When I returned to Boston it was definitely winter, not fall, anymore. Christian handed me the cassette tape from the answering machine. “There’s a ton of calls on here,” he said. “I had to put another tape in the machine.”
I sat in my room with the phone, returning most of them the first day I was back. I sat on the floor with a notebook for writing down people’s numbers, and played the messages back on my Walkman. Landlord, telemarketers… one was from Carynne with her new number saying congrats on the Spin cover and if we needed a road manager to call her. Hmm. Two from Patty Marshfield at BNC, but she didn’t say about what. One call from a local promoter about a Christmas fundraising show. Two from a local radio station about the same show. A couple from miscellaneous club bookers asking me to call them. One from the asshole music publisher we’d blown off long ago who didn’t seem to grasp from the article that we didn’t need his services. Some from random publications looking for press kits who should have known to call BNC, not me. Two New York booking agencies. And an inordinately large number of hang-ups. Serial killers? Wrong numbers? Fans? It seemed an awful lot of people had seen the article and wanted on to the bandwagon.
The first person I called was Ziggy. He wasn’t home. I left a message on his machine that we were picking up rehearsing tomorrow afternoon.
Then I called Carynne and the promoter. By the end of the day we were slated to be one of four featured bands at the annual Jingle Bell Rock Festival at the Orpheum to raise money for homeless shelters across the city for the winter. The program director of the radio station called me to thank me for being on the bill and I told him no thanks were necessary if they played Candlelight a lot this month… only half joking.
By the time I talked to Patty, Mills had already heard about the Orpheum gig, and was preparing a special “holiday” version of the Candlelight video. When I asked her what would be different she said she didn’t know–“maybe more candles.” Okay, sure, whatever. She also asked if we’d made any new demos yet, as if we were supposed to have done so already. I told her we were still rehearsing and she told me Mills would call me tomorrow. Okay.
I kept wondering if Ziggy was going to call back and trying to imagine what I was going to say to him if he did. That we should stop “seeing each other”? That had a ridiculous ring to it I couldn’t imagine saying aloud. I hadn’t come up with anything by dinner time. Christian and I walked to the Vietnamese soup shop a few blocks from our place while I told him about LA and such. We rented some action films on the way home and stayed up watching them ’til two or so, when we went to our rooms and I went to sleep half-wondering if I’d hear a tapping at my window or not.
The next day Bart arrived first and we ran through what we had thus far. Including “Way of Life” and “Windfall,” five tunes were more-or-less complete and half a dozen good candidates were partially written. I told him and Christian about the Christmas benefit, and about how BNC were getting anxious for a tape.
Ziggy came down the stairs about an hour later, a wool sailor’s cap on his head and bundled into a green army fatigue jacket. He pulled off his gloves and then the cap to reveal his hair freshly-streaked with blond. “Hi,” he said, not looking at me. “What are we doing?”
“Running through what we have,” Bart said. “Are you warmed up?”
Ziggy shrugged and plugged a microphone in for himself. “Let’s do it.”
Once we’d gone through the songs that were done, Ziggy took a piece of notebook paper out of his pocket. “Tell me what you think of this,” he said, handing it to me.
“What is it?” I was looking at a lyric sheet, obviously.
“It’s for that flamingo thing.”
“What flamingo…” I looked up at him and could see he was baiting me. I couldn’t stop myself from saying “You mean flamenco,” even though I knew he was pulling my leg.
The song I’d thought of as “Midnight” he’d named “Intensive Care.” I was all ready to get my hackles up and brandish the demo tape I’d made, except for one thing, which was… I started reading the lyrics.
Most lyrics look stupid written out, but these didn’t. My typical writing method was to write a bunch and then cross out anything that induced a cringe in either me or any other band member. The result was sometimes cryptic songs, other times the gaps were filled in by the others, more often Ziggy than not. The words on the page married some vivid medical and surgical images with a theme of a relationship gone wrong. I couldn’t find a single line that I wanted to cut. If the melody was as strong, the song would be a piece of fucking genius.
I passed the sheet to Chris. “Let’s try it.”
I mean, of course there was a part of me that felt robbed, a control freak piece that was all het up about what I’d wanted to do with the song. But hey, I wasn’t stupid. The song was fucking genius, and I felt a tingle go through me every time he rounded the chorus as we played it through. One of these days, soon, people would be singing it along with their radios, if Mills saw things my way. As we played the song through I exchanged looks with Bart and Chris who nodded. This one was a keeper.
We worked on it for a few more hours until my stomach complained and I asked what time it was.
Chris looked at his watch. “Shit, it’s nine o’clock already.”
“Food,” Bart said, putting his bass down.
We had a few pizzas delivered and sat around in the living room eating and making small talk. Everyone seemed to be taking my sudden trip to LA in stride and if they weren’t going to say anything, I sure as hell wasn’t. And Ziggy didn’t give me any weird looks or attitude which I took to mean we had a truce and didn’t press the issue. We discussed the Jingle Bell show and decided to get a better rehearsal space to prepare for it, hopefully some place where we could record Mills a demo, too. Chris took on the duty of researching some places we could move into right away. We adjourned when Bart took off and Chris went to return the movies we’d rented the night before.
Ziggy put his coat on. “Could you give me my hat?”
I picked his hat up off the couch and handed it to him.
His eyes caught mine then, and his fingers pulled along the stubble under my chin, until he was kissing me. He broke away and nodded goodbye, a gust of cold air hitting me in his wake as the door closed. And I was left trying to remember if I’d ever kissed a man that I wasn’t about to fuck or had just done. The doorway was cold and I went to my room, anger and lust and more subtle and difficult emotions battling with one another. I put my headphones on to keep the neighbors sane and didn’t hear Christian come home or the phone ring or anything but drums and bass and guitar and sometimes the beating of my own heart.