Part 23a: A Tree Named Charlie
Elijah is attempting to keep things on task. When they return to the studio to master the album, he tapes a big sheet of paper on the wall and writes down the names (both placeholder and final) of each song they need to complete. The plan is to cross them off, one by one, until they're finished.
Occasionally he adds yellow sticky notes near the song names. Sometimes they make sense in the morning ("turn down Daisy on Barmaid") sometimes they don't ("kill the bloody chicken"). Usually he just keeps lists in his head and shares them all with Viggo or the group as a whole in one burst.
The band comes by every day. Checking on the progress in clumps of two and three, occasionally four. On the flight back to the States, Dom declared loudly that "the mixing thing" was Elijah's gig this time, and even Viggo agreed that Elijah could be trusted, so mostly they sit in the studio with him as he pushes levers about, hums to himself, and listen as he talks them through songs or whatever section of "Carnies and Board Games" where he's worried he's stealing ideas from the new Gorillaz album.
Liv brings him thermoses filled with green tea, Karl brings super-gulp sized coffees, and Dom and Billy always offer backrubs. Sean tries to film a little bit of everything and asks Elijah questions sometimes, mostly when Elijah stops for smoking breaks. Elijah enjoys it all, but his favorite moments are the times at the end of the day, when he brings a copy of the latest tracks back to the hotel, with each cd labeled draft 2 or 3 or 6.5 in red sharpie, and they all flop around someone's hotel room, listening for hours, over and over until there's either agreement on the current direction or a new plan of action.
Elijah imagines this must be at least sort of what college feels like, staying up all night slaving over revisions, workshopping the finished product with his peers. Only, instead of rewrites and new paragraphs, he likes to think he's adding voices. A little bit of Billy in the echo on the fiddle solo and Karl threatening someone for looking at Daisy funny the last time they were in Florida.
Each time someone makes a suggestion, Elijah attaches it to something familiar, something he can remember and attempt to recreate. The chorus of "Song Singing Sleeve" is a moment of Viggo meditating in the middle of Heathrow Airport, the bridge of "Running Away From Fire" is as close to the version Orlando and Liv sing when they're doing laundry as Elijah can possibly get it, and while he'll tell the reporters that "Voting for the Monkey" is about politics, because it is, Elijah will always associate it with Orlando instead.
Viggo drops by one morning with his guitar and they record another layer of noise for "Bard and Pirate," then futz around with vocals, harmonies, and the many fun noises you can make the human voice into when you have a studio full of equipment to play with.
Liv is sounding more like a monkey than a human when Elijah decides that she would probably rather they left her voice just the way it was to begin with.
"Trees." Viggo looks up. "We should make Dom draw something with trees for the tour bus."
"Yeah," Elijah nods. ""Or we could buy ourselves a bus-tree."
"Both," Viggo nods, his eyes vaguely manic, "we need to do both. And we need to mention it by name in interviews. And put it in the videos."
Elijah raises an eyebrow. "You realize that some might find your desire to fuck with people's heads disturbing?"
Viggo shrugs. "I don't know what you're talking about."
Elijah yawns and leans back in his chair. "It's gotta be a cool tree. Something with character."
"A palm tree?" Viggo frowns. "No, not a palm tree."
"What about those trees with the really weird leaves." Elijah holds up his hand in a sort of peace sign. "Like a V?"
"Ginko." Viggo nods.
"Yes," Elijah smiles. "Exactly."
Elijah looks over at the to-do list on the wall. He's not sure when it happened, but they seem to be about finished. He rubs at the back of his neck, there's a little twinge there that won't quite go away.
Viggo clears his throat and Elijah looks back over. "Let's get out of here."
He's holding out a blank cd. Elijah takes it, sticks it in his laptop, and starts looking for a red Sharpie.
Part 23b: Like Watching A Mule Go Up A Ladder
Elijah falls asleep in the back of the van on the drive out of the city around the time that Viggo, Karl, Sean and Bernard start talking about something so boring it has to be international tax law. He closes his eyes until the regular blinks of light across his eyelids from the glimpses of the sun between high-rises start to skip and flicker and when he wakes up it's just sunlight through the leaves of passing trees. His neck hurts and he feels better than he has in days.
Bernard is piloting them down a two-lane road somewhere east of god knows where, which is nothing new, but it's green and quiet and Elijah counts three empty fields and a white-steepled church before they meet another car. Around a corner and Bernard pulls into a shallow turn-out where a big rig semi is parked and a guy in jeans and work boots is leaning against one massive tire. Richard Taylor is there, sitting on the hood of a beat-up Mazda and looking at a roadmap, with a handful of scruffy people and a jumble of camera and sound equipment.
The second van pulls up behind them and Dom, Billy, Liv, Daisy and Orlando pile out, scratching and squinting.
Orlando meanders over, stretching, "Karl, have you got my sunglasses?"
Viggo's climbing out of the passenger side saying, "Anyway I don't think you can own property if you're not a citizen, or if you can, the ah, tax rate is higher, or the interest is held for a specific period of time, or, if –"
"If you're married, what then?" Karl puts in, chuckling. Orlando looks crossly at Viggo and Karl ducks back into the van and returns with the sunglasses, grinning. "That's hilarious, Vig, how on earth –"
"That, well, you know," says Viggo, barely lifting one shoulder. He looks at Orlando. "You know."
"It's completely ridiculous," Orlando mutters, mildly placated as Karl drops an arm around his shoulders and gives his neck a good knead. "Do that again."
"It's a piece of paper," says Viggo mildly, lifting his eyebrows like he's surprised they're even discussing it. He's already wandering off calling, "Richard, you found us, did you get the map I sent?"
"I did," Richard says from the hood of the Mazda, "completely illegible as usual, thanks."
Elijah digs a cigarette out of his bag and goes to watch Sala refuse to let any of Richard's PAs help unload the instruments from either van. Five minutes later another car pulls up alongside and five kids get out.
"Hullo," says Bernard, coming over.
One of the kids says, "Hi, we're the contest winners?"
Elijah suspects Ian's PR wizardry is behind this and is mostly unsurprised that nobody else seems aware that any such contest was taking place, let alone that the winners would show up and need to be dealt with.
"Really," Bernard is saying, his hands in his pockets. He glances at Elijah. "Elijah, apparently they've won a contest."
Elijah gives a helpless shrug, palms out. The fans are smiling, looking around expectantly, and Elijah feels hopeful; they seem relaxed and unlikely to be the sort to slip him strange confessional letters with Peter and Fran lyrics doodled in the margins, or to start crying if they can't touch Orlando's face.
Whatever these fans did to win this contest, Elijah thinks, it was probably creative and interesting and they deserve a better prize than to sit on a truck and watch Viggo's plainly unenthusiastic lip-synching. Viggo had some kind of principled stance against lip-synching and watching him do it was like watching a mule going up a ladder, if a proverbial mule could flap its lips a half-second or two behind the sound of its own canned vocals. In their better videos the effect was vaguely ironic and surreal, in Elijah's opinion, and in their worse ones it looked like the result of a head injury.
"Can I leave my car here, do you think?" a girl with a messy ponytail is asking. "Are we going to be up on that?" she points to the big rig, where Sala and Lawrence are hauling instruments onto the flatbed.
"Right, your car, absolutely," Bernard nods and waves a hand in a way that Elijah knows means Bernard has no clue and isn't terribly concerned about it. "You're all of you over eighteen? Yes? Good?"
There are three nods from the girls and a wobbly hand motion from one boy in a corduroy blazer. "Um," says the last boy, shrugging, "we brought flowers?"
Bernard grins. "Close enough."
It takes another twenty minutes before the mess of equipment is set up on the truck, mic stands secured with duct tape, and everyone is in place.
Elijah smokes his last cigarette with one of the fans, Ben from Bard College.
"I saw you, your show, a while ago in the city, spinning," Ben from Bard says. "You were really, really good."
"Thanks." Elijah can't tell if Ben is flirting or if he's just being nice because he can't tell how old Elijah is. Elijah gets that a lot.
"I mean, amazing, yeah." Ben exhales a long plume. "I should so be in my 'Rights, Multiculturalism, and Citizenship' class right now." Ben laughs. "Shit."
A PA comes up to them and passes Ben a big armful of flowers. "Hold these, okay?"
Ben drops a few and balances his cigarette on his lip, trying to get both arms around the bundle. The cigarette wags up and down as he says, "This is better, though."
Sean holds everything up for a while by insisting that one of the PAs hold his camera and film as much of the shoot as possible, until Elijah pokes him and says, "What is this, Making the Video? Our mics aren't even on." The five fans hop up onto the edge of the flatbed, legs hanging down, each holding an armful of flowers, and then Richard pops up out of the Mazda's sunroof with a camera balanced on one shoulder and yells up to the truck driver, "We'll keep it at 20 or 30, alright Russell?"
Russell starts up the truck and everything shudders, some instruments wobble dangerously and Dom and Karl collide, Richard makes a wild sort of lassoing gesture with his free arm and they lurch into motion and pull out onto the road. The PA driving the Mazda turns the volume up on the tinny speakers, and Elijah can just make out the opening of "Voting for the Monkey" over the belching grind of the diesel engine.
Elijah can see Viggo in profile lip-synching very, very badly and Elijah can think of at least ten ways in which this whole thing might have been better coordinated, but this is Richard's show and besides, Elijah's standing in the sun with his legs splayed on the back of semi behind some college kids who are throwing carnations and daisies into the road and singing. It could be much worse.
They rumble along for a while, Richard making daring passes alongside the truck in the Mazda whenever there's enough straightaway that a collision seems less likely, and everybody's bouncing up and down a bit and trying to keep it together. Elijah looks over at Liv, whose hair is getting blown all over Orlando's face, and Dom, unwisely attempting to execute a little two-step on a moving vehicle. He forgets how hard it is to lip-synch while laughing.
Then Russell downshifts suddenly and there's maybe a pothole or something and everything lurches upward and slams back down and when Elijah looks up again the girl with the messy ponytail who was sitting at the edge of the flatbed isn't there anymore.
There's a moment of confusion and then a lot of yelling and Russell is breaking fast and the Mazda stops too and everyone is leaping off the truck.
"What's, why are we stopping?" asks Orlando, who still can't see past Liv's hair.
"Over there," Karl calls, jumping to the ground and loping back down the road.
The girl with the ponytail is in the ditch a couple of yards back with grass in her hair, holding her leg.
"Ow, fuck," she says. Everyone is running up and peering down at her.
Bernard kneels down. "Alright there, love? Anything broken? Let's have a look."
"Ow, fuck," she says again, looking up at the assembled band, the PAs and Sala.
"I know," Bernard replies, sympathetic. "How's it feel?"
It's a nasty scrape, but she doesn't want to go back to town to find a doctor. She wants to finish the shoot. Russell has a First Aid kit in the cab of the truck. Russell apparently is a Vietnam Vet and knows a thing or two about cleaning up a flesh wound. Viggo warms up considerably, which Elijah thinks is typical Viggo, he loves people with war wounds, especially if they're stoic about it. Viggo never went to Vietnam, at least as far as Elijah knows, and in fact has a kind of blanket anti-war stance with t-shirts to prove it, but he spends a few serious minutes bonding with Russell over gauze or proper wrapping technique or something, while the girl with the ponytail looks confused and maybe a little uncomfortable. Orlando offers aspirin and keeps apologizing.
"Is she going to sue us?" Sean wonders aloud and Bernard makes a hissing noise. Richard is standing off to the side, looking stricken with guilt.
Bernard Sean him on the shoulder. "Perhaps we might refrain from putting that idea into anyone's head."
"But they signed something, right," Sean is saying loudly. "Right?"
"Absolutely right, yes," Bernard says quickly, squinting at the girl. "You did say you were eighteen, love?"
"I'm really okay," she keeps saying, while Viggo and Russell talk about being stuck in the hole and using a t-shirt to staunch the blood. "Really, it's fine," she says, but when Orlando offers her a carnation he picked up off the road, she smiles for real, and even if Ian isn't there to finesse the situation, it's close enough.
Soon the girl's propped back up on the truck and the PAs have managed to stuff enough flowers around her legs that the bandages are mostly hidden. During the scuffle and confusion another PA managed to drop the keys to the Mazda somewhere by the side of the road, so for the next twenty minutes everybody comes together for a game of Find the Keys in the Ditch, a game Elijah knows well, only this time it isn't pitch black and sleeting on the Autobahn. By the time the keys are located Elijah is ready to beg Dom for a spare cigarette, but it's time to get back on the truck.
Richard clambers back up through the sunroof. "Let's go, ah, a bit slower this time. Russell? Everyone got something to hold on to?"
The Mazda's stereo blares to life again and the truck rolls back onto the road. The fans manage a whooping cheer and Karl starts strumming enthusiastically. Viggo's lip-synching is worse than ever and over Orlando's shoulder, Elijah can see Richard giving them all a goofy thumbs up. The camera veers madly from side to side and Elijah imagines it glancing past faces, flying flowers, and hair, confusing the running pavement and sky in a rush faster than the eye can follow.