Whenever I’m working on the computer, I need a soundtrack of some kind – music that aids my creativity, tunes that play at my subconscious, keeping me alert in some fashion. Sometimes, I just need to fill the quiet void of the room with noise – fast-paced pop songs for fast-paced typing or moody music for introspective narratives.
When I’m at work, that soundtrack gives me the energy to edit an article on healthy communities, for example or the vigor to pump out a year-end program report, my head bopping up and down to the backbeat of the day.
At home, with the inherent inhibitions of public display gone, I kick it up a notch.
Late last Thursday night, I wrote a piece for Biff Bam Pop! detailing the fast track of the Green Lantern movie. In between typing paragraphs of comic book sci-fi mythology, I was busy playing air drums.
The CD player wasn’t on and I hadn’t opened iTunes on the desktop. No, I was getting my musical soundtrack from a different source last Thursday night – YouTube.
I remember rushing home from high school in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s so that I could turn the television on to CBC’s Video Hits or a Much Music Countdown show to see the brand new videos from Depeche Mode (Enjoy the Silence) or New Order (Round and Round). A fairly new concept, music videos were now released simultaneously with the actual music single and, without writing an essay on the business and artistry of such things here, I’ll simply say that I needed to see a band’s visual representation of their songs. And I needed to see it badly. I’d record the videos on my VHS recorder, compiling two hour tape after two hour tape of my favourites (an early analogue version of an iPod) and then trade those tapes with friends or have viewing parties in the basement on weekend nights.
My point, really, is this: there’s no need to rush home from school or work anymore to catch a new release of a music video. YouTube has seen to that.
Last Thursday night, it was Ulysses, the first single (and video) to the album Tonight: Franz Ferdinand, the Scottish band’s latest musical offering released in late January that I couldn’t stop playing.
Even though it wasn’t the first time I had heard the song and even though it’s a pretty pedestrian video, for some reason I was insatiable in my replaying of it.
You too can be infected by the video here.
The bass groove and drum beat had me nodding my head as I typed away at the keyboard in unison. The song got my adrenaline going so much that I pointed to a make-believe audience when the synthesizer sounds kicked in at the onset of the chorus. I thumped my chest when lead singer Alex Kapranos confessed “I’ve found a new way” and marched across the floor, my imaginary stage, shaking my head enthusiastically at the realization that I was, in fact, “never going home,” because I was “not Ulysses.”
No. It didn’t make any sense.
The song had conjured a story specifically for me, its very own protagonist. All I wanted to do at that moment was head outside and step into the late city night and find drama – or have drama find me.
I must have acted in this strange manner, completely overtaken by the song for nearly two hours, only adding words to the untitled Microsoft word document here and there before scanning the right column on the YouTube page. It was there that I found the Domino Records produced (and fascinating) 11-minute video of the band talking about their new album, answering questions about the recording process and introducing its songs.
I watched the documentary twice and then went back to the original Ullyses video, tapping keys to symbol smashes and singing“la, la, la’s” along with the band. It’s the perfect pop song with an embittered edge – a tale of drug-induced hedonism gone awry. Franz Ferdinand liken the story of the song to Homer’s classic story, The Odyssey.
Part of my fascination for the tune comes from the title itself. The Odessey is one of my favourite stories. Perhaps the spinning washing machines in the video are a metaphor for Charybdis. Hell, Franz Ferdinand even encounter a Cyclops in the video. How could I not be transfixed by what I was witnessing?
The long, hot, hard night of youthful partying that is akin to war in Homer’s tale takes a decidedly different turn for Franz Ferdinand. The protagonist in Ullyses isn’t lying in their own bed for a deserved rest after a long journey in the city. Unlike The Odyssey’s Ulysses, who eventually found his way to Ithaca, in the Scottish band’s world, something sinister instead occurs: after a nightlong journey of self-indulgence and danger, they discover that one can never go home. There is a moral here and the band tell us that it is that life will never be as it once was.
The video displays the bandmates in various physical states. In one moment they are walking down city streets, wide-eyed, optimistic and looking to be on the prowl to later looking dazed, intoxicated, high and confused, finally ending in a seizure-driven state, burned out.
All that aside, eventually, the late night hour and long stares at the monitor wore even me down, my own tired eyes transfixed on an incessantly blinking computer screen as I went back to forcefully typing words. It took a little longer than usual to write the 700 odd words that became the Green Lantern piece.
I blame the YouTube soundtrack, this time playing the music of absentminded revelry. How amazing.