The first time I ever heard Frank’s music was in the summer of 2012 when I was half-naked in a forest a couple kilometers outside of the city with Galina. It was playing off the speaker on the old shitty phone she had then, balanced upright in a little crevasse between two wet pieces of wood. All of Channel Orange, I’m pretty sure, front to back.
When I asked if she was sure nobody would be coming through where we were, I didn’t get a response, so I changed the subject as quickly as I could and asked what the music she’d put on was.
“You’ve never heard this before?”
“No,” I said, and then became worried I’d compromised something, “I mean, yeah, but, like, a while ago, I think.”
“Right.” She laughed a little bit. “You’re adorable. Don’t worry about it. Just close your eyes and listen. And take this.” She passed me a small, wobbly joint rolled out of a piece of dictionary paper. “You’ve done this before, right?”
“Oh, yeah,” I said.
I had not. Galina was older than me, though, and way better looking, and I trusted so much in the wisdom I figured she’d acquired making it all the way to grade ten that I just did what she wanted. I closed my eyes, relaxed, and then took the dictionary-joint from her and sucked on it like I was trying to get the last, half-melted pieces of goop out of a slushie.
Time kind of froze for a second, and then my throat lit up and I coughed so hard I keeled over forwards and dropped the joint. Galina yelled something, but I couldn’t hear her.
I’d become totally focused on the music. I kept my eyes closed and listened, and everything folded gently out in front of me like the digital pipes screensaver on my dad’s old computer. I heard keyboards cushioned between fingerpicked bass strings and smooth-moving guitar bends. I heard words that I wasn’t sure I could relate to but that I felt deep down somewhere close to what I imagined was my soul. I kept my eyes closed and listened and the sunlight came down to touch my body and vibrate it at exactly 432 quiet hertz.
“Hey,” Galina said, “Hey, are you alive?”
She grabbed my shoulder and shook me.
“Huh?” I said, shaking my head like a cartoon, “What?”
“Are you going to kiss me, or are you braindead or something?”
“So it’s- Have you heard of it before? It’s called ‘trans-,’ uh-”
“Wait, sorry, one sec. Just, Noah, can you turn my mic up? No, no one’s gonna be able to hear me like this. It’s way off. Yeah. Yeah, okay. Yeahyeahyeah, that’s good. Yeah. Right. I, uh- Sorry, you were saying?”
“Uh, Trans-humanism. ‘Trans,’ as in, like, ‘beyond.’ That’s from Greek, I think. And then, uh, humanism.”
“And what does that mean?”
“Well, basically just trying to grow past our limits as human beings, I think, is the simplest way of saying it. With technology, mostly, as in, like-”
“Richard, my guy, I’m gonna be honest with you. I’m kind of retarded, and this is already going over my head. I’m gonna need you to give me some examples.”
“Oh, well, of course. I mean, there’s plenty. You’ve got people working on cognitive enhancements, on gene editing, on extending the human lifespan. It’s- it’s all very sci-fi, but it’s real, and it’s happening right now, and-”
“‘Extending the human lifespan?’”
Frank disappeared for a while and then put out Blonde four years after that. Alexei and I were in his basement, playing Mario Kart and just kind of stewing in the last two hours of an all-day research chemical joyride when the files got leaked onto the internet.
“Holy shit,” I said.
I almost had a heart-attack.
Alexei didn’t seem to notice, but once someone put up a streaming link, I plugged my phone into the soundbar his parents had under the TV and made him turn all the lights off. I pressed play and then went and sat cross-legged on the couch with my eye closed, like I remembered from all the way back in grade eight.
“What are you doing?” Alexei said.
“Shh,” I told him, “Just come sit.”
The music started, and it was like nothing I’d ever heard before in my life. Familiar, too, though. Abstract, but direct. Pleading, but bragging.
I smiled. I’d been nervous about what the project was going to sound like when I’d first read the rumours, but everything had, by all accounts, turned out okay. Turned out fantastic, even. I leaned back and let the textures wash over me, let the reverb and the autotune come and cocoon my head into another time and place.
After the first song ended and everything quieted down for a second, I opened my eyes and looked over at Alexei. He was sobbing into a throw pillow.
When he noticed me staring, he turned my way and wiped a bunch of snot off his upper lip.
“Do you ever think about what it’s going to be like to die?” he said.
There was a good whole minute of silence after that, and then we both burst out laughing.
“Well, like, finding a way to try and engineer something close to immortality, I mean. Like I said, very sci-fi.”
“No, not at all. Look up, uh- Look up- ‘Calico’ or ‘Ray Kurzweil.’ It’s, like, the biggest thing in Silicon Valley right now.”
“Like, what? Like Facebook, or Google, or?”
“Yeah, that’s what Calico is. I’m serious.”
“Noah, can you pull up ‘Calico’ real quick? Yeah. No, just search it.”
“Yeah, that’s it.”
“No, seriously. And- And- It’s quite long, so I don’t think we can read it on the show, but you should look at the ‘About’ page later. It’s some absolutely wild stuff.”
“Yeah, no shit. Jesus.”
“But, I mean- My question is just, like, ‘why?’”
I had graduated from university by the time Medusa Head Vintage finally came out. It was the summer right after, and I was working at the bank headquarters I’d interned at for my last two years of school, doing some data analysis and mapping stuff. I’m glad seventeen-year-old me wasn’t able to see into the future. He probably would have shot himself.
I didn’t feel that way, though. I was doing pretty well, actually. I realized at one point that the only way to actually be happy most of the time was to stop fighting for it. They were talking about it on this podcast I was listening to, and it seemed like it made a lot of sense. I tried it out and made an effort to relax a bit, and, honestly, everything started to feel pretty okay after a while.
A side effect of that, though, was that I think I started to lose touch with what Frank was supposed to be making me feel. I queued the album up on the Bluetooth in my kitchen, and when the music started, it was interesting, obviously. It sounded really nice, but it was almost like that was it.
Frank was talking to someone that wasn’t me anymore. I got that pretty quickly. And although that sounds really big and dramatic, it didn’t make me upset. I didn’t really care. I almost felt bad for Frank. Having so much money that you were basically a teenager forever seemed like a weird kind of prison to me.
Instrumental guitar music eventually became my thing most of the time.
“Why the hell would you wanna live forever? Isn’t the point of everything just, like, because you’re gonna die eventually? No one would be motivated to do shit.”
“Yeah. You’re telling me if you were immortal that you would just do absolutely nothing all day?”
“Well not ‘nothing’ nothing, but I definitely don’t think anybody would be working.”
“It seems like that, but I think you’d be surprised.”
“I mean, like, just- just messing around would get boring for a lot of people after a while. I don’t know if everybody necessarily likes to work hard all the time, but I definitely don’t think death is the only motivating factor there.”
“Of course. But, I mean, most of the people who would have access to this kind of thing don’t work all that much anyways.”
“What do you mean?”
Sweet Life came on shuffle one day while Robin and I were in the car on the way to the zoo. I didn’t even recognize it at first — I had thousands of songs saved in the OS at that point — but it set Robin off more than I’d ever seen any song do before. She started almost laugh-yelling and I could hear her bouncing up and down in her car-seat, more or less on-beat with the kick drum.
“Oh yeah?” I said, turning around and smiling, “You like that?”
And then I noticed the bouncing was actually because she’d gotten her left arm stuck in a loop in the seatbelt somehow.
“Oh fuc- I mean, shoot, sorry.”
I started unknotting the belt, but Robin wouldn’t let me. She just kept moving away and making some kind of urgent grunting noise while she pointed at the media hub.
“Okay, okay, hold on.”
I reached my less belt-engaged arm back behind me and tapped the volume-up button on the screen. The car turned into the passing lane, and I jolted for a second, realizing I didn’t have my hands on the wheel. I was still getting used to that.
When the belt situation got figured out, I queued up the rest of Channel Orange and then eventually some of Blonde. Robin loved it, and, about halfway through the former there, I realized that I still did, too.
Frank had been out of the public eye for almost like ten years at that point. He was off living in London and doing painting or something like that, but with the interest I took in all his stuff again after that day, you’d think he was still doing promo tours.
Blonde and CO eventually entered the media hub rotation and stayed there pretty much forever. Later on, when Robin was a lot older and off at writing school, she would send a poem back one day about Sweet life and how hearing it basically anywhere would take her back to being small and riding in the car with me.
“Well, nobody working a nine-to-five is gonna be able to get their hands on whatever immortality serum they end up coming out with.”
“Jesus, I mean, it’ll cost millions of dollars probably — tens. And have you seen the way healthcare works in this country now?”
“If the public were ever to actually have some kind of access to that technology, it would be after the first immortals had celebrated their hundred-seventieth birthdays. At least.”
“I see very little evidence to the contrary.”
“Well that’s just fucked up.”
“Noah is that fucked up? Yeah, he’s nodding. He says yes.”
The crowd outside the Tencentre was massive. Dense and sweaty. A lot younger than I’d expected, too. There were some people like me around, but, for the most part, it looked like what I assumed a meet and greet all the way back around the Blonde years would have looked like.
I guess it made sense. When Frank all of a sudden decided to announce Oracle IX and remind the world that he existed, it wasn’t treated as a comeback or a second-rate indulgence for the old-timers. It was just another album, the next thing he was doing. They talked about it on the satellite radio. There were posters all over the city.
Robin saw, of course, and because my sixtieth was coming up, she got me this special ticket to a concert he had coming up in Toronto where I could stand outside and watch him walk into the stadium an hour before the show started.
I was so excited when I got the email, I almost cried, but if I had’ve known things were going to be like this, I would have told her to save the extra hundred and just get me GA.
People were shoving left and right. They were shouting and laughing and playing loud music. Someone was wearing this awful cloying perfume that smelled like carrot cake.
Just turning around and leaving was starting to sound very promising when the tour bus pulled up.
And then the air all of a sudden seemed a lot thinner. Time started moving in slow motion. All the noise around me melted into nothing like someone had turned down a volume knob in my brain.
Two big doors on the side of the thing opened up. A manager and some stylists trotted out, and then a whole entourage of bodyguards, and then Frank.
He walked out slow, coolly — so fluid, like he was Jesus or something. He stood still for a second before getting down off the last step and letting me get a better look at him.
He looked like he’d always looked. His skin was smooth and slightly reflective, like glass, and his eyes looked like they held all the same beautiful vigor I’d felt back in 2016, listening to Solo and riding my bike up and down the length of the stream in my neighbourhood, killing time and feeling the warmth of the sun on my skin.
It was too much. I was overwhelmed. I was back in the forest with Galina for a second, the basement with Alexei. I was caught in an almost fugue, and all I could think about was how I needed to touch Frank, how I needed to look him in the eyes and tell him what he meant to me.
I shoved through two rows of people and found the strength somewhere to grab the top of the metal barrier in front of us and flip myself over.
But I lost control after that. I didn’t catch my balance after I landed and ended up stumbling forward like a three-year-old on skis and crashing headfirst into Frank.
We rolled forward and hit the barrier on the other side of the red carpet, and then Frank shoved me off of him. He was strong.
“What the fuck?”
I got another look at his eyes while I hobbled backwards and felt a pang of regret in my chest. He didn’t look confident or godlike at all — just confused and scared, more. Whatever had gotten into me before ducked away instantly, and I felt terrible.
“I’m-” I started, but before I could apologize, something that felt like a brick hit the side of my head, and I fell.
I fell and lost control of my arms and legs and the pavement hit my head twice as hard as the bodyguard just had. All the colours around me sucked themselves into a whole radius of monotone straight lines and spun around like a kaleidoscope, and I heard someone yell Frank’s name. I fell and hit the pavement. I fell and hit the pavement, and my head stopped, but I clipped through the ground and saw the sky and the stadium and everyone’s feet above from underneath. I smiled. It started raining, like a movie, and I fell and hit the pavement. I fell and hit the pavement, and the colour-lines came back, but they didn’t spin around. They shrunk and shrunk, real slow, until they were just a point in two-dimensional space, and then, eventually, nothing at all.
“But, I mean, what can you do? I don’t think it’s worth it to worry about that kind of thing.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right. Creepy though.”
“Oh fuck. I almost forgot. Have you seen that video of the guy playing saxophone to the cows?”
“Shit, hold on. You’re gonna love this. Noah, get me the cow video up here real quick.”