Monday, March 31, 2008

Internet Killed the Video Star

You know how you have those "go to" things? As soon as all my laundry's clean, the first thing I put on is my navy and grey striped long-sleeved "favorite tee" from the Gap. If I've got twenty minutes on my computer before my bus leaves, I do a crossword puzzle on When I need to throw a snack for later in my backpack or for a car ride, it's a peanut butter chocolate chip Quaker granola bar. In junior high, I used to walk to my friend Andrea's house with her because it was just a few blocks away. We'd sit in her basement and pretend to do homework while we talked and watched MTV-- back in the video days.

We have these patterns, comforts we zone in on while running on autopilot. But every once in a while, the "go to" changes, or something surprises us. I'll grab that shirt that's been hanging in the same place in my closet for months because suddenly I feel like wearing something else. I'll completely forget to do the daily crossword. We run out of granola bars and I don't bother to pick them up on the next grocery trip. And the ultimate happy surprise: the mundane strikes me. Dozens of viewings of "Black Hole Sun" and suddenly the conversation with Andrea stops because another video has come on, something I've never seen before--the song is great, the video is innovative--it's terrific. Thing is, art can do that to you. It creeps up in your life without warning, and you must suddenly concentrate on something you didn't know existed ten minutes before. You think about it driving in your car or falling asleep. I wish I had come up with it first. I know that somehow I could have come up with it. Yet somehow, I wonder how anyone came up with it.

The following is my salute to the music video, the ultimate in collage art. It starts by taking someone else's art, and then a team of people work together to interpret it for mass consumption. I have respect for that. So, this is for Andrea, who was a teenager with me. It's for my parents, who wouldn't let me watch MTV, even though I always did. And it's for all of you who remember watching videos on MTV. Perhaps we can all now appreciate our parents' and grandparents' "when I was your age" stories. Next time some teenager mentions The Hills, I dare you not to think, "When I was your age, they had music on music television."

Top 5 Music Videos

1. "Sledgehammer" Peter Gabriel
The first time I saw this video I just thought "What the heck is this?" Granted, I was five or six years old, but that didn't mean I couldn't watch crazy claymation and animation timed up with bizarre lyrics I didn't understand. When I think of the phrase "music video," I go straight to dancing chickens; every time I see them, I become nostalgic for the time I was a teenager in the 80's--which I never was. See how art can take you to a different time and place?

2. "Sabotage" Beastie Boys
I'd like to start this explanation with a shout-out to Bakes, who managed to work this piece into as many M.Ed projects as possible. A little director known by the name of Spike Jonze is responsible for the funniest fake detective show ever to grace the small screen. Beastie Boys + rugs and 'staches + hood slides = high art. Check it.

3. "You Can Call Me Al" Paul Simon
I have known all the words to Graceland for as long as I remember. Seriously, how many little kids can recite "Boy in the Bubble" without the music playing? At any rate, the video's got Paul Simon wandering in and out of an all white room playing various instruments heard in the song while Chevy Chase lip syncs along. I know I'm not the only Gen Xer who thought Chevy Chase was Paul Simon for a while.

4. "Undone (The Sweater Song)" Weezer
Spike Jonze strikes again. Maggie commented on my last entry that Rivers Cuomo was in her Top 5 guys, and he hasn't ever been far off my list. I have more of a love affair with the entire band, though that hasn't stopped me from naming my car after the lead singer. (Come on, my car is blue, rivers are blue, and Rivers is blue). Anyway, The group is just singing the song on a stage in an empty auditorium, but things start to go a little strange. By the time a bunch of dogs are released from backstage, I'm sold. My favorite moment is when Pat runs around his drum kit hitting the cymbols, and he barely makes it back to his seat in time to keep the beat. There's something so simple about this video, yet it is an excellent metaphor for the song itself.

5. "Reptilia" The Strokes
And here it is: my "go to" video. Every once in a while, I just need to watch this. It's like a fix. No matter what is going on in my life, this three minutes and forty seconds is always there for me. Please don't take my lust too seriously--this is not merely an opportunity to watch Julian Casablancas for a couple minutes while I listen to a good song. As soon as I hear the opening notes, I'm giddy; my heart flutters like it did in eighth grade when a certain boy walked into the room. This is, in my opinion, the perfect video. You can't beat a well directed performance video, and this so nicely, so eloquently, so minimally shows the viewer exactly how those boys play their instruments. This is all about control, and knowing when and what not to show. In fact, the faces of the band members are secondary to tight shots of hands on strings and frets. I believe Mr. Casablancas' face is shown only as much as it is because his mouth is his instrument, not because he is the lead singer. When you do see the other guys, they are too into what they're doing to care that a camera is there. It's so personal, like the viewers are invited into a private session. By 3:08--for lack of a more vulgar expression--I lose it. Best use of split screen ever. If you don't get this video, you don't get me.

So go spend some time on YouTube, or, ironically, I bet it's been a while since you sat around watching music videos, and I bet you've missed it a little bit. Despite no real fruitful outlets for showcasing, there are still a lot of great videos being produced out there. You might not consider it art, but I do. It's a lot of work to interpret someone else's story, whether it be a book, a painting, or a song, and when a group of people can come together to create one coherent vision of that art, I'm impressed.


Lisa said...

I love this blog posting. The "dedication" section at the beginning reminded me of those radio beer commercials, which--by the way--I've only heard online, never over the radio. I, too, was confused by Chevy Chase's appearance in the video. Still am, actually. Nonetheless, the song is INFECTIOUS!

Lisa said...

P.S. I dig the larger font size. I swear I'm going blind.

Maggie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Maggie said...

Aw! I love music videos! Once, when I was younger and delusional, I wanted to make them as my career. Then I realized I had no talent for that sort of thing. Unfortunately, my top five are more about personal associations than actual artistic representation.

1.Nirvana-Teen Spirit
Okay, you can stop laughing now. This was the first music video, and thus first "grunge" song I heard. I will never forget seeing it for the first time in my pajamas one summer morning in middle school. I knew my life would forever be different. I don't know why or how. It just was.

2. Foo Fighters-Big Me
If you didn't laugh at this one, you're just crazy. I love the play on the classic Mentos commercials. Foo Fighters videos do rock. Also, I promise David Grohl is not on the list after this one.

3. OK Go-Here It Goes Again
The treadmills are genius. And hypnotic.

4. Weezer-Buddy Holly
Classic. I love the Happy Days theme and how they meshed several episodes to create it complete with all the running jokes from the series.

5. Blind Melon-No Rain
If a song could summarize the attitude and cynicism of the 90s, this would be it. The song and the video are just so bright. But the lyrics, not so much. I miss the 90s.