Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Post about the Walking Dead

So, yes, I am still watching the show. I am aware that it has some race issues ( T Dog? Really?) class issues ( the rednecks are racist, and criminal, the bourgeois are at least rationalized as having trauma to explain away their sins) and gender issues ( Women are weak, or butch, and no real gay characters) but I still watch it. You wanna know why? Because of a filter I have for it. Like all decent genre fiction is serves best as an analogy. No, it's not about zombies- zombies don't exist, hence they're called "Walkers". No, it's not about disease because "we're all infected". It's about the atrocities of total war. Think about Rwanda, think about The American slaughter of Native Americans, think about southeast Asia, think about Central America, and so on. How often did these things break down on ethnic, or class lines? How much rape and chattelling of women goes on in them?
So, let's say that you agree with me, that it's about how people behave in those circumstances, so, then, what? Well, here's the trickier part- America, especially white America hasn't had to deal with that- not directly, and not in a very long time. However, what did we do in Iraq, and Afghanistan? How much did we dehumanize not only the opponents, but our own citizens? I watch the Walking Dead because I have friends who have come back from that, and I see them struggle, and The Walking Dead is a much safer way to talk about the aftermath of horrifying conditions because it's about "zombies"- you see? I can talk to a dude who lost his mind for a few minutes because an improvised explosive shot his friends' leg into my friends face about how traumatized Rick and Carl are, and I know he sometimes isn't talking about them. I can talk with another friend who had half a lung removed from parachuting into Fallujah, but all he wanted for years was to get signed up and go back about what a badass Michonne is, even though I'll never fully understand my friend, we can communicate through that cipher. Starting to see the point?
But, it's not just veterans. I think we, as Americans, understand, on some really deep level, that somewhere along the line, we crossed over, and we're the bad guys. Maybe not all bad, and maybe not all the time, but we've given the ok for some pretty bad stuff to be done in our name- The Walking Dead is a way to start processing that.
So, while I have no doubt that the Artists creating this show have some bad actions- I think Kirkman is demonstrably a sexist, for example. And I'm sure that both Darabont and Mazzara partially are out because no one is ready to abandon character development to the sociopathic levels that fanboys seem to want- a major, major part of why, even though I enjoyed Zombieland, it made me feel a little sick afterwards was how much it focused on being a "badass" and how cool it was to kill- so I know that sociopathic urge fuels a good percentage of our zombie stories- but it's that stubborn return to humanity, even if it's all dialogue, no action that makes me think that The Walking Dead has redeeming qualities.
For example, I literally have lost friends over this opinion- but I think the last episode was part and parcel of what the show absolutely must do- I'm not going to spoil it, but let's just say that a major character has to kill another, much more vulnerable character, because that character seems to present a greater danger. Some of my friends have concentrated on that killing, and other elements like that, and believe that the show is endorsing these actions- I'm arguing that the real core of the show is in the words of another character who responds to this transgression, and others like it by saying that he forgives, but cannot forget- that we can accept that we have been a party to evil, to things that should never have happened,  but we must not accept it in any kind of warmth- it's evil, and we have to be haunted by it. That's something I think needs to be said.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Cracking the Code

Certain connections may seem like some kind of cipher. Like you'll hear somebody say that such and such song sounds "exactly" like some other song, or some TV show is really a "rip off" of some movie, and it's really hard for you to see the connection? It's like there's some code, or puzzle that you're missing, right? Well, I'm all about transparency- I don't want there to be a code, just a connection. So, when I say that I'm hearing echoes of the past in some current bands, I'm going to strive to explain exactly what I mean. In particular, I think that Criminal Code sound one heck of a lot like TSOL circa "Dance With Me", and Eagulls sound a lot like Bauhaus circa "In the Flat Fields". That I think so is not important- the why is what I'm getting at.
See, in Criminal Code's case it's single coil guitars overdriving fender amps, with a large amount of chorus, the depth set high, and the rate set fast. With that set up, it'd be hard for almost anyone to avoid sounding like TSOL to me. They were the first that I heard to do that combination, so now, that's what I hear when somebody else does it. I believe that they're using different equipment around that- for example, I sincerely doubt they have a mid 1960's Firebird packing P-90's, which was Ron's primary way of pushing single coil sound into overdrive, whereas Criminal code sound more like either a pedal, or a gain stage in the amp- but the essential nature of the connection I hear is exactly that: single coil, overdrive, Fender, and chorus pedal.
Likewise, songwriting-wise, lots of folks have heard the connection between early post-punk and Eagulls. Mostly, they have mentioned Killing Joke, in that the band outright covered "Requiem"- but I'm hearing Bauhaus more than Killing Joke. Killing Joke is 10" celestions, with a massive amount of gain. Killing Joke is Gibson, all the way down the line, and rockabilly tunings ( G mostly). No, what I heard in Bauhaus, and what I hear in Eagulls is fender guitars, giant Ampeg bass cabinets, solid state amps, two types of delay ( probably digital, these days, but the shorter delay may still be analog) and a fast chorus pedal or two. The real trick, though is the two different delays- one almost a slapback short delay, and the other a giant cavernous delay- done to simulate the complexity of a really well-tuned reverb tank, but yet more huge-sounding. Later on, bands like the Cocteau Twins would add yet more delay ( sometimes as many as 6 different delays) but, when Bauhaus did it on "In the Flat Field" it was two, plus chorus. That's what I'm hearing here. Killing Joke used one delay, and two chorus pedals- and I know that sounds like esoterica- but that's part of the code- see, I don't hear music quite like some others do- I literally hear the equipment used. I know, I know- a really good song is a really good song, whether played on a busted acoustic guitar, or some state-of-the-art digital studio. I know that to be true, but I am a creature of my history, and my history is that equipment- so that's what I hear.  Maybe if I was more of a singer-songwriter type, I'd hear chord structures first and foremost, but I was a soundguy for years, so I hear equipment, first- then I can hear songwriting, and so on. So, my code for the connections I make is largely based around equipment. Make of that what you will.