Friends of mine and I have discussed ‘the most perfect cover.’ That is to say, a cover version of a song that stands on its own as excellent without simply being a better version of the original. There are three that Fox, Jeb and I have forwarded, and I present them here for your viewing pleasure.
Jeb offered Willie Nelson’s Rainbow Connection.
Fox suggested Green Day’s I Fought the Law.
And I posit that it’s this specific take on I’m A Believer by Smash Mouth.
I unironically love all three of these. Willie’s lilting softness and sadness echoes of an older man than Kermit reflecting on things past rather than on things to be. Green Day take a song made for the ultimately commercial rationale and imbue it with their own jangly discord. And I’m a Believer is one of the most famously hollow songs ever, being performed by a band renowned for being hollow, rendered in this slow, dazed, creeping musical intonation.
First, from The Hunchback Of Notre Dame, the narrated piece, The Bells of Notre Dame.
Second, from Moana, Jermaine Clement’s song, Shiny:
Now, these songs don’t have a lot of similarity between one another, really. Shiny is a comedy piece, a sort of mid-stage development point for the characterisation of Maui and Moana, and Bells is the introductory piece for Judge Frollo, Quasimodo, the Priest, and Notre Dame itself.
These two songs, however, show to me a distinct difference in how Disney does things these days versus how they did. First of all, let me clear up that Shiny is a straight-up comedy song. It’s definitely funny – Tamatoa breaks the fourth wall, he tells jokes, he’s very big and exaggerated. It’d be pretty easy to file it as the comedy number with just some details in it.
The thing is, I see these two songs as being startlingly similar and also extremely different. The main thing about them that’s similar is that they’re both songs that tell you about the setting, tell you about the characters involved, incorporate narrative, and reveal a backstory element of a character. Shiny’s a jokey song but it’s a song that does as much as Bells.
The thing they do, however, that’s both songs have a component of the movie’s story happen in the middle of them: In Bells, that component is part of the song, and is implemented as such, but in Shiny, it interrupts the song, and is unrelated to the song: This is particularly interesting because the singing in Disney movies is usually diegetic but also nondiegetic: Nobody really explains that a character is actually singing in any given scene. Moana even uses its diegetic music to convey the transition between languages you saw in We Know The Way:
See that? The way the people of the tribe are singing the song when it’s in their native language, but they’re not shown singing it when the song transitions to English? Wonderful stuff, ingenious.
Now, the thing that prompted this whole idea, though, is something I don’t like that much: These songs are of their space in this story – inextricably. The songs in Moana cannot be easily removed from the movie to listen to as a song, which I think, emperically is kinda harder and more impressive? It means that those songs exist as pieces of the whole, that there’s more work and difficulty involved in constructing the musical.
But at the same time, there’s still something of me that admires and respects the difficulty in the song being the song; that you have 3 minutes to convey what the song’s doing, that it is a discrete piece of media, and the movie implements it – in the same way that a good piece of dialogue can be removed from a scene, and still implies the rest of it.
Anyway, that’s a really minor, aesthetic point and just something I think is interesting, particularly since this habit of breaking structure – of using music to build a structure then breaking out of it by the use of diegesis – is a very hip-hop thing to do.
I said I’d say something about this and I never did, and this sucks and it’s in my head and now I’m going to share it with you. For as there are good things in this world, there are dark and miserable reflections, and with Christian Replacement Media on my mind, let us speak now of some of its worst examples.
In the late 90s there was a ska boom. Ska music got on the radio. There was also the peak era of South Park, as a generation of teenagers tried to convince their parents that they didn’t care about your opinions, dude and they liked edgy, powerful, dangerous media like this thing about children talking to poop.
Two media trends, two chances to capitalise and milk money out of other Christians? Well, of course it was time for the Christian Replacement Media machine to get involved and get involved hard.
“What,” you may be asking, “the fuck was that.”
That, my friend is the evil mirror to Five Iron Frenzy. It is the fundamentalist-enough Christian alternative to South Park’s visual aesthetic branding and opposition point to the radio’s sinful Mighty Mighty Bosstones. It is a musical Waluigi, an entity created entirely in opposition to values rather than expression of values. It is ash. In as much as art can be, it is sin.
By the way, boy, the people on the Mexican border really had a problem that they weren’t getting enough Americans telling them about Jesus. Mexico’s a country with a real problem with Christianity, right? Let’s set aside the Anti-Catholic and patronising probably-Racism of Mission Trip To Mexico and instead examine what I feel is probably their worst song, Homeschool Girl.
Public school is full of drug addicts, boring, and lies to you. But Homeschool girl, well, she’s super great.
Augh I’m listening to it again.
It literally exhorts how good she is at preparing him stuff! It holds up how smart she is by how many grades she is ahead except because she’s homeschooled that doesn’t mean anything, since the person telling you that isn’t a fucking teacher! This is literally propoganda for a lifestyle that I know’s inflicted tremendous harm on people!
Sometimes you can think about the impact of a piece of art in terms of what it made seem normal, what it impacted, who it really influenced. And I am sadly certain that there are people, right now, homeschooling their kids, who are doing it in part because when they were young teens, they heard this song and it helped to form what they thought of as ‘normal.’
Hmm, let’s see, other countries, homeschooling with some overtones of sexism, what about –
Oh yeah, Abstinence!
Fucking hell this fucking group of fucking dickheads.
Okay okay, not going to talk about the lyrics or message of this media – the pain of having had sex? the fuck, you’re doing it very wrong – but I’m going to talk about how boring this ska music is. It’s very competently arranged, but very poorly mixed, and if you listen to all this stuff in a row you’ll be struck by how all BOB songs more or less sound the same.
All their album is up on Youtube, if you give a shit to go listen to it. I think their least obnoxious track is I Saw Pastor Dancing, which is just intensely cringey.
Comparisons between Frozen and Moana are sort of a sign that right now, because they’re only one of a small number of films with the similar premise (woman-centered narrative).
The riff in both Jungle Book and Aladdin feel kinda like the Oriental Riff, aka Aladdin’s Cave that opens a lot of other things like Turning Japanese. Like, the iconic ‘Oriental Sounding’ music isn’t from anywhere in the Orient anywhere.
Cultural Appropriation is a big topic and it’s hard to talk about it in Youtube spaces, and it’s even harder to talk about on Twitter.
The Bulgarian choir music thing is just straight up super interesting.
Is this fusional, using Bulgarian choir style with the Inupiat lyrics?
The thing about Librettists and Operatic Composers amuse me juxtaposed with a Gilbert and Sullivan quote because they hated each other so much by the end, because they couldn’t see it as a synthesis of their work.
English is a fixed-stress language; words have a proper emphasis in them, but words don’t have a proper emphasis in a sentence, or rather, the emphasis tends to indicate the subject.
Vocables! There’s like, a language for singing, in a language? That’s super cool! I wonder if it’s also part of transmission/commonality between cultures, so they can all sing the same songs even if their languages change over time and space.
I really do want to see Moana. It looks really great.
God, Lilo and Stitch was also great.
The question of cultural appropriation between Hawai’i and France and Polynesian narrative.
I really, really love the detail that the characters are singing the song in its original language, and then they stop singing it when the language shifts to English. It becomes nondiegetic, which is really cool.
This form of video isn’t actually so demanding of production values. I can do this. I can do this even with Microsoft Movie Editor.
Hold hard, traveller. For the night is dark, and full of 80s. I give you a warning that below this fold, there be writing about gender and culture and media, and also, 1980s songs. Turn back, turn back while yet you can! Or perhaps you are of sterner stuff.
It used to be that back in the day the way you found new music was kinda amateurish and rotten – if you liked a few defining traits of a song you could often find songs that were like it, but sometimes you’d wind up sinking time and effort into a whole sweep of media that you just plain out didn’t like in hindsight. Now, obviously, my media tastes are a bit different given that I was raised in a bubble where even the most sedate forms of rock were considered smuggled contraband, emphasised further by the fact that my father regarded his status in the church as important enough to threaten us over if there was a risk someone else might see his, I dunno, Moodie Blues records.
This meant that the only really popular music we could listen to in this time of my life was not even pop radio, really – it was country music. And even that was dangerous. After all, there were certainly some good crossover gospel songs being made by country western singers, but there were still women who wore jeans. That was dangerous.
The good news is, growing up, some of this stuff has served to ground me in appreciating other music forms more. Country music has a lot to offer in theory, but as for the time of my life where it was the only new, reinvigorating form of media? There was some messed up stuff being played, and looking back on it, I remember learning some bad lessons about people from that.
Here, without any real structure beyond the first and last tracks, then, are five country songs that have really fucked up ideas about what’s okay.
I’ve joked more than a few times on Twitter that Gilbert and Sullivan wrote songs about Twitter but that’s really just selling short that they wrote songs about people, and Twitter has, for all its much vaunted revolution, not really changed or improved anything about how people are, it’s just added ways for us to keep doing what we were already doing. In this case, we’re talking about a particular class of people – entitled shitheads.
The singer in this piece, King Gama is, without a doubt, a shithead. He’s a king, and he’s convinced that what people need in their life is to hear him volunteering information. What’s more, he does so volunteering information that may not be relevant to the conversation. He’s convinced that his contributions are fascinating and people want to experience him, even if they’ve never asked – and all his efforts to consider this fail at the fence of trying to address just why people might not like him. That is to say he’s aware enough to know that he’s hated, but not aware enough of the things he’s doing that are hateable.
So don’t be an entitled shithead. We could work that out centuries ago, but clearly we’re not teaching that lesson enough.
I didn’t listen to sermons very often. My dad preached a lot, but what knowledge I gleaned from the sermons tended to be while I was trying to distract myself, gleaning tiny notes I could add to conversations later on to avoid an ass kicking. But I did pay attention to the one my dad gave with his hand on the pulpit, his voice loud and terrifying, when he began THE ROCK IS GOING TO FALL ON US.
He quoted the whole song.
Not as a song, not as this tale of back and forth. He recited it as poetry, without pitch and timbre, and with the building, frothing cadence of a preacher. From the timid lurking fear of the beginning to the crashing, potent terror of the last segment, this song was turned to the Christ metaphor. He closed a sermon that was laden with eschatalogical terror as it was with exhortation to do better in our own lives, with the line the rock slips a little bit.
The story of the original song, when expressed by Harry Chapin didn’t seem to have that same religious potency. It was about people. It was about listening to the outsider in our midst. It was about a person who respected what could go wrong so well they worked and struggled and strived and used what they had, even to their last, to try and save people from worse fates.
It’s a scary fucking song.
But the thing about the song that I’m reminded of today is of a friend, dear and kind, who is up on the hillside, building barricades. They’re fighting against something that doesn’t have to happen again. They’re striving and struggling and they are doing their work in part with poetry and with music, things that scored this message into my mind in the first place.
You do not believe it right now, so I have written it down and you can come back and check:
You are beautiful.
You are wonderful.
You deserve to be heard, respected, and loved.
And anything that tells you otherwise wants to lie to you to control you.
I’ve loved the Mighty Mighty Bosstones’ work for many a year now, and just like with all the other things I love, I tend to over-examine them. I like to tell myself that their work is heavily narrative, telling snatches of stories in very approachable, memorable ways. Music conveys things the words don’t, and repetition helps underscore and emphasise things within this space. It’s all very interesting to me for a band that is fronted by a man who sounds like he gargles hammers.
Today, I was struck, as I listened to an old favourite, about why a song felt strange to me.
Don’t Worry Desmond Dekker is a piece about, as best as I can tell, a platonic breakup. It’s a song about two people – not even necessarily two men, though Dickie Barrett’s voice does help kinda pull it towards the idea of at least one dude being involved, and I’m inclined of late to examine the male platonic relationship thanks to Jeb – who had a relationship, which at some incident, ended. But the song isn’t a wistful, mourning story, like Adele’s Somebody Like You, it’s about the wistful distance you feel from your experiences and your anger. It’s about how what’s left of the friendship, what’s at the end of it, and oh, it did end, is memories of shared interests, of laughter and joy, and, of course, those precious items, given or loaned, and never returned: The Desmond Dekker and Clash records.