Thursday, August 19, 2021

The Word & Sound Alliance

For about as long as I've been alive I've always found something ephemerally beautiful about the way music can affect us, whether it be general moods or just triggering emotions we don't expect. This isn't exclusive to music, but it's entirely aural impact gives it a bit of a different punch than other mediums do. This is just the power of art, and it is what makes it so valuable to us as individuals and as a society.

Stories have the same affect, they just achieve it in a different way. Whereas music is entirely aural, storytelling slips through the eyes (or fingers) into the brain where we process and understand it. How they are ingested into the body and soul is completely different. They are both very varied artforms that require wholly separate skills to master. 

And yet they are both very similar in a lot of ways.

When author Alexander Hellene asked me to be part of his Pulp Rock Anthology project, I instantly jumped aboard. I didn't even have to think about. The reason is that I think the two different forms should come together more often than they do. In fact, we've separated and sealed off every medium of art and entertainment into its own ghetto of "communities" instead of allowing them to intersect and flow into each other like they did before the 21st century came into existence. We have forgotten how wild things can get.

There is nothing quite like an adventure story based around music, songs, or legends thereof. I've done it myself many times because it is just so fascinating to me. However, outside of Manly Wade Wellman's Silver John stories, this subgenre of adventure is disappointingly rare, especially today. But it doesn't have to be!

In fact, I created an entire series of short stories involving a band that travels across an old backwoods country planet while dealing with supernatural craziness along the way. You've already read one of them in StoryHack. One of this series is in this Pulp Rock anthology, and another is on the way elsewhere. You'll have to see what all those other tales are about in the near future. But for now, there is plenty on the way.

Aside from that I've also written Grey Cat Blues and Y Signal, both of which feature music as a major component to what happens. I do have other stories in the pipeline with the same sort of inspiration, but for now let us focus on the ones that are already out.

Grey Cat Blues is where the music I was listening for most of my life gave me the entire aesthetic to work around and even add in entire character ideas and motivations. The old blues and country-style storytelling the genres were known for back during their commercial and creative peaks inspired a lot of what I did in that book.

For Y Signal, it was about the Gen X era of using noise rock to express anger and a desire for more than the world they saw before them at the time. It is something that still resonates now even decades later after the 1990s are but a fading memory in a vanishingly small number of people. But the music and stories from that time help keep the memories alive of what an odd time it was. This is something only our art and entertainment can really convey to the audience.

Art is like an intangible cloud in the back of your mind, unpredictable yet thick. It contains all our shared experiences, our hopes, our dreams, and even memories of the past. Without it we would be much poorer, just as we would without any individual life in this world. Every piece matters, every piece contributes, and every piece is necessary, even if we don't see it. This is how it is meant to be. Everything matters.

I was reminded of this recently when the most popular VTuber in the world, Gawr Gura, performed her usual popular karaoke stream and decided to throw in a Sabaton cover in the middle of it. The internet blew up talking about it, but I think many might have missed why exactly it hit so hard with so many people. It wasn't just the song, but what it meant to the people listening to her. The performance came out of nowhere and left many pleasantly shocked and delighted.

For those unaware of the term, "VTuber" just means virtual youtuber. Someone who uses an avatar for anonymity to do what normal youtubers do. This burgeoning scene blew up big last year thanks to newcomers like Gura who have a lot of charisma and winning personalities to connect with audiences. Next month will be her first year anniversary as a VTuber and she already has over 3 million youtube subscribers. Despite initial skepticism in some circles, she won many people over. Now, near twelve months later, she continues to grow in popularity.

For reference, here is the encore performance of the above song:

The song is out of her vocal range, but it hardly matters. She still nailed it with plenty of enthusiasm. Gura's voice is more adapt to slower, jazzy numbers, and yet she attempted to sing a power metal song that requires a harsher tone and big energy. It is the opposite of what she is best at doing. You'd think it wouldn't work, right?

But it did, and quite splendidly. She performed two Sabaton songs (and a Motorhead one!) during this stream regardless, because she likes the songs just that much. And the audience enjoyed every moment of it. Gura is a fantastic singer, you can find many clips to prove it, but when she enjoys herself, the audience gets into it too. That is what matters more to those listening.

When she asked for an encore, the audience unanimously asked for Sabaton's The Last Stand again, and she eagerly jumped into it. Why did it work so well despite that it technically shouldn't have? Because the song is clearly one she has passion for and put everything into her performance of it. Does it help that the song is great and that she has a great voice? Sure. But it is the fact that threw herself into it like she did is why it worked out so well. It was trending for quite a while on social media for a reason.

At the same time, she also managed to both bridge the gap with metal and Sabaton fans as well as introducing a good portion of her own audience to music they might not be familiar with. On the other hand, Sabaton fans might have found a streamer they might want to follow by listening to her sing. No matter how you look at it, this is a win for everyone.

This is the power of art, especially in something like music. You can be linked to people and things you wouldn't in a million years think you have anything in common with. Such a thing is unfortunately underrated these days, but it still remains true.

Didn't think you had anything in common with a singing anime shark girl? Think again! Art is deeper than just the surface level. You never know just what is going to connect with who and when it is going to happen. This is what makes it exciting!

This is one of the reasons the ego problems we see with artists, musicians, and writers, today is so utterly misguided and pointless. It isn't about us, it's about the art and how we can use it to reach each other when we couldn't otherwise. That is what matters!

At some point we began to worship the artist and the art, and it is what has led so many people to have the wrong view on entertainment. It has also caused us to build whole identities around this misunderstanding. Art is made for everyone, not just cliques.

You can see this in the music world, too. The whole concept of a "rock star" didn't really exist before Elvis Presley, and even his popularity came from that fact that he was naturally popular and charismatic when performing. Starting in the 1960s, most rock music was boosted by either the record labels with the most cash to spare or managers with the same. Not to mention payola, as much as certain people don't want to admit it, existed and flooded radio stations. The music world began worshipping stars over enjoying the music instead. It might be hard to imagine now when all modern music stars are walking punchlines, but it was different back in the day.

Unfortunately, most of the time the music was liked mainly because of who was making it. This filtered reception of said material and caused fanatic cliques to spring up. Just look at the way music made from those who die young is treated in comparison to those who live normal, long, fulfilling lives. It is as if they are worshipping golden gods. It didn't help that there were entire magazines dedicated to building a cult out of this music.

The advent of MTV putting an emphasis on aesthetics and looks over the sonic quality of an aural art shouldn't even need to be mentioned. For some reason in the 1980s and 90s you needed a music video--a term that is contradictory on its face--to stand out. Of course, music videos don't really exist anymore, and anyone hearing about them these days would be baffled by their appeal, but they did a good job changing the perception of what the form is meant to be about. Visuals are simply not a part of what makes music powerful. Sorry, punk and metal fans. What matters is the musical content.

Oddly enough, the combination of music with prose fiction is a unique one that actually adds a layer to each, though it was hardly every pushed the way music videos were. Aural sounds to put a slant on prose and words to put a story to sounds is a combination that adds something unique. It is just reality that the shallow and pointless form of the music video could never really do anything on this level.

This is what makes projects like Pulp Rock so fascinating.

How does this combination of sound and word do it? By attaching so viscerally to the imagination. Music requires your mind to put the disparate instruments and sound together to form a whole. The production and the composition of the song adds to what picture your mind puts out in order to understand it in a coherent manner.

Reading is not much different. You read the words off the page and your brain plays the scenario inside your head. You are given the tools of the story--now it is up to your imagination to do the heavy lifting of letting the plot play out. This is the fun of it!

Combine these two separate things together and you can easily see the appeal of each and how they can work as one. This is one of the reasons I jumped at the chance to contribute to Pulp Rock. In an age where both music and reading have been so devalued by the wider culture it is nice to be a part of a project that combines them into one and allows the audience to see just what makes this insanity all so special. In a time where we worship artists and aesthetic over content, it's nice to be part of something that cares more about concept and the core. It's not as common as you'd expect!

I am not certain when it happened, but a shift did occur. We went from liking music for being music and stories for being stories into liking the idea of each being dismantled by the people "in charge" of these industries. As a result, you now have what the modern music and OldPub industries are--walking corpses that receive no respect from anyone. They are dead, and not coming back, and no one is going to think they deserved any better.

But the forms themselves remain very much alive! With the death of those old decrepit industries, it is now the chance for the revival both need badly. Pulp Rock is one such new idea.

The 2000s especially was such a horrible decade for art. If you lived it and put aside any lingering nostalgia, you'd know what I mean. Post-2001 art was a quagmire of misery and misdirected hate that makes it unbelievably hard to revisit outside of personal attachment. 

Music especially suffered a death blow. It was the decade where rock music finally breathed its last breath and endless variations on boring dissonant dance music being dominant. What wasn't awkwardly politicized by people who just repeated talking points from comedians was still covered in a grime and misery that wouldn't wash off no matter what anyone did. By 2010, the genre of rock was irrelevant, and the industry itself was basically over and done. The collapse was sudden, and few noticed it at the time, but it was very real.

To be fair, reading as a hobby and industry did die first. After the Thor Power Tool Case removed so much history and backlog off the bookshelves, people started reading less and less. Everything appeared to wrong during this point. All the independent companies were bought up or went under. The sword and sorcery boom was cut off at the knees due to OldPub meddling, and Mythic Fiction began imitating the bones of Tolkien's story structure and calling it a genre. 

Creativity was being commoditized into formulas for easy bookshelf stacking. Reading was no longer fun, imaginative, or thrilling--it was a bunch of checkboxes you needed to hit to be accepted into the OldPub meat grinder. In essence, the industry has been dead for decades.

The less said about the slide in Futuristic Fiction, the better. If you can think of anything from the genre from the 1990s that made any impact, you probably either lived during the period and scrounged hard for something to find or you just read anything with a sword or spaceship on the cover. Either way, none of this improved when the 2000s came along. By that point it was already much too late to right the ship. Audiences were long gone.

It didn't take much longer for other forms like comic books or movies to make the same slide into the mire, though you can still find the root causes go back much further than even the '90s. The nadir was just hit during the 2000s. Even video games are falling into this pit. Really, the lack of creativity from the big boys was only a problem when audiences had no access to alternatives. The thing is, now they very much do.

Nonetheless, that was over a decade ago. It's in the rearview mirror. Today we can appreciate things for what they are again, especially with the rise of so many better alternatives. The withering away of crusty 20th century institutions have given us the chance to reassess and remember just what everything is for again. 

Music at its heart is meant for the concert hall or the hootenanny, a place where we can all get together and have a ball together. That might be difficult these days, but the internet gives us the opportunity to have that connection in a new way when it would otherwise be difficult. Even if it is through the online concert of a singing anime shark girl!

Reading as well now is no longer locked to OldPub bookstores owned fully by the flatlining large book corporations. Now you can find anything online you desire, regardless of your taste. It would be nice if it were easier to do that, and if the internet weren't battered by poor algorithms and programming all over the place, but who knows what the future will hold? Either way, reading itself is in much better shape than it was a decade ago.

And projects like Pulp Rock allow us to see the connection between them on an even clearer scale. This is the future of art and entertainment. You better get used to it! The tired 20th century ways are finally over and done with. It is time for new ways; ways more in line with human nature itself.

I have to say that if this is the future we see before us then we are really heading in the right direction. We are starting to connect and share among each other again, and that means everything. We've needed this for a long time. The times are finally changing.

In the end, that's what really counts. Change isn't always a good thing or a bad thing, but in this case it was well beyond needed and very necessary. The old way of the big publishers and industry is finally over and done. The corpse can now be laid to rest and buried. We are well beyond due for this.

Art will never die, no matter how we might try to smother or gut it. Just like the future will never stop coming, even if we try to ignore it bearing down on us at every opportunity. All we have to do is pay attention to what's ahead, because it could be anything!

Once again, you can find Pulp Rock here. Check this exciting anthology out for ten exciting stories about music, in any way you can imagine. They are all very wild and off the wall. My story is bizarre, but it fits in just fine. You're going to love it.

And there is much, much, much more to come from me and many artists and entertainers out there. We're going to find a way to get across to you, no matter what. Because that's what we do, and that's why we're here.

It might get strange, but isn't that what makes it fun? You never know what's coming next on the road ahead. All I can say is that you won't see anything else like what is coming down the pike. The future is open, but it's also always coming straight for you.

Be ready!

For more weirdness, check out my new book, Brutal Dreams! This is a story of adventure, romance, and horror, in a nightmare world. What does the future hold in endless sleep? Read on to find out!


  1. You are quite wrong about music videos not existing today. They are still used heavily as promotional tools. Youtbe is filled with them.

    Do they have the reach of MTV back in the day? No. But they are definitely out there and are continuosly being made.

    1. There are also trailers for movies that are glorified music videos too. How effective they are is anyone's guess.

    2. They're as effective as any movie trailer: to let people know whether the movie is worth watching, even out of morbid curiosity.

    3. Goes a long way to explain the raging success of the modern movie and music industry.

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