We were a three vehicle caravan still. Digger headed off for New York in his rental but Jonathan’s hatchback joined us. Bart and I both rode with him, which was fun. J was very easy to get along with and I got the feeling Bart genuinely liked him, too.
The drive to DC was so short in comparison to what we’d been doing each day that we were shocked to arrive so early in the day and find our rooms not ready. Everyone milled around with little heaps of luggage except me — I tagged along behind Carynne as she sought out the manager. Carynne went for the jugular when she found him and we only waited maybe fifteen minutes in the lobby before he gave her keys and had upgraded us to the presidential suite. (Digger would have been proud.) As she accepted the keys and switched her expression from tangled annoyance to California smile, she saw me out of the corner of her eye. She pressed a key into my hand.
“So, tell me, is Señor McCabe rooming with us?”
“I, ouch. I don’t know.”
She rolled her eyes and blew a piece of nonexistent hair out of them. When she marched up to the group she passed out keys as usual and then said casually but loudly to Jonathan, “Well, we’ve got plenty of bed space now if you want to crash with us. I don’t mind if the Boss doesn’t mind.”
I flapped my mouth and held up my hands like whatever, no-biggie. J had left his stuff in his car anyway–we could sort it out later.
Even stranger than the arriving-early break from routine, we weren’t playing a show tonight. (In fact, it was a miracle that Carynne had set up as tight and regular a schedule as she had.) The idea was to come down here rather than stick around Philly an extra day, and do some publicity and maybe sightsee if we wanted to. On the map it didn’t look like we’d come that far south, but here summer was beginning to happen already and Carynne and me and Jonathan and Bart had lunch in an outdoor cafe and I got my face sunburned while sitting there.
Carynne opened her day book while we were waiting for the check. “Did I tell you everything about today’s schedule?”
“Unless anything changed since we’ve been on the road, I think we went over everything pretty carefully before we left,” I said, shading my forehead with my hand.
Bart sat forward. “Remind me.”
Carynne sucked on the end of a pen while she told him about the two interviews we had for today, one for a newspaper, and one on-air radio station gig. “What songs do you think you’ll play?”
“Whoa,” Bart said, “Play?”
She turned her eyes on me. “You didn’t tell them?”
“I… I didn’t really think about it. Is this the one where they want us to do an in studio ‘unplugged’ kind of thing?”
“Dar’, I don’t have an acoustic bass.”
I winced. “You can play the guitar, though.”
“A little rehearsal would have been nice.”
I looked at him and winced. When we’d set this all up I wouldn’t have dreamed we’d ever need to rehearse anything, but that was before my own bout with stage fright or whatever the hell I was having. “Why don’t you play bongos?” I suggested. “Chris has some. Just the three of us do it. Didn’t the station say something like they only wanted two of us to talk anyway?”
Carynne squinted in the bright sun at her notes. “Yeah.”
“It’ll be fine,” I said, watching traffic go by and ignoring the pursed-lips look of doubt and skepticism that Bart was giving me. Hey, everyone had said to lighten up and stop worrying so much, and I was, wasn’t I?
First came the interview for some entertainment rag, which Ziggy and I did in the hotel lobby. It was almost a rote interview, how did you meet, what’s it like being on a major label, who are your influences. It’d be a one page feature running alongside weekly clubdate ads and our publicity photo, I knew. I’m not sure what everyone else was doing while we were doing that. Jonathan and Bart reappeared to go with us and Carynne to the radio station at “drive time” i.e. rush hour. I brought the Miller and Bart brought a set of bongos.
In the van on the way over (Carynne drove) Ziggy asked “So what should we play?”
“It won’t be more than two songs,” Carynne said.
Ziggy pressed his hands against the ceiling of the van and stretched his shoulders. “One old, one new?”
“Walking In Time works good acoustic,” Carynne suggested, with a glance at me in the rearview.
“How about Walking and Windfall then?” I said as we came to a halt in traffic–the disadvantage of doing a drive time interview, I guess. Maybe we should have taken the subway.
“They’re both kind of depressing, though,” Ziggy said. “We should pick one fun one.”
“Just which of our songs do you consider fun?” I asked. “We’re just not going to compare to, say, They Might Be Giants or The Dead Milkmen.”
“Hmm, good point.”
Carynne added another data point. “This is a pretty heavy AOR station, guys, not alternative at all. Two serious songs’d probably do them just fine.”
We arrived with enough time to get whisked through a heavily bumper-stickered business office into a studio, shake hands with disk jockey, situate mics, and get stools and cups of water for everyone, before we were on the air.
The disk jockey’s name was Mike, who on air referred to himself as Mick Blabber. During the mic-situating, I convinced Bart to do the talking along with Ziggy while they miked up my guitar. The walls of the studio were lined with shelves of LPs and directly behind the dj was a rack of about sixty compact discs. Stacked up all around the control board were blue and gray cartridge tapes. We all put headphones on which meant that when the dj hit his mic the only indication we had that we were on the air was a white light that came on next to the studio door. The light looked like maybe it had said “On Air” or something else once but the letters had been scratched off over the years by bored and destructive engineers. Through the glass windows we could see Carynne talking with staff members.
And then the song (Bob Seger’s “Katmandu”) was ending and Mike was speaking, a stream of smooth patter, his name, call letters, relevant stuff about weather and traffic and then “I have with me here in the studio the members of Moondog Three, playing tomorrow night at the Palazzo. A show I believe is sold out, but we, we of course, have some tickets to give away, and we’ll give some away in just a little bit but first let’s say hi to the boys.”
“Hi,” we chorused.
“There are three of them here folks, but, tell me the name of the group is Moondog Three but there’s really four of you.”
“That’s right,” Bart said, leaning in to his mic. “We left the drummer home.”
“Hiiii, Christian,” Ziggy said.
“So what’s the three refer to?” Mike said, facing us across the little counter top separated him from us.
It doesn’t mean anything, I was thinking, but had no mic to speak with. Bart and Ziggy looked at each other. I started to play the “thinking music” from Jeopardy on the Miller.
“Whoa, kids, didn’t mean to stump you.” Mike looked like he was in his mid-thirties and liked to overeat. Someone once told me that the only people who stay in radio are those too funny-looking to be in television. Maybe. He gave me a wink and a nod like–yeah, keep up that playing to fill the space.
Ziggy spoke up. “There’s a bunch of different answers, but if we told you, then we’d have to kill you.”
“Oh, a mystery then. Anyway, we’ve got here today Ziggy…” Squinting at his notes.
“That would be me.”
I played a little bullfighter-ish Spanish riff.
Mike had this way of saying one thing into the mic while seeming to say something else to us with gestures and facial expressions. “So you’ve got a new record coming out, what, in a few months?” is what his mouth said while he seemed to be asking us if we’d be ready to play a song soon. I nodded a lot.
Ziggy told him about the new record while I plucked out part of Wonderland. There was some more essentially content-less banter which I couldn’t add to, so I played more in the background, little riffs here and there.
“Yeah wow! This guy’s great, he’s like your own personal soundtrack,” said Mike to Ziggy, at which point I started an improvisation on the Darth Vader music from Star Wars and everyone cracked up. “Why don’t you fellas play us a song.”
“OK, alright, this one’s from the new record,” Ziggy said, making eye contact with me–okay?–“live and unadulterated…”
“Oh no, no adults here,” added Mike.
“… and we call it Windfall.”
Bart counted off and then we were doing it. First just Bart and I playing the intro, and then, Ziggy coming in singing, breathy and sweet and in a different voice than the way he usually sang it. He let himself improvise on the melody like a jazz singer, and I forgot all about the On Air light being on or what it meant. Here were the three of us, playing, sitting in stools like we could be sitting on a park bench somewhere, with a couple of interested people standing around listening.
And so it was, just like that, that I did it for the first time in what, months? I forgot. I forgot to worry about things and forgot to wonder what anyone was thinking and simply played. And two verses later as the solo came up I came back to myself and realized the solo was really not going to work without severe improv work, which was too much to hand to a drive time audience, and I made it into the ending instead.
Mike and other studio personnel clapped.
“No applause,” Bart said “Just throw money.”