Archive for the 'music' Category

Revisiting Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robot

“I thought I was smart. I thought I was right. I thought it better not to fight. I thought there was a virtue in always being cool.”  So begins Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robot, the classic album from the Flaming Lips.  The song goes on to talk about how being a man means being willing to fight for the important things, if necessary, even when you’re not prepared to do so.

 

 

 

What a revelation it was to hear those lyrics when I first discovered the Flaming Lips in college.   Until then, I assumed that just seeming cool was the whole point, at least for bands.  This was something different.  My expectations about this buzzed-about indie band were thwarted right from the beginning.

The album came out in 2002, so there’s a good chance that you’ve heard it by now.  Even if you haven’t, you might guess from the title that it deals in some way with a fight against the robots.  You are right!

Time travel is in there too, but so are reflections about what it means to be human, to love and face mortality.  That’s not the kind of thing you find in a lot of albums.

 

Photo credit: Sebastianlund

 

 

I like the Beatles as much as anyone, but “I am the walrus” only does so much to help me navigate through life.  This is because, as far as I know, I am not a walrus.  (Yes, yes, the Beatles have depth too.  Just a quick example folks.)

I enjoy that music for what it is, a whimsical auditory snack, but sometimes I hunger for more substance, so it’s reassuring that there are albums like Yoshimi out there.

I’ve listened to it many times, but I still find new things to discover when I give it my attention.  It was one of the first albums that made me realize albums could examine, in an interesting way, the bigger questions and mysteries of life.  Plus, it subtly shaped my interactions, encouraging me to appreciate the short time that we have on this earth with each other.

 

Wayne Coyne at SXSW 2006. Photo credit: birzer

 

(Incidentally, the Flaming Lips documentary The Fearless Freaks also had an impact on how I treat people.  Lacking pretense, the band frontman, Wayne Coyne, walks down the street in his neighborhood and greets a few strangers.  He’s not selling merchandise.  He’s just trying to make people smile or participate in his quirky projects.

Similarly the band does all kinds of crazy things at their shows to make them memorable.  Whatever the venue, the Flaming Lips are maniacally focused, not on being cool, but on creating engaging moments for those around them.)

 

Music video for “Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots Part 1” The joy that Wayne conveys in playing and being around his fans is not standard indie-rock fare.

 

I wouldn’t hesitate to call the album a great work of art, and by great art I mean a form of creative expression that takes skill to produce and has a memorable, enriching impact on how we see the world.

That’s my working definition anyway.   I’m constantly revising it.  I might elaborate on that definition in a later post, but for now notice the subjective aspect of it.

Art is a personal experience both in its creation and its reception, so there is bound to be some variation in what has an impact on us.  Yoshimi would easily make my list of most influential albums, but I don’t expect everyone to feel the same way.

 

Photo credit: Profound Whatever

 

Even so, there is something to be said about work that has a timeless quality, that can transcend cultural differences and moments of time.  It’s too early to say, but Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robot might become that kind of classic.  It was widely celebrated by the critics when it was released and continues to be well regarded.

Wayne Coyne at SXSW 2006. Photo credit: birzer

 

The other Flaming Lips albums don’t have the same magic for me.  I haven’t heard them all, but the bits I have heard have been a little too experimental and psychedelic for my tastes. (To be fair I haven’t given the new stuff much time.)

That happens sometimes.  Just a few artists throughout history have been able to produce a lifetime of masterpieces.  Usually artists are lucky to have even a small fragment of their work survive time’s winged chariot.

People change, relationships sour, and beauty fades.  “It’s hard to make the good things last,” the Flaming Lips remind us.  It’s an album filled with cosmic mysteries, robots, and hypnotism, of love and lingering sadness, but it ends with the reminder that “all we have is now.” That’s about right, so let’s make the most of it.

 

 

Flaming Lips at Cornell – April 18. 2010. Photo credit: .reid.

My apologies for the delay between posts.  I have a few video and photography projects that are keeping me busy, and I will be moving to Baton Rouge, Louisiana in less than a month.  Besides, if I were to write more consistently, then I would not be able to spend as much time writing each post.  

That’s why I recommend that you sign up to get email updates for this blog.  You can do that by clicking here.  I don’t write every week.  If I did, I wouldn’t have the time to write the kinds of posts I prefer to write.

I only write if I believe I have something worth writing and after I’ve spent some time finessing my thoughts.  If you’re following along by email, you’ll know right away when I have a new post waiting for you.  It is very easy to unsubscribe, and you won’t receive anything unrelated to my blog. 
As always, thanks for reading and God bless.

Music Videos and Other Miscellaneous Matters

I wrote an article for altdaily.com about music videos. In that article, I gave 15 videos that influenced my perception of what a music video could be. That article is here: http://www.altdaily.com/features/music/a-directors-favorite-music-videos.html

The article came about because of a conversation I had with the editors about whether they could mention the screening we were doing for our music video.  The music video was one I directed for an instrumental rock band in Virginia called Long Division.  Initially we were going to do a private screening with just the band, the people who helped make it, and a handful of the most loyal fans.

On the day of our screening, we got snowed out.  What a disappointment that was. It rarely snows in Virginia, at least in our neck of the woods, so it felt like an unfortunate turn of fate. Some of the band members were leaving for an extended trip to China, and it looked like we might not get to do the screening for a while, if at all.

The concept art I did for the music video.

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It might seem like a small thing that we had to cancel our screening, but it felt like one more setback in a series of unfortunate events. On the shoot itself, just to give one example, one of our model rockets ended up torpedoing into a nearby roof, even though we were, from what I remember, at least 200 yards away from the closest house.

I had to pay to fix the family’s roof myself.  It was my shoot, so I take responsibility for any damage that’s done.  Fair enough, but still discouraging, and I was frustrated about other things as well, so the cancelled screening had a compounding effect on me.

As it turned out, the guys weren’t gone as long as I expected.  Andrew Lane, one of the band members who went to China and a key creative partner on the video, talked about the possibility of turning the screening into a show.  Together we put on an event where we screened the video, had artists share their work, and heard a few bands play.

We got such interest in the event that it became clear a week before it happened that we would have to turn people away.  Altdaily hadn’t confirmed that they would run my article, but I asked them to delay it until after the screening if they were still planning on printing it.  I didn’t want too many people to get sent home in disappointment.  A good problem to have, right?

Bison performing at our “alone in space” show. Photo credit: Parthena Savides

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What seemed like a setback was actually a blessing in disguise. The “alone in space” show and the press that came with it were the best possible outcomes for us, and neither would have happened if we got our initial screening.

I’m writing this at a time shortly after facing another seemingly devastating setback, so it is encouraging to remember the way things unfolded with the music video.  That’s not to say that every setback will inevitably lead to something better.

After all, free will couldn’t exist without the freedom to fail. (Interesting that so many contemporary governments make it a priority to isolate their citizens from failure. That can get expensive, but it’s not a bad price to pay for a little more control, at least if you are a control-minded government. Maybe not such a hot deal for the actual citizens though, at least for those who value freedom over comfort.)

A video promo I made the “alone in space” show.

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There are so many tragedies and horrors in our world, and I don’t know why things happen the way they do.  Nor do I know the scope of the tragedies you’ve faced, noble readers.  I don’t have all the answers, and I’m not a perfect person, but I do believe that things happen for a reason.  There is good out there, bigger than us. Some people, myself included, call that God.

I know that music videos are mostly disposable commodities, but still maybe you can find some small encouragement in the way things unfolded with ours.  At the very least, writing this has helped me to get back to a sense of dignity and grace. What a marked contrast to my state of mind just a day or two ago.  I couldn’t do that on my own, folks.

Here’s the video in case you haven’t seen it yet. We got more views on vimeo, but YouTube compression has gotten better, and I figured I’d give it another chance:

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Only a few weeks after I made the video did I realize one of the reasons I made it. It relates to a play I wrote a while ago.

I didn’t write it just for recognition or for something to add to my portfolio. There’s nothing wrong with getting recognized for something of merit that benefits others, but sometimes recognition is easier to chase than the driving force behind a personal creative project. (I don’t promote my work all that much compared to others, but some people still take issue with any attempts at self promotion.  To those people I say this, “It’s called trying to make a living. Try it for yourself someday.”)

I couldn’t really articulate this at the time, but I wrote the play primarily in the hope of reconciling things with my dad.  I had a sense that I should share it with him, but I didn’t.  I thought he would hate the story.  A few weeks later he died, and our relationship was never fully restored.

Somehow it felt like the story had found a way to undermine my very reason for writing it, and so I lost my inclination to write stories after that.  It was the last full-length story I finished.  I’ve attempted to write others since then, but they’ve all withered in development.

Props and art from the “alone in space” show.  Photo credit: Parthena Savides

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The play was my helmet.  One of these days I’ll pull it out of the closet  and breathe new life into it. But not yet. Not quite yet.

Once again the unexplainable thing, the tragedy gives way to meaning. It just took time to see. It always does.

If you appreciate my writing, why not write a comment or share the post with a friend? It would encourage me to keep writing and sharing bits of my heart with you.

Please consider signing up to get my posts by email.  You can do that by clicking here.  I don’t write every week.  If I did, I wouldn’t have the time to write the kinds of posts I prefer to write.
I only write if I believe I have something worth writing and after I’ve spent some time finessing my thoughts.  If you’re following along by email, you’ll know right away when I have a new post waiting for you.  It is very easy to unsubscribe, and you won’t receive anything unrelated to my blog.  As always, thanks for reading and God bless.