Remo picked me and Ziggy up at the Memphis airport. He looked like hell.
“There’s a motel about a half mile from your sister’s place but there’s no vacancy,” he said. A light rain was falling, looking almost like snow in his headlights as the wind buffeted it around.
“Which sister is this?” Ziggy asked, from the back seat of the rental car. “Janice?”
“Janine,” Remo said, his voice more gravelly than usual.
“She’s the oldest?”
“Second.” Remo cleared his throat.
I got my tongue working finally. “Don’t be expecting them to be like Court. They’re carbon copies of my mother.”
“I’m not expecting anything,” Ziggy snapped, then softened. “How long until Court gets here?”
“Two weeks, I think?” The previous couple of days were already kind of hazy in my mind, the hurried purchase of plane tickets, a million phone calls back and forth to people about things, the sudden change of the tickets to a day earlier to try to get out of Boston before a snowstorm… “As soon as she’s done with exams.”
“I know it’s expensive to fly this close to Christmas–” Remo started to say.
“She’s already got her ticket,” I said, to forestall him offering to pay. “What were you saying about the motel being full?”
“Yeah, about that. I couldn’t even get a rollaway bed.” His eyes were on the road, his face showing no emotion, which for Remo meant he was holding it all in. “So I’m taking you to the house.”
“Janine’s house?” I asked, trying not to panic, or at least trying not to sound like I was in a panic. Well, I wasn’t. Yet.
“Yeah. Her ex-husband lives down the street and he’s got the kid for the weekend, so you two can sleep in there.”
“A boy. Landon. He’s a trooper.”
I took that to mean the kid didn’t cry much. “How old?”
“Five, I think. I haven’t seen that much of him. He’s been at his dad’s a lot.”
I tried to let that sink in, but something wasn’t absorbing about that. My sister had a child. That meant I was an uncle. And… “Holy shit, then Claire’s a grandmother now?”
Remo nodded gravely. We were on the highway by then. Traffic was very sparse this close to midnight. “Yep. Has been for a couple of years.”
“Wow. Courtney never mentioned.” I didn’t know if that was because I didn’t want to hear it, or if Claire didn’t want people to know, or what.
“Your mother is ripshit that I’m a new dad and she’s a grandma,” Remo said. “Hey, we better grab some chow before we get there.”
“Good idea.” The roadside signs advertised a Denny’s coming up at the next exit. I could almost taste a Moons Over My Hammy.
We didn’t talk much while we sat, ordered, and ate. Ziggy attracted a couple of curious looks from the waitresses, but they didn’t seem to outright recognize any of us. Ziggy was in stealth mode, but when you’re such a strikingly gorgeous man you’re going to turn some heads even if people don’t twig to the fact you’re famous.
One of the fry cooks did recognize Remo, though. We found out at the end of the meal, when he came out of the kitchen. He was a slim guy with a dark blond beard. “I’m so sorry to impose on you, sir,” he said, “but I was hoping you might be able to settle a bet between myself and a co-worker of mine and it sure seems likely you would know.”
“What’s the question, son?” Remo asked, a hint of a smile on his face.
“Uh, well, you see, you look a lot like a musician named Remo Cutler–”
The tired smile came out. “I am Remo Cutler.”
A loud “ha! I told you!” came from somewhere behind me–another worker was peeking out from the kitchen.
This led to Remo graciously autographing a couple of menus and things and shaking hands with the late-night crew before shuffling us back to the car.
“Smoothly done,” I said, as we pulled out of the parking lot.
Ziggy blew out a breath. “They didn’t even give me or Daron a second glance.”
“I got the feeling you wanted to keep things low key,” Remo said, as he pulled the car out of the parking lot. “I’m used to handling situations like that. I’ve never traveled with a lot of security or even much in the way of management.”
Ziggy marveled, shaking his head slightly. “You wonder if they thought Daron and me were your roadies or what.”
“This close to Memphis I’m sure they’re used to all manner of musicians.” He shrugged. “Most of whom wish they were famous but aren’t.”
Ziggy snorted with indignation. “You mean we flew under the radar because we look like some kind of wannabes hanging around with you?”
“Zig,” I said.
“Pretty much,” Remo said. “You’d be surprised what can fly under the radar.”
“Oh, you mean like blatant homosexual relationships among bandmates that no one notices for years on end?”
“Zig,” I said.
“Well, among other things,” Remo said, unfazed by Ziggy’s sudden hostility. “People tend to see what they want to see. They see what they expect.”
“I never want them to know what to expect from me, though.” Ziggy sat back against the seat, looking out the window at the dark roadside. “I want to surprise people all the time.”
Before I realized I should probably censor myself a little, I said, “Then maybe you should look at making an album that isn’t middle-of-the-road pop.”
Ziggy was silent and I whipped my head around to look at him, suddenly worried I’d hurt him, but it was true, wasn’t it?
His mouth was hanging open. Apparently for once my honesty had rendered him speechless instead of the other way around.
Remo leapt to his defense. “Middle-of-the-road pays the bills, kiddo. If you want to be a top seller, you gotta meet people’s expectations.”
“They should meet them but also exceed them,” I insisted, while in the back of my brain I was thinking, how did we end up in an argument about this? One second we were talking about autographs, and the next we were arguing. “Look at Nirvana. No one was expecting something that sounded like that, and now there’s a new category of music.”
“But they’re the exception that proves the rule,” Remo said. “And now people are going to expect that from them every time. You can’t reinvent yourself musically every time or you lose people.”
“Unless you’re Bowie,” I said. “He’s the real exception to the rule.”
“To all rules,” Ziggy said.
“I don’t mean to get in the middle of an argument between you two, especially if it’s a longstanding one, but lemme see if I can understand something. Ziggy, you want to surprise people, but Daron’s objection seems to be that the album didn’t do that?”
Ziggy and I looked at each other. I spoke. “Well, yeah. That’s why I’m sort of frustrated and arguing. If you want to shake people up and do something new and different… how’d you end up with such a middle-of-the-road record? It just doesn’t feel very true to you, which is really my biggest objection to it.”
“Is this record out?” Remo asked.
Ziggy answered his question rather than mine. “Only in the non-English-speaking world. US and UK are still pending. We… have been avoiding talking about it, recently. Trying to keep stress levels low.”
He meant he hadn’t brought it up with me to keep from upsetting me. “We are champions at avoiding talking about things,” I said.
“Which is the only explanation I can think of for why we’re arguing about the music business instead of your family,” Remo said as he hit the blinkers in anticipation of exiting the highway. “You’ve got about five minutes to ask me anything you want to before we get to the house, by the way.”
There were things I should have known in order to be fully prepared for dealing with the situation, but I didn’t even know enough about what they were to ask about them.
“Let’s table the industry talk until tomorrow at least,” Ziggy said mildly. “I’d love to hear more of your thoughts about career paths, Mr. Cutler.”
“Oh, lord, don’t you start with that,” Remo said, trying not to laugh. “It’s Remo or nothing.”
“Fine. And you should call me Ziggy, of course.”
They both still sounded too stiff and formal to each other, but maybe that was the right mood to be in. As we pulled into the driveway of my sister’s house, I was expecting a whole lot of uncomfortably stiff formality in the very near future.