One of the advantages of Ziggy being in stealth mode a lot then, was that his hair didn’t have a lot of stuff in it. Which meant I could run my fingers through it. Right then it was silkier than a conditioner commercial.
So was mine. He buried his nose in it and breathed. “You used the hotel shampoo.”
“Is that good?” I looked up at the hotel ceiling, which was like a flat eggshell above us except for the smoke alarm. A tiny red light blinked every now and then.
“Yes, it’s nice, without going all the way to smelling like flowers.”
“Christian started using this fancy stuff for a while–supposed to be good for long hair–that was rosemary something or other.”
“I’m surprised you noticed.”
“It was hard not to. Every time he walked past me I wanted to order a pizza.”
He laughed and his breath was soft against my neck.
“I’m serious,” I said, but it was good to hear him laugh. I sighed and let myself smile.
Ziggy rested his hand in its habitual position–on my heart. “So. You want to shoot the moon.”
“Yeah.” I knew there were so many ways it could go wrong. Some of which might get decided in courtrooms. “A guy can dream, right?”
“I like to hear your dreams,” Ziggy said.
“Oh yeah? Did I ever tell you about the one with the flying burrito of doom?”
He snickered. “You did. Where it was ominously floating after us while we all ran away?”
“Yes, that’s the one. And I wasn’t even on any drugs.”
“Your brain is weird enough without any drugs, dear one.” He tucked his cheek against my chest then, his head in the crook of my arm. “I keep trying to imagine what it will be like to get back in the studio together.”
“I’m sure it’ll be fine,” I said, then stopped to think. Why did I say that? That was kind of an odd thing to say. It came out automatically, like when someone asks how are you and you say “I’m fine” even when you’re not. “Um, I think maybe I’m trying not to think about it, because I might jinx it.” Or maybe because I wasn’t ready to face what it would be like without Jordan.
Which got me to thinking about what recording 1989 had been like. In the loft in Chinatown that had been converted into a recording space. Ziggy and I had been… so hard on each other then.
“You just had a bad thought, didn’t you.”
“Can you tell?”
“You sort of seize up, like you’re getting ready to bolt.” He rubbed my chest in a circle and I made myself relax. “You don’t have to tell me what it was if you don’t want to.”
Which of course made me want to. “I was just thinking about when we recorded 1989.”
“At Mondo Z? You know I think it’s gone. I think that whole building in Chinatown’s empty now. Probably redeveloping it.”
“Huh. I haven’t been by there in ages.” I wondered when he had. Or maybe he read it somewhere. “Yeah. I was thinking about how… hard it was.”
“Well, I mean how hard we were on each other.” The moments when we were actually recording were the easy part. “I still regret the fight.”
“Oh, man. Me too.” He lifted up on one arm and looked down at me. “You know I don’t think I ever really told you what was going on that night.”
“Didn’t you?” I know we’d talked about the fight before.
“I’m much less self-conscious now about a lot of things, especially with you,” he said. “That self-consciousness was what was holding me back from being a better actor.”
“You mean you’re a better actor now because you’re not self-conscious?”
“Yeah. I don’t mean ‘self-conscious’ as in self-aware: every actor has to have a certain amount of self-awareness. No, I mean it in the bad way, like worrying about what people are thinking when they look at you. And to be a great actor, you have to be willing to look totally ridiculous and not give a fuck. Like if they say ‘pretend to be a bird’ you flap your arms and make a noise like a crow and you do not give a fuck that it might look really stupid to someone else.”
“Huh. That’s interesting. But what does that have to do with you loitering on The Block?” At various times he’d told me about his forays into Boston’s gay community. I was still never sure how much to believe. His assertions about it ranged from “just curious” about whether he’d fit in (he didn’t) to “I wanted to know more about gay men so I could understand you better.” He’d also admitted to sometimes taking sexual adventuring to reckless extremes. Sucking off suburban closet cases in their cars for money would certainly count as that. Which he might or might not have done while hanging around The Block, Boston’s notorious gay hustler pickup street.
Ziggy let out a sigh. “It was Jordan’s idea.”
“What?” I seized up again.
“Hush, hush, let me explain. He and I had been talking about trying to get the right performance for the song ‘See Right Through.’ And we’d been talking about acting methods and getting into character, and all that.” He settled back down in the crook of my arm. “And, you know, the lyrics are kind of meant to be ambiguous whether the guy is an actual whore or just feels like he’s whoring himself out because of his crap job or having to compromise his principles or whatever.”
“Which song?” I couldn’t remember the song he was talking about.
“In the end we didn’t record it. It was one of mine,” he said, patting my chest with his palm. “But at the time I was still thinking about it a lot, and what he said. And I did it kind of as an, I don’t know, Method Acting exercise, I guess.”
“You stood on the Block and let suburban closet cases ogle you just to explore what it was like to be an actual whore, so you could sing about feeling like one?”
“Yeah. Well, partly. You know I probably had other motives, too, because I always do. Was I looking for a reckless thrill? Maybe. Was I trying to get a rise out of you if you saw me? Probably. I am not sure I actually thought it through that much.” He shrugged, but since he was lying down snuggling with me I felt it more than saw it. “The thing is, when you did see me there, I felt ridiculous.”
“Like I’d caught you pretending to be a bird.”
“Exactly. Now I know that getting ‘caught’ looking like a complete fool is par for the course for any actor. But at the time I was just… defensive and weird with you about a lot of things, and I knew you didn’t think the song was very good, and then it devolved into us having an actual fight, so I felt even more like a fool.”
“I’m still sorry I tried to hit you.”
“Did you forget you missed me, hit a brick wall instead, and that I hit you?”
“You hit me in self-defense, though. I’m apologizing for the attempt, not the outcome.”
“And I appreciate that.” He nuzzled me again. “But I was thinking back even further. To when we were recording Prone.”
“Man. What was that place even called…?” We had recorded it in a studio in a rough area of town– sort of the border of Dorchester and Roxbury, I think? I dunno, Bart drove–an area that was much rougher in 1988 than it is now. We didn’t have a lot of money, and neither did Charles River Records, so we were only there for like two weeks? Maybe less. “Sound Something-or-other? I remember the engineer’s name was Clark.”
“Was that his first name or his last name?”
“No idea.” That made us both laugh a little. “He seemed happy to be there at all hours, which was good. Trying to get ten songs finished in basically a day each…” It wasn’t supposed to take a long time, though, because it wasn’t like we showed up at the studio and then started jamming trying to figure out what to write. We had been playing out at clubs and had built up a set list. All we had to do was get the parts down on tape.
But it had gone by in a blur. Which explained why when Ziggy asked if I remembered recording “Candlelight,” I said no, not really.
“I remember being in nonstop motion for two weeks and then sleeping for a week. What got you thinking about that?”
He snuggled in tighter, one of his ankles hugging mine under the bedclothes. “I heard it on the radio today. At the nurses station. I started to sing along without even thinking about it and the tall one, Kristy? Gave me such a look.” He chuckled. “Like she’d forgotten who we were and suddenly remembered.”
The ceiling had a light patch above the side table and the rest was a shadow. My gaze roved over the transition from the puddle of light to the dark, trying to discern where it changed over, but there was no one line, just a gradual gray zone. “But is that who we are?”
“No. You can’t measure your self worth by chart position or you’ll just end up in the loony bin. That much therapy’s taught me. Well, that and a stint in the bin.”
“You went to rehab, not a–”
“I was committed involuntarily,” he reminded me, “and then released only because they took me straight to Betty Ford.”
“Yeah, okay. But that’s what I’m asking, I guess. Is it healthy to say that’s ‘who we are’? Those guys who sing that song they know?”
“That’s who we are to them, to those people,” Ziggy said. “That’s not who we should be to ourselves.”
“Yeah. That makes sense.”
“Anyway. You want me to tell you what I remember about recording ‘Candlelight’?”
“Yes, please.” I closed my eyes as Ziggy cleared his throat like this might be a long story.
“You may have been in constant motion for two weeks, but for me, the recording process was a lot… slower. There was a lot of me sitting around, waiting for my turn in the vocal booth. And I was nervous. We really hadn’t done it before.”
“Yes, we had. We recorded that four-song EP–”
“That EP was practically a live capture of one of our rehearsals. We didn’t even double-track my vocals.”
“That’s because you don’t need double-tracking and showcasing how awesome your voice was the point of–”
“Shhh. I’m telling this story.”
“So there we are going off to this like, underground spy hideout full of strange machines and shit, and I’m trying so hard to play it cool, like I’m already a rock star and this is old hat. Except I’m nervous as hell I’m going to fuck it up. I’m trying so hard to impress you–”
“Because you’re totally in your element. You worked in a studio, you know all this shit, and I know when you snap your fingers I’m going to have to be ‘on’ like that. Which is, you know, mostly okay, because I’m actually awesome, but I was deep in the ‘fake it’ part of ‘fake it, till you make it’ at that point.”
“I know. I know you’re not because you’ve told me before. But you just always seemed so confident to me. It was what made you the perfect front man.”
“But that’s just it. It was a front. I was nervous as hell underneath. And I’d have to direct that nervous energy somewhere. Sometimes it went into the performance itself.”
And sometimes it didn’t. He didn’t have to say that part. Sometimes it went into making my life hell, or just into chasing tail, etc. I made a murmur of agreement.
“The song I was the most nervous about, though…” His voice softened, like he was still a little nervous about it now. “Was ‘Candlelight.'”
“Yeah. Do you remember when we were working on it in rehearsal, and I kept wanting to mess with the lines?”
“I do, but we worked those out. I mean, you had some good ideas about smoothing out the cadence. Let’s face it. When I wrote that song, I didn’t really know how to write a song.”
“You admit that now…” he said slowly. “At the time, you were… much more defensive about it. I mean, like almost protective of that song in a way you weren’t as concerned with the others.”
“What do you mean protective?” I remembered arguing, but it seemed like so long ago. Before we started understanding each other. Like we were different people.
“Protective like a mother tiger with her kittens.”
“I think tigers have cubs, not kittens?”
“Whatever. The point stands.” He laughed softly. “Anyway. I knew that song meant more to you than the others. So I was worried I was going to fuck it up and you were going to hate me.”
“I didn’t hate you.”
“Yet. You did later.”
“But not because of how you sang!”
“You’re seizing up again.” His breath was warm in my ear and he nuzzled me.
“It’s important to me, though, that you know I wouldn’t think less of you because of how you sang a song I wrote.”
“Wouldn’t you? You’ve told me a couple of times that you fell in love with hearing my voice.”
“And you really didn’t like my solo album.”
“But I proposed to you anyway, I’ll point out.”
“Hm, that’s true…”
I rolled him onto his back and kissed him on the neck. “I know I’m a judgmental asshole about some things. But you can’t make your artistic choices based on what I think.”
“Except when we’re collaborating.”
“Collaboration is different. We were talking about your album.”
“No,” he said, wrapping his legs around me, “we were talking about how nervous I was to record ‘Candlelight.'”
“True. Is that what you wanted me to know?”
He looked up at me, his eyes bright and as beautiful as always, unlined and unpainted but still completely entrancing. “Yes. And I know then I went out and killed it. Absolutely nailed it. But I really hadn’t been sure.”
“Maybe nothing is a sure thing and that’s part of the fun.”
He lifted his head enough to peck me on the lips. “Did you hear what you just said? Maybe you should take your own advice.”
“My writers block has nothing to do with performance anxiety,” I said, perfectly serious.
He gave me a sideways look.
“Okay, yeah, I know you’re right. But knowing hasn’t seemed to help me get past my fear that my best playing was in the past.” I slid off him to lie face down on the bed, my head half under a pillow. “And if Claire’s dying wish isn’t enough to get me writing again, then I don’t know what will.”
“I couldn’t hear that last bit,” he said, gently excavating me from the pillow. “Did you say even Claire’s dying wish wasn’t enough to break your creative block?”
“You want my guess why?”
“Because since Moondog Three got sidelined you’ve been doing a lot of work that is for other people, and is about pleasing other people. And there’s a limit to how much of that you can do. You need to get back to music that is what you want.”
“Didn’t I try that with Star*Gaze, though?”
“You told me yourself you felt like your soul got scraped raw every night when you performed it, dear one.”
“I wonder if you would have felt that way if you hadn’t been the one singing the songs.”
I raised my head. “I know I wouldn’t. I…” Had to stop, while a lightbulb went on in my head. “I would rather be writing for you.”
He just nodded.
“You think if I try to write a song for Claire’s funeral for you to sing, it’ll be different?” I was asking him, but in my bones I was already feeling like it was what I should do.
He nodded again. “You know I’ll do her justice.”
I could picture it, Ziggy, in the church, making little old ladies in the front row cry with the expressiveness of his voice. “Of course you w–” I froze, staring, almost catatonic, as an idea in my head took shape like a mushroom cloud. About life as the candle flame, one moment burning strong, but in the next moment it can be gone. Jeezus, that even rhymed. And it was almost a sequel or a part two to “Candlelight,” the way it felt in my head. I didn’t even have any of the details worked out, but I just had a feeling.
“I’ll get the guitar,” Ziggy said.
Merry Christmas, everyone!