LX Chapter Commentary #2: Tight Tee Shirt

Chapter 1 of L Extreme ends the dreamy non-dream with “and then I fall asleep,” so we naturally kick off the main action with Benji waking up.

After making the switch to fiction, my original concept for the book was a set of loosely connected short stories. Take the same characters and settings and let them roll through the setlist episodically regardless of whether or not it made sense plot-wise. But I wrote the first few out of order (on shuffle?), so by the time I got around to “Tight Tee Shirt” I’d already abandoned that idea in favor of a proper narrative. The first half of “You Stood Me Up” was already written, so the main goal here was to connect the dots from the dream to the flashback.

It also needed to establish the general ground rules. Benji & C as relatively new roommates in a small apartment on an okay side of town. Rapid fire banter somewhere between vaudevillian slapstick and an SNL sketch. Third person omniscient narration juxtaposed against the first person dreamy segments. Teasing L as the main love interest but not quite getting to the point. A plot grounded in one song, but taking cues from others. And in this particular instance, staying tightly aligned to the lyrical (and musical) plot of the chapter’s core track while knowing I’d deviate from that script elsewhere.

Like “I Am You…”, this chapter also made its way off the album, into my ears, out of my head and onto the page mostly formed structure-wise. I messed around with some potential larger rewrites a few times, but always gravitated back to this original/final setup.

Other tidbits:

  • Yes, in the previous commentary (and the above intro) I referred to Chapter 1 a “non-dream” but Benji & C call it a dream here…
  • I’ve always loved narrators who break the fourth wall and acknowledge the audience. This narrator has that tendency, starting off subtle but becoming more intrusive as the book progresses. Deleted scenes include a whole lot of narrator soliloquies as I experimented to find the right voice and the balance. (The eventual answer was obvious, but I’ll get to that later…)
  • C’s hazy dream (or is it?) comes back in full clarity towards the end.
  • The chase/tackle/wrestling bit was inspired by imagining action to match the unexpectedly rocking guitar outro to the namesake song.
  • “I’m a musician and I’m also a painter” is accurate biography. Ditto on “You write advertising jingles and paint houses.”
  • Re-reading my cache of Benji Hughes interviews from when I thought I was researching a 33 1/3 book, I recall this 2009 IndyWeek article by Chris Parker nudging me towards fiction—especially the way he so nonchalantly describes the plot of the song: “The provocatively clothed girl in question is a former paralegal who’s vacillating between becoming doctor or horse trainer, while serving cotton candy at the circus. She packs heat for when the boys get fresh, and ‘if she isn’t edible, she’s as close as you can be.'”
  • Why is C’s subconscious processing Benji’s love life? Excellent question…
  • Sometimes the exercise was about squeezing as much referential inspiration from the songs as possible, but other times omitted references are intentional. Those familiar with the song might ask “What about the pistol in her purse or her job at the circus?” Consider it wordless foreshadowing. Stay tuned…

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