My fingers filled up the silence between us with a wistful drizzle of notes.
“What’s that you’re playing?” he asked,
“Nothing yet,” I said. I put down the 12-string and picked up one of the Remo-signature guitars I’d been playing on the soundtrack a lot. It had a deep bowl and a resonant voice to match. In fact I’d tuned it down to D. I slung it over my shoulder and picked up where I left off (no pun intended). Then I paused to tune a little–
“No, leave it,” Ziggy said, waving his hand.
“Yeah.” He was still on the stool but sitting up so straight it was like if he’d had cat ears they would have been pointing at the ceiling.
“Now go on, play that riff.”
I picked out the pattern again, went through a chord change, brought it back.
Ziggy started to hum. I took a step closer to where he was sitting because I could barely hear it, but I could see his chin moving side to side a little.
Now I could hear it. We were face to face, a foot apart, me standing, and I could hear that high thread of a hummed melody coming from his closed mouth–ever so slightly echoed in the body of the guitar.
I played quietly, listening, making the chord change again. His eyes were closed.
We jammed like that for a while. I don’t know how long. Until it had been around and around a couple of times and I’d found out where the progression went and he’d followed me and found out where the melody went.
I opened my eyes, having not realized I’d shut them, to see him opening his at the same time.
We both talked at the same time. “Let’s record that.” “Can we get that on tape?”
It took a little fussing to get a setup that really captured that sound. Remo’s studio was all one room; it wasn’t like there was a separate vocal booth. We tried it first with both of us sharing one condenser mic. But we couldn’t quite get the right balance, even when he was really close to it and I was far away. Eventually I set up a vocal mic for him that he could get right up against, put a screen between us, and then set up another mic for myself a couple of feet away,and then I sat back from it a ways, in the corner. This time he was standing and I was sitting and we both had headphone monitors on.
That was almost it. On the next take I opened the door and put myself on the concrete patio between the studio and the pool and that was it. The hard reflections gave the guitar a faraway echo sort of sound, while Ziggy sounded like he was humming right in your ear. We did a take that was a couple of go rounds and couple of changes, and as we were ending it, a jet passed overhead putting a kind of sound tail on it that was kind of neat.
“I need some water,” Ziggy said, clearing his throat. “All that humming is rough.”
We took a quick break, rummaging around the kitchen a little, but we didn’t pause for long. When we went back he jotted down some words.
We dubbed a vocal track then, and I discovered the melody he’d been humming was a counter-melody to something he’d either been hearing all along, or he improvised, I don’t know which.
It was a song about being alone in the world.
We had a lot of stops and starts, while he worked out the words. They came out sort of improvised, sort of rapped, and then he pared them down to the right number of syllables, the better word choices. I could see him get an idea and be writing one thing down while trying to remember the thing he’d thought of in the middle of it.
Alone in a crowd. A feeling I knew so well I accepted it as normal.
And it turned into a song about a song, too. The chorus was something like:
Alone in a crowd
Alone in the world
A lone wolf howls
He knows the words
I helped fill in and shape the words but I can’t remember who came up with which exactly. I think it was me that turned it into a song about a song, but I’m not sure, really. We were in a state of flow.
We took another break when my fingers hurt enough for me to realize it had been a number of hours. My thumb was starting to ache. I shook it out and he took my left hand between both of his and massaged it.
I practically melted off the chair. “Is this song about losing your mom?” I asked.
“What makes you think that?”
“The bit that goes, ‘Eyes behind a black veil of pain / Familiar song, familiar refrain.’ Made me think of a funeral. And what you wore to the film premiere.”
“Huh.” He let my hand go and sat down on the stool across from me.
“That’s what I thought, when I saw what you wore. You were dressed for a funeral. For mourning.”
He frowned. “You’re the only one who got that.”
Not even Jen? I thought, but didn’t ask. “That’s what made me think it might be the message here, too.”
“I… I guess. Maybe.”
“Why, what did you think you were writing about?”
“You.” He turned away quickly, as if I wouldn’t see the tears spring into his eyes. “Asshole.”
“I think it’s a little early to write the eulogies for this relationship if we’re still sitting in this room together,” I pointed out.
He blinked away the moment. “I still can’t help but feel like you’re going to abandon me.”
“You going solo is not me abandoning you.”
“I know! But it feels like it anyway.” He covered his eyes with his hand.
“Maybe it feels like it because with your mother dying, you’re extra sensitive to feelings of abandonment right now.” I sounded uncomfortably like Lacey there, but I thought the theory might hold water.
He made a grumbling sound. “Possibly.”
I petted his hair and ended up standing beside him, hugging his head to my sternum and letting him cry on my shirt.
At one point he tried to talk. “It’s so hard to explain what it’s like to lose her.”
“You don’t have to explain.”
“I think to myself, why didn’t I do more? Why didn’t I see her more often? Why wasn’t I there? Would any of it have helped her, or helped the way I feel? I don’t know. And not knowing hurts, too.”
“And you think, god, if this hurts this much, it must be punishment for something. Like I must be a terrible person to deserve this.”
“You know that’s bullshit, though, right? Her dying had nothing to do with you.”
“I know. I know. And yet somehow, I don’t know. Maybe it’s just the hurt is so bad and the negative feelings are so overwhelming that self-blame comes as part of the package.”
“Or maybe everything about parents comes with guilt.”
“Yeah.” He looked up at me then, his eyes puffy. “Please don’t think I’m trying to make you stay because I’m so pathetic.”
“I won’t if you don’t think the only reason I’m staying is because you’re pathetic.”
“Oh.” He gurgled a little and I pulled away and got him a tissue. He blew his nose. “Yeah, okay, logic is starting to come back now.” He looked around as if it were suddenly dawning on him that we’d been at it for enough hours that it was now long past time we should have had a meal. It was twilight outside. I don’t think either of us could have told you if that was sunrise or sunset at that point.
My stomach growled. “Come on.” I took him into Remo’s kitchen, where no matter what time of day or night it was or how broken your heart was, there was always canned soup.