Sunday, March 21, 2010

Writer’s Jukebox – From Batman to Han Solo

han-solo-desk-1 Yesterday was the first day of Spring!  That means it’s time to go for  drive, roll down your window, and blast your favorite tunes.  I, for one, spent some time with the Abbey Road medley whilst sojourning from workplace to workplace this afternoon.  If you’re tired of what’s on your iPod (or in your car stereo – like anyone has one of those anymore, I mean right guys?), we’ve got you covered.  I think.

Pankin’s rocking Amadeus, Mozart that is, as well as the most recent Batman movie soundtrack.  Chris celebrates Tim McGraw’s movie career by going back to his roots with some 90s country.  And Boivin finally discovers a band that sounds tailor-made for him: Nerf Herder.

PankinScoring the Bat

I've been somewhat obsessed with a certain Mozart piano sonata that I've been trying to play: it's number 14 in C Minor, K. 457. I've played Beethoven's famous sonata in C Minor (the "Pathetique") for many a year, and I was immediately struck by the similarities between the two works. These similarities culminate in the middle of Mozart's second movement, where the melody and harmonic structure is basically identical to that of Beethoven's second movement. But even the general organization of all three movements follows the same patterns in both great composers' great sonatas. Beethoven has admitted how much influence Mozart has had on him, but you don't see it so tangibly reflected in many instances.

All my research on Oscar scores this past jukebox caused me to revisit a score that I think got jobbed in last year's kudofest: Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard's joint effort on The Dark Knight. Listening to the whole thing through, I noticed how they really put in a lot of work writing themes for different characters and specific situations, and then developing them throughout the film. It'll always be hard to follow in the footsteps of Danny Elfman's iconic musical setting of Tim Burton's '80s Batman (a version of his theme played behind the opening credits of the 1990s animated series), but I think this most recent score will go down in history as one of the most memorable and compelling of its types.

Finally, especially now, in light of these recent political wheelings and dealings, there's nothing better to put the cap on a good day than blasting Metallica's "...And Justice For All."

Chris – Good Ol’ Boys and Indian Outlaws

Watching Tim McGraw's moving performance in the Oscar-nominated film The Blind Side, I've been inspired to go back and relisten to the old country music that I enjoyed so much as a kid. I haven't followed contemporary country music since the turn of the millennium, but there was a time in 1996 when the clock radio in my room constantly played this sort of thing.

Alan Jackson was always a family favorite, not the least because my mom has this thing for guys with mustaches. Watching the video for his "Chattahoochee" brings back memories, and is perhaps the perfect summary of what mid-90s country music (or really, any country music) is all about - beer, women, hanging with the good ol' boys out in the country, and lyrical rhymes so clever that they're annoying ("Way down yonder on the Chattahoochee / It gets hotter than a hoochie coochie").

But for all his kitsch, Jackson is a true student of the country greats of the past. He's done a lot to keep old legends like George Jones and Willie Nelson in the public eye, even as the industry of country music has turned more toward pop-oriented music and younger, more expendable stars. He also pays his respect to long dead country icons like Hank Williams in the song "Murder on Music Row", a good old-fashioned country song that laments the death of the genre.

Tim McGraw, on the other hand, represents a lot of what Alan Jackson thinks is wrong with country music. But that doesn't mean he's any less enjoyable. Most of McGraw's music reads like a bad stereotype of a country song - songs like "Seventeen" that begin with the line "Back seat of her daddy's car / Trying not to take it too far". (Many McGraw songs involve him being seventeen years old and engaged in various questionable liaisons with girls in the back seats of cars.)

Modern McGraw is safe, family-oriented, acting in inspirational movies and singing populist anthems about being young and living in the south. But back in the 90s, he tried to frame himself as a country outlaw - a persona that has unfortunately fallen by the wayside in recent years. My favorite McGraw song will always be his most patently offensive - "Indian Outlaw" in which he begins, "I'm an Indian Outlaw / Half Cherokee and Choctaw / My baby - she's a Chippewa" before going through a list of simplistic Indian stereotypes - rhyming wigwam with tom-tom, and singing about peace pipes and totem poles. It doesn't matter that Tim McGraw is white, or that he equates hundreds of diverse Native American cultures as being the same thing - the song rocks, and McGraw is clearly too much of a rebel to be anything but an outlaw.

Boivin – “Why you stuck-up, half-witted, scruffy-looking nerf-herder!”

As you've probably been able to figure out based on previous Writer's Jukebox posts, I'm a pretty big pop punk fan. I'm also a huge nerd. Therefore, it's somewhat astonishing that a band like Nerf Herder passed me by until a few months ago.

Nerf Herder are basically the kings of "nerd rock". They combine lyrics generously sprinkled with geeky pop culture references with badass power pop/pop punk hooks to create something that's essentially the sonic equivalent of Mountain Dew Game Fuel. People often classify Weezer as a nerd rock band (their Blue Album-era stuff, anyway) but Rivers And Friends have always had too many pretensions towards becoming rock virtuosos that no matter how many times they namedrop Kitty Pryde in a song, they'll always be something greater than simple nerd rock.

Parry Gripp and his D&D party of a band do not have that problem. The best way to describe them would be something halfway between Weezer and Blink-182, in other words- the bastard love child of two favorite bands of the 90's.

Nerf Herder's songs run the gamut from unapologetic odes to Van Halen to anthems about competing with Spock for the affections of the fairer sex. I picked up their 1999 record How To Meet Girls because that's the only one my record store had, apparently there isn't too much demand for bands named after insults from The Empire Strikes Back. Who knew?

Fun fact: Nerf Herder did the Buffy theme song, and the now solo Gripp does the theme for my afternoons-of-underemployment guilty pleasure the Super Hero Squad Show. He also releases a new single online every week about something pathetically nerdy. My personal favorite? "The Girl At The Video Game Store", mostly because it's video features geek-goddess Olivia Munn (I am convinced that she is not real and is actually a Replicant created by G4 to get guys like me to watch Attack of the Show, and I do so gladly) and the lyrics basically describe my life, just like most Nerf Herder songs do.