I was right about one thing, Belle sure could medicate me. She made me take four aspirin, drink a can of ginger ale, and gave me a slug of cough medicine for good measure. “Jacket fits?” she asked.
“Yes.” I didn’t want to take it off even though I knew that might bring the fever down. I just felt cold, cold, cold, and the coat was lined and warm.
“You function okay when you’re stoned?”
“When you’re stoned. Do you function? Can you deal?” Her maroon lips slowed down for me.
“Yeah, I guess.”
She gave me the bottle of cough medicine. “Then hang on to this. In a couple of hours you can take another swig. If it knocks you out too much, you can take a nap in my office.” She moved a stack of papers off the couch. “Do you remember what floor this is?”
“Good boy. I’m going to be out most of the day. I’ll check into the video shoot once in a while, but you can always use this couch.”
“Thanks, Belle, really.” The bottle of cough syrup went into the inside pocket of my new jacket. Belle patted me on the head and I didn’t even mind.
The video shooting and interviewing were going on in a large studio elsewhere in the building. I’d had no idea there was anything like this there–I’d assumed the whole building was offices. But there it was, a two-storey high room, with a stage and room for an audience of a few hundred, acoustic-paneled walls and two glassed-in control booths. I realized that all of our equipment was on the stage–someone must be taking care of all the details like getting the gear to the next gig after this. I wasn’t sure if I was happy or worried that I was completely ignorant of the details themselves.
The woman who’d brought the tape to Mills the night before was there. She and Belle had the same taste in business suits. As soon as she saw me she broke off her conversation with the video director and came over to me.
“I hear you’re sick,” she said, her hand on my arm. Her fingernails seemed strangely shiny and long.
“Belle gave me some aspirin,” I said. “I’ll be fine. Um, what’s your name again?”
She smiled and patted my arm. “I’m Patty Marshfield, Mills’ executive assistant.”
I had always thought assistants were fresh out of college types, but Patty looked to be in her late-thirties, maybe had kids of her own. Her partly blond hair was tucked up into a kind of roll on her head and she had slight wrinkles at the edges of her eyes that made her look like she’d spent too much time in the sun. If Belle was Anita Baker, Patty Marshfield was… Linda McCartney.
“How long have you worked for Mills?”
“About six years,” she said. “And I was in the marketing department before that. Here, let’s get started.”
The morning passed by in a haze thanks to the cough medicine. While the video crew filmed one or two of us on the stage, various reporters would talk with the others in one of the control booths. At one point I climbed onto the stage and picked up the Ovation and it felt like weeks since I’d played, even though the show had been, what, two, three days ago? The director wanted me to mime through the solo as recorded on the album–the live footage didn’t come anywhere near to syncing up because I’d played something completely different. The playback came through the PA and I started walking through the notes, my hand moving up and down the neck of the guitar like I wasn’t even controlling it. A strange sensation, but a familiar one, too. Sitting in Remo’s living room, playing note for note what was coming out of the stereo, Yes, Rush, The Police, rock songs, pop songs, didn’t matter. Only this time the song was something I’d written and played first. A little vertigo came over me, like double vision in the ears.
We had to do the take again and again and if I hadn’t been doped up I probably would have been really annoyed. But I just kept going. I did it standing, sitting on the edge of the stage, looking at the camera, not looking at the camera… singing along with the chorus and not singing. And then it was Bart’s turn. I gave him a weak high five as I made my way down the steps to the floor.
Patty motioned me into the control booth. “How do you feel?”
“A little dizzy, but alright.” I was actually thinking about the couch in Belle’s office and wanting to lie down.
“Do you think you could talk to another reporter?”
I shrugged. “Sure, as long as I get to sit down.”
She settled me into one of the plush ergonomic rolling chairs at the sound board. Then Ziggy and another guy came in. Ziggy sat down next to me. The guy shook my hand and introduced himself as someone or another from Music Time. He had the same press kit in his hand that they had been handing out last night and I wondered if he’d been there. He clicked on a tape recorder in his lap.
He was older, maybe forty, nondescript haircut and clothes, as if as a reporter he was supposed to blend into the background easily. “So, what would you two like to talk about?”
Ziggy picked up the ball first. “Well, that’s one question we haven’t heard before.”
“I know. I don’t want to ask you all the same questions everyone else has. I want to know what you want to tell me.” His voice, slightly deadpan and nasal, gave me the suddenly creepy feeling that this guy wasn’t a reporter at all, but some kind of undercover psychoanalyst. Maybe secretly hired by Mills. I didn’t dare look at Ziggy.
“Well,” Ziggy was saying, “I’ve got opinions about plenty of things, but I don’t know where to start.”
“We’re pretty new to this whole corporate publicity machine thing,” I added.
The reporter smiled at me in a gentle, condescending way which only intensified the feeling that he was a shrink. “What do you think of this whole video thing?”
Ziggy motioned to me and now I did look at him. He was giving me the nod to say… something. “It’s weird,” I began. “I mean, here we are, having to mimic ourselves, note for note… the feeling of doing it is bizarre. And you know no one watching thinks that it’s real, do they? It’s a weird kind of acting, you’re playing a part, but the part you’re playing is yourself… Obviously we have to do it though, MTV has so much pull now, it’s changed everything…” I trailed off, feeling like I was babbling. “You know?”
Ziggy shrugged. “They haven’t done me, yet.”
Mr. Nondescript turned his disarming smile on Ziggy then. “Did you always want to make it big like this?”
Ziggy sat back, chewing on that one a moment before answering. “No, not really. Because I never wanted to be a rock singer until all of a sudden, I was one. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life. Then I met Daron and Bart and they had a vision for what they wanted to do, for success. They needed me to do it, and I needed something to do. So we teamed up.”
“But you’d never sung before that?”
He laughed, and shot a sly smile my way. “Well, Daron and I sing in the same choir.”
“No we don’t,” I said, wondering why he’d said that, if he was just goofing around or if he wanted to give this reporter a hard time. “He’s making that up,” I told the reporter. Meanwhile, my imagination was working on the image of Ziggy in the church choir. I couldn’t quite picture it, and it occurred to me that I really didn’t know anything about what his childhood was like. I’d never asked him about it because I didn’t want to talk about my own. Maybe he did sing in the church choir.
Mr. Nondescript turned to me then. “How do you, a music school prodigy, work with an untrained singer?”
Now it was my turn to laugh. “I wouldn’t call myself a prodigy.” That’s probably what it said in the press kit. Prodigy. I always got that word mixed up with “protegé” when I was in school.
Mr. Music Time was still talking. “Weren’t you playing in honky tonks when you were a teenager?”
“Well, yeah…” And how did he know that? Maybe I should have looked at that press kit more carefully. “But still. I’m not a prodigy. I went to music school to get out of my parents’ house. I’ve always been rock and roll, and you don’t need music school for that. Ziggy, either.”
Ziggy gave me a little nod, almost a thank you.
“What about you, Ziggy?” The guy sounded uncomfortable saying our names. “Is it tough on you being in a band of musical geniuses?”
Zig shrugged. “When they start going on about the fifth of this and the time of that I just don’t listen.”
“But surely you have to know something…”
I cut in. “There’s a difference between knowing music theory and having an ear. You can know all the music theory in the world and maybe you still can’t write a line of lyrics that will flow with the tune. Theory and schooling isn’t what matters to us.”
“So who writes the lyrics?”
I was on a roll. “We both do. Sometimes I write a verse or two and he writes a chorus, or what I’ve written is a little forced and he comes up with something smoother. Or maybe I’ve just got a chorus and no direction for a song. It goes back and forth. Sometimes I can’t even remember which of us wrote what.” I ran out of breath and the urge to lie down came back.
“Me neither,” Ziggy said. Now he was just looking at me, like Mr. Nondescript had faded into the background.
“Does that ever result in conflict? Do you ever disagree about lyrics?”
Ziggy’s eyes stayed trained on me. “We have a lot more to disagree about than that. When we have a conflict, it’s usually about a much larger issue.”
And what did he mean by that?
“Would you say that you have ego problems?”
This guy IS a shrink, I thought to myself. Ziggy, please don’t tell him anything more.
Ziggy chuckled. “Ego problems? What is that supposed to mean?”
Mr. Nondescript cleared his throat self-consciously. “Like Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, or Roger Waters and David Gilmour…” he named off a bunch of other singer/guitarist pairs from rock history who had broken up their bands. “The clash of egos was at the heart of all their troubles.”
“Excuse me?” I sat up in my chair and it rolled backward a few inches, making me feel woozier than I was. “Led Zeppelin broke up because someone died…”
He waved his hand to cut me off. “But Waters and Gilmour? Maybe you’re too young to… What about Bauhaus, Peter Murphy and Daniel Ash?” I was getting the feeling this guy spent too much time reading rock biographies and liner notes.
Ziggy snickered. “I heard it wasn’t ego that split them up.”
“Oh? What, then?”
Ziggy’s eyes hadn’t moved from me. “I always heard that when Ash and Murphy stopped sleeping together the band fell apart.”
Now Mr. Nondescript was laughing and saying how preposterous that was, but with fake sort of ho-ho-ho laughs as if that was exactly what he’d been thinking. And I just sat there, my gaze locked with Ziggy’s trying to guess why he’d say something like that, whether it was true or not.
Ziggy had a twang of annoyance in his voice when he said, “Don’t you think it’s a bit early to be talking about bands breaking up?”
The reporter harrumphed that he wasn’t implying anything. “Why don’t you fellows tell me what you’re planning to do next?”
“I think we’ve got a tour on the slate, right Daron?”
I nodded, glad to have the topic back to normal subjects. “No details available yet.” I rattled off my industry-speak about returning to the markets where we’d played and supporting the re-release of the album. My head was beginning to feel heavy. Through the glass came the faint sound of Candlelight being played back for the millionth time.
“We like being on the road,” Ziggy said. “Because when we’re traveling we feel like we’re getting somewhere.” He was grinning at me.
I grinned back, trying to figure out if that was as nonsensical as it sounded. I shook my head. “Excuse me.” I took out Belle’s bottle of cough syrup and took a swig from it. “Gack. This stuff tastes like a bad childhood.”
Ziggy put his hand on my forehead, flashed me a look as he said “You’re… hot.”
I ignored the innuendo. “I’m fine.”
“That’s what you said last night, and you weren’t.” His voice was heavy with implied accusation. As if I might not be sick now if I’d only let him touch me last night. Well, in a way, maybe he was right. What if I’d been open to him? Would we have spent another blissful night in bed together instead of sitting on the curb? Or would it have been a knife in my gut no matter how I’d played it? I didn’t know and I never would. He narrowed his eyes at me. “You know we’ve got to play a show tomorrow.”
“It’s not until the day after.” I swiveled to face him in the chair. Please, Zig, let’s not play this out in front of this head-shrinker reporter… be nice, for once. I spoke through clenched teeth. “I’ll go lie down in a little while.”
He didn’t look happy but he backed off, said to Mr. Nondescript “Well, what else can we tell you?”
“Why don’t we talk about your musical influences?”
“No, that’s dull,” Ziggy said. “I think we should talk about the connection between sex and death.”
This is all like some strange dream, I decided, and in the morning all these non sequiturs will be obvious… Ziggy began to expound to the reporter his ideas about why people equate sex with death and how this was not a new concept but actually went back for thousands of years in human history… I lost the thread of what he was saying quickly. Now that he wasn’t looking at me, I felt cut loose somehow, like I was floating away from the conversation…
Ziggy’s hand on my shoulder brought me back. “You’re falling asleep.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “Maybe I should go take a nap.” I started to get up, and swayed a bit in place.
“I’ll help you.” Ziggy put a hand around one of my arms and I had no intention of shrugging him off this time. To the reporter he said “I’ll be back in a minute if you want to talk more.”
He took me down to Belle’s office on floor 8 and lay me down on the couch, taking care to remove the medicine bottle from my jacket before settling me in. Behind her desk he found my old trenchcoat and laid it over me like a blanket. “Whatever you got, you better not give it to me,” he said without vitriol as he tucked the edges of the coat in around me.
“I probably got it from you,” I said with a weak smile.
“Maybe so.” He put a hand on my shoulder and I covered his hand with mine. I thought he would get up to leave then, but he sat there a minute or two longer. He looked at me for a long time and then he leaned over and kissed me. I didn’t know if that meant I was forgiven or not. I just knew I liked the way it felt and I fell asleep with my hand in his.