Let’s pick up where we left off with the doors. SAL + MON = Salmon.
The CD version of the album Songs in the Key of Animals assigns these names to each disc. The LP version subtitles the sides. L Extreme the novel pays tribute with little signs on two opposing doors Heartman finds in the hallway ostensibly leading to the brain of Benji Hughes. Can’t get much more Malkovich than this!
Minor spoiler not completely spelled out in the book: Off-page at the end of this chapter, Heartman enters the MON door and emerges in the white room from I Am You, You Are Me, We Are One. It’s the first step of his transformation from Heartman to Benji in the “real world” as contractually stipulated in his deal with Evilon.
Girl in the Tower: “Without warning he was overwhelmed by a cavalcade of tunes that were difficult to describe…it sounded like three songs being played at once.”
I Am You…: “Celebrities start screaming, their white-suited howls blending into white noise. All three songs play at once.”
The magic trick here is you can technically read Side B before Side A—just like you can choose which side of a vinyl record to strat with. Initially a happy accident, once I realized how the chronology was playing out I ran with it. (A before B allows the bookends of the Benji & C letter shuffling make sense, but some readers argue reading Side B first enhances Side A…)
- Evilon’s look (“a cross between an Egyptian pharaoh and a playing card”) was inspired by the cover artwork to Benji’s 2 singles on Merge Records plus a cool gig poster featuring a Benjified King of Hearts. Both were designed by North Carolina artist Mark Elmore. Why does Evilon resemble Benji Hughes? That’s not for you to know.
- “An appendage army appearing across all angles” might be the longest alliterative I’ve ever pulled off, but I’m no Chris Elliott. (No, not that Chris Elliott, who would be right at home as a character in L Extreme.)
- Whole lotta LILILIL here since this is the place where the book reveals it’s equally inspired by both albums. “She’s not allowed to sing” echoes the predicament of the Space Princess. “Everybody’s Crazy ‘Bout You” is an outtake from the LILILIL sessions. In the LILILIL narrative, Evilon is not that evil anymore and leaves a “space jam” he really digs for the Space Princess. I figured back in his evil days he wouldn’t like music. Making music his weakness unlocked the karaoke fight scene—along with the purpose for the ever-present jambox in Benji & C’s apartment.
- “One footsoldier managed to land a pirouetting kick to Evilon’s wrist” took inspiration from Benji’s description of his studio defense technique in this Vulture interview. “Hughes demonstrated a kind of pirouetting kung fu stabbing technique. ‘That’s me going past you and making sure that you don’t follow along, as I travel to my next destination.'”
- You can listen to a playlist of the songs from the epic karaoke battle (plus a few related bonuses) over on Spotify.
- In an older draft, Evilon magically switches places with the “little piggy who had none and was spared” in a Quantum Leap style body-swap that helps him temporarily evade capture, explaining why he resurfaces later. It all felt overly long and convoluted, so I cut it to keep things moving.
- In multiple interviews, Benji Hughes refers to the song “I Went With Some Friends to See the Flaming Lips” as “pretty much a play-by-play.” Here Benji the character uses that line to summarize his previous life inside the body to a disbelieving C.
- Realizing the thin thread from which any disbelief might be suspended, the narrator interjects to lay out the perceived faulty logic to the reader. The authorial intent is “Yes, this is ridiculous. But it’s like that by design and I have a plan, so trust me and read on…” Does it work? That’s not for me to know.
- “Was C a soldier from the fingers?” is minor misdirection, but also casually hides the truth in plain sight via a dismissive aside.
- I’m still amazed at how many words you can spell with the letters in EVILON. The real Benji Hughes was surprised when I told him about the “IN LOVE” anagram. But my favorite is the final one using overlapping letters, perfectly illustrated by aleirart on Fiverr.