She poked her head into the hotel bar, did a quick assessment, and decided it wouldn’t be a pain. It was mostly empty, save for a man sitting at a table near the entrance, reading over some documents in a binder and a couple of older men at the counter. Finally, there was an older man in a bowtie behind the bar, which Corey thought looked a bit pretentious for a second tier hotel in the middle of a Kansas town. The man with the binder did a double take when he saw her. He was handsome, but blessedly went back to his documents, too polite to stare. Corey was grateful for it. She had become accustomed to that flash of recognition, the Is that who I think it is? double take. In her heydey, as a queen of the 90’s alternative music scene, when she was a staple of MTV’s 120 Minutes and touring endlessly with the Toddlers and at the start of her solo career, the Is that who I think it is? double take was ubiquitous and usually followed by autograph seekers or picture takers. The worst were the people who obviously recognized her but felt compelled to tell her that they weren’t really that into her.
It’s for my sister.
I prefer harder shit, you know?
I really loved Damsel Underdressed. At Charm’s Length…not so much.
I’m a huge Toddlers fan. Hey, are you and Anders a thing or what?
It was Twitter before Twitter, and in person. Fuck that.
She learned early on that people dehumanized artists. Musicians, writers, actors, you name it. Like they were either a) impervious to human emotions, or b) not entitled to them. For twenty of her twenty-five years on the road, she’d had fans and haters alike asking her the same questions. How much money do you make? In The Toddlers years, the response was “None of your business, motherfucker,” which these days had softened to the wry, “Show me your W2 and I’ll show you mine.” Less trouble that way.
Another favorite was I have a great idea for a song. The Toddlers years: “Write the fucking song then!” Today, she would detach, maybe smile and nod. If it was a young girl, she would try some empowerment, encourage them to go off and write that song, play the fuck out of it, then another and another.
Still, it was hard these days. Every girl who watched a singing competition on television wanted to talk industry bullshit. Teenagers who were more interested in nabbing her manager than sharing a moment with the actual recording artist. Still, every now and then, there would be the weird girl off in the corner, the one dressed in black, the one who couldn’t quite maintain eye contact, but waited patiently until the end of the set. The one who screwed up all the courage to be there and spoke in a trembling voice. The one with the hunger. Corey could smell her own, and when she saw that one, no matter how shit she was feeling after a show, she made the time. Maybe that girl would start a band, or maybe go on to be a doctor or work at a non-profit or become President of the United States. Corey would always, in her way, welcome her to the tribe.
Online was a different matter. Whenever Corey dared express an opinion on social media these days, the reaction was swift and overwhelming and merciless. In The Toddlers years, if she’d popped off and said something controversial in Spin, at least people had to put pen to paper to tell her to fuck off, and back then, you really had to mean it if you were going to pay for the stamp. Now, any posted opinion, it was met with a tsunami of anonymous “cunts.” And God forbid she weigh in on politics or the state of the world. Go back to your shitty music. Another fucking libtard has all the answers. Shut your fucking whore mouth.
You had to have pretty thick skin to be a woman these days. To be a woman in the public eye, you needed to be armored up like Robert Fucking Downey, Jr.
She’d also acquired an arsenal of comebacks to diffuse—or escalate—any situation over the years, but tonight she didn’t want to use them. It was the end of the tour, the real end this time, and she just wanted to put down her ax and pick up a glass of wine.
This was the mental calculus she made as she peered into the bar. Or walked into any room.
But it seemed okay. Just the binder guy and the two dudes at the bar. Worth a shot, she thought.
She stepped inside and thought, “Anonymous Cunt” isn’t a bad name for an album. It would never fly with Lou. Maybe a song though…
She walked past the Binder Boy and the pair of men, sitting dead center at the bar, and walked to the far end, around the corner of the bar. It gave her a full view of the wide, open room, and put her farther away from everyone. Another subconscious calculation. She leaned her guitar case against a barstool and took a seat in the one next to it. She ordered a Cabernet Sauvignon and scanned the rest of the room while trying not to make eye contact with the men at the table. She glanced over at the man with the binder. He was engrossed in whatever was inside, marking up the pages with a pen. Just sitting there, she could tell he was tall. And fit. What the fuck was he working on in a hotel bar? Did people do that? Was he grading papers? Was it a manuscript? He didn’t look like a writer to her, then again, she thought, they look like everyone else. He was handsome in a clean-cut way, like the junior congressman in a state with a lot of sunshine.
She propped her elbow on the bar while she waited for her drink, her chin in her hand, staring at Binder Boy and wondering when he was going to steal another glance at her, imagining the passages of his imaginary memoir. I really partied on election night, I switched from skim milk to whole.
The wine came before he broke. She found herself slightly disappointed.
She didn’t have a book, so she scrolled through Twitter, catching up on the rapidly unfolding apocalypse that was modern life in America. It was always depressing, but tonight wasn’t particularly terrible in the Twittersphere, so she decided to chance looking at her mentions.
There were a lot of shots from the audience at last night’s show in Chicago. It had rocked. Dozens of shots of her from the audience at Lincoln Hall from different angles within the crowd, and she didn’t look bad or awkward in most of them. There were a few when the audience caught her mid-howl—she looked badass if she didn’t say so herself—and the crowd had great energy. It was the perfect date to end a tour on.
And then there were tonight’s mentions.
There were all of three pictures. A picture with her and the quiet girl, both of them giving exaggerated rock snarls, a duck-faced selfie of a girl with Corey unknowingly over her shoulder, and a selfie from dutiful Randy with his arm around her while she clutched their spoils—Dick’s Pappy Van Winkle—with an evil smile and a mad gleam in her eyes. Randy was such a giant, the photo looked like it had been taken from the top of a skyscraper. At the very top of her mentions were a series of Tweets.
@Jayhawking1953 tweeted “Corey Lyondell is a talentless twat.”
Corey was supremely cocky at times and a total insecure wreck at others—the artist’s way—but she felt confident in the origin of this digital dart pitched her way. She imagined Dungeon Dick, fuming alone in his basement kingdom, short several hundred dollars, short an expensive bottle, and short on sexual favors. A long time ago, the right Tweet, or rather the wrong Tweet, from an anonymous asshole could torpedo her whole day. Tonight it made her smile. Instead of ignoring it like she normally did, she decided to throw the fucker to the wolves for the coup de grace. She retweeted him with the comment “Making friends in Kansas!”
Let her 33K followers have their way with him.
Petty, she knew, but he started it. She reveled in her minor victory with another sip of wine. She was smiling when she heard a familiar melody, a familiar lyric.
“I want to be priiime time, I want to be mega…”
It was the two men at the bar, singing her song at her and giggling. Shit.
“That’s you, right?” one of them ventured.
She lifted her wine glass to them and nodded, her lips pursed in resignation. They took her Cheers motion as an invitation and slid out of their stools and moved to her corner of the bar. Her gesture elicited the exact opposite reaction she’d hoped for. Of course, she thought.
One of them was on the shorter side with black hair going gray. Of the two, he was the one who sang to get her attention, the one to move closer first. The other man, tall and lanky, giggled, clearly delighted by the shorter one’s antics.
“Holy shit,” said the short one, “I knew that was you. What the hell are you doing in Lawrence?”
“Playing Dung…playing Hooper’s.”
“I love that place!” said the man. “When are you coming back?”
“I just played.”
Nothing annoyed her more. She’d see a post or a Tweet or an email from someone asking when she’d be in their city when she’d just played there three days before. She realized not everyone, not even her 33K followers on Twitter, were diehard fans who oriented their life around her tour schedule, but put in a little work…
“I’d think a sports bar would be a little small time for you,” said the taller man.
It is. “I’ll play anywhere.”
“Play something here!” said the shorter man.
“Sorry boys,” she said, hoisting her wine glass again, “Off the clock.”
“Right. Well, I’m Jerry,” said the shorter one. “This is Ty.”
“I loved that record,” ventured Ty.
“You were a fan of the cover,” said Jerry, then cackled.
There it is.
Ty the Taller went quiet for a second and she hoped he would steer the conversation away, or better yet, steer Jerry the Joker away altogether, but then he guffawed as well.
“Ty had the poster on the back of his dorm room wall and everything, didn’t you?”
Ty held up a hand. “Guilty as charged.”
“Probably used it for target practice,” said Jerry, as if the target wasn’t sitting right there, in the three dimensional flesh.
“Oh shit!” said Ty, and once again, he laughed along.
I don’t need this, thought Corey. She assessed her options. She was in a well-lit bar, in public, so she wasn’t afraid, but it was getting uncomfortable, and she just didn’t need this shit right now. The glass of wine had barely arrived, and the check had not been dropped. The bathrooms were behind her and the exit to the hotel lobby at the other end of the bar, past Binder Boy’s table. Her and Binder Boy’s eyes met for a split second, but he went back to his reading. Her options were limited. Entertain this bullshit, hide in the bathroom until they decided to move on, which may be never, or come off like a bitch by immediately signaling for the check. But she didn’t feel like entertaining their bullshit and she didn’t care about looking like a bitch, and Jesus Christ, she had just played the nineteenth date of an eighteen city tour and didn’t she deserve to sit in a well-lit bar, in public and in peace, to thaw out with a glass of celebratory Cabernet?
“Come on,” said Jerry, “just one song. You don’t want to break Ty’s heart, do you?”
“I’m sure your heart will mend,” said Corey. She looked dead at Ty the Taller and put some ice in her voice, sensing him to be the more reasonable of the two, though it was certainly damning him with faint praise.
Ty pantomimed a sad face. “It would be just like college,” he said.
“If it’ll be just like college, then go home and whack off to a poster.”
“Damn!” yelled Jerry, only this time, Ty didn’t laugh along. His shy tentative features, rubbery sad a moment ago, hardened.