The wake up call came at ten, and we motorvated ourselves to pack up what we’d scattered and get dressed and get out. Digger hit the road for New York, and the rest of us headed for Philadelphia.
I drove the first leg, wearing what I still thought of as Matthew’s sunglasses and playing a 90-minute tape I’d made mostly to horrify the guys, a mixed tape of stuff I knew that I (and they) had listened to a lot of not so many years ago: Toto, Journey, Hall & Oates, stuff that was never going to have a retro-revival and which was not aging well. Bart shrieked when “Hold The Line” came on and said we ought to do a cover of it. “C’mon, I know you know it,” he said to me, and was right. I refrained from making any promises. On the B-side I had E.L.O., Supertramp, a little George Harrison solo stuff.
Today was another five hour trip, not counting pit stops. We arrived at the somewhat upscale Philly hotel at three in the afternoon and I was a bit bleary from having napped the last hour or so. So my eyes weren’t the best-focused they’ve ever been when I walked into the lobby. Which would explain why when Jonathan jumped out of a chair–and started shuffle-running toward me with a bit more enthusiasm than people usually launched themselves in my direction–my first thought was ‘whoa, crazed fan.’ But that impression didn’t last when I recognized him. Much handshaking and back slapping ensued and this only slowed down the check-in process slightly.
“Jeezusfuckingchrist, it’s good to see you,” I said as we walked to the elevators together. I meant it, too.
“So you mind if I hang out?” His hair, dirty blond and overgrown a bit in the front curtained his eyes as he shrugged.
“Not at all. Stick around. We’re off to meet the crew and check next. I haven’t seen what the plan is for dinner, show time, et cetera yet.”
“Whatever. I’ve got nothing better to do.”
“So this is pleasure, not business?”
“Technically I’m here to do a short piece on the band that’s opening for you. But I only live like an hour and a half from here, I figured I’d catch up with you guys. If a story comes out of it, well…” He pushed the button in the mirrored elevator lobby. “You won’t mind, would you?”
“Did we already have a conversation about where you’re from?”
“I don’t remember now…”
“Because you live not terribly far from near where I grew up, if I remember rightly.”
“Maybe we did have this conversation before.”
So Mister Freelance Journalist became attached to our retinue once again. During the less-noisy part of our soundcheck he interviewed the other band, then sat and listened while we played full volume. I hit the riff to Toto’s “Hold The Line” and Bart laughed so hard he couldn’t even join in.
“Are you alright?” came Kevin’s voice through the monitor. (He’d been in the truck during the earlier AOR hits fest and didn’t get the joke. He must’ve thought Bart finally cracked from the stress or something.)
Bart regained his composure and we ran through a couple of things until the other band started looking edgy and then we quit and gave them the stage. I decided not to eat much before the show and to go out with J. after. I spent most of the time playing on the new strings to get them worked in.
OK, how to describe the show: mostly uneventful, pretty good over all. Maybe it’s a bad sign that I was getting used to being kind of stiff on stage, and playing predictably. I could make it through, and the crowd clapped for an encore, and we did Candlelight of course, and then we were done. My mind was already wondering where Jonathan was taking me. He said he’d picked a place but wouldn’t tell me where. He also insisted he’d pay for it, which I thought was kind of weird, but I was willing to play along.
His car was a beat-up hatchback, the back seat covered with half-read newspapers, books and magazines, empty tape cases, fast food wrappers, etc. He told me the front seat had been like that too but he’d cleaned to make room for a passenger. We drove to the Four Seasons hotel where he let a valet take the charming vehicle and then into the lobby we went.
“You’ve always struck me as a fast food kind of guy, and forgive me if that’s a mistaken prejudice,” he said as we walked over a carpet so soft and thick I felt like I was walking across wet sand.
“I eat what there is,” I said, my hands in the pockets of my jeans and wondering if my still-damp-from-the-shower hair looked ridiculous among the crystal chandeliers and claw-footed chairs we walked by. “And we’ve been living on Denny’s.”
“Are you ready for a change of pace?”
“You bet.” I followed him up a shallow set of stairs and past a fountain to what was clearly the entrance to a restaurant: the little lit podium and fresh-faced hostess gave it away. We had reservations even though there was no one in there at that hour and she did not even give my high-top sneakers or wet hair a glance. Not that Jonathan himself was terribly well-dressed. He always dressed like every bit-part “writer” character on a TV sitcom I’d ever seen, right down to the corduroy jacket with suede elbow patches.
Most of the fancy restaurants I had eaten in had been during the last two years, some with Bart who took me places his parents used to take him when they’d lived in MA, and some with Digger like the fancy place he’d taken me and Carynne on Christmas Day. So I knew at least part of the drill, like what a crumb squeegee was and what it was for. But we were the last customers into this place and it was like we were eating in the mansion of some billionaire recluse whose entire staff were turned out to serve us. I can’t even remember the name of the thing I drank, but it was a before-dinner kind of drink, and then we had a wine that perfectly matched the food, and I won’t even try to describe the food because it will just sound ridiculous when I botch the list of exotic ingredients and try to convey the artfully sculpted prettiness of the dishes.
This was food so good it made me… giddy.
And the dishes came out at just a leisurely enough pace that we were able to pack away huge quantities without being overstuffed until the end, which was so chocolatey as to be hallucination-inducing.
By hallucination I mean the persistent but ridiculous feeling that this whole meal, the witty banter, the friendly jokes, were all part of some grand scheme seduction. I recklessly licked my dessert dish and Jonathan laughed, betraying nothing.
And it turned out he was actually staying at this hotel, despite living only one and a half hours drive away, and we went up to his room to continue our chat about how MTV UnPlugged was both the perfect savior for MTV and its antithesis, and speculating about what Jools Holland was up to these days, and other ancillary industry bullshit that made me feel close to this guy even though I didn’t know him from a hole in the wall.
We lay side by side on the bed and channel surfed and saw the Why The Sky video, which I would have shut off if he’d wanted to, but he seemed to really want to see it, and then at some point I began to feel myself fading. And that’s when I said “J–” (the nickname I’d come to call him in the course of the evening) “can I ask you something?”
“What made you become a rock journalist?”
He laughed and answered immediately. “The urge to spend late nights hanging around with people I worship and idolize, what else?”
“You really mean that.”
“Okay, well, people I think are cool, anyway. You’re living proof.”
“I can’t quite wrap my brain around that.”
“What, that I’d make a profession out of it?”
“No, that you, or anyone else, thinks of me as someone to worship or idolize.”
“Get used to it, D–” (which was his nickname for me) “because it’s just going to snowball from here. I got on the bandwagon early, I mean really really early.”
“That’s right, you saw us in Providence, the previous incarnation.”
“Jeezus, J.” We were both a little drunk, I think. His nose got red like a cartoon wino’s. “You know, you don’t have to bribe me with lavish luxury meals to get me to spend time with you.”
“I know,” he said, “but I wanted to.”
“Next time you’ll let me pay.”
“If you say so. It’s just such a luxury to actually get to spend time with someone I like, you know? I mean, I had to spend like two weeks touring Europe with Sting and it was such a hardship. I mean, Sting’s a nice enough guy, but I don’t know, I wouldn’t invite him to the beach house for a week. And so often it’s like, oh, twenty minutes here and then, poof, gone. Like I was supposed to spend three days with R.E.M. last December and it eventually boiled down to a single interview given in the limo on the way to the airport.”
I yawned. “What are you doing tomorrow? Come with us to DC. It’s only, what, two, three more hours from here?”
“Can’t,” he said. “Deadlines.”
“Ah.” Now was my moment to leave, I felt, if I didn’t want to possibly end up in some kind of awkward situation. Right now I did not even want the awkwardness of finding out if the situation would be awkward or not. “I think you better put me in a cab.”
“You could stay here.” Bing! Another drop in the bucket that said: awkward situation to be avoided.
“They’ll worry,” I said.
He nodded and made as if to use the phone. Then he sat down on the edge of the king-sized bed and said “Can I ask you something?”
“Sounds like you already are.”
“Something kind of personal. Off the record.” Bing!
“You can ask but I can’t promise I’ll answer.”
His face was serious, the most grave I’d ever seen it. His voice was quiet and I used the remote to mute the TV. “What happened between you and Ziggy?”
Ice clogged my veins, then a hot flash ran over my skin. “It’s that obvious, is it?”
He shrugged. “Not to everyone. But I’ve seen you perform so many times, and like what they got in the Candlelight video, pretty explosive. Now it’s like… it’s not like that.”
I could only nod in agreement.
“Is this ‘creative differences?'”
“I guess you could say that. I’m not saying that to be coy, either.” I was trying to be matter-of-fact about it. The last thing I wanted to do was cry on J’s shoulder. “If I could neatly describe my relationship with the Z, well, maybe it wouldn’t be such a mess.”
“Ah.” He nodded like he understood. J. kept up the light but analytical tone, thank god. “Do you think this is classic singer/guitarist conflict in here, or is it something else?”
My turn to shrug. “I don’t know if I believe in the ‘classic’ situation. I mean, Plant and Page, Daltrey and Townshend, we’re talking about pretty unique guys here.”
“Full of idiosyncrasies and unknown variables. That’s true. Yet it feels like there’s something of a pattern.”
“Spoken like a Brown student,” I said, sitting up more in the bed and swinging my legs over the side next to him. “Ziggy and I are on some kind of roller coaster.” The idea that maybe I could tell J more flashed through my mind, and then the thought that this could potentially be very bad career-wise followed it. But half-truths could lead to wild speculation, too, so maybe I should just be straightforward about us… off the record. “How much do you know about me and the Z?”
He hunched where he sat and looked at me sideways. “Are you asking what I know, or what I suppose?”
I held out my hands: whichever. “You can probably make some pretty wild guesses and maybe even be right about some of them.”
“Aha.” His head came up suddenly and he pressed his lips together like he was quashing a smile. “Speaking purely speculatively then, I think either you and he weren’t involved before, but once you got involved your stage presence changed, or it’s the other way around, you were involved, and now that the relationship has gone cold, it’s reflected on the stage. One or the other, I can’t tell.”
“Christ,” I said and rubbed my eyes. “I hope you’re the only person for whom it’s that obvious.”
“Well, I’m not the…” but he broke off and said, “So which is it?”
“I hate to answer like this, but it’s kind of both and kind of neither. Like I said, if it were so simple, we’d have fixed it.” I brushed hair out of my eyes. “But you were saying?”
“Oh, just I’m not your average observer. I mean, most people look at the Candlelight video and are just not going to think it’s homoerotic.”
I was thinking back to the conversation Bart and I had had on this topic. In some way I felt almost prepared for this discussion and no panic welled up. “But you did.”
“No. Only after meeting you and him, then I started to wonder.”
“Did he tell you anything?”
“Not in so many words, but, well, did you read the article?”
“Um.” I tried to remember. “Not all of it.”
“Oh.” He chewed his lip then, worried, a mannerism I hadn’t seen on him before. “I tried to soft-shoe it, as it were, just give his and your words verbatim and not try to draw to much attention to the whole issue of, shall we say, sexual ambiguity. Or… or make people think I was trying to… agh. I think you better read it.”
“Just so we’ll be on the same page.” He couldn’t help but snort at the pun there, then he paused as I looked at him blankly. “Oh, I have a copy in my briefcase.”
So there was no getting around it. “Okay. I’m not too drunk to read.”
He hopped off the bed and pulled several issues of Spin from his bag and flipped through them. He handed me the one that had us on the cover.
That odd shot that looked like it was taken when we were just goofing around, not posing. Ziggy’s eyeliner looked more exotic than ever. Like war paint. I flipped the pages. We were closer to the front than I remembered.
I hate the way my publicity photos look, the way most people hate how their voices sound on tape. I had forgotten Ziggy was shirtless in his and I suddenly wondered why he was holding a guitar in it. Not playing it, just sort of hugging it. There was also a shot from the Candlelight video, the three of us on stage, but it was focused on the silhouette of the crowd. I liked that one.
Here’s something you may not know. Those sections of interviews where they print Q and A? They’re never the way the conversation really went. They edit out the dumb stuff, and the diversions, and put it all into a logical order. I read the edited down version of that conversation Jonathan and I had in a hotel bar one night and he’d made sense out of it. A kind of sense, that is.
I realized suddenly that he was nervous. And the longer I sat there staring at the page, saying nothing, the more nervous he got.
I finally closed the magazine and said quietly, “You can kind of connect the dots to make the picture here.”
He said nothing.
“That is, if you know what the dots are.” I raised my head.
“I wanted to be… true to you, without being too obvious,” he said, sitting on the bed across from me. “I didn’t know that there was something to be obvious about, either, you know? I just wrote what I saw. What I heard.”
“Yeah.” I had to stretch and I rubbed my forehead. It was not lost on me that neither of us had exactly said what it was that we were talking about, but I said: “The secret is safe with you, right?”
He held up his hand, thumb and pinky touching. “Promise. Exciting a story as it would make, it’d mean I’d never get to hang out like this with you again, wouldn’t it?” Something about his face made me think he was making a larger point about friendship.
“Come with us to DC.”
He grimaced. “Man, I wish I could. I…” He looked like he was getting ready to blow off some serious commitment.
I wondered if I could pay him back for whatever money he’d lose if he blew a freelance article assignment or something. Then I decided that would be a horrible idea and make us both feel weird. So instead, I said, “Please?”
He looked at me with a sober expression. “I’ll make a phone call in the morning, see if I can rearrange a little… no promises, but maybe I can work it out.”
I smiled, feeling like a weight had been lifted. “Awesome.”
He seemed lighter, too. “You want that cab now?”
“Yeah, I better.”
The doorman hailed me a cab from downstairs and the cabbie was fortunately able to figure out which hotel I meant when I couldn’t quite remember the name (“kind of a weird name, some guy’s name… or two guys maybe…”) and dropped me off at the Adam’s Mark Hotel.
I sat down in the lobby where J had been sitting when we’d come in. I didn’t want to go upstairs just yet. I sat there in the piped in lobby music (the Four Seasons had been blissfully Muzak-free) and thought. So, was J coming on to me, or not? I didn’t get that vibe, yet he definitely had this urge to be close to me, to be “intimate” but I wasn’t sure that meant in a sexual way.
I was coming to see something Remo had described about people who can be fanatical about you. It’s hard to tell, he’d said, what it is that inspires some people to go to the ends of the Earth for you, and they can make powerful allies in the biz, but they can also be kind of creepy and obsessed and such. Not that I thought J was creepy at all. Far from it. And Remo had also told me to take friends in the biz wherever I found them.
I hoped J. could come to DC with us.
[Download a color PDF of the Spin article, complete with graphics and the photos of Zig & Daron described above… Click Here]