About four months into the tour, we were in Rome. Rolling Stone had sent a reporter to spend a few days with us. One night, after a show, we were closing the hotel bar. It was a pretty mellow scene and we were sitting around, decompressing, pounding grappa. But then the reporter starts firing away with all these heavy-duty questions. All to me. I mean, there were about a dozen of us in there—me, Liz, Fitzy, Mike, Aldous, some roadies, some groupies—but this guy was acting like I was the only person in the room. “Adam, do you see Collateral Damage as having a single narrative? If so, can you elaborate on it?” “Adam, do think this record represents your growth as a songwriter?” “Adam, you’ve mentioned in other interviews you don’t want to go down ‘that dark rock star path,’ but how do you keep from suffocating on your own fumes?”
Mike just lost it. “You hijacked the band!” he screamed at me, like it was just the two of us in a room, like there wasn’t a reporter right there. “This isn’t just the Adam Wilde Show, you know. We’re a band. A unit. There are four of us. Or did you forget that, on your way down the ‘dark rock star path?’”
Mike turned to the reporter. “You wanna know about the illustrious Adam Wilde? I’ve got some choice details. Like our rock star over here has to do this crazy voodoo shit before each show and is such a prima donna that if you whistle backstage before a show he has a tantrum because of the bad luck—”
“Mike, come on,” Liz interrupted sharply. “All artists have their rituals.”
The reporter, meanwhile, was scribbling away, eating all this up until Aldous diplomatically said that everyone was tired and shooed everyone but the band out of the bar and tried to get me and Mike to make nice. But then Mike just let loose for round two of insults, telling me what a spotlight-hogging ass**le I’d become. I looked over at Liz to come to my defense again, but she was staring intently at her drink. So I turned to Fitzy, but he just shook his head. “I never thought I’d be the one to say this, but grow up, you two.” Then he left. I looked pleadingly at Liz. She looked sympathetic, but tired. “Mike, you were out of line in there,” she said flatly. But then she turned to me and shook her head. “But, Adam, come on. You’ve got to try to see it from his perspective. From all of ours. It’s tough to be big about this, especially when you’ve retreated from us. I get why you have, but that doesn’t make it any easier.”
All of them—they were all against me. I waved my hands in surrender. I ran out of the bar, strangely close to tears. In the lobby, this Italian model named Rafaella, who’d been hanging with us, was waiting for a taxi. She smiled when she saw me. When her taxi came, she gestured with her head, inviting me inside. And I went. The next day, I checked into a different hotel from the band.
The story hit RollingStone.com almost immediately and the tabloids a few days later. Our label freaked, as did our tour promoters, all of whom warned of the various forms of hell there would be to pay if we didn’t honor our concert commitments. Aldous flew in a professional mediator to talk to me and Mike. She was useless. Her genius idea, a legacy that continues to this day, is what Fitzy refers to as “The Divorce.” I would continue to stay at one hotel for the remainder of the tour, the rest of the band at another. And our publicists decided it was safer to keep me and Mike separate in interviews, so now reporters often talk to me solo. Yeah, those changes have helped a lot!
When I got back from the Collateral Damage tour, I almost quit the band. I moved out of the house I’d been sharing with Fitzy in Portland and into my own place. I avoided those guys. I was angry, but also ashamed. I wasn’t sure how, but I’d clearly ruined everything. I might’ve just let the run end there, but Liz stopped by my new place one afternoon and asked me to just give it a few months’ breathing space and see how I felt. “Anyone would be going a little nuts after the couple years we’ve had, especially the couple of years you’ve had,” she’d said, which was about as much as we acknowledged Mia. “I’m not asking you to do anything. I’m just asking you to not do anything and see how you feel in a few months.”
Then the album started winning all these awards, and then I met Bryn and moved to L.A. and didn’t have to deal with them much, so I just wound up getting sucked in for another round.
Bryn’s the only person who knows how close to the edge that tour pushed me, and how badly I’ve been dreading this upcoming one. “Cut them loose,” is her solution. She thinks I have some sort of guilt complex, coming from humble origins and all, and that’s why I won’t go solo. “Look, I get it. It’s hard to accept that you deserve the acclaim, but you do. You write all the songs and most of the music and that’s why you get all the attention,” she tells me. “You’re the talent! Not just some pretty face. If this were a movie, you’d be the twenty-million-dollar star and they’d be the supporting players, but instead you all get an equal split,” she says. “You don’t need them. Especially with all the grief they give you.”
But it’s not about the money. It never has been. And going solo doesn’t seem like much of a solution. It would just be out of the frying pan and into the fire. And there’d still be touring to contend with, the thought of which has been making me physically sick.
“Why don’t you call Dr. Weisbluth?” Bryn suggested on the phone from Toronto, where she was wrapping her latest film. Weisbluth’s the psychopharmacologist the label had hooked me up with a few months earlier. “See if he can give you something a little stronger. And when you get back, we need to have a sit-down with Brooke and seriously talk about you going solo. But you have to get through this tour. You’ll blow your reputation otherwise.”
There are worse things to blow than your reputation, aren’t there? That’s what I thought. But I didn’t say it. I just called Weisbluth, got some more scripts, and steeled myself for the tour. I guess Bryn understood, like I understood, like everyone who knew me understood, that in spite of his bad-boy rep, Adam Wilde does as he’s told.
There’s a piece of lead where my heart should beat
Doctor said too dangerous to take out
You’d better just leave it be
Body grew back around it, a miracle, praise be
Now, if only I could get through airport security
COLLATERAL DAMAGE, TRACK 12
Mia doesn’t tell me what the next destination is. Says because it’s her secret New York tour, it should be a secret and then proceeds to lead me out of Port Authority down, down, down into a warren of subway tunnels.
And I follow her. Even though I don’t like secrets, even though I think that Mia and I have enough secrets between the two of us at this point, and even though the subway is like the culmination of all my fears. Enclosed spaces. Lots of people. No escape. I sort of mention this to her, but she throws back what I said earlier in the bowling alley about context. “Who’s going to be expecting Adam Wilde on the subway at three in the morning? Without an entourage?” She gives me a joking smile. “Besides, it should be dead at this hour. And in my New York, I always take the train.”
When we reach the Times Square subway station, the place is so crowded that it might as well be five P.M. on a Thursday. My warning bell starts to ping. Even more so once we get to the thronged platform. I stiffen and back toward one of the pillars. Mia gives me a look. “This is a bad idea,” I mumble, but my worries are drowned out by the oncoming train.
“The trains don’t run often at night, so it must be that everyone’s been waiting for a while,” Mia shouts over the clatter. “But here comes one now, so look, everything’s fine.”
When we get on the N, we both see that Mia’s wrong. The car’s packed with people. Drunk people.
I feel the itchiness of eyes on me. I know I’m out of pills, but I need a cigarette. Now. I reach for my pack.
“You can’t smoke on the train,” Mia whispers.
“I need to.”
“I don’t care.” If I get arrested, at least I’d be in the safety of police custody.
Suddenly, she goes all Vulcan. “If the purpose is to not call attention to yourself, don’t you think that perhaps lighting up is counterproductive?” She pulls me into a corner. “It’s fine,” she croons, and I half expect her to caress my neck like she used to do when I’d get tense. “We’ll just hang out here. If it doesn’t empty out at Thirty-fourth Street, we’ll get off.”
At Thirty-fourth, a bunch of people do get off, and I feel a little better. At Fourteenth more people get off. But then suddenly at Canal, our car fills up with a group of hipsters. I angle myself into the far end of the train, near the conductor’s booth, so my back is to the riders.
It’s hard for most people to understand how freaked out I get by large crowds in small contained spaces now. I think it would be hard for the me of three years ago to understand. But that me never had the experience of minding his own business at a small record shop in Minneapolis when one guy recognized me and shouted out my name and it was like watching popcorn kernels in hot oil: First one went, then another, then an explosion of them, until all these sedate record-store slackers suddenly became a mob, surrounding me, then tackling me. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t move.
It sucks because I like the fans when I meet them individually, I do. But get a group of them together and this swarm instinct takes over and they seem to forget that you’re a mere mortal: flesh and bone, bruisable and scareable.
But we seem okay in the corner. Until I make the fatal mistake of doing just one final check over my shoulder to make sure no one’s looking at me. And in that little quarter second, it happens. I catch someone’s eye. I feel the recognition ignite like a match. I can almost smell the phosphorus in the air. Then everything seems to happen in slow motion. First, I hear it. It goes unnaturally quiet. And then there’s a low buzz as the news travels. I hear my name, in stage whispers, move across the noisy train. I see elbows nudged. Cell phones reached for, bags grabbed, forces rallied, legs shuffling. None of this takes longer than a few seconds, but it’s always agonizing, like the moments when a first punch is thrown but hasn’t yet connected. One guy with a beard is preparing to step out of his seat, opening his mouth to call my name. I know he means me no harm, but once he outs me, the whole train will be on me. Thirty seconds till all hell breaks loose.
I grab Mia’s arm and yank.
I have the door between subway cars open and we’re pushing into the next car.
“What are you doing?” she says, flailing behind me
I’m not listening. I’m pulling her into another car then another until the train slows into a station and then I’m tugging her out of the train, onto the platform, up the stairs, taking them two at a time, some part of my brain vaguely warning me that I’m being too rough but the other part not giving a shit. Once up on the street, I pull her along for a few blocks until I’m sure no one is following us. Then I stop.
“Are you trying to get us killed?” she yells.
I feel a bolt of guilt shoot through me. But I throw the bolt right back at her.
“Well, what about you? Are you trying to get me attacked by a mob?”
I look down and realize that I’m still holding her hand. Mia looks, too. I let go.
“What mob, Adam?” she asks softly.
She’s talking to me like I’m a crazy person now. Just like Aldous talks to me when I have one of my panic attacks. But at least Aldous would never accuse me of fantasizing a fan attack. He’s seen it happen too many times.
“I got recognized down there,” I mutter, walking away from her.