The Get Down on the Artistic Freedoms & Cultural Merits of Soundtracks

Through exploring soundtracks like Netflix’s The Get Down and the work of Craig Wedren the potential of that medium to reshape musical dogmas emerges.

The best movie soundtrack from 1994 is undoubtedly the one from the film The Crow. Although it spanned many genres, the way in which each song served the aesthetic of the film united them in a way which transcended each bands historical style.

If you listen to The Crow Soundtrack today you will be transported directly back to the aesthetic, or world, of the film; which feels like 1994 even though the world in which it takes place is imaginary and the film itself was made prior to that year.

But this is true of any memorable film and soundtrack. So even though The Crow was probably the best soundtrack of 1994, it wasn’t necessarily the most interesting.

That honor, I believe, belongs to a mostly forgotten soundtrack and film in which a supergroup of that time covers the songs regularly covered by the greatest rock band of all time. Backbeat was a biopic of the early Beatles career playing seedy nightclubs for successive long nights while fueled by amphetamines, ambition and passion for rock music. As such it dramatizes the band playing crowd pleasing cover songs as they honed their craft and solidified their line up.

The soundtrack was performed by The Backbeat Band, which was comprised of the darlings of the days alternative rock roster; including members of REM, Sonic Youth, Soul Asylum, The Afghan Whigs, Gumball and predictably Dave Grohl – who has consistently appeared in every piece of entertainment media made since about 1994.

The soundtrack is good. It is not great, but mostly because the artistic limitations inferred by covering another cover band. But it remains interesting because in 1994 the film and its soundtrack transported you back to 1960, the year in which most of the period depicted took place. Today if you watch the movie or listen to the soundtrack it transports you back to 1994, and then depending on your level of immersion, maybe back to 1960 as well.

However had The Backbeat Band made the very same album without the contextual backdrop of the film it would probably be completely non-memorable and fail to provoke any strong sense of time or place in the listener.

So the question is, how is it that long irrelevant musical styles can regain immediacy and relevance through a merger with the medium of film?

Not so fast.

Four years after Backbeat grunge had been murdered in a vast plot by Courtney Love and Creed; sending its greatest luminaries plunging headlong into nostalgia for the genesis of their punk rock roots. Along the way they gathered up a few of their punk forefathers and re-explored glam rock and proto-punk, a collision which was facilitated by the 1998 film Velvet Goldmine.

Velvet Goldmine was a musical period piece loosely based off the lives and music/art of David Bowie, Bryan Ferry, Iggy Pop, Marc Bolan, Lou Reed and others. It is a masterpiece of story, direction, cinematography, acting, music and more; including inducing homophobic squeamishness in prudish viewers – a category for which there is unfortunately still no Grammy awarded.

The soundtrack contains both original compositions and cover songs. Once again a supergroup was formed to provide music for the soundtrack, using the film-period appropriate name The Venus In Furs. Interestingly The Venus in Furs contained two musicians, Thurston Moore and Don Fleming, from The Backbeat Band. It also boasted Mike Watt, Thom Yorke, Ron Asheton and several other highly notable musicians.

On top of that it includes original contributions from bands like Teenage Fanclub, Placebo, Pulp, Grant Lee Buffalo and Shudder to Think.

Every song on the soundtrack is heavily inspired by the period of the film, which gave all of these musicians the opportunity to re-explore expired musical styles in a way that somehow felt fresh again. It was neo-retro, and it sounded amazing.

However had any of these musicians made the same music without a film to anchor itself to, without another piece of art as a unifying theme, it would be largely unmemorable today. This is not to detract from the music, which is stellar, but only to point out that great music still needs a cultural context to give it significance. And if you want to revisit your musical heritage in your current cultural climate, it must come attached to another work of art that feels absolutely new.

The legacy of the Velvet Goldmine soundtrack, aside from the music itself, will probably best be as the place where a long awaited The Stooges reunion got started. However it should probably also be remembered for the contributions by Shudder To Think, whose central member Craig Wedren has since become the embodiment of the central theme of this essay.

In 1997 Shudder to Think completed their last album, as well as contributing songs in a similar style to three independent films. In 1998 they contributed two more to Velvet Goldmine and then called it quits. Upon their dissolution Craig Wedren began focusing more of his musical output on film scores and soundtracks, especially for projects by former members of the sketch comedy troupe The State, whose director David Wain was a childhood friend.

Wain’s cult film Wet Hot American Summer was musically masterminded by Wedren. He scored the film, supervised the soundtrack and also contributed to it. It opens with Jane by Jefferson Starship, which sets the feel for the entire soundscape of the film. It also contains musical elements of the late 70’s and early 80’s summer camp films it satirizes, but the pure bombast of Jane is present throughout, especially in the soundtrack contributions from Wedren.

This would set the tone for Wedren’s later, and continuing, soundtrack work. His ability to recapture past genres and styles, and cross freely among them, has earned him an invitation to contribute to numerous film projects that require just that. And while he also continues to make mind-blowing solo music, he has been given relatively free reign to a musical time machine. A position which is both monumental and obscure, considering the humble commercial success of the projects he has worked on.

Wedren has made a career and amassed a cult following from committing a cardinal sin of music – directly revisiting the musical styles of those who influenced his own.

No musician has ever escaped their influences entirely. Yet most of them understand that merely retreading the musical paths of their influences will either result in the perception of novelty or commercial disinterest. In music-as-art you are always supposed to try pushing forward. Only the most vapid pop stars are able to continue capitalizing on old formulas, because the perception of their artistic merit is not entwined with the perception of their music. Their image takes merits place.

Yet all music is built upon all that came before. Every piece of music is made of 99.9% recycled musical DNA in the most basic sense. And still the inability to explicitly travel backward and forward in musical time is a limitation almost impossible to overcome without attracting stigma. There is nothing musically wrong with complete temporal mobility, but the 20th century’s mixing of music with the market has led to a perception that music is supposed to be a straight line ahead.

I personally retired this hypothesis years ago, largely through exposure to the soundtracks and musicians I have been discussing. But as transcendent as Velvet Goldmine was to me, its greater overall commercial and cultural impact was very minute.

Most people have been unknowingly conditioned by market factors to effectively disregard retrospective musical offerings. However that could be changed if the strategy became successful in a landmark cultural artifact.

This, obviously, has been tried numerous times to varying degrees of musical or commercial success. However it has yet to hit both evenly. A formula in which astoundingly great new music that sounds like astoundingly great old music, and also achieves widespread commercial success alongside critical success on genuine artistic merits, has been elusive. However it has always been possible, and may actually finally have been realized.

The Get Down, a two part mini-series presented by Netflix, has recreated the feeling of early hip hop in such an immediate and accessible way that it’s original compositions feel as fresh to most Americans as their earlier counterparts felt to those living during hip hop’s inception in NYC.

By the time hip hop had been packaged and marketed to a larger commercial audience it had already undergone much of its evolution. It came to the larger world fully formed without any historical or cultural context, unlike rock and roll which had entered the public consciousness in its raw early form and gained its maturity and context in full view of it’s audience.

The Get Down gives us that history and context, in a genuine and accurate enough way that most of us will feel the initial excitement of hip hop we missed out on the first time. And in doing so it will give us a direct connection to that early music most of us never had, re-instilling it with a sense of urgency and importance in the now.

However none of that would matter if The Get Down wasn’t also a fantastic piece of art itself, which it very much is. It would matter even less if the music were only mediocre and serviceable, which it most certainly isn’t. The music is amazing.

I speak mostly of the hip hop. Disco and 70’s pop fans might find those portions of the musical re-imagining more personally compelling. And while they may also be great, they will not have the same export. Besides the fact that Saturday Night Fever prematurely covered disco’s nostalgia in the midst of it’s own hey day, thus making any future attempts even more of a novelty, hip hop is still a highly relevant musical form. One that thrived with its roots largely hidden from the audience it amassed over the years.

Last year De La Soul redefined the perceived limits of works of commercially important hip hop with their long-awaited comeback album. They expanded beyond their genre and time period so successfully that they rose from cult legends to chart-topping kings. And in doing so they set the stage for a rebirth of hip hop. Is The Get Down also part of that rebirth?

I hope so, and not is just because I personally find it to be artistically transcendent, but because it could open up the doors to musicians which only soundtracks have previously offered. It could open up the history of modern western music to re-exploration in ways that seem genuine rather than merely novelty trends.

Where it seems that music has reached the ends of it’s possible sonic boundaries, where nothing truly new can ever be done again with sound, perhaps the only way for music to survive in an advanced technological civilization is to shed the restrictions of linear progress. When it becomes impossible to make anything that sounds objectively fresh, the art becomes in finding ways to make them feel fresh within our experience of them. And because technology will probably continue to yield new mediums, and thus the opportunity to create those experiences, it may become possible to refresh points in musical history by reconnecting them with points in new medium.

The Get Down is technically within known and tried mediums. Yet modern approaches to long form cinematic storytelling recently pioneered by cable and internet services have made artifacts like The Get Down possible by transforming the amount and method of our media consumption. Commercial-free, binge-able cinema has not only offered us a more direct access to variety, but offered those creating art within it a latitude that was previously not possible. With more media consumed comes more room for exploration by its content creators.

Including the radical possibility that the old can become new again.

Finally.

Understanding Human Institutions As Living Systems With Their Own Lives

Understanding Human Institutions As Living Systems With Their Own LivesOur human hubris reassures us that we are the dominant form of life on this planet. This is done through a delusional semantic trick by which we have narrowly defined what constitutes a life form. So long as we keep that definition confined to traditional narratives, the delusion prevails. We are currently empowering that falsehood by insisting that life conforms to some basic principles based on physical characteristics, such as a genetic structure. This materialist fiction, predicated on a metaphysical assumption that is full of circular reasoning and self-refutation, then goes on to define life by what it IS and not by what it does; thereby employing the logic of every narrow-minded bigotry to ever exist.

So if instead of defining life by what it is, perhaps we should define it by what it does. And once you begin viewing life from the perspective of it’s verb-state, rather than it’s noun-state, it begins to become clear that our current definition of life is narrow, restrictive and exclusive of other macro-systems that behave exactly as we do.

In 1978 James Grier Miller published a theory under the title Living Systems: The Basic Concepts. READ IT ONLINE HERE FOR FREE.
Do a quicky wiki HERE to get the basics of his basics.

In it he discusses how non-random organizations behave in the very same ways that everything from cells to plants and animals do. He defined several levels at which all living systems tended to do at least one or more of the following- process energy, matter or information in their environment. At the micro level he considers the cell the smallest LS, with the nation state at the other end. We organisms are only the third most complex LS’s of eight, with the supranational LS at the top. In relative evolutionary terms, the supranational entity is pretty recent.

At every stage above us in the complex matrix of living systems interacting with one another there resides a life form dominate to us. The power, influence and abilities of these entities are greater than any human could ever achieve, which is why the socially aberrant psychotics that work most closely with these systems attach themselves to them. Their opportunism is essentially waste management of a more dominate life form, like bacteria that turn organic waste into proteins that can be converted to energy. The ruling elite are the lips of humanity, suckling directly from the rectums of these more dominant life forms like some kind of Human & Nonhuman Centipede flick. Since they get first taste and are not the ones being fed to the dominate life forms, they are perceived as dominate human beings. Their power, influence and wealth are all products of their gleeful association with the predatory entities who lie above us on the food chain.

This truth about the nature of life forms is precisely why it is not possible to expect these living systems to stop harming us. When we think of entities like the nation state as something we have full control over and can use to limit and punish itself, it is akin to carrots believing that they can prevent humans from eating them by appealing to humans to put carrots lives above their own nutritional needs. The nation state cannot be made to stop preying upon us in order to meet our preference for not being consumed by it, because it has to eat and we are a plentiful (and apparently delicious) food source in its environment.

Terms like ‘accountability’, ‘regulations’ and ‘checks and balances’ are meaningless misnomers that we have weaved into our delusion of superiority. To those entities above us, those terms are like camouflage or other evolutionary paradigms that make it easier for them to trick their prey. For us to believe that we can make these higher order systems put us before themselves is a foolish vanity supported only by our self-deception, which exists only to support our vanity itself. It is a circular reasoning that makes us weak and keeps us obedient to the predatory entities and the humans who work most closely with them.

A few of the levels above the organism (individual) do provide symbiotic benefits. Voluntary associations and communities empower humans by giving us a stronger hand to work together with. By the time we get to cultural systems we begin to see some aggression enter the relationship. Force, coercion and compulsion all begin to occur in the interactions of these entities. By the time we get to society and the nation state it is a full on parasitic relationship with all but a few of us on the losing end. The so-called 1% are not winning the evolutionary game, they are just benefiting slightly more than the rest of us by selling out our entire species. And so they use their power to create the narrative that these systems are necessary in order to prevent us from becoming prey to one another, while using those irrational false constructs to feed us to the beasts above us.

Yet this is just not so. Those larger entities were created by human beings. We brought them into this world and we can take them out. And we should. As soon as possible. They are growing exponentially. While it may be true that there will some injuries among our species as a result of working together to kill them, those injuries are nowhere near as grievous as the ones the predatory parasitic entities will be forced to inflict on us as it requires more food to feed its exponential growth. None of our fears about what we might possibly do to one another are rational when compared to what will most certainly be done to us all if we do not slay the beast before it is too big to kill.

Oh my fellow fishies, do you hear me when I tell you that the thing in front of you that looks like a tasty worm is actually the tongue of a larger fish using its oral appendage to lure you in so it can swallow you whole? Do you hear me when I tell you that the exotic display before you is not a glory to behold, but a clever trick to entrance you while a far more advanced fish takes advantage of your stupor to prey on you?

Or will you continue to insist that the bigger fish are the only thing keeping us from eating one another, while they feed lavishly upon us? Will we join together in a swarm to strip the meat from the bones of our common enemy, or will we stand divided to be more easily picked off under the false pretense that the big fish are immortal and eternal?

And what pray tell, my fellow finned friends, would you say if I told you that we could kill the big predatory fishes simply by removing our consent to be eaten? Yes, it is that easy. The living systems above us do have a genetic structure and their dna is our belief, faith and consent. If we were to take those from it, its physical structure would collapse and we would be free. And when all the fishes eventually stopped fighting in the ensuing confusion, the waters will calm and we will no longer live under the constant threat that accompanies low status on a parasitic and sometimes cannibalistic food chain.

The nation state is not the solution to the weakness of man. It is the  primary beneficiary of those weaknesses. It is like the vampire, it can only harm you on your own home (planet) if you invite it inside.

The most dangerous enemy is the one that is capable of convincing you that it does not exist. Our misguided belief that our institutions are just tools that are subserviant to us, rather than a clever master using us as tools to its own ends, lies at the very heart of the enemies subterfuge. We apply our own shackles and prepare own bodies for consumption through our hubris, ignorance and fear. The enemy is within.

read HOW AND WHY TO ABOLISH POLICE AND THE STATE

The Metaphysical Implications of ‘Natural Rights’

god natural rightsAn unfortunate tendency of otherwise reasonable people is to evoke ‘Natural Rights’ in their arguments against the ever-encroaching advancement of the states authority. While I find no fault with the argument that the state is an invading alien force against the individual, when the basis of that ideology is that nature has inalienably bestowed some set of specific rights upon us, it begins to feel vaguely like the ‘social contract’ and other precepts of statists and authoritarians.

From Wikipedia:

Natural and legal rights are two types of rights. Legal rights are those bestowed onto a person by a given legal system. (i.e., rights that can be modified, repealed, and restrained by human laws) Natural rights are those not contingent upon the laws, customs, or beliefs of any particular culture or government, and therefore universal and inalienable (i.e., rights that cannot be repealed or restrained by human laws).

The concept of natural law is closely related to the concept of natural rights. During the Age of Enlightenment, the concept of natural laws was used to challenge the divine right of kings, and became an alternative justification for the establishment of a social contract, positive law, and government — and thus legal rights — in the form of classical republicanism. Conversely, the concept of natural rights is used by others to challenge the legitimacy of all such establishments.

Natural rights are considered ‘negative rights’, which are those which protect you against actions by others, whereas ‘positive rights’ are those which supposedly guarantee you specific actions which may be performed by you or on your behalf.

Natural Law is the basis of Natural Rights, and is said to be the basic principles bestowed upon humanity by God, nature or reason, depending on whatever wacky belief system you subscribe to.

Since a personal supernatural entity refuses to confirm or enforce natural law, let alone its own existence, ‘bestowed by God’ is not a rational argument.

Since nature is the sum of all existence and the interactions of its parts, and since we see the violation of natural rights occur regularly within nature, ‘bestowed by nature’ is not a rational argument.

Since ‘reason’ is the ability to provide coherence and consistency between phenomena, perception and conclusion, reason implies not a singular objective set of principles, but rather a way of arriving at them, ‘bestowed by reason’ is not a rational argument.

Any concept of rights that are granted are logically flawed. Natural rights depend on agency and volition by an external force. Which leads us back to the statist idea that rights only exist when backed by force. Giving that force a metaphysical cause does not change the idea that force is the enemy of the individual. Whether it is subservience to the protection racket of the state, or to that of God, nature or reason, rights that exist as the extension of forces more powerful than the individual violate the same Non-Aggression Principle that ‘Natural Rights’ advocates often adhere to.

The entire concept of rights is flawed. A ‘right’ is an attempt to turn a belief into an absolute objective constant. While those beliefs may be rational and beneficial, the attempt to codify them into the answer in the back of the book of existence is illogical. Positive human interactions are not formed by rights. They occur only with mutual voluntary consent of all involved parties, the details of which will change from one interaction to the next.

It is constants that interfere with humans right to interact in mutually acceptable ways. Rather than arguing for constants, liberty minded people should be arguing against them. Natural rights are, contextually, nothing but another immovable framework. While their content may appear beneficial, adopting the rigid context to apply them is using the same ideological tools of the state. There is no way to evolve beyond that institution so long as we are using the same sort of thinking it employs.

“Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law. Love is the law; love under will.”
-Aleister Crowley

For a more detailed and humorous argument against Natural Law and Natural Rights check out this book, free to read online, by the greatest philosopher of the 20th Century- Robert Anton Wilson.

Natural Law, or Don’t Put A Rubber On Your Willy

Using a Monty Python skit as a metaphor, RAW utilizes an entire short book to destroy the ideological nonsense of Ayn Rand. Before there were online FlameWars, this is how shit got real.

Poopchute the Unicorn

poopchute

Part 1. Poopchute and the Land of Gumdrop Skies

Once upon a time there was a magical unicorn named Poopchute. Poopchute lived in the land of gumdrop skies and fairy kisses (with reach around), where everyday was a magical gift from the Wizard of Love & Confections, and all of the children never needed to be spoken for. As a magical unicorn he spent most of his time eating sparkleberries and then defecating them out across the sky in the form of rainbows, which made all of the children and elves and shit incredibly happy. Yup, everything was pretty awesome in Poopchutes magical little paradise; that is, until one day.

One day The Wizard of L&C’s grody twin brother came to visit him from the awful land of television static and leftover ramen. The brother, The Wizard of Kitschy Ties and Dog Sodomy, had come bringing terrible news. He spoke of a massive storm that was forming at the border of their two lands that threatened to mash together the best parts of both, which would result in their world being a gaudy suicide of leftover ramen and gumdrops. Both Wizards were mad freakin’ their shit out.

When news reached Poopchute of the impending doom, he formulated a plan. He would sit at the base of the storm and before it could mix this noxious combination of ingredients he would eat them, at whatever personal cost he might eventually pay, to keep both lands free of the things they didn’t prefer. Sure enough as the Wizard of KT&DS had warned, the storm came and Poopchute set about the task of clearing the skies. He ate and ate and ate and ate until he couldn’t eat anymore, then he smoked some Sassafrop and returned with the munchies to finish the rest.
Eventually the time came for Poopchute to evacuate his bowels, but instead of rainbows he shat gold and hundred dollar bills. In the land of gumdrop skies and fairy kisses, these things had very little use. Surely money could not buy sparkleberries and rainbows, for now these things had come nearly to pass. What sparkleberries were left were eaten in such a frenzy to produce more rainbows that they became extinct. As time passed the people in The Wizard of L&C’s land became hungry and bored and began buying the seemingly endless supply of leftover ramen from their neighboring land, and without the rainbows to provide a barrier the television static could now be heard throughout their world.

Poopchute dies at the end.


 

Part 2. Poopchute and the Furry Necromancer

About the time that our last tale turned to woe and doom a Furry Necromancer from another dimension learned of Poopchutes ability to turn forms of low quality energy into gold and hundred dollar bills. The Furry Necromancer whose name was Fishglove, and was a dedicated member of a weekly Furry Bridge Club, lived in a place where for some strange reason hundred dollar bills and gold were worth more than anything else in the land. Soon he developed a brilliant design to resurrect Poopchute and enslave him in his own dimension.

Soon after Poopchute poofed into re-existence he found himself in a stable among similar yet decidedly unmagical creatures. Even though his wicked rad unicorn powers gave him the ability to read the minds of other creatures, these hornless unmagical unicorns had very few thoughts from which he could get information. He made as if to escape these simple trappings only to realize that a bubble of harsh magic was harshing his attempts at horizontal and vertical progress. Bummer, Poopchute!

As our horned hero struggled against these nonawesome forces, Fishglove made his way into the barn. “Merry meetings, Poopchute and welcome back to life,” the Furry Necromancer taunted. Then they said a bunch of stuff like: “what’s going on, this sucks…your gonna make me rich…but I am a magical unicorn and if I cannot fly then surely I will once again die…is that true?…totally!”. Fishgloves had not counted on this. On one hand, if the unicorn escaped he would not score shit tons of hundred dollar bills and gold, but if the unicorn died he had already invested a lot of magic into his little scheme of heinous fuckery. Eventually they struck a deal.

In payment for giving him back his life and giving him the freedom that a magical unicorn required, Poopchute offered to make some hundred dollar bills and gold only for Fishglove but only when he felt like it, which was still a lot better than the Furry Necromancer had before he resurrected a magic unicorn from another dimension. Both story dudes agreed this deal was actually pretty tit-on and rocked macular balls, and despite what you might be thinking Poopchute never fucked ANY of those horses (though there were mules from time to time).

Poopchute EpiC WinS in the enD!