Picture me and Ziggy sitting on a very rectangular couch, notebooks on the coffee table in front of us, a guitar in my lap and my hair all over the fucking place because I’ve been tearing it out.
Still no song.
“You know what?” I said, after the umpteenth abortive false start. “It’s really really hard to write a song for someone else.”
“You’ve done it for Jonathan and for Sarah, though, haven’t you?” He inverted himself so his legs were over the back of the couch and his head was hanging off the cushions. His shirt rode up and gave me a peek of his flat stomach.
“Yes and no. I wrote a song about Jonathan, technically, not something I was trying to write because I thought he’d like it. And I suppose technically it wasn’t about him so much as about how I felt after spending the weekend with him.” Which reminded me of a song I’d written about how I felt after spending time with Ziggy–well, I mean, there were lots of those–but it reminded me of a specific one that I had liked but that I’d never finished. “And I wrote a song with Sarah, technically, because we worked on it together… And here’s the thing, it was the same song.”
Ziggy shrugged, which looked ridiculous because he was upside down. “Never mind, then. How are your fingers?”
“Tender.” I set the guitar aside. “I don’t think I’m ready to write a song about how I feel about Claire dying. And even if I was, I don’t think it’d make a good impression at her funeral.”
He nodded, his hair swinging. “Think about this, then. How do you want the people sitting in the audience to feel? Or, how do you think Claire wants them to feel?”
Just trying to think about it sent my brain into a kind of stutter. Imagine the sound of an engine trying to start with a dead battery. I pressed my palms to my forehead. “This is… that’s… so far from where songs usually come from. It’s… too many leaps.”
“Hm.” He righted himself and made a note in his notebook. “Have you tried taking a shower? You know you always get ideas in the shower.”
“I used to,” I said, looking at my scarred palm as if my hand were the problem. The problem was definitely in my head, not my hand. “I’ve taken hundreds of showers since the last time I got an idea for a song.”
He looked sad more than frustrated. “Am I being any help at all?”
I slid over to him so I could put an arm around him and catch the scent of his skin by nuzzling him on the neck. “You are. Me sitting here alone trying to do this would be horrible. I’d probably have set fire to the place and run screaming into the night by now.”
“Yeah, I know, joking about going crazy was funnier before I had my break with reality.” Brazil felt like a long time ago. And, well, it had been nine months. I guess on the scale of entertainment business time that was a long time ago. I had a sudden pang of guilty panic–that meant Ziggy’s Japanese record company had been waiting for him to announce tour dates for over a year. Had they even released the record there yet? If they had, it was old news now and probably dead in the water, and if they hadn’t, well, shit, they were holding up release because of… because of me.
I had gone very still. Catatonic, I guess. I was breathing, blinking, but that was all I could do.
I could feel his cheek brush mine as he pulled back to look at me, to put his face in my line of sight. “Dear one? Are you all right?”
I… just stared.
“Let me ask you something else. Can I get you a glass of water?”
I shook my head and I spoke. “No. I’m… just having a moment.”
“Clearly.” He held my hands and rubbed my fingers in his, like he was making sure I didn’t get frostbite or something. “A little flashback…?”
“No. Not really.” I counted my breaths. One. Two. Three. “Not exactly, anyway.” I focused on him then. “Zig. Japan. Did they release your album there?”
He hesitated a moment, his lips folded in. “Just a single,” he finally said. Then he added, very carefully, like he knew it might flip me out: “They’re holding the rest until I can commit to tour dates.”
“Which you haven’t done because you want me to go, despite the fact I’ve said I don’t want to.”
“That’s oversimplifying it by a lot, but I suppose yes, if you want to put it that way. But you know it’s not that simple.” He waved his hand in front of my face as my eyes began to drift out of focus. “Talk to me. Tell me what I’m not hearing, if that’s what it is.”
“I’m just… having anxiety over the fact that this is my fault. What if you’ve lost a few hundred thousand in record sales just because I have my head up my ass?”
He stroked my hair. “Okay, can I remind you that this isn’t just you being a prima donna? It isn’t like you just waltzed in one day and were like I ate bad sushi once so I’m not going. You have legit reasons for not wanting to go. Not only is your mother dying, you’ve been injured–”
A flare of anger heated my face and I should have waited for it to cool before I spoke, but I had to jump in right there. “I don’t know how to feel about the fact that you’re so careful about my injury now, when you weren’t when you were trying to get me to go on the tour of South America in the first place.”
Ziggy sighed. “I don’t know how to feel about the fact that you hid how injured you were from me and now it sounds like you’re trying to blame me for not caring enough.”
Oh, ouch. Right on target. I nodded. “Right.” I squeezed his fingers back. “Yeah. That was me.” I’d been in such denial about the injury that I’d isolated myself from him both physically and emotionally, developed a dependency on painkillers, and ultimately driven myself to a paranoid psychotic break. Yeah, that was me, not him. “Sometimes it helps to remember how we got here.”
“Japan will happen. You know I’d much rather it happen with you than without you, but I won’t make the mistake I made in South America. I keep hoping that by the time Claire is in the ground, your physical stuff will be resolved and that any lingering psychological and emotional stuff can be dealt with. But if it can’t, well, that’s show biz. You always need a contingency plan.”
Hearing him say that made me feel less panicked. I realized I was less worried about the two-hundred grand or whatever he might have lost in sales than I was that he was angry or upset about it and just not telling me. As anxiety receded, curiousity reared its head. “What’s the contigency plan?”
He seemed surprised by my question, or maybe just my change in tone. “Same old plan. Cobble together a band of hired guns. Probably have Barrett call Joey.” He shrugged. “Actually, the best plan B would be…” He trailed off and covered his eyes with his hands. “This is stupid. I don’t want to start picturing what could happen because I might make it happen.”
“You really believe that.”
“Oh absolutely. If I start thinking things might go a certain way, I influence the people around me even if I don’t realize it, and the next thing you know, boom, that’s the way it goes. It’s one of the reasons it’s so important for me to keep up my positive visualization.” He let a breath out slowly and lowered his hands. “Probably the only useful thing I learned from that fraud of a guru.”
“The guy in India?”
“Well, I learned it when we were in LA. But whatever.” He put his hands over my eyes. “Try to picture what you want. Try to imagine a moment in your future that you want to happen. Where are you? What are you wearing? What are you doing?”
The colorful swirls behind my eyes looked like the darkness of a concert hall right before the lights go up on the band on the stage, like it’s right in front of you and yet it goes on forever. You think you can make out shapes, but maybe they’re just your imagination. The one thing I could usually see at those moments was the glow-in-the-dark tape next to my mic stand forming the letter D.
And then Louis would hit the spots and I’d be blinded by the light.
God, I missed it.
I didn’t just miss being on stage–I missed wanting to be on stage. I missed that feeling of rightness, that feeling of being on top of the world, of being exactly where I was supposed to be. Part of belonging there, of course, was being mentally healthy enough to handle it and being physically healthy enough to perform.
In my mind I had sent myself right back to the summer of 1989. Three years ago. Okay, you can argue I wasn’t at my most mentally healthy, but really the thing that was the most wrong with my mind then was just that I was too fucking young and too fucking scared to just work out my shit with Ziggy. Well, I wasn’t that young or that scared anymore. We’d been through hell and we were still together. He was sitting right there in front of me, waiting for me to get my shit together.
I felt a pang of regret then, but it was a mild one. If I’d been less scared and more mature emotionally would I have been there for him when he was spiralling down into his drug-aided mental isolation? Would that have staved off the whole Betty Ford debacle and running off to India and breaking up the band?
Maybe, except breaking up the band didn’t have anything to do with Ziggy’s breakdown, not directly. Did it?
“What do you see?” he asked.
So I told him. “I see the velvet darkness, swirled with color.”
“I mean, besides that.”
“It’s what I can see from the stage when the lights are in blackout, when I’m catching my breath.”
“Right before the gerbs blow up in your face?”
Goosebumps spread across my back. “Yes. Exactly. Right before it all went wrong.” I could see it now, a series of dominoes, the explosion, Ziggy’s reliance on painkillers, my clinging to the crutch of Jonathan as Ziggy curled into himself more and more, India, Spain, Mills and Digger driving a wedge between us because they wanted to exploit him without me in the way… It actually all fit together, didn’t it?
“Zig?” I heard myself asking. “Do you ever think maybe Mills wouldn’t have… or Mills and Digger wouldn’t have…?” I couldn’t quite figure out the words for it.
“Wouldn’t have what?”
I took his hands in mine and blinked at him. “If they hadn’t seen daylight between us, would they not have pushed the wedge in?”
“I’m sorry, trying to figure out how to say it.”
“You mean, if you and I had a united front, would they never have hatched the plan to try to make me a solo artist?”
“Yeah, pretty much. I mean, I know you want to do more than just sing in a band. But… but…”
“Tell me what you’re thinking, dear one.”
“Tell me if I’m crazy.” I licked my lips. “They saw the fracturing going on with the band. Christian and me fighting, you and me being… whatever we were being. Remember when I told you that Digger told me that if I didn’t put out for you pretty soon, you were going to crack?”
“What? When was that?” He looked like he was going to laugh. “I mean, that’s the sort of thing he would say but…”
“When we got to New York, I think. He was like, look, your mother used to do that to me so don’t do that to him or he’ll go insane. And then when you were institutionalized he said I told you so.”
“Oh God. I do remember you telling me that now.” He leaned forward to kiss me on the cheek. “Oh my God.”
“Yeah, I know. Thinking back on it now, I realize he was kind of warning me, like, lock up Ziggy now or you might lose him. I didn’t realize at the time he meant ‘or lose him to me and my schemes.'”
Ziggy shivered. “He and Mills were working on me pretty hard at that point, you know. Just a little comment here or there, and booking me extra press, and lining up the pieces to fall into place. I was…” He grimaced. “Your asshole father was partly right, though. I was lonely and afraid I wasn’t ever going to get all the way through to you, and getting addicted to painkillers certainly didn’t help, and, God, I told him way too much about you and me.”
I couldn’t even be mad about that.
“He was the only sympathetic ear I had to complain about you to, really,” he said. “I thought I was using him. It hadn’t occurred to me that he was encouraging me to talk shit about you because it helped him to set me up.” His laugh was bitter.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“You don’t have to apologize for that.”
I shrugged. I felt sorry for him, though. Now having been through my own druggie spiral of paranoia and isolation while simultaneously keeping up a facade of functionality, I had a better perspective on what might have been going on with him. “Mills dangled an offer you couldn’t refuse.”
He nodded. “And I thought I was beating them at their own game when I fired Digger and then re-negotiated the deal. I was so stupid.”
My mouth hung open a little, my lower lip cooling in the air, as I realized what my mind had finally done. I had finally put together a bunch of pieces and the picture looked very different from how it had that day in the limo when he’d told me he’d signed the deal. “They exploited you.”
“I suppose.” His eyes fluttered closed. “I mean, technically it’s not exploitation if it’s what I signed up for. This business is all exploitation, really.”
“No, I mean, I see it now. They maneuvered you into making that deal. Not for your own good, but for theirs. No wonder Digger is suing everyone in sight. He had the golden goose on his plate.”
“And then the goose bit him and flew away,” Ziggy said with a short laugh. “Both of his gooses. Geese. Whatever.” He sobered then, focusing on me. “Does this mean you’re not angry about the deal anymore?”
I took a breath. “I think so? I mean, I think I got over the anger a while ago, but I think I just stopped blaming you for it.”
He nodded slowly. “I wanted to believe I was the one running the show. I even sold you on the idea. Maybe I even believed that cutting my own deal was me actually grabbing the reins.” His nod changed to a slow shake, back and forth. “Mills jumped at the deal so fast I knew I’d made a mistake. He had me right where he wanted me.”
“Under his thumb,” I said.
“Yeah.” He stretched then, like he had a crick in his neck. “So, while I was in LA my lawyer put forth a theory about some of the non-payment issues.”
When he stretched, his shirt rode up again and I slid my hands around his bare waist above his jeans. “Oh?”
“He thinks maybe Mills’ division of BNC had, or maybe still has, certain caps and targets to hit money-wise, maybe because it was during the acquisition period by Megastar, and maybe also right afterward because the performance of his division was crucial to his own promotion to a higher position. Well, no, we know that much is true. The ‘maybe’ part is maybe them not paying when they were supposed to was partly motivated by the need to make those balance sheets look good.”
“What a slime.” So he could have Ziggy sign a bigger deal but put off paying him–and me–and use the lawsuits as an excuse–so that it wouldn’t look on the bottom line like he had given away as much as he had.
Ziggy leaned forward. “So, what do you want?”
Before I could answer, his pager buzzed from inside his bag on the table. He leaned away from me like a figure skater held by her partner, my hands never leaving his hips, to snag the strap of the bag, pull it over, turn the pager off, and then shove it away.
He leaned forward again, this time to whisper in my ear, “What do you want?”
We still had no song and we couldn’t do anything about the lawsuits from here. But my hands were touching his bare skin and I was no longer afraid of all the directions that could lead us.
“You,” I whispered back. “You most of all.”