I took a hot shower to ger the kinks out of my neck but at rehearsal I discovered that the band was at least as off kilter after a week off as my emotions were after the experience of the previous night. Part of that might have been that Ziggy, seeming contrite, was subdued and that made for an almost timid approach to his vocals, which made the whole rest of the band hesitant.
Which made me frustrated. Now was the time we needed to be gelling, so everything could be solid before I was about to disappear for six weeks. If this was how shaky things got after one week off, what would it be like when I arrived here on September 3? To try to inject some energy, Marvelle was overdoing it, while keying in to Ziggy’s reticence Bradley was underdoing it, Chris and Bart were taking their cues from me, and I was all over the fucking place.
I made us break to eat when we weren’t even really hungry yet.
Ziggy and I stood next to each other at the microwave while we heated up something. I don’t remember what. We had a conversation that went about like this:
Me: Why didn’t you just come to Boston with me, again?
Zig: You could take a week off. I couldn’t.
Me: You could’ve at least come for a couple of days.
Zig: I told you I feel weird about that house, though, remember?
Me: About fucking me there, yeah. There are these things called hotels, though?
Zig: Like that wouldn’t be weird?
After lunch I wrote out the set list on a white board in block letters and propped it on a chair where we could see it. I was making us rehearse in a circle where we could all see each other. It’s very different when you all play facing the same direction–toward the imaginary audience–and when you face each other. In the studio we had a tendency to face each other except that it was rare for the whole band to be laying down a track together at the same time. When I got back from the last leg with Nomad we’d switch to rehearsing on the stage set and also incorporate the dancers, et cetera. Right now, we needed to be able to see each other as well as hear each other.
“I know it’s rough right now,” I said, “but I want to run through the entire set, front to back, without stops or pauses except for tuning and count-offs.”
They looked at me like I was nuts, given how rough the individual songs had sounded already.
“It’s the only way to know how far we have to go. If you get lost, fuck up, start the wrong song, whatever, we’re just going to keep going. I need to find out just how far we actually have to go to get where we need. Okay?”
Small nods and blank stares. “Okay?” I repeated.
“Okay,” Bart said. “Let’s give it a shot.”
So off we went. The opening song was “Parade” and it was going to begin with a kind of Brazilian Carnival percussion lead in–assume lots of dancers–and work its way right through another uptempo number to “Do It”. It was the musical equivalent of a horse race where everything came shooting out of the gate and barrelled down a straightaway picking up speed before hitting the curve.
The curve was where we’d bring in the power ballads, work up to a big production number in “Into the Night” and bring in “Wonderland.” The final straightaway we’d pick up speed again, hitting them with a set that would peak with “Breaking Chains,” and then we’d saved “After the Storm” and “Candlelight” for the encore.
I let them stop after the main set without doing the encore. They were ragged and tired-looking with varying edges of panic (Bradley), confusion (Chris), annoyance (Marvelle), and discontent (Ziggy, Bart) in their faces.
I put the guitar down to talk. “I have something to say.” Maybe that was obvious, given that I was talking, but announcing it like that got their attention.
“We’re trying to climb a mountain here. Maybe you guys don’t realize it.”
“This isn’t a walk in the park where we walk around the same park again and again,” I looked at Marvelle as I said that. “It’s not a bungee jump where it’s every man for himself. It’s not even a ship cruise where I’m the captain and you guys are the crew. It’s a fucking expedition to Everest, we’re all tied together with a rope, and if one of us falls, we all fall.”
I saw Chris swallow.
“It’s a mountain because it’s difficult. We’re going to have obstacles and challenges and it’s not easy. We’re doing new material that audiences don’t know so we have to present it at its best. It’s not like a greatest hits tour where everyone knows the words and we can be loosey goosey with it and they’ll like it anyway. We’re climbing a mountain and the only way we’re going to all make it in one piece is to stick the fuck together. If someone starts to fall behind it’s everyone’s responsibility to make sure they get back on the trail. Tomorrow the climbing party gets larger when we add in the horns and the singers. That’s more people on the rope that could fall. You have to be pulling for each other. The only way we’re going to make it is if we all have the goal that we are all going to make it. Anything less is unacceptable.”
I looked around, taking in the varying degrees of defiance and confusion in their faces, their body language. “Here’s the thing. If right now you’re thinking that’s all well and good but all you have to worry about is your part, if you can just nail your part you’re good and you don’t have to worry about anyone else, they’ll take care of themselves? You’re wrong.”
I repeated it. “You’re wrong. If you’re thinking oh, I’m not that important, I’m not that good, I should just worry about my part because I’m barely keeping up and so I should just concentrate on this and it’ll all work out, you’re wrong. And if you’re thinking, I’m great, I got this, I’ve nailed my part already, I don’t have to worry about anyone else because I got this, you’re wrong.” That’s right, this lecture wasn’t just for the ones at the front of the pack nor the ones at the back. It was literally for everybody.
“This isn’t about how great any of us is. The audience doesn’t care about our names–Ziggy excepted. They’re there to see a show. They’re there to see us as a single thing, not a bunch of individual musicians. So we have to become a single thing. The whole team has to get to the top of the mountain together. It’s going to take the whole team to get us there, because if anyone falls, we all fall. Trust me, when we get to the top of the mountain, it will have been worth it.” Defiance had been replaced by determination in their faces, dejection by hope. “The view from the top is amazing. Trust me, it’ll be worth it. I didn’t make us run this test run to punish you all and prove how much we suck. I did it to see how much work we have to do to get ready to actually make the trek. Yeah, we’re not ready. But we will be.”
I said that last bit not to convince them, but to convince myself, and the funny this was it worked. I felt much more optimistic after my pep talk than I had before.
Then I made them take another break. During which I buzzed past Ziggy again.
Me: So what was her name anyway?
Zig: Will you be happy or angry if I tell you that I don’t know?
When we reconvened I didn’t make us run through the entire thing again, instead concentrating on the first two songs for an hour or so and then it was time to let Ziggy go. Can’t remember if I explained this before: if we rehearsed for eight hours in a day, we only had Ziggy for four of them. You can’t sing eight hours a day. You just can’t. No matter who you are. Human vocal cords just won’t take that much use without damage. So we had a schedule and the half of the day when he wasn’t there we worked on stuff without him and that was also when sometimes me, Bart, and Chris would work on the opening material.
Today when Ziggy’s stint was done I decided to let everyone else go, too, and make it me-Bart-Chris time.
While Bart was tuning his cello Ziggy and I had a conversation about like this:
Me: Are we meeting up for dinner or should I see you at your apartment later?
Zig: If you come into Manhattan for dinner I’ll meet you. And that’s weird.
Me: What’s weird?
Zig: You went from calling it ‘the apartment’ to ‘your apartment.’
Me: Um. Should I call it ‘your space age bachelor pad’ instead?
Carynne came by around seven with a bottle of champagne and a bag of plastic champagne flutes. “Good news. Initial trademark search turned up clear. You’re officially Star*Gaze.”
We popped the bottle and celebrated a little and that did a lot to lift my mood. Not that it had been low, just weird. I listened to her talk about logo design and buzzwords and how much easier we’d be to shop around now that we had an actual name. There was still a chance a trademark challenge could come up, apparently, but the paperwork was in process. It was the first time we’d bothered with this sort of thing. With Moondog Three we’d just started calling ourselves that, performing and recording under that name, and waiting to see if anyone else copycatted the name or accused us of same. No one had.
Now that we were a WTA property we learned that the right way to do it would be to register the name first before using it and to lock down all the rights before investing in building a brand. Building a brand. Just thinking about it was making me exhausted. But that was why it was other people’s job to deal with all that now.
“Ziggy says if we grab dinner in Manhattan he’ll meet us,” I told the rest of them when the bottle was empty.
Carynne’s radar was as sharp as ever. Her antennae went up and zeroed right in on me. “Everything all right between you two?”
“Yeah, sure, everything’s great. Why? What’d I say?”
Bart and Chris exchanged disbelieving glances.
“No, really, we’re solid. We’re working out some stuff, but it’s fine. Or, it will be,” I confessed.
Bart drained his glass and then, without righting his chair, tossed it expertly into the 55-gallon drum that served as our trash bin. “Daron. This is us you’re talking to. Which one of us do you want to talk you off the ledge this time?”
I may have made a very undignified, indignant noise at that point. I was a wee bit affronted–though only a wee bit since I could see why he might think that. “I think I’ve done a fine job of talking myself off the ledge this time, thank you very much,” I said. “But I guess I wouldn’t mind a little advice.”
(Another song about the music biz. They say “write what you know.” -d)