As referenced previously, the first chapter I wrote for L Extreme was about the song “The Mummy” starring Benji, Count & Frank and referencing additional Benji Hughes songs from other albums. I did a few of those in random order and had a rough idea of how to loosely segue my way through the first side of the vinyl.
When NaNoWriMo came around I decided to take it from the top with the very first track. I sat at my desk as the clock struck midnight (a Nano tradition to hit the ground running as soon as Nov 1 literally hits), played the album for inspiration—and laughed out loud.
The first song is an instrumental. It’s also a cover.
Deep down I obviously knew this, but in my excitement hadn’t really planned for it in the moment. The idea that the five instrumental tracks would be dreams was already in my head, as was the original idea to do a 33 1/3 style non-fiction take on the album. I knew from reading interviews the title A Love Extreme was a play on A Love Supreme by John Coltrane—but the extreme version was a cover by Carlos Santana & John McLaughlin on their Love Devotion Surrender album.
Undeterred, I fired up that album instead (I’d randomly been turned onto it a few months prior to discovering Benji by my sister’s boyfriend). I stared at the cover depicting the two white-suited guitar legends and started writing about what I saw filtered through Benji’s eyes.
It got polished a bit over the years, but the general structure of the trippy, nondescript white room filled with celebrities flowed out pretty much intact all at once.
- As the story goes, Santana & McLaughlin were dreaming about each other in the lead up to collaborating. The dreamy nature of this song and that fun fact influenced my decision to make all of the instrumentals dreams.
- “A white suit makes you look like a doofus” was inspired by something Jim Bob from Carter USM (my other favorite musical act) said on a live album—though his version is “a white suit makes you look like a dickhead.” Same difference 🙂
- Miami Vice is both a reference to the popularization of white suits and the song “Miami Nights” by Dirt Nasty & Ke$sha that Benji Hughes sings the chorus to.
- “You’ve got heart, man” has more meaning on a second read.
- “I Am You…” is actually an instrumental sampled from the soundtrack to the film Lovers and Other Strangers composed by Fred Karlin. The cat with the sideburns playing an organ and conducting the orchestra is a fictionalized version of Fred as a tribute to the original.
- The thing that changed the most as this chapter got rewritten were the actual white-suited celebrities. In the final version they are (mostly) a list of Benji Hughes’s influences, favorites or offhand conversational mentions.
- Sri Chinmoy was an Indian spiritual leader followed by Carlos Santana and John McLaughlin. His teachings inspired them to make Love Devotion Surrender. Sri really did have this special platform he’d use to lift celebrities, animals and objects. It was such a wild story I couldn’t resist including it here.
- “Up Where We Belong” references an epic duet cover version Benji did with Jenny Lewis at Largo in LA.
- I really liked the idea of unifying the instrumental songs on A Love Extreme into the dream sequences, but I also knew that dreams in novels—especially as opening scenes—were frowned upon as overused tropes. Eventually that led me to think “What if they aren’t dreams?” Hence the final line of the trippy dream-like chapter became: “And then I woke up.”