Digby and I performed our Words On A Wire piece last Thursday.
Entitled EP42 (Elvis Has Not Left The Building), it takes the form of a pseudo-lecture, backed by downtempo and acid tracks.
The genesis of the piece was the phrase ‘Elvis has not left the building’ getting lodged in my head. I began riffing on different ways this sentence could be true – commercially, culturally, metaphysically, et cetera. I didn’t know where I was going with it, but after about five build-ups, I knew the payoff had to be big. And then it hit me – the reason Elvis had not left the building was simply literal – he was there that night and ready to perform.
In the whole piece, but especially this overture, the writing is as verbose and flowery as I could manage. I was aiming for Humbert Humbert, and trying to evoke the same sense of overkill as the first chapter of Moby Dick, where Ishmael lists example after example of how humans are drawn to water (if you haven’t heard Tilda Swinton read it, do so now).
From here, the piece goes into a tangent on where Elvis Presley has been post-1977, mixing conspiracy theories, facts, actual recordings, Cold War paranoia, and a large measure of the absurd. In short, I play a journalist who invents a hoax around Elvis’ death, before I slowly lose my mind and convince myself my made-up conspiracy theory is true. The twist comes at the end when I reveal that I am in fact Elvis Presley – it’s left open whether this is true (at least true for the story-world), or another example of my fractured consciousness.
It’s a post-modern conceit, and I sought to make it work on multiple levels. Take this excerpt:
Far more appealing would be to enter the mind of the paranoid fantasist, take a theory at random and argue its validity, to systematically prove it possible and thereby show how porous the border between fact and fiction actually is. My goal was for the reader to enter the article with a sense of incredulity, and then over the course of the piece, turn their mind from ire to wonder, from refutation to speculation, before finally, I would admit the entire exercise to be itself an elaborate hoax.
This is what my journalist character was seeking to do within the story AND also what I was trying to do reading aloud the piece on the night. It’s something I’ve inherited from some of my favourite authors, like Jorge Luis Borges and Grant Morrison, and is showing up more and more in my writing (my murder mystery musical is another meta-piece where the night goes off-script and someone starts literally killing the band, before it concludes with three possible endings and leaves it to the audience to decide which one is true).
Digby was a great collaborator and mega-supportive of the concept from the get-go. We’ve become good friends – in fact all six of us performing that night have bonded and begun hanging out. Digby’s music provided a lavish counterpoint to the story, and subtly gets darker and trippier as the story does.
When I started the writing, I hadn’t solved how (or even if) Elvis Presley was actually going to perform that night. That came after talking about it with Lou and we hit on the idea that I could reveal I was Elvis. It was perfectly ridiculous and cracked me up just to think about it – I took it as the endpoint and started working backwards. That’s how this piece came together – the beginning, then the end, and lastly I filled in the middle.
The piece concludes with me singing Are You Lonesome Tonight? under a lone spotlight. I gotta say, it was one of the best singing experiences I’ve had. I added in some understated Elvis vocal inflections and mannerisms as the song progressed (an upturned shirt collar, a shake of the knees). The audience reception was fantastic. And getting to be the King? Even if for just one song? Incredible.
If you’d like to read the story, it’s available here:
EP42 (Elvis Has Not Left The Building) by Luke McGrath
Best listened to with some Bottlebrush playing.
As a post-script to the whole month of workshopping and performance, it wasn’t until yesterday that I came across this article on Orion, whose tale is nearly as crazy as the story I concocted. I’m looking forward to the upcoming documentary!
Lastly, I was fortunate enough to have small roles in the other two productions on the night – including dad-dancing/blissing out to Fossil Rabbit. A magnificent night.
All photos by Adam Thomas