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Orlando had been staying at Ian's house in L.A. when Sean had rung him with the news.
Staying at Ian's house while he'd sorted through scripts and went for screen tests had started out practical and ended up predictable: Ian had ordered food from Orlando's favorite Nepalese place the first night, had remembered that Orlando was allergic to fabric softener when he set out towels and, after three days, had cupped Orlando's chin in his palm and said, "No strings attached, of course, but the only person who actually sleeps in the guest room is my Aunt Mabel."
So Orlando had been staying with Ian when Sean had rung him to say that there was a ticket to London in Orlando's name waiting for him at LAX, and Ian had been the one to drive Orlando to the airport the next day. Ian had been charitable enough to say that he thought it was a mistake exactly once and no more, and when they'd arrived at Departures, he'd said, "Well, I imagine the label will let me know when to get things rolling on my end."
Looking back, Orlando realized that Ian having said "when" and not "if" was probably a gift.
Orlando imagined it was well past time now, though, because a reporter from one of the American magazines had been hanging around all week and yesterday Dom and Billy decided to start addressing each other as "Stevie" and "Lindsey" and everyone had laughed. It had been a good sound, and Orlando wasn't an idiot. He wasn't going to go looking for a reason why it couldn't all fall back into place. Everyone seemed to think that it could, even if it was just because they all decided that they wanted it enough.
Orlando was sitting on the floor in the studio they'd rented for the week in Copenhagen. His legs were crossed and his back against the wall, barely paying attention to what was going on around him but also watching the flutter of Viggo's hands like hummingbirds out of the corner of one eye. They'd come here to master the album, something Orlando didn't know very much about at all. But part of the band being a collaborative meant that everyone participated in every step of the process, even if Orlando's contribution to mastering was to sit on the floor for six hours and say, "Yeah, absolutely, the second one," when presented with three supposedly different versions of "The Sound That You Make When You Button My Coat" that all sounded exactly identical.
At that moment in the collaborative mastering process, Viggo was bent over the mixing board with Elijah and the mastering engineer, who looked a little bit like he would rather be anywhere than between the two of them while they didn't quite argue about whether or not there was feedback in the sample. Karl and Liv were curled up asleep on the musty velvet sofa in the hallway, Billy and Dom were nowhere to be seen but probably off shagging in the hall closet and Sean Bean had gone on a coffee run. Orlando hadn't a clue about Daisy or Sean Astin, though.
Viggo was rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet and rubbing his hands together, kneading his fingers and palms like bread dough, because the new Viggo didn't disagree, necessarily, he sort of listened you to death, with considerable emphasis and both ears.
"There's not," Elijah said. "Viggo, I swear, I did the sampling myself, there's no feedback."
Viggo paused for a moment, palms clasped together, and said, "Maybe we could hear it again." Viggo's listening was one thing that was different since they'd been back together: he was big on trying to listen lately, like, really listening, not just nodding, scratching his chin and then doing whatever he'd intended to do in the first place.
Elijah's eyes got very wide. "We've listened to it seven times," he said.
Consensus was that it wouldn't be that long before Viggo went mad from all the listening. Dom wasn't helping, coming in every morning saying that he'd dreamt that they should take the sound in the direction of electronic dance or baroque classical or, "you know, boy band. We could be a boy band. We'll dye your whiskers and Liv can wear a wig." Dom barely managed to hold it together for that last one, while Viggo practically bent over backwards to be open-minded and agreeable.
It was Viggo's way of apologizing for the break-up and once he stopped trying to say he was sorry, they'd be completely right again, Orlando was pretty sure. Not that Orlando was even sure who was, or ever had been, angry in the first place: he'd been confused and then sad and then both and now he was confused and happy and he thought pretty soon he'd be just happy.
Elijah was frowning, and Viggo was rubbing his hands together almost feverishly now, and just when Orlando started to worry that he'd make enough friction to burst into flames, Sean Bean wandered through the room, six cups of coffee balanced in the crook of one arm. He clapped Viggo on the back with his free hand and said, "Give the lad a break, eh?"
Viggo looked up at Sean and grinned, accepting one of the paper cups. He shrugged and said to Sean, "Right, right," and to Elijah, "Why don't we take a break and then we'll move on to the next one, hmm?"
Elijah mustered a straight face and nodded, saying, "Okay, yeah, that sounds great." The mastering engineer looked relieved, and exhaled.
Orlando watched as Viggo and Sean wandered out of the room, having redistributed Sean's load to three coffees apiece. The mastering engineer excused himself as quickly as possible, and just as he walked out, Dom and Billy ducked in, both of them looking shiny-faced and happy. "What'd we miss, what time is it?" Billy said.
Elijah rolled his eyes from his chair at the board. "You're in luck," he said. "We just went on a break."
Dom's eyes lit up. "Brilliant," he said. "See you in twenty minutes, mates!" He made quickly for the door, dragging Billy along with him by the hand, Billy not putting up much of a fuss.
When they were gone, Elijah said, "Hall closet again, you think?"
Orlando realized that Elijah was talking to him, seeing as how he was the only left in the room. "Probably," Orlando said, "Though I did get the surprise of my life in the loo yesterday."
Elijah laughed so hard he had to lean against the board so he didn't fall out of his chair. "No!" he said. "Seriously?" Orlando grinned at him. Everyone knew what had happened while Dom and Billy were broken up, and the first week after the band had gotten back together, Orlando had watched Elijah to see if he was uncomfortable, but he seemed fine and happy and happy for them now that they were right again.
It was the sort of attitude that Orlando highly approved of, and he thought that Elijah might be the person to tell that he was worried that Viggo was going to go get hurt being in love with Sean Bean. Because it seemed like Viggo was, lately, in love with Sean in a way that was more than the way he was every day in love with all of them.
The second night after they'd all re-grouped in London, they'd had dinner together at the greasy pub that was downstairs from the hotel where Sean had booked a bunch of rooms to camp out in while they sorted everything out. Showing up to find Sean in charge and Viggo sheepish had been a surprise, and Orlando had been glad but also uncertain, and after everyone else had left dinner and Viggo and Orlando had been the only ones sitting at the table, Orlando had scratched the nape of his neck and said, "So."
Viggo had mumbled something about being exhausted and had ruffled Orlando's hair when he pushed himself out of his chair. And really, it made sense, the idea of Viggo being celibate for Sean. He always threw himself into things with his whole heart.
"Hey, I'm gonna go outside to smoke," Elijah said. "Do you want to come?"
Orlando didn't smoke, he never had. "Yeah, okay," he said, pushing up off the floor.
If you've never heard of Viggo Mortensen, here's what you need to know: he might be the future of music, but he's ill-suited to be its savior. At forty-four, he's practically ancient by rock and roll standards, and it might already be too late.
It's a macabre observation, but Viggo Mortensen might have done well to die young in a tragic accident and let the rest of us build up and tell and re-tell each other the legend of his musical genius for the next twenty-odd years. What place would James Dean occupy in the cultural landscape if he'd lived to a ripe old age? What if Janis Joplin was just a folk singer drawing social security, and Kurt Cobain stuck around long enough to re-record Nevermind as a gospel album and Jimi Hendrix tried to rap and River Phoenix got his own reality show? Would they still be themselves as we know them, or would they slowly become forgettable?
We make most memorable those who lived the brightest, shortest lives. And so one can't help but wonder if that's the paradox of Viggo Mortensen -- has he had the luxury of too many choices and too much time? Would everyone know who he was if his legend had ended before it began?
If piling on accomplishments and self-reinventions over the years is to delude them, then Viggo Mortensen has been too many things to single out just one for true greatness: an acclaimed student film maker, briefly an actor, at one point the most recognizable face of the dissonant Germanic expressionist revival of the late 1990s. He's most recently of the carnival troupe styled musical cacophony Peter and Fran, but he's also an accomplished photographer, painter, poet, fencer, and as I learned during the course of our interview, an experienced ranch hand. Yet, few outside of the tight inner circle which anoints the critical darlings of music have heard of him.
Those who have heard of him, though, are eager with an almost feverish hyperbole to tell you what you're missing. Chris Martin of Coldplay memorably described Mortensen as the "past, present and future of music." This weighs heavy on the mind when you meet Viggo Mortensen, as I did in Copenhagen, where Peter and Fran is putting the finishing touches on their next album and preparing to kick off the European leg of their seemingly endless world tour.
If you're thinking at this point that Viggo Mortensen is ten feet tall and walks on water, you're wrong. Sort of. The first thing he tells me is that he hates to be referred to as a "front man," and goes on to illustrate his point with a jumbled metaphor about his band as a tossed salad, himself as a cucumber and, "sometimes you're supposed to taste the cucumber and sometimes it's all about the tomato. You know. It depends."
However, when he's out of earshot, band mates Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd confide that Mortensen composes in six languages and that they once tried to count the number of instruments he plays and lost track at thirty-seven. "He's brilliant," Boyd says. "We want him to father our firstborn."
Mortensen has a quiet, enigmatic way about him -- many times during our conversation he trails off mid-sentence, sometimes with a chuckle as though in with himself on a private joke, but sometimes with a wave of the hand as though he wouldn't dream of boring you with the details, even though he's the one who's lost interest. Over breakfast at a café near the recording studio, I tell Mortensen my theory about his fame, and how it's been inadvertently lessened by his mortal longevity. Simply put, does he think it's too late to be a cut-down-in-his-prime legend?
He's understandably skeptical: "Well, I don't know about that. When I was twenty-seven, I was running a ranch in Montana." He goes on to describe the hard life of cattle herding with a romantic nostalgia, as though he might have been better born two hundred years earlier and done all his traveling in a pioneer wagon. I'm obviously incredulous when he describes branding and castrating his own bulls, and shortly thereafter he ends the story saying, "and then one day I met a rodeo queen, but, well, that's another matter entirely." Chuckle. Wave of the hand. I interpret this to mean that the subject has been closed.
To hear him tell it, Mortensen is a normal guy and lives a normal life. When the band isn't on tour or in the studio (perhaps, six or eight days a year) he writes, paints, mounts small exhibits of his photography and hangs out with his son, Henry, 13, from a marriage that ended amicably in 1997. "My life is all about striving for the truest means of communication and expression," he says. "That can mean painting, or performing music, but it can also mean building a cabin or making beeswax candles. I don't really go looking for truth, I find it works best if I let truth come and find me."
Truth found him in the form of Monaghan and Boyd while spending time in New Zealand in 1999; they met and quickly bonded musically, founding Peter and Fran together with an assorted cast of musicians whose positions are hard to keep straight, not only because they have a standard drummer and a bongo specialist and they're both named Sean (Bean and Astin, respectively). Mortensen speaks of each of his band mates and the music that they create together with deep fondness and his own brand of laid-back enthusiasm. He seems content to let the band dictate his path for the next little while, but also seems to expect that he could be a ranch hand again next year.
A year ago, it was a real possibility. On the heels of the overwhelming critical acclaim and surprising commercial success of Same Time Next Thursday, Peter and Fran "took some unanticipated time off." All told, it was less than a year, but a year is a lifetime for a band whose fans can generally count on a new EP every time the seasons change. Ask Mortensen about the band's hiatus, and he'll give you an answer that is absolutely candid and possibly entirely fictional. "There were, ah, complications," he says. "I was an idiot, I went off and got married to a mountain for a while. Thankfully, [Sean] Bean got everything all sorted out in the end."
When he hears that Mortensen said this, Bean shakes his head, asking, "He really say that?" and then, "He flatters me."
The rest of the band is similarly mum on the subject of their time apart, and the closest thing to an explanation comes by way of Orlando Bloom, an English bloke with teenage pin-up good looks who lends percussion of the tambourine variety and used the time away from the band to explore acting.
"Viggo's, like, our rock," he says when asked if Mortensen was responsible for the near break-up. "There couldn't be a band without him and I hope there never is, but I think he'd be fine if the band ended tomorrow. He'd spend a couple weeks in Montana writing poetry and then he'd go learn how to, you know, craft horse shoes or something."
Whatever Mortensen does do, both tomorrow and ten years from now, it holds true that when a truly original artist keeps making music long enough, it's inevitable that they'll re-invent themselves back to the first incarnation sooner or later. So pick up a Peter and Fran album if you haven't already (or an EP if you're worried about buyer's remorse) and you'll quickly see that they aren't being hailed as the best and you've never heard by every music mag worth its salt for nothing, and that obscurity might not be their claim to fame for much longer. But try and find some of Viggo Mortensen's solo records if you can (though most were only released on vinyl) or one of his books of poetry (which are woefully out of print). Imagine what would have happened if he wasn't still out there, courting truth and tuning his guitorgan.