Sunday, August 17, 2014

Awesome Mix Tape: Music for Reading

Music plays an integral part in the story of Guardians of the Galaxy, and it also plays an integral part in my writing, which should be obvious, since my last two novels use classic song titles.

In this great comic Book Resources article, the director James Gunn, screenwriter and actors share how the '60s and '70s songs are not just played in the movie and trailers, but part of the story.

You can "watch"er, listen to the full soundtrack, "Awesome Music Mix #1" on YouTube. It includes some of the most awesome songs ever. Billboard says it's understandably topping its soundtrack list.  (Here's another version.)

As I watched Guardians of the Galaxy for the second time, in a different theatre (and in 2D, for a change), I was particularly amused by a group of young boys seated behind me and a friend. While often movie and theatre experiences have been nearly ruined by talking audience members –I seem to have annoyance bad karma– this time, the kids' whispers and giggles were totally enjoyable. Their enthusiasm was infectious, and the mother of one or more boys did shush them a few times.
But still, I could hear their excitement and knowledge of the story, how one boy was explaining a few back stories to his younger pal or brother.

It made me wonder what these kids, like the young version of Peter Quill (played by the adorable Chris Pratt), now think of these groovy songs that were released decades before they were born. The classic songs are almost timeless, but it's funny to think of a nine-year-old of today grooving in his room to Blue Swede's "Hooked on a Feeling" or David Bowie's "Moonage Daydream."

While millions of girls and pre-gay boys are still crooning "Let It Go" from Frozen, little boys and tomgirls are hooting out "Ooga-chacka, Ooga-chacka!" 

If you've read any of my books, or my previous posts here, you know how integral the music of each book's era is to the story.

PINS, set in 1993, includes the music of Tool, Helmet, Soundgarden, Nirvana, Hole and other bands of the era. As a personalized Christmas gift, Dink Kohrs gives Joey Nicci a set of cassette mixes with the appropriate titles GRAPPLE! and AURRGH! (They're even mentioned in the review of PINS in The Advocate.)

Joey actually plays them in the book, and even falls asleep while listening to one mix as he falls into a strange science fiction nightmare. That nightmare, in my mind, is set to Soundgarden's "Jesus Christ Pose." I even made drawings of an animated version of the dream. With the novel's heavily Catholic themes, it's very much inspired by the trippy music video.

You can watch/listen to the entire soundtrack of PINS, which includes each of the songs mentioned in the book, and some choice wrestling and news clips, on my YouTube channel.

You can also enjoy the soundtracks of Every Time I Think of You and Message of Love. Each playlist includes the songs mentioned, played, and in Everett's case, sung, in both books.

And in both of my music-titled romance novels, Everett (like Dink in PINS) makes mix tapes for Reid as a form of affection that also reveals something about himself. In Message of Love (spoiler alert!) a mix tape sort of saves their relationship!

Do you see a pattern? Could it be that I myself have more than a hundred mix tapes, many of which I'm converting to mp3s?

Peter Quill toy with headphones
So, what's the point, other than a crass attempt to keyword-latch onto the popularity of a movie and its soundtrack?

What makes Guardians of the Galaxy better than the usual sci-fi action blockbuster, is not only its sense of humor, but the integrity of the use of the songs, as symbolized by Quill's precious Walk-man and the mix itself, which have strong significance to his earthly roots.

“We’re bringing a bunch of people into this weird, strange, wonderful, beautiful, colorful place, but that can be a little off-putting,” said Gunn in a Buzzfeed interview. “I felt like, for me, the music was a way to invite you in and make you feel a little more comfortable, because it’s something we’re familiar with in the face of all this oddness.” The songs were written into the screenplay, and Dave Jordan, the music supervisor, was able to clear every track Gunn requested.

It's easy to jazz up an otherwise generic action scene or trailer by inserting a pop song that has no meaning to the film. It's better to make the music part of the story.

Take, for example,  this trailer for Captain America. It's one of several trailers for the hyper-action movie. It uses the song "Forty-six and Two" by Tool. By "uses," I mean, the army of editors chop it up into little anachronistic bits (the film is set in the 1940s. Why use a song from 1992?), jazzes up the hyper-edit, using emphatic guitar/drum pounds in the wrong order, and basically ruins the impact of the song.

The band Tool, or their management, hopefully made a few solid dollars out of licensing the song, or the bits of it that were taken. So why am I upset? Because it's MY SONG, dammit!

A lyric in "Forty-Six and Two"is not only used in the epigram for PINS. I also envisioned it for years as the music for a climactic moment in my imagined cinematic adaptation of PINS, and maybe even the trailer.

Okay, my actual favorite for the trailer would be Helmet's "Milquetoast" (even though that was already used for the trailer to The Crow.)

You're thinking, 'Wait! PINS is such a sweet touching coming of age story!' Well, it is, but Joey didn't listen to The Carpenters. The music should be appropriate to the characters and setting.

Why? Because a writer can dream. A writer can hope that non-hearing-impaired readers can enjoy the sound of words. A writer can hope for some investor to drop in and say, "I'd like to adapt your book(s) into a film, and no, I won't ruin it by not being able to afford the licensing rights to the music you mention, because I completely understand your artistic vision."

Gratuitous shirtless Chris Pratt image
And speaking of utter fantasies, Guardians of the Galaxy gets the songs right because they can afford it.

Remember Mask, the Eric Stoltz, Cher and Sam Elliot film? The main character, the disfigured son, loved Bruce Springsteen, yet the filmmaker failed to get the rights to The Boss's songs, and instead used songs by Bob Seger. A legal hassle over "sound-alike" covers of songs preceded that decision.

Can you imagine a film version of Message of Love without the song ever being played?

Fortunately, in my small world, musician friends step up and offer lovely acoustic adaptations of my books, thus allowing a creative and legal skirting of copyright infringement.

So, enjoy the books, and enjoy the music.

And if you're a film director, I've got some awesome mix tapes ready.

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