This is Text Me When You’re Done: a column all about sharing what you want with who you want. We’re inviting contributors to tell us about the things they always turn to as a way of explaining who they are—the works of art, articles of interests, or other tangible elements that they refer to as a way to understand them. In this installment, John Belknap hears Charli XCX like the roar of an engine.
Here’s a famous question, you text me at 3AM on a Wednesday night in early June, an almost-famous question: how many ways of making love are there?
Just one, I shoot back, with conviction.
Like this? You send over a photograph of yourself in a mirror with your tongue out. You pull up your white t-shirt to reveal a belly, a brazen happy trail that tumbles and courses with, well, conviction right down to your unzipped blue jeans, and what’s patiently waiting underneath your boxer-briefs.
In the mirror’s reflection I recognize a dinky bathroom. It’s a bathroom I’ve used plenty of times before. I send you a link to Charli XCX’s song, 3AM (Pull Up). I got to pull up, pull up / Pull up, pull up / Pull up, pull up right to your love. A recurring motif in the pop star’s mythology belongs to the actions of automobiles. Pull up / Pull up…In the backseat / Your song, so loud / Drivin' so fast…Think it's time that I call you a taxi / 4 A.M., just getting started / Drive fast cars and crash your party…I've been fantasizin' 'bout a Porsche / Get that dough-oh-oh-oh…Like a white Mercedes / Always been running too fast…I'm really so rare, I'm sent from above / Wish you could come 'round, pick me up in your car, yeah…Overloading when I'm looking in the mirror / I'm about to crash, I'm about to crash…
The pop star’s lyrics and visuals teem with cars. They drive listeners into shades of romance that culminate in a voyage and return. A revolution, as a friend calls a true romance. Her cars’ envelop us with her and together we go places. During our voyage with Charli inside this exceptional, technological thing, do we know exactly where we are going? How do we navigate the detours, deferrals, developments, and exasperations we encounter along the way? At some point we arrive at our destination. It’s the song's climax, the pop star’s decision has been made now. Back in the car and think about these things. Charli sings and we meet a shadow version of ourselves. It reminds us that we still have more to go. So, do we return with our shadow self or do we return alone?
You open the link I sent you. It's 3AM. and you are callin’. You hear it, then heart it. All this digital discussion about conviction spewing from an ex-boyfriend’s bathroom. I noticed but didn’t mention it. Would something once thought of as impossible be possible?
* * *
In April, you chuckle and give me a grin. It’s sometime in the morning and I’m barely awake. It’s cute, though, the sunlight seeps into your pretty good-looking apartment. You put on a black sweatshirt with an image of Tinashe singing. Like you, I pull my sore arms and growing chest through a black sweatshirt, a bit sore from heavy lifting.
Across my sweatshirt is a digitally printed image of a pop star perched atop a skyscraper. The pop star's curls frolic and fret, fending off pink and canary helicopters hovering around her glass nest. The image is a fan-made album cover for one of Charli XCX’s albums that never saw the light of day.
Is it of any significance? She’s still a radiant demigod: She’s got a million dollar smile, I sorta sing, and lives in your citadel dreams / With angel wings, adding lyrics of my own, made from a skyscraper’s solar glimmers and gleams. A shark swims below her. I stand still. You poke my chest. Then you poke my belly, my back and skip down the stairs. I was busy thinking ‘bout boys, I say, and our baby girls, you tease and then add, I’m taking you to breakfast.
There’s his goofy grin again. Plus three kisses. It’s kinda gorgeous outside; there’s cherry blossoms sticking out and it’s bunny rabbit weather. I have no idea where I am. It’s somewhere in Brooklyn. You grab my hand. That hasn’t happened in like five years. The skipping, the grinning, and the holding hands with a total stranger. How easily these things went. Stars rolling in my mind.
* * *
I. Don’t. Care, I think to myself, tossing another book into the beach dumpster in Crete, I love it. The book lands with its pages sticking out. It’s Hervé Guibert’s Crazy for Vincent—a short and awkward reverse chronological story about the author’s tryst with an adolescent motorcycling punk—and is one of many books now dispersed amongst a black hoodie and other discarded clothes. Guibert’s book was never told to English readers in his lifetime. A lot of stories by authors, artists, and accomplices never get told in their lifetime. Sometimes they end up in dumpsters or digital recycling bins.
A few days before my date with the dumpster, I noticed bites along my torso and shoulders. Mosquito bites spread out across the body like a scatterplot chart (ambivalent yet thirsty in its search to make meaning). My bites did not. They cropped up in lines across my body. A bump here to here to here. These lines resembled ellipses or wobbly dashes. Interruptions and continuations. They betrayed the randomness associated with their sister mosquito bites. Really, I think the bites declared a narrative intentionality: do something, babe, we’re bed bug bites. Fine. The message all over my body was loud and clear. It was time to leave Crete.
The beach is quiet with desertion. I missed my friends and the familiarity of their faces. I heard rumors that people were in Paris and wondered. I quit wondering and shifted gears. I gave my full attention to my rental car while he rattled for handling and comfort. From his insides, I swear I heard Charli sing, You're so damn hard to please, we gotta kill this switch / Guibert’s from the '70s, but I'm some '90s bitch. I’m there inside him and his body shifts. His leather seat holds me. Under his covers, he lets me lose my shadow. To Paris we go.
* * *
I'm a hot girl, pop girl, rich girl. All of that is totally true and it’s the first time I’ve heard you speak about yourself with such care and conviction. Well, you’re singing through Charli XCX. Nevertheless, a duet about multi-hyphenation ensues. I'm a bitch girl, fast girl, and all that’s pretty much also true.
You’re driving us from Fire Island back to the city. We’ve left some friends and funnies behind on the island in what turns out to be an utter disaster in their various thorny entanglements. It’s a Pines-filled fate. The island is another kinda nest, a sort of safety nest. It cultivates and nurtures wilderness, weaving bodies and bravery together to build entanglements from something that we all share in common: getting swept away by a lust for life. The island’s goal? Going wild.
We’ve jumped from that safety nest. You’ve taken us onto the highway in a car that feels as fast as a plane. The tunes go up and the windows come down. Wind is everywhere. It’s hard to explain but it whips up your hair so that it quivers and curls, all black charmeuse and delicate yet clever enough to bestow you with a quiet crown: a halo.
Here I am reminded of Charli’s angel wings unfurling from the skyscraper’s solar glimmers and gleams. It is an approximation, some barely there imagery, a busted bewilderment.
I’m sure you may not even see it. Belief is less a collective illusion than it is just about paying attention. It’s called conviction, baby. Charli XCX has it. How about you?
I almost say something stupid funny, like how I just saw one of Charli’s angels—you turn towards me. We’re making great timing, you confirm, like we’re on set for one of your production gigs. Left hand to right ear you push a few curls behind, down, and around. Your hair. It was one thing and now it’s being another. I say nothing. This is New York: a hot girl, pop girl, rich girl, with a destiny that is a forward-moving, revelatory exclamation mark. You turn the tunes up louder. Catch me if you can, girl.