“You doing okay?” He leaned in the doorway, his blond dreads hanging rakishly off his forehead, looking like the kind of beautiful tropical bird that will peck your fingers off if you stick them through its cage. “You’ve been a hermit since the incident.”
The Incident of The Tequila, the Lime Knife, And The Curious Infant. Let it be forever spoken of as such. “Yeah.”
“Want to grab some dinner?”
“Sure.” I grabbed my denim jacket (because it hid the splint, not because I was cold) and followed him down to the hotel restaurant.
I didn’t see anyone else from the entourage around. Either they had found better places to eat in East Troy, Wisconsin, or it was too early still. It still looked like afternoon outside but you know how the light is in the summer in the northern part of the country. We pay for it in December and January when it’s pitch dark by four p.m. and existential dread sets in.
Anyway. The menu matched the theme of the place, which was to say there was beer and sausage and pretzels. Under the usual theory that I should order anything I couldn’t pronounce, I got something called spaetzle (which would turn out to be basically the German version of gnocchi–another thing I’d first ordered under that same theory and loved).
Anyway. “Your voice sounds a little rough,” he said, offering me a slippery elm lozenge. (No that’s not a euphemism, get your minds out of the gutter.)
“Eh, I just spent the past two hours on the phone with people. I’ll be fine.” Besides, trying to suck on a lozenge while eating was a very bad way to multi-task.
“I’ve just gotten sensitive to that sort of thing. You know, as I’ve gotten older.”
“Well, you’re a singer, that makes sense.” I sipped my ice water to soothe my throat instead. It didn’t work. “How old are you, anyway?”
“Just had my twenty-fourth birthday during the break.”
“No kidding.” I hadn’t realized we were so close in age. Somehow I’d been assuming Jam was ahead of me in age by at least five years, but maybe that was entirely an impression based on the fact that when we’d met his band was “ahead” of mine. ” It was funny to realize that once upon a time I’d pictured fame and musical success as being a ladder with a direct progression from one rung to the next. It really wasn’t like that. It was more like being loaded into a catapult and launched at the ladder, with most missing the ladder entirely, some landing right at the top, and some landing various places in between and clinging precariously to the rungs, trying desperately not to fall off and hoping to climb up but knowing that you usually only get one shot out of the catapult and that’s still the best chance to get to the top.
I told this to Jam. Ha laughed. “You must do some good drugs.”
“Once in a while,” I admitted. “But do you see what I mean? I really thought we were doing everything by the book and then Mills tells me there is no book and pulls the rug out from under us.”
“Yeah, funny. We had a similar experience with him, I guess.”
“Oh, really?” I tried to sound casual. I hadn’t pried into what happened to MNB because I thought it might be rude. You know, like asking a co-worker what happened to their marriage and why they lost their last job, at the same time. But I was curious as hell.
“I mean, it’s not like I don’t know the percentages. Well, okay, I know them now–the whole four out of five bands with a major label deal end up in hock to the company and never make a dime thing–but at the time I didn’t. Tread knew but I didn’t.”
Huh. I might’ve been the one who told Tread that, come to think of it. But anyway. “It comes as a shock whether you know it or not.”
“Yeah. This is the thing. It’s not like we didn’t make some money. We did. But Mills said we didn’t make enough money for the company. My take was whoa whoa whoa, isn’t the company supposed to make money for us? Isn’t that what they’re for?”
“Uh huh.” I knew that was a simplistic view of things but at the same time it felt good to hear someone say it.
“He basically blew a lot of smoke up our asses and when we didn’t go to the moon, blamed us.”
“Yep.” This is me nodding.
“And the thing is we started blaming each other and things fell apart really quick. Thing is, the other guys all had something to fall back on. I didn’t. I fell right into a suicidal funk and hit rock bottom within a month or two. Did so many drugs I could’ve lost a limb and not felt it.”
“I know, right?” He shook his head. He was starting to grow a kind of scraggly beard to go with the dreads and his skin was tawny brown as if from constant surf and sun. He had an underfed look about him that I guessed was the aftermath of his drug abuse period but might now be a part of his image. I remembered seeing him in the hotel gym. He was like a different breed of dog from me. “But you’re one of those guys who’s always got something to fall back on.”
“Huh?” I was the last person I thought of as having a backup plan. “Outside of music I don’t know how to do shit.”
“No no, I mean backup gigs, I guess. You’ve got soundtracks and session work and Nomad and who knows what else, am I right?”
“Yeah.” Okay, so he was saying everyone else in MNB got other gigs but him?
“You don’t understand how fucked singers are when a band splits up. Unless you’re a black chick with a three octave range there’s no work. There’s just shooting up in your mother’s basement.”
“Your mother must’ve been thrilled about that.”
He chuckled. “I kept telling her I had junkie friends who were coming over and making that smell. She kept telling me not to invite them. It was three months before the stupid bitch realized I was actually doing the drugs myself. And then she made me go to rehab or she threatened to kick me out.”
Okay. You guys know I don’t exactly think highly of my own mother. So why was I so offended when Jam called his own mother a stupid bitch? That was the moment when I remembered I didn’t really want anything to do with him.
Which is funny, I know, because there had been a moment earlier when I’d vaguely started wondering whether he was the same kind of sexual athlete in bed as Colin, which is not to say I was attracted to him. If anything it was the opposite–I didn’t like *him* really at all, but there was a way in which that made me curious about whether sex with him would actually be good.
The answer was no, of course, because even if I had mostly pulled it out as an excuse to the groupies in Cleveland, I actually was trying out this faithfulness thing in my head, which meant trying to apply it in real life. Which meant turning down any offers that might come my way and also not pursuing leads.
But getting back to the topic of Jam’s mother. Somehow I didn’t believe for a minute that she didn’t know what was going on and it was more likely she just didn’t want to confront her adult son about his failure to get his act together. She was giving him a free place to live and she was the one who got him into rehab? That was Jam’s idea of “nothing to fall back on”? What a fuckhead.
I wasn’t in the habit of calling people on being fuckheads, though, you know. So I ate my spaetzle and told him about how Flexeril wasn’t all that much fun as a recreational drug and ended up with some stories about Remo taking me in as a stray at various points when I was in junior high and high school before he moved to the West Coast.
And then some of the guys in his own band came along to collect him to go out drinking, which I had the excuse I could not do, and I spent the evening in the library reading a book.
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