Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Creative Life

Scott Pilgrim!  It was the movie of the weekend.  The only thing keeping it from movie of the year were two outrageously better movies, released earlier this year*.  That's not the narrative playing out in the box office tallies this weekend, but, you know...

... whatcha gonna do?  It'll find the kids on cable.

But what's been resonating with me most is something I read in an LA Times article running down the soundtrack song by song.  Emily Haines of Metric talks about their song "Black Sheep," performed in the movie by Envy Adams's band The Clash at Demonhead, and says it was a song they'd recorded for a prior album, but had rejected for sounding ... well, too much like Metric, I guess:

Aspects of the song, the electro aspects of the band, and the abstract lyrical visualizations, are extreme examples of certain aspects of us ... These are late-night conversations the band has had. Everyone has commentary on what you’re doing, and everyone has interpretations. But we are also looking at it. It’s not like we’re blindly going, ‘Oh, what’s this?’ We’re aware of what we have been, and what we want to be.

Producer Nigel Godrich concurred:  "It’s a very common criticism when you’re making records. You say, ‘Well, this sounds like somebody trying to be us."

But my introduction to Metric was through the Scott Pilgrim movie, and as of right now it's my favorite damn song on the record.  I've listened to some other Metric songs in the days since seeing the picture, and "Black Sheep" remains my favorite -- pretty much because it sounds the most Metric-like of Metric's songs.  It reminds me of what Paul McCartney has said about "Yesterday" -- that he had the melody in his head for quite some time, but initially wrote it off because it seemed too good.  I'd go a bit further and say it's the most McCartney-ish of Paul McCartney songs -- and his first reaction was not to trust it.

A lot of people react that way to things they make that are good -- McCartney didn't trust "Yesterday" because he thought it was so good, someone else must have written it first, and he was simply remembering.  Haines and Metric didn't trust "Black Sheep" because they thought it sounded so much like their band, that it must be bad.  When I was very early in writing my (still-in-progress) novel Brand New Berto, I was having a lot of fun writing about Berto and Papa on a road trip.  They leave in Papa's truck to go to a wake for a relative Berto's never met -- but Papa decides to blow it off, and instead they spend the day together in Houston.  And I was in the shower one morning, and I was wondering what the hell I was writing about anyway, and I thought Well hey -- what if I kill off Papa?  And Berto's alone in a strange city?

(Erm -- spoiler alert there.  It's okay, it happens in chapter one.)

Berto didn't really get his chance to explore the city alone, because that idea spun the entire novel off into what it's actually about -- Berto loses a dad and encounters several different father figures/mentors over the course of the book.  But my first reaction to that idea was, Naw, you can't kill Papa.  Papa's great!  But what was actually scary was the prospect of finding my story -- or, more directly, finding what it was I wanted to talk about, and write about, and explore, for the next several years of my life.  That's daunting, when you put that kind of thing into specific terms.  Somewhere in, what, 1965?, Paul McCartney writes "Yesterday" and realizes -- Oh shit, this is the kind of songwriter I am.  This is what I'm going to be singing about for the rest of my life -- and, I dunno, maybe Metric had that moment when they heard themselves making "Black Sheep." 

It's like hearing your voice on an answering machine**.  You're suddenly face to face with yourself, from a step outside of yourself.

All of which is just to say -- Metric buried "Black Sheep" under a rock, until the Scott Pilgrim folks called around looking for a song to stand in for The Clash at Demonhead.  Metric gave it to them, and Nigel Goodrich said it was perfect because, "It’s not Metric. It’s a shadow of Metric."

Only that's a lesson our man Pilgrim learned when he faced Nega-Scott -- the shadow's you.  You can't turn away from it, you can only take it out to brunch. 

(and I realize that Michael Cera is getting on everyone's nerves, but srsly d00dz -- the movie is unique and a hell of a lot of fun.  The closest thing I've seen that compares is Kung Fu Hustle.)

*Winter's Bone and Inception, in that order.

**There used to be answering machines!

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