Saturday, July 02, 2005

Mixin' It Up

Like I said a few posts ago, I love a good cover album. I especially love it when the cover is by a musician or group known for a different genre than that of the material that is being covered. As an adjunct to this, I enjoy it when someone takes two or more distinct genres or ideas and makes something new and cool but that still has roots. This goes not just for music, but for movies, books, and all sorts of different kinds of pop culture. The current Wired Magazine, from which that link was taken, has the Remix as its theme this month, with a Neil Gaiman cover story on the Gorillaz. Gaiman is a remixer himself, throwing film noir/pulp fiction (lower-case) together with science fiction and mythology.

There is a cottage industry of cover albums of rock and pop originals, not just done by collections of recognizable bands, but also by studio musicians. They might be done as strings, electronic, lounge, punk, bluegrass, etc. In my view, these do not necessarily take away from the originals but often lend a new and additionally enjoyable aspect to the originals we have already come to enjoy.

I love Jazz. Duke Ellington is my favorite musician of all time. I like the way he took straight jazz (whatever that is) and brilliantly mixed it with big band, European/Classical, Latin American, African, and all sorts of other kinds of music to make something beyond category from the strands of what had come before. He wasn't alone by any means. For instance (to name only two of many), Dizzy Gillespie and Dave Brubeck were hugely influenced by their world travels and their exposure to foreign musicians.

In the cinema, when you copy or steal something, you call it an homage. And who has more homages per hour than the previously linked George Lucas? My main man QT, that's who. If anyone knows how to mix genres a la Reeces Peanut Butter Cups, it's him -- gangsters and vampires in FDTD; Spaghetti Westerns, Noir, Kung Fu, and Asian crime in KB V1&2; A little bit of everything in Pulp. Some people are like "Oh, that's just not original blah blah blah." Not me. Gilgamesh, the Odyssey, and Beowulf were all products of assimilation of a range of material. I think taking the little-bit-of-this-little-bit-of-that approach can pay off big.

This only scratches the surface of the homage / remix / remake phenomena... Akira Kurosawa drew from John Ford, Shakespeare, and Ed McBain and then was subsequently remade in Magnificent Seven, the Dollars movies, and Last Man Standing. Jonathan Demme recently updated Manchurian Candidate and Charade. And somewhere, I need to mention the Cadillac of Vampire / Kung Fu movies, The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires. But, I gotta leave fodder for future blogging.


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