I talked my way into Wenco the way Digger would have talked his way into the best restaurant in the city. With equal parts bullshit and bravado and being nice when it counted. Lucky for me, Artie was there that day.
His office was just as cramped and cluttered as the last time I was here, three years ago. He shook my hand and cleared a chair for me to sit in. When he saw my look was kind of grim, he shut the door so no one could eavesdrop what we were saying, though he kept up his gladhandy demeanor while he worked his way around to his side of the desk to sit down. “Your name’s been popping up in a lot of songwriting credits on our labels lately.”
“Oh, has it?” I tried to be casual. “I did a lot of work when I was in LA last year. Didn’t really pay attention to the labels.” That last bit wasn’t me being cavalier: that was true. I didn’t know what label most bands were recording for, and the checks were mostly going to Carynne.
“Remo keeps me up to date on you when he can,” Artie added. “But I’m guessing you’re not just here because you were in the neighborhood?”
What’s funny is that actually was why I was there that moment, as opposed to calling on the phone or something. But I came right down to it. “I’m being cut free from BNC. Just found out.”
He looked serious. “I heard there were lawsuits being filed.”
“Threats and counter-threats. It’s all going to be wrapped out of court, though, well, mostly. We may sue our ex-manager jointly with them. I’m not holding my breath on that, though.” I looked around at the stacks of demo tapes and press kits and the layer of dust on everything and realized how hard it was to get to where I was now, but that couldn’t make me lose my nerve. “I don’t know what you’ve heard.”
He looked me in the eye. “A couple of law-dogs from BNC did come barking. When they stopped yapping, I assumed you had worked out a deal regarding recording under another name.”
“Not really,” I admitted. “They didn’t have a leg to stand on there and they knew it.”
“So what changed?”
“Ahhhh.” He folded his hands and sat back, like that one word explained everything.
I explained anyway. “Ziggy signed a development deal with Megastar or whatever they’re calling the new conglomerate, which is paying BNC and Moondog Three to take him.” My voice didn’t much like those last two words so I clammed up.
“Which makes you a free agent. I see.” He leaned back in his chair and his hair looked grayer than I remembered. Or maybe it was just the way the afternoon sun coming through the window lit him.
“Um, yeah.” I suddenly felt weird for having barged in there. It wasn’t like I wanted to sign a contract myself that instant. It wasn’t like those days when I carried a cassette tape around in my pocket of whatever song we’d polished most recently. Yeah, I used to do that. “I thought you should know.”
He nodded almost imperceptibly. Then he glanced at his watch and I thought he was going to throw me out of the office for having wasted his time.
Nope. “It’s getting close to three. You want to go for a drink?”
That was music to my ears. “Yes.”
So Artie took me a couple blocks away to a watering hole that was kind of a dive, but that was a good thing. I was comfortable there. It was not a “be seen in” kind of place, not frequented by the captains of industry or anything.
We didn’t talk business explicitly, you know how that is? He asked about Spain since Remo had told him I was there, and I talked about how I’d met Orlando at Guitar Craft camp, which made it sound less sketchy than me taking off on a whim like I did. And we talked about Nomad a bunch.
At one point Artie said, “I’m under the impression you could join up with those guys any time.”
“Yeah, so am I,” I said, realizing I was at the bottom of my beer mug. We were at the bar and I pushed it about an inch away from me. The bartender refilled it and put it back down in front of me before I could say anything. Well. “I’ve thought about it.”
“Does the fact that you haven’t done it yet mean something?”
“I was holding out to see if things might work out with M3, I guess.” I turned the cold, sweating glass in my fingers but didn’t drink any more. “It’s… it’s a little hard to let go.”
“When’d you find out about the buyout?”
“Right before I walked into your office.”
Artie started to laugh, then checked himself when he realized I was serious. “That’s rough. I’m sorry.”
“I feel like I built something and they took it away.” I shouldn’t have said that. This was the bad part about going out drinking. You say things you probably shouldn’t let people hear. “At first I thought it was our ex-manager trying to screw me out of what was rightfully mine, creatively mine, but in the end it was Ziggy.”
Artie took a thoughtful swig of his beer. “You’re saying your singer engineered the buyout?”
I gave that a little thought. “No, he just set out his demands and John Mills engineered the buyout. Ziggy gets rich and I get my freedom. I’m supposed to be happy about that.” I waved my hand. “I mean, literally, I should be happy about that. But as you tell I’m kind of miserable.”
Artie clinked his mug against mine. “It’s a tough thing to say goodbye to something you put so much blood, sweat, and tears into. That’s all right, Daron. I feel confident you have a lot more music ahead of you.”
Because he had said that, so was I. We didn’t talk about what I might do next, didn’t talk demos or gigs. But remember that night I got drunk and ranted about musical modes at a party in LA? That had led directly to that soundtrack gig. This had the same feel, only this time I was aware of it happening.
A kind of numbness set in during that second beer, which I did end up drinking. I wondered if it meant my heart wasn’t that badly broken or if I merely couldn’t feel it. Maybe it was that while I was with Artie I could pretend that it was all about business, all about the band. I could pretend that I didn’t feel like my creative partner, my muse, my other half, had just turned his back on me and left me in the dust.
I know. It’s messed up that I could only think of Ziggy so clearly in those terms after I thought he was gone. I thought him leaving me for India had brought about clarity. Apparently I didn’t know shit by comparison.