"The Love Song of Jonny Valentine" by Teddy Wayne (Free...

"The Love Song of Jonny Valentine" by Teddy Wayne (Free Press, February 2013) Credit: Handout


From "The Love Song of Jonny Valentine"

By Teddy Wayne

Chapter 1

Las Vegas

I hit the remote control next to the bed and turned on the lights to play The Secret Land of Zenon. Normally the game helped me fall asleep after a show. But tonight I was too wired, so after a while on Level 63 I paused it and called Jane's room next door. Maybe talking to her would calm me down, or at least she could give me one of her zolpidems.

It rang six times before going to the hotel's voice mail. I tried her cell.

"Jonathan?" Jane said through loud background music.

"I thought you were staying in tonight," I said. From the song's bass line, I could tell it was Madonna's "Like a Virgin," which has a dance groove that closely mimics "Billie Jean," even though it's directly influenced by that old Motown song "I Can't Help Myself." But pretty much everyone rips off bass lines.

"The label asked me to meet a radio producer for a drink," she said. "And turn off the game."

Zenon still plays background music when it's paused, synthesized strings and light percussion, and I guess she could hear it over the Madonna. It's savvy audience loyalty retention strategy, because it reminds you the world of Zenon is still there, always waiting for you to come back.

"I can't sleep. When are you coming home?"

"I'm not sure. Take a zolpidem."

"I finished all the ones you gave me. Can Walter or someone from concierge get the bottle from your room?"

"Absolutely not," she said. "I don't want anyone poking through my stuff. You'll have to fall asleep on your own."

I ran my hand over the puffy white comforter. Hotel beds are way too big, like the mattress and sheets are swallowing you up and you could disappear inside them if you aren't careful, and it can be harder to fall asleep in a luxury king than it used to be in a sleeping bag on the carpet at Michael Carns's house.

"Can you sing the lullaby, at least?" I asked. Sometimes it made me sleepier.

She waited a few seconds. Then she quietly sang the part of the lullaby that goes

Hush-a-bye, don't you cry

Go to sleepy, little baby

Go to sleepy, little baby

When you wake, you shall have

All the pretty little horses

All the pretty little horses

She doesn't have a great voice, but she sang it slow and low. "I'm sorry for snapping before, but try to go to sleep," she said. "We have an early start and a big day tomorrow."

"Good night, Jane."

"Good night, baby," she said, and hung up.

I put down the phone and stared at it. It was easy for her to say I should try to fall asleep when she wasn't the one who'd just performed for two hours in front of a capacity crowd of 17,157 fans and had to take a meeting with the label tomorrow back in L.A., who was probably going to voice their concerns that the new album hadn't meaningfully charted yet, which meant it never would, since sales momentum rarely reverses at this stage in the game unless there's a major publicity coup.

And now that I'd convinced myself zolpidem was the only way, I didn't have a chance without it.


From "The Love Song of Jonny Valentine" by Teddy Wayne. Copyright (c) 2013 by Teddy Wayne. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

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