In which I get on my soapbox to rant about music videos, interpretations, and music across various mediums.
Back in the day, music videos were an essential for any single. By ‘the day,’ I must mean the 80s and the 90s, as MTV was formed in the US in ’81 and in Europe in ’87. For a while, every good single had an accompanying music video, whether it was deep and philosophical or just the band members playing. Yet today, I feel like nobody releases music videos.
Music derives its power similarly to books. To me, both can have a huge emotional impact, and the feelings or images conveyed are incredible in that someone I’ve never met may be able to say something that resonates so intimately with me.
When I was a small child, MTV was a big thing. I remember lying around reading, with MTV on in the background, playing music videos. I always tried to look up a few seconds before the end of the video because the ticker tape would tell me what was coming up. This was all back when I thought classical music was the only good music. As I got older, MTV remained a constant–I have a murky memory of being at a friend’s house in an attic in Christchurch playing a game with MTV on the background, and Lost Prophets’ “Rooftops” playing and us talking about how strange it was.
MTV was a great way to garner more attention to one’s music and provided an alternate way of deciding what was the next big thing. Because of it, music videos became a fixture of life.
I fell in love with music around the time MTV was going out of fashion (or maybe it was coming into fashion, with all of its reality television shows… but to me, that was the decline) and YouTube was planting its roots. As such, I didn’t get my music taste from MTV. (Thankfully.) I had my first Creative Zen, my beloved mp3 player, when I was twelve, and I filled with music and with videos–not movies like today, but with music videos. Today, I carry my favourite books around with me on my kindle app and feel more secure knowing that I can pull them out at anytime. I felt the same way then with my music videos.
For this post, I’m using no data whatsoever to support my assumption that music videos are declining, but instead just my general observations.
I was destined to be an English major even when I was twelve. I loved these music videos because they added another layer to the song. They showed me another interpretation. Sometimes, the song’s artist had collaborated with the director–or was the director–and I got an insight into what the lyricist might have been inspired by. Sometimes, it was just a random interpretation from a director who’d been given free reign. Either way, I got to see what someone else thought about something that meant a lot to me.
Most people have times where they envision their life as a movie. My scenes were always music videos. I’d be walking home from school listening to music and envisioning how as a director I would set up this particular song. Trains–muni trains in particular–were featured prominently in these imaginings. I’d try to add another layer to the song in these few minutes and to picture how other people might view and interpret the lyrics in conjunction with my scenes.
And holy crow, I’ve been watching the video for The Living End’s “Wake Up” while writing this, reminiscing on 2006 music. And it serves to make an already creepy song creepier. I remember watching the video for “The Pretender” by the Foo Fighters right after it was released in 2007, probably a few months after I read 1984. You make the connection there. (“Learn to Fly” and “Walk” are still the best Foo Fighters videos… and they’ve made a lot of great ones. And now Grohl’s moved to bigger and better film projects!)
Albums are another dying phenomenon in today’s age. I’m holding on very stubbornly and I listen to 80% of my music by album. It used to be that you had an EP or an LP. People listened to a whole album at a time instead of a song by this artist, a song by that. And as such, many more albums had common themes and sometimes storylines. Even the albums that were simply collections of songs had fade-ins or fade-outs that drew them together to form a cohesive unit. Even singles were backed with b-sides, encouraging a common theme. However, the lyrical and musical themes that used to be prominent are fading as we move into the age of digital music.
Pink Floyd’s The Wall has been my favourite album for four years now because I have yet to find something more cohesive and more whole with a stronger story. I refused to like Pink Floyd for the longest time. But then a guy I was dating made me listen to and love “Comfortably Numb”; I went to a Foo Fighters concert they covered “In the Flesh?”; and I realized “Another Brick in the Wall: Part II” was theirs. When I finally listened to The Wall in its entirely, it became my favourite album very, very quickly. That was back when I still had that good old Zen, so I downloaded the entire movie and watched it one night. And I died. Because perfection isn’t a thing that comes around often. Arguably, The Wall has a pretty straightforward interpretation that the movie reinforces, so maybe it wasn’t really necessary for the album. But the movie added details and gave an incredible visual interpretation. It made me catch phrases of lyrics that I hadn’t previously.
I was supposed to be working on a presentation earlier, but I wanted to peel a pomegranate, a feat that takes at least twenty minutes that I usually do while Skyping. But I didn’t want to talk to people, so I decided to watch New Order music videos instead.
Watching these music videos was intriguing. I’ve analysed and overanalysed quite a few New Order songs and formed my own schema of memories that go along with a few of them. As such, it was fascinating to see that they put an interjection into the middle of “Bizarre Love Triangle,” a dialogue between two people: “‘I don’t believe in reincarnation because I refuse to come back as a bug or as a rabbit.’ ‘You know, you’re a real up person.'” Whatever is that supposed to mean? I do not know. Meanwhile, “World (The Price of Love)” had a music video that I was surprised by, an emotional and curious piece that I interpret as having quite a bit of social commentary. Not something I had expected from a song I loved, but wrote off as a radio-pleaser.
While I can describe to you in great detail the Cure’s music videos, I’ve only fallen in love with New Order in the last two years, and I knew none of theirs before today. This made me realise how we’re not exposed to this form of media anymore. In fact, I’m pretty sure if New Order hadn’t been an 80s band but instead a band of today, they wouldn’t have had music videos. I doubt they’re planning on promoting those for Music Complete, the album they released last month, though the music video for “Restless” is incredible.
Angels & Airwaves is a band of today, but a whole different story, and Tom DeLonge, despite some of the arrogant stupid things he’s done, is one of my heroes for this. Firstly, their music is just plain amazing. Secondly, he is turning Angels & Airwaves into a multimedia band. As a band formed during the decline of music videos, they really could have gotten away with not doing much.
Love was their first foray into this. They released it free on Valentine’s Day in 2010, and I downloaded it but never listened to it because I was still mad at DeLonge for leaving blink-182. (I’m a 90s kid; what can I say?) It wasn’t until a few years later that I actually fell in love with the album. They had released a film in conjunction, and it’s very, very strange, but also rather thought-provoking. It’s nothing like the music videos I’d conducted in my head for the album, and I say ‘in conjunction with’ because it’s not a music video. It’s a film loosely inspired by the album about someone in space who seems to be the only person left alive and him (in my interpretation) hallucinating through history. (When Pink Floyd’s “Marooned” was released a couple of years later in promotion of the 20th anniversary edition of The Division Bell, I found them eerily reminiscent of each other. Those space rock bands!)
And then came The Dream Walker. I hated that album at first. But it grew on me. DeLonge is turning this concept of a dreamwalker and a character named Poet Anderson into a franchise. There’s graphic novels, there’s animated shorts, there’s an album and an EP, and then they decided to release a book. DeLonge understands my love for albums, for music that has meaning and tells stories. And he understands that other forms of media–books, movies, graphic novels, whatever–can have the same impact.
You can imagine my reaction when I heard Tom DeLonge was writing a book revolving around The Dream Walker and the follow up EP, …Of Nightmares. I screamed. I shouted. I laughed. I preordered it right away. I may have even cried. And I expected basically nothing; even though he was writing with Suzanne Young, it’s really not as easy to write a novel as people think.
To my complete surprise, it was good. Not incredible, but I gave it a 4 star review. Again, it was nothing like I would have written had I been projecting my interpretation of the music, yet it still managed to meld into the music. There were a lot of lyrics with which I drew connections to certain moments in the book and these moments. It was a really strong companion to one of my favourite albums ever and a brilliant EP.
I’m really excited by what Tom DeLonge is doing in his multimedia creations. I love that he’s taken the connection between human emotion and various art forms and utilized it. I love the collaboration that’s happening on all of these art forms, how he’s recruiting people to work with him. I love that DeLonge hasn’t restrained himself. The whole concept of having connections through various mediums is truly an inspiration to me, especially in this time of declining music videos.
The book/music/film thing isn’t entirely new–one of my favourite Cure videos of all time was that for “Charlotte Sometimes.” The song is based on the book Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer, and the music video is based on the song, and it’s a very curious mix. The Cure definitely makes the book a whole lot darker. This was before the Tim Pope era, when Cure music videos got very strange but very creative.
On a tangent, I hadn’t realised there was a music video for the Killers’s “Miss Atomic Bomb.” I just watched it and found it fascinating as I must have listened to that album at least a gazillion times in 2012, and it was a big inspiration for some of my writing. I had a different set of images and stories in mind for that song, but a lot of my images were similar, and a lot of its images worked–especially one of cicadas. And it tells a story. Also, while it’s normally easy to forget that the Killers are from Vegas, their videos often have a kind of wild West vibe to them, which adds a new layer to the music.
In a way the decline of music videos might shows that our music is commercialized–maybe the Cure released three videos for their 2004 album and none for their ’08 album because they realised there was no benefit. Or maybe our culture’s music is evolving and isn’t as deep as it used to be. (Why did I not grow up during the era of perfect music in the 80s?)
But really, though I think MTV is way too far gone, I wish that music videos could make a comeback. I doubt I’ll ever voluntarily watch television, but I wish Pandora or other internet radio stations would play music videos and inspire bands to continue making them. Even if they spend half an hour walking around with a cell phone filming things that they find to be in conjunction with the song, I’d be so fascinated to see their interpretations of their songs.