678. Red Red Wine

Delmonico’s was a classic New York restaurant of some repute, apparently. I had kind of thought so from the name but with Ziggy it was hard to predict if he wanted to go somewhere obscure and out of the way or ritzy and exclusive or high profile where we’d “see and be seen.” This was ritzy but low profile enough no one bothered us. We had steak and red wine and it was great.

The conversation was far-reaching. I got the feeling one thing Ziggy liked about Jonathan was that no subject was too intellectually challenging for him. Even if Jonathan didn’t know jack shit about something he’d still engage about it instead of shutting it down, so we talked about New York politics and the history of the Met and philosophers I’d heard of but knew nothing about like Nietzche and Santayana (do I have that name right?). Ziggy had been reading philosophy books, apparently, though he didn’t seem to agree or disagree with them in particular. And Jung. He’d been reading Carl Jung. A lot of the time I just listened to them talk instead of trying to keep up. It was more interesting that way because I could absorb more of it, and they both knew I was happier not being forced to talk if I didn’t have anything to say, anyway.

But we always came back to talking about the music industry, or music, somehow.

“Okay, something else I’ve been wanting to ask you,” Ziggy said at one point when we were still in the middle of eating. “I’m assuming all you rock and roll writers know each other.”

Jonathan laughed. “It’s a small world, but not that small. What’s the question?”

“Is J.D. Considine a total ass or what?”

“What?” I had to interrupt there, I just had to. “Because of the review?”

“Yes, because of the review.” Ziggy crossed his arms.

“When did you find out about that?”

“Bart told me at the Cat Club. He said you were really upset.”

“I am not really upset,” I insisted, somewhat too vehemently to seem accurate. “The guy’s entitled to his opinion. He’s wrong, totally missing the point, but he’s still entitled to it.”

“Which review is this?” J asked.

“A ‘Short Take’ in Musician,” I said. “Honestly, it’s not worth thinking about.”

J shrugged. “Even a bad review means you got their attention, though.”

“That’s what I’ve been telling myself, anyway.”

Around dessert J said, “Did you guys hear about this crazy thing they did at SPIN?”

“Which crazy thing?”

“I’m a little sorry I was on book sabattical when it happened, but Guccione made all the staff writers meet him at the airport and he gave each of them a ticket to somewhere with the assignment ‘Find the soul of rock and roll.'”

Ziggy laughed. “Wait, what? Where did he send them?”

“Places like Alaska and the heartland of America and so on,” J said. “Apparently he got the idea while watching the Grammies in January and feeling like rock was dead.”

“Rock is dead,” I said suddenly. “The way things are right now? They’ve killed it. This entire industry is choking to death on formula and packaging and resting on their past successes. The albums suck, the songs suck, the radio sucks. It all sucks.”

“Quit beating around the bush, Daron, and tell us how you really feel,” Ziggy deadpanned as he licked some kind of chocolate passionfruit cake off a spoon.

“I’m serious. I’ve been all over this fucking country in the past few months. I’ve listened to every radio station. It’s all garbage right now. All the new albums from previously great artists are watery re-treads and you know that’s not the fault of the bands, it’s the record company not letting them take any chances. It’s not Jordan’s fault or the producers, either. It’s everyone just covering their ass so they can keep snorting coke and making money. And if they don’t make money they can’t get blamed. Considine is right! That’s what’s fucking bothering him. It’s not that my album is ‘lacking edge’–it’s that everyone is fucking lacking edge right now. They’ve taking the cutting edge and dulled it right down to a damn butter knife.” I may have waved my butter knife at that point. “Carynne and I went to a show in San Francisco, saw three bands whose names I don’t even remember, and it was great. Don’t fucking tell me people have just stopped making rock and roll or that they don’t want it anymore. It’s that corporate America isn’t interested.”

J was nodding. “I went to a lot of shows while I was out and about. There’s a lot going on out there in the underground. But that was Bob’s point about sending the writers out there, I guess. What’s reaching the so-called mainstream is really dull. But the real stuff is out there.”

I realized my hands were shaking. I wasn’t angry at either of the men sitting there with me but I didn’t know what to do with myself now that I’d gotten so worked up. There was still the remains of a bottle of wine sitting there and I poured it into my glass and shut up again for a while.

Ziggy suggested we go dancing to work off the meal, but J claimed jet lag. We dropped him off with many blessings and then Tony turned the limo back toward downtown.

Ziggy curled up against me like a cat. “Are you all right?” he asked as we rode in the darkness.

“I’m fine.”

“I was nice to him, wasn’t I?”

I put my arm around him and pulled him close. “Yes, you were.”

“So the fact that you’re plunging into a really black mood probably isn’t my fault.”

God, Ziggy’s whole honestly thing was really smacking me upside the head regularly, wasn’t it? I tried to tread carefully. “Is that’s what’s happening? I’m plunging into a black mood?”

“Isn’t that what it feels like? Like you’re on an elevator straight to hell and you can’t get out?”

My throat closed and my eyes pricked with tears. That wasn’t a description of my mood so much as the way I felt about the music industry in general right then–like they were making it the nicest, fanciest gilded elevator possible but no one but me seemed to realize it was plummeting, and hitting the buttons didn’t make it stop.

His voice was dead serious. “Or is the hell inside you?”

He wasn’t taunting me, he was trying to be serious and insightful. I think. But somehow he was pushing my buttons so hard I had to grab him to make him stop. Like one second I was trying to pull him against me harder, to cuddle him as hard as I could (if that makes sense) and then the next second I had a fistful of his shirt and my fingernails digging into his shoulder.

And my eyes were shut. I opened them. “Give me a second.”

I counted the breaths…three, four, five…loosened my grip.

“I’m here,” he said.

When the moment finally passed I said, “I’m all right.”

“I’m not sure you are, but I appreciate you’re calmer.” He kissed me on the forehead and I felt soothed by it. Centered. “Tomorrow let’s do something with no connection to the industry.”

“Like what?”

“Art museum? Somewhere quiet, where you can hear your own thoughts.”

“Okay.”

Funny he should put it that way. That was what I felt like later, after we’d gone back to the apartment, after we’d made love, after I’d woken up two hours into sleeping, after I’d tiptoed out of bed so I didn’t wake him and got a beer from the fridge and sat in the window watching the dawn turn the dark streets gray. Sitting there, I could hear my thoughts.

My thoughts were telling me there were seriously terrible things going on in my industry/career/world but they weren’t telling me what to do about it.

Hanging on for survival was the only thing I knew how to do.


(Mini-liner note: I know Daron’s been complaining about how terrible the state of popular music was in late-1990/early-1991 for about a hundred chapters now. It’s sadly all true. I’d forgotten about the SPIN Magazine thing mentioned in this chapter, though, until just recently when they re-posted some of the classic articles from their archives.

“The idea was inspired by watching the eye-bleeding tedium of the Grammys,” wrote Bob Guccione recently. “I thought to my agonized self, before turning the broadcast off, this can’t be what it has come down to. I flipped channels and saw MTV, and the car and beer commercials using their faux, de-blooded rock music and knew that, in fact, this was what it had come down to. So the next day I told the editors and staff writers that we were going to go look for music’s soul. It was clearly in hiding — if not worse, extinguished.” So he sent writers to Alaska, Tulsa, Indianapolis, and even Richard Hell went the the Bad Lands to look for it. I recommend the articles for fun reading. They’re well-written and give context to what things were like at the time. -ctan)

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