Every morning I wake up and I tell myself this: It’s just one day, one twenty-four-hour period to get yourself through. I don’t know when exactly I started giving myself this daily pep talk—or why. It sounds like a twelve-step mantra and I’m not in Anything Anonymous, though to read some of the crap they write about me, you’d think I should be. I have the kind of life a lot of people would probably sell a kidney to just experience a bit of. But still, I find the need to remind myself of the temporariness of a day, to reassure myself that I got through yesterday, I’ll get through today.
This morning, after my daily prodding, I glance at the minimalist digital clock on the hotel nightstand. It reads 11:47, positively crack-of-dawn for me. But the front desk has already rang with two wake-up calls, followed by a polite-but-firm buzz from our manager, Aldous. Today might be just one day, but it’s packed.
I’m due at the studio to lay down a few final guitar tracks for some Internet-only version of the first single of our just-released album. Such a gimmick. Same song, new guitar track, some vocal effects, pay an extra buck for it. “These days, you’ve gotta milk a dollar out of every dime,” the suits at the label are so fond of reminding us.
After the studio, I have a lunch interview with some reporter from Shuffle. Those two events are kinda like the bookends of what my life has become: making the music, which I like, and talking about making the music, which I loathe. But they’re flip sides of the same coin. When Aldous calls a second time I finally kick off the duvet and grab the prescription bottle from the side table. It’s some anti-anxiety thing I’m supposed to take when I’m feeling jittery.
Jittery is how I normally feel. Jittery I’ve gotten used to. But ever since we kicked off our tour with three shows at Madison Square Garden, I’ve been feeling something else. Like I’m about to be sucked into something powerful and painful. Vortexy.
Is that even a word? I ask myself.
You’re talking to yourself, so who the hell cares? I reply, popping a couple of pills. I pull on some boxers, and go to the door of my room, where a pot of coffee is already waiting. It’s been left there by a hotel employee, undoubtedly under strict instructions to stay out of my way.
I finish my coffee, get dressed, and make my way down the service elevator and out the side entrance—the guest-relations manager has kindly provided me with special access keys so I can avoid the scenester parade in the lobby. Out on the sidewalk, I’m greeted by a blast of steaming New York air. It’s kind of oppressive, but I like that the air is wet. It reminds me of Oregon, where the rain falls endlessly, and even on the hottest of summer days, blooming white cumulus clouds float above, their shadows reminding you that summer’s heat is fleeting, and the rain’s never far off.
In Los Angeles, where I live now, it hardly ever rains. And the heat, it’s never-ending. But it’s a dry heat. People there use this aridness as a blanket excuse for all of the hot, smoggy city’s excesses. “It may be a hundred and seven degrees today,” they’ll brag, “but at least it’s a dry heat.”
But New York is a wet heat; by the time I reach the studio ten blocks away on a desolate stretch in the West Fifties, my hair, which I keep hidden under a cap, is damp. I pull a cigarette from my pocket and my hand shakes as I light up. I’ve had a slight tremor for the last year or so. After extensive medical checks, the doctors declared it nothing more than nerves and advised me to try yoga.
When I get to the studio, Aldous is waiting outside under the awning. He looks at me, at my cigarette, back at my face. I can tell by the way that he’s eyeballing me, he’s trying to decide whether he needs to be Good Cop or Bad Cop. I must look like shit because he opts for Good Cop.
“Good morning, Sunshine,” he says jovially.
“Yeah? What’s ever good about morning?” I try to make it sound like a joke.
“Technically, it’s afternoon now. We’re running late.”
I stub out my cigarette. Aldous puts a giant paw on my shoulder, incongruously gentle. “We just want one guitar track on ‘Sugar,’ just to give it that little something extra so fans buy it all over again.” He laughs, shakes his head at what the business has become. “Then you have lunch with Shuffle, and we have a photo shoot for that Fashion Rocks thing for the Times with the rest of the band around five, and then a quick drinks thing with some money guys at the label, and then I’m off to the airport. Tomorrow, you have a quick little meeting with publicity and merchandising. Just smile and don’t say a lot. After that you’re on your lonesome until London.”
On my lonesome? As opposed to being in the warm bosom of family when we’re all together? I say. Only I say it to myself. More and more lately it seems as though the majority of my conversations are with myself. Given half the stuff I think, that’s probably a good thing.
But this time I really will be by myself. Aldous and the rest of the band are flying to England tonight. I was supposed to be on the same flight as them until I realized that today was Friday the thirteenth, and I was like no f**king way! I’m dreading this tour enough as is, so I’m not jinxing it further by leaving on the official day of bad luck. So I’d had Aldous book me a day later. We’re shooting a video in London and then doing a bunch of press before we start the European leg of our tour, so it’s not like I’m missing a show, just a preliminary meeting with our video director. I don’t need to hear about his artistic vision. When we start shooting, I’ll do what he tells me.
I follow Aldous into the studio and enter a soundproof booth where it’s just me and a row of guitars. On the other side of the glass sit our producer, Stim, and the sound engineers. Aldous joins them. “Okay, Adam,” says Stim, “one more track on the bridge and the chorus. Just to make that hook that much more sticky. We’ll play with the vocals in the mixing.”
“Hooky. Sticky. Got it.” I put on my headphones and pick up my guitar to tune up and warm up. I try not to notice that in spite of what Aldous said a few minutes ago, it feels like I’m already all on my lonesome. Me alone in a soundproof booth. Don’t overthink it, I tell myself. This is how you record in a technologically advanced studio. The only problem is, I felt the same way a few nights ago at the Garden. Up onstage, in front of eighteen thousand fans, alongside the people who, once upon a time, were part of my family, I felt as alone as I do in this booth.
Still, it could be worse. I start to play and my fingers nimble up and I get off the stool and bang and crank against my guitar, pummel it until it screeches and screams just the way I want it to. Or almost the way I want it to. There’s probably a hundred grand’s worth of guitars in this room, but none of them sound as good as my old Les Paul Junior—the guitar I’d had for ages, the one I’d recorded our first albums on, the one that, in a fit of stupidity or hubris or whatever, I’d allowed to be auctioned off for charity. The shiny, expensive replacements have never sounded or felt quite right. Still, when I crank it up loud, I do manage to lose myself for a second or two.
But it’s over all too soon, and then Stim and the engineers are shaking my hand and wishing me luck on tour, and Aldous is shepherding me out the door and into a town car and we’re whizzing down Ninth Avenue to SoHo, to a hotel whose restaurant the publicists from our record label have decided is a good spot for our interview. What, do they think I’m less likely to rant or say something alienating if I’m in an expensive public place? I remember back in the very early days, when the interviewers wrote ’zines or blogs and were fans and mostly wanted to rock-talk—to discuss the music—and they wanted to speak to all of us together. More often than not, it just turned into a normal conversation with everyone shouting their opinions over one another. Back then I never worried about guarding my words. But now the reporters interrogate me and the band separately, as though they’re cops and they have me and my accomplices in adjacent cells and are trying to get us to implicate one another.
I need a cigarette before we go in, so Aldous and I stand outside the hotel in the blinding midday sun as a crowd of people gathers and checks me out while pretending not to. That’s the difference between New York and the rest of the world. People are just as celebrity-crazed as anywhere, but New Yorkers—or at least the ones who consider themselves sophisticates and loiter along the kind of SoHo block I’m standing on now—put on this pretense that they don’t care, even as they stare out from their three-hundred-dollar shades. Then they act all disdainful when out-of-towners break the code by rushing up and asking for an autograph as a pair of girls in U Michigan sweatshirts have just done, much to the annoyance of the nearby trio of snobs, who watch the girls and roll their eyes and give me a look of sympathy. As if the girls are the problem.
“We need to get you a better disguise, Wilde Man,” Aldous says, after the girls, giggling with excitement, flutter away. He’s the only one who’s allowed to call me that anymore. Before it used to be a general nickname, a takeoff on my last name, Wilde. But once I sort of trashed a hotel room and after that “Wilde Man” became an unshakable tabloid moniker.
Then, as if on cue, a photographer shows up. You can’t stand in front of a high-end hotel for more than three minutes before that happens. “Adam! Bryn inside?” A photo of me and Bryn is worth about quadruple one of me alone. But after the first flash goes off, Aldous shoves one hand in front of the guy’s lens, and another in front of my face.
As he ushers me inside, he preps me. “The reporter is named Vanessa LeGrande. She’s not one of those grizzled types you hate. She’s young. Not younger than you, but early twenties, I think. Used to write for a blog before she got tapped by Shuffle.”
“Which blog?” I interrupt. Aldous rarely gives me detailed rundowns on reporters unless there’s a reason.
“Not sure. Maybe Gabber.”
“Oh, Al, that’s a piece-of-crap gossip site.”
“Shuffle isn’t a gossip site. And this is the cover exclusive.”
“Fine. Whatever,” I say, pushing through the restaurant doors. Inside it’s all low steel-and-glass tables and leather banquettes, like a million other places I’ve been to. These restaurants think so highly of themselves, but really they’re just overpriced, overstylized versions of McDonald’s.
“There she is, corner table, the blonde with the streaks,” Aldous says. “She’s a sweet little number. Not that you have a shortage of sweet little numbers. Shit, don’t tell Bryn I said that. Okay, forget it. I’ll be up here at the bar.”
Aldous staying for the interview? That’s a publicist’s job, except that I refused to be chaperoned by publicists. I must really seem off-kilter. “You babysitting?” I ask.
“Nope. Just thought you could use some backup.”
Vanessa LeGrande is cute. Or maybe hot is a more accurate term. It doesn’t matter. I can tell by the way she licks her lips and tosses her hair back that she knows it, and that pretty much ruins the effect. A tattoo of a snake runs up her wrist, and I’d bet our platinum album that she has a tramp stamp. Sure enough, when she reaches into her bag for her digital recorder, peeping up from the top of her low-slung jeans is a small inked arrow pointing south. Classy.
“Hey, Adam,” Vanessa says, looking at me conspiratorially, like we’re old buddies. “Can I just say I’m a huge fan? Collateral Damage got me through a devastating breakup senior year of college. So, thank you.” She smiles at me.
“Uh, you’re welcome.”
“And now I’d like to return the favor by writing the best damn profile of Shooting Star ever to hit the page. So how about we get down to brass tacks and blow this thing right out of the water?”
Get down to brass tacks? Do people even understand half the crap that comes spilling out of their mouths? Vanessa may be attempting to be brassy or sassy or trying to win me over with candor or show me how real she is, but whatever it is she’s selling, I’m not buying. “Sure,” is all I say.