WHAT IS 'XYLENE' ABOUT?
The short version
In the broadest terms, it’s a Prince and the Pauper tale. A well-meaning but innocent person gets thrust into a much-desired role. Except every other tale I’ve seen ends with the Pauper realizing that it’s really hard being the Prince, and he gratefully returns to his old life. But I think this is a bullshit ending, so I wrote a better one.
The medium version
It’s 1985. Joe Ecks is a rock star guitarist for X Band. He’s a bad rock star, though, despite the fact that he is a musical genius. In an emotional moment, he has a seizure, and his personality changes drastically. The new personality calls itself Mike Smith and is shown to be the direct opposite of Joe’s old personality. For example, the Mike Smith personality loves Joe’s life (including Joe’s wife Angie), and he wants to live it forever. But there’s a hitch: the new personality can’t play guitar. And it’s really hard slipping into someone else’s skin and living their lives. There’s history. And secrets. But to the new Joe, it’s totally worth it. So he frantically learns and practices guitar, because eventually X Band will have to tour. X Band, at first, desperately wants the old Joe personality to return, but as time passes, the band warms to the Mike personality. As the Xylene tour begins, the band, and also Angie, must choose between the Old Joe and the New Joe.
The long version
A couple members of X Band are mixing a song, a process that involves a lot of bickering. Just then, Joe Ecks, their tortured, musical genius guitarist, has a seizure and then recovers, more or less. On the ride to the hotel, Joe admits to Bill, the band’s know-it-all keyboardist and Angie, Joe's diminutive wife, that he has completely lost any memory of his personal life. That night, he confesses to Angie that he actually has a full set of memories of himself as someone else: Mike Smith.
The next day, they begin mixing ‘Xylene’, the last song and title track of their album. Bill lectures that ‘Xylene’ completes their three-record contract, and they don’t know if they will get another one. They don’t even know if ‘Xylene’ will be released. Joe learns that he has been controlling and adversarial, especially towards everyone. Unexpectedly employing the little-known management technique of “delegation”, he assigns the mixing to Bill and Sam, the amazingly tolerant sound engineer. At the end of the day, he gives full control to Sam.
The next day, Joe meets Ed, X Band’s very tall and goofy drummer, on the way to the studio. They listen to Sam’s mix of ‘Xylene’ and decide it’s good. They eat pizza and return to Joe’s apartment. Joe meets Roger, X Band’s space cadet bassist. With the band all in one place, Joe explains that he has Mike Smith’s memories. The band adapts rather well to this striking news. Then they prep Joe for the production meeting with their label, Theremin Records, the next day.
Joe meets Stu, X Band’s condescending and very annoying agent, on the way to the production meeting. Stu wants to propose a contract to Theremin, which may get them a contract, but shuts out any competition from other labels. Joe wants to review the contract first. At the meeting, Joe meets Michael, X Band’s combative producer. X Band learns that Theremin will release ‘Xylene’. That’s good. They work out some details. Stu and Michael strongly urge Joe to allow Stu to propose the contract. Joe refuses until he has read the contract.
The next day, Joe and Angie visit Dr. Vrakas, Joe’s sultry therapist. Dr. Vrakas theorizes that Joe was so poorly suited for the life of a rock star that he created a Mike Smith personality that is a perfect fit to the lifestyle. Joe asserts that he is not Joe and that he wants to live Joe’s life. That afternoon, Angie shows Joe photo albums of Joe’s childhood and their early relationship.
The next day, the band meets with Tour Excellence to discuss the upcoming ‘Xylene’ tour. After the meeting, they are taken to a nightclub, where they are expected to play a couple of songs. Joe pretends his guitar won’t work so Roger and Bill can creatively replace him. After the train-wreck performance, Joe asks Roger to teach him guitar.
The next day, Roger begins guitar lessons with Joe. Joe, it turns out, does NOT have a natural affinity for the guitar. Nor does he have a magic guitar to ameliorate a painful learning process. Joe and Roger go to a magazine interview. That afternoon, Bill gives Joe voice lessons and plays for him all the songs that are on ‘Xylene’.
The next day, Joe, Bill and Angie go to rerecord the lyrics to one of the songs. Between the studio and a promotions meeting, Joe stops by Stu’s office and picks up their contract (finally). Joe apologizes to the press for the objectionable lyrics that were never released. At the promotions meeting, Joe is pulled aside and lectured to do his own job only. X Band goes to a party. End of Week One.
A few days later, Michael contacts Joe and tells him he has to write and record a song in a day. Joe rallies the band and Sam, and they record ‘Twinkle Twinkle’, a remake.
Left on his own, Joe uncovers several devious deeds committed before his seizure, and he corrects them. At a press conference, members of the religious right attack Bill for the lyrics of one of his songs. Joe effectively defends him. Michael announces a second contract between X Band and Theremin. Joe demands that Stu correct several damaging paragraphs.
Footage of the band is filmed for a music video.
Joe calls for a vote on Stu. The band members all side with Joe, and they fire Stu. Joe learns that Bill has a different agent for his solo career and wants to get him to replace Stu. They rehearse their performance for the tour, but it’s rough, because Joe stinks at guitar. Behind Joe’s back, the band fires him and replaces him with X Band’s former guitarist, Shane Skinner.
Rejected, Joe and Angie return to their home in Avon, CT. Joe begins the process of hiring his own agent. Weeks later, Joe learns that Shane Skinner quit X Band for a better opportunity. Joe calls Ed, and Joe is welcomed back into X Band, but X Band plans to hire a guitarist to tour with them.
Joe spends the summer practicing guitar. But also, X Band films a video. Joe and the new agent meet with Theremin and turn down a contract. Angie sees that the New Joe really is a whole different person. Joe, Angie & Ed go bowling. Joe and Ed go to film another video. X Band plays a few songs in front of a live audience. A few weeks before the concert, the guitarist they’d hired for the tour checks himself into a rehab center. Good thing Joe’s been practicing.
The tour begins in Roanoke, VA. At the last minute, the Old Joe personality returns, and Joe performs magnificently, while the others try to follow. But Joe is just as much of a jerk as he has always been. In the morning, Angie decides to leave Joe and find the real Mike. The band catches wind, and they go fire Joe and join Angie in looking for Mike. They go to his house and find him working in his dad’s garage. After some discussion, Mike joins X Band. They play that night at VA Tech, and the show is a success, ensuring the future of X Band.