Among others Lila had been Eagle Eye Cherry's promoter. He'd dropped off the charts a year earlier so she spent the additional free time drinking margaritas with Sammy Hagar. He was an old bastard but a hell of a lot of fun. They'd lost touch during the Van Halen days. But he moved back to Marin after, so now he was just a short drive over the bridge.
When she spoke, he listened. Was a friend in the biz where nobody could be trusted. When they had sex he cared about her. Worried about her. Why was she still doing it, selling herself out to the ego of post-pubescent little boys, and some big ones?
It wasn't that she wanted to be owned or connected or married, but every time she swung her feet to the floor from his bed she turned and touched his arm. Not that she wanted to be the only one. Not that there was any possibility in hell the relationship could survive their lifestyle. She could be as thin and blonde as he wanted, but she couldn't unwear nearly two decades of bruises, spit out twenty years of scum, unlearn a lifetime of escape.
In his master bath she sponged the insides of her thighs, stared at the mirror and stopped time for a few seconds. She would give everything to the talent but the last touch: electric. Soul-to-soul. And he looked at her as if she was what he'd spent fifty years searching for. A girl could live in that gaze and never go back.
Then she sucked in her breath and everything started again.
The real work now was managing Blink 182. She'd been with them early on and got them to national status. But MCA was worried the boys were getting sloppy. They'd fallen into the trap that killed a lot of acts. Loved the life more than the music, and they weren't nearly talented enough to be good on a twenty percent effort. Hell, Dylan could play the Garden half-conscious, tripping on four hits of mescaline his native American spirit guide had given him, and the world would still have to take notice. Some people had that kind of talent and some people just had the luck to be where and what the producer needed to fill that particular slot in his catalogue. And those were Lila's acts.
And when they started to fall, they came back to being Lila's acts, too.
When they couldn't get up for the show she got them meth and groupies. They wanted her but she'd never relent. Fucking your clients is bad business, literally and figuratively.
"The line in L.A. was thirty minutes," Mark said, puffing his chest, slurring his words while his mind surfed a cocktail of crank, MDMA, and Absolut. "We should put up signs. Like at Disney. Waiting time from this point to Mark's cock -- fifteen minutes. And they'd pay. Think about it. Another line item on the 'P' side of the balance sheet. I should trademark my dick before someone else does. Get on that, would you?"
"Right. Don't worry. I'll make sure nobody plagiarizes your penis. Just make sure you can get it up for your little girlies when you're done. You have a reputation to maintain. Don't tire yourself out. Stay away from the Absolut and Red Bull. And no Viagra. Remember how much it hurt being hard for four days? Now, this is San Jose. Remember that. SAN JOSE. They hate it when you don't remember where you are. And don't forget the set list. Play the same song Travis and Mark are playing. You do remember how to make the guitar work? It's just like jerking off only you have to diddle your fingers around the strings."
"Play well, my prince." She kissed him on the cheek, patted his ass, and made a playful grab at his crotch. Did her growl and tossed her hair as she pushed him toward the stage. "Be a tiger for momma."
They killed, even though the crowd nearly stormed the stage and tore him apart when Tom said he loved playing San Francisco.
"Snot my fault. They both start with 'C'," Tom said on the way back to his bus.
But by then Lila was in her BMW heading north to Sammy in Marin, hitting the speed dial, hoping the message tone didn't mean he was with someone else.
San Francisco is one of those places that people love so much they hardly notice the abuse it deals out. Everyone stumbles around in a bloody asshole daze muttering how wonderful it is, while the city workers each walk away with two inches of your money in their pants. They promise you the noise abatement regs aren't going to compromise the sound, and then you get there and you have to reset the stacks and rephase the monitors and reequalize everything from every other fricking venue you've ever played in your life. Pay their guys to do it. Get everything set and then two hours before the talent arrives count on the panic, do it again.
"We never said you'd get the power on the north side of the stage."
"Yes you did. You stood right there and told me I could have the power on the north side."
"You misunderstood. I said you couldN'T get the power on the north side."
"So what do we do? I'm all set for power on the north side."
"I'll have to get the boys to re rig. Gonna be overtime this late in the game, though. People are home at dinner. And it's a holiday."
"Holiday? What fucking holiday?"
"It's two-hundred days before Christmas. We celebrate it here."
Six-grand later, we're rerouting three phase four-forty like we're stringing extension cords at a family barbeque for the outdoor tiki lamps.
Somehow it all works anyway. You work in this business, you expect the graft and stupidity to ebb and crescendo. The fans never notice the tiny mistakes, anyway. The guitars tuned a few hundredths flat. The lead who's so burned he can't hit half the notes he wrote. It's the show.
Whoever said "the show must go on" was talking about an immutable quality of any human society. The people simply must be entertained. Stop entertaining them, they start killing their leaders, and then each other. It's just that simple. That's why it's so important Dave Matthews gets the sound he wants. Why nobody stops Black Eyed Peas and Kayne West from playing the venues they want.
Nobody wants to deal with the blood.
I was standing at the docks at China Basin admiring the sound from Pac Bell echoing off the concrete and glass high rises. Even from this distance it wasn't so bad. Sounded more live than the crowd, which was what I was after.
Lila stopped on her way to her car. Bummed a smoke, which I lit.
"This is stupid," she said. Took a puff and threw the cigarette into the channel. "I forgot. Neither of us smoke."
"I carry them for the talent. Thought you might have started, though," I said, and she smiled. Then she spread her arms and hugged me. Kissed me very quickly on the lips and pulled away.
"How the fuck are you, Harry?"
"Getting old," I told her. "Suspect I'll drop dead one of these days. 'Bout you?"
"Same," she said, looking away, and she set her jaw and sucked in some air.
"Now don't you go starting that with me," I said. "You don't look a day past when I first met you. Hell, you look a lot better to me than back then."
"You're so sweet," she said, a tear in her eye. "But I don't -- I mean, I'm starting to feel it, you know?"
In the stadium, Carlos hit his signature riff. The band morphed into Black Magic Woman.
"I keep asking myself how long I can keep doing this shit," I said. "But I don't have a good answer. I'm not cut out for much else. Going back to the same apartment every night. Wiring up electric clothes dryers in old age homes. How'm I going to live doing that?"
The sun was down to dim violet and the stadium lights mixed with dusk and shimmered on the water.
I asked her, "You getting tired of this gig? Planning a second career?"
She shook her head and the music melted once again. "I keep thinking about the whole deal. Little house. Green grass. Pickett fence. Kid on a swing. It's like a fairy tale. Not a part of real life. Not a part of mine."
"But don't you want it?" I said, quietly.
She said, "Ever think you'd see the day when Santana was an opening act?" as if I hadn't asked her anything.
"Everything changes." And everything changed.
The first strains of "Samba Pa' Ti" floated out over the water. Lila wiped her eyes and looked away. Then she turned to me as if about to speak. No words came out.
I held her hand. Slipped one arm around her.
She said, "Those kids don't even know what this is."
"Houston. '82," I said.
"You were hot."
"You were out of my league."
"I was," she said, "How about New Jersey. The Arts Center in '97."
"Kansas City. I was young and stupid."
"Oh, yes. I remember. That guy with the hat who got past security. You---"
"I kicked his ass and got to eat prison food for a day," I said, proudly.
"And last year. Red Rocks."
"Of course. I adore the Red Rocks. It's a version of heaven," I said. She put her hand on my shoulder and buried her face in my chest as we began to sway to the sound.
You get to a point in your life you realize things. The need for people to touch. That whoever invented music invented dancing. That you should ask some questions even when you know the answer, even when you know all that will happen is silence, and how to find the center of someone in all those brief moments of nothingness. To be willing to find them in their hiding places.
Because I am wiser than I was, I asked her, "Honey, how are you, really?"
And she held me tighter.
It could have happened to any of ten guys on any crew you could name. Lot of us were close to Lila. Could have called it a sort of extended loose family. I hear lions in Africa are like that. Once the cubs grow up the family disburses, but they remember each other.
That night Sammy played the Fillmore. Lila was in the wings sipping Herradura Anejo shots with the boys. Sammy played for the faithful, so the energy was good. Everyone left happy save for a few punks who waited out back.
It only took one guy to say something to Lila. A biker wannabe. Laid a paw on her and one of my gaffers clocked him. His biker pals got involved and then so did the rest of us. Nobody caught track of Lila. I thought she'd gotten away and it wasn't till the cops had cleared out most of us that I saw the ambulance.
I saw them loading up Barnes with his arm in a sling. The first biker guy was on a stretcher under the oxygen mask. Someone said a guy had been killed, but I hadn't seen any of that. Just a hint of blonde hair on a stretcher and I would have done anything to get away, then. Nothing as bad as the feeling of helplessness when those doors close on the police van. Locked in the dark with your hands behind you. Wondering what's happened. What would happen next.
Sammy bailed me out. He was at SF General with Lila the whole time. She had minor cuts and bruises only, but the damage had gone a lot deeper. She wouldn't let go of Sammy and he couldn't hold on. It wasn't a game any of us could play anymore. It's over when everyone starts playing to different rules.
Rumors started after that. Then reality. She slept with Tom and he spread the pictures around the internet. MCA fired her when she took up with the guy from The Goo Goo Dolls and then disappeared for a month in Monte Carlo with an ex-formula one driver.
Last time I saw her was at Red Rocks. Matt Nathanson's tour. I was standing out back, sampling the sound from a distance when she showed up next to me like a bird on a thin branch, not prepared to stay, too tired to go further.
There were lines on her face I hadn't seen before. It was too dark for the sunglasses she was wearing.
"How the fuck are ya, Harry?" she said.
"I'm okay, sweetness. How bout you?"
She said she was great. She said David was treating her like a queen. Private jets and limos. All the chips she could gamble away in a night at the casino. Anywhere she wanted to go, anywhere she wanted to be, anything she wanted to have, she could. Except one thing.
"Like the forbidden fruit?" I asked her.
"More of that than any girl should have in one life."
"Then what?" I said before I engaged my brain. Chalk one up to getting old and infirm. Mind isn't as sharp as it should be.
Matt went into "Bent" and I reached for her hand, but she pulled away.
I said, "New Jersey, '98," and she didn't answer. Then, "Kansas City," and she looked away. And it started to hurt me somewhere I'd never felt anything before. Something sharp in my gut that made all the music sound terrible.
So I said to her, "Wanna leave? Right now. Come with me. I know a guy up in Breckenridge, got a place for sale. Just outside of town. Gorgeous little house with a view to die for. No picket fence but I'll build one. And a swing for the kid. I've had enough of this bullshit business. I can't keep living out of trailers. I can be a really good husband. I swear -- I'm handy with tools and I'll never screw around. Version of heaven, I promise. Really. Forever."
I offered her my hand again and she walked past it. Hugged me quickly. Tiny kiss on the cheek and she let me go.
"Harry," she said. Took a few steps away. "My sweet sweet Harry." Wiped at her eye, then turned and kept going.
I signed on to the Stones tour after that. Then did Metallica through Europe.
I'm doing what I can. What I'm good at. We use the talents we have. This is what I can offer people. One of these days I'm going to drop dead.
So far, so good.