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I woke up when someone shook me on the shoulder. I opened my eyes to find Ziggy kneeling backwards in the seat in front of me, frowning like maybe he’d been there for a while. He brushed the hair away from my eyes and I let him.

“You okay?” he said.

“Just tired.” I yawned. The stage was empty and dim. “Didn’t sleep well last night.”

He looked like he was about to say something and then changed his mind, tucking his lips in and settling back on his heels. He jerked his head to the side. “Doors about to open.”

“Okay.” We stood up in unison and as we walked toward the wings he threw an arm around my shoulders. “Don’t be cold,” he said.

“What do you mean.” I resisted the urge to pull away.

“Tonight,” he said, as if that clarified everything, “don’t be cold.” And then we were back stage and he broke away from me.

Digger’s hand landed on my shoulder where Ziggy’s had been and I jumped.

“There you are,” he said, his voice neutral, though I found myself listening for a hint of something more and wondering if he’d overheard that little exchange between us. “The food’s over here.”

The next half hour was a blur of glad-handing people from the radio station, other bands, and local press. Catering was in full swing now in the back hallway, with champagne punch and fruit and cheese. Digger seemed to fit in just fine. Ziggy was lost in the crowd. The lights flicked on and off and a few minutes later the first band went on. I had a series of conversations of this formula:

Them: You’re Daron, aren’t you?
Me: Yes/yeah/uh-huh.
Them: Candlelight/Prone was one of my favorite songs/albums of the year.
Me: Great.
Them: It was really great to meet you finally.
Me: Yes/yeah/uh-huh.
(repeat with next person)

I began to feel that I wasn’t doing enough to hold up my end of the conversations. What else should I be saying? What else did I have to tell them? Should I ask them about themselves? Sometimes they would tell me things like “I’m the production manager at the station” or “I’m so-and-so’s wife” which might give me a hint but didn’t go very far in varying the topic of discussion. These people felt like they knew me, or like they wanted to tell me they did, but that was all.

And the more I nodded and smiled and shook hands, the more I realized that they didn’t know me at all. Oh, big revelation, I told myself while I was washing my hands in the men’s room. Like there haven’t been a million songs and books and movies about celebrity alienation before. Get on with it, boy.

At least I had something different to fret over besides my thumb and the mediocre state of our recent rehearsals until our turn came. Ska Ka Doodle got the crowd bopping–sometimes I think ska is the ultimate party music, some of the happiest, moving-est music on earth. And as I stood in the wings with the Fender slung across my back I began to think maybe following them wasn’t necessarily the best idea. I looked back at Bart who was looking out at what we could see of the audience. Their faces colored identically by the amber light, they looked like something from an old Life magazine photo. Chris was tapping on his head like a drum, making the jingle bell on his hat tinkle. Ziggy was staring straight up into the rafters, still as a stone.

The stage manager gave me the high sign, and I took one, two, three steps out into the lights which came up bright a few seconds later. The crowd cheered louder, a forceful sound, and although one part of me was thinking ‘home town crowd’ another part was thinking that there was something scary about standing up in front of people who were screaming. Okay, most of them were just cheering, but some of them were genuinely screaming, and there seemed to me to be something violent in that, some kind of damage incurred or price to be paid.

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