The Organizing Principle
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Don't tell anyone, but the Urban Man often tries to organize real life into a music video. It's a bad habit, I know — but I'll be sitting, say, in a vegan Asian fusion restaurant, listening with apparent close attention to the important conversation of a lunchtime companion, when the background track on the sound system, barely audible above the general hubbub, suddenly catches my ear. Usually, there's an additional inciting incident, like a flash of sunlight off a brass cappuccino machine, before suddenly the whole dining room becomes a soundstage and I begin using my peripheral vision as film editing equipment, blinking from one cut to the next.
For example, I may catch a young waitress smacking through the kitchen door with three plates of spicy Thai noodles, and snapping on a happy smile before she passes among the tables — all to the beat. Even as my actual lunch companion describes, for example, the confusing facts of his recent breakup, I will watch the waitress deftly land those noodles, shining with peanut oil, in front of three business types who ignore her, and do not register her extravagant beauty.
Okay, okay, I say I'm "watching the waitress," but as in any decent music video, I am fitfully intercutting many images along the way: bamboo planter, slow overhead fan, craggy old woman at bar; and then during a guitar solo, the yet fast-moving hands and lips of my companion.
Music creates the most fundamental human mirage. It always offers, if not quite a story, than at least an attitude that seems to connect things together. That's why it doesn't matter if song lyrics actually make any sense. Music videos have extended that illusion to apparently random images. For example, thanks to music videos, we have learned that while much of urban life may be astoundingly ugly, if you shatter the city into a million pieces, and set those pieces to the right tune, it all becomes downright beautiful.
I often wonder if we could actually bear modern life without music videos to transform it...and I figure most people are becoming pretty good at transforming modern life into music video.
Of course, it's easier inside a car, where the windows create multiple screens, and you can organize everything to your tunes: flashing lights on the backs of big trucks, rapid strobes of signs and power lines. Yes, probably you're in your car at this very moment, and I'm distracting you from some directorial triumph.
I only wish I could explain all this to my unhappy friend, I mean about how, in the modern world, you have to lay down the underlying track, then simply let events transpire in front of your lens.
Back in the restaurant, the sound system has switched into a bluesy cut, and I pick out a mismatched couple in the corner. He's a pencil-thin black dude in a blue 1950s suit, narrow tie and purple wideband felt hat, quietly sipping green tea. She's an equally thin white lady, forty, hemp-white camisole, bending over a pink iPhone and perpetually tossing platinum hair out of her eyes. Do they even know each other? Or are they just sharing a table in the crowded café? Who cares? My mental camera coordinates their rhythmic sip, toss, sip, toss, and I go for the color thing, cutting quickly from green to pink, purple to blue, black to white — while all the while over the speakers a downbeat groove nicely pulls the whole scenario together.
Then I do try to tune back into my friend, who's still trying to make heads or tails of his failed relationship. I've lost the thread of what he's saying, but the Urban Man would really like to tell him, "Look, no problem: We all have to think music video. That way, even when the key shifts, it will all make sense."
Copyright © 2009 Marc Porter Zasada. All rights reserved.
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