The reception was in a function room on one of the upper floors with large windows overlooking Boston Common. You know the story of the Common, right? Back in Ye Olde Colonial days it was the common area where everyone in town kept their cows and livestock. Supposedly the reason Boston’s streets are so crazily tangled is because they evolved from cow paths. I don’t know if that’s true or if it just sounds good. The Orpheum was a couple of blocks in one direction and the hotel where Carynne had given up trying to get me in bed was in another. Come to think of it, the vegetarian Vietnamese restaurant where I’d officially come out to her was also a few blocks away. So was “the block” where the gay hustlers plied their trade. All these things were within a five minute walk.
Which just goes to show how small Boston is. Here I’d toured most of the other continents, crossed the oceans and trekked the miles all over this country, and yet so many things had happened within an area smaller than New York’s Central Park. The loft where we’d recorded 1989 was on the edge of Chinatown a few blocks over from the vegetarian Vietnamese place. And from this hotel you could basically see the spot in the park where Bart and I had been busking the day Ziggy jumped in with us. I felt suddenly what a tangled knot my life was to have all those threads criss-cross in the same place.
At the door of the reception, a hostess in a black cocktail dress and white pearls gave us pin-style name tags. Mine read “Daron Marks” and my sister’s “Courtney Marks, Graduate.” Inside the room was quite a crowd, already abuzz with liquor, though the overall sound was more sedate than a typical industry party in LA. It was still Boston, after all.
The first person Court latched onto was her own thesis advisor, who was a woman who looked vaguely familiar to me and who shook my hand and congratulated me, as if I had anything to do with Courtney’s accomplishment. I guess I sort of did, both in that I footed the bill and in that she’d turned my career into her project, but it still felt like I didn’t deserve the sort of congratulations you’d give a parent on their kid. Maybe she was on autopilot, though, having said something similar to dozens of parents already that day.
She had someone she wanted Courtney to meet, another former student of hers, and so I trailed along until we reached the open bar, where I got in line and waved to her that I’d catch up.
I got a club soda and a ginger ale and a wink from the bartender (does it even matter at this point what the gender of the bartender was? No, it does not). I caught up with Court and the professor by the windows where they were talking to another woman who reminded me, somehow, of Jonathan. It was partly her hair color and partly her overall look. She was tall and angular, her sandy blonde hair haphazardly wound around a pencil at the back of her head as if she’d just come from her desk where she was on a deadline.
And, apparently, she was taking time off from music journalism to write a novel. I almost laughed when I heard that. Then she reached out her hand to be introduced to me and I had to figure out which drink to give to Court. “You want the ginger ale or the club soda?”
“Club soda, thanks,” Court said. “It’s nuts that the club soda companies aren’t marketing themselves as a diet soda alternative. It’s like a big fat market share just waiting for them, and they’re leaving all that money on the table.”
“It’s probably like light beer,” the woman said. “Beer companies know a huge part of their market share for ‘diet beer’ is women, but they are afraid if they market directly to them, they’ll lose their traction with men who will start thinking of it as women’s beer. Club soda and seltzer are marketed alongside hard liquor in the beverage distributors. I don’t have to tell you what a macho business that is.” She took my now-empty hand. “Liz Markham. I saw you at Madison Square Garden.”
“Which time?” I asked, before I could filter myself.
“Summer of ’89. I couldn’t get a backstage pass but I ended up in a skybox which I thought was going to be the worst thing possible for reviewing a concert but it was actually amazing.”
“I’m glad you liked it,” I said blandly, unsure what the right response to something like that should be.
“You guys really had something special going on.” She then turned back to Court and went smoothly on. “I guess I’ll be seeing your name tag next to mine at department alumni functions from now on. You got a job lined up yet? I could put in a good word with Duncan Reiser in the PR department at RCA.”
Court laughed. “I just finished an internship with him. No, I’m basically going freelance. Starting my own company, sort of.”
“Sort of?” Liz’s eyelashes sort of fluttered.
“I’m starting a fan engagement business,” Court said. “Think of it as the next level beyond band-official fan clubs.”
“Merchandising is such a fickle business, though. The main product that earns is the music itself and the record label will never let you touch that, so you’re stuck with T-shirts and stuff moldering in a warehouse somewhere.”
“That’s where I come in,” Court said. “It isn’t just about selling more stuff to the fans. It’s about managing their long-term connection to the artist. What I’m selling is that: connection.”
“You’re on board with this?” Liz said in a fake conspiratorial tone to me. “Assuming you’re her first client?”
“I’m very on board with it,” I said. “If it doesn’t take off it won’t be because Court’s wrong; it’ll be because people just aren’t that interested in me.”
Liz laughed darkly. “Oh, you might be surprised how interested people can get.”
“Ziggy’s on board, too,” Court mentioned mildly.
“Oh, well, then you’re probably in good shape,” Liz said. “Ziggy’ll bring in the girls and Daron will bring in the boys.”
For a half a second I had a flutter of panic, like she was implying Ziggy would attract the heterosexual girls and me the gay men or something, but then she went on.
“You’ll have to market differently to the teeny boppers who want dishy pinups on the one hand and the fist-pumping guitar gear nerds on the other.”
I heard Ziggy’s voice in my ear, though, whispering, “No false dichotomies.”
“You know who you should talk to? Have you met Kathy Chen? She’s here somewhere. She’s in merchandising.”
“I just said we’re not a merchandising operation,” Court tried to argue.
“But you’re going to need in-roads in that area,” Liz said firmly. “She works for a company putting alternative clothing and accessories into malls. They buy a lot from various supplier of course, but they’re growing so fast it makes more sense to license the band logos and have them made exclusively.”
Court’s eyes lit up. “Oh, sure, I definitely should meet her.”
Liz spied her target near a buffet table I hadn’t even noticed and led us that direction. I floated along behind them, aware that some heads were starting to turn as I moved. Word was spreading through the party that Someone Famous was there. I was sure they’d be disappointed when they actually met me and discovered I was just a dork who got lucky with a major label deal.
It wasn’t long into Court’s conversation with the Hot Topic woman when my eyes glazed over and someone else found it easy to separate me from them. A guy in a light gray suit, the kind I expect his mother picked out for him, who shook my hand. He had hair short enough to be in ROTC and was very whitebread-looking in that sort of prep-school/frat-boy way. I didn’t get a good look at his name but his tag said “Graduate.” “I was in your sister’s class, that one you spoke to?” he said. “Assuming you only came the once.”
“Yeah, only once,” I said. His handshake was hard and I winced.
His eyes took on a sudden, worried cast. “Oh, man. I forgot. You seem so normal. I mean, you don’t seem injured. I read about it, but it was so long ago. Please say something. Tell me it’s okay.”
I would, if you’d let me get a word in edgewise, I thought. I held up my hand and showed him the palm. The scar was actually not as bad as it had been, after a couple of weeks of Claire rubbing the steroid cream into it, but it was still quite visible. I wiggled my fingers. “It’s getting there.”
“Could be worse, right? Could be Rick Allen,” he said, then blushed visibly. “Not that I’m trying to minimize what happened to Rick Allen, I mean, or wish it on anyone.”
He was talking about the drummer who lost an arm in a car accident. “No, of course not.”
“I mean, at least he figured out a way to do it with one arm, you know? Def Leppard are bigger than ever now. It’s like he was the Spinal Tap guy but he dodged a bullet, just barely.” He blushed deeper. “I can’t believe I’m making such a fool of myself in front of you. Talking about Spinal Tap.” His face took on an almost resentful cast, as if it were my fault.
“I love that movie,” I said. “I mean, yeah, it’s kind of exaggerated but you know what? Some of it isn’t.”
“Yeah. Crazy shit happens on tour, and record companies are nuts.” I shrugged like these were well known, indisputable facts. Which they are, but, you know.
That seemed to put him a little at ease. “Let me ask you something. When you run the Ovation C3 through a live sound rig…”
He proceeded to reel off a technical question of such detail that either he was getting his degree in sound and stage production, or he was just the kind of guy who poured his devotion into being a gear head since he didn’t have any other publicly accessible outlets for his obsession. I indulged him as best I could with what I did with fuzzboxes and pedals but in recent years I really hadn’t kept up with all the latest in mixing boards and PA. I mostly worried about what was on my end of the cord and let the crew worry about what was on the other end. We ended our discussion of foot pedals and distortion boxes with a fist bump and then he ran off to join his parents.
Court tapped me on the elbow. “Daron, here, meet Kelli. She was in my class, too, but she was too shy to say hi then.”
A girl in a flower print dress and matching flats, stood pigeon-toed next to her, her face as pink as her cardigan. “Hi,” she said so quietly I could barely hear her.
Yeah, Ziggy, there are no false dichotomies, but sometimes extremes exist. You’d think I’d be used to it by then. But you know, as long as people are going to be weird about me being famous, I’m going to be weirded out right back.
(NOTE FROM CTAN: Speaking of roaming, I’ll be at MISTI-Con this weekend, selling and autographing books during the Craft Fair and Author’s Alley on Saturday July 20th in Tarrytown, New York, and then next week I’ll be autographing at the Romance Writers of America mass signing in NYC which is also a big charity for Literacy on Saturday July 27th Details: https://www.rwa.org/Online/Events/Literacy_Autographing.aspx).