Monday, July 2, 2007

Ad Nauseam

Yesterday afternoon I was finally enjoying the Dublin rain, as it had granted me a lazy Sunday watching Wimbledon. I'm betting it was all replays of the previous week's matches, but with the television on my roommate's side and a roommate that never leaves (Belfast finally broke her), I was content. Sharapova easily beat a whiny Sugiyama. I love to hate the pretty girl as much as the next person, but whiners are even worse. Manresmo handled Santangelo no sweat, which is odd, because usually testosterone knocks those glands into overdrive. My intention is not to mock players whose talent I will never possess though, so enough digression.

The commercials pass without much note, I twittle away on my laptop until match play resumes, and then I hear Jon Brion. He is the composer behind the score for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Charlie Kaufman and Michel Gondry's 2003 cinematic lovechild. As if Gondry's surrealistic world of erasable memory is not breathtaking enough, the film has an equally stunning sound track, combining Brion's original pieces with the likes of Beck, the Polyphonic Spree and the Willowz. I lift my head expecting to see an advertisement for some sort of criterion collection now on sale, and images of the women's gaelic football championships are all that appear.

The song is a particular favorite of mine, a take on the film's recurring instrumental theme that plays in the background of Clementine and Joel's night-walk on the ice. I've dealt with the frustrating commercialization of songs before, from Outback Steakhouse's complete massacre of Of Montreal to the NBA's playoff-geared rendition of RJD2's "Ghostwriter", and those are just two of many. I usually shrug it off as poor, helpless band members swindled by greedy, tone deaf corporate execs, but I'm only kidding myself. I'm sure there is serious money to be made in these advertisements, even if it's at the expense of the musicianship.

While the use of songs in ads can be great publicity for a band, this requires a very specific sort of format, i.e. artsy. Long, long ago, Volkswagen Cabrio's were actually cool, and you want to know why? The commercial for the line featured four young folks driving beneath a perfect, star-laden night sky with Nick Drake's "Pink Moon" humming out the dash. It had me sold, and it pushed the dusty Drake tune back into the deserving spotlight it failed to achieve on its initial birth. Jose Gonzalez owes his entire career to an ad, Sony's high profile commercial for its Bravia line. His cover of "Heartbeats", the original a fantastic dance number by Swedish breakout group The Knife, singlehandedly launched the U.S. success of both groups.

Brion's commerical was not so fortunate, however, the images of women's gaelic football poorly montaged and given a slow-mo at the end for good measure. What's worse, the men's gaelic football spot that followed featured a cheap Beach Boy's knock off highlighting the season's best fouls. I'm all for women in sports, but trying to play-up sentimentality as a way to attract fans? I'd rather see the football team protesting for better equipment or comparable salaries to men than banking off being girly, and even worse, pulling Brion into it. Would I have less qualms about the use of the song had it been a different ad? Yes, but not without some overlying reservations.

A film score is a unique genre of music in that it is created to enhance a specific image, emphasize dialogue or dictate the audience's mood (think Hitchcock without Herrmann). To listen to the music out of context is one thing, but to reapply the sound to a different image entirely? In what I'm sure would be Van Gogh's feelings if he could only see all the t-shirts Starry Night now graces, especially the Simpson's take, seeing Brion's work support gaelic football struck a seriously wrong chord. Half of the piece's beauty is its ability to draw a memory to the film, and when you begin to strip it of such, much of its character goes with it. I'm not saying the composition isn't impressive in its own right, but I wouldn't walk around with the Psycho sound track playing on repeat for a reason.

Scores help their films achieve a better connection with the script (sorry, Mr. Braff, Shins exploitation not welcome here), and thus elevate the overall quality. A good score can make or break a movie, so let's leave them on the silver screen where they belong. If Harley-Davidson wants to kill Guns n' Roses, live and let die, but you won't see me at a women's gaelic football match anytime soon.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

NJ: Only the Strong Have Pride

Last night I had the pleasure of attending the Ted Leo and the Pharmacists show in Dublin. They're a band that I have listened to for quite some time, yes, even spanning back to those pop-punk encrusted days of high school (Billy Joe wears eyeliner now?). It was actually an advantage that my first Ted Leo show was far across the Atlantic, as the already tiny venue was only cozily filled with fans. With the attention he's been receiving stateside and the release of an album earlier this year though, I was still a bit surprised at the breathing room.

My New Jersey roots have gone into hiding lately, amid both the migration of many friends to Brooklyn and a recent stint in San Francisco. I have always been an avid fan of bands from my state, now a hotbed for emo and indie start-ups. I even will make the occasional trek to Albany if an aging Saves the Day hits the road when I'm at school. As I begin to contemplate a coast conversion post-college, however, the days of outspoken defense have passed. The turnpike is hideous and often smells foul? Yes. The cawffee in diners is overpriced? Sure. There's nothing exciting to do? Clearly, I have a blog for god's sakes.

Despite my best attempts at squashing attachment to my childhood home, there I was front and center, motioning to my friend over a brilliant bass solo that I planned on screaming, "I love New Jersey" at the next break. I was sure that Ted, a graduate of Seton Hall Prep in West Orange, NJ, would appreciate the support of a fellow statesmen. We're a very particular breed, afterall. I also raised my fist in triumphant recognition whenever 'Jersey' showed up in the lyrics, which last night came in at a solid 3. What was this adrenaline rush of state pride, my former shame lifted at the first pluck of a guitar string? This could not merely be the product of lead singer lust.

The set was cut rather short to make way for the venue's transfer back into a night club, which is really a shame if you've ever seen an Irishman dance. While my cries went unheard during the set, I stuck around long enough to catch the band as they packed up equipment, so determined was I in my will to represent. Looking up to the stage as he broke down a mic, I shouted "Ted" as though summoning an old friend, and his smile was no less unnatural.
"I'm from New Jersey!"
"Shut the fuck up!"
Insert excited high fives
"Come play back home, we're waiting for you"

Yes, that was the extent of my meeting with Ted Leo, but boy is there still a smile on my face. Did I remember to tell him how great the set was? Or that as a long-time fan, I appreciated the small number of newer songs? Of course not. There is something about home that instills a certain pride in us, as though a person's accomplishments are felt more strongly by those who share that connection, however small (West Orange is a good 30 minute drive from my house). In a sea of foreigners, I danced in this pride, and was even more delighted to find Ted a modest, enthusiastic and very normal guy. Who knows whether my true Jersey girl will ever return without the cover of a blaring amp, but I made sure to come home last night and tell all those friends in Brooklyn about my NJ powwow with our state's very own Mr. Leo.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Banksy Cashes In

It's interesting, because when I imported this picture, my intention was merely to discuss the legalities that surround street art. It is actually one of a series of free postcards that they distribute in various cafes and restaurants around Dublin (and most of Europe, I presume). The images are all photographs of street art from around the world, so they have a location listed but not an artist. Banksy, arguably the most popular name in this genre, is one of the few who leaves a tag with his art, though his style is so distinct this is hardly necessary. None of the postcards feature his work.

My curiosity lies with the artist. The cards are circulated at no cost, so it can't really be said that the work has been stolen. The artist has chosen not to reveal their identity, but this does not leave the door open for profit. Who benefits from the collected books that feature these works, and should an artist be forced to surrender his or her anonymity to prevent such theft of integrity? The reclusive Banksy has begun to hold gallery openings and museum exhibits, both garnering loads of publicity and mula. Does this shift from brick wall to gallery hall change the nature of street art, stripping it of the raw quality that contributes to the genre's very name?

In a NYTimes article, the legality of street art hits the spotlight with a much different hue. "Splashers" have been destroying works in Brooklyn and DUMBO by dumping large blobs of paint on completed murals, in addition to administering lengthy manifestos on the 'gentrification' such art promotes. The notion that street art, a movement I applaud for its rejection of the sometimes restrictive nature of galleries, is in no way the 'bourgeoisie-sponsored rebellion' the Splashers claim it to be. However, the conflict does not escape the question that will plague street art's legal woes until the last brick in the wall meets a brush. What is art? By creating work in such public domain, can Splashers really be prevented from adding their blobs?

I will admit these questions stem from a very legal based perspective on the art, and in no way do I have any personal tolerance for such Splashers. Once an artist has set up shop on a wall, there is clearly an unspoken set of rules that will prevent the space from alteration by outside parties. If the owner of the wall, or at least the inside of it, states no qualms, is it really necessary for the splashers to destroy the free nature of the very art they are attempting to reclaim from bourgeoisie clutches? The trick then becomes the application of these unwritten codes into legal proceedings though, a process that will very much resemble the blobs poor street artists (and their supporters) love to hate.