"For Christs' sake, would you just say something?" Jonathan said.
"What do you want?" Steve said dully. "Do you want me to apologize? Haven't I done enough of that already? It was an accident. People have them. I understand your frustration, Jon. I wanted to tour as badly as you do."
Jon had been the one to call. He'd had to. None of the others were going to do it. The album had been out for months, and they'd made all the noise and motion without substance that the public was going to be able to forgive them for. A tour had been announced and then scrapped while the band waited for their lead singer to heal. There was a decision to be made that no one wanted to make, and it had come down to a phone call.
"But do you have any idea why I'm so pissed? This isn't the first time this has happened to me. The Babys lost an entire album's worth of material for this same reason. I'm not bitching at you because you got hurt. If I thought it was on purpose, I'd tell you. But I don't remember you being quite that masochistic," Jon said, tone rising sardonically at the last. Steve failed to react to it. "But now, my God, after all this time. After the bullshit we went through to do it! It isn't your fault. But you have to know how I feel about it. We can't even salvage the material. The only thing going for us now is that when we do finally tour, our fans will come out. We never seem to lose momentum with them, do we?"
Steve was silent.
"I'm bangin' my head against a wall, here, Steve," Jon said. "What the hell is the problem?"
"The problem is, there's no point going out at all. I missed this, I missed you guys, I wanted to do this. I still do. But we're not what we were. I'm not trying to string you along, I'm just trying to tell you this is getting ridiculous. You and I are pushing fifty, you and Neal have several kids, and I canceled the remainder of the Medicine tour for bronchitis. This is just the latest thing to make me think about it, that's all."
"That's it? You don't feel like it?" Jon said, the edge on his tone furiously sharp.
"That's not what I said. What does this look like to you, Jon? I'm being blamed for all of this. Have you seen half the shit on the Internet? Do you actually wanna tour in front of those people again? They're going to start doing more than just throwing things at us. We're not prepared to go, and you damn well know it. You won't admit it. That's why we all agreed so easily to sign on for just the album and see what else happened. No one's under any legal obligation, here. I don't think anyone was ever serious about going."
"And it takes whatever you think to kill the whole thing? You don't think we're in shape to go, so that's it?" Jon snapped. "You'd better come up with something better, Steve. You need to remember, I'm the easy one. I'm the one who loves you enough not to clock you for pulling this."
Steve sighed again, and Jon could nearly see the look on his face even over the distance and impersonality of the phone. There was a hell of a lot more distance than that, by then.
"You're scared," Jon said, tone softer and too knowing for the man on the other end of the line.
"You're scared," Jon repeated. "I can't believe this. You're terrified that you won't be able to pull off the things you used to, that you'll make a fool of yourself. You're pushing fifty and haven't let anybody near you, and as a result this is what you have left. And you're afraid of screwing it up."
Steve's silence was full of warning, and Jon knew he was seconds away from being hung up on. Again. "Don't you destroy this," he said quickly, knowing he had to keep it from happening. He wasn't going to let it end like this. "Don't you destroy this because you're scared. This is still a band, this is still all we ever had, and you give up on it when we all give up on it this time. No walking away, no second thoughts. The only way this isn't gonna happen is if you physically can't do it because the damage is irreparable, and I seriously doubt that it is. We have to take one more shot at this. The music deserves it, the fans deserve it, and goddamnit, we deserve it. Sound like melodramatic, sappy nonsense to you? Good. I shouldn't have had to say it at all."
The silence was Jon's only answer again, but at least the singer was still there, at least the line was still open. The silence wasn't comfortable, but it was better than the alternative.
Finally, Steve said, "Are you through?"
With a sigh, Jon said, "Yes."
"I was visualizing you with a set of pompons and a little pleated skirt. This cheerleader act of yours gets better all the time."
Jon nodded to himself. Right. "Can't you go five minutes without smart mouthing someone? We'll talk about this when you have a better idea of what it'll take to get you completely mobile again. Until then, try and hold off on deciding how doomed we are."
"You're being naive, Jay. It's always been one of your better qualities, but here it's out of place. You're romanticizing something that can't afford it anymore. You've always been the real heart of it, haven't you? You made us more personal, and I expect you to be the last to give up. You can't do any less. I'm not saying I have given up. But promise me you won't beat a dead horse. The world has moved on. It's time for other things, Jon."
"I don't think that's the best we can do."
"Yeah, I know," Steve said. "Now say what else you're thinking."
Jon hedged. "I don't want it to come down to this, Steve."
"You guys have been thinking of replacing me for ten years," Steve said, almost before the words were out.
Shit. Jon hated this, all of it. It should have been done in person, but a call had been easier. On who, he couldn't decide. "And how would you feel about that?"
"What the hell does it matter? Is this an ultimatum, or not?"
Steve's tone was closer to joking than Jon thought it would be. Mostly he sounded as tired of the whole thing as Jon felt.
"That's the wrong goddamn word, and you know it," Jon said. "You've gotta do whatever you can to get back to us, soon, or we have to go on. We have to."
"Yeah, that sounds like an ultimatum."
Jon meant to count to ten, only making it to five. "What would you think about us going on, with someone else?"
There was a beat of silence. Then Steve said, "It's not me you should be asking. But you'd have my blessing."
"Yeah, really. Notice, I said you'd have my blessing."
* * *
"Hiring Perry was the best and worst thing we ever did, where the band's concerned," Neal was saying.
"Hiring," Jon said, making a flat and incredulous statement out of it. They were in Jon's home studio, working on Jon's next solo album, and they were putting finishing touches on it. It was a compilation of pieces Jon had written for friend's weddings over the years, and something he'd said a decade earlier was coming back to haunt him. A band is like a marriage. It had sparked a conversation about their current circumstances.
"Why are you repeating everything I say? Hiring. That's what happened. This wasn't some sentimental thing, it's business. Christ, how long have you been in it, Jon? This isn't about loyalty. This is about building something from the ground up and doing whatever's necessary to keep it standing. The band is a business, it's a corporate structure, which means it isn't just us anymore. We don't even have the entire say in it. Why the hell am I lecturing you, of all people? Who understands this shit better than you do? It comes down to two things, business wise. We call it off and end it for good, or we keep going without him. That's all there is."
"By whose estimation?"
"His. He wants to be solo, let him We can't work with him anymore. No one can." He watched Jon bristle visibly and leaped in again before the latter could say anything. "I'm not just bitching that everything's his fault. We're right back where we were ten years ago, with his attitude. We all have to get on with our lives, and if we want this particular band to be part of it, we have to do something about it. Now look me in the eye and tell me you'd rather kill it."
Jon shook his head, not necessarily answering him but negating the conversation in general.
"I ain't standing around anymore," Neal said. "There's a thousand other things we could be doing, and none of us needs this band in particular. But..."
"But, the legacy," Jon said softly. "I know. All the more reason not to put another singer out there."
Neal clapped him on one shoulder, affording him a sympathetic glance. "There's a core of fans out there, maybe three or four thousand, who would raise hell about it. Everybody else? Shit, it's just one more band with one more member change. Boston, and Van Halen..."
"Aren't Journey," Jon said, cutting him off. "I see your point. But it wouldn't be just changing a singer. It would be like lopping the head off, and letting the arms and legs keep trying to feel their way around until they finally realize they're dead."
Neal laughed humorlessly.
"But it'd be the same if any of us walked off, now," Jon continued. "Saying the general public won't notice is saying the general public is dumber than hell."
Neal smiled. "I rest my case."
Jon looked away, running his hands over his face. "I don't wanna give up on this," he said. "It deserves better, than to just fade off like this."
Neal shrugged. "Maybe we won't like it and maybe there'll be some shit over it. It's all over but the shouting, Jon. It's collapsing the way it came together--suddenly."
"And you don't think Steve'll protest," Jon said.
"Hey, you're the one that talked to him. He said okay, didn't he? He'll tell us to go ahead and do our worst. He just doesn't care anymore, Jon. That's the whole point."
"What about those 'three or four thousand', then?" Jon said.
Neal snorted. "I'm not out here to make three or four thousand people happy. This is what I do for a living, and to make me happy. I'm not gonna start making decisions about what might make other people happy. They can do whatever they want. Perry will put out more solo stuff, and maybe it won't make any difference what we end up doing. The alternative is just hanging around until he's ready. We might as well pull the plug. But I intend to be doing this until I'm too old to even use my damn hands. I started it, I'm going to finish it."
Jon nodded. "One more shot," he said.
And they'd deserve whatever they got.
* * *