Thursday, February 23, 2012
Signing to XL Recordings
Richard calls me and says, "Zeina, what you and Stefan are doing, it's really good. We're flying you to London." "Thanks, Richard. About time," I say. Twenty hours later, I'm sitting in Richard's armchair, Stefan is sitting on Richard's couch, and Richard is staring at us. "How do you want to do this?" Richard asks. "I want full creative control," I say. "I want loads of roadies and gear," Stefan says. "Fine, fine," says Richard, "as long as you give me your eternal souls in 24 years time." Stefan and I look at each other. We can't think that far ahead. "Do you believe in heaven?" Stefan asks me. "I don't know," I say. "Fuck it," says Stefan. We'll do anything for a record deal. We turn to Richard and say,"Yes." "Welcome aboard," Richard smiles. "Our first order of business will be to push the envelope in an attention-grabbing but pleasing manner. Bottom line, the critics and the masses must love you in equal measure. Money and acclaim. That's how we do things at XL." "That's why we're here," I assure him. "We want it all," Stefan adds. "And we know you can give us everything, Richard," I coo, walking over to him and laying my hands on his shoulders. "Rub the right one really hard," Richard orders me. I do as I'm told.
We enter a whirlwind of recording, performing, touring, press, and basic pop star debauchery. Richard opens countless doors and strikes countless deals. We write vaguely experimental and increasingly mediocre songs, but charmed by Richard, the critics have decided to love us no matter what. And the crowds? They do as they're told. Richard tells them to buy our records. "The important thing," Richard reminds us when we visit him once every six months for a tune-up, as he calls it, "is to keep it real. You've got to tap into whatever kind of music poor people in Africa or Pakistan or whatever are making, and throw that in the mix. You've got to put your emotions on display. And if you run out of emotions, make it up. Make up a disastrous love affair. But don't shroud it in metaphorical bullshit. Tell it like it is, or would have been, if it had really happened. But not too hot and not too cold. Be gentle with the envelope. You get what I'm saying? Don't push it too hard." We nod our heads in agreement, and the hits keep coming.
Things start falling apart when Stefan tries to save the endangered lemurs of Kathmandu and I fall in love with an underage hottie. Stefan spends most of his time in Nepal while I never leave my underage hottie's bedroom. Pop music is no longer enough. I've started to feel ugly and old, and Stefan has lost all interest in the human species. He sends me songs about preternatural primates, and I send him songs about beautiful babies. Richard calls us and screams, "You're pushing the envelope way too fucking hard! The envelope has been torn to fucking shreds!! No, no, I can't even tell where the envelope is anymore. Forget 24 years. I'm coming to take your souls NOW. Enjoy a life of obscurity and an eternity of damnation, you miserable failures." Meanwhile, my underage hottie is sent to military school by his parents, and the last of the Kathmandu lemurs is pronounced dead. Stefan and I reunite. We mope over tea. It really is over. We're going to hell.
Having lost our souls, our record deal, our adoring fans, the approval of critics, and the grunt work of tireless roadies, Stefan and I find ourselves back in his bedroom studio with no booked shows or impending release dates. There's nothing to do but write a few songs. We go ahead and do that. In a month, we have an album's worth of material. We call our new album Going To Hell, and we post it online. Our friends and family listen to it, and they like it fine. I get a job as an assistant teacher at an elementary school, and Stefan works for a company that rents out audio gear. The seasons go by, and we wait to die. I remember our pop star days with fondness and wonder what hell will be like.
Years later, we receive a message from Richard:
You win. Apparently, God likes elementary school teachers and audio technicians. Also, God really likes that terrible album you put out years ago, Going To Hell. You've been forgiven. You're going to fucking heaven.