After our soundcheck was done I handed my guitar to Flip and slipped over the front of the stage. I climbed up the steps of an aisle between seats–shallow but numerous so it took a while. Ziggy didn’t look up. I reached the back row and then walked along behind it.
I had almost reached him when his head jerked up and he reflexively closed his notebook at the same time. “Oh, hi.”
“Hi.” Ask him about what he was writing, or don’t? I was paralyzed with indecision long enough that the default was don’t. “Our light guy’s daughter is a huge fan of yours, apparently.”
“Louis, you mean? You mean Louis, right?”
“Yeah, yeah of course.” That was a weird slip on my part, like I’d forgotten that Ziggy knew him. “Her name’s DeeDee.”
“Cool. I’ll go say hi.” He unfolded himself from the seat, stood and stretched. He was wearing a black tank top with an oversize white shirt on top, looking arty but subdued for Ziggy. Happy Occident were plugging in and getting ready for their own soundcheck. “Maybe when it’s quieter, though.”
“Jam band not your thing?”
He barely graced me with a sneer and we went for a wander around the lawn of Great Woods. The lawn was the part of the venue that was a big grass-covered berm where there were no assigned seats. You bought a lawn ticket and you just plopped yourself and your stuff down wherever you could.
The grass was patchy and damp from a foggy drizzle that was hanging around. It was August in Massachusetts which meant the weather could be anything from a hundred-degree heat wave to a fifty-degree “early Fall” chill. Sometimes on back to back days. “I guess the idea is you bring a picnic blanket and you hang out listening to the show out here?” I asked the air in general, but Ziggy answered.
“I guess? It’s not like you can see very much from here.”
This was in the days before giant video screens at every concert were a standard thing. You typically only saw it at big stadiums. “I kind of wonder who buys these tickets,” I went on. “I mean, who wants to see a band enough to buy a ticket to their show but not sit close enough to actually pay attention?”
Ziggy snorted. “Maybe they just want to get high and hang out.”
“Yeah, but you could do that for free any number of places. It would make sense to me if the concert was free, like in Central Park or something. Or a big festival. But to pay what you pay for a lawn seat at a venue like this? It doesn’t add up for me.”
“Superfans will sit anywhere as long as they can get in,” he pointed out. “And you also have the people who don’t care that much but just want to be able to say they were there, and maybe the sitting around drinking beer on a moonlit night in the summer is just a bonus?”
“True.” I had a thought then. “I have a feeling the purpose of this grass has nothing to do with what the audience wants, though. I think it’s just there to be a low-overhead way for the venue to milk a lot of money out of a bigger crowd without having to actually build anything.”
“Now that I think about it, of course that’s what it is. It’s the fucking music industry we’re talking about, isn’t it?”
He turned away from me sharply and I immediately apologized for distressing him.
“Sorry. Didn’t mean to be such a cynic.”
“It’s all right,” he said, still looking away from me, as if keenly interested in watching a crow land at the edge of the berm. “It’s just hard to take it when you’re bitter sometimes.”
Me, bitter? Ouch. “I’m not blaming you,” I said, catching up and putting my arms around him from behind, gingerly, partly to take care with my cast and partly because I wasn’t completely sure he would accept a hug from me right then. “Don’t take it personally.”
“It doesn’t have to be personal.” He leaned back against me with a sigh. “I’m just feeling that disconnect right now.”
“Between you and me?”
“No. In the business. Between the people who really love it, who would do anything to be there, to be part of it–that includes fans, musicians, tech people–all these people who would do it for the love of it and because they love it. And on the other hand the people who take advantage of that. The money people in the industry. It makes sense, actually, why they’re as bad as they are.”
“Because people who make money in industries where no one does it for the love, so you just have to pay fairly and be reasonable in order to compete and stay in business–they have to be competent, fair business people. But in an industry where there are tons of people who would do it for nothing–or who would pay to do it! Look at what these poor opening bands do!–the money guys can be the most venal, incompetent shits on the planet.” Apparently Ziggy could be bitter, too.
“And here I thought we were just lucky.” I breathed into his hair. “Now I’m depressed.”
“You were already depressed.” He turned around and hugged me. “So am I.”
“It’s this weather.”
I doubted the cloudy overcast actually had anything to do with his mood. Or mine. “You don’t have to stay for the show if you don’t want.”
“Sitting around alone somewhere is going to be even worse.”
“But alone in a crowd is okay?”
“It’s…better for all concerned.” He pressed a kiss against my cheek gently. He wasn’t wearing lipstick at that moment. “I’ll be all right.”
“Now you’ve got me worrying, though.”
“Well, we’re even, then.”
“Why are you worrying about me? I’m doing fine now. Well, okay, my hand needs to heal up, but other than that.”
“Dear one.” Another kiss, this one on my other cheek. “You’re right. You’ll be fine. And so will I. Keep saying that.”
“Okay.” We stood there for another minute or two, listening to the guitars of Happy Occident–one jangly, one fuzzy–ring out over the grass.
“These guys aren’t very good, are they?” he asked after a while.
“They’re okay for what they are,” I answered. “That’s not what you mean though, is it?”
“It’s not about talent, I mean. Despite their talent, they’re not very good.”
“They’re not going to set the world on fire, no,” I said. “Which doesn’t mean they won’t make a decent living eventually and have their dedicated fans. Or that some record company won’t eventually cook up some way to package them for the masses. But most of these guys are on their second or third band already.”
“Really. They keep trying.” Now was the time to tell him about Jam. Right? “Did you recognize the lead singer?”
“No, should I?”
“I didn’t recognize him either at first. He used to be called Jay, but now it’s Jam. We toured with his old band two years ago.” Two very long years ago. I felt like I should have said “back in the eighties.”
Ziggy pulled away from me to look toward the stage. Which was too far away to make out anyone’s faces. “The guy with the blond dreads?”
“Yeah. I don’t think we ever said more than two words to each other on that tour, though.” I pulled him close to me again and allowed myself a little white lie. “I was kind of occupied with you every waking moment, as I recall.”
He took the bait, grinning. “Yes, you were. I’ll be honest. I don’t even remember the name of the band we opened for.”
“No one does, apparently,” I said. “M.N.B. was a one-hit wonder.”
“Jeez. We did better than that.”
“Yes, we did.”
He let out a sigh and shook his head. “Remind me not to be a shit,” he said.
I wasn’t really sure what brought that on–Moondog Three’s demise really hadn’t been Ziggy’s fault, exactly–but I said, “Consider yourself reminded,” and bit him on the ear.
I don’t know if you’re feeling it but I better come right out and say this: I was paradoxically feeling both closer to and farther from Ziggy with every passing day. And I didn’t know why.