(Here it is folks. The first chapter of book twelve, the final book in this arc of Daron’s Guitar Chronicles. -ctan)
Which do you think was harder, facing my vocal coach after almost two months on the road wrecking my throat, or facing my friends and co-workers after having spent all night and part of a day out of my mind in a water tank on the roof of a Brazilian hotel? Sometimes the more I describe it, the more nuts that night seems. But I know it happened. I did that. No one else.
I do sometimes wonder what would have happened if Ziggy hadn’t found me. Would I have eventually come to my senses? Or passed out from dehydration and drowned? It’s one of those questions I don’t like to think about, but which still crops up sometimes in dark moments.
But a moment is just a moment, not a whole night and a day. There’s a kind of comfort in knowing how far down the bottom is. It’s really far, actually.
Really far. Remember that.
Ziggy and I made it off the roof without running into anyone. We went down the access stairs, not the ladder to my window that I’d climbed up. In my room, he made a quick phone call, I drank four or five glasses of water, and then we slept for some number of hours… I’m really not sure how long. Long enough that when I woke up I was feeling more sane, I guess, which meant I felt deeply ashamed of having acted, well, crazy.
I wasn’t actually sane, yet, but there are degrees of it, you know. Sort of like how there are degrees of drunkenness. The drunker you get the less able you are to tell how drunk you are, but the more you sober up the more you realize how drunk you previously were. I was enough back in my mind now to realize how out of my mind I had been, but not sane enough to realize how stupid it was to feel horrible about it.
Bart, Carynne, and Flip, on the other hand, didn’t seem at all judgmental about me going off the deep end. They were just relieved I was okay. There was a lot of hugging. But them being okay with me being a nutcase didn’t relieve the intense shame and discomfort curdling all through me.
That was what I expected every day at a rehab center like Betty Ford would feel like. It was worse than nausea. It was almost enough to make me break with reality again. By the way, that term, “break with reality,” wasn’t one I knew at the time. I’d learn it later, from a therapist.
Since my feelings were making me so uncomfortable that I wanted to crawl out of my skin, I decided the best way to deal with them was to concentrate on other people’s feelings for a while. And that meant facing up to everyone else. Even though I’d been out of my mind when I said it, I was serious about what I’d told Ziggy: it was important to me to say goodbye to everyone. Sure, these are all professionals who are used to tours coming and going. But I never forgot that Louis was upset about the way the tour in 1989 had fallen apart. It costs nothing to try not to trample over people’s emotions.
Well, nothing but my pride. But owning up to how messed up I had been was going to help me heal, right? I sure hoped so.
I did it on the long charter flight back to New York from Rio de Janeiro. I went around the various cliques and enclaves–the dancers, the musicians, the production crew–thanking people for their work and apologizing for being so out of it. Apologizing was painful and awkward as hell but I felt it was my penance or something.
For the most part people were really cool about it. A bit confused maybe, about why I was talking to them, but they mostly said encouraging things. The dancers were the most hostile, except for Josie, who kissed me on the cheek and said Ziggy and I should come out to his beach cottage on Fire Island some time.
Ziggy didn’t go around with me, at my insistence. It was something I felt I had to do alone. But we had a big talk when I was done. He was waiting for me when I got back to the upper level of first class. He was sitting in one of the recliners, drinking a cup of tea from a pot on a small table between two of the chairs. I sat in the other chair and he offered me some of the tea.
It was a green tea that tasted like grass clippings. I drank it anyway. The caffeine in it was the first upper or downer I’d had in 48 hours. I didn’t really feel it. Its main effect was soothing, because it was warm and because Ziggy had given it to me.
I started to cry a little, quiet, with my eyes behind one hand.
I felt his hand on my other. He didn’t say anything, but I answered his unspoken question. “I’m okay. I just now had a wish that we could always be this nice to each other. And that unraveled me a little.”
He shifted into my lap, his arms around me and his legs over the arm of the recliner. “I’m sorry I was ever less than this nice to you. I promise to try to always be at least this nice to you in the future.”
He kissed my ear, which tickled and made me laugh. “What about other people? Shouldn’t you be nice to them, too?”
“No. You get special privileges.” He leaned his head on my shoulder. Truthfully, he was a hell of a lot nicer to people in general at that point than he had been in the early years. He was humbler and it showed; he saved the arrogance for the stage and for public appearances where it was warranted. Mostly.
“Forever, or just until I’m not fragile as a soap bubble?”
“Forever, dear one.”
“Hm. I feel like I should make you a promise in return.” I tried to remember what our commitment was all about in real life, not the paranoid delusion I’d made it out to be.
“Promise me you’ll get help so I can be sure I’m talking to the real you,” he said.
The real you. That was the sort of thing I would’ve said to him a few years back. “Okay. I promise.” We sat there, cuddling without speaking, for a while. We may have dozed off. My hand twitching woke us up, though. Right. Still injured. My brain wasn’t the only part of me that needed rehabilitation right then. I jammed my hand under Ziggy’s thigh and the spasm in my scarred palm calmed down again. “What’s next for you?”
“Nothing. Nothing’s next other than getting you back together.” He sounded quite serious.
“Except Japan next year.”
“If I have to put that off, I will. But I’m hoping that’s plenty of time for you to get better.”
It struck me that he didn’t think I was serious about one thing I’d said to him in the water tank. Of course, most of what I’d told him in there was ridiculous, so I couldn’t really blame him for not taking me seriously. I decided I better try saying it again now. “I don’t think I should go with you.”
He stiffened in my lap, like he turned to stone. “Even if you’re better?”
“Even if I’m better. I meant what I said about hating it.” Just saying it made my heart pound with panic, but I tried to keep steady. The self-critical voices were already starting: was I being ungrateful? I got to play the guitar on a stage in front of tens of thousands of people and get paid for it. What was wrong with me? I stuck to my point: “This isn’t the career in music I want to be having, Zig.”
He made his voice light. “What do you want to do next, then?”
I leaned my head against him. “I want to do what we used to do. Original, guitar-driven rock. I want angst and anger and everything that pop music sanitizes away. I want to write it and I want someone else to sing it.” I took a deep breath and let it out on the word, “You.”
I felt him swallow. “You know that isn’t going to happen.”
“I know. You’re under contract and we already have a dozen lawsuits flying back and forth. And Barrett says Mills says the whole rock segment is down, and Carynne says that Artie says alternative is dead.” They’ve chlorinated it and de-salinated it so they can bottle it as harmless and flavorless. “I’ve come to the conclusion that if rock is dead it’s because the music industry killed it.”
Ziggy sighed. “What about Star*Gaze?”
“Dead in the water unless Artie decides to go for it after all,” I said. “But probably it was dead in the water anyway, between the legal department shying away and it being yet another thing they couldn’t categorize easily enough.”
He sighed again. “I’m sorry, love.”
“And then there’s the fact I can’t write anything right now anyway. So my wanting to do it is really abstract.” I shivered a little, thinking about my prolonged writers block. What if I really had broken my brain to the point I couldn’t write music? Could that happen? I was afraid that kind of thought could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. “Is it just that I want the past? Is my moment over? That seems to be what the industry is telling me.”
“No,” Ziggy declared. “If you really wanted to turn back the clock you’d be turning back the clock on us, too. And I know neither of us every wants to go back to those days.”
“Hm. True.” There was definite truth in what he said. I looked at the ring on my finger. “But if we can’t make real music together I think we’ve only scratched the surface of how insane I can be.”
His voice was surprisingly mild given his words: “You know it rips me up every time you imply that my brand of international stadium-filling pop isn’t real music.”
“Shit, I know. And you know I don’t mean it as an insult. But I’ve tried to get past it and it just isn’t what I want to do with my life. And it isn’t what I want to do with you.” I squeezed him a bit harder than necessary. “You want to talk about ‘brand’? This is not my brand.”
“It’s just a gig.”
“Exactly. And I don’t want it to be. I love you too much for that.”
He wiggled down in my lap until he could kiss me without craning his neck. “I’m not tired of hearing you say that.”
“That you love me.”
“Shit. I promised myself I’d say it every day and I’m sure I haven’t been keeping that up.” Same as I hadn’t kept up my vocal exercises, my hand rehab, or any of the other things I was supposed to be doing while I was just trying to get through day by day, hour by hour.
He was looking into my eyes now. “Let’s have a little talk about promises, shall we?”
“I’d much rather you promise me you’ll say it when you mean it than something arbitrary like ‘every day.’ But I understand you try to make promises to yourself to keep yourself accountable. Am I right?”
“I guess? I make promises because I… I mean them. I intend to keep them.”
“And then when you don’t, you feel guilty and you beat yourself up, and you feel negative instead of feeling positive.”
I had a flutter of deja vu. “Have you told me this before?”
“I doubt I’m the only one who has told you this before.” He brushed his cheek against mine like a cat. “It wasn’t easy for me to come around to realizing it’s better to be happy about the times you tell me you love me than to be sad about the times when you don’t. But I especially don’t want you to be upset about not saying it unless the reason you’re not saying it is because it’s no longer true.”
I kissed him to get those words out of his mouth. “It’s true. I love you. And that’s why I’m here. And listen. If you really really can’t imagine touring without me, some things have to be drastically different.”
“Including you being healthy.”
“Including me being healthy,” I agreed.
(A throwback to a song one of my burnout buddies used to blast out of his car stereo while we got high on the way down the Shore or in the parking lot of the Garden State Arts Center. The lyrics were just too perfect for me to pass up. “Got a crazy feeling I don’t understand /’Gotta get away from here / Feelin’ like I should have kept my feet on the ground / Waitin’ for the sun to appear.” -d)