“Yep, Bryn and I are still together,” I tell Vanessa. “And she’s not pregnant. She’s just into those peasant tops these days, so everyone always assumes it’s to hide a belly. It’s not.”
Truth be told, I sometimes wonder if Bryn wears those tops on purpose, to court the bump watch as a way to tempt fate. She seriously wants a kid. Even though publicly, Bryn is twenty-four, in reality, she’s twenty-eight and she claims her clock is ticking and all that. But I’m twenty-one, and Bryn and I have only been together a year. And I don’t care if Bryn says that I have an old soul and have been through a lifetime already. Even if I were forty-one, and Bryn and I had just celebrated twenty years together, I wouldn’t want a kid with her.
“Will she be joining you on the tour?”
At the mere mention of the tour, I feel my throat start to close up. The tour is sixty-seven nights long. Sixty-seven . I mentally pat for my pill bottle, grow calmer knowing it’s there, but am smarter than to sneak one in front of Vanessa.
“Huh?” I ask.
“Is Bryn going to come meet you on the tour at all?”
I imagine Bryn on tour, with her stylists, her Pilates instructors, her latest raw-foods diet. “Maybe.”
“How do you like living in Los Angeles?” Vanessa asks. “You don’t seem like the SoCal type.”
“It’s a dry heat,” I reply.
“Nothing. A joke.”
“Oh. Right.” Vanessa eyes me skeptically. I no longer read interviews about myself, but when I used to, words like inscrutable were often used. And arrogant. Is that really how people see me?
Thankfully, our allotted hour is up. She closes her notebook and calls for the check. I catch Aldous’s relieved-looking eyes to let him know we’re wrapping up.
“It was nice meeting you, Adam,” she says.
“Yeah, you too,” I lie.
“I gotta say, you’re a puzzle.” She smiles and her teeth gleam an unnatural white. “But I like puzzles. Like your lyrics, all those grisly images on Collateral Damage. And the lyrics on the new record, also very cryptic. You know some critics question whether BloodSuckerSunshine can match the intensity of Collateral Damage. . . .”
I know what’s coming. I’ve heard this before. It’s this thing that reporters do. Reference other critics’ opinions as a backhanded way to espouse their own. And I know what she’s really asking, even if she doesn’t: How does it feel that the only worthy thing you ever created came from the worst kind of loss?
Suddenly, it’s all too much. Bryn and the bump watch. Vanessa with my high school yearbook. The idea that nothing’s sacred. Everything’s fodder. That my life belongs to anyone but me. Sixty-seven nights. Sixty-seven, sixty-seven. I push the table hard so that glasses of water and beer go clattering into her lap.
“This interview’s over,” I growl.
“I know that. Why are you freaking out on me?”
“Because you’re nothing but a vulture! This has f**k all to do with music. It’s about picking everything apart.”
Vanessa’s eyes dance as she fumbles for her recorder. Before she has a chance to turn it back on, I pick it up and slam it against the table, shattering it, and then dump it into a glass of water for good measure. My hand is shaking and my heart is pounding and I feel the beginnings of a panic attack, the kind that makes me sure I’m about to die.
“What did you just do?” Vanessa screams. “I don’t have a backup.”
“How am I supposed to write my article now?”
“You call that an article?”
“Yeah. Some of us have to work for a living, you prissy, temperamental ass—”
“Adam!” Aldous is at my side, laying a trio of hundred-dollar bills on the table. “For a new one,” he says to Vanessa, before ushering me out of the restaurant and into a taxi. He throws another hundred-dollar bill at the driver after he balks at my lighting up. Aldous reaches into my pocket and grabs my prescription bottle, shakes a tablet into his hand, and says, “Open up,” like some bearish mother.
He waits until we’re a few blocks from my hotel, until I’ve sucked down two cigarettes in one continuous inhale and popped another anxiety pill. “What happened back there?”
I tell him. Her questions about the “black hole.” Bryn. Mia.
“Don’t worry. We can call Shuffle. Threaten to pull their exclusive if they don’t put a different reporter on the piece. And maybe this gets into the tabloids or Gabber for a few days, but it’s not much of a story. It’ll blow over.”
Aldous is saying all this stuff calmly, like, hey, it’s only rock ’n’ roll, but I can read the worry in his eyes.
“I can’t, Aldous.”
“Don’t worry about it. You don’t have to. It’s just an article. It’ll be handled.”
“Not just that. I can’t do it. Any of it.”
Aldous, who I don’t think has slept a full night since he toured with Aerosmith, allows himself to look exhausted for a few seconds. Then he goes back to manager mode. “You’ve just got pretour burnout. Happens to the best of ’em,” he assures me. “Once you get on the road, in front of the crowds, start to feel the love, the adrenaline, the music, you’ll be energized. I mean, hell, you’ll be fried for sure, but happy-fried. And come November, when this is over, you can go veg out on an island somewhere where nobody knows who you are, where nobody gives a shit about Shooting Star. Or wild Adam Wilde.”
November? It’s August now. That’s three months. And the tour is sixty-seven nights. Sixty-seven. I repeat it in my head like a mantra, except it does the opposite of what a mantra’s supposed to do. It makes me want to grab fistfuls of my hair and yank.
And how do I tell Aldous, how do I tell any of them, that the music, the adrenaline, the love, all the things that mitigate how hard this has become, all of that’s gone? All that’s left is this vortex. And I’m right on the edge of it.
My entire body is shaking. I’m losing it. A day might be just twenty-four hours but sometimes getting through just one seems as impossible as scaling Everest.
Needle and thread, flesh and bone
Spit and sinew, heartbreak is home
Your suture lines sparkle like diamonds
Bright stars to light my confinement
COLLATERAL DAMAGE, TRACK 7
Aldous leaves me in front of my hotel. “Look, man, I think you just need some time to chill. So, listen: I’m gonna clear the schedule for the rest of the day and cancel your meetings tomorrow. Your flight to London’s not till seven; you don’t have to be at the airport till five.” He glances at his phone. “That’s more than twenty-four hours to do whatever you want to. I promise you, you’ll feel so much better. Just go be free.”
Aldous is peering at me with a look of calculated concern. He’s my friend, but I’m also his responsibility. “I’m gonna change my flight,” he announces. “I’ll fly with you tomorrow.”
I’m embarrassed by how grateful I am. Flying Upper Class with the band is no great shakes. We all tend to stay plugged into our own luxury pods, but at least when I fly with them, I’m not alone. When I fly alone, who knows who I’ll be seated next to? I once had a Japanese businessman who didn’t stop talking to me at all during a ten-hour flight. I’d wanted to be moved but hadn’t wanted to seem like the kind of rock-star prick who’d ask to be moved, so I’d sat there, nodding my head, not understanding half of what he was saying. But worse yet are the times when I’m truly alone for those long-haul flights.
I know Aldous has lots to do in London. More to the point, missing tomorrow’s meeting with the rest of the band and the video director will be one more little earthquake. But whatever. There are too many fault lines to count now. Besides, nobody blames Aldous; they blame me.
So, it’s a huge imposition to let Aldous spend an extra day in New York. But I still accept his offer, even as I downplay his generosity by muttering, “Okay.”
“Cool. You clear your head. I’ll leave you alone, won’t even call. Want me to pick you up here or meet you at the airport?” The rest of the band is staying downtown. We’ve gotten into the habit of staying in separate hotels since the last tour, and Aldous diplomatically alternates between staying at my hotel and theirs. This time he’s with them.
“Airport. I’ll meet you in the lounge,” I tell him.
“Okay then. I’ll order you a car for four. Until then, just chill.” He gives me a half handshake, half hug and then he’s back inside the cab, zooming off to his next order of business, probably mending the fences that I’ve thrashed today.
I go around to the service entrance and make my way to my hotel room. I take a shower, ponder going back to sleep. But these days, sleep eludes me even with a medicine cabinet full of psychopharmacological assistance. From the eighteenth-story windows, I can see the afternoon sun bathing the city in a warm glow, making New York feel cozy somehow, but making the suite feel claustrophobic and hot. I throw on a clean pair of jeans and my lucky black T-shirt. I wanted to reserve this shirt for tomorrow when I leave for the tour, but I feel like I need some luck right now, so it’s gonna have to pull double duty.
I turn on my iPhone. There are fifty-nine new email messages and seventeen new voice mails, including several from the label’s now-certainly irate publicist and a bunch from Bryn, asking how it went in the studio and with the interview. I could call her, but what’s the point? If I tell her about Vanessa LeGrande, she’ll get all upset with me for losing my “public face” in front of a reporter. She’s trying to train me out of that bad habit. She says every time I lose it in front of the press, I only whet their appetites for more. “Give them a dull public face, Adam, and they’ll stop writing so much about you,” she constantly advises me. The thing is, I have a feeling if I told Bryn which question set me off, she’d probably lose her public face, too.
I think about what Aldous said about getting away from it all, and I turn off the phone and toss it on the nightstand. Then I grab my hat, shades, my pills, and wallet and am out the door. I turn up Columbus, making my way toward Central Park. A fire truck barrels by, its sirens whining. Scratch your head or you’ll be dead. I don’t even remember where I learned that childhood rhyme or the dictum that demanded you scratch your head every time you heard a siren, lest the next siren be for you. But I do know when I started doing it, and now it’s become second nature. Still, in a place like Manhattan, where the sirens are always blaring, it can become exhausting to keep up.
It’s early evening now and the aggressive heat has mellowed, and it’s like everyone senses that it’s safe to go out because they’re mobbing the place: spreading out picnics on the lawn, pushing jogging strollers up the paths, floating in canoes along the lily-padded lake.
Much as I like seeing all the people doing their thing, it all makes me feel exposed. I don’t get how other people in the public eye do it. Sometimes I see pictures of Brad Pitt with his gaggle of kids in Central Park, just playing on swings, and clearly he was followed by paparazzi but he still looks like he’s having a normal day with his family. Or maybe not. Pictures can be pretty deceptive.
Thinking about all this and passing happy people enjoying a summer evening, I start to feel like a moving target, even though I have my cap pulled low and my shades are on and I’m without Bryn. When Bryn and I are together, it’s almost impossible to fly under the radar. I’m seized with this paranoia, not even so much that I’ll get photographed or hounded by a mob of autograph seekers—though I really don’t want to deal with that right now—but that I’ll be mocked as the only person in the entire park who’s alone, even though this obviously isn’t the case. But still, I feel like any second people will start pointing, making fun of me.