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Since I’d last visited Sarah her career had taken a couple of leaps and turns. (I forgot to say: we did go out to dinner once or twice when she came to LA but nothing of consequence to report there.) She’d moved into a new apartment: this one on Central Park East, and not a sublet, so it had a lot less stuff in it and felt a lot less homey, but she hadn’t been there very long. She assured me she’d fill it up with things soon enough. She was going out on tour that coming summer, North America and Western Europe, and she had this plan she was going to come back with souvenirs from everywhere she’d been.
“You seem skeptical of the idea,” she had said.
“No, just trying to think if I have any souvenirs from the tour at all.” Besides T-shirts, which I seemed to pick up everywhere. I held up my left wrist. “Some of these things I accumulated on the way.”
We were in the VIP room at Limelight, where she had become sort of a regular, and it was quiet enough to hear what each other were saying. She ran her fingers over the things I had on: a friendship bracelet made of purple and black string that a fan had made for me, the beads that Native American woman had given me, a black leather one with a silver snap I’d picked up in Spain, a couple other things like that. I’d thought the beads were lost after the explosion, but no, someone had set them aside for me and I’d eventually found them and put them back on. I’d been accumulating stuff on that wrist ever since.
“Because they hide the scars?” she asked.
“There’s not much in the way of scars now.” I looked to be sure what I was saying was true. It was: there wasn’t much to see unless you knew to look for it. The same was true on my face: there were a couple of streaks where the skin was discolored on my cheek and near my eye, only visible in certain light. “The only one I take off sometimes is the leather one because it’s not a good idea to get it wet. The rest you can’t really take on and off.” The friendship bracelet was knotted on, for example.
Right, but I was going to tell you about the existential crisis part. Let me see if I can remember how it started.
I can’t. I don’t remember exactly what I said. But I was crowing about the deal with Artie and how pumped up I was about that. Now, remember that underneath it all I was still upset about Ziggy going solo. The combination led me to say something idiotic like, “Thank god I stuck to my guns. You know what pulled me through this? My integrity as a musician. Part of me almost says Wenco could keep the money–the validation is the thing.”
“Of instrumental solo work? Yeah, there’s something really validating about that. Possibly worth more than the twenty grand they’re paying me.”
“Easy to say when you’re not in debt or scrounging for lunch money,” Sarah pointed out.
“True. But it’s weird, you know? It all happened so fast.”
“But it didn’t. Look at how many years it took you to develop those chops, learn to compose, build your studio skills, and make the connections! Think about it, Daron. It’s years of work, it just happened to come together now.”
“Huh. True. And it’s weird because part of me almost doesn’t care what art they put on it, what they think it should be called, and part of me cares even more than usual, because this one is mine, really mine. It’s my ultimate proof of… of… something.” I had been drinking, which was not doing wonders for my vocabulary or my common sense. “And I don’t need any dancing or singing or costume changes to prove it.”
That was the line that did it. I said something like that. And I didn’t even realize it at first that I’d really offended her.
“What, are you going to break out the tux and do a concert hall recital tour?” she asked, her voice sharp with sarcasm. “Or do you never have to leave the home studio again?”
“Well, I don’t know about that, but–”
“Who’s going to listen to this album?”
“I don’t know. I used to work in the Jazz section of Tower. Random people did come in and buy out of the New Age section but not that many.”
“So it’s Muzak.”
She said it like an insult, which I took it as, since who the hell wants to be thought of as Muzak? The words “Muzak” and “integrity as a musical artist” didn’t go together in my brain. “It’s a lot better than Muzak.”
“Is it? Sounds like it’ll be used as background music in those stores where they sell crystal jewelry. How do you know it’s better?”
“What do you mean, how do I know?” I didn’t understand why she was attacking me. “Because I’m good. Because I wrote something and played something that was really, really good, Sarah.”
“And your definition of good is ‘doesn’t need costumes or dancing’?”
“Obviously, the only reason music that utterly lacks integrity exists is because we bother to dress it up with vacuous idiocy to fool the masses into parting with their money. Isn’t that what you’re saying?”
I guess that was what I was saying, because my reaction to that was, “They’re going to throw Ziggy into the studio with a bunch of anonymous backing musicians. Jordan Travers or Jellybean Benitez or whoever is going to rewrite all his songs–or outright write them for him–and then they’re going to put him on parade with backing dancers like a trained elephant!” I may have shouted this. “For a quarter million a night. To make back the millions they spent.” I flashed on this thought: if he wanted to kill himself at the end of two months on the road with Moondog 3, what was he going to be like at the end of six months in a one-ring circus? Ugh. But I didn’t get to pursue that thought because Sarah was in my face.
She crossed her arms, but I don’t think it was because she was cold. She was terribly underdressed for early December in New York, wearing what she described as a “sheath” dress. It was sleeveless and didn’t come halfway down her thighs. I didn’t know what part of the dress the “sheath” was, but right then she was sharp as a dagger. “You think I’m a trained elephant.”
“No, of course not,” I said automatically.
“Listen to yourself, Daron. You just put down everything I’ve worked so hard for.”
Yes, I had. Shit. “Wait. I didn’t mean it that way.”
“Well how the fuck did you mean it, then? You find it demeaning to go on stage and perform for people?”
“No, of course not. I love playing live.”
“But you think going out as a rock band and going out with a stage production are different?”
“Um…” I should have shut up and said I’m sorry, but I tried to dig myself out of the hole. “They are different underneath. The priorities are different.”
“Music over money? I don’t think so.”
“No no, I mean… how important the music is in the scheme of things. In a rock band, it’s everything. It’s the raison d’etre. It’s…” I felt it was important to try to nail down why it was important to me, in light of what I’d been telling Ziggy. “It’s the songs you would have written even if all you did was play them in your garage to your dog. The expression so important you couldn’t live without getting it out.”
“Oh. So it’s okay if the music is an expression of what you are, and not just something you’re getting paid to do?”
“Yes.” The second I said that, I realized two things: 1) Yes, that was exactly the difference between what I wanted to do with Mooondog 3 versus what I would do if I took a job playing with Ziggy’s faux band. 2) No, that’s ridiculous: I just put down every working musician on the planet. “Wait.”
She tapped her fingernail against her forearm, waiting for me to pull my foot out of my mouth, or my head out of my ass.
“You know that isn’t what I mean,” I said, trying to figure out how to reconcile the two things I felt.
“Yeah, those poor saps in Broadway orchestras, and singing on the stage, too bad they’re not real musicians,” she said. “And those guys in symphonies, for that matter, such frauds for playing all that music by famous composers. The only pure music is clearly the music you keep to yourself because the second you make a buck from it–”
“That’s not what I’m saying. I know it sounded like it, but… give me a second. I mean, come on, how many times have you heard me say that I respect anyone who can make a living from music. Even in genres I don’t particularly respect.”
“Hypocrite,” she said.
I was really in over my head on this one but I kept trying to make my point. “Oh come on. The Broadway musical is a completely bankrupt artistic form.”
“Is it? Is that why sixteen million people paid up to two hundred bucks a pop to see it last year? Because it’s, ahem, bankrupt?”
“There’s nothing new to be done artistically in Broadway musicals! Have you seen some of the things they’ve tried to turn into musicals? It’s a fucking formula. It’s a…”
“Twelve bar blues isn’t a formula?”
“Um…” How could it be I felt something so strongly but couldn’t explain it so I could make her see it? “There’s a difference between a format and a formula. A sonnet isn’t a cliche. A love poem about roses probably is, though. Surely you can see that.”
“And what makes rock different?”
“Okay first of all there is cliched, bankrupt rock. Huge swaths of poodle-hair metal for example. Spinal Tap proved that. Some things run their course, they should go extinct if they don’t evolve.”
“Is classical music dead, then?”
I sidestepped that question. “The whole reason M3 was forced into the ‘alternative’ corner is because we didn’t conform to the formulas. Because we tried to achieve something artistically and BNC found that too much of an effort to sell. So you know what? Actually I’m fine with the ‘alternative’ label. It proves they can’t fucking label me.” This came out a lot more vehement than I expected. This was probably the wrong time to be venting my anger about BNC.
“It’s called a record label, Daron.”
“Label shmabel. It’s just another fucking hand of conformity trying to crush me, Sarah. Every time I think I’ve escaped it, wham, another one comes down!”
“Is that all it is? Rebelling against your suburban upbringing? Wow, that’s really fucking original. Not a cliche at all. You know what says angsty whiteboy pain better than anything else? Anthemic guitar solos. That’s so so much less of a cliche than a big Broadway number, oh yeah right.”
Oh shit I’m in trouble, I thought. I’m having a fight with a friend, like a serious, we’re-both-mad-and-upset kind of fight, and on top of that, fuck, if she’s right, and I think she is… something in the bedrock of my self-identity is crumbling away.
And that always sucks.
Even if it’s necessary.
Even though I was putting the brakes on in my brain, my mouth was still going, which goes to show how upset I was. “I don’t do those piece-of-shit anthem solos and you know it.”
“Tell yourself that if you need to, but I thought you were over lying to yourself. I think you’re saying all of that to justify what’s happened and the choices you made that led to it.”
“Oh yeah? I’m pretty sure you’re saying what you’re saying because you’re about to hit the road with a fifty-person entourage, wearing a rhinestone-studded bra.”
She slapped me. I deserved it.
In fact, “I deserved that, didn’t I,” I said. My eyes stung as much as my cheek.
She fumed at me. Projectile fuming.
“Let me… let me think about this for a minute.”
“You do that.”
It was going to take me a little while to figure this one out. She went to the ladies room and I wondered if I could straighten it all out in my head before she got back.
Not likely, I know.
Daron’s Guitar Chronicles Omnibus 1: Compiling chapters 1-200 of DGC (ebooks 1, 2, and 3) into one huge paperback. $25 including shipping in the USA. (Overseas, contact me for the shipping price.)
Daron’s Guitar Chronicles Omnibus 2: Compiling chapters 200-388 (ebooks 4 and 5) into one huge paperback. $26 including shipping in the USA.
Candlelight T-Shirt: Choose “unisex” style T-shirt or Bella brand “missy fit” (longer & narrower) in sizes S, M, L, XL, 2XL, 3XL, 4XL. $28 including shipping in the USA.
Moondog 3 Totebag: Black cotton canvas shoulder tote with the Moondog 3 logo on the side. $27 including shipping in the USA.
Combine any two items and take $5 off the shipping within the USA. To order, Paypal to “firstname.lastname@example.org” and just put in the note/email to me what items you want! Orders received before November 4th will be fulfilled! I’m not planning to print extra shirts or totes beyond this run, so get your orders in now!