Internets, I spent a considerable portion of Saturday morning listening to French avant-pop, and did so without even donning a cravat. Let me explain.
You see, approximately 14,000 years ago, I subscribed to a magazine called CMJ (College Media Journal), which was printed on paper and delivered through the actual postal service and everything. Those are the times we lived in. Each month, CMJ published interviews, reviews, and special features, and every issue included a CD. The tracks were from well-known bands, less-established bands…even unsigned acts. Through these samplers, I discovered the Reverend Horton Heat, Dubstar, Liz Phair, Super Deluxe, the Chemical Brothers, Prodigy, Nerf Herder, Garrison Starr, and many others.
One of the CDs had a song by Stereolab, and I liked it so much that I’ve been placing it on various playlists for the past 20 years. I’ve always meant to check out their other songs, but I’m infamously slow at that sort of thing.** A few weeks ago, I was talking with my friend Sean, who’s a big Stereolab fan and knows the band’s entire catalogue. I decided to take a full day and go through every album. What several-year-old-but-new-to-ME music would I discover?
***Although if we’re being honest, I’d need a separate post for Escaflowne too.
“Miss Modular” – Stereolab
“Miss Modular” is from Dots and Loops, which remained my favorite album throughout Stereolab Saturday. It’s difficult to discern the intended meaning–’cause, you know, it’s sung IN FRENCH–but as best I can tell, it might be about albums as commercial products that enable listeners to lose themselves in emotion and thus experience illusions (“trompe l’oeil,” or literally, “trick the eye”).
For me, the combination of the deftly-moving bassline, the 60s-era keys, the snappy drumbeat, the crisp horn section, and Laetitia Sadier’s soothing voice makes this the essential Stereolab track.
“Hotel California” – Gipsy Kings
If you’ve enjoyed The Big Lebowski, two things are likely true: You’re not Cassidy, and you remember the scene where we’re introduced to Jesus.
“Hotel California” was never supposed to work as a single–it’s too long (Asylum Records pressured The Eagles to shorten it, and they refused), it’s in a weird key, and almost half the track is entirely instrumental. It went on, of course, to be arguably the most popular song of the band’s career, and if you’re over 30, there’s a good chance you’ve heard it hundreds of times. The Gipsy Kings sped up the tempo, changed the beat, translated the lyrics into Spanish, and gave us a fresh remix.
“Um a Um” – Tribalistas
Tribalistas is a Brazilian supergroup comprised of three very popular solo musicians. They released one album in 2002 or 2003, depending on where you live, and it’s been a favorite of mine for well over a decade. In hobbiting around to find YouTube links and images for this post, I learned that they very recently reunited and recorded a new album earlier this year.
I could’ve selected any track off their eponymous debut, but I ultimately chose “Um a Um” because the vocal blend has got me like:
“Blister in the Sun” – Nouvelle Vague
As a teenager in the mid-90s, I heard “Blister in the Sun” played on my local alternative radio station quite frequently, although the track is from the early 80s. Nouvelle Vague’s version is technically in English, but it’s the sort of result you’d get if you ran the lyrics through Google Translate and then didn’t reverse-check them. There’s a playful, French nightclub feel here that I find charming.
“I Ka Barra” – Habib Koité and Kélétigui Diabaté
That guitar work in combination with the drums is just so damn stirring.
“Para Donde Vas” – The Iguanas
I loved Tremé, David Simon’s series about New Orleanians (and specifically musicians) trying to rebuild their lives and their culture after Hurricane Katrina. Davis McAlary, played by Steve Zahn, was a part-time DJ and musician…and not particularly adept at cleaning. I don’t know why “Para Donde Vas” seems to fit this scene so well.
“Evenstar” – Howard Shore ft. Isabel Bayrakdarian
I’ve watched this scene from The Two Towers far more times than I can count. As powerful as Hugo Weaving’s performance is, it’s always Isabel Bayrakdarian’s voice combined with the image of Arwen clad in mourner’s robes, grieving in front of Aragorn’s tomb, that gets to me. The track is sung in Sindarin, the most commonly-spoken Elvish language in the Third Age of Middle Earth.
Translated (roughly), the lyrics are:
This is not the end
It is the beginning
You cannot falter
If you trust, trust
nothing else is necessary
Trust this, trust this, trust
Trust this, trust love
It’s a beautiful sentiment turned heartbreaking when juxtaposed with what we’re watching on screen, especially as it echoes Arwen’s words to Aragorn earlier in the film (“If you trust nothing else, trust this…trust us.”)
“Je Suis Rick Springfield” – Jonathan Coulton
I was telling @snarke about my blog post plans, and she mentioned “Je Suis Rick Springfield,” which had completely slipped my mind. The lyrics, spoken by a man trying to convince women in an overseas bar that he’s THAT Rick Springfield, are in intentionally-bad French. In live performances, Coulton has allowed for the possibility that the narrator actually is Springfield, but the patrons’ reactions in the bridge (essentially “I don’t understand this idiot”) make that scenario unlikely. It’s a look at what happens when a badly-conceived plan does not come together.
Are there non-English-language songs that you return to again and again, Internets? Let me know what they are!
Listen, TV executives: I know Game of Thrones is popular, but you can’t go on this way.
Two weeks ago, we learned that Amazon has greenlit a multiple-season Lord of the RingsTV series. It’s set to occur either before the events of The Hobbit or in-between that book and the LotR trilogy. ** Imagine being the writer who’s got to sift through dialogue like this passage from The Silmarillion and translate it for television:
And Iluvatar spoke to Ulmo, and said: ‘Seest thou not how here in this little realm in the Deeps of Time Melkor hath made war upon thy province? He hath bethought him of bitter cold immoderate, and yet hath not destroyed the beauty of thy fountains, nor of my clear pools. Behold the snow, and the cunning work of frost! Melkor hath devised heats and fire without restraint, and hath not dried up thy desire nor utterly quelled the music of the sea. Behold rather the height and glory of the clouds, and the everchanging mists; and listen to the fall of rain upon the Earth! And in these clouds thou art drawn nearer to Manwe, thy friend, whom thou lovest.’
**The first option is more likely, since placing the show in-between the two franchises would set up the audience’s expectation to see some of our elven, dwarven, or hobbit-y friends from Jackson’s films, and frankly, those folks are probably both too expensive and too committed to other projects.
Then today, I woke up to the news that Damon Lindelof, showrunner of Lost, is working out a development deal with HBO for a WatchmenTV series because “we need dangerous shows.”
Firstly, Watchmen is the best-selling graphic novel that’s been published up to this point. It’s won a Hugo award. It’s been deemed by several critics to be one of the most significant literary works of the 20th century. It was dangerous when it was published 30 years ago, but the world has changed. What about epics starring people of color? Women? LGBTQA characters?
In the early 2000s, I was working at Blockbuster** while attending college, and I watched a flood of LotR knockoffs pollute our proverbial shores following that trilogy’s success. As ever, the studios didn’t seem to understand why the films had resonated so soundly. We therefore got dozens of movies with dragons, men on horseback fighting epic battles, magic swords, and lofty speeches. It turned out that distilling a complex story people loved to a few items on a checklist was not a winning strategy, but Hollywood had done it many times before. The lesson never clicks.
**I’m already having trouble remembering that was a thing, and I shelved VHS tapes for nearly 2 years.
I think that to many of us, this sort of expansion that no one asked for reminds of us how we felt when it was announced that Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Hobbit–a book that clocked in at only three hundred pages–would become its own trilogy. You can argue about whether or not all the additional material served the films well, but it was first and foremost a cash grab. “We made $3 billion–we can give these people ANYTHING with a hobbit on it and they’ll buy the lunchbox.”
Branding takes top consideration. Earlier this year, it was announced that the Kingkiller Chronicle, an excellent fantasy trilogy by Patrick Rothfuss, is being adapted for television, and when I did a Google search just now, every headline I found mentions Lin-Manuel Miranda, not Rothfuss. Don’t get me wrong: I’m a fan of Hamilton and of Lin as a human. But it’s made me angry to watch outlet after outlet attribute the books to a man who didn’t write them and only mention Rothfuss as an afterthought. You only do that when you think it’ll result in more clicks and thus more cash, and authors deserve better.
Fans know when they’re taken for granted. Story matters. The LotR and Watchmen shows appear to be in development solely because HBO has a hit with Game of Thrones, and the networks are hoping we’ll support anything that has a franchise we like tied to it.