Thursday, 28 October 2010

Swamp | Music | Somebody saaaaaaaaaaaave me from Remy Zero's other songs

So, True Blood eh, eh, pretty sexy right? Pretty naughty? Pretty fucken outrageous? Move over Twilight, let’s have the grown-ups come and play for a bit, eh? Who needs vampires as symbols of 19th century Christian (or, indeed, 21st century Mormon) sexual repression when you can have sexy vampires doing sexy stuff through a veil of HBO production values, eh, beautiful lighting and a script so knee-deep in irony and literary camp it springs a boner you can be proud of, eh, a boner to talk about in seminars, eh, eh, know what I mean, more like semi-nar, know what I mean, eh?

Maybs. The one thing we can all agree on, however, is that the True Blood title-sequence is the tits, an intent-laden feast of well-chosen filters, asymmetrical fonts, and impeccably cut (see, say, the superspeed rotting fox) flashes of ridiculously atmospheric footage both reliant upon and inverting Louisianan cliché – y’know, hicks, gospel churches, SWAMPS, that sorta thing. Along with Jace Everett’s rattlesnake-flecked crooning on ‘Bad Things’, a song we’re all pretty sure is as rad as the cinematography it accompanies, because both halves gel so well. A sultry, dirty, swampy song representative of all of the best things about naughty, sexy, exotic True Blood, then.

Maybs. Listen to one of the three Jace Everett albums on Spotify, though, and you might, like me, begin to suspect something different. Because they’re just not very good. His tracks have names like ‘More to Life (C’Mon C’Mon)’ and ‘Lean into the Wind’ and sound like a cross between Louis XIV, mid-noughties strutting tweeny gimps Rooster and (the admittedly achingly romantic) Chris Isaak. (Chris Isaak, it should be acknowledged at this point, puts in a sparkling turn in the otherwise mediocre Twin Peaks film, Fire Walk With Me, a fact which might become more relevant a few paragraphs down, but that I mention now in order to scream the following from Rooster’s proverbial rooftops: PEOPLE SHOULD TAKE CHRIS ISAAK’S ACHIEVEMENTS MORE SERIOUSLY.)

Which makes me think that perhaps ‘Bad Things’ isn’t very good either. It makes me think that ‘Bad Things’ was, in fact, an excellent choice for a show that endeavours to cartoonise Louisianan culture (albeit ironically, amusingly, sexily and so on) because it is, in fact, a cartoon, synthesised and soulless version of the Creedence Clearwater Revival swamp-rock and low-slung blues influence that it wouldn’t exist without.
But it’s become so jumbled up with the content that it parenthesises – content far better, in many ways, than it – that we listen to it differently and, more important, hear it differently. People assume the relationship that exists between a title-sequence track and a show/film/whatever is almost entirely an issue of establishing mood, of utilising the atmospheric power of music (and, invariably, visual bricolage) to do what would require mindblowingly good writing if it were to be similarly done with dialogue or action in an equivalent thirty seconds (see Generation Kill, a title-sequence-less piece that did just that). And certainly, when only a fragment of Everett’s song appears in a context that means one doesn’t ever really listen to it properly, it does, as ‘arry Redknapp would have it, a job.

But the relationship is, surely, just as much about a show/film/whatever’s plot, and an individual’s response to slash memories of it, imprinting themselves upon the title-track to the extent that they begin to read it as much as they listen to it. It goes, I think, both ways. Indeed, such songs as Jace Everett’s ‘Bad Things’ strike me as an important example of Music As Reading occurring without Music As Readers being aware that they're even doing it. With that in mind, this week’s mixtape will be a collection of tracks so well-suited to their show/film/whatever that this process can only occur. But before constructing that, let’s break this idea down a little further.

The OC is a perfec example, a fact attested to by the Simpsons’ curious take on the show what aired as part of another just-not-quite-right new(ish) episode last night. One wouldn’t have actually known that it was supposed to be a satirical reference to the show if it wasn’t for the music, such was the sequence's arbitrariness – Wikipedia seems to think it features a guy dressed up as Snoopy because Ryan Atwood played Snoopy in a school play once or something. To be honest, maybe it wasn’t about all this at all, but with the opening chords of Phantom Planet’s ‘California’ such a tidal wave of OC connotations flood one’s consciousness that, assuming one spent their mid-teenage years caring about such things like me, it’s impossible to think of anything else.
Dreadful song though. By a dreadful band – like Mr Everett, one need only listen to an entire Phantom Planet (I mean, really, ‘Phantom’ fucking ‘Planet’, who thought that was a good idea) record to realise that. But I can’t bring myself to despise it. See also Remy Zero’s ‘Save Me’ off-of Smallville, a show I don’t even like that much. Sounds like somebody emphasising, in song-form, all the worst things about U2 but again, one can’t help but read it differently to other music. It’s this, I think, rather than the ‘burden of having one song everybody knows’ that's usually discussed, which makes the rest of bands like Remy Zero’s music unlistenable. It is, in fact, universally unlistenable, but one doesn’t actually listen to that all-important ‘exception’.

I guess The Wire is the most interesting way of testing this theory. Does (can?) one draw an education-focussed narrative out of Domaje’s version of ‘Way Down in the Hole’ (Season 4) or a political emphasis out of the Neville Brothers’ version of the same song (the preceding season). Not explicitly? Not surprising, really, considering David Simon’s opinions on the relationship between music and cinematography:

I hate it when somebody purposely tries to have the lyrics match the visual. It brutalizes the visual in a way to have the lyrics dead on point. ... Yet at the same time it can’t be totally off-point. It has to glance at what you’re trying to say.

And is there not a pretty substantial GLANCE behind the fact that Domaje are five Baltimore teenagers soundtracking the Wire series specifically about teenagers – a musical glance, indeed, designed to act as a vessel for a viewer’s specific responses to that series?
Twin Peaks is another important example. I was explaining to somebody the other day, half-cut, my own theory regarding Twin Peaks’ uniquely obsessional appeal, namely that something within its extraordinary textured atmosphere fuses with what’s going on in one’s own real life, parallel to your watching of it for the first time – to the extent that in one’s memory a gorgeous fragment of art that you’ll never see for the first time again becomes entwined with a part of your life that you can’t reclaim, whether happy or bleak. The combined effect representing a great remembered shimmering donkeypunch of nostalgia – and one is therefore compelled to return to its source, again and again.

Well, when I stumble across Julee Christie’s ‘Falling’ (seldom by design, it hits me too hard) I hear within it Laura Palmer and Dale Cooper et al but also the week I spent revising for my finals and watching Twin Peaks with my girlfriend in a little house in Leamington Spa. I honestly do. I read the song in order to tap into that narrative. Whether I like it or not. I haven’t read Maria del Pilar Blanco’s recent collection of essays, Popular Ghosts: the Haunted Spaces of Everyday Culture, but I can only assume this concept is the background to that book’s decision to dedicate several paragraphs to ‘the haunted soundtrack of the Twin Peaks TV series.’
Romanticised nonsense y’say? Maybs. Really, this was all just a very long way of introducing the only question anybody’s got any business asking this week, so such a judgement is a bit of a moot point: WHY THE FUCK HAS NICK CAVE ALLOWED FUCKING HOLLYOAKS TO USE ‘RED RIGHT HAND’ IN A FUCKING TRAILER FOR ITS FIERY LATE NIGHT HALLOWEEN SPECIAL THING? That is an imposition of a narrative onto a song that makes Wilhelmus de Rijk’s bread-knifing of Rembrandt’s Night Watch in 1975 look like a favour to us all by comparison.

Sam Kinchin-Smith
Music Editor


  1. The Simpsons OC parody was truly bizarre. Not so much missing its target as swinging wildly and hitting an old lady across the street.

    This leads us to the important conclusion that to satirise something, you must first have a vague idea of what it is.

    Tiny Chocolate Buddha

  2. Chris Isaak is wonderful and the 'Heart Shaped World' album is bleak, man. It should come with a warning sticker.

  3. Yes. And with both of these things in mind, I recommend you both listen to the extraordinary array of 'Wicked Game' covers available on Spotify. Must be one of the most covered tracks of the last twenty years or so, by the looks of things. From the respectful - Gentleman Reg, Giant Drag, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra - to the swinging wildly and hitting an old lady across the street: HIM, 'Groovy Waters' and a whole bunch of mindblowing Europop.

  4. 'Red Right Hand' also appears in Cirque de Freak: The Vampire's Assistant starring John C. Reilly, Willem Defoe and Salma Hayek.

  5. That, I have absolutely no problem with.