In the men’s room I splashed my face and stood with my hands leaning on the sink, watching the water go down the drain. The numbness had changed to a tingling, and some of my old nausea came back, my mouth and eyes watering a little. I can’t believe he said that, were the words in my mind, but I believed it just fine; this was the kind of behavior I’d expected from Digger all along. The water sounded like the roll of a faraway drum as the stream fell into the uncovered drain of the metal sink. When I straightened up my hands shook and I pressed them together like prayer hands.
I’d been so hot to get back on the road. Ziggy had said it himself, I had wanted things to be the way they were, onstage and off, before things got weird between us. But just being on tour wasn’t enough to push us back in time. And I didn’t know how to go forward.
Ziggy came in then and gave me a head-cocked look before he went into a stall.
I thought of a good word for the way I was beginning to feel, now that I felt something rather than nothing. Unglued. The word was unglued.
I decided that right before a show was a sucky time to come unglued and I marched to the dressing room, sat down at a mirror with Ziggy’s makeup kit and decided to glue myself back together. It took several tries, but I eventually got a reasonable amount of liner under my eyes. I picked up his tube of hair gel, the words Alcohol Free! in neon orange letters on the side. I couldn’t imagine why there would be alcohol in hair gel in the first place and had a vague memory of the Michael Jackson/Pepsi conflagration. My own hair was too long to gel now, but I decided maybe it could do with a little taming anyway. I ran gel through the sides with my fingers and combed it smooth before tying it up in an elastic. My eyes looked huge now, with no loose strands to cover them and rimmed in black.
I sat with the Miller in my lap for the next hour while I waited for show time, running my hands over the rosewood fretboard and the silky finish, but there wasn’t anything I felt like playing. I felt better, more together, with the guitar in front of me though, like some big fucking wooden teddy bear.
We lined up at the top of the little half-flight of stairs that led out of the wings, Chris in front, then Bart, then me, and Ziggy last. “Break a leg” Chris said, because he always did, as the lights went down, and then he started moving.
We took our places. On the first chord, the lights would hit, and everything would be fine, I told myself. The waiting’s over, and now you can just be. But I didn’t convince myself, apparently, because as the lights came up and we started to play, I found myself doing the same thing I had the past few nights, staring out into the crowd where individual faces wouldn’t resolve, as if my eyes and my hands were from two different people. We opened with “Welcome,” a song which has a kind of upbeat chorus on the title, which makes it seem natural to open a concert with, but the verses are a lot of references to spiders and flies, and other sneaking suspicions.
And here came Ziggy, crawling toward me like said spider, on three limbs while one hand held the mic, the white shirt rippling as he bobbed his head and weaved snake-like, all the time toward me. I knew how stupid it would look if I ignored him, so I faced him, playing and watching his eyes, waiting for him to break off and go skipping back to the other side. But he didn’t, he held my gaze and kept coming, until he was climbing up my front, first a hand on my knee, then his shoulder rising up to the level of my waist and two fingers walking up my torso as he straightened up to full height. His voice dripped innuendo as he leaned in as if to kiss me and then, then, he slid back, a cat move, as the chorus hit again.
I felt like I was short of air even though my breaths were long and deep. Worse, I felt myself rushing the riff, and could feel Christian pumping the kick drum more emphatically, as if sending me the message, here! the beat is here! Get with the program asshole! I closed my eyes and concentrated on playing, on getting it right, which felt wrong, all wrong, to do with music I had written, like the song was some arduous thing I’d had to learn and practice and now could maybe give a recital of if I tried my best. This made me angry, that playing should be such a fucking chore, that songs that had come pouring out of me once should now be some kind of torture to get right.
I got so angry I broke a string and had to change guitars between songs.
Colin was there with the replacement guitar at the edge of the stage and he handed it to me and gave me a little pat on the arm like “buck up” or something. Bart was laddering notes nervously in the empty space, like sending me a message to hurry up. I hooked the strap and was ready for business and had to cross back to my side of the stage. Ziggy, his back to the audience, watched me with moon-round eyes and a puckered mouth dark with lipstick.
The next few songs were not as eventful, shall we say, as he kept to his area and I kept to mine. I saw Bart playing facing Chris a few times but I was not tempted to join them. The feeling of arduousness lessened a little on the older songs but crept back up on some of the newer ones. It’s not that I didn’t write them, I told myself, since the worst one of all had been “Welcome,” something I’d written without any input from Ziggy at all.
In “Way of Life” I could almost have been said to have begun to hit my stride, finally, and during the solo I even dropped to one knee, my worry-center short circuited for a short time by a great riff and a momentary feeling that the notes would come out right without my even trying. But then I thought about that, and I slipped up a little, sat back on my foot and pointed the neck toward the ceiling as I played. I was just shifting my weight to stand up again when I felt a hand on my shoulder from behind–Ziggy, suddenly there since I had no way to hear him approach, his hand sliding down my chest and cupping under my chin. He turned my face upwards so I had to look at him sing while I kept playing. “I won’t live your way of life,” he sang down to me, as he pressed my head back into his pelvis, and ground his hips. People screamed. I tried to butt my head backwards a little but we were pressed together too tight, and Ziggy gave a little animalistic howl into the mic as he arched his back like he was fucking a hole in the back of my head. Finally I jerked away and he skipped backward, the follow spot staying with him and leaving me in relative dimness to get back to my feet.
We were supposed to segue directly from “Way of Life” into “Rain” but I stood there panting, my back to the audience, pretending to cough while my mind whirled around trying to latch onto something. I could hear the crowd roaring like a hurricane in the empty space, loving every second of it. Chris was giving me a concerned look over the top of a ride cymbal. Colin and Digger stood side by side in the wings, Digger’s dark suit making only the V of his white dress shirt visible in the purplish lights.
I took a step toward the crowd and heard Christian count off. Now I stood facing the band, the crowd on my right, as if I could somehow keep an eye on how they were doing, as if that might distract me from my own playing, as if that might keep Ziggy away from me but put me back in synch with Bart & Chris. Ziggy stayed out at the edge of the stage, pacing it like a zoo animal, while I stayed back out of the spot. Bart’s eyebrows threw me a question: what are you doing back here?
We closed the set with Why The Sky, the crowd giving a proverbial roar of recognition and approval as we hit the opening notes. And here came Ziggy, sliding across the stage on his knees when I stepped forward for the solo, lying at my feet with his legs under him, undulating like a harem dancer. I had flashes of other shows, of how I used to straddle over him, him clutching at his heart as if every chord sank deep into him, or get down there with him, his arm over my shoulder as he sang in my ear. And here I was now, standing up like a soldier, stoic, looking down on him like he was some kind of street beggar I wished would go away. I could not let myself go. His eyes begged me to, Chris’s bass drum nudged me again and again–if I looked up I might even see Bart give me a thumbs up or something. But I stood there and the moment passed and Ziggy stood up to take his bow.
The applause for the encore was pretty raucous and we went back out after the allotted pause, Chris with sticks held high. Ziggy told the crowd we would play a new one, from our forthcoming record, (Intensive Care, which I felt like I needed) and then came good old Candlelight. By now, I just wanted it to be over. I felt like my nerves were frayed or like I was bleeding somewhere and if I didn’t sit down soon I was going to bleed to death. The feeling of urgency grew as the solo approached and, my head down, I started to play note for note what I played the night before, what was on the record, a careful mimicking of what was once a piece of good playing. And Ziggy was coming toward me again, now that I was in his space, in the spotlight. There were no lyrics left in the song, now, so he had left the microphone behind in a stand or somewhere, leaving his hands free, one reaching toward me, one sliding down to the loose waistband of his army pants…
He rubbed his crotch through the fabric and mouthed things at me, and I took a step back, wondering which would happen first, the end of the song or him reaching me… and he kept on coming, and I took another step back until I bumped against something, PA, amp, something, and then he was getting ready to press me in close.
I don’t even remember putting the guitar down, or taking it off, but I must have, because I didn’t have it with me when I ran down the half-flight of stairs and down the dark hallway to the dressing room and stopped halfway across the room. I turned back to close the door behind me–too late, Bart was there slamming the door behind him.
He pushed a chair against the door and sat down in it. He folded his arms over his chest while I stood there panting, wondering what I was going to say, wondering what there was to say.