I met Jordan for that drink while Ziggy went to a training session of some kind that he didn’t want to skip. He didn’t say whether it was voice or dance or something else and I didn’t ask. My hands itched a little because now it had been two whole days (three?) since I’d played the guitar and it felt unnatural. I told this to Jordan as the bartender walked away to make our drinks.
“I might have a cure for your itch,” Jordan said. “I have a kind of emergency situation.”
“How big an emergency?”
“An indie filmmaker I went to school with, good friend of mine–my brother from another mother you might say–is doing this punk film, already got booked into some of the film festivals, and now he’s panicking because everything related to music is going to hell in a handbasket.”
“Tell me something I don’t know.” We were in some ultra-hip kind of place, the kind that made me feel like it was part of the set of a science fiction movie. They served the same old bourbons and scotches as everywhere else, though.
Jordan laughed. “I meant, everything relating to music on the film. For example, he’d been counting on getting permission to use a couple of actual Sex Pistols songs for his opening and closing credits music and turns out he can’t get the license after all. Not at any price. And he recorded the actors playing some originals–well, more like he cast a punk band as the actors in this thing–and turns out his sound recording was shit and there’s a bunch of stuff they can’t use, and you get the idea.”
“Okay, where do I come into this story?”
“I played him that demo of ‘Sex With An Ex’ over the phone and he fucking loved it.”
“And we’re at the point where to fix all his problems what I really need is you and the guys to re-record it for real, plus a handful of other songs. And I need it done yesterday.”
I skipped saying yes and went right to logistics: “Would tomorrow do? I’ll call them but something tells me the soonest everyone could get here would be tomorrow.”
“Or what about we go up there and record it in your basement with my equipment? Or at that place we recorded 1989. That would be perfect, too.”
I froze up for a second, stuck on the question I needed to ask. Spit it out, spit it out. “What about Ziggy?”
“What about hi–oh, you mean what do you tell him if we’re suddenly going to skip town?”
“Daron. Ziggy may be a neurotic nougat center inside a manic candy shell, but he understands work.” He sipped whatever he was drinking. “If you want, I’ll tell him. Or, hell, ask him to tag along wherever we end up.”
“Okay, let me make some calls.” I got up and went to the pay phone by the restroom and called Carynne, which was the right thing to do because she immediately took over calling everyone else. Voila. I made sure my pager was on and we went back to finishing our drinks. We didn’t even have to rush to Jordan’s to await phone calls since people could just page us. See, it really was like a science fiction movie. It meant a couple of times the little box in my pocket beckoned me to make a call for an update or to answer a question but it also meant that by the time we met up with Ziggy a couple hours later everything had been decided: we were staying in New York and Bart, Chris, and Colin were on their way in the van.
Ziggy was amused by the whole thing. By midnight the guys had arrived. I think if the soundproofing at Jordan’s loft had been better we would have just started recording right then, but he had neighbors he was trying to be nice to. So instead we had an impromptu sleepover party, although actually Ziggy and I snuck back to Ziggy’s to sleep in a real bed and have some quality time together. Quality time. That’s my new euphemism for sex.
We had some more quality time the next morning and then Ziggy declared he was going back to sleep and I went to the studio.
Jordan had a pot of coffee going in the studio–same one in Tribeca where I’d worked with him a lot before–and laid out the basic problem. “This demo of ‘Sex with an Ex’ is too good. We need it to sound a lot rougher, like a self-taught punk band from Detroit is playing it.”
“Oh that’s easy, Trav,” Bart said. “Put Colin on guitar, me on drums, Chris on bass, and Daron, you sing.”
“Brilliant,” Jordan declared.
“Wait,” I said. “I can’t sing this.”
Jordan gave me a look. “You nailed it on the first take of the demo, remember?”
“In fact, we might be able to use your original vocal track. But something tells me it’ll be better if you all play together and we capture that.”
I really couldn’t make any coherent objection to singing, then, could I? I mean, I could refuse and sit there with my thumb up my butt and they could use my voice anyway, but that seemed utterly pointless. It wasn’t like this was a real thing, right? So I shut up and the first thing we did was lay down that track. It felt weird standing there at a microphone with no guitar. I worried I didn’t sound right and then remembered, duh, I was supposed to sound like a rank amateur. In fact if anything the problem was still that I was being too smooth. Jordan finally emptied a nip of Jim Beam and some cream into a cup of warm coffee, made me drink it in one go and then sing it again with my voice at its absolute roughest: perfect.
We quickly wrote half a dozen other punk-esque songs and had recorded them by dinner time. I’m not kidding, it was that quick. They were only two minutes long–you know, punk songs–but it was fun to write some stuff that was direct and used really direct words like “love” and “hate” and acting like none of it mattered since it wasn’t a “real” band or a “real” record.
Jordan took the group of us out to dinner. I called Ziggy to see if he wanted to join in. He wasn’t picking up the phone at the apartment and he didn’t answer a page. After we ate we went back to the studio to clean up a couple little things and record a few alternate takes to be on the safe side.
And then Jordan said, “Hey, I’ve got the place booked tonight and tomorrow, too. If there’s anything else you want to record. Hint hint, I saw the cello case you were carrying, Bart.”
The next thing you know me and Bart and Christian were laying down tracks. Remember when we messed around in the basement right after Bart had first started with the cello–or right after I first heard it, anyway? Chris went back and forth between keyboards and various percussion, including looping himself playing, and I played the Ovation and Bart the cello. And a bunch of things that had been essentially on the back burner since then musically suddenly boiled over, and the things Bart and I had worked on a little in Maryland, and a pretty big backlog of lyrics and epiphanies and shit that had been clogging up my brain for a while all came out in an epic rush.
We didn’t sleep that night. Or any of the next day unless you count a couple of little cat naps I took while Christian was working on loops with Jordan or what have you. Colin went out to retrieve food every couple of hours and even made sure I ate a little, though I felt like I didn’t need it. It was like being on acid, plugged into a larger universe and feeling like the energy came from all over. I let my instincts take over and I shut down any thoughts questioning why we were doing this or whether it made sense or if it was going to create trouble.
Wait, I think it might have been two nights we didn’t sleep. The second night different people napped at different times but not me and not Jordan.
I was on fire. We all were. It wasn’t just me. It was the way the three of us clicked–four, really, because Jordan was so much a part of making it happen. I felt alive. I felt as if something extraordinary were happening and I knew better than to mess that up. Go with the flow. Let go. Pick your battles.
You know what I didn’t worry about? I didn’t worry about what fucking category the music was. I knew perfectly well it wasn’t something neatly marketable and maybe that was what drove me even more to do it. To grab this chance.
I’m probably not describing it well, but it’s like trying to describe a drug trip. Time didn’t move the way it normally does and I don’t have a linear sense of what happened when. I remember flashes and moments: the sound of the Ovation fading like the echoes of a bell having rung, a cup of slippery elm tea to try to get my voice to hang in for one more take at dawn, Christian’s hair pulled back in a pony tail so fluffy and curly it bounced when he moved his head in time with the music.
The closest we came to talking about the business was when Bart said at one point, “Trav, how do you want to work it if we release this as an indie label EP or something?”
“What do you mean?” Jordan asked.
“I mean, paying you. Your upfront fee can’t be cheap.”
“Pay me later,” Jordan said. “Or pay me in points if you don’t mind me having a piece.”
He meant percentage points: royalties. “Sure,” I said, and that was as much as I said on the subject.
Ziggy finally showed up late on the second night after we’d mostly finished. I’d left him a couple of messages that might have been less than coherent. The sight of him was like a visitation from an angel. I told you it was like tripping, right? I pulled him against me and breathed in the scent of him.
“You want to hear what we’ve been up to?” I asked.
Ziggy eyed the cello and the Octopad sitting in the other side of the glass. “This doesn’t look like a punk record.”
“We’re onto something else.” I blinked as he put a hand against my cheek and his thumb soothed my temple. “I can’t even describe it and that’s what’s great about it.”
He sat down on the couch in the narrow control room and I lay down with my head on his thigh and the music started to play.
I fell asleep. I’d been awake for some stupidly large number of hours at that point and the cello is soothing even when the song isn’t.
When I came to, I could feel Ziggy’s fingers in my hair, combing it over and over. All was quiet. I opened my eyes.
His were wet. “That was fucking beautiful,” he said. “Fucking beautiful.”
It seemed like we were alone. “Where did everybody go?”
“The moon,” he answered. “You sent them to the moon.”
(Bart’s story posts tomorrow!)