Scorsese’s Inferno

ImageI’ve been on a scary movie binge, but this is one of the most terrifying films I’ve seen. There are clues throughout the film the same way there are deaths throughout a horror movie.  As things progress, we’re made aware who is really innocent.  In retrospect, how obvious everything is; how plainly it’s presented — it will chill you to the core.

The socialite society is a metaphor for how any power system functions.  There are leaders; there are black sheep; there are those whom are respected without being admired — and every single person believes themselves to be on their own path, isolated from the rest of the system.  Yet, it’s so obvious where everyone fits and how easily everyone can be placed into a niche.

Newland feels guilt for the entire film and the viewer is led to believe he’s malicious, when in-fact, his desire is the most innocent of all.  May is revealed to be the devil incarnate: never missing the bullseye; maliciously gossiping of others; being distant with her husband; passive-aggressively telling Newland (moreorless), “Oh, do say hi to Ellen for me.”  These are all signs placed within the film, advising both Newland and the viewer just what’s what.

There’s nothing hidden in this world more than how others perceive you, and it’s so easy to manipulate that which is oblivious.  May represents evil as a force; their society, the hellish glamor they are all bound to.  The “scarlet” room is red for a reason; the manors are isolated fortresses; it always seems to be winter — Newland has no escape.  The wedlock scene plays like Newland becoming aware he’s gravely ill: the room spins as all potential life rushes by; he is merely swept along.

The most violent Scorsese film, indeed.

Lyrical Analysis: “Paranoid Android” by Radiohead

The lyrics can be found here.  You can listen to the song below:

“Paranoid Android”, by Radiohead, is a rather straight-forward song about isolation.  However, because the song uses abstract imagery and manages to tell two, overlapping narratives with only one set of lyrics, the song is ripe for lyrical analysis.  Literally, this is a classic tale of insanity.  Figuratively, and the meaning you’re more likely to connect with, “Android” is a requiem for the outcast; for the leftfield perspective.

The notion of wanting to get some rest in a noisy environment is something we all can relate with, but the outcast of “Paranoid Android” is pleading; begging to fall asleep, because his head is filled with “unborn chicken voices”. This can seem confusing until the line is read literally – imagine that there are actually chickens inside this man’s head.  “Unborn,” in this context, is a clever way of saying “non-existent”; not actually real.  He simply hears noises in his head, and the syncopated call of a chicken is a perfect image to express the chaos of auditory hallucination.

In another sense, these voices in his head are not in his head at all, but actually the sounds of the world around him (with which he feels such disconnect).  The outcast cannot view society as a screaming success because his senses are overwhelmed with the literal screaming of the oppressed; the crack of the metaphoric whip, keeping everyone at work (“the crackle of pigskin”); overwhelming gluttony (“the crackle of pigskin” i.e. bacon); the panic of the chased; the vomit from those who witness it all and of course, those too busy making money to care (“the yuppies networking”).  The outcast begs it all to stop, because he’s simply trying to get some rest.

As if a nagging reminder to his insanity and his disconnect, the promise of a peaceful sleep is lost; replaced by literal paranoia (“What’s that?”).  Already so broken-down, the only way this outcast can cope is to escape to a dreamlike state; to imagine an alternate reality where he is in command, persecuting everyone who has ever wronged him (“When I am King, you will be first against the wall — where your opinion is of no consequence at all”).

Unfortunately, due to what’s been bubbling under the surface, what should be a pleasant daydream turns into a manic episode.  Rather playful, optimistic longing is replaced with aggressive force.  As if he’s shaking the collar of society itself, he screams, “You don’t remember!  You don’t remember my name!”  Now, he’s in control and is using his power to get back at his enemies – “Off with his head now; off with his head!!”

Unfortunately, the mania subsides and is replaced with a calming, static depression.  He’s back to the real world and his fantasy is just that – a fantasy.  The difference is, there’s no going back.  Perhaps in the intensity of his manic episode, he has broken a law or two, for now passersby are scorning and ridiculing him for his insanity.  “Off with his head now!!” is both a mantra yelled at society and the actual response of society to the outcast’s madness.

A crowd draws and he’s told, “That’s it now — you’re leaving,” but he refuses to give-in; instead fighting back and running away (“the dust and the screaming”). The police presumably catch him, but not before he is beaten (“the crackle of pigskin”), shrieking in terror as the walls of his world cave-in (“the screaming”).  All the while, this is taking place in public, with businessmen and women rushing past, far too busy making phone calls to stop and observe (“yuppies networking”).

It is here where Yorke sings with a cruel jest, “God loves his children.”  It is here where the literal story of a man going crazy and the casual observations of the modern cynic merge.  In the literal narrative, this line is a delusional self-assurance, muttered by the outcast as he’s hauled away.   In the figurative narrative, the cynical observer is mocking the idea of “God” with a bitter sarcasm: “God loves his children,” as if to say, why would anyone Godly waste their attention on this hellish world?  Regardless atheistic implications, this line is important because it shows how both the outcast and the observer have lost all hope.

In the chaos of literal arrest (or the figurative personal disconnect felt towards society), the outcast gives in.  The reason we know the outcast is too tired to fight is because the song starts off with “I’m trying to get some rest,” as if to imply should our protagonist not recover soon, there will be no will to continue.  With no hope in sight, the outcast proclaims, “let it all rain down on me — let it pour from a great height, far up in the sky.”  As if lithium had entered, intravenously, into his bloodstream, our lonesome friend finds peace (even if in defeat).

As if to justify the abstract nature of this song, we hear a robotic voice chanting, “I may be paranoid, but I’m not an android.” In other words, the outcast might have been seen as eccentric; perhaps even paranoid for no reason, but at least he was feeling something.  The beauty of this song is that once you understand the general narrative, all the abstract imagery can be applied to a multitude of concepts, all seen from the observer / the outcast’d perspective.  This outcast is holding up a mirror to our world, but before he can even ask if we’re okay with the resultant image, he loses his mind.

“Andrew the Rapper”

When I was 16 I recorded a ‘rap album’ with 11 tracks, a 15 dollar microphone and a program I still use today — Audacity.  I made it mainly because I wanted to liven up the tedious routine of school and I rapped about very tame things (the class botany project; in-jokes with friends recorded for friends and Dance Dance Revolution, sampling South Park’s then-popular episode).  I even tried to make a “real” song, of which I’ll spare you the details.

Among friends, from then on, I was of-course known by my rap alias, “Hateorade”, not necessarily by choice, but always in good-spirit.  The 14-minute album-in-question, “Hate or Die”, did manage to get played in said science class and yes, when the first track, “With a Beat” came on, a few people started dancing (and laughing).

The memory of my friends’ and classmates’ reaction, in addition to the ‘recording process’ itself (i.e. “Name me some stuff and I’ll make a rap about it,” leading to the classic, “Pancaked”) are clearly why I made the project.  The intentions were so pure and the results were so horrible, but everyone just kept going with it because it was honestly pretty funny – this was in 2006.

This is my ultimate take-away from making music: what you record in the present turns into something which helps understand who you were in the past (and thus, who you are today).  I think when I revisited this, years later, this realization refueled my desire to record music.

Fast-forward to the end of 2010, throughout 2011 and into early 2012 and I began to reimagine my favorite moments in music as platforms on which my perspective could stand – this was done by looping portions of songs, then rapping over these loops.  Those are heady statements, too, because the practical result was some uber-lo-fi, uber-quiet raps over weird-ass samples; amassing maybe a collective 1,000 views on YouTube (and over 17 tracks, that’s even less than you think it is).

It was early 2012 and I realized I had recorded about an album’s length of material, so I released it on DatPiff.  I also realized, judging from said ‘album’, that I was a terrible rapper and it was ridiculous to think anyone should waste their time listening to such “armchair Hip Hop”.   This, in itself, was enough for me to ask the question: “Could I do it any better if I actually tried?”

So I did try — really, really hard.  That very summer I made up my mind I was going to make a rap album that was somewhat listenable.  There was also a serious sense of urgency to the project because part of me was a bit sketched out by talks of doomsday and Mayan Apocalypse.  I knew the world wouldn’t end, but I did wonder: “If it would, what would I want to say now?”

I was making music as if it was the last thing I was ever going to make.  Once it was made, however, I realized that life was still continuing and, since I had at least tried to make something, my sense of urgency faded.  Life kicked into full-gear and I was too busy balancing work and school to really find time for rapping.

During this time period, I used Laptop Rap 2 as personal motivation.  Whenever I felt like everything was too much, I remembered that at the end of the day, I made Laptop Rap 2.  It sounds so silly now, but it was quite an accomplishment (in my own head).  Over time, however, inner(/net) criticism dissolved my halcyon daze and I was back to square one: “Could I make an album which would transcend internal criticism?”

Spoilers: Yes.

I don’t know what the future holds, but I do know that making Hip Hop music, in the 100%-DIY manner I choose to make it, is both therapeutic and a powerful tool for self-motivation.  I’m telling you all this because I wanted those who know me in-person to understand my intentions and that no, I haven’t lost my mind.  If you really respect me as a person, you will indulge my rap-fantasy and give my tunes a listen – you’ll be surprised.

Why Kanye West’s $120 T-Shirt is… genius?


The truth is, you aren’t going to buy a t-shirt for $120 if you aren’t rich. No one who isn’t rich could justify that kind of money.  There’s nothing about the t-shirt which projects wealth and no one is going to look at the interior lining, so this is why super-fans cannot buy this shirt and understand its purpose.

The purpose of this shirt is for the person who bought the shirt (and that person alone).  It’s a reminder that when you put on your t-shirt, you know the price.  You know how much money you have that you can afford to drop $120 on a novelty.  This confidence will undoubtedly make the person wearing the t-shirt, wear it better.

Additionally, this solves a problem in personal wealth perception, where items like undershirts and white t-shirts were always going to be the same price; they will always feel cheap.  Now, you can have wealth even when it looks like you don’t; a wealth so powerful that it resonates without any indication of why — you are wealth.

Anyone who simply “wears a white t-shirt” won’t have that empowered personal feeling of wealth.  That’s why you have to buy Kanye’s $120 brand.  It’s just enough that anyone could buy it if they really wanted to, but too much for anyone who isn’t rich to casually buy (like you would a white t-shirt).

Lyrical Analysis: “Remember The Time?” by Michael Jackson

*Remixed by Girl Talk to use Daft Punk’s production on “Get Lucky” as the backing track:

Loved this when I first heard it and immediately ran to grab the speakers out of my car.  When I got back I looped it on-repeat, even though I knew the neighbors would hate me.  I played the one minute clip for about 5-6 minutes, on loop.  Then I realized I needed to listen to it louder, so I grabbed my Senns and looped it for about half an hour.

I was absolutely in love with the song, then realized how beautiful it was to hear Michael Jackson in what sounded like brand-new material.  Daft Punk’s new “Get Lucky”, which is itself an attempt to preserve the spirit of MJ-era (and earlier) music, seems meant for Micheal Jackson’s SUBLIME vocal talent.

I thought how he had passed, but more importantly how hard of a life he had despite unconditional love for the world.  “Do you remember when we fell in love?”  Do you remember how bright the radio shined when you first heard Michael Jackson?  Do you remember how perfect his songwriting was and the colossal amount of talent he had?  Even if you don’t, here’s a chance to hear it again.

I started tearing up in my right eye, very naturally, until I caught myself.  I didn’t want to stop though, because I was crying from sheer inspiration; hearing an otherworldly, godlike presence sounding so beautifully and in accord with Daft Punk’s immaculate production.

It had been a long time since music had really hit me in this way.  I remember how this used to happen all the time, even just last year.  I missed this.  The lyrics continued: “We were young and innocent then.”  I missed music.  I wanted to fall in love again, but all new music I heard wasn’t resonating with me. I wanted to fall in love with music again, and there, while listening, it was finally happening.

This, of course, just brought on a full-blown stream of tears under each eye.  As if achieving lucidity in a dream-state, I realized this was happening: “See?  Love is real.  All is infinite, overwhelming love.  You’re listening to it.  This is it; it can happen again and again.”

Fate is merciful and sounds like Michael Jackson, singing in a voice that is post-gender; post-identity: embodying perfection in a state which transcends physicality and description.  “Do you remember the time when we fell in love?”  Yes, now I do.  Thank you for reminding me, Michael.

Photography: Treelines

Lyrical Analysis: “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” by Daft Punk

The lyrics can be found here. You can listen to the song below:

When Daft Punk wasn’t bringing France’s touch on Electronic music to the masses, they were putting their own touch on vocal takes. Daft Punk’s singles have a character to them which feels human. The hooks are sung clear and coherent; nurtured by a funky kick you’d hear once and latch onto. But just how did robots connect into the hearts of red-blooded humanity?

While Daft Punk is made up of the humans Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter, their albums are presented as music made by machines. As a robot, there is no sense pretending to be human, for one can see right through the perfection of it all. A machine designed to be flawless in calculation will never err, which is why electronic music sometimes turns people off — it’s too “repetitive” i.e. where’s the human-touch? Where is the flaw that I can relate to, as a fellow human?

The perfect response to this is found in their classic single, “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger”. “Perfect” may seem like too strong of a word, but any dance song which lasts beyond a decade deserves the acclaim. Indeed, the song maintains particular relevance, having been heard by most of the United States after Kanye West sampled the song in his 2007 #1-charting single, “Stronger”. This is a song which repeats four lines for four minutes and by the end, it’s just as much Soul music as it is House. The song gets so heartfelt, but why? What is it that makes it so appealing?

In the beginning of the song, the lyrics are sung crystal-clear — you, as a listener, can make out every word. By the end of the song, however, the track has elevated in pitch and the robots are no longer reciting a programmed phrase — they are singing. Yes, they are singing, because they are making mistakes. There are pauses between phrases — some phrases are not even sung during “Harder, Better…”‘s frantic peak. Those four lines which the song had repeated with reassuring consistence now fade. It’s difficult to make out what’s being said; to decipher it, one has to rely on memory rather than the music itself.

Removing fractions of vocals to give the impression that this “robot singer” is flawed is, in itself, a robotic approach to making soulful music. This is the Daft Punk aesthetic: Music made not just by robots, but by well-intentioned robots; robots aware of, and trying to transcend, their robotic limitations.

So by the end, you’re in awe. What had been promised and laid before you is now gone. You long for when the song’s vocals were simple and robotic, all the while amazed at how these guys might just be humans after all. The last second of the song are two words from the line “Our work is never over” — “Never Over”. These words are sung in the same vocal style which built the song’s groove. It leaves a reminder: This feeling is never over.

Amongst the background noise, the search for something real will rarely yield anything beyond a glimpse. These robots, in all their perfection, found their voice only as the song was coming to an end. What their “voice” translated to was distortion of perfection. The more chopped-up the vocals became, the more it seemed like these robots were capable of empathy. In addition to impeccable production, this is a major reason the song sounds fresh even eleven years after its initial release (March 2001).