PART 6: PROLOGUE
JUST FRIENDS FOREVER
I have a friend. Or I guess I should say, I had a friend.
She hasn’t stopped existing, and she hasn’t stopped being my friend. But she stopped being herself, so that makes it hard to qualify what our relationship is right now. I’m not even sure where she is, but apparently she’s kept the same number; I hear from her about once a year.
I met her when I first moved back to Los Angeles, at a big party in the Hollywood Hills some music producer threw. She was an archetype; this slender brunette in a tastefully sexy dress, cell phone in hand, leather jacket, the classic “girl at a party a hollywood producer is throwing.” We made jokes, briefly, over drinks, and really seemed to enjoy each other’s company.
What impressed me about her immediately was that she seemed fixated on doing memory games. She claimed to have a perfect memory, and would challenge me to remember things from my own life, as a gateway to me offering a challenge to her, and surprise, she knew the answer. Name of her third grade teacher. Every Halloween costume since she was five years old. Stuff like that, but like, a lot of it.
One part of me suspected she was just making it up, until she was able to do stuff like pull release dates for movies out of thin air, and, upon a quick check from my phone, be proven right. It was cool. Like magician cool.
I got REALLY into this. It was like playing a computer program for information I didn’t even know I wanted. I thought I was witnessing something I’d heard about my whole life, a photographic memory, but she quickly dismissed that.
“Photographic memory doesn’t exist. It’s a hoax, it’s a scam thing.” She said, drinking her Moscow Mule, lit in the blue flickering light of the pool, all of Los Angeles behind her. “It’s phony.”
Coincidentally, I can remember that image, those words, her annoyed tone, so clearly.
I pressed her on this, and she explained that she had a lifelong fixation on “mnemonics,” a term I hadn’t heard outside of the Keanu Reeves movie. She described them as “memory exercises” you could learn, that made you able to remember anything, and access your own brain “like a computer.”
“You turn everything into a riddle, basically.” She said. I asked for an example. She declined to give me one.
It was one of the most interesting conversations I had ever had. It still holds up, but in light of everything that’s happened in the eight years since then, it’s taken on a slightly different tone.
I left the party at around 1:00, but around 3:00, she texted me, and said I should come over. She was at “her aunt’s house” in the canyons and we could go swimming and do cocaine. I thought: “This sounds like a thing I am definitely getting back out of bed immediately and going and doing,” and I actioned that pretty quickly.
Arriving at the house, I knew something was weird. It was massive, and strangely empty, clearly not lived in; it struck me as a rental, a party venue maybe. The front door was open. She was already walking around naked. Well, this is cool, I thought. But something was wrong.
My male brain and my logic brain entered an immediate war the likes of which my fragile twenty-four-year-old psyche had never seen.
She’d already done coke, she explained, and I could have some too, but I had to be really quiet because her “aunt was sleeping.” She was saying all of this in a loud voice, talking a mile a minute, laughing, ranting about how much she’d hated the party, asking me back the questions I’d asked her. It was a little scary.
I figured whatever was going on was probably from the coke, so that was a no for me. I strafed her, asking about the pool, and she laughed and said “yeah let’s go.”
She led me out into the massive back yard, which was elaborately landscaped with stones and statues, and I watched as she walked happily barefoot on sharp gravel up to the pool, and plunged in. The back yard, I should add, was not lit; she said “the lights out here are broken,” but I was pretty sure she just didn’t know how to turn them on. Don’t ask how I knew. I just did.
I bent down and touched the water as she rose out of it, hair slicked back, water glistening off her collar bone in the moonlight.
The water was freezing fucking cold.
The pool was not heated at all. It was a full on January chill.
“Come in, it’s great!” She said.
“No, it’s not.” I said, not knowing how to respond. “It’s…very cold, actually.”
“No, it’s great! What! Get in!” She said. She was shivering, her words shaky.
“You should get out.” I said, standing up.
The pool situation was a resounding victory for Logic Brain. I no longer believed I was going to get laid, or that if I was, it did not feel like it would be in a safe or sensible way, and “safe and sensible” suddenly felt like a very urgent priority.
So I left.
I left her there, in the pool; I explained that I was tired, and she laughed and told me to have a great night and to call her, as though my eleven minute visit had been a gratifying experience worth repeating.
Driving home, she sent me a text:
“It wasn’t really my aunt’s house. Will explain soon.”
She never did.
But once a year, I’d get a text from her. They were at first pretty brief, detailing radical changes in her life; she’d met a guy, usually with a ton of money, and he’d changed everything.
New text: now she was vegan, and living in a commune. New text: new guy: now she was a Scientologist; they were teaching her a lot of things. She’d put her old life behind her.
Months later, new text: new guy, and Scientology is bullshit.
This new guy and her were traveling the world.
He’s a photographer.
Here’s a picture of me in Thailand.
Did you know a secret society controls the world?
New guy; he’s my age for once!, she says excitedly.
Tech guy; she’s living in San Francisco, getting really into finance.
Not a model anymore!
Did you know that the NSA can bug your house with no warrant?
Did you know the government records almost every phone conversation and keeps them in underground labyrinth?
New guy! He’s a model. We met at Cannes. I was invited to Cannes by the old guy, the actor, and here’s a great pic of me on the red carpet of On The Road- wait, the actor? What happened to the tech guy? Oh he turned out to be a stalker. He was gas-lighting me. He almost drove me insane. I hate him. The model guy is great.
Satan doesn’t exist, but something like him does.
Something created by the United States government.
They keep it underground, like the phone calls.
I met a new guy! I’m really into music now. I’m learning guitar and piano. Writing my first album.
Do you believe crystals have power?
Do you remember the night we met? I was invited to that party by a member of the Illuminati. They put something in my drink, they’ve been grooming me my whole life.
People I know are being murdered.
No one believes me.
How are you, Max?
So two things were happening here, and they were happening at the same time. You can take your pick of how you view her lifestyle; either as an independent who gets what she wants, collecting experiences and living a wild, exciting life, or, to take a less kind approach, a parasite, a woman whose beauty led rich and powerful men to want to buy her into their lives, sweep her off her feet, only for her to jump ship as soon as something more interesting came along.
But the other, more insidious element, was that her effervescence, her charm and that goofy, friendly demeanor, so silly and unpretentious and approachable, combined with her incredible physical beauty, was hiding a clear deterioration in her hold on reality.
She left an impression on me I’ll never shake. She’s one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met. But watching her come unglued via text message was one of the most unsettling things I’d ever experienced.
I’d seen schizophrenic ideation manifested digitally before.
A friend of mine from high school, who was schizo affective, once began sending me bizarre messages about the novel Ender’s Game every time he smoked weed. And he started smoking weed all the time, so that meant he started talking about Ender’s Game all the time. And not in a subtle way. He believed himself to be part of the novel.
He’s okay now.
A friend of mine in college, who struggled with bipolar when I knew him, began leaving me weird voicemails and posting bizarre statuses, with muddled incoherent thoughts and kooky mis-usages of big words. Talking about a friend from childhood who he was convinced was stalking him. Talking about Xanax, a lot. Talking about people with vendetta’s against him. Hidden messages he was receiving by listening to static. Starcraft videogame commenters were sending him coded information through their Starcraft videogame commentary.
I heard he’d gained a bunch of weight. Grown a big beard. Last I heard he’d wandered off into the woods.
I have no idea if he’s okay. He still posts on Facebook, so that’s a thing.
In all three of these instances, I had experienced these people tell me, in perfectly reasonable and sane seeming voices, in totally specific seeming terms, things that, under any level of investigation, fell apart. I watched theories and conspiracies and secret messages and hidden systems consume them.
So the question stood:
Was it possible I was alone, and would REMAIN alone? Was it possible that I was projecting a pattern that didn’t really exist? There was really only one way to know. One way to stop trying to explain the Carly Theory to my friends. One way to exorcise this demon:
I had to write it down.
I’d go song by song, analyzing each one individually. I’d work backwards, charting my own progress through her music. I couldn’t just release a massive list of songs, so I’d buttress my annexes into her music with short essays detailing my own experience in discovering this phenomenon. I like to write; love to write. This could be fun. This could be really fun.
And if I pulled it off, soon everyone would see what I saw; that Carly had pulled off one of the coolest, most special, and most bizarre achievements in pop history, a bright and shiny behemoth floating on winds of tempting limerence, miserable obsession and secret escape, who had more happy, bouncy songs about rejection than most musicians have about…well, anything.
Look, there’s a reason I took this diversion into my past. It wasn’t just about identifying and describing my own experience of insanity. It was because we’re about to do Carly’s latest album, Emotion Side B.
Emotion Side B is going to fucking blow your mind. I needed to give you a break. It literally feels like it was written as a companion piece to whatever I’ve done here. It’s a final and complete submergence into this being a real thing. If you’re not there already, which goddamn, like, HOW, then you are about to be.
So was there no one else who saw the pattern? Well, it used to be that way. But now there’s you, bud. Hang up your coat and put on this straight jacket; you’ll need it for this one. To paraphrase Billy Joel:
You may be right, I may be crazy, but you might just be the lunatic I’m looking for.