And so it was that Remo got to hear the demo I’d made of “Midnight” before anyone in M3 did.
He picked me up at the airport and didn’t say much as he drove toward his house. I hadn’t told him anything about why I was here, only that I needed to get away for a while. But he knew there was something wrong at home—-on the phone he’d said something like “Just like the old days, eh?” and told me to come out right away.
We picked up some take-out on the way, fried chicken and biscuits, another old standard, and had eaten most of it before we even reached the house. The house itself was on a winding wide street. Like every house on the block it had a wall around the front yard and a gate into the driveway. I was betting other celebrities lived on this street but he didn’t bug me with tour guide patter.
Once there we settled down to shooting the shit on his back porch overlooking the lights of LA and drinking (me root beer, him bourbon, old habits die hard). He told me about two new guitars he’d bought, a new American-made Gibson from the top of the line, and a second-hand steel dobro he picked up in Tijuana last week. I told him about the new material and BNC bullshit politics and how they were stringing me along. He told me about the new stuff Nomad was planning for their next sessions.
And then we ran out of things to say and I stood there on a redwood deck in a city I’d wanted to follow him to years ago, not looking at him.
“Remo,” I started, but couldn’t finish.
Until this moment, I hadn’t been sure what I had come here to do, and now that I knew, I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
“It’s okay, kiddo,” he said.
“Don’t call me that.” Man, I sounded more defensive than I’d meant to. Kiddo was something Digger used to call me, they all used to call me. As in, hey kiddo, whadda ya say you wait in the car? Get me another beer, willya kiddo?
“Take it easy,” he said, all apologetic. “Alright. Daron. If you want to tell me what’s bugging you, I’m all ears.”
That was just like Remo, all straightforward and open. The way I wanted to be. But every time I opened my mouth I felt seasick, dizzy and nauseous. Maybe this was a mistake. “It’s band stuff. Getting along stuff. You know.”
He nodded and I tried not to imagine him thinking “poor fucked up mixed up kid…”
“That’s why I had to get away from them for a while. Get my head clear.” I looked into the empty glass in my hand and turned to face him. He sat in a redwood chair on the deck, the bottle of whiskey next to him. I took two steps to it and poured some into my glass. Remo never drank Jack Daniels or other mass produced stuff; he always went for single-malt scotch or small batch American bourbon. The bottle read Knob Creek, American. The first sip made me cough. “Vile stuff.”
“It is when you mix it with root beer,” he joked, but his face stayed serious.
“There’s just a lot going on,” I ventured. “Complicated.”
“You can tell me about it if you want.”
But I wasn’t sure that I could. I chewed my lip.
When I didn’t say anything, he did: “It’s you and Ziggy isn’t it.”
That really goosed me in the nads and I almost dropped the glass. But that didn’t mean anything, necessarily, that didn’t… “You could say that.”
Remo leaned forward. “Have you read that Spin article?”
Jeezus, that again? “No. Well, part of it. Not very much.”
“I also caught one in Music Time with Ziggy. Said you were sick.”
That day at the BNC offices. “Yeah.”
“You might want to have a look.”
I had no idea where he was leading this conversation. He stood up and walked to the railing, sipping the bourbon.
“I get the feeling,” he said, finally bringing it around, “that there’s a lot of tension between you two.”
“Me and Ziggy?”
“Who else? Hey, you said there was some complicated band shit going down. And I’ve read between the lines. Are you gonna fill me in?”
For one second I felt like this was Mr. Draper’s English class and I hadn’t read the book. My face must have been as red as a smog sunset. “It’s personal,” I managed.
Remo nodded, which I didn’t expect. “I know you’re having a hard time with this, Daron, but…” he turned and faced me, “I know you’ve never said anything before, but that doesn’t mean… ehhh…” he trailed off, unable to finish the sentence.
My heart pounded in my chest and my ears. “I never said anything before about what?” I’d come here to tell him, and here I was, suddenly terrified that he knew? Stupid. But I couldn’t stop the adrenalin from pumping through my veins. I took a step backward.
He held up his hands like he was trying to keep from spooking me, but I was spooked. I took another step backward. “What on Earth did those articles say about me?” Feeling like a nightmare was happening.
Remo said my name in a very soft voice. “Forget I mentioned them. Not really about them, not at all.” He was feeling as awkward as I was, I think. “Dammit, Daron, I’m trying to make this easy on you…”
I know. “I know.”
“…so let’s quit the fucking games.” His voice was still soft and quiet. “Matthew told me.”
I sat down on his back step hard and pressed my hands against my forehead. I had to be sure. “Matthew told you what?”
“About the two of you.”
“That bastard,” I said, but I didn’t really mean it. “He promised.” My knees felt weak and my stomach was still doing flip flops. I picked up the whiskey and took a swig. It burned. “How long have you known?”
He sat down next to me and swatted me on the knee. “Since you were a kid. I mean, I suspected it. And then, that night in Wisconsin… I’d forgotten about the time your pop belted you.”
I felt cold then. “Jeezusgod, do you think he knows?”
“I don’t know,” Remo answered. “That night, he surely thought something was up.”
I breathed out hard. “I knew I’d disappointed him and he turned on me because of it. You know what’s funny? That night, when I ran away, I made myself a promise. Claire was always on my case, telling me I was no good because I’d turn out just like him, and that night I decided I wasn’t going to be like him at all.”
“You’re not,” Remo said.
My hands shook. “But that’s the sick thing, isn’t it? I guess I figured that my aversion to women and all that twisted shit about expectations was me trying to get out from under Digger’s shadow. I figured one day some headshrinker would straighten me out and I’d be cured. But now you’re telling me you suspected it all along.”
“Not all along,” he said. “But certainly before that night. Sometimes.”
“What made you ask Matthew about it? I thought we were so careful.” My voice squeaked a little at the end there. Like me and Digger had been ‘careful’ about sneaking out?
Remo got up and retrieved the bottle from the foot of the chair. He chuckled a little. “He had to tell me. He didn’t want me thinking he was robbing the cradle.” He poured himself a healthy amount. “Before you came on the tour I’d told him you’d be helping out and the story of how I knew you and why I owed you a favor. One thing led to another and I got to speculating about why you were kind of mixed up and how bad I felt that I hardly knew you anymore.”
He sat down next to me again. “I’ve known Matthew’s gay for years,” he said, and my heart did a flip when he said the word ‘gay’. “I wondered if there was some way he could tell… about you.”
He didn’t look at me while he talked. He stared out at the lights and I tried to do the same.
“At first, he said he couldn’t tell. But then he began to think otherwise. And at some point… he told me he had solid evidence. He told me, you understand, because he wanted me to be aware of what was going on, didn’t want to seem like he was going behind my back. He was afraid of taking advantage of you, or of it seeming like he was taking advantage of you–”
“Ravishing your young protege.” I blushed furiously as I said it, even as a joke.
He chuckled. “He said he’d waited for you to make the first move.”
“I guess, maybe I did.”
“Your face is as red as the Russian flag.”
“I bet it is,” I said, looking at the bottom of my empty glass. Whiskey was like jet fuel in my system and I felt dizzy from the aftermath of pure terror, but at least it seemed the roller coaster was pulling in to the station. I’d survived. “You’re the first person I’ve told. I mean, other than Matthew.” And Ziggy and anyone else I’d slept with.
He gave a little nod and emptied his glass, too. Then he asked, “Is that what you flew three thousand miles to do?”
“No, I came three thousand miles to play your new Tijuana steel guitar.” I stood up and opened the sliding glass door, my knees still weak and my stomach churning, but my voice came out steady. “Let me show you some of what we’ve been working on.” He followed me into his own house toward his home studio. I wasn’t sure if I felt better, exactly, or if I’d just used up my supply of anxiety and nerves. My mind wanted something else to think about now, my hands wanted something to do, and I wanted to hear how my whiskey-numbed voice would sound.