The doorbell woke me up a few hours later and I knew Digger was back. Everyone in the band had a key to the house and wouldn’t have rung it. I started changing my clothes, then remembered I’d put these on clean before I fell asleep. The hair on the back of my head was still damp, like I hadn’t moved since I lay down. The sky was dark outside the window.
When I came down the stairs I was suddenly hyper aware of the graffiti in the stairwell, the pile of Colin’s dirty laundry at the bottom of the steps, the fact that most of our furniture had come off the street or from Salvation Army. No one expects their parents to see them live like this, I think. Not that I really gave a flying fuck what Digger thought of the place. And yet.
Digger had traded his tie and overcoat for a plain gray sweatshirt. He looked a little more like I’d expect that way, even though he’d worn a tie every day to work when he worked in my grandfather’s shoe store. God, I thought, I wonder what happened to the store? After my grandfather had died, Digger had been managing the place. For all I knew, Claire was doing the job now, though I couldn’t picture it. I also couldn’t picture myself asking about it. He was sitting with Christian in the living room and they each had a beer in hand.
“How’s the hand?” Chris said as soon as he saw me. Bart’s head peeked out of the kitchen to hear the answer.
I sat down in the broken recliner (it was permanently reclined–the footrest had stopped retracting before we acquired it). “Hurts. I gotta eat before I can take another horse pill.”
“So, let’s eat.” Digger looked pretty relaxed and happy. “You kids pick a place yet?”
Ziggy and Michelle came out of the kitchen and Michelle said “I think we’re thinking the North End.”
Digger insisted on driving, so all six of us piled into his Taurus while Chris and Michelle gave directions. We didn’t have an accident and the intensity of navigation in Boston kept us from discussing anything else for the duration of the trip. The North End is to Boston what Little Italy is to Manhattan. After shows Bart and I often visited a bakery here that was open all night, but I’d yet to eat in a North End restaurant.
After much driving around the edges we parked the car in a pay lot and walked up a brick-lined street into a neighborhood of narrow alleyways and streets strung with tri-color tinsel in the shapes of Christmas bells, stars, and curlicues. We went up and down two streets of bistros, bakeries, and restaurants before Digger pronounced our quest over and led us into a place paneled in dark wood, with red leather banquettes. A waitress with tall frosted hair brought us to a round table in a corner and left us with two steaming baskets of fresh-from-the-oven bread.
Okay, so I’d always heard the expression “breaking bread” and knew it stood for “making peace.” What I hadn’t known was how literally true it was. As soon as we started in on the bread, everyone relaxed and started to chat. The bread had a crisp crust but was melt-in-your-mouth light inside. We’d eaten all of it before I’d read half the menu. Digger didn’t open his–he’d picked what he wanted from the menu in the window. He also picked a wine and asked the waitress to bring us more bread. The trip had become like some weird family outing, only if it had actually been our family he and Claire would have fought about where to park the car, wouldn’t have agreed on a restaurant, and I would have already tried to slip away from them to pretend I was with some other family.
The conversation ranged from MTV to MNB to Charlie Sheen, and I had to admit I was impressed. Digger talked like he knew the entertainment industry and his opinions didn’t sound dumb. He’d seen more movies than I had and seemed well informed about music biz dirt. The osso bucco and gnocchi left us groaning stuffed, but he ordered a round of tiramisu with six spoons and coffee, and after I was done dumping sugar into mine everyone sat back, full, talked out, and tired.
“So,” Digger began, and my eyes unglazed to focus on him. “Chris here tells me you’re having some trouble getting BNC to go along with your program.”
The hairs on the back of my neck and arms tingled. “Typical stuff,” I said. I still hadn’t told any of them about Mills’ phone call that day.
He sipped his coffee from its tiny china cup. “Spin article mentioned you’re trying to self-manage, too.”
“For some definition of self-manage, yeah.”
“What do you mean by that?” He sipped his coffee. He was speaking in a groomed professional voice I couldn’t remember having heard before.
“I mean, we hire managers when we need them. Road manager, stage manager, you know. But there’s no… manager manager.”
“How about agent?”
“You mean booking agent?”
“An agent does a lot more than booking, you know that,” he said, matter of factly. “A good agency hooks you up with all kinds of stuff, not just venues.”
“We’ve been shopping around.” That was true, actually. I knew there was no way we could tour the way I wanted to without a decent agent. Especially with BNC being dicey about supporting us.
Digger put his cup down on the white saucer. “There’s business stuff you need to consider now, too. There’s a lot of things you need to be thinking about: cash flow, incorporation, insurance…” His eyes flicked to the splint on my hand.
“Yeah, yeah,” I began. “Guys, I talked to Mills today.”
Chris leaned forward. “And?”
“And he’s busting my balls about not having a demo for the next record ready. It’s almost like he either wants to sign us right away to a multi-year deal, or he wants to get rid of us.”
“And…?” Bart said.
“He wants to send Jordan Travers up to record some stuff like next week. And he’s going to be at the Orpheum show.” I held up my hand. “But I didn’t tell him about this.”
“No shit, Jordan Travers?” That was Digger and we all looked at him. “He produced probably four out of the current top tens on the Billboard chart right now. They want you bad, kiddo.”
“Would they send a guy like that just to produce a demo?”
Digger fiddled with the tiny china cup in front of him. “Sounds like he wants more than just a demo.”
“We’re not ready for this.”
“So how are you going to handle this Mills character?” Digger looked at me.
“I don’t know.”
“You need somebody who can intervene on your behalf.”
“That’s what worries me,” I said.
“Listen to me, Daron. You need to be able to play good cop bad cop with these people. You, as the artist, always want to be good cop to them. Let them think you’re doing what they want all the time. Stay on the good side of the people who have to work for you so that they’ll be motivated. But when that isn’t enough, you need someone else to play hard ball.”
“And when you do hit the road, are you going to do it your way or theirs? If you don’t already have a road manager, merchandising, a publicist, you know you’ll end up with who they give you to, am I right?” He looked at the others, not at me.
Bart was nodding slowly. Ziggy’s face was unreadable.
“And how about finances? Your taxes this year are going to be a nightmare, and how are you going to handle things next year? Not that the kind of lump account you have now can’t work, but have you thought about paying salaries from a central body? Incorporate, have your health insurance paid out of that account, and give yourselves salaries, and you reduce your taxable income. Have you ever thought about that?”
“Yes,” I said automatically, although that wasn’t strictly true. I’d thought about all that, but never known what to think. I’d been too lame to find out exactly what it takes or who it would take to get it all done. “I’ll get around to it soon.”
He waved his hands over his coffee cup like he was about the pull a rabbit out of it. “Oh no, kiddo, why bother? You get yourself a good manager, he’ll think of those things, he’ll handle those things, and free you up to worry about stuff like, oh, music?”
“No kidding.” I took a sip of my own coffee which was so thick with sugar as to be syrupy. I liked it that way. “But we’ve seen plenty of managers who treat their artists like slaves.” Or who were just plain promise-breaking sleazebags. “Yeah, their job is money but it’s the artist’s money. And how many managers claim they were doing things that were in the artist’s best interest that really weren’t? Nobody likes being treated like a commodity.” I was on a roll.
“So get somebody who really cares.”
“Oh yeah, and find me a fairy godmother while you’re at it.”
He smiled and folded his hands into his lap. “You’re looking at him.”
“Looking at who?”
“Your fairy godfather, a manager who really cares.”
We all sat without saying anything for a few moments while two voices in my brain went back and forth, no way, you know he has a point, no fucking way, why don’t we hear some more? The others were looking at each other and at me.
“If you say yes,” Digger said, “I can write off the whole dinner, too.”
“I…” I had that strange electrified feeling all over my skin, like none of this was real and I was just a projection from some camera somewhere.
When in doubt, defer, defer, defer. “We’ll think about it,” I finally said.
“Cool,” said Christian under his breath.
“I’d love to do it,” Digger said. “Let’s walk some of this food off while I tell you about what I’ve been doing this year with WTA. I think it’d fit in good…”