I was talking to a friend the other, erm, week about music. Because that's what sensible people do -- they talk about music. Music, you may be surprised to learn, is the soundtrack of our lives. Or it's supposed to be. My friend, who is also a writer and a damned fine one, said that there was never any mention of music on Buffy, which he found odd because Buffy was a high school show. For some reason, that never occurred to me, but he's absolutely right. What music did the gang listen to? What was their musical point of view? We have no idea.
We can puzzle out what they MIGHT have listened to. Buffy probably would be a radio listener, not very militant about her music. She'll just listen to whatever's playing, buy some popular stuff, and be done with it. If she's feeling particularly emotionally fragile, she'd probably seek out some Sarah MacLachlan or other wispy barefoot, Takamine-wielding girl-power music. Buffy would think that Alanis Morissette was a tough chick. Willow would probably grow the most as she developed. She'd listen to whatever her friends listened to. She might even bop around to her mom's Neil Diamond. But as she grew emotionally on the show, so would her musical tastes. I imagine her getting VERY into Janis Joplin, PJ Harvey, Patti Smith, even Cilla Black (who can kick your ass -- don't think she can't). She'd be interested in the storytellers, the mythmakers. She'd listen to the Waterboys, some other excellent Celtic music. Xander's our Smiths/early REM fan. He's the shoegazer, even though he wants to be the Nirvana/Pearl Jam guy. He's more Blur than Oasis, but pretends he's not. He headbangs to the Ramones, but listens to Joy Division.
Actually, interestingly enough, the only character on the show with a musical point of view is Giles. He's swinging London and early punk. We do know that from the show. Oz, the one character on the show who's actually in a band, has no musical point of view at all.
This conversation stemmed from one about writers who don't have a musical life. I find that completely alien. I don't know how you can be a writer and have absolutely no knowledge of popular music. I don't know how you could be a high school student and have no knowledge of popular music. What are you people doing in high school if you're not developing the soundtrack to your life? What is the musical point of view of your characters? How can they not have one?
I've been watching the first season of Veronica Mars, and that show also lacks musical awareness. But is Veronica Mars an accurate depiction of high school life? i'm not so sure. I think it's an accurate depiction of how the creator of the show looks back on high school, and I feel the same way with Buffy. I think that might be part of the reason that the music doesn't exist. It's a re-imagining, and not a re-creation. It's about writers who had such a miserable time that they distance themselves from it, either by using the supernatural as the metaphor or the hard-boiled noir. Don't get me wrong -- it's GREAT television, it's just not very emotionally accurate.
There are some shows that have incorporated musical references organically. Gilmore Girls does it. Both Lorelai and Rory have musical points of view. The most musical savvy character on the show, Rory's friend Lane, is a love letter to music. Lane's in a band, and the musical dialect, the interplay between band members, works beautifully. For me, the best high school shows that have ever been on TV are My So-Called Life and Freaks & Geeks. MSCL not only included perfect adolescent musical references, but also used music effectively. The show captured the power of music with the use of REM's "Everybody Hurts." It's one of the most beautiful, emotional scenes I've ever seen on TV. What makes the show work is not that it perfectly captures the high school experience, but that it perfectly captures the emotion of that experience. And music is a key component of that.
Freaks & Geeks, which was a little closer time-wise to my own high school experience, does everything right. It IS the authentic high school experience, and the dependence on music is spot-on. Whereas MSCL was more rooted in the college/alternative/emo radio arena, Freaks & Geeks perfectly captured the mainstream Rush/Journey aesthetic. Two completely different musical choices, both authentic to the respective characters.
There's a scene in Cameron Crowe's "Almost Famous," when the band's on the bus and everybody sings along to "Tiny Dancer." It's one of my favorite movie scenes ever, because it authentically captures that musical moment that makes all the bullshit and pain worth it. If you've never had that transcendent musical experience, you probably think I'm crazy. But if you've never had that, I feel sorry for you. Because that is a moment that's frozen in time, a moment that you will not only always remember but when you hear that song, it will almost literally take you back in time to that moment. Time-traveling is possible with music. It's about seeing The Beatles at Shea, or U2 at Live Aid, or the Stone Roses at Spike Island, or Oasis at Wembley. It's about being alone and together with tens or hundreds of thousands of people. There's nothing else like it in the world. In the case of "Almost Famous," it's about the love of music. This is a universal love, and one that brings you instantly close to like-minded others.
I just don't understand how writers, who need to be connected emotionally to their work, aren't sponges who soak up all emotional experiences. Albums transport me back to that moment I first heard them -- U2's "The Joshua Tree," The Waterboys' "This Is the Sea," The Chameleons' "Script of the Bridge." I see a lot of live shows. Not as much as most music freaks, but a goodly number. Not all of them are transcendent but even if I saw a hundred shit shows and one great, amazing one, that would be worth it. I suppose I consider the spiritual value of music equivalent to that of religion. Religious folk talk about that transcendent experience. Well, it exists in music, too. There's a real "living in the moment" sensation when you're shouting "No more!" along with Bono, or sitting gobsmacked at a Dylan show, or watching Johnny Marr play Neil Finn's Les Paul gold-top while Neil's covering "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out," or listening to Mike Scott howl through "The Pan Within," or being blown back against the wall as Noel Gallagher plays that fucking amazing solo in "Don't Look Back In Anger." See, I can be transported to all of those musical places just by mentioning them. I think that allows me to access something that is both utterly enjoyable, that transports me back in time to a specific moment and emotion, and also allows me to live in the moment. VERY important for writing.
Listening to music has become a much more passive experience. In part, I think, because you don't have to lift a finger to find music anymore. I used to haunt record stores on new release Tuesday. I used to buy imports, try stuff out. But record stores used to be better. I remember a time when Tower Records was THE cool store. They had a free in-store magazine and people would send in their top ten Desert Island Discs. It was the best feature ever, because there was a sense of discovery about that. Now, there simply isn't. ITunes has made it too easy. You don't even have to have an opinion, because you can find an opinion online. I don't think anyone listens to something -- just out of the blue -- and develops an opinion about it. I don't get the sense that music belongs to anyone anymore. It's this mass-produced product jockeying for position in the marketplace. It's not about catching lightning in a bottle. I don't think there will be any more musical movements. There's simply too much product out there that's being specifically marketed to segments of the population. Even the indie stuff is marketed to death. It's suffocating. Nothing is being allowed to develop, to grow. There won't ever be another Beatles. There won't be another U2. There won't be another Britpop explosion. There won't be grunge, or college radio, or New Wave.
Geez. Now I'm just depressed. Maybe I'll go listen to the Stone Roses. I remember exactly where I was when I heard that as an import for the first time...
np -- La Rocca, "The Truth"