Where do you think I would rather be, sitting in front of a court reporter while middle-aged men (and one woman) in suits grilled me about my relationship with my father, or sitting in front of a bunch of doctors grilling me about my mother’s drug use? Unfortunately, Ziggy’s principle that things are usually not either/or and are instead both, came to pass. But that’s not what I wanted to tell you about today.
I want to talk about music. Even if at the time I didn’t, I want to talk about it now. I want to talk about how every human has a heartbeat, we have a rhythm inside us even if we aren’t aware of it half the time. If you can walk, you have a rhythm there, too. If you can breathe. Rhythm is a part of being a living creature like us in the world. It’s part of being flesh and blood.
Our brains organize patterns. Sometimes we think we see patterns that aren’t really there, but a lot of what we do, a lot of what makes us function as humans, involves organizing patterns. That takes a natural rhythm and makes it into something else. Where two rhythms intersect you have math and when you make it visual you have geometry.
To live is to make sound, whether it’s footfalls on the floor, or voice or breath. You clap your hands, you stamp your feet, you tap your chest and pop your lips. Repeating a pattern is pleasing to our brains. Why? I don’t know. Everything in our brains isn’t about just keeping us alive on the savanna. Some of it is about keeping us happy. And we like patterns, sometimes the more complicated the better, but sometimes even the simple ones satisfy us.
Rhythm is about the journey, not the destination. Rhythm is the footfalls as you walk, that sound in your throat as you fuck, the ticking of a clock. Rhythm is the engine that drives the train forward, not the brake.
When people think of a song they usually think of the melody. They think of the highs and lows. They aren’t really thinking about the rhythm usually, unless it’s got some unique riff that sticks in their brain. Songs that are more about rhythm than melody are not that common in pop music. Now that I think about it, though, you know Janet Jackson’s “Nasty”? I had such an argument with someone in school about that song. I can’t even remember who—not Bart, Bart understands better than most how important rhythm is. Anyway, the argument was basically that the song was a piece of trash because it had no melody and she “wasn’t even singing.” (It was probably a singer I was arguing with…) My argument was that they just couldn’t appreciate a different kind of artistry, where the emphasis was on something other than melody.
Probably not a coincidence that Janet’s next album was called Rhythm Nation.
Another example from the Eighties that comes to mind is Bananarama’s covers of “Really Saying Something” and “Ain’t What You Do, It’s the Way that You Do it.” One was Motown, one was jazz, both were reformulated into rhythm-heavy pop where the women’s voices and their singing were compressed into ash at was less a melody and more a kind of slick, repeatable riff.
Not to mention rap. Melody is not the point there, either.
Why am I telling you this? Because I’m thinking more about the thing that keeps songs going than I am about how songs end. Only a few popular songs out there have really memorable endings. A lot don’t even end, right? They just fade out. The only song I can think of right now with a memorable ending is, of course, the Beatles, “A Day in the Life.”
No one wants to think about how the rhythm of life comes to a halt. When the pattern is broken our brains are not happy about it.
I was in Los Angeles at Digger’s lawyers office when I got the call. I honestly remember almost nothing from the deposition. My lawyer had flown in a day or two ahead. Carynne and I took a red-eye and she convinced me to take a Benadryl so I’d sleep on the plane. I did. I woke up in LA with a terrible crick in my neck and a flight attendant shyly asking me for an autograph and a photo.
As Carynne and I made our way up the jet bridge I said, somewhat croakily, “That poor woman. I probably look like death warmed over in that picture.”
“If you do, that just adds to the story,” she said while slipping on a pair of oversized sunglasses. “Come on. A limo should be waiting for us.”
I was glad she was there. I was groggy and disoriented, and I fell asleep in the limo. Which was better than fretting about the deposition, I suppose. When I woke up again, we were pulling up to a very familiar hotel.
She looked at me over the tops of the sunglasses, which she had kept on in the car. “I thought you liked this place.”
“Um, I was just surprised, that’s all.” I still can’t say that I like the place so much as I like going places that are familiar when I can. It’s funny. Since then it has changed names a couple of times, and the lobby has been remodeled at least twice, but it’s still the same old place in so many ways. The flag on the ship may change, but the crew’s the same. Life goes on.
We checked in and ate breakfast, by which point I was feeling more awake. Of course, since my brain was still three hours ahead. It was lunchtime to my stomach, too, so I ate a bunch. Which probably helped my nerves. It’s hard to get butterflies in the tummy when your tummy’s packed with French toast—no room for them to fly around.
Carynne was in charge of my appearance. She combed my hair straight back into a ponytail and spritzed it with something that made it look shiny yet soft to the touch. A black button down shirt and crisp black jeans and a pair of low, black leather boots. I looked at myself in the mirror. “You do realize you’ve just dressed me up as Johnny Cash, basically?”
“Oh, that reminds me.” She unclasped a necklace from around her own neck and put it on mine. It was a delicate silver chain on which was a small silver cross. “There. Otherwise you look too much like a Satanist or something. And they’re going to make you swear on a Bible. So.”
I touched the cross with my fingers. “I think this is the first time I’m wearing a cross since I was seven. At my first communion.”
She chuckled. “That’s where this one came from.”
“Where the hell did you get my first communion cross from?”
“No no, not yours. Mine.”
The lawyers offices were in a low, flat building that from the outside could have been anything from a recording studio to a dentist’s office. The parking lot asphalt had been cracked by an earthquake at some point and never fixed.
Most of what I remember from the deposition was sweating a lot and wondering if sweat stains were visible under my arms on the black shirt or what. Feinbaum was right. It was stressful. Same questions over and over. Needling me. I have little doubt that if Digger’s lawyers could find a way to pin the blame on me for anything, they would.
The man himself came in while we were taking a break. I couldn’t tell if he expected to see me there or not. He just walked right up to me, stuck his sunglasses in the pocket of his rumpled-looking suit, and said, “Hanging me out to dry, are ya?”
“Just telling it like it is,” I replied.
He looked less yellow than the last time I saw him, but the lines in his face were deeper, the flesh around his eyes baggier. “Yeah, I hear you’re a real momma’s boy now.”
Ha. I wasn’t going to let him get to me. “If putting up with Claire’s abuse instead of yours counts as a momma’s boy, I guess so.”
I realized I was looking down into his face. Between the inch the boots gave me and Digger’s worsening posture, we were no longer the same height. That was probably the only surprising thing about our encounter.
“I raised a fuckin’ momma’s boy,” he said, shaking his head slowly. “A sissy ass fuckin’ momma’s boy.”
I almost felt like smiling. Almost. He was such a parody of himself. And he didn’t even have the guts to say “faggot” or anything worse. Maybe because he worried I would have cheerfully broken his face if he dared?
I don’t think I would have, not in rage like I once would’ve. But I might have done it in cold blood, if I convinced myself he deserved it, that he was literally asking for it… But no. It would have only given him something to use against me. He didn’t even deserve that much effort from me.
Besides, breaking his jaw probably wouldn’t be good for my hand. And breaking my vow of nonviolence wouldn’t have been good for my soul. So I actually did smile. “If you say so,” I said agreeably.
He went away since I was being no fun by not playing along with his stupid aggression, and then they called me back in to grill me some more. I recounted the story of how, in a hotel restaurant in San Francisco, in 1989, I had only insisted on Digger giving me something because he’d already basically embezzled from me. This was the tack Feinbaum had wanted. Keep hammering on that point, because it would ultimately help a jury to see Digger was a criminal. And maybe ultimately get me dismissed from the case entirely because his legal team wouldn’t want that message to keep coming up.
It made me think back though, to those couple of days in San Fran. I came out to Christian in a men’s room in a Moroccan restaurant. I hooked up with a muscle daddy in the Castro. Remo gave me a guitar. I had pushed back on my boundaries with Ziggy on the long drive there—and he’d gone out and seduced a female newspaper writer—but the show had been great. And I had kind-of sort-of come out to Digger too, in that strip club, the one that Remo and I walked out of. Well, it was kind-of-sort-of at the time because I wasn’t totally sure right then how clear the message was, but it turned out it was crystal clear to him. So, yeah, I came out to Digger then, too.
I didn’t tell the lawyers any of that stuff, of course. I do think that told them the name of the hotel and what we ate and about how we’d ended up with Digger as our manager in the first place, about Mills and how in the end I admitted I couldn’t handle him and corporate politics on my own. I think. That was what I was trying to get at anyway when a secretary or paralegal or something slipped a note to Carynne, who slipped out of the room, and then came back with an urgent look on her face.
I think they were mostly done with me anyway. They let me go to take the phone call from Tennessee.
I didn’t absorb much of what Court said other than that Claire was still alive, but they really didn’t know for how much longer. This might be it, or it might just be like it was last time, but there really wasn’t anything to do but try to get on the earliest plane to Tennessee that I could.
Oh boy, I did not miss Digger. Or maybe I did, because he’s good for the story.
You’re spot on about the rhythm and the brain, though. If you read up on childhoid trauma and brain development you’d see that very early childhood trauma leads of course to a massive amount of problems, but one of them is that we lack the ability to move in sync with rhythm. Literally, but also in human interactions (which are a form of rhythm). One of the treatments is to learn rhythm, through movement, breathing exercises, drumming, etc. This is trauma that happened before we acquire language and therefore can’t be accessed by language, only through the body. Anyway. Rhythm is good and any activity that involves rhythm is good for your brain.
That’s super fascinating. Then I count myself lucky that my traumas really only started after — or because — I could talk.