632. Sonic Youth

Bart drove me back to Worcester in time to meet the bus to Hartford, and then tagged along on the bus on the way there. We had a lot of downtime that afternoon before they were actually ready for us to check sound, so me and Bart and Charlie worked on a rendition of “For No One” since his birthday was at the end of April. We actually decided it would go over better in New Orleans than St. Louis, though, and the song was so short it was almost more of an interlude if we didn’t put a bunch of solos into it. It was too early to tell what exactly we were going to do with it, but for now he and I had to get our parts together or it wasn’t going anywhere.

“I’m worried about Christian,” I said to Bart after Charlie went to clean his valves or something. (No offense brass players but I find myself glad sometimes that I play an instrument that doesn’t collect saliva.)

“Yeah, I’m not sure what to do with him, though. He kind of started to date this woman he met in rehab, then got cold feet or it didn’t work, I’m not sure, and he just doesn’t know what to do with himself. He was volunteering at some youth center for a little while but now he’s not even doing that.”


“Because people kept trying to sell him drugs outside the building,” Bart said with a shrug.


“That reminds me to ask George if we could add to the headcount.”

“You thinking of bringing Chris along?”

“Why not? Remo’s got a habit of picking up strays. I know he’ll say yes. But I would rather the actual crew head approved of it. This crew is huge, though. Huge.”

Bart looked around. “I noticed. Nomad doesn’t travel light anymore?”

“I guess not. I was talking to Louis the other night and he was saying, yeah, things have really ballooned. But the venues are all huge too–we played a stadium that seated forty thousand last week! They don’t mess around. They build the entire stage and tear it down each place, not just the light rig.” I felt tired just talking about it and it wasn’t even my job. “I’ll go find him.”

I didn’t find George, but I did find Courtney and Carynne, who had carpooled, and they introduced me to a couple more people whose names and connections I immediately forgot.

The show that night was great. Really great. Remo, for all his worrying, was just as spurred to take his performance to the top as everyone else, and he couldn’t help himself. Who could? Everyone on that stage was a top notch performer and they’d go wherever we led them. Wherever I led them. Whatever. I was riding the waves of energy from the crowd, drawing out endings, playing musical games with Martin and Alex and Remo. I imagined I could hear Louis laughing whenever we pulled a fake ending and he had to hit the spots one more time.

It was glorious. That night the party was in Hartford, since we were at the same venue two nights in a row, and it seemed like anyone who was anyone in the New England music scene was there. I suppose that was because it was a Friday night and maybe the promoter had a lot of connections, I don’t know. I recall talking to some deejays from Boston I had met before but didn’t really know. Carynne worked the room. I worked a Sam Adams, trying to take it easy after the night before, refilling the bottle with seltzer water each time I finished it.

Court and I ended up sitting together on some folding chairs in a hallway next to a boombox playing a cassette of The Supremes, while she told me about school and we picked apart what we knew about Trent Reznor’s fight with his record company (she knew a lot more than I did). And then Fran came down the hallway singing along to “Baby Love” and I started singing with her, and the next thing you know half a dozen of us were singing along. That’s just how it goes.

I waited until we were in the bus back to Worcester to check in with Remo. He was sitting in the back lounge reading a newspaper folded back like a commuter. “Hey, what’d you think of tonight?”

“Aces,” he said, and looked up from the paper, then held it out to me.

It was a concert review in the ProJo, of one of the Worcester shows, raving about the “revitalized lineup” and “fresh, sharp approach to the songs, so familiar yet excitingly new.” It ended with an exhortation and a lament: “Go see this band now, before they quit touring on such a grand scale.”

I handed it back with a shrug. “Glad they like it.”

“That’s all you, you know.”

“It’s not all me and you know it. You write the songs, you put the band together and have kept them together. You make the sound, the tone, the aesthetic. Me? I’m just a cog in the machine.” I stretched and touched the low ceiling in this section of the bus with my fingertips.

“You’re the Energizer Bunny is what you are,” he said with a chuckle. “You have fun seeing your people?”

“Yeah. Kinda weird to sleep in my own bed, though.” I cracked my jaw and neck. I did not think about Colin. Yeah, right. “Did George talk to you about my housemate, Chris?”

“Oh, you know, he mentioned. What do you think, Dar’? I’m all for us bringing this guy on unless it’s going to end up a situation where you’re babysitting him.”

“I don’t think I’ll be babysitting him.”

“All right.”

When I got back to the room Flip was nowhere to be found. I tried calling the number Ziggy had left again, and this time it rang and rang with no answer. I tried paging him.

No call had come back by the time we checked out in the morning. By then it was Saturday, our last date in New England. We got everything into buses and played the show in Hartford, then headed straight for Michigan, an 11-hour drive. It was a good show–a great show, actually. In the end, Chris did not come with us and I did not hear why.

Late that night, in the middle of Pennsylvania, I couldn’t sleep, and I was doing the thing I like to do, which is fuss around pulling in local radio stations on my not-Walkman just to hear what there is to hear. Nowadays so many radio stations are owned by the same national companies like ClearChannel they don’t sound that different from place to place, but back then, when radio deejays actually still picked music–or at least a local program director–you could hear a lot of weird and different stuff.

I was scanning through the dial when I tuned in a station that was just on the edge of range and the hair stood up on the back of my neck because I heard Ziggy’s voice. It was a song I’d never heard before. Please let us be getting closer to this station and not further, I prayed. The song was something Jordan had produced. I could hear that. Ziggy’s voice was very upfront in the mix, like he’d sung quietly into the mic but had been mixed really high: the effect was like he was right there singing into my ear.

Except he was fading out. Static was eating away the sound. I could barely make out the instruments at all. Underneath all the synths I thought I could make out a guitar that sounded a lot like mine and I wondered who he had doing that now. The chorus had just begun to pump, something about breaking chains, when I lost the station completely.

I didn’t sleep at all that night.

(This week ctan is on the road to Book Expo America, the Lambda Literary Awards, and the Bisexual Book Awards! And then she gets off the road for a couple of weeks!)


    • daron says:

      You’ll note I tried calling him. Twice.

      • s says:

        I did note that…and it made me smile, even if it was a bust this time, too. I just want you to be happy, or something that resembles it. And Ziggy, too. (Sorry I gave you such a hard time…)

        Also, I’m glad Remo isn’t still acting weird, and that the tour is going great. I also noticed you deflect compliments even better than I do. LOL

  • chris says:

    i was doing just fine till the end…then i wanted to cry…

  • Stacey says:

    well, that raised some goosebumps! Those middle-of-the-night radio moments are eerie enough, and this one feels like a missed connection.

    • ctan says:

      I almost feel like the relationship to popular music is changing, these days, because so much now is on demand and what is on the radio or even satellite radio is so devoid of mystery. For generations the music that came over the airwaves represented some kind of alternate life that the other half was living, and if you could only figure it out or find it you could eventually find your people, your tribe, somewhere out there. The Internet makes it a lot simpler to find one’s tribe — do people still have this sense that the life they wish they could live is just over the hill or just beyond some misty veil, if only they could get through it?

      • Stacey says:

        I don’t know – but you’ve accurately and poetically summed up what it was like growing up in a smallish city/town that had exactly four English-language radio stations (easy listening, oldies, top 40, and classic rock) in the late 80s/early 90s. Oh, and the college station, which was so underpowered that even at my parents’ house, 1.5 miles away, it was a chancy listen.

        On the classic rock station, there was a guy who had a show on Sundays, something like 10pm – 2am, called Fear of Music. My friends and I used to stay up as late as we could manage, because that’s where we heard “our” music. I would put in cassettes and leave them running on ‘record’; I had my boombox right behind my pillow on my bed so I’d hear the tape end and wake up to flip it over! This was how I heard Depeche Mode’s “101” end to end for the first time… to say nothing of things like Skinny Puppy and Einsturzende Neubaten, which I’ve probably misspelled.

        I’ve rambled, sorry – but yes. Music is how we identified our tribe, and it’s strange to me that my daughter’s generation (she’s nearly 13) doesn’t seem to use it that way, or not like we did. How do they know who “their” people are?

        • ctan says:

          Rambling is approved. 🙂

          They find their people through Google and social media and forum sites and fansites. Subcultures (and fandoms) still exist but the connections can happen so many more ways. We’ve lost most of the gay bookstores, goth bars, and weird radio of my youth but I can’t say that’s a bad thing when part of why those institutions are in decline is that people don’t *need* them to be a lifeline anymore. There are other sources, other ways.

          Daron’s life would have been drastically different, I think, if there had been the Internet. His search for his place in the world would have been different.

          People’s search for themselves, though, that’s still the same inside, I think. You can look at the goth kids and the genderqueer folks and the [fill in blank here] and still not know where you fit.

      • Bill Heath says:

        “do people still have this sense that the life they wish they could live is just over the hill or just beyond some misty veil, if only they could get through it?”

        Yes. I wrote a book about it. I doubt I’ll ever publish it – the tale follows a bright but otherwise average young man from eighteen into his early thirties. I go back and noodle with it occasionally, which lets me visit the universe I wish I had inhabited.

  • Bonnie says:

    I think Ziggy’s is like the snatch of a catchy song you can’t quite hear on the radio and he likes it that way. He’s mostly comfortable when he can control the relationship and flirtatiously dole out little glamorized pieces of himself to a large group of people in such a way that he’ll be attractive to them. What freaks him out is that Daron calls for something completely opposite from that – intimacy with a single person where he can’t necessarily be in control. Part of him really wants it but it’s really unfamiliar and scary for him.

    • daron says:

      He’s mostly comfortable when he can control the relationship and flirtatiously dole out little glamorized pieces of himself


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