That day we were scheduled to have the full band, every single one of them, for six hours, and Ziggy for three. I showed up maybe a half hour before noon, the rest of the band arrived and noon, and then I warmed them up with some blues.
Some of them were surprised. Some of them were not. It was the first time all of them were there at the same time and I thought, you know what? What they have to do is start appreciating each other and reading each other’s minds. There’s nothing like a bunch of improvisation to force people to pay attention to each other and rise to the occasion.
It’s like the best ice-breaker game in the world, now that I think about it. Except instead of each person saying their name and where they come from, when it comes around to you, you have to make a musical statement, and you have to mesh with everyone at the same time.
And it doesn’t matter if you sit there in dread thinking you’re going to suck or if you’re impatient for your turn because you can’t wait to show your stuff. When you play, you play, and sometimes how you felt before you played has no relation to how well (or badly) it comes out.
Also, it being blues, and especially with Marvelle and Fran and Clarice and Mitch, who had all done time in jazz bands and in jazz clubs at one time or another, they had no compunctions against yelling out “yeah!” or laughing at each other if you flubbed or just did something off the wall with your solo. It’s like it being okay to yell out “hallelujah” in a black church. It’s just how it’s done. At the end of an hour there were a lot more “yeah”s and “right on”s than at the beginning and I felt like we were getting somewhere.
We took a break and I paged Barrett. He called while I was making a fresh pot of coffee.
“Everything okay there?” he asked.
“Everything is peachy keen here. How about Ziggy?”
“He seems fine, Daron. I think you’re right, he’s a little manic. But not destructively so. I’m driving him over in a little while myself.”
“Okay, good. What’s on the agenda for tonight?”
“Good. Quiet dinner at home maybe.”
“A good night’s sleep would certainly do him good. And I’ll tell him so.”
My next thing was to reconvene the band and remind them all of our goal for these two weeks. “Basically, we’re going to nail down exactly how the set is going to go. Every note, every fill, everything. And then we’re going to tape it. You’re all going to take the tapes home with you so you can practice your parts anytime you need, and the dancers and stage techs are going to take that same tape and do what they need to do while we’re not available. We get back together on September third, and we’ll only have ten days before we hit the road.”
We then started a methodical run through, song by song. Not that it took Fran and Clarice long to pick up their parts. I’d play the album version first, then hand out the charts, then we’d hit it with occasional stops and starts to try out different variations. It didn’t go as slowly as I’d feared.
Then Ziggy arrived with Barrett. A new round of introductions went around and Barrett handed out the schedule I’d made for the rest of the time until my departure. We were working around a couple of appearances Ziggy had to do, plus his appointments with Priss. Plus MY appointments with Priss: two of them.
We had a short break while Ziggy warmed up and I made some notes. I still felt like there were a lot of moving parts, but the engine was starting to run more smoothly, at least some of the time.
Ziggy’s parts were still moving around, but as long as he hit his marks I was actually happy for him to mess around with the songs, digging around in the melodies to find nuggets of gold that were better than the boring pop radio versions. Not that you’d hear me say that aloud. I think Ziggy felt it, though.
At one point Fran looked at what I was writing, on the page opposite from my notes on Ziggy and my relationship processing stuff. “What you got there? Psychodrama concept album notes?” That was a good laugh.
I confess I had slacked off on my vocal exercises somewhat. During the week off I’d only done them twice and since coming back to New York not at all. I told Ziggy to make me do them tonight in the shower.
That’s what it takes though, sometimes, to be great. It takes pointing your attention every waking moment toward a goal. It means practicing in the shower and while you’re driving and going over things in your head while you’re in the waiting room of the doctor’s office and whatever else.
I never felt better than when I had something that absorbed my mind so completely. Remember when I had arrived in Japan with only a couple of days to actually learn the set? That was my idea of a good time.
So when Ziggy wanted to mess around with his parts, even though I was putting the hammer down on the rest of the band to get their stuff nailed down, I was all for it. We played around a lot. In fact I think we stayed overtime that night.
Then everyone else went off to dinner while the two of us were supposed to go back to the apartment for a quiet night. We got Chinese food delivered and we were going to rent a movie.
And then when we were done shoveling lo mein into our mouths Ziggy jokingly yet not-jokingly said, “Psychodrama concept album.”
“You know we’ve got songs we never did anything with,” I remarked. “Like ‘Infernal Medicine.’”
“That one’s dark.”
“A lot of them are dark.”
“If we did an album called Psychodrama I think people would expect dark.”
I swear I thought we’d stop after an hour or two. Then I thought we’d get tired and quit by two.
At four in the morning we were still writing and recording snippets of songs and riffs using Ziggy’s stereo when Barrett came downstairs and told us to knock it off and go to sleep. He gave me the extra laser-death-stare after I’d told him that day I’d try to make sure Ziggy got a good night’s sleep.
After he left, Ziggy and I had fits of giggles like two kids who got busted reading under the covers with a flashlight at a sleepover.
“He’s right, though. We need to get some sleep,” I said.
“You first,” he said.
“No, you first. Damn. I forgot to do my vocal exercises again.”
“We’ll do them in the morning.” Ziggy yawned, though, as if he was starting to feel tired. “You know we still have those cassettes we made using the headphones that time before, too.”
I knew what he meant. “I know. Maybe we should give them to Jordan.”
“Feh. And have him sell the songs to someone else?”
“We could tell him not to,” I said.
“True.” He sighed and rubbed his eyes. “I think… I think I’m finally starting to crash.”
“How long has it been going on?” I didn’t know what I meant by “it” by the way–but I assumed something like “this particular period of hyperactivity.”
“Since late Saturday night? Not sure.”
“That girl was on X. Were you?” I finally asked.
“I think I picked up a contact high or maybe I even got a little exposed to it at the club,” he said, his eyes fluttering. “Not like a full blown trip but you know when you’re dancing and sweating with people who are doing it.”
“And kissing them,” I added.
“But usually it doesn’t go on for three or four days?”
He shrugged and yawned. “It’s not my first episode of hypomania. I’ll ask my shrink about it.”
He had a word for it. I found that comforting, though I couldn’t tell you why. “Okay.”
We slept so late the next day that Ziggy missed a dance training session and I was late to rehearsal.