I didn’t wake up so much as come to in a somewhat dingy hotel room in Nashville. The curtains were shut but a line of bright sun made it past one edge. I could hear two snores, one that was definitely Flip and another one from the floor beside the bed.
I could also hear the sound of my pager beeping very quietly from somewhere.
Peering over the edge of the bed I could make out Jam’s dreads. Crashed out on our floor with just a bedspread and a spare pillow.
I made my way to the bathroom, discovered my backpack was in there, and that the pager was in the pocket of my jeans which someone–Flip probably–had rolled up and shoved into the backpack. I was still wearing a T-shirt and underwear. I didn’t remember getting undressed but kicking my jeans off and crawling into bed to pass out sounded like me.
The pager was showing a number from Ziggy: 411.
Hm. What could he mean by that? 411 was information. He had information for me? No, probably he wanted information from me.
Then I checked the time. Way too fucking early. I took a piss and got back in bed and passed out again.
The next time I woke was when Remo knocked on the door. Thinking it was the maid I tried to ignore it but then I heard my name. I was awake suddenly. Time to make the donuts.
We did a radio station where the deejay was an older feller–not a guy, not a fella, a feller–with a red nose and a heavy handshake. It was clear he and Remo knew each other and I had the distinct feeling that Remo was showing me off.
Fine. I didn’t mind showing off. I didn’t have to say much and we did two songs. One of them was either very similar to something he and I did on radio in Japan right after I’d arrived in a jet lag haze, or my mind has since melded the two together. Entirely possible.
Then the radio host got out his fiddle and during a break for news or a commercial or something he asked me if I knew “Turkey in the Pan” or some similar American folk/bluegrass classic, and I said which one is that? Truth is I really didn’t know American folk music much at all beyond some of the ones I was forced to plow through in my first week of guitar lessons about a million years ago when the asshole who was giving me lessons insisted I “start from the beginning.” (I sight-read my way through the entire beginner book with only a few flubs.) So I’d played some simplistic renditions of “Aura Lee” (which is Elvis’s “Love Me Tender” as well) and “This Land Is Your Land” but I really was not what I’d call familiar with the “canon” bluegrass, country, or otherwise.
“It’s the one that goes like this,” he said, and played a melody that sounded passingly familiar. And while Remo was fixing his tuning I felt my way through a variation of the old one-four-five, in this case with a seven, C-D7-G. In other words not terribly difficult. And then next thing you know the three of us were doing it live.
That was fun. To this day I don’t actually know which folk song it was. (I’ve been told there’s no song called “Turkey in the Pan.”) We played around with it (but didn’t play a round with it, ha ha).
Remo was stupid proud of me when we got in the car back to the hotel. Like, patting me on the back extra hard proud.
I wasn’t so annoyed with him that I didn’t appreciate being appreciated. Having not been much appreciated by my own parents it was never a bad thing to feel someone was proud of me, even if I didn’t feel like I was seeking that validation right then. “I guess I did good,” I said.
“Great. Great. I know you don’t know much bluegrass.”
“Like, none. But he picked a really simple song.”
“Still.” He beamed.
I shrugged. This seemed the moment to bring it up. “So are we okay?”
“You and me, you mean?”
“You see anyone else in this car?”
“You wanna be sure, you’ll cut the sarcasm,” he said, then cleared his throat. “And I didn’t mean for that to come out sounding so much like a scold.”
“You didn’t mean to sound so much like a dad, you mean?”
He put his forehead into his hand. “It’s so hard to get this shit right.”
“I know.” I looked out the window for a couple of minutes, giving each of us a chance to calm ourselves. Maybe it even worked. “I’m still trying to figure out what we fought about in Orlando. Because I’m not even sure what it was.”
“Me being an ass and you being a…an ass, too.” He shook his head.
“What were you going to say there?”
“I don’t know. A word didn’t come.” His chest rose and fell a few times while the silence ballooned between us. “I don’t know if you can answer this but I’m gonna ask it anyway. Are you threatened by… Ford’s existence?”
“What? Hell no. You mean, like, am I worried I’m going to lose my role as your surrogate son now that you’ve got a real one? Jeezuz, no.” How many times had I told him I needed a friend and not a father figure? (Well at that moment I couldn’t recall ever having actually said that…though I know I’d at least thought it a few times.)
“Fatherhood’s changing me.”
“Yeah. But I don’t think that’s bad. Or, it doesn’t have to be.” I got the sense we might be nearing the hotel, but not having been to Nashville before, I might’ve been wrong. “But you know being too parental toward me is a surefire way to drive me away.”
I had thought that would be obvious, but apparently it wasn’t. “Yeah. You said it yourself a while back. I’m a young buck trying to make my mark. The young have to leave the nest and make their own territory or whatever.”
“True. Makes sense.” He sighed tiredly. “It’s like Mel said, though, she can’t turn being ‘mommy’ on and off and maybe I’m the same.”
“Do you really want to make a record together?”
“Hell yes. Do you?”
“Yes. But what?”
His turn to look out the window for a few seconds. “I imagine the two of us hanging out by the pool with a bottle of bourbon and our guitars, and when the mood strikes us going into the studio to put something down. No agenda, no contract, just see what comes out.”
It was a nice dream. A dream of artistic freedom and discovery, I guess. “And is this while Mel and the baby are asleep? Or in Atlanta, or what?”
He sighed. “Yeah. I don’t know. Obviously it’s not as idyllic an idea as I imagined.”
“Or this just isn’t the right moment for it,” I said. “Let’s keep it in mind, though, okay? If there’s really no agenda there’s no hurry either.”
“True.” He patted me on the leg. “Okay. But let’s talk about the next Nomad record. Do I talk to you about that or do I have to book studio time through your illustrious manager?”
“Who’s being sarcastic now?”
I was kidding but he was slightly defensive in his rejoinder. “I remember when that gal was a virgin.”
“Must’ve been a long time ago,” I said, half under my breath.
“She better have been,” he said the same way.
“But seriously, she needs to be in the conversation either way. I’m…we’re part of a big talent management group now. We’re supposed to strategize and…like…strategize.” My turn to not come up with words.
Remo winced. “Don’t take this as a criticism. But I think I know what you want.”
“You want to be able to call your own shots. Bottom line, that’s what you want.”
Yeah, that sounded about right. “Okay. Why’d you think I’d take that as a criticism?”
“Just, you know, listen to what you just said. You gotta remember that they all work for you, Daron, you don’t work for them. Even the record company. You’re not their monkey. They’re your chosen method of distribution.”
“That’s easy to say after you’ve got a couple of Grammy-nominated gold records under your belt,” I said.
“And that’s the wrong attitude. If you’re thinking like that, you’ll never reach the point where you think okay now I’ve made it, now I can start setting my own terms. You’ll just get deeper and deeper into them controlling you, squeezing whatever juice out of you they can and then tossing you aside like a lemon rind.”
“Yeah.” I agreed. I did. But that didn’t mean I knew how to turn the tables.
“You got a demo going around?”
“I do. Bunch of songs we recorded with Trav. Carynne’s entertaining offers right now.”
“This is the Star*Gaze thing?”
“That what you want to do?”
“It’s A Thing I want to do even if it’s not THE thing I want to do,” I said. “I know that sounds a little silly–”
“Not silly at all.”
“And make a record with you, and make a record with Nomad, and do whatever’s next for Ziggy. Those are all things I want to do.”
“But what I hear when you say that is none of them are THE thing,” Remo said. “What is THE thing?”
I wasn’t sure how to answer that. Wasn’t the general thing I wanted to have a career in music, and didn’t I have that even if everything wasn’t perfect? I couldn’t change the past. I wished things had gone very differently for Moondog Three but I had to let go of that or I was going to wallow in misery about it forever. So the question remained.
Maybe Remo had already answered it, though. “Like you said, THE thing is to be able to call my own shots. I’m not sure how that ultimately relates to everything I am doing, but I’ll figure it out, I guess?”
“Well, keep me in the loop when you figure it out. Meanwhile, I’ll quit asking. But when you’re talking with your management team next, tell ’em this. Nomad is going to take a full year off from touring. I’m thinking of sending each of the guys to do something musical outside the band. Then I want to get everyone back together and see what we’ve got. Start on some new material with whatever influences the guys have picked up. And at that point I’ll need to know if you’re in or not. That’s a ways off, but we’d be talking about a full five-way split of the take. And of course I’d need your commitment to at least the supporting tour for North America.”
My mind jumped ahead. “Was bringing me to Nashville some kind of trial balloon?”
His eyes were sad. “I know you can’t help it, but when you’re that cynical about everything it really kicks me in the gut.”
I hadn’t meant to be a cynic but I guess I was. “But was it?”
“Not in so many words, no. You know we’ve been moving in a kind of roots direction. Not just blues but we’ve brushed up against bluegrass and outlaw country and that. A little lap steel here, a little fiddle or harmonica there. So some of what I’m doing here is laying the ground work for more in that direction. But that’s not why I brought you along specifically, if you see what I mean.”
“Ah. Makes sense.” Not everything was about me, anyway. I truly did not know if a bluegrass and outlaw country direction was any kind of a fit with me. But if he was talking about going into the studio with all five of us giving input to the songs, we’d come out with something that was partly me, too, right? It was an intriguing idea.
But would probably happen next year. “I’ll tell Carynne about it. Everything’s up in the air about where or whether Star*Gaze is getting signed, plus the lawsuits, plus whatever happens with Ziggy. A lot of moving parts.”
“I know.” He patted me on the knee again and then ducked his head to look out the window. We were pulling up to the hotel.
“So where we going for Christmas?” I asked.
“That’s a very good question,” he said as the car came to a stop in front of the doors. “I’ll have to figure that out with Mel.”
“Good luck with that,” I said.
“I’ll need it,” he replied.
(Another hit from 1991…)