Pentatonic Ponderings: Depths of Desire

jiggle By Allen

Prelude

As we pack up the Halloween decorations and prepare for frigid winter here on the East Coast, the cold keeps us inside more. It can be a lonely time, but having friends and family around pretty much constantly keeps me from feeling too solitary. However, I know there’s someone out there who can’t say the same. Maybe you’re on vacation alone, maybe you’ve just been single for a bit too long, or maybe you just forgot to turn the heater on. I want that person to know that they’re not alone, and there have been plenty of songs about men pining after women. However, the five that I chose aren’t just about want or lust. There’s something missing in their lives, and only that one special someone can fill the void.

Track 1: “We Can’t Be Beat” by The Walkmen (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xwo8F6H-AxE)

Embracing someone’s flaws is the quickest way to getting to know them on a personal level. Contrary to most love songs, “We Can’t Be Beat” is not about some intense desire to be with someone, or building up the courage to pop the question. Rather, it’s a slow, passionate song for the love of Walkmen lead singer Hamilton Leithauser’s wife. It starts with him lamenting his past ideals of being young and ambitious. However, he craves flaws, cracks in the armor, and imperfections. Most people see marriage as an endgame, but he seems to view it more as the beginning of a new game. Marrying someone isn’t the end of the struggles of being young; you still have to get along with another human being and, in some cases, bring another life into the world. The end of the song feels like a story my dad would tell me about how love is “supposed” to work, in that the man slaves over the woman like a sad puppy. “If you want my eyes/Take my eyes/They’re always true” sounds sappy out of context, but it’s a sentiment that resonates more with age.

Track 2: “If You Go Away” by Frank Sinatra (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5SUn4JqUTsA)

My first exposure to Frank Sinatra was his 1966 “Sinatra at the Sands” live album, where he performed for a lucky crowd of people in Las Vegas, mixing standup comedy with his classic crooning melodies. “If You Go Away” isn’t on that set list, but I like to imagine Sinatra singing it for someone in the audience who stayed after everyone else. As long as there is someone listening, he can keep going. One person, be they the love of his life or a drunken hotel guest, holds his heart in their hand. Sinatra, more than any other musician today, made his emotions clear in every song. Some consider this a product of the times, but I like to think that
there’s a much more personal touch to songs like this. It’s just so melancholy, you can’t help but feel sad when the violins swell, and the song almost cuts out halfway through. “If you go away, as I know you must/There’ll be nothing left in the world to trust”. Ultimately, we all want happiness. Whether that’s with someone else or not, it’s clear that the “you” in this song, be it a woman or not, is the most important thing to him. The fact that it almost makes me want to leap through time and tell Mr. Sinatra that she won’t go away is a testament to the power of his voice and lyrics.

Track 3: “I Wish It Would Rain Down” by Phil Colins (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YcY3FH208l8)

If Frank Sinatra needs love because it provides him life, Phil Collins needs it because it’s the only thing going for him. In the context of this song, he’s a shell of a man, left still desiring the one who left him after so much time apart. He wants the rain to
come down more than anything, and not because he’s thirsty. If the rain had the power to pour down so hard that it washed him away along with the strong emotions that he’s feeling, then he could be truly free of the woman who stole his heart and ran away with it. I still well up with emotion every time I listen to this song, if only for the moment where the angelic chorus chimes in with Collins for the chorus. I’ll bring back the lost puppy metaphor for the line “And I know, it’s eating me through every night and day/ I’m just waiting on your sign”, which just brings to mind a sad man, hat in hand, waiting outside his ex-girlfriend’s door, desperate for them to reconnect.

Track 4: “Araceli” by Nataly Dawn (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i02PvPttBsI)

Enough with the cheesy romance. Sometimes, the quest for love isn’t neat and tragic. If you’ve heard of Nataly Dawn, it’s probably from her YouTube channel “Pomplamoose”, where she covered popular songs in the style of someone like Regina Spektor or Fiona Apple. However, she released a solo album earlier this year, and “Araceli” is by far the breakout hit. Instead of being told from the man’s perspective, Nataly Dawn is the omniscient narrator of this particular song and it focuses on the titular Araceli. She’s the most beautiful woman in the world, and all the men love her. However, what sounds like a peppy love song is actually a Shakespearean tragedy. Araceli gets sick, the doctor sees how beautiful she is and wishes her lover would die, the doctor kills himself out of grief, Araceli drowns herself in regret, and she is desired by the highest power of love, Zeus himself. Finally, she gives up on love, and goes to be with Hades. It’s a cautionary tale, but it’s not clear what for. I don’t think Dawn is suggesting that all men are evil and need to be ignored, or that being beautiful is a sin. Maybe it doesn’t need to have some deeper message. We all think we’re the special someone for our own personal Araceli, but maybe it’s just up to her to find someone that wouldn’t go to great lengths just “behold her perfect face”.

Track 5: “You Make My Dreams Come True” by Hall & Oates (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X_I4wtNPv5w)

Remember when this article was about sad love songs? Just because you love someone and want to be with them forever doesn’t mean that you have to mope about it. “You Make My Dreams Come True” feels like a perfect example of mid-80s optimism in America, and you can’t listen to this song without feeling happy and ready to have your own dreams come true. It’s a love song that’s not about craving perfection, or craving flaws, or even craving the sweet release of death. It’s a success story, and if “I Wish It Would Rain Down” is about giving up, “You Make My Dreams Come True” is about reveling in the powerful emotions of love, and how those same emotions can lead to rad guitar riffs.

Epilogue

No matter what these songs tell you, there is no correct way to love someone. Sometimes, it’s an obsession. Sometimes, it’s unrequited. It can make you cry, sing, and truly examine what you want out of someone. Each of these artists has a different view on the ideal relationship, but the recurring theme is definitely desire for something more.

Advertisements

Frames of Preference: The Thing

The ThingOf all of John Carpenter’s films, my favorite is a tie between Big Trouble in Little China and The Thing. It still blows my mind how scary The Thing was when I first saw it. Carpenter understood that not showing the monster until absolutely necessary actually added to the horror, and it involved the viewer in the mystery of who was infected in this Antarctic base. The film does have its quieter moments as the tension picks up, such as this one where the doctor on the team is examining one of the first victims of the titular alien savage.

Frames of Preference: The Incredibles

The IncrediblesIt was hard to find a frame from Pixar’s The Incredibles  that didn’t feature the titular family in their super-suits fighting crime. That’s just not what I love about the film. It borrows from real life xenophobia and some of the best graphic novels, and makes it all work as a fun kids film. The beautiful and expressive art style that Pixar is famous for will never look dated, and the family-centric story hit close to home for millions.

Frames of Preference: Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP

SworceryIf I were to compare Sword and Sworcery to a film, it would have to be a mix of Hayao Miyazaki’s body of work and Koyaanisqatsi. The sound, visuals, and overall mood are like no other mobile game, and they all blend together into an incredible, yet brief experience. The story is simple; a lone female warrior named the Scythian is on a quest to reforge an artifact, but how she gets there is through manipulating the environment, fighting enemies, and slowing down more than most games do. The game even broke the fourth wall and told you to stop playing every few minutes, which served the dual purpose of allowing you to ponder the last area’s mysteries, while also lengthening what is already a short, yet sweet indie title.

Random Encounters: Everything’s Fun, But Everyone’s Angry

Stanley ParableBy Allen

Sometimes, I can’t tell if the general gaming community actually likes games. I certainly do, and I like writing about them and arguing about them with other people. As the next generation of consoles lies just across the horizon, I’ve been reading progressively more reviews and previews of next-gen titles. Unfortunately, the response from both the press and the average consumers seems tepid at best, which is disheartening as we are in one of the most exciting times to play games. As Louis CK once said, “Everything’s amazing, and nobody’s happy.”

The problem with these responses is that they feed into each other. The news cycle has gone like this for the past few weeks: Journalists report on a new feature/potential flaw of the PS4 or Xbox One, the community looks into it too much, picking it apart for any possible argument for one console’s superiority, and then the journalists simply grow tired of this bickering and hope to God that these consoles will just come out so people can stop arguing. Is this how we want to treat the release of new hardware from now on? Two fairly-priced, exponentially more powerful evolutions of the consoles that we all own and love are being released, and they’re most likely going to work on launch day. Isn’t that enough at some point? Some people don’t think so.

The phrase “gamer entitlement” has been tossed around by the press for years, and it only escalates during these times of flux. I could pick out a million examples from the headlines of fans boycotting a game or studio because their needs weren’t served directly.  Davey Wreden, the developer behind the delightful indie PC game The Stanley Parable removed an image of a white man helping a black child from the game because fans complained that it was “too racist”. Although this seemed to be the intent of the scene (to poke fun at antiquated racist imagery), Wreden removed the image from the game. To be fair, he has gone on the record saying that removing that scene made the game easier to show to non-gamers and family, but it still feels like compromising the developer’s vision to serve an ungrateful audience. Games have become much more iterative and subject to change in the last decade, and this question will only be coming up more as the console manufacturers allow developers to patch and pull down their games at will. All of this arguing and pointless finger-wagging just makes me want to play games in a vacuum sometimes. No hype, no arguing, just the game and I. However, I can’t do that. We’re stuck with each other, and so we need to learn to improve the discourse and change how we discuss games.

I’m not against the idea of catering to an audience. This is, after all, a business-first industry. Games are products to be consumed and discussed like any other piece of art, yet gamers seem more prone to vitriol, entitlement, and hateful comments than any other industry’s fans. This is due in part to the intimate relationship between player and creator. With a film, you can choose to watch or not watch the whole thing. If you don’t like it, you can forget it and move on. However, with games, there is an elegant dance between the world’s overseer and its protagonist. In a linear game like Psychonauts for example, the player is devoting time to something that they either love or hate. The worry in this case is that you can play a game for hours upon hours, and never discover its “good parts”. At that point, you’ve devoted so much time to this experience that you kind of have to accept it for its flaws. The reason I seem to be waffling on this matter so much is that it can’t be solved with a single essay or movement. Each gamer has to form their own sets of judgments and biases, and their money goes to what they support. Personally, I believe games to be an expression of the developer’s vision translated to an interactive experience for a player to be part of. So no, gamers don’t have the right to tell developers to remove something from their game. No, developers shouldn’t make games just to appeal to an audience. Some of the greatest works of art were immensely self-centered, and these types of work actually appeal to more people. We’re all a little self-centered, but instead of telling someone to make something more personalized to us, we should be making our own games for that. If you want a unique experience separate from your own, there are plenty of those out there. There’s going to be plenty more in the upcoming weeks, and hopefully the gaming community can get out of their own bubbles and try new things without hating them. When everyone learns to have fun again and just enjoy games, the community will become more diverse, less caustic, and the games themselves will be better as a result.

Frames of Preference: Spelunky

SpelunkyI’ve only recently fallen in love with Spelunky‘s simplistic style and hard-to-master gameplay, but it seems like exactly the type of game for me from about a decade ago. It’s not brutally hard or unfair, despite its reputation. All of the traps are displayed clearly, and it’s easy to learn the playable spelunker’s jump and attack animations by heart. The challenge comes from implementing these skills instantly and without fail. But passing the first area for the first time is just so satisfying, and once you do it, there’s no stopping you from trying and trying to get a little further than your previous best run.

Frames of Preference: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Scott Pilgrim comicOne of the best things about Bryan Lee O’ Malley’s writing and art style is how they compliment each other seamlessly. You can’t have one without the other, and it’s evident in this large dialogue scene from Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. The narrator isn’t some omniscient overlord; they’re in on the story just as the viewer is, and the comic is able to poke fun at itself on numerous occasions like this one.