We went into Memphis without really knowing what to expect. Patty had told us to meet her at a landmark that everyone would know: the Peabody hotel. As we drove around looking for it I realized things looked vaguely familiar. I had been here before, on that Nomad tour, but I had been sick as a dog at the time.
That had been the beginning of the stomach flu that ripped through the entire touring company but which had us all thinking we had to cut down on our drinking. Guess what? Although overindulgence on booze wasn’t why everyone was puking so much, that didn’t mean that everyone didn’t need to cut down on their drinking.
I wondered if being off the road was helping with that or making it worse for the guys.
We eventually found the place and I went around the block to stick the car in a parking garage. “I think the place we played was a couple of blocks from here,” I told Ziggy, as we walked out onto the sidewalk. “I only really saw things from inside buses and cars so my sense of direction is crap.”
“Looks like America,” he said, looking around at a downtown area dominated by brick buildings from the turn of the century (the 19th century). “What time are we meeting her? Let’s walk around a little if we have time.”
We had maybe 20 minutes to spare, which wasn’t that much, but I was happy to walk. I definitely felt under-exercised and over-anxious. It was the middle of the afternoon. I think we went by some blues clubs and bars but they were empty and washing down their sidewalks. I wasn’t really paying much attention to our surroundings. I was paying attention to Ziggy.
“What did she say again on the phone?” He asked.
“That it was time BNC got back to emphasizing music.”
“Do you think she meant that the music division should worry about music and the film division should worry about film?” His eyes were searching ahead of us, taking in the people and places that I was ignoring. “Or did she meant what the BNC music division was previously doing wasn’t music?”
“No idea.” It was too hot to keep my denim jacket on, so I slung it over my shoulder.
Ziggy was ever-so-slightly glammed up, same eyeliner he’d been wearing to the hospital but with many more rings and a few necklaces on, a skin-tight black T-shirt and jeans under an oversized western-cut shirt with almost-subtle rhinestone buttons. He wore the shirt with the sleeves rolled up, unbuttoned, like it was more of a jacket than a shirt. He wouldn’t have looked out of place adding a cowboy hat with silver conches on it. “I thought Barrett said that the musical direction I should go would be determined by what movie property they attached me to next.”
“I guess bring that up? But maybe that’s what she means. The music division can’t wait around for Hollywood?”
“I suppose we’ll see soon enough.” He did a little twirl on a street corner. “This is fun.”
“Talking about corporate motivations is not my idea of fun,”I felt compelled to say. “But being out of the hospital is nice,”
“I meant walking around without a bodyguard, but yeah, that, too.” He steered me toward the entrance of the hotel—I guess he had been keeping an eye on where we wandered. Before we went in, though, he jacked up the sleeves of my T-shirt to show off my tattoo and fluffed my hair.
“Bend down and touch your toes,” he said, when it wasn’t fluffy enough. “Shake out your head. Now, flip it back when you stand up. That’s better.”
I stood up, my hair now in its full glory, I suppose. I caught a glimpse of my reflection in some glass. “Where’d you learn that? You’ve never had hair this long.”
“Just a trick of the trade,” he said, looking over the tops of his sunglasses as we entered the lobby. “There she is.”
Patty was as I remembered her: tall and slim with straight blonde hair of varying shades. She had it pulled back in a ponytail, one lock of it near her forehead escaping in a curl. She was in blue jeans and a light blue button-down shirt, neatly rolled up to the elbows. She shook Ziggy’s hand, then mine, and asked if we’d eaten already. We said no, and she said they’d be happy to accommodate us in the hotel’s restaurant.
The lobby was large in classic old hotel style, with a marble fountain in the middle. There were ducks in the fountain. I wasn’t going to say anything about the ducks, but when she saw me looking at them she told me they were a famous fixture of the hotel. “The guy who was the duck master just retired.”
Those words barely made any sense to me so I just nodded and concentrated on not tripping over my feet. They seated us in an otherwise pretty much empty hotel restaurant. The menu had a lot of French words on it. Patty asked for some bread and butter and sparkling water and when the waiter came back, Ziggy took charge and ordered a few things with her blessing.
“Honestly,” she said, “the expense account is one of the truly great things about this job.”
“And we’ve been living on hotel food and cup ramen,” Ziggy replied.
“Goodness. Well, blessings on you both and all that. I went through it with my first husband’s father, and I know how tough it can be.” She was wearing a wedding band that looked very similar to ours. “He was a lot older than me. My husband, I mean, not his father. But you’re so young to be going through this.”
“I’m the third of four,” I said, like that made it better. “I’d appreciate if we could talk about something else, though.”
“Of course, of course.” The waiter put down a basket of bread and a little ceramic dish of butter, and she tore a piece off the baguette. “We can talk about whatever you want. The point was to break bread with you.”
“Literally,” Ziggy said with a snort.
“Literally,” she agreed, as she buttered her piece. “I think you should know I’m the one who picked your demo tape out of the pile.”
“Really?” That interested me.
“There were two songs on that tape,” Patty said, leaning her chin on one fist while she reminisced. “Grenadier and Candlelight. Couldn’t have picked two more different songs.”
“We were trying to show our range.” I buttered a piece of bread for myself.
“Well, you succeeded. It was obvious Candlelight was an outstanding song, but actually Grenadier was my favorite.”
“Oh.” I didn’t know what to say to that. “Thanks?”
She chuckled. “Mills was like whatever. If it’d just been a two-song demo and that was it, it would’ve gone into the circular file. But you had a whole indie album out, and after listening to that and reading the reviews, he got interested enough to want to know more.”
“And eventually decided he wanted to sign us so much that he was willing to buy Charles River Records to get us,” I said. “Or at least he acted like he would.”
She nodded. “Once he heard other record companies were starting to get interested, well, then it became a competition he had to win.” She shrugged. “Proof that we were onto a good thing, I suppose. I’ll be honest. I don’t think John had much of an ear. He had a good eye for image and a nose for celebrity,” (she may have glanced at Ziggy at that point) “but he didn’t come out of the radio world like I did. He didn’t know how to hear a hit or to judge accessibility.”
“Let me guess,” Ziggy said. “He relied on you for that.”
“Bingo.” She pointed at him and the mannerism reminded me simultaneously of Mills and Carynne. “He’s better off in Hollywood, and I’m finally getting to do what I was really doing all along, which is artists and repertoire.”
“What radio station did you work for?” I asked.
“There’s a rock station in northern Jersey, you’ve probably never heard of it…”
“WDHA, you mean?” I saw her nod. “Of course I’ve heard of it. I listened to it a ton as a kid.” I turned to Ziggy as if what I was saying would make sense to him: “It was like everything that was good about WNEW but seemed to have fewer commercials and was less obnoxious than K-Rock.”
“Oh man. I couldn’t even listen to K-Rock once they picked up Howard Stern,” she said.
“That was right when I moved to New England.” I tore off another piece of bread. It was crusty on the outside but fluffy inside and the butter was so rich it was one step from being cheese. “So I guess I’m not missing anything. I never really saw the appeal.”
“Of course you didn’t. Stern delivers big ratings in men in their thirties and forties. That’s who can’t get enough of his racist, sexist stereotype shtick.” She had a genuine smile on her face as she looked back and forth between us. “And music radio should be less about the DJ and more about the music itself, if you ask me. And rock is on the upswing for the first time in a while.”
“Oh, really,” I said neutrally. Barrett had said a similar thing in one of our post-Nirvana conversations.
A waiter delivered a round of appetizers then, but Patty was done with preludes. “So tell me,” she said as she unfolded her napkin and spread it across her lap. “How you’d feel about going back into the studio. Together.”
I nearly choked on a snail.