1091. Achy Breaky Heart

Claire came out of surgery some time that evening. The words I remember the doctor using were that she was “out of immediate danger” and wondering how that was different from him saying “we’ve staved off the inevitable.” Maybe it wasn’t.

I didn’t ask. Maybe Remo did. I wasn’t absorbing a lot.

She stayed in ICU that night, and through the next day, and then the next night, if I’m remembering it right. She wasn’t very communicative when she was awake, once putting her hand over her eyes and waving at us to go away, once holding my hand and sighing with her eyes closed, that sort of thing.

But when they eventually moved her back to her room, she started to talk again. A little. She was too weak to sit up and had no interest in food of any kind. She sucked on a chip of ice now and then.

We didn’t have any big momentous emotional conversations. I didn’t have anything to get off my chest and I worried that a big emotional outburst would kill her.

Courtney cried on her shoulder and Claire said “There, there,” and patted her, the tubes in her arm moving when she did. That was about as much as she would say. She didn’t have the energy for much else.

I almost wished for her to be well enough to pretend she was eating again. It struck me then that maybe when she did that, it wasn’t because she was keeping up her appearance for vanity or something, but for us, to keep us from worrying and make us feel like everything was “normal.”

What am I saying? Both things were undoubtedly true. There is no “or.” I reminded myself that “normal” was a soul-killing concept anyway.

At any rate, it was clear to us she had slipped to a lower gear. Court called Janine and one great aunt of ours in upstate New York that she knew of.

We went back to rotating who was at the hospital. Ziggy and I went back to the hotel to get a couple more hours of sleep one morning and found a voice mail for us there from Barrett:

“Didn’t want to page if you’re tied up at the hospital, but figured if you’re hearing this you must be back at the hotel. How’d the meeting with Patty go? Give me a call when you get a chance.”

Ziggy grimaced. “He sounds nervous as… as…”

“A cat in a room full of rocking chairs?” It was a Remo-ism we’d been hearing a lot.

“…As a really nervous thing. I guess we really should’ve called him a couple of days ago.” He sat down by the bed and dialed the phone. “When we go into the hospital it’s like time just stops.”

“Yeah.” I sat down next to him and lay back, my feet still on the floor but my arms stretched above my head on the bed. “Priorities shift, anyway.”

Barrett picked up and Ziggy switched us to speakerphone. “Sorry we didn’t call sooner. We’ve been in the hospital. I kinda think we won’t be here that much longer.”

“What’s that mean, exactly?” Barrett asked.

Ziggy shrugged and looked at me. I said, “It means… if she had years to live before, it’s only months now. If she had months to live, it’s more like weeks now. If she had weeks to live, we’re down to days. But nobody really seems to know how much time she actually has left, only that it’s less.”

I mean, it wasn’t a very helpful answer, but it was an answer.

Ziggy didn’t wait for Barrett to react to it and launched right in: “Patty seems like she’s very driven.”

“Doesn’t she? I never had that impression from her before, but I guess she was waiting to make her move.” I could hear Barrett shuffling some papers on his desk. “She floated some trial balloons with me, but how about you go first. What did she talk to you about?”

“She said she wants to do another publicity stunt like we did before, but bigger. Built around a kind of…. secret reunion between me and Daron?”

“Yeah, we talked about that. She came out of the radio world and she had one foot in publicity even while she was Mills’ second in command in A&R. She feels where the interest is and she pumps that gas pedal.”

“Huh.” What was interesting to me was that the impression she gave me was that hitting the gas on more and better music was what would make the car go. Maybe she gave a different impression based on who she was talking to. Which would make sense. It was the sort of thing Ziggy would do.

“She laid out for me the trail of breadcrumbs that adds up to media hype for teasing a reunion between the two of you, basically,” Barrett said.

“As if we didn’t just do a tour together of an entire continent?” Ziggy asked.

“To the American consumer, what happens overseas doesn’t really count. The South American tour is, if anything, just another breadcrumb. This has to do with Japan, too, by the way.”

“Oh, does it?” Ziggy lay a hand on my thigh like I needed calming. “In what way?”

“There’s the same kind of buildup there as here. She’s got sources there who say Daron hooking up with you would drive hype to, well, hyper levels.”

“Me?” I propped my head up with my hands behind it. “Why me?”

“You’ve got a kind of cult following there, I guess? They’re very into the whole ‘guitar god’ mythos, apparently. Tower Records sells more shirts with you on them than Ziggy.”

“Wait, what?” I sat up. My stomach complained when I did. I wasn’t sure when the last time we ate was. “That doesn’t even make sense. Moondog Three didn’t even tour there.”

“But you went with Nomad. From what I understand 1989 sells pretty well there, too, especially since you didn’t tour there. From a Japanese perspective, Moondog Three and Nomad are the same genre, so the same fans are pumped about you.”

Ziggy and I shared a look. He said what I was thinking: “1989? You mean the unrecoupable album?”

“Yeah. About that.” He paused and I held my breath. “Patty brought that up. Now, take this with a grain of salt. This is going to sound like bullshit, and maybe it is, but it’s maybe a face-saving move for them. She says international sales weren’t taken into account in the past the way they are now because of corporate restructuring. So she’s sort of using your international sales as a lever to pry off that unrecoupable label.”

I didn’t let my breath go, yet. Ziggy again spoke for both of us. “Which means what?”

“Just how deep of a conspiracy theory do you want to hear?”

“No no, I mean, what would it mean for us if Moondog Three was actually recouped or whatever the word is?”

“Oh. Yeah.” Barrett let out a sigh and I had to breathe. “It would mean you owe them up to three more albums, pending option clauses and all that.”

“Don’t I owe them five albums as it is?”

Barrett paused for another breath. I wondered if he was having asthma or something. “Yeah. A different five albums. If all the cards come out right, we could have both solo albums from you and band albums from the band. That is, if that’s what you want. I need to know how you want me to play this hand.”

When he said “hand” I was looking at my stigmata. “Do you really think that could happen?”

“I do. The tea leaves are all saying guitar-driven rock bands are back. In fact, the fans for them probably never went away except that the industry itself moved away from them, and now a market correction is taking place, which is why grunge is suddenly the new hot thing. People are hungry. But that doesn’t mean the pop stardom direction for Ziggy should necessarily change, either.”

“Have our cake and eat it too, you mean,” Ziggy said. “Don’t I always say ‘and’ is better than ‘or’?”

“You do. But it would mean a lot of management, for lack of a better term. A lot of careful planning. And a lot of production out of you two. Daron, you haven’t said much.”

“I know.” I closed my hand into a fist. “Barrett, listen. I haven’t written a song in like a year.”

“Shit,” Ziggy said, and I got the feeling he hadn’t intended to say it out loud.

Barrett didn’t sound fazed. “Okay, good to know. So maybe we need to… move a little carefully for the time being. You know, there are psychologists who specialize in writers block. When you get back to the city–” He broke off. “I know. I shouldn’t be counting on you getting back here anytime soon. But you know the life cycle of an album–or of a stealth publicity campaign–is pretty long. This isn’t like you need to get in the studio next week.”

“Isn’t it? Patty sounded like she wanted to book a session as soon as we’re wheels down at JFK,” Ziggy said. “She wants Daron to re-record the guitar parts for ‘Into the Night.'”

“Wow, okay, she didn’t tell me she’d picked out a song.” Barrett flipped some more papers. “Did you say yes?”

“Um, we said we liked the idea but we didn’t commit to doing it, I don’t think,” Ziggy said. “She was vague about a lot of things and we stayed vague since you weren’t there.”

“Yeah. All right. Here’s the thing to remember. It’s all talk at this point. Nothing may come of it. Next week she could wake up and decide the next big thing is singing dolphins. And of course the lawsuit bullshit isn’t remotely resolved. But I need to hear from you what you want or I don’t know which levers to pull.”

Ziggy looked at me, waiting for me to say something. What I said was, “You told Patty there was nothing you loved more in the world than making music with me.”

“One-hundred percent true,” Ziggy replied solemnly.

I opened my mouth to say “Same” but I don’t think I got the word out. What came out were all the unexpressed emotions of the past few days, in a sudden burst of tears.

Ziggy hugged me and told Barrett, “We’ll talk about it and call you back.” He hung up the phone and we lay down together and I cried myself to sleep.

(Somehow I wasn’t expecting Billy Ray Cyrus’s audience to be 90% women or for his hair to be almost as long as mine in this video from 1994. -daron)


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