Click to Reveal Content Warnings
- Discussions of death
- References to and discussion of cancer (Multiple Myeloma)
- References to previous abusive romantic relationship
- References to drug use
- References to medical procedures (fitting PIC Lines, chemotherapy)
- References to alcohol and drug use
- Description of throwing up
- Mentions of sex
Fig. 37. Marnie
Marnie rested her fingers on the train’s door release button. The train rattled on the tracks, the sunlight of the early morning turned grey and thin through the massive, vaulted ceiling of York’s train station.
She clutched the straps of her backpack, half-drunk bottle of diet coke sloshing around. she’d taken out her headphones and they bobbed and swung against her t-shirt. She blinked as her eyes adjusted to the bright sun outside, a slight breeze rustling the fresh summer leaves on the trees around her. Tyler had walked these streets. Breathed this air. She could feel his presence radiating from the pavement through her shoes, a steady heat rising from her ankles right to her throat.
Marnie trailed her hand along the wall of a bridge. She leaned over, stared down into the swirling, inky water. A narrowboat left lazy trails across the surface that ducks and geese bobbed over, untroubled. Children ate ice-cream and road bikes along the path.
All the buildings were old. It was like Kent, kind of, but smaller, prettier, quainter. Despite the Starbucks and the pizza express, the whole town seemed to have been plucked right out of history. Marnie almost walked into a gaggle of people gathered on the pavement. She whipped her head around from the cottage she’d been staring at and stopped in her tracks, too. The cathedral, York Minster, was bigger than she’d imagined. Pyramid-type huge. The spires towered as though trying to pin down the few wisps of cloud in the dark sky. The tower at the end was shrouded in scaffold and blue-green gauze.
The streets meandered and folded back on themselves. She tried to follow the map on her phone, but it wasn’t much help. She passed chocolate shops and bespoke toy makers, market stalls selling bread and hand-made candles that smelled like fruit and spice. It was out of a children’s story, something from a dream but not the dreams where Marnie saw Tyler. She was sure she could feel him, breathe him on the tourist-jammed streets, but she couldn’t see him there, amongst the plant stalls and the coffee shops and the street performers. He seemed rougher, harder, from a different universe entirely.
She walked round and round the streets, in and out of flower-flush gardens filled with people basking in the sunshine. She trialled her fingers along gravestones worn smooth with age, the names of the people deep beneath her feet long scrubbed clean. There was no sign of a grave that belonged to Tyler.
She had always assumed he would have been buried. They wouldn’t burn him, not Tyler. She remembered how hysterical her mother had got, at the idea of cremation. Marnie couldn’t imagine it, her Tyler, fed into the flames. But maybe that’s why she couldn’t find him. She leaned against a wall hung with dark ivy, and her stomach twisted around itself. Was he crumbled into ash and scattered to the wind? The weight of not knowing was enough to double her over, for her eyes to sting with tears she fought to bite back.
She wandered back with the crowds, unable to stand to listen to her music, gritting her teeth as people chattered and laughed. The whole city was a gravesite, long overlooked, reclaimed by nature and people, not one of them knowing they walked on hallowed, haunted ground. Long after midday she found herself in a shadowy walkway, buildings not towering but keening over her, curious of her, a little lost girl who probably shouldn’t have come at all.
Marnie choked on a cloud of smoke. A small group of guys, maybe university students, leaned against the bay window at the front of a dingy bar. It took a moment for Marnie to spot the sign, small and nondescript as it was. Colloquium.
She almost fell to her knees. The door was propped open, no mat in its frame to hide the sloping flagstones. Marnie wrapped her fingers around the doorknob, the metal oddly warm under her skin. He had touched this door, walked this distance up towards the bar, sat in the chairs she brushed her knuckles against as she stepped up towards the bartender. Marnie watched the bartender slide glasses into a rack that hung overhead. The bar was tiny, less than three feet long, barely room for the crowds of spirits on the mirrored back wall.
The whole building was swaddled in an artificial night, red lights in the ceilings sapping the colour from the cheeks of the few patrons gathered around the mismatched tables. In the bar’s darkest corner was a door marked at as a toilet, a sluice of white light cutting out the doorframe. She’d seen Tyler standing in front of it, looking for all the world like a rock star, but this wasn’t the way she had pictured the room around him. There can’t have been more than fifty people watching him that night, and there was barely any space for him to leap and stride and claim the space as his own. It felt wrong, like shoving a butterfly into a matchbox.
Marnie wanted to run out of there immediately.
‘Can I help you?’ said the bartender.
Marnie blinked. ‘Um.’ She tried to look like she was struggling to choose between two of the bottles behind him.
The bartender folded his arms and leaned back against the counter. He gave her a withered look. ‘Do you have any ID?’
‘I forgot it.’
The bartender sighed. ‘I can’t serve you without ID, sorry.’
Marnie’s eyes filled up with tears and she shook her head.
The bartender frowned. ‘Are you alright?’
Marnie turned on her heels and stepped back out onto the street, gasping as though the whole bar had been in a vacuum, as though she’d stepped into an alternate dimension that couldn’t support human life. She wrapped her arms around herself, trying to keep herself together, but it was too heavy, too much, and she was going to burst.
‘Woah,’ said a soft voice. ‘Watch the table.’
Marnie glanced down. The rickety bistro table she was leaning against was on the verge of toppling over. She jumped back and it clattered against the cobbles. ‘Sorry.’
‘No worries.’ The girl clicked her lighter, the end of her cigarette glowing. ‘Are you alright?’
Marnie stared. She knew her from somewhere, this stranger.
‘You’re the Infinite Eyes fan girl, right?’
Marnie blinked and glanced over her shoulder, as though this person could have been addressing anyone else. The cobbled street was empty.
‘Marnie, isn’t it?’ The girl grinned and smoke trailed out of her nose. ‘You wrote an article about me last week.’
Marnie clung to the straps of her backpack, like it might keep her from losing her grip on reality. She was Lila Beckett, the girl from Visions of the Phoenix, but barely recognisable without her hoodie and her eye make-up. She was there, right there, talking to Marnie, breathing the same air. Talking to her.
‘Sorry.’ Marnie squeaked, and hot tears streaked down her sweat-sticky cheeks.
‘Hay-fever?’ said Lila.
Marnie nodded, sniffing so hard it made a gross sound like a stopper being pulled from a bottle. Lila was going to think she was so stupid. Look at her, standing there, looking cool and nice whilst Marnie sobbed in the street like some idiot loser. Lila rooted in the pocket of her oversized denim jacket for a moment before producing a crumpled red napkin. Oh no, she was nice. She was’t supposed to be nice, not like that. She was supposed to be angry, blunt. Prickly.
Lila smiled. ‘I didn’t realise you lived in York.’
Marnie cringed. ‘I don’t.’
Lila tilted her head slightly to the side. ‘You here for sight-seeing, then?’
Marnie shrugged. Lila was watching her intently. She was much smaller in person, which was stupid to think, really, because Marnie had only seen photographs of her on her laptop screen. Lila held her cigarette in her teeth as she pulled up her plaid trousers. Her boots were heavy but scuffed. Under her jacket she had on a tank top that Marnie was certain was identical to one she used as a pyjama top. There was no product in her hair, and yesterday’s eyeliner was sticking more to her right eye than her left. She looked like she could have just rolled out of bed, or something. Normal.
‘You live here,’ said Marnie.
Lila glanced back at the bar and blew smoke out of her nose. ‘Well, not literally at this bar. Not officially, anyway. But pretty close by, yeah.’
Marnie stared at the bar sign again. ‘You know Infinite Eyes used to go here.’
Lila smiled, just barely. ‘Yeah. I know.’
Marnie fiddled with the straps of her backpack again.
‘I liked your article. Actually, I probably wouldn’t have even agreed to join Ash’s band if he hadn’t sent me your blog.’
‘I didn’t know much about them. I had a shitty ex.’ Lila shrugged as though this had anything to do with Marnie’s blog. ‘Anyway. If it wasn’t for you nobody would know who I am. So, thanks, I think.’
Marnie’s eyes filled with tears again. ‘I’m sorry.’
Marnie shook her head.
‘Do you want a drink?’
‘They won’t serve me in there.’
‘It would be pretty rude of me not to buy you a drink, then,’ said Lila. ‘What do you want?’
Marnie had no idea.
‘I’m getting a Peroni.’
‘Yeah,’ said Marnie.
Lila nodded. Marnie stood lamely on the pavement until she returned and handed her a narrow glass slick with condensation. They sat down at the rickety bistro table and Lila lit another cigarette.
‘So, where did it come from, the Infinite Eyes thing? You’re too young to have seen them live. You must have been, what, ten when Tyler died?’
‘I was nine.’
‘So, what happened?’
‘They were my sister’s favourite band.’
Lila smiled. ‘She a lot older than you?’
Marnie shook her head. ‘Three years. But she was a proper music nerd. She was kind of obsessed with Tyler, I think.’
Lila laughed, leaning back in her chair. ‘I mean, he was pretty cute.’
‘He is.’ The words came out very small.
‘So, what, she moved on to a new heart throb and you inherited the mixtapes?’
‘No,’ said Marnie. ‘She died.’
Lila’s mouth opened, a round little ‘o’, and then closed again. Marnie’s heart hammered. She hadn’t meant to say it, not out loud.
Lila looked over the top of Marnie’s head, her eyes unfocused and distant. ‘I’m sorry to hear that.’
‘It’s been ages, it’s fine,’ said Marnie. Her chest was tight and it hurt to force the words free of it. ‘Well. A year.’
‘Jesus,’ said Lila. ‘What happened?’
Marnie shifted in her seat. ‘She, uh. Did it to herself.’
Lila nodded. She stared fixedly at the table. She reached for her beer and lifted it to her mouth without even blinking. ‘Fuck,’ she breathed into her glass.
‘No, I…’ Lila looked up at the sky for a moment. The strip of it visible above the side street’s buildings was an agonising kind of blue. Marnie’s eyes were watering when she looked away from it again.
Lila sighed. ‘Sort of makes sense, now.’
‘Yeah, all that stuff you said about Tyler hanging on and everything,’
Marnie flushed red. ‘I just like him.’
Lila frowned. ‘Okay.’
‘Of course. He’s Tyler Brundle, right?’ Lila grinned crookedly.
Marnie smiled back. Maybe Lila understood something. ‘He really is.’
‘I wonder what that was like.’
Marnie frowned. ‘But you’re Lila Beckett, like he was Tyler Brundle.’
Lila laughed. ‘I’m so not. You have no idea.’
‘You do all that dancing and stuff on stage, you looked so cool. The photos from the Manchester gig, at Buffalo, you were like some kind of… I don’t know, like a demon but a cool one.’
‘A cool demon?’ said Lila. She gulped more of her beer. ‘I’ll take that.’
‘Seriously, it was so awesome. It can’t be that far off what it was like for Tyler.’
Lila slammed her beer down with mock finality. ‘Nope, it’s so not. You would not believe it; I get the shakes every time I’m supposed to go on and I spend the entire next day cringing about all the words I sang wrong.’
Marnie leaned forward in her seat. ‘But Tyler got the words to his songs wrong all the time! It’s not a bad thing, you just get lost in your feelings, you know, and they come out when you’re performing.’
Lila shook her head. ‘I just fuck up, garble stuff. I flat out forget the entire second verse to ‘Us and Everyone Else’ every time we play even though I actually wrote that bit by myself!’
‘That bit? But, didn’t you write the whole thing?’
‘As if. I’ve only been in the band for five minutes. I used to write crappy poetry and sometimes I can think of a better rhyme than the one Katy or Ash wrote in originally but most of the words were written before I even knew they existed. I only met them through a mutual friend. It’s all some weird kind of accident.’
Marnie shook her head.
‘Look, you’re coming to one of the gigs, right? You watch us and then Infinite Eyes right after and tell me again I’m anything like Tyler bloody Brundle.’
Marnie wilted in her chair. She picked up her beer for the first time and took a tentative sip. It wasn’t anything like the peach schnapps; it didn’t taste of very much at all until she swallowed, and a bitterness rose from the back of her throat. she spluttered and masked it by taking a bigger gulp.
‘I didn’t get tickets.’
Lila frowned. ‘But you’re the reason this tour is even happening. What do you mean you didn’t get tickets?’
‘I kept refreshing the page but by the time I got through they’d all gone.’
‘You were trying through general sale? What?’
‘Well, the pre-sale, and then the general sale when I didn’t get any the first time.’
‘Don’t you write stuff for PopBuzz? They should be sending you.’
Marnie shook her head. ‘They said the press passes were too limited and there was no VIP.’
‘Bullshit,’ said Lila. ‘Right. I’m sorting it.’ She took her phone out of her pocket.
‘What are you doing?’
‘I’m getting you into a show.’
‘But there’s no tickets!’
‘I’ve run out of guest list, but there’s another date that hasn’t been announced yet, and I should be able to get you in for free if I ask Joel right.’
‘Yeah, can’t exactly ask Laura, she’s a dick.’
Marnie laughed in disbelief. ‘A dick?’
‘A towering, thirty-foot penis. That’s what she is.’
‘I’m perfectly reasonable, thank you very much. You’ll see what I mean.’
Marnie’s face was so hot she was sure she was beetroot red. ‘How?’
‘When you’re backstage.’
‘Backstage?’ Marnie felt like she was going to pass out.
‘Joel’s fine, don’t worry. He’ll help you out. He gets it.’
Marnie had so many questions she didn’t know where to start. Lila seemed taken aback by her sudden switch of mood, but before long she was talking animatedly about the first time she’d met Joel and Laura, about playing Infinite Eyes covers just a few feet away from where they were sitting. She talked about the tour, smiling and blushing more often than Marnie would have imagined, had she taken a moment to imagine it.
Marnie talked about Tyler, about finding the CD again, and feeling like he could hear her, just as she was hearing him. She talked about the ache when she realised that he was dead, how it stabbed through her again when she couldn’t get tickets for the tour, and despite everything she had done, or tried to do, she would never see them live, even though it was what she wanted more than anything in the universe and it had come so close to being real.
And then, so smoothly it hardly felt like anything, Marnie talked about Kim. She talked about the stories Kim told, the way she had always worn her hair, how she would steal clothes out of the laundry and Marnie had no idea what had happened to them until after she was dead and she found them all bundled in the back of the wardrobe. She talked about Kim loving Tyler, how she kept a picture of him in her purse, this little flash of him showing every time she took out her debit card to buy Marnie snacks or cinema tickets or earrings their mother said she wasn’t old enough to have.
Fig. 38. Wren
Got this the other day, thought you might wanna see
EMAIL FWD: From JOEL DAWKINS
Dear Joel and Laura,
So this is really weird; I met Marnie DeLillo the other day, you know the girl who made the video about Tyler? She’d come up to York (she lives in Kent) and she was looking for places where Tyler had been. She’s been royally fucked over and didn’t manage to get a ticket for the shows. I know it might be a weird vibe, because she’s the theory girl and everything, but I think she’s going through something right now and it would really mean a lot to her to see you guys live. She told me some pretty heavy stuff, just out of nowhere, and I know we can’t be her friend, but we can do this for her, at least. Maybe it would help her a bit, I don’t know.
I know it’s super lame but I always thought that if I ever got to do this, I’d feel really connected to the whole crowd, you know, like when you’re fifteen and you’re listening to music on your bed at three o’clock in the morning, and you’re falling in love or your heart just got broken or something, and it feels like this absolute stranger completely knows you inside out? I thought it would feel like that times a million and it doesn’t. I don’t feel like I’m really giving them anything, to be honest. But we can do this for Marnie, right?
I hope you’re good.
Wren slammed his laptop closed on the email. Rain ran smooth down the living room window, distorting the few cars driving past outside. The lid of his laptop was warm under his cheek, the sleeve of his jumper scratchy against his cheek. He could hear his pasta boiling over on in the kitchen, water hissing as it breached the gas flame. The sweet, sharp smell of burning starch cut through the heavy dullness of the unaired room.
Was that how Tyler had felt on stage? Like he wasn’t giving anything? Wren was stupid enough that he’d never even asked him. Tyler wrote about performing on his blog; Wren could read it there, if he wanted. But Lila said in interviews that she loved being on stage, that she loved the fans. Maybe it wasn’t a lie, exactly. But it wasn’t the same as what she’d said in her email to Joel. Tyler might have been lying in the blog, too.
He trailed to the kitchen in a daze. The remains of the pasta were burned to the bottom of the pan. He threw the whole thing into the bin. It hissed and whined. He opened cupboards, staring at jars of dry pasta and boxes of cereal, not taking anything out. Between the bottles of squash and packets of ramen, the empty spaces screamed at him, dust gathering in the corners, darkness seeping through. He slammed the doors shut.
Tyler had lived for music. He went to all those recording sessions when he could barely hold himself upright. Wren had rubbed small circles on his back when he’d thrown up in agony from having to stand and hold his guitar. He had watched him bleeding on stage. He had carried him like a basket of eggs after he decided he didn’t want to do the chemo anymore, carried him to the car, to the hospital doors, to the car, and then into the studio. That’s where he’d asked to go, the day he decided to die.
No, that wasn’t fair. Tyler didn’t choose to die. He’d chosen to stop putting up any semblance of a fight, but he would still have died, regardless. Maybe a few months later. Maybe even an entire year.
An extra year with Tyler. Wren thought about wasted picnics, kisses trailed down the insides of thighs, the places between his fingers where Tyler’s were supposed to be. He gripped the edge of the doorframe, breathing through his teeth. It wouldn’t have been like that. He would have been dying. He would have been the husk.
‘Fucking hell, Tyler,’ Wren groaned. He scrubbed his eyes angrily with the side of his hand. ‘Fuck this!’ He picked up the nearest dining chair and thought about flinging it across the room, watching the wood splinter, the legs snap. But he didn’t throw it. He placed it back on the linoleum, pushed it neatly under the table, his shoulders rising and falling fast with his heavy breaths.
Wren hated the house. He hated the kitchen and the dining room. He hated his tiny bedroom, with his cold mattress and the side of the bed he never touched. He hated the piles of sheets in his cupboard, the ones he never used, the ones he’d brought with him when he’d moved there, which had stopped smelling like Tyler years ago, but Wren would never wash.
What was it that Tyler had seen in him? What would he think, if he could see him now?
Wren wound his way up the stairs and flung open his wardrobe doors. The sheets were in a cardboard box at the bottom, silk peeking out. Wren crouched down and smoothed them with his thumb. He sat cross-legged on the threadbare carpet and pulled the sheets free, clutching them to his chest. They only smelled of dust.
Beneath the sheets were a few pieces of Tyler’s clothing. That soft, pale-blue shirt he’d taken the first time he’d slept in Tyler’s house. The black jeans he’d worn for his last Party Shock show. Wren had soaked them in salt and water overnight to get the blood out. Tyler had never worn them again.
Wren clutched the silky sheets close and leaned against the side of his bed. His mind whirled. He remembered the way Tyler had leaned close to him. He remembered the slick feel of his skin in the shower. He remembered tracing his freckles, tracing the scars on his wrists. The central line catheter that had hung from Tyler’s chest for almost the whole time that Wren had known him. He remembered Tyler small and curled on a hospital bed. He remembered him tall and impossible, bloody faced on a stage in front of a thousand people. He remembered him hot and cold, trembling and laughing, tears on his face, grinning widely, the way he’d take Wren’s hand and lace their fingers together. He remembered knowing in that moment the gaps between his fingers were meant for Tyler’s. Were meant to be held like that, close and desperate. How much it had hurt to hold Tyler back.
Tyler was not the space he’d left behind. He had been whole; he had been human. Wren shuddered. How had he let himself forget?
Wren’s phone buzzed in his pocket and he dropped the sheets into his lap. ‘Joel?’ he answered. He was breathless. With his free hand he scrubbed at the tears on his cheeks.
‘Hey, dude. We’re back tonight and we’re going to get a few rounds in, if you fancied coming. Label’s paying. Laura will be there, but we can make her sit at the other end of the table.’
Wren laughed, tension trembling out of his fingers. He smoothed the silky sheets. ‘Okay,’ he said.
‘Yeah?’ Joel sounded both pleased and surprised. ‘We’re going to the Grand for seven.’
‘Great,’ said Wren. ‘Listen, Joel. I need to ask you for something.’
‘Sure thing, dude. Anything you want.’
‘I know it’s stupid, but is there a way for me to get into your apartment?’
‘Uh, yeah. The building has keys. I can let them know you’re coming. What do you need? I think there’s some weed in the coriander jar, in the kitchen.’
‘Would you mind if I stayed on your couch for a bit?’
Joel was quiet for a moment. ‘Dude, has something happened?’
Wren sighed. ‘No, I just. I really fucking hate it here.’ He laughed at himself, running his hands through his hair.
Joel laughed too. ‘Well, the couch is yours if you want it. You can even have the spare bedroom, if you want.’
‘Are you alright?’
‘Yeah,’ said Wren, though he wasn’t certain it was the truth.
‘I’ll call them now, if you want. You going to head straight out?’
Wren looked at his miserable bedroom, the stacks of clean clothes by the drawers, the empty bottles on the windowsill. ‘I’ll come in a bit. There’s something I need to do first.’
‘Sure thing,’ said Joel. ‘Come whenever.’
Wren heard people talking around Joel, the clatter of plates on counters. They were finishing up the tour, just a few dates in London left. Wren wondered what it was like, living crammed on a glorified school bus. He’d seen a few pictures, the tomb-like beds with their privacy curtains. It looked like something out of a dystopian movie, but he wondered if that was just because of who was crammed inside of it. Maybe it wouldn’t have looked so bad if there weren’t towels hanging out of the tiny bedchambers, or empty packets of crisps and half-eaten muffins resting on the pillows.
He wondered how Tyler would have coped, if they’d got that far. They’d travelled to the Party Shock gigs on the day, sometimes crashing in a travel lodge if the drive was too long to make it back to York. Tyler had negotiated a longer break between his rounds of chemo, if Wren remembered right. He was pretty sure Tyler had still been getting treatment, then. He wouldn’t stop it until the spring. The thought of him slumming it on a tour bus made Wren’s stomach clench with worry; his immune system was shot, and if he’d gotten ill, it might have killed him. Wren let out a shuddering breath. It was pointless wondering, pointless worrying. He wouldn’t have been able to stop Tyler if that was what he wanted, anyway. And he was dead now.
‘I got your email.’
‘What do you think? About the DeLillo girl coming?’
‘Fine, I guess.’ Wren pinched the bridge of his nose.
Joel was quiet for a moment.
‘I’ll call and get someone to let you in. You keep on, dude. I’ll see you next week in when the tour’s done and we’ll go over it. Alright?’
‘Yeah. Thank you. For everything.’
Joel chuckled. ‘Yeah, dude. No worries.’
The line went dead.
Wren sighed. He dropped his head back onto side of the mattress. He shoved the sheets back into their box and folded it carefully closed. It took a moment of hunting around in his bedside table, but finally he found a roll of Sellotape to bind it shut. He lifted the box free of the wardrobe and carried it downstairs, plonked it onto the table amidst the crowds of unopened envelopes. Wren found a pen, scribbled on one of the box’s taped-down flaps. Tyler’s stuff.
Wren sat back down at his desk by the window. It was still raining, but less so. Drops fell in streaks down the glass. A woman in a bright green coat strolled past, a small dog tugging her by its leash. Wren got to his feet. He decided he didn’t need a suitcase. He didn’t want to see anything else from that house ever again.
CULTURE: THE NEW NORTHERN EDIT
RESURRECTION: HOW INFINITE EYES TURNED TRAGIC LOSS INTO BLISTERING SUCCESS
Musical Masterminds Joel Dawkins and Laura Plath on the Back from the Dead Tour, shaping the future of the music industry, and their own demise.
Seven year ago, when Tyler Brundle, the driving creative force behind Infinite Eyes, finally succumbed to the cancer that he’d been battling for months, his bandmates Dawkins and Plath were left in an unenviable position. The efforts of the last few years of their life were dashed when their record label refused to pick them up without Brundle as their lead. For more than half a decade afterwards, they wandered in the wilderness of musical obscurity until a fluke viral video saw them catapulted into the spotlight for the first time in their lives. Lesser musicians might have shirked this success, but Dawkins and Plath embraced it, securing their position at the forefront of the British music scene by piecing together the last recordings they made with Brundle into a glorious patchwork of an album. Now, they’re selling hundreds of thousands of records, and are on the road on a European tour that seemed to come from nowhere.
I sat down with them outside of London after the first of their three dates in the capital, and far from the lost puppies I had been expecting, they greet me with smiles and a mug of hot coffee. Despite the show last night, they look fresh-faced and well-rested. On the small table in their crowded tour bus, which they are sharing with their support act, is a bowl of potpourri and a well-thumbed deck of cards. Empty bottles line the edge by the window, casting the already gloomy bus in shades of green and brown. They’ve been on the road for three weeks now, and it’s a testament to both Infinite Eyes and Visions of the Phoenix that they haven’t yet torn out each other’s throats living in such close quarters.
‘It’s like being in university halls again,’ says Plath, rolling her eyes. ‘We’re all on top of each other in here, but it’s actually been really good fun.’
It’s unusual for a tour of this scale to be pulled together so quickly. ‘Is it?’ says Dawkins.
‘We don’t really have anything to compare it to,’ says Plath. ‘All the tours I’ve been on before have meant paying my own bus fares to get there. This is pretty well organised by comparison.’
Photos and videos of the tour have been trickling onto social media and it features an impressive light show, integrating videos of Tyler performing the songs the band are playing on massive screens that loom over the audience. There’s barely any emphasis on the stage itself, with Dawkins, Plath, and their supporting musicians being dowsed in near-total darkness for most of the set, only visible as silhouettes. Was it a deliberate decision to cast themselves in Brundle’s shadow?
‘We had a lot of discussion as we were designing the tour about how we were going to do it. I’m really proud of the album – I think it’s amazing and me and Joel worked really hard to produce it – but a lot of what people love about it is Tyler, not us. We didn’t want to seem like we were stealing his thunder. He can’t be here to see what he’s achieved; he can’t hear everyone out there singing his words back to him, and we can. It felt right to set it up so that he could still be at the heart of it,’ Plath explains.
Bands with dead front men are not the impossibility they once were. Following a successful tour with a hologram of Freddie Mercury as the central aspect, was there a reason they didn’t want to go down that route?
Plath laughs at this question and Dawkins shifts in his seat. ‘There’s a few reasons for it,’ he tells me. ‘First off, Tyler would have hated it, I think.’
‘Yeah, and it’s not like we’ve got the same amount of footage of Tyler on stage as they had for the Mercury tour,’ Plath adds. ‘It’s a cool idea, but it felt like too much of a gimmick.’
And what about the tour’s title? ‘We thought about calling the album Back from the Dead, actually, but we went with ‘Self-Titled’ because that’s what Tyler had put in his notebooks,’ says Dawkins.
‘When Tyler died, it wasn’t like we could have carried on as we were. He left a really big hole to fill,’ says Plath. ‘The whole band is back from the dead, so it seemed like a fitting title.’
There have been rumours circulating about a legal battle with Brundle’s former boyfriend, Wren Abelard. Allegedly, when Brundle died, he signed over his portion of the rights to Infinite Eyes’ catalogue to Abelard. The band are notoriously hedgy about discussing this point as a reason they didn’t simply replace Brundle and try to continue Infinite Eyes without him. Mention of it brings an air of disdain over Dawkins and Plath.
‘He’s on board with what we’re doing now,’ says Plath.
‘We wouldn’t be doing any of this if Wren wasn’t cool with it,’ says Dawkins. ‘We are all really close when Tyler was alive, and as hard as losing him was for me and Laura, I think Wren felt it the hardest. You would, wouldn’t you. He loved him in a different way than we did. What’s really cool is that he’s been really involved in the process of designing the tour, trying to make it as close to something Tyler would have wanted as we could.’
With Abelard as a silent member of the band, they have managed to shape something that they believe honours their friend, but the response from Infinite Eyes’ small but hardcore fanbase from before their rise to success has been more than uncertain about the legitimacy of the new album as a true work of Infinite Eyes.
‘There were always going to be nay-sayers,’ Plath explains. ‘When you’re a tiny indie band like we were, there’s going to be a few people that have followed you from the start. I’d say it’s an even split of those original fans of those who are really pleased we’re so big now, and people who think it ruins the legitimacy of the band. I don’t have time for that kind of gatekeeping. It’s really cool to have people who are so dedicated to what we were doing when we started out, but we never wanted to be living in obscurity forever. Tyler definitely didn’t want that for Infinite Eyes. Thousands of people all over the world are listening to our stuff now, and I think it’s incredible. You just can’t please everyone, all the time.’
It seems that their new-found fame has been troubled by lots of complications. ‘Whose isn’t?’ says Dawkins. ‘If it wasn’t hard, would it be worth it?’
The conversation switches to one about various other bands and their own struggles towards the top, during which Plath unironically compares Infinite Eyes to Nirvana. Dawkins is quick to cover this comparison with more modest ones, seeming embarrassed by Plath’s boldness. Whilst he says a lot less than Plath in both quantity and volume, his words are heavier than hers.
‘We’ve got a lot of responsibility now,’ he says. ‘We’re trying to do right by Tyler, right by Wren, right by the fans – the old ones and the new ones. Laura’s right to say that it’s most important that we’re doing right by ourselves, but I don’t think we’ve ever stopped being aware of how much we actually owe to other people. We literally would not be here right now without the people who we’re pissing off. I just hope that they’ll be able to look at what we’re doing and say that at least we’re doing our best to be true to Infinite Eyes, and everything that means.’
The burden of maintaining their own responsibility isn’t the only one on Dawkins’ and Plath’s shoulders. A cursory google search on the band will yield dozens of results proclaiming them to be at the fore-front of a new musical movement, lording them as the champions of authenticity in an era of glossy, over-produced pop.
Plath says this is an identity she has embraced for herself. ‘That’s why we picked up Visions. They’re great kids, and they’re doing something interesting with their music. After this tour, that’s pretty much it for Infinite Eyes. We really can’t carry on without Tyler, and we’ve been scraping the pot of what he’s left behind as it is. We can’t ever be the kind of band with fifteen albums and a million hidden tracks, so we’ve got to try and build a legacy for ourselves some other way. People are listening to us right now, and we’d be idiots not to try and make what we’re saying important and meaningful. I think that music lost a bit of its heart after the millennium, and if we can be a part of clawing a bit of genuine feeling back, I want to run with it.’
So, there’s no chance of them carrying on just the two of them? ‘I don’t think so,’ says Dawkins.
‘It’s been a brief resurrection,’ says Plath, ‘but it’s been well worth it.’
That certainly seems to have been the case. Later that evening, the legendary Roundhouse Theatre, which has seen performances of the likes of Hendrix and Pink Floyd, is packed out with kids and adults decked out in the pale-blue merchandise shirts of Infinite Eyes. You’d be forgiven for thinking the shirts were plucked off the shelves of a high-street shop; at first glance they feature no words at all, just a large, swirling eye surrounded by dozens of smaller ones. Peering closer, you can pick out tiny letters along two of the eyelashes. The drawing is Brundle’s, one of many picked out of the pages of his notebooks for artwork to use for ‘Self-Titled’.
After a lengthy set performed by Visions of the Phoenix, which is surprisingly well-turned-out considering how fresh this band truly are, the crowd is treated to a photograph of Brundle appearing on the large screens I’d seen on Instagram in the days before. It is perhaps the most famous image of Brundle; not yet twenty years old, his mouth wide open to accommodate a large red rose. To a low rumbling bass that shakes the floor, words appear in Brundle’s scratchy handwriting; ‘THORNS IN MY THROAT’.
Dawkins and Plath appear in the darkness to an uproar from their fans, and Tyler Brundle sidles onto the screen, looking far less healthy than in the previous image. He stands next to a studio mic, eyes flitting to the camera trained closely on his face. ‘This is for the backstage video, yeah?’ he says, the barest hint of a Northern accent in his voice.
The show kicks off with the new album’s biggest single, a glorious pop-grunge track mixing influences of the Pixies and Breeders with the bright, 80s-esque synth of the Pet Shop Boys. It’s not long before the crowd is singing along, and the band makes their way through their classics, some of which have previously existed only as videos of Brundle alone with his guitar.
After the show, I meet with Plath and Dawkins in the sweaty, marijuana infused dressing room, which feels every bit as crowded as the tour bus. Visions sit amongst Infinite Eyes’ back up musicians, smoking rollies and laughing amongst themselves. Dawkins and Plath are huddled together in a corner, talking to a tall, blonde-haired man that I am later told is Wren Abelard.
‘It feels like such a privilege, playing somewhere like this,’ the lead singer of Visions, Lila Beckett, tells me. ‘We really owe so much to Joel and Laura. We wouldn’t be able to do this without them. Their show is incredible. I never knew Tyler, obviously, but I think he’d have been proud of what they’re doing now.’
Dawkins and Plath meet this sentiment with smiles. ‘It really is a privilege,’ says Plath. ‘We’re doing the best we can with what we’ve got.’
These words are an eerie echo of those used at the end of the show. Brundle sits on the edge of an unmade bed, his guitar across his knees. ‘We’re only here for a blink, and if you’re not careful, you’ll miss it,’ he says. As he stands up, a hush falls over the crowd. He reaches for the camera, and the screens – along with every light in the Roundhouse – black out.
Befitting of the band, they do not return to the stage for an en core. The crowd filters out to the sound of radio static as the houselights come back on. It’s one of the strangest shows I’ve ever had the fortune to watch. I’m glad I didn’t blink.
Fig. 40. Lila
Lila rolled over in her bed, reaching into the empty space. She opened her eyes, and sat up, still foggy with sleep despite the bright sunlight streaming through the gap in the curtains. It was a relief not to be breathing the hot, wet air of the crowded tour bus, for the sound of the boiling kettle to be distant rather than just at her feet. She, Ash, Katy and Cyrus had got back from London in the early hours, stayed up until the sun rose with all the windows in the flat flung open wide to dispel the stale stillness that hung over everything. It was like coming home after a disaster, ice cold cups of coffee abandoned half-drunk on the table, shoes scattered by the door, coats fallen in a heap from the stand as they’d left in a rush. It felt amazing that the flat was still there at all.
Stretching on the mattress, Lila hummed into the ache in her joints. She was comfortable for the first time in weeks, still exhausted even though it was almost definitely the afternoon, judging by the light pouring through the curtains. The first show with Infinite Eyes hadn’t felt real, but it was this that felt dreamlike, the bundle of dirty clothes still unwashed by Ash’ bedroom door, the boxes of pills stacked on the bedside table.
It was very strange, that this was her life. No Elliot. Still. She thought he would have come to one of the shows, maybe. That she’d see his name somewhere in the comments on their YouTube videos. But there was nothing.
She had thought, briefly, of unblocking him on Facebook. Just to see what he was doing. That he wasn’t dead. He used to say he would die if she left him. Maybe he had. Thea said it was more likely that he just didn’t care. Lila wasn’t useless like he said she was. She wasn’t stupid. How much of anything else he had said was likely to be true?
Still, it nagged at her, like a hangnail. She thought about him every day, even though she didn’t want to. He had to be thinking of her. The way he had been, always so jealous. It was hard to think that it hadn’t mattered that it was Lila. That if they had never met, it would have been someone else in her place. Maybe he’d already found another girl to obsess over, that quick. It stung her, that thought.
But she hadn’t exactly taken so long to grieve, had she? And it was Ash whose bed she always ended up in. Ash, who Elliot had always hated so much.
Lila sat up, the duvet falling down into her lap. In a rush, it came to her, the idea of loving Ash. It wasn’t a romantic kind of feeling. It was softer, nicer, warmer than that. Like maybe in twenty years they’d both have husbands or wives and kids, but they’d all laugh together about how Ash and Lila could never seem to keep out of each other’s’ pants. Friends, who played in a band. Friends who fucked, and kissed, and cuddled. Maybe it was romantic.
Lila could smell coffee. Dressed only in her pants, she rummaged through her open suitcase, spread like a large, ugly butterfly next to Ash’s on the floor. Against the wall was a small stack of boxes. The rest of Lila’s clothes were in them, along with the rest of her worldly possessions and a few pots and pans that Thea didn’t want anymore. They hadn’t talked about Lila moving in with the band, really. She had it in her head she’d find a place, now she had some money in the bank. It wasn’t as much as she’d expected, from a sell-out tour with one of the most famous bands in the world, but it was enough for a while. Ash was talking about an album, anyway. They could do it, for real.
Lila pulled on her jeans and soft hoodie whose true owner – be it herself or Ash – she had already forgotten. She crept around Ash’s mess and grabbed her mug from the night before, cradling it in her hands as though it was already warmed with the coffee perfuming the air.
Ash’s room opened right onto the living room. Lila crept out smiling, but Ash wasn’t sat on the sofa with a cigarette between his fingers as Lila had been expecting. The room was empty. ‘Hello?’
No answer. Lila sighed and wandered through into the kitchen. There were a couple of unopened crates of beer on the sides, a stack of dirty bowls in the sink. She opened the fridge but there was nothing inside bar a tiny bottle of soy milk and a jar of jam. She let it fall shut.
There was a note taped to the front. Gone to bagel place to hunt breakfast. Will return with egg on wheat. Ash x.
Lila smiled. There was, at least, a pot of coffee under the machine. She poured herself a cup and stood looking out of the kitchen window at the sloped roofs of the neighbouring houses, cut through with gently swaying leaves, and the spires of York Minster in the distance.
There was a knock at the door. Lila set down her empty cup and answered it without hesitation, assuming it was Ash. It wasn’t. Wren Abelard stood, sticky and red and trying to catch his breath. There was a circle of sweat on the chest of his pale grey shirt. ‘Lila,’ he said thickly.
He stared at her with something weird in his eyes. Lila stepped aside to let him in, the door slamming shut.
‘Joel showed me your email.’
Lila’s heart was thrumming. He wasn’t as tall as Elliot, and he didn’t seem angry, but he was off, wrong. Scary. ‘What email?’
‘About Marnie DeLillo.’
Lila gulped. ‘You don’t want her to come?’
‘No, I…’ Wren ran his hand through his hair. ‘What you said, about the fans.’
Lila frowned. ‘What?’
‘You don’t feel connected to them. Like you want to, I mean.’
Lila laughed nervously. ‘Um. I don’t know what you mean?’
Wren shook his head. ‘You said something like ‘I thought I was going to be connected with all those people but I just wasn’t’. But you said in interviews you love performing. You said you loved it.’
‘I don’t know what you mean.’
Wren ran his hands over his face. ‘Were you lying, when you said you loved it?’
‘Uh. No. I just didn’t think it would be like it is?’
Wren’s shoulders slumped. He stopped pacing and stood half-facing the wall that separated the living room from the bedroom Lila now shared with Ash. ‘I need to understand.’
‘What do you need to understand?’
‘Tyler!’ Wren flung his hand towards the ceiling as his voice cracked. ‘Why did he do it. Why did he burn himself out like that. Why.’
Lila blinked. She shook her head. ‘Wren. I don’t know.’
‘You’re a rock star, you’re the front man,’ said Wren, desperately. ‘You must know, you have to be able to tell me. Was he lying? Was I an idiot to believe him when he said he need it?’
‘He needed what?’
‘He wouldn’t stop, he was relentless,’ said Wren. ‘I drove him to that recording studio and he’d have probably slept there if I hadn’t made him come home. He was insane, he just kept on and I. What if he was lying, what if it was nothing to do with that.’
‘Wren, woah, buddy. Slow down.’ Lila put a hand on Wren’s shoulder and he stared at it. She backed away, sat down on the couch. Wren stared incredulously for a moment before his breathing began to slow. He raked his hands through his hair over and over, the redness slowly fading from his cheeks. Lila curled her knees up to her chest; he would calm down. She just had to wait it out.
Wren paced up and down the room. He cover his mouth with his hands, then drew them closed in front of his lips, as though he was praying. He looked Lila dead in the eye.
‘What if he just didn’t want to be alone with me.’
Lila squeezed her eyes shut. ‘Awh, dude. Don’t say that. Of course he wanted to be alone with you. He loved you.’
Wren sat down heavily on the other end of the couch. He shook his head. ‘But what if he didn’t.’
Lila shook her head, too. ‘Look, what the fuck do I know? I never even met the guy.’
‘I know but. You’re like him.’
Lila scoffed. ‘I can’t even play guitar. I’ve never written a whole song by myself. I am nothing like Tyler.’
Wren turned, inching them closer together. ‘You’re the front man.’
Lila scrunched up her feet. ‘So?’
Wren dropped against the back of the couch like a dropped marionette. ‘Don’t you love it?’
Lila grimaced. ‘Yeah, I do. But it doesn’t.’ She took a breath. It was hard to put words to this feeling, nebulous and spiky as it was. Every time she’d tried with Ash, they’d ended up arguing. ‘It didn’t end up fixing the things I wanted it to fix.’
‘What did you want it to fix?’ Wren looked so earnest that Lila had to look away.
‘God, I don’t know. Me. I think there has to be something wrong with you if you want to be famous.’
Wren nodded sadly.
‘Shit. Not like cancer. I mean.’
Wren was almost smiling. ‘I know what you mean.’
Lila sighed and relaxed slightly into the back of the couch. She drew her knees closer to her chest. ‘My boyfriend was an arsehole.’
‘No. Well, yeah, he is an arsehole but in a completely different, less… scary, take over your whole life kind of a way.’ Lila turned sharply away from Wren. ‘He used to say I was attention seeking or melodramatic, that I was being hysterical. And… I don’t know. I thought maybe if I was a rock star I’d stop believing him.’
‘You thought being a rock star would make you feel less like you were seeking attention?’
Lila laughed. She kept her gaze on the carpet and away from Wren, though. ‘It’s stupid, I know. But if I’m good, if people like me, then I’m allowed to want attention.’
There was a long gulf of silence. Wren was sitting very close. So close Lila could feel the heat coming off him. ‘I don’t think you’re talking about attention seeking. I think you’re talking about wanting to be loved.’
A lump rose from nowhere in Lila’s throat. She looked straight down, tears clinging to her eyelashes. She wished she hadn’t cut off her hair, so she could have hidden her face from Wren, so he couldn’t have seen the tears dripping from her nose onto her knees.
‘Did Tyler want to be loved?’ Lila whispered.
‘He was so fucking loved,’ Wren whispered back.
Lila didn’t look up at his face, but she found his fingers and clung to them fiercely until she could feel her pulse hammering through her own. When she finally dared to look up, Wren’s blue eyes were piercing as they skittered back and forth across her face. He was beautiful, up close. If Lila had been drunk, she might have kissed him. Instead, she dropped her head onto his shoulder. His body was rigid for a moment, but then he shifted, leaned in. She could feel him trembling. Maybe he was crying. She didn’t look up again to check.
‘You remind me of him, sometimes,’ said Wren. He took Lila’s hand in his. She closed her eyes. ‘It’s funny, isn’t it?’
‘Hilarious,’ said Lila.
Wren’s face was inches from hers, his own eyes glassy and his cheeks wet, his hair a mess. She leaned a little closer, breathing his air, letting their noses bump together. When Wren kissed her, his lips were salty with sweat and tears, his tongue sweeping hot against hers.
It was brief. Wren rested their foreheads together, smiling, his eyes shut. Lila stared at his eyelashes. ‘You feel anything?’ said Lila.
‘No,’ said Wren, smiling still. ‘Nothing.’
Lila sighed and leaned back against the couch.
Wren smiled again, but it was more wistful. He brushed his hair out of his eyes. Somehow, he looked much younger than he had the first time that Lila had met him. Perhaps it was that the bags under his eyes were lighter, the hollow of his cheeks much less pronounced. It struck her for the first time that he must have been younger than Tyler. He was probably younger than Lila was now when Tyler died.
Lila shifted away from Wren. He was rubbing his eyes with the sleeve of his jumper. It was too big, and from the lurid orange and ugly beaver on the front, she suspected it belonged to Joel. He glanced at Lila for a moment, smiled and shook his head. ‘You’re a real rock star, you know that?’ he said.
Lila grinned. ‘Well, you know. I do try.’