1083. Live and Learn

We spent far too long in the shower, to the point that we were still damp and naked when the phone rang again. I answered it thinking I’d tell them we’d call back in a minute, but that did not happen.

Which is how I ended up having this conversation with two record company goons while wearing Ziggy like a cape with a hotel bedspread wrapped around both of us.

One of them was from A&R and one of them was a lawyer, but I honestly can’t remember which was which. They sounded basically indistinguishable, both younger-sounding than I expected, but you can’t really tell age from voices a lot of times. they both had WASPy names, too. Bob Bennington and Connor Parkhurst, maybe? I had tried to use a mnemonic to remember them and within five minutes I only remembered the mnemonic, not the names. In my head they were Beef Wellington and Cornish Pasty.

I’m pretty sure Wellington was the one from legal and Pasty was from A&R, but it was a little hard to tell.

“Mr. Ferias, Mr. Marks,” Wellington said, “we’re very glad you’re interested in a resolution to these matters, which have dragged on far too long.”

“Jeez,” Ziggy said, from where his chin rested on my shoulder, “I thought you guys were interested in patching up this relationship.”

“We are.”

“Then you’ve gotta stop calling us Mr. This and Mr. That. You sound like you’re serving divorce papers.”

Nervous chuckles. They were trying to sound good-natured. “All right. Ziggy. Daron.”

“That’s better.”

“I’ve been authorized to explore some ideas with you and your team and I would like to emphasize the exploratory nature of this call. Nothing agreed here will be considered binding until reviewed and approved by either party, of course.” I think that was Wellington.

“Of course,” Barrett said.

Cornish Pasty: “We’re seeing a bit of a disconnect in the records product end between the expectations and the results. The ‘Do It’ single and EP has charted decently but hasn’t really flown off the shelves. The ‘Breaking Chains’ stunt built up large expectations with off the charts airplay, but it didn’t translate into sales.”

“Those two products were never meant to connect,” Barrett said. “AOR and disco have no crossover and we weren’t expecting them to.”

“We call it dance now,” Ziggy snarked.

“Exactly,” Barrett agreed. “Album-oriented rock and dance-oriented pop have no crossover is what I’m saying. And if you expected them to, well.” You could hear the shrug.

“It’s not so much that we expected them to as… we’d like to all get on the same page.”

“The same page that pushed us in a dance-oriented pop direction in the first place?” Barrett asked, voice rising a bit. “You know that wasn’t the direction we intended to go, but it was BNC that encouraged it. No, I’ll come out and say it: forced it. Four producers, three studios, two coasts… what did you expect?” Before they could answer he went on. “Ironically, that brand of pop is what’s breaking big for us in South America and in Japan.”

Cornpop: “I wasn’t aware that you hadn’t made the record you intended. Did you have some kind of concept album in mind?”

Barrett: “This isn’t about musical direction, it’s about image. Mills was adamant about making Ziggy’s image more accessible.”

And that meant blander music? I had kind of known that but I guess I had blocked it out of my mind. My stomach lurched uncomfortably hearing them talk about it so plainly like that.

Especially when I knew “accessible” also meant straight, not just because Mills had said it, but because he was right about the number of homophobes in the country–or at least in the industry. He should know, since he was one. I wondered about Sarah’s suspicion that he was a closet case. Of course a closet case would believe assimilation was the key to success.

They were still talking, but I’d missed some while I’d been ruminating. When I heard my name, though, I came back with a jolt.

“Some of that is going to depend on Daron,” Barrett said.

“Which is why he’s on this call?” said Beef Wellington.

Barrett went on. “I have nothing against quote-exploring-unquote a swing back in a more AOR direction. Hell, if Prince could do it–”

“Prince is an industry unto himself, an outlier,” said Corndog. “Outliers can’t drive our decisions. We can win with a solid hand. We don’t have to shoot the moon.”

Hey, I understand that reference finally, I thought.

Eventually thins wound down until the BNC guys got off the phone and left us to discuss amongst ourselves. Barrett wasn’t impressed. “‘Exploratory’ my ass. That was about as exploratory as a sailboat going in circles. It feels like you’re getting somewhere but you’re probably circling the drain.”

“Can I ask a question?” That was me.

Ziggy nuzzled my ear to encourage me.

“No one came out and said it, I don’t think, but am I right in assuming that when they say they want to go in a more rock direction that means doing more with me?”

“Yes, dear,” Carynne said. It was the first time she’d spoken on the call.

“But what does that mean, exactly?”

A couple of beats of silence went by, and then Barrett tried to answer. “They haven’t gone so far yet as to say, but maybe that means remixing the album with new parts that you’d record? Maybe it means sending you both into the studio to do some new material. Like I said, that sailboat didn’t really go anywhere.” He sighed. “My guess is they were both too junior to have any say in anything, and they’re going to report to someone higher up who has the decision-making power. I was hoping we could skip this part of the dance.”

“You know, we recorded a ton of guitar stuff that never made it onto the record,” Ziggy said. “With me and Joe and…” He swallowed before he said, “Jordan Travers.”

His hand was on my heart because of how wrapped around me he was, and he probably felt it skip a beat. God.

“Does BNC own those masters?” Carynne asked.

“They don’t,” Barrett said. “But I think they were in Jordan’s possession.”

“Motherfuck,” I heard myself say.

“They’re probably in the vault at the studio,” Barrett went on. “We just need to verify that.”

I was suddenly kind of angry at Jordan for dying. Which sounds stupid, I know, but there it was. I didn’t really absorb much of the rest of that conversation until Barrett said something about Japan.

“Let’s table that until later,” Ziggy said, and everyone just agreed with that, said their goodbyes, and hung up.

I sat there for a bit, while Ziggy got out of bed to put some clothes on. “Are we expecting any more calls?”

“Not today, I don’t think.” He pulled on a pair of distressed jeans, high tops, and a white Oxford shirt.

I threw on some clothes myself, and we went to the hospital, because that’s what we always did, but I was still kind of in a daze, too disrtracted to drive, in fact, so Ziggy did it.

Sometime later that day we were taking a break in the sitting area outside the hospital where there were a couple of benches and a couple of bushes. You couldn’t really call it a garden, and it had become a defacto smoking area. But it was somewhere you could go to be in the sunlight and out of the air-conditioning for a while.

I was thinking about Jordan and my eyes teared up a little.

Ziggy rubbed a hand across my shoulders. “It’s okay,” he said. “Let it out.”

“Let what out?”

“Jeezus, Daron, I understand not wanting to cry in front of a bunch of strangers at a memorial, but this is me.”

Oh, man. My hackles were rising. “Me not wanting to cry has nothing to do with you.”

“You hold too much in. You know that.”

That really sent an icicle right through my heart. “Oh, so now you’re going to tell me how to do it better? How I should really feel?” This felt frighteningly similar to a fight with Jonathan.

“It’s not that, it’s just, we said we weren’t going to hide our emotions from each other.”

“So now my expression of emotion isn’t good enough for you? Jeezus fucking Christ, Ziggy, if you think you could change me–”

“Stop it.” Court stepped out from around a bush, her hands out like she was getting ready to separate two toddlers on the playground. “Stop it, both of you.”

Ziggy folded his lips in.

I put my hands to my temples. “Sorry. I’ve just been on edge ever since we talked to those BNC goons.”

He took one of my hands in his and kissed the spot where it had been. “I’m sorry, too. That isn’t what I meant at all. I just… want you to know I’m here to support you whatever you feel. Or don’t feel. No judgment.”

Court gave us a moment to hug and then asked, “BNC goons? How’d it go?”

“Vague. They were very vage,” Ziggy said. “They were beating around the bush so much I’m not even sure which bush it was.”

“They sound kind of like they want to roll the dice on a more rock-oriented project, but also like it might be too late for that?” I said. “I dunno. They kind of contradicted themselves.”

Ziggy nodded in agreement. “The thing is, the live arrangements are much more rock-like, and so it wouldn’t be that hard to go in and re-record, if that was what they wanted.”

That thought hadn’t even occurred to me. “That is true.” That would mean I wouldn’t be racking my brains ten times over, like I was with this song for Claire, trying to write new material for Ziggy and falling flat on my face. Because that’s what it felt like would happen if I went in a studio now.

“You know a lot of what’s on the record already is built on parts you played for Jordan, and which he taught to Joe Alvarez, who then re-recorded the riffs for the mixes we used. If we just re-record some stuff with you and me directly, it’s just cutting out the middleman.”

Now I felt the loss of Jordan exrtra keenly. He would have been the one to oversee those sessions, I just knew it. Now, who knew who we would get? And would we trust them the way we trusted him? But I let myself try to imagine going back into the studio with Ziggy. With the blessing of BNC. What would that be like? I discovered I kind of wanted to, if things worked out that way. That might be good.

I remembered someone telling me once that Ziggy had been a holy terror in the studio when neither Jordan nor I were there.

Might have been Jordan who said that, now that I think about it.

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