949. Ballad of Youth

“What do you mean, ‘we‘ go to church’?”

Courtney had arrived at the airport after multiple delays due to ice storms back east and other weather shenanigans. Remo had left Ziggy at Janine’s to keep Claire company, and had left me at the airport to pick up a rental car of my own while he went in to the city for some business reason. I had spent several hours wandering around the airport attempting to amuse myself and by the time Court arrived I was disoriented and tired and out of sorts.

I was driving, she was passengering, and I was trying to explain how things had been going. “I mean when we go to church it’ll take two cars, between you, me, Ziggy, Remo, our mother–”

“Oh, oh, you mean actually attend normal church, not like… funeral-church.”

“Oh, god, no. Yeah. I mean just regular Sunday church. With Claire. Alive. It was her idea.” It was night time and I was trying to remember which exit had the Denny’s. “Although she made us go to a fancier church because she wants a fancier church for her funeral. I’m not kidding.”

“Yeah, that sounds like Mom,” she said, taking the handwritten directions out of my grip and turning on the overhead light to read them. “But I am kind of surprised she’s interested in church-type stuff at all, I mean, I’ve told you her second husband was one of these ‘rock and roll is the devil’ kind of guys, right?”

“You mentioned. Where does it say to get off?”

“Not for three more exits at least.” She fiddled with the heat controls. “It was decidedly weird being around him and his followers.”

“Sounds like just another kind of control freak to me,” I said.

“Basically. It was pretty weird to see Mom buy into it, though. I guess she’s bought back out of it now.”

“Yeah, I don’t know that she actually believes in anything so much as she feels like she’s supposed to have a church funeral and so therefore she goes to church. We took communion–”

“Wait, wait, wait, there you go with the ‘we’ again.”

“What? We–me, Ziggy, her–all took communion. Two weeks in a row, now. Did I forget to mention? Claire’s gone Catholic again.”

She was staring at me like my clothes didn’t match. “I thought you didn’t agree with the Catholic Church.”

“It’s just church, Court.”

“I mean, these are the patriarchal nutjobs who want to keep women pregnant and all that.”

“If you want to tell Claire that you’re not going to her funeral because of the patriarchy, warn me so I can get out of the way of the shrapnel.”

“We’re not talking about her funeral. We’re talking about, as you said, ‘regular Sunday church!’ I can’t believe you not only went, you went back!”

“I like the music.”

“If you just went to placate Mom or to hear the music you didn’t have to take communion. You don’t even believe in Jesus!”

“They let you in even if you don’t, you know.”

“Daron!” She sounded really upset. Or maybe just surprised. “I can’t believe you.”

“Because I’m not refusing to go to church…?” I felt oddly insulted by her pressing.

“When was the last time you were in one?”

I wasn’t particularly attached to church-going, but it felt like an attack for her to be so vehement about it. “Before this? Spain, probably? We went a lot.”

She harrumphed into silence.

I waited until we’d passed another exit. “Look, if you’re afraid I’m going to become a religious nut, I don’t think you have to worry. It’s not like that. I just didn’t find it worth arguing about. I could do without the getting up early, and Janine seems to think Ziggy and I will be pegged as devil-worshipers by the more conservative members of the congregation, but so far no one’s really said anything.” I shrugged. “If you’re hungry, there’s a Denny’s at the exit before the one we’re supposed to take for Janine’s place.”

“I could eat.”

“And I should probably warn you that Janine’s not exactly in a great financial place.”

“I knew that. I keep in touch with her more than you do, remember?”

“I haven’t been keeping score.” There were very few cars on the road but I checked three times before changing lanes because between it being an unfamiliar car and me being rarely behind the wheel, I wanted to be sure there was nothing in my blind spot. Whatever kind of car it was had been built for tall people.

At the Denny’s the waiters all said hello like they knew me, which amused Court, and one of them came over to say Remo had already been in earlier in the evening.

“So, how’s Ziggy?”

“Kind of unnaturally quiet, but he seems all right.”

“He’s getting along with Claire?”

“Seemingly. He said she hadn’t decided whether to like him or not, but that was before the thing at the truck stop.” Court was clearly waiting for an explanation of that, so I went on. “On the way back from chemo she went into a ladies room and didn’t come out for a long time so he went in and retrieved her.”

“And what happened in there?”

“I don’t know. Ziggy didn’t say.”

“And you didn’t ask?” Her exasperation with me was back.

“No? I figured if he wanted to tell me, he would?”

She shook her head with a sigh. “I just don’t understand you sometimes. Weren’t you curious? Were you afraid he wouldn’t tell you?”

“I… He… You’re breaking my brain and we haven’t even ordered our food yet.”

“Fine. Whatever.” She turned her attention to the menu and then we moved on to other subjects like what the right amount of toasting and meltage was for a grilled cheese sandwich and we caught up on stuff like how her semester went.

Far as I’m concerned, a grilled cheese sandwich needs to be done so that the cheese is completely melted, but the bread needs to be crispy on the outside. Not burned, though. It’s tricky because melted cheese can make the bread soggy. So really what that means is you need to eat it before the toast can get soggy, but not so quickly that you scald yourself. See related topic: scalding the roof of one’s mouth on the first bite of pizza.

Court was also having grilled cheese–hers with tomato, which can interfere with the cheese melting if the place doesn’t do it right. (Denny’s was pretty reliable about getting that right, though.) “They say I need to do one credit’s worth of ‘independent study,’” she said, nibbling carefully at the drips of melted cheese around the edges of the sandwich before taking a bite out of the middle. “It’s total bullshit and I think we should fight it.”

“We? Now you’re the one with the confusing ‘we.’”

“Well, it’s your money.”

“What’s the money got to do with it?”

“It’s basically I took a class in the summer semester that was only worth three credits instead of four like it is in the regular year. So now I’m one credit short of the number I need for my degree and it’s stupid. Because if I had taken that same class at a different time of year and done the same work, I’d be done, but they’re like no, you’re one credit short. So just pay for one credit’s worth of ‘independent study’ and then we’ll let you go.”

“Oh, I see. So it isn’t even like you’re going to do anything in this so-called independent study.”

“Other than stick my thumb up my ass and fork over the cash, no. Now do you see why it’s stupid?”

“Yes. On the other hand, if the last hoop you need to jump through is basically just prove you’ve paid them what they think a degree is supposed to cost–well, at least that’s easy?”

“I just feel weird about it. Like in the end it wasn’t about my education at all, it was just about the money.”

“Okay, I’m about to tell you something that comes straight out of Jonathan.” I brushed the crumbs off my face to show I was serious. “So you’re going to pay one more semester but you don’t have to do any work. On the other hand, you get one more semester of networking and services through the university. You get to take advantage of all the things that you can only do while you’re there which will benefit your future career.”

She mulled that over for a bit. “Yeah, I can imagine him saying something like that. And I guess in general I agree. It’s just in my case I don’t really feel like I need another semester of what Emerson has to offer. I don’t need to make any more contacts in my quote-unquote chosen industry.” She chuckled like there was some in-joke. I guess she meant me. She raised her glass of water and clinked it against my V-8. “Here’s to the godless sin factory of the American entertainment industry.”

“I’ll drink to that.” And I did. “So are you going to circulate your resume or–?”

She blinked. “You mean for another internship? For experience?”

We were talking past each other again. I could feel it. “No, I mean, you’re graduating, so isn’t it time to think about a real job?”

“And working for you isn’t a real j–?” Her mouth went round. “Wait, are you telling me you don’t want me to work for you?”

“Doing my laundry and answering my fan mail is great and all, Court, but–” I slowed down as I took in the expression on her face, which had gone from shock to outrage. “Seriously. Carynne tells me you have everything it takes to be a high-level manager or future VP of artist development.”

“So you’re saying I’m aiming too low by working for you?” Her frown was a lot like the one when I’d told her I kind of liked going to church.

It was starting to sink in, though, that Courtney was expecting to work for me. Meanwhile I’d been expecting her to move on. No wonder we were not having the same conversation. “Well–”

“I mean, I figured once I had my degree I could move on to doing something other than your laundry, besides the fact you’re never home anyway.”

“That’s not–”

“Are you trying to get out of hiring me?”

“No, I’m not trying to get out of anything. Court–”

“Because wasn’t that what the whole thing was about? Sending me to college in entertainment and communications so I could bring that knowledge back to the family business?”

Court.” I put my hands down in front of her on the table to see if I could get her to slow down. The scar on the back of my hand was lurid in the fluorescent lights. “I didn’t send you to college because I expected you to pay me back by working for me. I sent you to college because you wanted to go and I had the money to help. There were no strings attached.”

Now she seemed quite deflated. “You really don’t want me to work for you.”

“I didn’t say that! I would lov–”

“You think I’m going to go try to get in at entry level in some record company, in promotions or publicity or wherever, so I can worm my way into A&R in five years after I’ve proved myself or I’ve slept with a vice president or whatever? Seriously?” She seemed pissed off at me now.

“Court. Listen to me. I would love for you to come work for me. But back up and tell me where this idea came from that it was a plan?”

She rested her chin on her hands, thinking about it for a good while without answering. When she spoke she said, “I’m sure we talked about it. I know we didn’t have a written contract or anything like that, but it’s been the plan for such a long time now.”

“I was under the impression that going to Emerson was your idea.”

“Well, that part was, but…” Her frown deepened. “Well, this sucks.”

“What sucks?”

“I can either be mad at you for being too dense to realize what I’ve been talking about for years is going to work for you as soon as I was done with school, or I can feel really stupid.”

I couldn’t help but try to crack a joke. “Or, as Ziggy would say, both?”

“HA. Yes, or both.”

“But seriously, Court, you know I’m not great with trying to figure out unspoken or implied stuff. If you want something from me, just say it and don’t expect me to guess what it is or be mad that I haven’t figured it out from your hints. That’s what Ziggy had to learn, and we’ve been great ever since.”

“You could at least try, though.”

“Okay, here, I’ll try. What I’m hearing is you want to make my musical career a family business. I’m all for that. If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t have all of Digger’s bullshit to deal with.” The waitress slipped the check onto the counter next to me with a wink that meant “pay whenever you’re ready.” “Now if you can forgive me for being thick-headed and missing it earlier, how about you tell me what exactly you want to do that isn’t going to duplicate what Carynne does?”

Court rubbed her hands together. I got the feeling she’d been waiting to say this for a while: “First of all, you’re not leveraging your fan club out there. Problem is they’re not a club, they’re a miscellaneous collection of individuals who are scattered around. They’ve got mailing lists, email groups, Usenet discussions, you name it, but nobody is turning that into dollars in your pocket.”


“They share tapes. They cherish their 1989 shirts. They mail photos of you and Ziggy to each other. There’s no reason why we couldn’t be in the business of contacting them directly.”

“You can’t sell them bootlegs, though. We’re in enough lawsuits as it is.”

“Tapes, no. But shirts and photos? Yeah. And more. This isn’t just about selling them stuff, either. It’s about leveraging your following for other purposes. Mass calls to radio stations. Ticket sales drives. Whatever you can think of.”

“Okay, but what about the fact that Moondog Three as we knew it no longer exists? Is this for me or for Ziggy or both of us? And how is this different from what our management company already does?”

“Your management doesn’t have any interest in maintaining a nationwide database of thousands of fans. Even though it would be in your best interest to do it. And if they were going to start from scratch doing it right now it would take them a million years to build the connections up. I’ve already done the legwork because I’ve been part of your fanbase from the beginning and I’ve never left. I’ve stayed in touch.”

“And you’ve been answering my fan mail for a couple of years…”

“And keeping all of their addresses, yeah. Adding Ziggy would make it profitable faster, but I wanted to start with you. Because this time it actually is all about you, Daron. Because I’m your sister, and because unlike some other members of the family, I’m not out to screw you.” She smiled. “This is something you need to own. Not the agency, not the record company, not your management. You. The artist.”

“Okay.” I turned my hand palm up where the scar looked worse. “And what happens if I really can’t hack playing again? Or if no record company ever touches me or my projects again?”

“All the more reason to monetize your past,” she said smoothly. “Something that the record company and management aren’t interested in. They’re focused on your next contract, your next single, your next tour, whatever. Only your in-house fan communications office is going to make money off a five postcard set of you and Ziggy backstage in Atlanta. For example.”

“You’ve sold me on the idea completely. I guess the only question now is the actual money.”

“Well, big brother, fortunately for you, I’ve got a rent-free room in Boston and a whole semester to start laying the groundwork while I finish my independent study. So you won’t have to pay me much at first.”

She began rattling off numbers, jotting them down on the back of the check, talking about a base salary and then a commission rate on profits and sales. I let the numbers wash over me and just concentrated on the happy, confident sound of her voice.

RSVP NOW! We’re planning the 2018 DGC Fan Meetup! I’m coming to the Bay Area (of California) for the World Science Fiction Convention, but before the con starts let’s do a get-together on Wednesday, August 15th! I’ve been researching spots we could use but it’ll really depend on how many we expect. Oakland and Berkeley have many bookstores, tea houses, and the like where we might host, but we need to know how many to plan for. So to RSVP as yes or even “maybe?” please drop an email right now to daron.moondog@gmail.com and let us know you’re interested!

(Oh man, I just realized watching this that Richie Sambora and I have several favorite guitar brands/models in common. Both of my usual go-tos are in this video, in fact, plus some other secondaries. If you don’t know Richie Sambora, he and I have some other similarities, too. Like… he’s from Perth Amboy, New Jersey. He’s Bon Jovi’s main guitarist… or was. They reportedly split up after a decades-long battle between Richie wanting the band to be more of a band and Jon/the record company banking on Jon as the front-man/star. Yeah. I won’t speculate about their personal lives. -daron)


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