Belle And Sebastian: Lust For Life

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Stuart Murdoch went from idle daydreaming to pop idol—and it only took a decade. While Belle and Sebastian’s bedroom pop used to rule the school back in 1996, the formerly shy Scots have graduated to bigger stages and more exuberant sounds. By Mark Blackwell

It’s fast approaching 2 a.m. on the streets of Los Angeles, and they’re rolling up the sidewalks on cue to declare this drizzly Saturday night a wrap. The sold-out rock show at Koreatown’s historic Wiltern Theatre has long been over. The after-party in the basement has played out just as expected in a low-key, have-a-beer-and-a-quick-chat manner. Even the after-after-party at the bar next door has fizzled to an anticlimactic finish, the owners prematurely complying with local alcohol ordinances, banning access to all taps before the festivities had a chance to really begin. You’ve been put out onto the street and told it’s time to go home.

But you just happen to have an all-access pass, a shiny silver laminate that—combined with several brightly colored wristbands—will permit you to experience the elusive and exclusive after-after-after-party. And here you’ll finally come to grips with the unchecked decadence that can occur behind the scenes when a renegade septet of Scottish indie rockers, who’ve always done things the way they bloody well please, sets its 14 collective feet on American soil.

A man in a tuxedo opens the door and beckons you inside with a sinister smile. Before you even approach, you can feel the debauchery beginning to vibrate down into the core of your soul via the bombastic bass of the techno-disco-hypno-electro-something-or-other-o booming from the SurroundSound speakers within. You squeeze your way into the tightly packed crowd, past a bank of futuristic flat-screen televisions, laser lights and state-of-the-art plasma-based lumen disks, which pulsate along to the deafening music. As your eardrums throb from the din and your eyes slowly adjust to the dim, the lingering haze of Camel Lights and cannabis begins to glow with an eerie neon electro-luminescence, thanks to the bright-violet fiber optics that snake around the entire space.

The drinks are flowing freely, bottles of imported beer and crystal decanters of whiskey standing within easy reach of everyone squeezed together beneath the garish mirrored ceiling. It’s clear that a number of laws are being broken, even before the bulging baggies of cocaine and ecstasy are passed around with abandon. You spot a row of flashing red LED lights that ominously spell out the word “A…N…Y…T…I…M…E…” But little do you know at this point that “ANYTIME” will be occurring nonstop for the next seven or eight hours, until well after the sun has risen.

“You gotta make your choice,” declares one of the Scottish musical hooligans, working his way through the crowd. “You either see L.A.—or you be L.A.”

Welcome to the world of Belle And Sebastian.

But wait a second. Could this group possibly be the same sweet Belle and the same shy Sebastian who met by chance more than a decade ago outside the Hillhead Underground station in Glasgow, Scotland? As related in the liner notes of Belle And Sebastian’s debut album Tigermilk, released 10 years ago, Belle magically surfaced in young Sebastian’s life just after he had mustered up the courage to post a flyer in search of musicians to fulfill his daydreams of starting a little combo.

In the back of Belle’s parents’ house, in a room overlooking the garden, the fledgling duo precociously blended the bright and shiny progressiveness of ‘60s folk/pop with the dark, lonely catharsis of Nick Drake and the limber artsiness of the Velvet Underground—along with choice bits of everything from Joy Division to the Archies—to craft the sublime Tigermilk.

Seemingly without pause, the band continued to enchant a growing legion of mild-mannered outcasts around the globe with its 1997 follow-up, If You’re Feeling Sinister. It offered even more spiritually resonant pop perfection, again delivered through wistful-yet-hopeful songs of longing, loving and loss. And the beautiful tunes just kept coming, through a series of dreamily unpolished EPs, while the band members shied away from any limelight that might possibly corrupt their delicate artistic endeavors.

Is this the same Belle And Sebastian that’s here tonight in this Los Angeles den of iniquity?

Mind you, there have been warning signs. The group’s output has become more slick and mainstream in recent years, increasingly infected by chunkier guitars, deeper grooves and danceable rhythms. 2004’s Dear Catastrophe Waitress was produced by Trevor Horn, a man who shaped the sounds of lasciviously over-the-top novelty acts such as t.A.T.u. and Frankie Goes To Hollywood. Diehard fans lament the fact they’ve heard their precious Belle And Sebastian getting airplay in Starbucks, Pier 1 and the Gap, as well as on TV shows such as The OC. Word even has it that the band members have recently been spotted hanging out with a woman who’s infamous for molding plaster casts of rock stars’ private parts. Not to mention that they’re currently being backed by pornographers. Frankie Goes To Hollywood, indeed.

Relax. This is the same Belle And Sebastian. But then again, it very much isn’t.

First of all, in the literal human-being-makeup context of Belle And Sebastian, there is no actual “Belle,” nor is there any “Sebastian”—in the same sense that there is no actual Lynyrd Skynyrd, nor is there any Jethro Tull (which, coincidentally, is another band with Scottish roots that frequently makes fine use of the flute). The genesis of Belle And Sebastian as told on Tigermilk is pure fiction, a fable penned by an at-that-point somewhat reclusive and unemployed Glaswegian songwriter named Stuart Murdoch.

“It was in my head for years,” explains the soft-spoken 37-year-old Murdoch, flashing back to the band’s beginnings. “For two or three years, I was looking for musicians for a group, but I seemed to be deeply unfashionable in my mode of thinking. I couldn’t find anyone. People used to cross the street when they saw me coming, because I was so desperate.”

The original group was hastily thrown together by Murdoch and his pal Stuart David when some demos they’d written were selected as the most promising ones submitted to a music-management class at Glasgow’s Stow College. Each year, one of the students’ assignments involved running a mini record label and producing a recording session for a local act of their choice. This 1996 Stow class project proved to be the launching pad for not only Tigermilk but also for Belle And Sebastian itself.

“When it was offered to make the record for the college, it was very fateful that suddenly the musicians just seemed to appear,” says Murdoch. “It wasn’t people that I knew or people I saw around. And when this group came together, it was unbelievable. It was the best thing that ever happened in my life.”

The band’s name, by the way, was lifted from a series of children’s books by French writer Cecile Aubrey about the adventures of a young boy and his dog. So “Belle” and “Sebastian,” being mere mythological entities, are by no means getting down with the crowd tonight in this out-of-control club. Neither is Murdoch, for that matter, as he has long since said his goodnights at the ill-fated after-after-party and retired to his hotel—perhaps, you might imagine, in favor of a good book and a cup of tea. And, to be quite honest, we’re not technically in a “club.” The space in which we’ve been reveling would perhaps better be described as, well … we’re actually in a “car.”

But not just any ordinary auto, you see, as this is an ultra-tricked-out Super-Stretch Ford Excursion SUV Anytime Limousine, a long drink of diesel that, according to its manual, “comfortably seats up to 24 passengers.” Tonight, however, there must be at least 35 to 40 souls sardined inside—it’s hard to count amid the top-volume chaos and strobe-lit confusion—as we move through the streets of Los Angeles.

“I think we’re definitely being L.A.,” laughs bassist and trumpet player Mick Cooke, referring to the phrase that’s grown into a comic mantra for Belle And Sebastian as far as this city is concerned. While the band was spending several weeks in Los Angeles last summer recording its latest release, The Life Pursuit (Matador), a strange girl approached Murdoch one night in a bar, poked him with her finger and prophetically proclaimed, “You either see L.A.—or you be L.A.”

While Belle And Sebastian are indeed being L.A. on this four-day return to town, it’s primarily about a whirlwind of work, not leisure time in loud limousines. During this stop on its U.S. tour, on a bill with labelmates the New Pornographers, the band is cramming in two sold-out shows at the Wiltern, a radio performance on KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic, an in-store gig at Amoeba Records, plus a number of interviews, photo shoots and meetings.

And it must be definitively stated for the record that none of the members of Belle And Sebastian has any clue as to what is going on tonight in this mystery limo. They simply couldn’t be more amused, bemused and confused by the events unfolding before them. Guitarist Stevie Jackson, currently smooshed up against me in his sharp dark suit and tie, takes a swig of beer, the band’s sole drug of choice for the evening.

“MAGNET readers,” he announces in a grave tone, “you are witnessing firsthand the beginnings of the downward spiral of Belle And Sebastian’s young Stevie Jackson. He was once just a wee innocent indie kid from Scotland, but then one night he went for a fateful ride in a limo … ”

Drummer Richard Colburn leans forward from his seat, glancing around at the other passengers. “Who are all these people?” he asks. It immediately becomes clear that nobody really knows the answer.

At least I think it’s drummer Richard Colburn who has just asked that question, because at this point, I’m starting to ask the same thing myself on an even larger scale. That’s one slightly confusing thing about Belle And Sebastian when you encounter them for the first time as individuals. There are simply a lot of them. This problem is compounded by the fact that the band members rarely appear in photos on their records, often using images of various other bohemian-looking types instead. The lineup has also shifted over time. Plus, in the early days, they did, to some extent, shy away from the press.

“For years, it was hilarious,” says Jackson. “Every time I’d do an interview, the first question was always, without fail, ‘Why don’t you do interviews?’ They never got the irony of that, ever. It really used to annoy me, this kind of ‘shy, elusive’ thing. A lot of it was to do with the silence of our singer. Stuart didn’t talk to the press for a few years. And the writing, the cover art; I think also because some of the songs are not frightened to have pretty melodies or to say something gentle, that kind of made us the ‘sensitive types.’ I’m not conscious of people being all that interested in the group as individuals, anyway.”

So even if you’ve been a fan of the music for a while, you might have no idea who the makers of it actually are. Therefore, before we ride any further, we should clarify. From my pocket, I produce the small scrap of paper on which I’ve scribbled the band members’ first names and a few notes. I squint at it secretly through the shimmery purple haze:

CHRIS: OK, that’s Chris Geddes, keyboardist. He’s wearing a Belle And Sebastian The Life Pursuit sweatshirt, he just DJed at the after-after party, and I can indeed see him in the limo. He’s often referred to by his nickname, Beans, which only slightly confuses things.

STEVIE: That’s easy, Stevie Jackson, guitarist and sometimes singer. Plus, he’s practically sitting on my lap. Note: Stevie only becomes confusing when people mention Stevie not in reference to Stevie Jackson, but to Stevie Dreads, who’s the band’s road manager and who indeed has dreads, which does simplify the matter.

MICK: Mick Cooke, trumpet and bass. Mental note: He looks like Mick Jones from the Clash. Well … no, he doesn’t really at all, but more so than any other member of the band, I suppose.

SARAH: Sarah Martin, violinist, keyboardist and backup singer, from England, joined the band just after Tigermilk. She’s seemingly the easiest to remember, because she’s currently the only female member of the group. However, as if to intentionally create confusion, not only is Sarah sometimes referred to as Sadie, but on this tour they’ve also hired another woman named Sarah to play cello: Sarah Wilson.

BOB: Bobby Kildea, guitarist from Belfast. Joined in 2001, looks more like what you’d think a rock star should look like; perhaps it’s his haircut.

RICHARD: Richard Colburn, drummer, the guy who submitted the fateful demo tape to the music-management class he was taking at Stow College.

STUART: Stuart Murdoch, singer, songwriter, main guy, easy. Already met him yesterday for an interview. The only confusion here is that sometimes when people say “Stuart,” they’re referring to Stuart David, a founding member of B&S who left the band in 2000 and went on to write novels and record under the name Looper.

ISOBEL: This name has a line drawn through it, because she left the band in 2001. Not to be confused with the non-existent “Belle” (this was apparently a coincidence), Isobel Campbell departed after a sort of Nicks/Buckingham-esque penning-bitter-songs-about-each-other relationship had run its course between her and Stuart (Murdoch). She has since released several records of her own, most recently the folksy Ballad Of The Broken Seas, a collaboration with Mark Lanegan.

“Where are we going, anyway?” I inquire of nobody in particular, though again, nobody in particular seems to know.

“I get the feeling we’re headed towards Babylon,” murmurs Jackson as we roll into the night.

“People sometimes go through periods of knowing where they’re going and what they’re doing—and then suddenly they’re derailed, they just get completely lost,” says Stuart Murdoch, musing on the mysteries of creative inspiration. “And then they seem to be just sort of in between, stuck in this state of confusion.”

We’ve moved back in time to the previous afternoon, and Murdoch and I are visiting Canadian artist Gregory Colbert’s majestic Ashes And Snow art installation, currently located on the beach next to the Santa Monica Pier. Housed in a massive 56,000-square-foot cathedral-like structure built from 152 stacked steel freight containers, the exhibition is a stirring exploration of the precious and precarious balance between man and nature, captured in elaborate detail through photographs, films, words and music. Or something like that. Anyhow, it’s a much more Belle And Sebastian-esque backdrop for this portion of the article, plus Colbert’s work serves as the perfect launching point for a discussion about art as a life pursuit.

“I love reading biographies about creative processes, whether they’re artistic or scientific,” says Murdoch. “You see people’s lives documented and what they have gone through. But the whole time, things are somehow working out for them, something is brewing, something is simmering to the top.”

This is a subject extremely close to Murdoch’s heart. Prior to forming Belle And Sebastian, he suffered through a long bout of chronic fatigue syndrome, also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (or ME), a debilitating illness that basically shut down his waking life. During the process of emerging from this fog, he found new strength through making music.

“I wouldn’t be a songwriter if I hadn’t gotten sick,” says Murdoch. “I had an extended period of seven years when I was out of the game, when I gave up all aspects of normal life, and the songwriting was a crutch. I was absolutely hanging onto these songs with a drowning person’s grip, they being the only productive thing that I did at all. I realized as soon as I sat down at the piano three years into this thing that I could put words together with melody and create something. It’s almost like the first minute doing this, I saw it all stretching ahead and realized that it was something I could feel worthwhile doing; I could document how I was feeling in this vacuum.

“What doesn’t kill you makes you,” Murdoch chuckles. “It was the biggest thing that happened in my life. No question, no doubt. I don’t mean to be macabre, but it’s often those transient periods that are sometimes the most interesting things to write about when it comes to characters in songs.”

Fueled by the gap in his own life, if Murdoch is given the choice to: a) see, or b) be, he chooses c) to see and be. While living in Los Angeles last summer during the recording of The Life Pursuit, he got as much out of the city as he could, employing the spirited curiosity and keen sense of observation that resonate throughout his songwriting. Despite a hectic recording schedule, Murdoch rented a car to explore the city. He frequently wandered around Griffith Park, jogged on the beach in Santa Monica, went to baseball games at Dodger Stadium and, staying true to his spiritual roots as a member of the choir at his church back in Glasgow, attended services at West Hollywood Presbyterian Church, where the slogan is “Wildly Inclusive!”

“It is the gayest church in Christendom,” the very straight singer laughs. “Which is fine, because you got a big hug from the minister and half the congregation every week. That’s just their way of doing things, and you’ll always take a hug when you’re so far away from home. It’s one of these things that you can do where you can feel involved in a city. That’s why I love baseball, too. It’s basically a different kind of congregation.”

Murdoch also attempted the unthinkable (ignoring the well-worn dictum of Missing Persons): walking in L.A., from downtown’s Dodger Stadium all the way back to his hotel in the heart of Hollywood. “I tried it just to prove that it can be done,” says Murdoch. “But I didn’t make it all the way.” He wound up on a bus, which soon broke down, so he ended up in a launderette swapping battle stories with his fellow passengers.

“It was like a bus journey where you have the donkeys strapped to the roof and everybody has to pile off and everybody starts complaining,” he laughs. “But then there’s a degree of solidarity where people start telling you about their sister’s wedding and all kinds of stuff.”

It’s precisely these kind of adventures that seep into Murdoch’s songwriting: tales of the stranded and stuck, lost souls struggling to get from one place to the next, bus rides, launderettes, weddings and other assorted roads toward the unknown. As Murdoch has continued to immerse himself in various eclectic congregations, the subjects in his songs have increasingly taken on lives of their own, well beyond the relatively autobiographical isolation of his early output.

“I think they’ve become much more separated from me over recent years,” he says of the multi-faceted characters who populate his work. “I would imagine I’m writing more from the perspective of a screenwriter, where you really want to paint this character as walking and talking, as well as singing about them. But there’s a danger I find: Because they may be less personally involved with you, you’re a bit more separated from them. And I’ve realized that sometimes when you sing these songs in front of people, they’re slightly more trite.”

Murdoch notes that not only have the characters in his songs changed over the years, but the band’s audience has changed as well. Rather than seeing the same faces aging along with the group, he’s now noticing a second generation of younger fans coming to the shows in droves.

“I think the community that grew in the first three or four years has started to dissipate,” he says of the band’s following. “And that’s not a bad thing, because your life can’t be directed by this core group of people. Obviously, you go out of your way to try and entertain these people, and absolutely it was genuine and terrific. But you’ve got to move on as you realize that there’s a larger percentage of the audience who are maybe only familiar with your last couple of records.”

Does Murdoch sense that more just recently?

“That’s what I’ve noticed specifically this tour. It’s moved on.” He laughs. “It’s funny, when you started to say, ‘Do you sense … ?’ I thought you were going to say, ‘Do you sense the anger?’ And the funny thing is we do sense the anger! Occasionally, you meet somebody who you’ve somehow betrayed.”

Betrayed?

“Basically, you’ve betrayed them when you didn’t either split up just after the first record was released or die a romantic death at the age of 25. Or 27, that’s the fashionable age to die. The thing is, I was an indie snob and would’ve dropped our band after the first couple of EPs, probably. Then as I got older, I would’ve come reluctantly back sniffing around to see how the band had managed to hang on for so long.”

But B&S might not have survived in the first place if the members themselves subscribed to that kind of limited thinking.

“I moved beyond it when I decided to do this as a job,” says Murdoch. “And it’s a weird feeling of disassociating yourself from the fan in yourself. The fan in yourself says, ‘Don’t be in a band. Keep your day job and make precious, pretty things.’ You know, you should just put care into making these little projects and then move away from it, but keep this rough collective together, keep these exact same people together from the start. And that’s the first five years of the group.”

The history of Belle And Sebastian can pretty much be divided right down the middle, with the half after 2001 unfolding as the much more “professional” phase. Prior to this point, the band had been content to eke out some semblance of a career as the rough collective that Murdoch so desperately felt the need to maintain.

“It just completely snapped like a night-and-day flicking of a switch,” says Jackson on the drive from Santa Monica’s Morning Becomes Eclectic performance—or Morning Becomes A Hassle, as the sleepy-eyed Kildea dubs it at 8:30 a.m.—to an afternoon gig at Hollywood’s Amoeba Records. “It’s almost like Stuart woke up one day and said, ‘Right, we’re gonna do this. Let’s get it together.’ Stuart just decided to focus on what was important, in my opinion. Before that, his main impetus was keeping Isobel or Stuart David happy and just trying to keep the group together.”

In 2001, Belle And Sebastian started rehearsing regularly and mapping out actual tours with planned set lists instead of throwing together sporadic, sloppy gigs. “It made a massive difference, too,” says Colburn. “It used to be a bit Mickey Mouse before that. The more you play, the better you get. That’s the secret behind probably the last five or six years. We never used to tour properly before that, so we never gave ourselves the chance to get better.”

“On a personal level, I had gotten sick again,” says Murdoch of the sudden shift in the modus operandi of the group. “I said to the band, ‘Look, I’m gonna take some time off, maybe six months or a year.’ The fourth record (2000’s Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Peasant) had basically just wrecked me. It was my fault as much as anybody else’s, just trying to keep people enthusiastic when they were clearly not enthusiastic. But when I recuperated, I decided I wasn’t going to pander to certain people anymore. We were going to listen to the people who were enthusiastic for a change, instead of always listening to people who didn’t want to do stuff.”

It’s around this time that Campbell and David departed, by all accounts not so happy with the band’s more organized direction and the full-time commitment that would be required as a result.

“We held on to Isobel and Stuart as long as we possibly could, so really they were absolutely ripe for leaving,” says Murdoch. “That was the end of this raggedy period of where we just kind of made do. It was easy after that. That seems to cast those two musicians in a bad light, but it really was just a natural thing. It was probably our fault for holding on to them for so long when they were not interested. They wanted to do their own thing; fair enough. There are no hard feelings. The pressure mounted because of the fan thing, because of my wanting to hold onto the initial lineup. Because when you’re a fan and you see the initial lineup of the group going down the tubes, you pretty much think, ‘Well, that’s it. The magic’s gonna go.’”

Observing the excitement of the band members as they traverse Los Angeles on their various promotional duties, it seems as if the magic is well intact.

“Oh, look at that!” exclaims Kildea, pointing out the car window as we approach Amoeba Records. Mounted on the tower above the building, looming over Sunset Boulevard, is a huge cover of The Life Pursuit.

“My god!” muses Colburn.

“Whoa!” says Jackson. “Livin’ it, lovin’ it, livin’ it, lovin’ it! We are livin’ the dream, boys. We are livin’ the dream!”

They all laugh, reaching for their cameras.

“It’s more interesting and more joyful now,” says Jackson. “People ask, ‘Is this new record more commercially calculated?’ It’s not. In my head, we were always trying to make great pop records.”

The Life Pursuit indeed shines with a brighter and more shimmery pop vibe, mixed with harder-driving rhythms and a touch of smoothish soul, but the LP doesn’t radically depart from the band’s previous offerings in any glaring way. The influences continue to be delightfully diverse, with nods to everything from T.Rex to Todd Rundgren to Fat Albert and the Junkyard Gang.

“I definitely wanted to push the rhythm up, push the drums and bass up,” says The Life Pursuit producer Tony Hoffer. “A lot of the songs seemed kind of dancey. I wanted to work with them on the structures of the songs, just hit things harder in general across the board.”

“Tony helped make it more concise, make it more snappy, get to the point a bit quicker,” says Jackson. “So maybe in that sense it is more calculated, but there’s nothing wrong with that. A lot of great art comes through commercial parameters. Motown was a corporation. It was about making money in a sense, but the actual artistry that came out of it was incredible. I don’t think those things necessarily contradict each other. I think the band’s just gotten much better as we’ve become sort of a more well-oiled machine.”

By no means have all of Belle And Sebastian’s early followers abandoned the band as it’s moved onward and upward. As it turns out, some of the original listeners weren’t your typical indie snobs, speaking of well-oiled.

“These superheroes of mine are super-humble,” coos longtime B&S fan Cynthia Plaster Caster, who’s famous for faithfully preserving the erect male members of rock ‘n’ roll’s cream of the crop. Plaster Caster went for drinks with the members of Belle And Sebastian—to their delight—after a recent show in Chicago.

“I think she had ‘casting eyes’ for Bob,” giggles Sarah Martin, remembering her conversation with Cynthia. “She was going, ‘Honey, I’m just pluckin’ up the courage to ask them!’”

“It’s true!” Plaster Caster confirms. “I am working up the courage. I try to approach this subject very delicately. If I were in their place, I would be kind of weirded out about this big, hairy, scary, legendary plaster caster, you know, wanting to dip their dicks. So I try to treat them as they’d want to be treated. I feel them out, preferably let them get to know me first. They’re unpretentious and seem to totally love their fans. That’s what I like in a castee, this genuine humility. If I should be so fortunate to have one or more of them pose for me, I’m sure it would be a delight.”

No official response, as of yet, from Belle And Sebastian.

While the band can no longer send vintage postcards from Glasgow to everyone who writes a fan letter, its members maintain a pretty amazing personal bond with their following. Extreme case in point being fledgling video director Jonnie Ross.

“I could not believe it when I heard back from them,” says Ross, who wound up directing the video for The Life Pursuit’s “The Blues Are Still Blue” after sending an e-mail to the B&S Web site saying he’d like to work with the group. “There’s nobody who’s that in touch with what their fans are saying and that smart about it.”

“You can tell that more people are hearing us these days,” says Martin. “Particularly on this trip, there was a little spate of about a week where every taxi I got in we were on the radio. It was kind of like being in the Beatles in whatever year it was that they invaded you guys.”

The next Belle And Sebastian American invasion occurs July 6, when the band performs with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl. It will apparently be the first time the full orchestra has played a rock show since a legendary Frank Zappa gig in 1970.

“I’m sort of picturing one part Deep Purple, one part Fantasia,” laughs Murdoch in a room upstairs at the Wiltern Theatre during his first meeting with officials from the Philharmonic. “I love where we’re at. People say ‘10 years,’ but it’s just been a blink, because we’ve always just been marching on, one idea into the next. I love the fact that the core musicians who got together arbitrarily to make a small college project who weren’t really musicians to start with anyway, you know, from a small town from a small neighborhood—we’re still together. It’s amazing how your spirits might be down, but then because you’re in a large group, and you’ve come to trust these people, an idea pops up and everybody rallies behind the idea. That’s what’s always gotten us through. I think we’re headed in a great direction.”

The disco limousine winds its way throughout the town. First, we go to an all-night rave with the Orb at downtown’s Walt Disney Concert Hall, but there’s no beer left, so it’s back to Hollywood, eventually down the Sunset Strip to the Grafton Hotel, where it turns out some friends of Belle And Sebastian are throwing a bash in the wee hours of the morning. It’s right around 5 a.m. when we exit the elevator, and it suddenly becomes clear just where we’re headed. Everyone roars with laughter. Stevie Jackson’s jaw drops in amazement. He honestly had no idea. The name of the hotel suite looms in big black letters on the door in front of us.

“BABYLON.”

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