Tuesday, August 29, 2006

we see the light and find it useful

"Everybody Knows" by Leonard Cohen

Let me tell you, my children, about the '90s. OK, maybe not. But let me tell you the weird thing about what was going on in mass media back then. Most of it, at least much of it pointed to our collective heads when we were in our early 20s and teens was pretty sure things were bad out there in the world. But it could be changed. MTV was filled with profiles of motivated young people in big cities working to change the world they were living in under a corduroy blazer and unaffected haircut. Underground music tripped and fell into the mainstream, bringing new ideas and thoughts to radio stations and listeners. Movies were filled with strange fantasies of rebellious mavericks inspiring dissent and individuality.

And it meant fuck-all. But that's beside the point.

But one such movie, one such SONG from such a movie, was this one. How many people here have seen "Pump Up the Volume," ? Come on don't be shy, we're all friends here. I don't even want to get into the whole ridiculous plot for those who haven't seen it, the page above will suffice. There was Christian Slater working that Nicholson impression for all its worth, there was a high school 30 miles away from me, there was rabble-rousing words and music that inspired people to destroy appliances and above all an introverted hero who inspired Samantha Mathis to take off her top for no logical reason whatsover. Everything a moody fresh-out-of-highschool Gen Xer needs.

But that soundtrack...

Listening to it now it's sort of this radio-friendly pastiche of pre-grunge alt-rock, engineered in some musty room in the bowels of KROQ. Of course I ran right out and bought it. On tape, bitches.

Sure, there's terrific stuff--a half-time "Wave of Mutilation," Bad Brains, Sonic Youth, and even Richard Hell and the Voidoids for the true believers. But Urban Dance Squad? Liquid Jesus? I think that cancels out the Soundgarden and Descendents. Needless to say, it's not in my collection now--but not because of the above missteps.

It's this song, this one right here. It's not on it.

Sure, you hear it playing over the opening credits and it pretty much launches the "Happy Harry" pirate radio show every scene but what do you get instead? Concrete Blonde, spilling paisley all over the damn thing. Okay, maybe not paisley, but certainly some bright and anthemic poison yellow color, something that takes away all the dread and menace from Leonard Cohen's version. Why? Probably because Leonard Cohen took a look at the movie afterwards and saw it as a seething piece of manipulative post-teen-movie crap and said, "Ok, i'm in the movie, but you can't sell me WITH your movie, got it?"

I think it's something more. I think Concrete Blonde's version with its soaring crescendo is supposed to translate into hope, that everybody does know the dice is loaded and the captain lied but if we...just...sing...togettthherrrr we can make it all right. Everybody knows, but it can change, right guys? Yeah!

Leonard Cohen's version, on the other hand, with its chugging strings and spanish accents, is a dirge. A funeral for hope, activism, and a brighter future. He can't even bother to sing, his voice just rumbles out of your speakers in a lazy croak, like the voice of the devil on your shoulder reminding you to give it all up.

This does not sell popcorn.

But, through the prism of hindsight, Leonard had it figured out. Where's Concrete Blonde now? Where are we now? "Pump Up the Volume's" tagline was "Talk Hard," and we did, I think. Talk just wasn't enough. Everybody knows.

Buy some Leonard Cohen. He even sings most of the time!


At 1:14 PM, Blogger briana said...

Hey! We (and by we I mean myself and 8 other people) had a discussion about Pump Up The Volume at a dinner party on Saturday night. We also had a long discussion about Leonard Cohen, in which offered my 2 cents about the I'm Your Man documentarty (saw it at the Arclight festival)which in essence, sucked. How could you make a horrible documentary about an amazing musician? I don't know... but apparently start with using U2 as a marketing tool and go from there.

At 4:02 PM, Blogger chris said...

Hiya! Aw, that's a bummer about the documentary. I was looking forward to learning more about that guy. I'm pretty fascinated. Only a WEEK ago heard one of his early best-ofs for the first time. I'd only known his recent stuff (I think I saw a PBS concert special years ago), and was really surprised with all the melody. I knew the lyrics would be great, but the songs were solid.

Glad I'm not alone in keeping 'Pump Up the Volume' buried in my head. Were we just suckers? I mean, at the time it was goofily inspiring stuff, right? Also, I can't help wondering how Cohen feels knowing that he's forever linked to that movie.


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