(If you haven’t had a chance to go upvote DGC vol 4, now being serialized on Wattpad, go on over there and click that star icon, please? -ctan)
Nomad moved to a bigger rehearsal space the week before hitting the road. The new place was a former airplane hangar/movie soundstage on the edge of Van Nuys and the first person I saw when we walked up was Louis. He was sitting on an overturned milk crate outside the door, wearing opaque black sunglasses and smoking a cigarette. His overgrown hair was grayer than I remembered.
He flicked the cigarette onto the blacktop the second he saw me and stood up to give me a back-poundy manhug. “Shit. You’ve grown.”
“No, I haven’t.”
“Shit,” he said again, shaking his head. “How you been?”
“Good,” I said automatically. It’s not like I was going to bring him up to speed on the past two years in two minutes.
“Good,” he said back. “Welcome to my office.”
Louis held open the door into the big old space and I went in. Remo followed, carrying Ford in one arm and holding Melissa’s hand with the other.
A full size stage riser had been erected at one end, with forty-foot high truss and light rig. Now I understood why we were moving. This wasn’t just for the band to rehearse. It was for the crew. What seemed to me to be a fairly large number of guys were moving back and forth, carrying things and someone was up in the truss, as well.
“Looks like things aren’t as ready as we thought they’d be,” Remo said mildly.
Louis didn’t answer immediately because he was busy looking at the baby. I never thought I’d see Louis say “cootchie cootchie coo” with complete sincerity, but he did. Then I remembered he’d had kids of his own, he just didn’t see them that often. I reminded myself to ask him how Shiree was doing, later, when there was a good moment.
He straightened up. “Should have the stage ready for you guys in another hour. Sorry about the delay. I’d go get some lunch if I were you. Sorry, man.”
Remo shifted Ford to his other arm. “Don’t worry about it. Better safe than sorry.”
“Yeah, well, I hear the plan is that after you leave tonight, we’re going to tear down the entire thing, pack it into trucks, and then unload it and set it up again. Tonight. So it’ll still be set and ready for you first thing tomorrow.” Louis turned from us suddenly to bark a warning at someone. “Excuse me,” he said as he hurried off to fix whatever it was he had seen.
I turned to Remo. “This is a more elaborate setup than you used to have.”
“Gets more elaborate every year,” Remo said. “Or at least bigger.” He was juggling Ford against his hip now, one hand behind the baby’s head. I still didn’t understand why it was necessary to constantly jostle a baby. (Confession: I still don’t.)
The stage had a semi-circular front instead of a thrust and no security pit. A number of smaller risers were on the back half: looked like one for drums, one for keyboards, one for the singers… There was one off to one side downstage, though. It was round and conspicuous and I felt like it should have had a stripper pole in the center of it, or a go-go cage. I asked Remo, “Is that for you?”
Remo shook his head. “That’s for you.”
“Me? What are you talking about.”
“To put you on the same level with the horns, keyboard, and drums.”
“Me?” I repeated.
“If you hadn’t noticed, Daron, you’re leading this band.”
“First of all, I’m not, second of all, even if I was I wouldn’t need to be on a riser to do it, and third of all, if you want me to lead the fucking band why don’t you just say so?”
Okay, maybe that came out a little testy. I’m not sure why.
Remo looked a little taken aback. “Okay, wait a minute. Mel? Mel, could you take Ford for a second while I go check something out on the stage?”
Melissa gathered up the baby and went the other direction while Remo and I went closer to the stage.
“You know it’s going to happen,” Remo said as we walked. “I’m going to be glued to a mic front and center a lot of the time. Someone needs to be looking back at the rest of them.”
“Okay, but then how did you do it before I came along? You’ve been on the road for ten years without me.”
“Well, when both the stage and the band were smaller we didn’t need anyone. The singers could kind of take care of themselves, likewise the horns, but once you have all of them and the stage gets this big, and you want to be able to jam and improvise…” He shrugged.
“Hang on, hang on. If you hadn’t gotten hurt before the tour of Japan, I’d assumed you were the leader.”
“I was never a good one. You just leaped right in and did it, though, you realize that, right? Everyone respects you. They all looked at you for cues because you were always paying attention to how the whole band sounded. You were, like, conducting them with your eyes they said.”
“Well, that was better than freaking out about not knowing my own part,” I grumbled. “I mean, of course I was looking at them because I was faking my way through. They had to go along with whatever I did because I might just forget the bridge or some shit like that.”
Remo shrugged and climbed up. I climbed up after him and we skirted around the spot where the guys were hanging from the catwalk overhead.
“Seriously. We could all be looking around for cues from each other. I don’t have to be in charge.”
“Daron. Think about it for a second. Backup singers, horn section, rhythm section, keyboards… they’re all followers. None of them is going to take the lead because none of them can. Musically, I mean. They call it lead guitar, lead singer, for a reason.”
“Yes, and you are both of those things.”
“No, you are the lead guitar in everything we do right now.”
“You have the solos in–”
“Am I wrong?”
“We’re splitting the lead.”
“Only because on a couple of the solos people want to hear it played like I played it on the record. You are the lead guitar in Nomad, Daron. And you were always supposed to be.”
“I…” I didn’t know what to say to that. Somehow hearing him say it like that made it sound really heavy. I mean heavy in the 1960’s sense, like, ominously profound or something.
I tried to go back in time to when we were talking about Japan. “I know things worked out well in Japan, but I really didn’t intend to take over like that, you know.”
“I assumed you wanted it that way or you wouldn’t have,” Remo said.
“I guess I feel like I didn’t have a choice.”
“And you wanted one?”
When he put it that way I felt petulant and stupid. “I’m not trying to be a problem child, here.”
“I know.” He looked at me with those soulful husky-dog eyes of his, looking slightly sad. “Look, if you don’t want a riser, it’s easy enough to take it away.”
I felt like the problem wasn’t the riser itself but if that was the concrete thing we could talk about, I rolled with it. “I sure as hell don’t want to be on it all the time. Aren’t we going wireless? I would rather be able to move all over the stage, especially if I’m in charge of everyone. It’s not like I’ve got a fucking baton.”
“To tell you the truth,” Remo said, “I don’t like being at center stage. I prefer to be off to one side. But it’s kind of unfair to the people on the other side.”
That’s because you’re not really a front man, I thought. “So why don’t you get on the riser sometimes? We don’t have to be glued to a spot. I mean, maybe it’ll drive Louis crazy but I think he can handle it. You and I don’t have such drastically different preferences in our monitors that we can’t change places. Don’t ever take downstage center except maybe for a ballad or one or two spotlight moments, and put the lead mic over there.” I pointed to a spot off-center. “Right? Alex there, you there?”
He followed where I was pointing. “This isn’t Maddie’s, you know,” he said, but he was joking.
Louis hopped down off the drum riser then. He had a roll of masking tape in his hand. “I know what you’re talking about.”
“Let’s get the guys in on this conversation,” I said.
“Martin’s going to be up there, and Alan will be up there,” Remo pointed out.
“True, but maybe they have opinions anyway.” If he was going to make me the band leader I sure as hell wasn’t going to be a dictator.
So we got the rest of the guys together–not the horns and the singers but the actual Nomad members–and I grilled them about what they thought our presentation should be like.
“I’ll be honest with you, Dar’. Reem should be front and center because people come to see him, not us,” Martin said.
“That’s bullshit,” Remo said wearily, like it was an argument they’d had before. “This is a band, not a…fucking cult of personality.”
“If you say so,” Martin said with a shrug.
“Okay, fine, all the more reason to get rid of risers like this one,” I said. “If you want a band-front presentation then you, me, and Alex should all be along here, Alan too if he doesn’t actually need to be up higher. Boom, boom, boom.”
Remo walked in a little circle, looking at his feet.
Alex took the masking tape from Louis. “Actually, put me in the center, but back here.” He stuck a piece of tape to the stage. “And you two on either side of me, but downstage.” He stuck two more pieces of tape down, much closer to the front.
Remo went and stood on his piece of tape at stage right and kind of shrugged and nodded. I went over to my piece of tape. “Works for me.”
Louis put his hands on this hips. “You realize this means not only do we not need that riser over there, then, we don’t even need the curved front.” He sighed.
“You could still leave the riser there for a couple of solos,” Remo pointed out.
“And a ballad and some iso spots. Like the long intro to ‘Taking My Time’ that we used to do?”
They all looked at each other. “We should totally do that again,” Martin said. “That was sweet.”
“I didn’t mean we should do it, I just meant as an example,” I said, but it was too late. The long intro was a solo I used to play that was an instrumental run-up that was over a minute long. I felt self-conscious about it now, though, as if I’d only brought it up to give myself more time in the spotlight which I most certainly hadn’t.
“We should totally do it! Why isn’t that in the set?” Remo pulled a piece of paper out of his denim jacket and looked it over. I assumed it was the set list.
“I…” I was going to try to argue one more time but I was already starting to think of things I could do with it that would be cool and interesting. With the Fender. With a pick. Or maybe I could do it with the Ovation after all… “You guys do realize we’re supposed to be hitting this in seven days, right?”
They all laughed and I kind of had to grin, too. Yeah, I know. Seven days was more than enough time to make the changes and rehearse them and still have room to mess around. Especially compared to last time.
Louis gave a long-suffering sigh. “Just make sure I have whatever set list updates you make each day. Or you might find yourself up there in the dark.”
This is why light shows and effects were never going to be computerized, I thought. Because the humans on the stage were always going to insist on changing things on the fly. Because it just wouldn’t be any fun otherwise.
(Keeping with our 1991 theme, this song by Pet Shop Boys is surprisingly on point to the subject of making it big in the music biz… -d)