Original Release Date: 20 January 2009 (Young Baby Records)
Download “Microphone” (mp3)
When his plane landed in the afternoon, it touched down during a rare heavy rainstorm. Three hours and four Jack and Cokes later and the rain has not stopped. Jeff finally decides to unpack. The clothes: the cotton shirts, pressed slacks, boxers and socks. The hardware: the portable printer, travel size DVD player, and laptop. There is no need to even open the accessory bag of miniature toiletries since it was replenished before leaving the hotel room. He just pulls it out of the main bag and slides it into its place beneath the sink. Everything has its place. That makes both packing and unpacking neat and orderly. It’s easy to leave, easy to come home.
Nearly immediately upon entering the apartment, the iPhone was in the SoundDock, shuffling through the library. Done with his unpacking and definitely drunk, a song by Jason Schwartzman, who releases his music under the guise of Coconut Records, plays. An acoustic guitar is singly strummed for the introduction of “Wandering Around” from the album Davy. Perhaps it’s the incessant travel, perhaps it’s the alcohol – or a combination of it all – but the opening line offers Jeff some muddled solace. “All my days are blending into one lonely night.”
As the song ventures through its refrain of “I’ve been wandering around,” his caprices take hold. He finds himself walking barefoot through the Los Angeles rainstorm. He quickly drenches himself searching out puddles to stomp in like an overexcited kid let loose. His iPhone is in its case and in his pocket. Jeff is listening to the Davy album straight through. As he wanders through the downpour and listens to that album, he screens a black-and-white mental motion picture.
Open with “Microphone.” The melody starts with the picking of an acoustic guitar to a black screen. The pickup notes from the drums are matched with the fade in. The film speed is slowed down, but adjusts to normal speed within 4 seconds. Julie is walking in front of the steady cam, entering Jeff’s apartment. She is obviously arguing towards the lens, but only the song is audible. She works her way past the kitchen, to the living room, and to the couch. As the first line of the song is sung, Julie plunges onto the couch and four frames are frozen on the screen, one for each two beats of the song. “Slow down, you are out of control.” Then the motion continues in standard frame rate, the argument is now heard as the song fades to the background during the second line, “One of us is right and one of us is wrong.” The camera stays on Julie; Jeff’s side of the quarrel comes from off screen.
- What do you mean I’m never there for you? You know my job. You know how much I have to travel.
- That’s not what I mean. Not that you aren’t physically here. But when I need you to step up, you never do.
- Give me one good example.
- You only want one?
- One good example.
- OK. Last week. We’re at the movie theater. That asshole in front of us keeps leaning over to his girlfriend, or whoever she is, and making those stupid jokes and laughing obnoxiously. So I lean over and ask him, politely, if he’ll please be quiet.
- That guy was like three times my size.
- I don’t care. When he rolled his eyes at me, you should have done something.
- What? Did you want me to get my ass kicked by him right then and there?
- No, but you should have done something. You didn’t have to punch the guy or suddenly act all macho. You could have told me we needed to move seats. You could have done something, anything.
- You looked like you had the situation under control.
- So I need to come up with some way to solve your problems?
- No. But if something happens, it’d be good to know you were on my side. What’d you do when that guy was being an asshole? You sank in your seat and shifted away from me.
- Hey, you pick your fights.
- Yes, and if you want me, you get my fights too.
- Trust me, I know.
- What’s that supposed to mean?
- That means I know all about your fights. We’re fighting right now, aren’t we?
- Yeah, but you shouldn’t always be fighting against me?
The song continues to its final chorus of “You are my voice, my microphone/ You are my voice, so take me on.” The film is sped up, almost like a silent film shot at a slower frame rate, to appear like the action is happening slightly faster than it should. They get off the couch and argue throughout the living room, but the camera stays on Julie alone. Her motions become more agitated, more intense. At the end of the song on the lyrics, “One of us is right, one of us is wrong,” the frames freeze on angry shots of Julie every 4 beats. The last frame remains on the screen as the song finishes. Jeff’s voice-over says, “But that wasn’t the breakup.”
Cut to a close up on Jeff talking on his iPhone. He looks slightly confused, but more bewildered. He’s nodding in agreement, but the motion is passive. The only audio for this scene is the song “Drummer.” It begins with a fade in of steady downbeats from electric guitar, piano, and snare hits. The song is wrapped in Beatles style production and counts through ages from teenage to young adult, each year getting a line. He completes the call, takes his car keys, and leaves the apartment. The door closes.
Cut to a medium shot of Jeff in an elevator. He is preoccupied and stern. He parks the car.
Cut to a long two shot of Jeff and Julie sitting in her apartment. They are both amiable and calm. Julie is doing most of the talking, but none of it is heard. Jeff is nodding his head. OK, he says and, I know. This lasts for about a minute, during the instrumental section of the song.
They get up and the camera follows them as they walk to the front door. It stops over Julie’s shoulder at the door. They have been comfortable with each other. Now things are awkward. How do they say goodbye? Obviously they don’t kiss. Is a hug too much or is it apropos? Jeff has one hand on the doorknob. He leans towards Julie with the other side of his body. She doesn’t move. Jeff pulls back towards the door. They both move towards each other for a quick and emotionless hug.
“I was a drummer in a band that just broke up/ Isn’t that the way it goes?”
Months later he still thinks about all the details of how they broke up. That’s how he always refers to it. We broke up, he says. She didn’t end things, not in his words. They broke up. It wasn’t his decision, but he saw as inevitable. It’s that lynchpin of logic that prevents Jeff from grappling with the truth: Julie dumped him.
Cut to a close up of Jeff, in his apartment, single, and opening a new bottom of Jack Daniels. He mixes the bourbon over ice with Coke. The camera follows the glass as he lifts it to his mouth. After taking a sip, his face is stoic, but neither sad nor shocked. The black-and-white image fades to black.
The opening piano chord of “Any Fun” is heard as Jeff continues wandering in the heavy rain. Water cascades off his hair, his nose, his chin. The song starts with the chorus, “You never have any fun, so I won’t come around/ You never have anyone, so I won’t let you down.” He walks barefoot into a liquor store.
This piano-based song is mixed like a mid-60s pop song when multitracking was gaining popularity. The different musical layers are panned sharply. One speaker has the piano, tambourine, and verse vocals; the other has the bass, drums, and electric guitar; in the center are the chorus vocals and the rest of the instrumentation.
During the first verse, the black-and-white screen in his mind dissolves to a small, dark bar. The lights are red and the bar and stools are black. Shadows don’t exist here. It is the kind of place that plays rockabilly and punk music very loud. Jeff is leaning against the bar loudly blathering to some strangers. His back is to Julie who is fiddling with a cocktail napkin that has a wet circle from her finished glass. She finally taps him on the shoulder. When he turns around, her lips distinctly form the words, “I’m leaving.” He wants to finish his drink, but she starts towards the door.
They’re both standing outside the bar’s burgundy door. They are arguing, but the sound of their words is drowned out by the music. Jeff turns his back to her in frustration and Julie begins walking away from him. He turns back towards her and reaches for her shoulder. He stops her and the argument continues as the camera slowly pans up and away on a crane, leaving them standing outside the bar, the only people on the street, yelling at each other. This scene fades to black.
“Saint Jerome” opens with acoustic guitar strumming, similar to the intro to the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life.” The mental movie in Jeff’s mind fades in on an extreme close-up of him sleeping on a hotel bed. The camera angle is crookedly cropped in a noir style, which is accentuated by the black-and-white images. When the lyrics start, Jeff slowly wakes up and tries to resettle himself. The camera pulls back to a full shot and levels itself.
Rubbing his head, Jeff walks to the bathroom. He turns to look in the mirror above the sink. The camera cuts to the mirror’s location, looking back at him from the shoulders up. He brushes his teeth. Then he leans over and splashes water in his face. He fiddles with some things on the sink. He leans back over again. When his head returns his eyes quickly widen for just a moment and his fidgets with his nose.
After the intro, the rollicking acoustic guitar and keyboards of “Saint Jerome” continue with a Beatles-esque quality. The narrator of the song is in a relationship that doesn’t come easy, but he wouldn’t want it any other way. “If she isn’t screaming, she doesn’t belong inside.” While he doesn’t “ever, ever want to be alone,” “he doesn’t know what he wants know.”
The hotel phone rings. Jeff shakes to regain some focus. He picks up the receiver and says hello. He hears a familiar voice and an effacing smile rolls over his face.
The rain still topples down. Jeff is drunk and wet and heading back to his apartment building. He can’t remember if he checked his mail that afternoon. In the lobby, he juggles his keys and the new bottle of Jack with a drunken poise to not drop either. His box, box 206, is empty. He must have checked it earlier. He locks his mailbox and glances at the names on the other boxes. He pauses for a moment at stares at the name J. White on box 312. He is drunkenly disjointed and the song currently playing is not helping his emotions.
“Courtyard” is a ballad, almost sounding like a lullaby. There is a soft, beautiful acoustic guitar with distint vocals. Chimes are added near the end of the song. The lyrics lilt around a lack of commitment. “I don’t know how long to stay here/ Something’s waking up.” But, ultimately, it ends on the phrase, “I love you, but I’d never tell you that.”
He is back in his apartment. The iPhone is back in the SoundDock. And, once again, “Wandering Around” is playing. The bass line kicks in on the second line. “I keep hoping that you’re on your way over but I’m probably losing sight.” Jeff’s mind wanders to apartment 312. He wants Julie to answer the door, see him barefoot and disheveled, and have a campy grin slowly form on her freckled face.
“Hi, I’m Jeff from 206.”
Sometimes when he daydreams about it, he pictures all of the best moments. Sometimes, like tonight, he pictures the heartbreak. Maybe they would last forever if they got together. Maybe they’re soul mates. Maybe they would break up. Sure, they’d probably just break up. But while it lasted, it would be great.
“You know I couldn’t love you more/ But I’m sure you’ve heard it all before.”
Jeff keeps filling up the tumbler and listening to the album on repeat. He hears the rest of the songs – “Summer,” “I Am Young, “ “Wires,” and “Is This Sound Okay?” – and starts back at the beginning. He imagines driving in a convertible with Julie. The roof is down, sunglasses are on, wind in her red hair blowing the straight locks into a tangled mess. Maybe she picked him up from the airport.
He sees them picking out DVDs at a video store. They’re mulling over foreign films. They’re trying to decide if they should have a French New Wave festival at home or if they should make it a complete international affair. Stick with Godard and Truffaut, or mix in Fellini, De Sica, and Bergman.
They are laughing in bed. They’ve got the shades pulled, eat leftovers for dinner, and relaxingly romp.
Jeff has enough sense not to befuddle things by knocking on her door that night. Or the next day when the hangover levels him. But two days later Jeff and Julie are both getting their mail at the same time. He finally introduces himself. He finally begins a conversation.
“Hi, I’m Jeff from 206.”