’re not really a metal guy.”
“Although since you grew your hair out, maybe, you could go in that direction if you wanted.”
“Do I look like I want to?”
“Not particularly. I do think you could put on a little more swagger when you’re in public, though.”
“It’s hard to swagger when you’re five-foot-four and your record company is trying to bury you.”
“All the more reason to do it,” she said.
“Okay, one more question then. What’s Ziggy’s image?”
That one stumped her for several long seconds while she thought it over. “Ziggy’s image is alternative auteur, or maybe artiste.”
“I thought ‘alternative’ was the kiss of death, though?”
“Mm, maybe, but I think it’s more like an exception that proves the rule situation. Ziggy wants to be that one exception–and BNC is doing a good job of making it happen.”
I sat back. “I’ve never really thought of it in these terms before.”
“That’s because Digger never worked on this kind of stuff with you and Carynne is really a band and music industry person, not an overall entertainment person.” She turned back to the piano. “Now it’s time to forget all that though and just play.”
I scooched over to the near end of the couch so we could make eye contact while playing. “Can you just forget it all, though?”
“I have to,” she said. “My image isn’t real, after all. And to write music I have to get back to the real me.”
I realized then that I was the opposite. “Whereas the only reason I have the image I do is because that’s who I have to be to make music. All the confidence comes from this.” I held up the guitar.
“Huh,” she said. “Huh.