Mermaids lounged on side-street dumpsters, sighing forlorn sighs as they combed their seaweed-hair with seashell-combs. A dragon strapped to the flatbed of a semi-truck blew an umbrella of fire into the night sky as it zoomed down St. Urbain. Julian felt inspired by these things. He returned to his Mile End apartment and wrote a song. He called the song “Mermaids.” It went like this:
I’ve known some friends, but never would I have guessed
That these mermaids would be my BFFs
“Mermaids” appeared on his debut eponymous EP, Triangel. Triangel got 9.0 from Pitchfork. The writer for Pitchfork called Triangel “a postmodern Bob Dylan with a psychedelic set of pipes.” Julian’s Facebook notification, message, and friend request icons were superscripted with little round-edged orange rectangles for a week straight. He acquired 6,000 followers on Twitter. Five different media outlets contacted him for interviews. People from high school he had not spoken to since high school expressed how “good” and “cool” they thought his Tumblr was.
During the first month that he got famous, Julian had sex with ten people. Seven of them were girls. Three of them were boys. Two of the occasions involved group sex. He got a rash after his second sexual encounter of the spree, on his inner thighs, but the doctor said it was neither transmitted nor transmittable, and dissipated within 24 hours of applying the prescribed cream. This was June.
In July, he played shows at lofts more than in bars and was paid to do so. He converted to veganism. He lost 30 pounds. He did all the drugs you’ve ever heard of, plus a few you won’t hear about until next year.
In August, he went straight-edge. He got a tattoo of a happy popsicle on his left forearm. He ate a steak, on a whim, and kept it down. He gained 20 pounds back and grew an inch. Things were going really well for Julian by the time September rolled around.
Jellyfish swam in the streetlamps, King Kong climbed high-rises and watched people sleep. He released a full-length follow-up album and got 10.0 from Pitchfork. He fell in love with the second girl he slept with during the initial spree, who may or may not have given him a rash. Her name was Melissa.
Julian got used to fame. He released songs for free, on his blog, every other week.
“I just want people to hear my music,” one blogger re-blogged from an interview Julian had reposted on his blog. “An artist shouldn’t have to deal with money. An artist needs to focus on the development of their vision and aesthetic, and money transforms that process into the development of a marketable product.”
This statement lead to beef with another local musician: Rhymz. Rhymz was better established, a staple of the underground scene, famous around the world, whose mp3s could be found on the iPhones of only the coolest moms and dads. A year ago, no one had even heard the type of music Rhymz was making. Today, every other high school electro-duo was ripping off her sound. Rhymz had managed to conduct the business side of things on her own while simultaneously producing music, and took the statement as an affront to her artistic integrity.
Although it was too late to retract the statement, lest he wanted to compromise his own artistic integrity, Julian hadn’t even really meant what he said during the interview. His decision to release music for free online had nothing to do with a moral stance on the relationship between money and art—he was simply unable to figure out how to set up the PayPal account on his Bandcamp when the site prompted him to do so.
A kind of psychic rift appeared, on the Internet, between Triangel and Rhymz and their respective fanbases. Although the notion was never articulated outright on any social media platform, it was understood that those who sided with Triangel were slightly more progressive, more cutting-edge, resolute in their belief that he was the “next big thing” who would one day be remembered by the next über-progressive generation, whereas Rhymz had already been and could now no longer be cutting-edge, already deemed progressive by mainstream news media (and therefore considered non-progressive by the über-progressive), because hers was the archetype of palatable new underground music rife with the tropes that, admittedly, Rhymz had helped to establish, but was currently doing nothing to confront and evolve. Rhymz represented the unspoken status quo, while Triangel represented what the unspoken status quo was going to be, once the world was prepared to embrace some next level shit.
Melissa maintained a healthy public respect for Rhymz, posting the occasional YouTube link to an earlier, more Björk-y (and, some thought, more Triangel-y) song of hers on her wall, in solidarity with art in general, adding commentary on how the song summoned feelings of nostalgia in her for a simpler time.
Despite this squabble, autumn was the most productive time of Julian’s career thus far. Godzilla rode the escalator, doves flew in-between the varnish and hardwood of the floorboards, he wrote “Emma Watson in the Sky with Pinwheels,” which was downloaded 16,596 times in the first week alone. Whenever he sat down to write music something came out, and whatever came out was good, and what was most exciting, for Julian, was that he actually liked everything he wrote. He wasn’t compromising his vision or aesthetic, at least not for any vision or aesthetic that wasn’t congruent to his own. He started to believe that maybe his vision and aesthetic was the predominant vision and aesthetic, or that at least he was playing a part in actively shaping the latter. Lesser-known singer/songwriters posted Vimeo videos on Facebook of themselves playing songs that borrowed heavily from Julian’s unmistakable style. He fantasized that someone with more money, with better connections, someone out of L.A., maybe, would rip him off, and he would be remembered as the neglected pioneer, kind of a Ke$ha/Uffie situation.
Melissa began seeing Rhymz while Julian was away on his first European tour. A compromising photo of Julian and some other topless girl had been posted on the LastNightsParty photoblog. Julian found out when a picture of Melissa and Rhymz making out was posted to the same photoblog, a week later. Julian brought the topless girl back to Montreal. Her name was Aurora. Julian wrote an upbeat song called “Aurora.” It featured in a shampoo commercial. He got $10,000. He made seven “Best New _____ of 2012” lists. He became a celebrity.
People who did not know Julian pretended to. People stopped him in the street, just to say “Hi,” so that later they could tell other people that they had once said “Hi” to Julian in the street. People who had once said “Hi” to him in the street told their friends that Julian was their friend. He traveled for free, to Seoul, to Buenos Aires, to Prague, where someone would be waiting to meet him, with drinks and drugs and a couch to crash on. A greater fraction of people knew him for his music than for who he had been for the rest of his 21-going-on-22 years as a person, and it changed the way he saw himself.
He played shows blackout-drunk. He got into fist-fights on a regular basis. Aurora ebbed out of his life. He stopped writing music. He became reclusive and grew a bread. He posted a selfie with the beard to Instagram. 274 people liked it. Opinions on the beard in the comment section were split 50/50, with the general consensus that, good or bad, change is inevitable.
He left his apartment. It was April. The snow was melting. He cried while smoking a cigarette. He was ready to make music again, for himself, not for fame or for other people but because it made him happy, and besides, there was a new up-and-comer now, who was even more cutting-edge, writing music as well as doing performance art under the stage name “boredom” (she would sit, mute and nearly motionless, in places where something exciting was happening, Instagramming the exciting things around her and only ever adding “#bored” as a caption, at after-hours, during concerts, at the Brooklyn Zoo—her latest—until she became a Twitter sensation and people started Instagramming her Instagramming things and uploading photos of boredom taking photos to their own Twitter feeds —#bored @boredom—and it became a thing that if boredom was “#bored” at your event, the event was probably a very exciting one) and Julian no longer felt that he needed to feel as if his experience or artistic vision and aesthetic was any more or less unique than Rhymz’s or boredom’s, and that, in time, their individual experiences would be almost indistinguishable from one another’s, their creative differences regarding fashion or preferred synth patch settings overshadowed by the shared trait of their stylistic audacity, like in Mean Girls when Lindsay Lohan sees the new group of Plastics and they look so young on the first day of her sophomore year of high school.