It was full-on rush hour when we got to the New York metro area, and getting down to Ziggy’s place in lower Manhattan took over an hour. When the limo dropped us off at last, I was feeling slightly car sick and I just wanted to lie down.
I did that while Ziggy made some phone calls. He took the phone into the office and closed the door, I guess so he wouldn’t disturb me? Or maybe so he could talk about me. I don’t know. For an otherwise uneventful five-hour car ride, given how little we had spoken, it had felt like an emotional rollercoaster. I didn’t even know how I felt: up, down, or turned around.
Lying down wasn’t helping. I got out a frosted strawberry Pop Tart and turned on MTV. I stood in front of the TV screen while eating it.
The Freddie news was all over MTV, of course. That was when I learned the details: he’d announced he had AIDS the other night, the night Ziggy and I were busy having a fight (and making up). And then 24 hours later–while we were talking to Colin–he’d passed. Freddie and Queen had kept his illness a secret–or at least out of the media.
I felt strangely exposed by hearing Kurt Loder say the word “gay” aloud, on television. It wasn’t a word you heard on TV much at that time. He also said Freddie was infamous for holding multi-day long “parties.” He didn’t use the word “orgies” but you could hear it unspoken, you know?
My mind was full of questions. Had the band known about Freddie’s illness or had it been hidden from them, too? For that matter, how had they handled Freddie being so very flamboyant for all those years? I couldn’t wrap my mind around it. Did the press not ask about it or did they get tired of asking about it after a while? Or was it just that once upon a time they didn’t bother to ask about that kind of thing, but in the age of AIDS they most certainly would? Was it different in Britain?
A Queen video came on after the report. I stood there, thinking.
By then I wasn’t as naïve as I had once been. By then I knew there were plenty of gay rock musicians, that I wasn’t alone, and that it wasn’t something new. But I still didn’t know how people handled it. I tried to imagine. If I was straight, how would I have handled my lead singer holding infamous orgies?
Ziggy’s actual tour orgies seemed suddenly rather tame.
And the emotional upset I’d been feeling had been swept away by my thoughts. Someone dying was a hell of a lot bigger problem than my lover being snarky at me. I didn’t own a single Queen album but thinking about Freddie being gone–gone–was extremely sobering.
Ziggy came out to hang up the phone and then brushed the Pop Tart crumbs off my flannel shirt. “Are you going to go dressed like that?”
“I guess it is in fashion now,” he said with a sigh. “Bernard’s coming over to do my hair and makeup. We should go as soon as we’re ready.”
When Bernard arrived, he took one look at me and said, “Oh my god, you look so much better.”
“Better than what?”
“Than you did two months ago, darling. Well, except for this.” He held up the ends of my hair, which were long and split. “You want a trim?”
“Hey,” Ziggy protested. “You’re here for me, Bern.”
Bernard made an indignant noise in the back of his throat. “Don’t worry, Little Miss Impatient. I haven’t forgotten you.”
They soon started the process to bleach out a stripe of Ziggy’s hair. While the chemicals were setting in Ziggy’s hair, Bernard spritzed mine and combed it out in preparation for trimming the ends. “You want some fresh extensions? I’ve still got the red ones, you know…”
“I liked those.”
“Done. Sit still.” A short while later I had some fresh, fire-engine red extensions lurking in my hair, and he trimmed the ends to be less ratty. Then a bit of blow drying to give me that shampoo-commercial look: shiny and silky and all that. We left it that way. Why mess that up with goop or mousse?
While Bernard turned his attention back to Ziggy, I leafed through an issue of SPIN from the mail that had piled up while we’d been on the road. The phone on the wall by the fridge rang and I went to answer it.
“D & Z Mortuary. You nab ’em, we slab ’em.”
“Tony! Where are you?” I was genuinely happy to hear his voice.
“In the car downstairs. There’s nowhere to pull up right now, not even at the hydrant, so I’m going to circle around if you’re not ready.”
“Hang on.” I asked Ziggy how long he thought it would be. “His highness says maybe ten minutes.”
“Okay. I’m going to go grab a slice.”
“Get one for me, too. No, wait, I’ll come with you.” I relayed this plan of action to Ziggy and Bernard, who were doing Ziggy’s eyes at that point, and then skipped out the door.
I got in the front seat with Tony and gave him a one-armed, across-the-seat hug. “How’s things?”
“Not bad. Pretty boring without you guys in town. I’m bouncing a couple nights a week and helping out my mom. More important, how are you doing?”
“I am not more important,” I reminded him.
“No, but you are the one who most recently was playing birdman and seeing doctors,” he reminded me back. “So.”
“True. Things are going okay, I guess? I’m still seeing a lot of doctors, but, you know. It’s the boring therapy stage, both physical and mental.”
He pulled away from the building as another car came up behind us. “How long you in town for? My brother’s a PT if you need to see one while you’re here.”
“That was the brother who was a football player, right?”
“Yeah. The one bigger than me.”
“It’s just my fingers that need exercising. I don’t think I need a big guy for that.”
“Okay, just saying in case.” He blathered on for a bit to catch me up. His other brother, or half-brother, the skinny one who was a musician, had spent the summer at some kind of summer boot camp and now he was at a vo-tech college learning sound engineering, and his mom was doing some kind of Christmas seasonal business. She was trying to get Tony to go to craft fairs. “Don’t get me wrong, but I just don’t think six-foot-two, two-fifty says ‘artsy craftsy,’ you know?”
I had sort of spaced out on what exactly she was making and selling but I guessed it was, well, something artsy craftsy. “But she wants you to do it because then she can do twice as many shows?”
“Yeah. ‘I can’t be two places at once,'” he said, in what I guessed was a mimic of his mother. “The real problem is these things start early in the morning on weekends, and of course those are my big money nights bouncing, which are real late nights.”
“She knows that, right?”
“Yeah. I keep telling her I’m not the son she should be tapping for this duty. Maybe after I fall asleep at the table and don’t sell a goddamned thing she’ll get the message?” He shrugged and pulled the car up to a hydrant at the corner by a pizza joint that sold by the slice through a window onto the sidewalk.
“Pepperoni?” I asked, one foot already out the door.
“Aw, no, boss, you–”
“Too late,” I said, and stepped out onto the curb. I mean, come on, it made no sense for me to sit in the car while he got out, right? The driver should stay with the vehicle. I had cash in my pockets as usual (though not as much as I would’ve while on tour), paid for two slices, and took them on paper plates back to the car.
We sat there with the blinkers on eating them, and for a minute I forgot why we were in the city. Then I remembered. The car phone rang.
Tony answered it. “We’re a couple blocks away,” he said. “We’ll come around to the door. Stay in the vestibule until you see me pull up.” After he hung up he looked at me seriously. “You better move to the back now. I don’t want to get hung up with the doors open.”
“Tony. There’s no need to be paranoid.”
He shook his head. “My job, as your resident security expert, is to be paranoid. Lennon got gunned down right outside his apartment building, remember?”
I remembered. I moved to the back seat without any more argument.
All I can think as I’m reading this arc is “The Show Must Go On” from Innuendo. Which is one of my favorite songs and makes my heart ache every time, as well.
I thought Innuendo was a gay Italian trapeze act.
Yeah, I have a long list of Queen but I pick those songs so sparingly because they hit so hard. Speaking of which, 2 Cellos did a version of “The Show Must Go On” which is really dark…
It’s good and bad when someone blurts out that you look a lot better than you did a few months ago!
I know, right?