Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Death Game & Pop Life

"With love, there is no death"-Christopher Tracy

"Fuck death."-Anyone who has lost someone they loved.

Mortality. The word alone is enough to elicit depths of worry and dread, not unlike loss, illness and family reunions. It's one of those things most do not want to think about but the cycle of living has a way of wafting it all right under your nose. The scent is one part charnal house and one part weighted awareness. The more our loved ones, heroes and heroines shuffle off this mortal coil, it is hard to not feel, to quote Love & Rockets, haunted when the minutes drag.

Personally, I have an acceptance/hate relationship with death. It's the great inevitable and an essential part of life. You can't really escape it, so making moderate peace with it is a good idea. Yet, even though many view it as simply a transition to something else, whether it is heaven, limbo, Earth again or the great void, it flat out sucks for those of us who are still here. The dead ultimately are fine. They have moved on but yet it is us who are left to sift through the ashes, sometimes literally.

Out of the assortment of heroes and loved ones alike that I have lost in the past few years, the thing that haunts me the most are the lost acts, ideas and art that never came to fruition. When a close friend of mine passed away in '08, one of the things that hurt the most was all of the great writing he never got to do. He had some amazing ideas and coupled with his innate charisma with words and intrinsic understanding of film and music, there would have been some sheer magic he could have created. This is where I loathe death the most, though it's the worst the kind of hate, because it does not change a thing.

All that said, a lesson for the living that I repeat time and time again is that the best use of death is motivation. We're still here to burn the ashes, create, love, scream and fight for ourselves and our work. Art isn't just for the artist, it's for those who aren't here quite yet and for those who can't be here. Let's rock.


Critics and the public alike have always had a strange relationship with pop music. The former tend to, for the most part, glower at it and hiss like a foamy-mouthed feral cat. The latter can alternately love with a blind, cult-like devotion, only to hastily switch to storming the internet with lit torches in hand. It's weird that such a fairly safe genre can elicit some pretty extreme emotions, but that is part of the fascination with pop music.

I was lucky enough to grow up in a fairly schizophrenic-musical environment, so genre snobbery is something quite alien to me. Metal, punk, klezmer, country, pop, exotica, etc etc. If the song is good, it's good. So when I heard The Flaming Lips cover of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" with Miley Cyrus and Moby, I was astounded. Not because of Miley but because it is really, really great. Not thing I went into it expecting it to be horrible, I was just not expecting it to wow me like it did.

This kind of collaboration may seem like it is from Mars, since the Lips are this fairly respected, psychedelic-art-rock band and Cyrus used to be Hannah Montana and has the sad distinction of twerking on Alan Thicke's son. However, if you think about it objectively, there is something kind of brilliant about that. The Lips are too weird (and probably "old") for Cyrus' demographic and she is too pop-tart for their core audience. Which makes it even more interesting because it is a real creative risk for both parties. Granted, it's one for a good cause, since a portion of the sales are going to the Oklahoma City based non-profit, The Bella Foundation, which helps low-income, elderly or terminally-ill pet owners with veterinary costs.

Some of the negative reactions to both the collaboration and the fact that Cyrus and Lips frontman Wayne Coyne (who looks like the world's grooviest professor/magician) are good friends, reminds me a lot of the critical and public flotsam that ensued when Metallica and Lou Reed worked together and released "Lulu." "Lulu" was an intense and brave album that was also quite good and definitely the best thing Metallica had worked on in several years. The only real thing that either Lou or Metallica had to gain was the feeling of creating a work that they personally loved. Over time, hopefully, both "Lulu" and the Lips cover of "Lucy" will be seen as ballsy creative moves with some gorgeous, rich moments intertwined.  (Also, for a really terrific article on the recent negative critical reaction to Coyne in the media, please check out Katy Anders' piece on her fabulous blog, Fascist Dyke Motors. Then read everything else on there because she is THAT good.)

© 2014 Heather Drain


  1. I think the "Lulu" comparison is a good one. That album sounds better today with the benefit of some distance from the hype and bad press. In the end, the music has to sink or swim on its own.

    1. Absolutely, Katy. Distance lends itself to further objectivity pretty perfectly.

  2. I think this puts Miley in a positive light -- she's using her music to raise eyebrows instead of her wardrobe.

    1. Thank you, Greg and to some degree, I agree. (And hey, that rhymed!)