An Examination of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and Inclusiveness in Art

I recently rejoined the Facebook group Gay Geeks, and it took little to no time at all to remember why I left it in the first place.

As with most gatherings on social media, people are anxious to get into an argument and test out their debating skills (or lack thereof). The internet is all too full of places like this, and while I think it’s probably ultimately a good thing that such vigorous infighting goes on, I personally hate confrontation, and so I tend to steer away from these things whenever possible.

I am not without my share of controversial opinions, which I am happy to exclaim loudly from the rooftops. I just don’t like argument. I genuinely want to have my opinion and share it, and I honestly don’t care what anyone thinks of it. When people agree with me, I feel supported and glad that I shared, and when they disagree I tend to take it personally, so I’ve learned that it’s best just to share my opinions in a space that is primarily my own (like this blog), or to share my opinions among friends who will still be respectful even if they disagree. I don’t know if this makes me a crybaby, but honestly I don’t care, I will communicate however I want to communicate.

HP15_Q4_Square_LS_Pottermore

But I did decide to chip in on some interesting topics that I ran into today, and two separate discussions that I feel are directly related. The first has to do with the recent “eighth” Harry Potter story, the script to the West End play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I actually hadn’t bothered reading it until recently, and even then I couldn’t finish it. But more on that in a moment.

I think it’s great that there’s a Harry Potter play, and I also think it’s great that they published the script. I don’t particularly approve of their marketing campaign, which was to literally tout is “the eighth installment” in the Harry Potter series. It wasn’t written by J.K. Rowling, and even though supposedly she came up with the concept for the story, I somehow have a difficult time believing that because of the way it reads. Before I get too deep into what I don’t like about it, I will say these things on behalf of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child:

For one thing, the book we’ve received is a script. It is one component of a larger production, and it is incomplete without the actors reading it on stage. That being said, some of the greatest writers in history have expressed themselves entirely through script-writing (Shakespeare comes to mind), so that doesn’t really give Cursed Child too much of a leg to stand on when it comes to forgiving it’s many, many flaws, from a writing perspective. However, I will concede that maybe this is just the kind of script that doesn’t look good on it’s own, maybe it truly is best represented through actors.

The second thing I want to plug here is that Imogen Heap composed the music for the play, and so there is at least one aspect that I can automatically appreciate. I haven’t heard the music, but Imogen Heap is one of my personal inspirations and favorite musicians, so I’m just going to give her the benefit the doubt and assume her score is brilliant. Because it probably is.

That being said, let’s get into it.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a play, set in the future of the Harry Potter world, beginning at exactly the same moment when the epilogue from the final book takes place. The story follows several protagonists, but mainly centers around Harry Potter’s son Albus, and his budding romance friendship with Draco Malfoy’s son, Scorpius. This premise alone is a great way to begin.

Then Time Turners get involved and it quickly devolves into badly written fanfiction published with Rowling’s name on the front (though it should be made perfectly clear that Rowling did NOT write this script, she is credited as having created the concept and nothing more, and exactly what that means is vague enough and we can probably exonerate her from any literary wrongdoing).

Time Turners are an element of the Harry Potter series that have frequently been seized upon as a weakness in the story (akin to the classic “why didn’t they just ride the eagles to Mordor?” criticism of Lord of the Rings), and for good reason. The ability to turn back time seems like something far too dangerous to allow into the hands of anyone but the most seasoned time-traveler, and yet their first introduction in the series is when they are used by Hermione in the Prisoner of Azkaban to make it to all of her classes on time, essentially allowing her to be in two places at one time. Even for a brilliant witch like Hermione, this seems like an incredibly extreme measure for the authorities at Hogwarts to take, and how Professor McGonogall managed to clear it with the Ministry of Magic is beyond me.

Rowling attempted to build some fail-safes into the Time Turner system: for one thing, Time Turners can only be used to travel back a few hours in time. I can’t remember if this is explicitly stated in the books, but whatever, Cursed Child throws it out the window anyway. It also throws away another very crucial aspect of time travel within the Harry Potter universe: Prisoner of Azkaban showed that time travel in the Harry Potter universe is of the closed-loop variety (or boot-strap paradox). This means that if someone is going to travel back in time, they’ve actually already done it. This is shown in Prisoner of Azkaban when Harry was saved from a flock (herd? pack? murder? let’s go with murder) of Dementors by a young man conjuring a stag Patronus who looked so eerily similar to Harry that he assumed it to be his father. He later realized, however, that it wasn’t his father, but himself from the future, having come back in time, rescuing himself in the past.

This creates a paradox, as almost all time travel does, but at least it gives the time travel in Harry Potter some kind of interior logic. To further prevent time travel from mucking up the entire story, Rowling wrote a scene in book five in which all of the Time Turners in the possession of the Ministry of Magic are destroyed. That should probably be where it ends, and well enough too. But that is not how it ends.

Cursed Child stacks one fanfiction cliche on top of another (and I should probably mention now that there are major spoilers ahead): the action begins when Amos Diggory, uncle of the late Cedric Diggory, comes to Harry, who is now the head of magical law enforcement (I won’t complain about this too much, it’s entirely possible Harry became a competent wizard as he grew older, despite, as Voldemort often pointed out, having no particularly strong affinity for magic by himself), and asks Harry to use a recently confiscated Time Turner to go back in time and save Cedric. This request is pretty silly entirely in premise, because anyone who has enough time to think about this request, as surely Amos has, would realize that there are two fundamental problems with it: first, going back to save Cedric could have grave implications toward the entire world, and could easily result in Harry never having triumphed over Voldemort, or if he did, it could mean that there was still a Battle of Hogwarts and Cedric could have died there. The second big problem is that it must be KNOWN within the Harry Potter universe that time travel is closed-loop, so if Harry were going to go back and try to save Cedric, then he’s already done it, and clearly failed.

But the writers of Cursed Child gave little thought to that, and decided to run with it anyway. The two main characters, Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy, along with a mysterious friend Delphi (whose origin is not so much left vague as never even questioned by any other character: why is she looking after Amos Diggory? Why is she on board with the time travel plan? Does anyone ask? No! Who cares?) do in fact get hold of a Time Turner and attempt to rectify the past and save Cedric. They choose to do this in the strangest way possible: they go back in time to the first task of the Triwizard Tournament, and the main characters are so daft that despite actively setting out to travel back in time to that moment, they seem completely confused as to where they are how they got there. There’s even a scene when one of the boys runs into Hermione and confuses her for Hermione’s daughter. They KNOW they’re in the past, can they REALLY be this stupid?

They then decide that the most effective way to rescue Cedric from death at the hands of Voldemort is to DISARM him while he’s fighting a dragon. Their logic is that SURELY the school won’t allow a child to be killed during the tournament, something they should know is not the case, because firstly, it’s explicitly stated in Goblet of Fire that the tournament is dangerous and that’s why it hasn’t been held in so long, and secondly because a student DID die during that very tournament!

For some reason, things get all wibbly wobbly timey wimey and their time turner pulls them back to the present, and of course their actions have had far reaching consequences. Presumably Harry still triumphed over Voldemort, and for some reason Scorpius and Albus still exist, however Hermione’s daughter no longer exists because she and Ron never got together in the first place, and Ron has become a pudgy emasculated shell of himself, though he did manage to have another child (I can’t even remember with who, I think it was the girl he asked to the Yule ball?). Hermione is now the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher at Hogwarts, and boy has she changed, basically becoming a female version of Professor Snape, snapping at the students and treating them like shit.

Albus, the dolt that he is, gets all confused and stammers something to the effect of “But I don’t understand! You’re married to Hermione! Your daughter is Rose! What’s HAPPENING?” Because he apparently has no clue that he just altered history (which I remind you should not be possible due to the closed-loop time travel established in Prisoner of Azkaban). After this comes a scene in which Ron has a conversation with Hermione, where the two awkwardly flirt with one another, acknowledging the fact that yeah, they probably should have gotten together. I have a problem with this two for two reasons: one, because I don’t personally think that the Hermione and Ron relationship made that much sense to begin with it, but mostly it’s because of how TERRIBLY the scene is written. I’m going to show the EXACT moment when I said “fuck this shit” and put the book down.

Ron

This isn’t just Ron being a stammering goof. It’s bad writing. And it’s indicative of the writing of this whole play. It reads like it was written by a novice fanfiction writer with the approximate life experience of a thirteen year old. It just feels so inauthentic, and it feels like bad fanfiction that was published with the original author’s name splashed on the front. I’m beginning to understand why Anne Rice forbids anyone to publish Vampire Chronicles fanfiction.

And this is isn’t the only example of bad characterization in the play. There is an entire scene in which Harry and Draco have an elaborately choreographed duel, firing spells at one another, flying through the air, and flipping over furniture. It’s supposed to be an intense scene, the climax of an altercation between the two. But at the end of the scene, Ginny walks into the room, huffs and says “What did I miss?” You can almost hear the sitcom theme music start and the audience applaud as it cuts to commercial break. It’s so out of place and corny and unnecessary. It’s the kind of thing that wouldn’t even be funny in a parody (see: A Very Potter Musical, incidentally a MUCH better stage production than this, script and all).

The bad writing applies to more than just the characters and the situations, it also really affects the stage direction. As anyone with any rudimentary knowledge of a stage play knows, the words between characters dialogue are stage directions, they’re there to help the cast and crew know what’s going on in the world of the play, and to know what needs to change in the environment around them. The stage directions in this play are absolutely nothing more than the writer being self-indulgent, rhapsodizing about character details that need to be conveyed by the dialogue and the actors’ performances, NOT explained in the stage directions. Here’s an example of one that’s absolutely ludicrous, and the script is FILLED with pointless self-indulgent moments like this:

Stage Directions

I remind you that this is a PROFESSIONAL stage production in the West End, officially endorsed by Harry Potter’s creator. This level of unprofessional self-indulgence would be ridiculous in any script, but in something official and big name like this, it’s unforgivable.

The final straw came when I decided to pick the book back up after a few minutes, thinking I would just flip through and skim on to a good part. I happened to open up to the end of Act One, which I was not far from in my reading progress. Some series of events unfurls and Albus finds himself being pulled out of the lake beside Hogwarts and coming face to face with Hogwarts headmistress Dolores Umbridge, who informs him that today is “Voldemort Day.”

Voldemort Day.

I’m not making this up.

Here, take a look.

Voldemort Day

If the book had been mine and not borrowed from someone else I might have thrown it across the room. Do I even need to go into how ridiculous the entire concept of a “Voldemort Day” is? Even if Voledmort DID successfully take over the world and carry out a Muggle genocide, even if he did become dark lord over everyone on Earth, there is no way in hell he would sanction a holiday called VOLDEMORT DAY. For one, it’s far too on the nose for him (see what I did there?), and for another, he forbids anyone to speak his name! Any time someone DOES speak his name in the books when they’re in his presence, he becomes indignant and enraged.

I’m going to stop there as far as criticism goes, because I didn’t read any further. What I have come to understand through accidentally stumbling onto her article on the Harry Potter wiki is that one of the central characters of the story, Delphi, is in fact the illegitimate child of Voldemort and Bellatrix LeStrange, who is using Albus and Scorpius’ Time Turner plan to ressurect her father for whatever reason. This reeks of fanfiction, and not even the good kind.

Suffice it to say I was not impressed by Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

Cursed Child.PNG

On to my original point though, there was an argument about the book over on the Gay Geeks page when someone shared an article with the Headline: The Harry Potter universe still can’t translate it’s gay subtext to text. It’s a problem.”

Basically, the issue the writer of the article took was that despite the Harry Potter audience growing up with the Harry Potter universe, it hasn’t really grown up with them. Meaning that it’s still primarily white and heterosexual. J.K. Rowling famously declared Dumbledore to be gay after-the-fact, and even though reading the books again reveals that yeah, the setup between Dumbledore and Grindelwald probably was there, it was only there are subtext, and shoehorning in a homosexual orientation for Dumbledore after the fact doesn’t exactly make Harry Potter the all-inclusive pinnacle of gay acceptance. Still, it’s a step forward.

The problem that many people have with Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is that Albus and Scorpius seem, from the MOMENT they meet, to be on a romantic course with one another. Their exchanges are filled with flirty moments and clumsy awkwardness, their friendship grows as the two boys bond closer with one another, and when Harry makes the incredibly bad choice to separate the two for Albus’ protection, they respond exactly as two lovers who’ve been ripped apart by their parents might be expected to. Having never finished the script, I can only go on what I’ve heard from here on out, but apparently the script is filled with more romantic moments like these (during the section of the script I read, there’s even a moment when Albus hugs Delphi and the stage directions point out that Scorpius is happy to see him hugging a girl, and yet it makes him uncomfortable at the same time). Apparently Albus needs to summon a Patronus charm during the story and the happy memory he used to create one is to think of Scorpius (echoing Snape’s use of Lilly Potter to conjure his own Patronus), and a handful of other moments. But apparently at the end of the play, their entire character arc as as a couple is thrown away with a “no homo” moment, Scorpius being interested in Hermione’s daughter, and Albus looking for a girlfriend.

I see what people are complaining about.

I thought from the moment the two met they were going to be a couple, although I usually tend to do this and chalk it up to me, as a gay man, wanting to see gay characters in the fiction I take in, doing a lot of wishful thinking. But the characters are written in a way that really makes it seem like a romance. I know this is subjective and no one can know for sure what the author intended (indeed, it’s difficult to know much of what the author intended because their writing reads so terribly in script form), but all I can say is, contrast Albus and Scorpius’ relationship with that of Harry and Ron. With the exception of their lovers’ quarrel in Goblet of Fire, they spent most of the series engaging in a completely heteronormative friendship, and didn’t seem to be interested in one another. There were no moments (again, excluding Goblet of Fire) when you found yourself thinking “…are they about to kiss?” But Albus and Scorpius pine for one another, their worlds are rocked by their separation, and it isn’t just because they’re each lonely outcasts, it’s because of the relationship between the two characters.

This leads to a discussion that I think is important to have. A lot of people, particularly in the Gay Geeks group, were upset that the Harry Potter universe isn’t inclusive to LGBTQ+ people, and it’s a fair complaint to make. However, some people have said that Rowling has a RESPONSIBILITY to her gay fans to include gay characters in her stories, so that they will have representation.

For my money, I don’t agree with the latter statement. It’s great when artists paint characters from a variety of perspectives, and it’s great when there are sexually ambiguous characters whose orientations you’re free to make assumptions about, and it’s even better when there are outright homosexual characters. But an artist is not REQUIRED to include gay characters just because they might have gay readers. You can’t ask every writer to go over their work with a fine tooth comb to be certain that it contains one character from every demographic: one gay, one straight, one transgender, one black, one Asian, one white, one hispanic, one vegetarian, one who likes the Spice Girls, one who has a collection of vintage Madonna 7 inch vinyls, one who wears glasses and one who has multicolored eyes. For one thing it’s impossible to include such diversity in every single scenario, for another it isn’t realistic (think of those classroom posters about respecting diversity where you always see one white boy with a baseball cap, one black boy in a tee shirt, and one Asian girl with glasses. Those are attempting to be inclusive, but just end up being pandering and racist in their own way), and most importantly you just CAN’T police what an artist can and can’t create. An artist is free to create whatever the hell they want, however they want to do it.

During this conversation I saw another, very similar conversation happening, revolving around this image an artist posted on Tumblr and a series of Tumblr comments beneath:

CharacterTumblr Comments

The issue here is that an artist took a Steven Universe character whose skin is not white, and depicted that character as a white person. I can see where some would find this frustrating, particularly because Steven Universe has such a reputation for being inclusive, but the truth is, whether you like it or not, it is an artist’s prerogative to create their characters, their worlds, and their art in ANY way they see fit. If you don’t like it, you can make your own.

This doesn’t shield an artist from criticism (at this point I’m convinced there are people who believe art only exists so they can criticize it), but it also doesn’t mean that you can tell an artist what to create. I’d also like to point out that if this had happened the opposite way around, had this been a white character that an artist drew as any other race, that artist would probably be touted by the same people throwing criticism, as a paragon of inclusiveness and a hero for diversity. There’s probably more than a little hypocrisy here.

Diversity is a difficult thing for me. I’m a white male, but I’m also gay, I’m a non-Christian in America (specifically, I’m from the American south), I’m polyamorous, I have radically different viewpoints from American norms, so in many ways I am a minority too. It’s okay to claim that, without saying that I’m suffering in exactly the same way as other minorities: I don’t know what it’s like to be black, and straight black people don’t know exactly what it’s like to be gay, but I think we can probably extrapolate SOME common elements from both and understand one another’s struggle a little better than if we had absolutely nothing in common.

But the thing is, there are a lot of people who seem to want to preserve diversity of all kinds just for the sake of preserving diversity. In the case of religion, many philosophies of violence, homophobia, misogyny, xenophobia and genocide are kept around just because people want to “respect diversity,” rather than actively attempting to dismantle those systems of oppression. This, I think, is the problem with being so open to the world around you that just allow anything for the sake of accepting everyone. It’s important to honor the individuality of each person, without allowing your own principles to be destroyed. This argument mainly applies to religion and not to diversity in skin color or sexuality, so I’ll jump off of this soap box for now, but I’m sure I’ll come back to it at some point.

At the end of the day, even though, yes, it would be nice to have gay characters in Harry Potter, they need to be there because the author genuinely wants them to be there. They need to be authentic characters, not just characters who were made gay because the author shoehorned them in to appease their gay fans. Does Rowling have a responsibility to her gay fans? Maybe she does, in some ways. But does she have a responsibility to alter her art, in ANY way, because someone else wants her to? No, she does not. An artists responsibility, when creating, is to be AUTHENTIC. An artist gets to create anything they want, on their own terms, and damn everyone else’s viewpoint. The purpose of creating art is not to honor everyone else’s viewpoint, it’s to showcase your own. If people want to express their own viewpoints, let them do it, but do not tell me, or J.K. Rowling, or an artist on Tumblr, what they’re allowed to create. Arguments about including diverse characters come from a place of good intent, but ultimately it seems to me that people are asking for inclusion for inclusion’s sake. That isn’t art, it’s pandering.

I think that one of the big issues with my generation (that is to say, “millenials”) is that we try so hard to treat everything with fairness and equality, to respect the differences of every individual, that we end up falling into this infinite voice of so-called “political correctness” where we need to edit oursevles from saying or doing something that might offend someone, and also that we need to be all-inclusive in all things that we do so that no one feels left out. The principles behind these are good, but in practice, we haven’t as a culture figured out how to let people have their own individual voices without forcing them to be part of the whole. We’re censoring in the opposite direction that censorship usually happens: instead of telling people they’re not allowed to speak out and speak their minds, we are FORCING people to speak out and to speak on EVERYONE’S behalf. But that just isn’t feasible. If an author wants to write a book whose premise is that there’s a secret society of wizards existing right under the noses of everyone in the real world, and that author chooses, consciously or unconsciously, not to include any gay characters, they have that right, and if you tell them they HAVE to include gay characters in order to embrace their gay fans, you are taking away their freedom of expression by forcing them to say what you want them to say. The desire to hope that artists include gay people in their work comes from a good place: we all want to feel included. But the truth is, demanding that an artist includes gay characters takes away from their freedom to create whatever the hell it is they want to create.

Personally, my reading of Act One of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child led me to believe that there was more than a little gay subtext between Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy. I too am a little peeved that they go all “no homo” at the end. But, I also can’t force their writer to make them gay just because I feel, no matter how strongly, that their relationship was written as a romantic one. It’s a hard truth, but it’s the truth. If someone wants to create a story between two straight boys with so much gay subtext that even Anne Rice characters are shouting “just kiss already!” it’s their prerogative to do so. Some creators even choose to make their characters gay but not say it outright. They’re allowed to do that too. They’re allowed to do whatever they want.

And besides, we’ll always have Korra.

Korra

Sparks by Imogen Heap: First Impressions

Sparks

I owe a lot to Imogen Heap. Among other things, this blog exists because of her. Imogen appeared in my life in 2010 when I heard her on a mix CD that strangely had only one song on it, playing five times in a row. I was so inspired by her music, her video blogs, her creative and unique energy, that I began to write music of my own, and I started this blog to write down my thoughts. I used to listen to Ellipse from beginning to end to inspire myself, and I still do that from time to time. Because of her music, I began to love music itself again when I was in the middle of an unhealthy relationship and I no longer felt like myself. Because of her I had the courage to love myself again, and to leave a bad situation. So, it’s safe to say Imogen has had a big impact on my life.

That being said, I’ve been looking forward to her fourth solo album for a while now. Before we were given the title, we referred to the album as “Heapsongs.” Every song on this album, to my knowledge, was a collaborative effort of some kind. The lights you see radiating from the spark on the center of the album art are actually the footprints of fans, the jumbled mess of sounds at the beginning of The Listening Chair are the voices of all the fans who contributed to that song compiled into one crescendo, and the background music of the opening track You Know Where To Find Me are the sounds of the pianos in various houses Imogen visited to record on. Every song on this album was immersive, special, and has a story behind it.

The “Heapsongs” were originally planned to be released once every three months over the course of three years, but after about six single releases, they stopped becoming available for purchase and we were informed about the songs through the revived video blogs on her Youtube channel, or through music videos. Finally the title of the album was announced, Sparks, and after three years, was finally released. It was bittersweet not to be completely surprised by every track on the album, since ten or so of the tracks had already been released online in some form, but what I am most surprised by, listening to this album which is a collection of very separate collaborative entities, is how extremely well these songs fit together. Even though they were made under different circumstances with different people at completely different times in their creator’s life, all fourteen of these songs still belong together on this album, and I think that is what the magic  of Immi’s music is all about. Those of us who follow her casually, religiously, or both, know her to be a positive influence, and her music is the stuff of dreams, a special kind of sound that is genuinely impossible to compare to anything else in it’s uniqueness, and her sometimes cryptic lyrics, always personal, always full of truth, and always seeming to have more to tell upon each repeat listen, remain uplifting and inspiring as the years pass.

This new album, Sparks, is not only presented beautifully through visual means, both the wonderfully formatted physical album and the immersive and inspiring music videos, but the songs themselves, diverse as they are, all feel like part of a whole. There are so many stories to be told here, but the beauty is not just in the stories of the creation of the songs themselves, but the lyrics and the music therein, which seem to tell a story wholly unrelated to their conception. Lifeline may have began as a collection of words submitted by fans set to the sound of a baby’s heartbeat, but the song itself talks about life, death, creation, fear, loss, and hope. All of Imogen’s songs are like that, and this album delivers as well as any album Immi has released before, in that it does what all it’s predecessors have done: it creates an entirely new realm. No album will ever sound like Ellipse, nor will any album sound like Speak For Yourself, Details, or I Megaphone. And in the same way, Sparks is an entity all it’s own, with an infinite number of stories to tell, growing from the seeds of ideas, words, pianos and footprints of fans and friends into an entity full of immense mystery, immense pleasure, and ultimately leaving me with that same wonderful feeling every Immi album does: the desire to create something for myself, and to get out into the world and breathe it’s many mysterious and wonderful sights and sounds into myself.

I’m looking forward to spending time with this album, and to allow it to course through me and strengthen me as an artist and as a person, as Imogen’s music is prone to do, and as it has done in the past, and will continue to do in the future.

#34: Love The Earth

First of all before I get started, I’d like to say if anyone was worried about me after my last post I’m feeling a lot better now, yesterday was a very depressing day and I just didn’t get a lot of sleep, but I slept until about 5:00 PM today, so I should be sufficiently well-rested. Now to try and get to bed a normal hour after sleeping all day.

I just discovered this about 10 minutes ago; Imogen Heap has partenered with director Thomas Ermacora in a project called Love the Earth. Go and check out the website, and read Immi’s letter, explaining the project in further detail and how we can all get involved.

Basically, the idea of this project is that Imogen has always wanted to do an orchestral piece, and on November 5 she has a show at the Royal Albert Hall, and she’s going to direct 30 minute piece accompanied by a video, which will be pieced together from clips sent in by fans. The project is about the Earth, it’s beauty, it’s wonder, our connection to it, and the vast appreciation we should have for all it’s glorious life.

Imogen was inspired to do this project when she was in Tanzania, experiencing the wild, and taking in the creatures and places. It’s a funny coincidence that this should happen now; about a week ago I had a somewhat similar experience. I found myself in a writing mood, and sat down to write a poem as a storm passed over my house, and through the crack of light in the window, I wrote, and found myself caught up in the majesty of nature. I wasn’t outside, I was indoors, next to my window, but I could feel it, I imagined myself as a raindrop, as the wind, I realized how infinite and mysterious our world is, how small we are, and then I started to think about humans as a people have left their mother, the Earth, and tried to build our own worlds.

But we can’t. The difference between the Earth and humans is that the Earth is a lifegiver; we, like all other creatures, are sustained by it. The Earth creates, we are a creation. The forests we create are lifeless, built from concrete, steel, and dead wood. Our societies have rules, regulations, standards, but nature has none of these. In nature, all life is free. Freedom comes at a price: constant fear of death, from predators, from illness, from storms. In nature all things coexist. Zebras do not gather themselves into an army, form ranks, and march against an army of lions. All things live, and die. It’s frightening and wondrous.

These are my observations. I don’t think all people should tear down their homes and cities and live in the wild, and I don’t think that societies are a bad thing. I simply observe, and think. It interests me that we are creations desperately trying to be creators, but ultimately all of our materials come from the lifegiver, the Earth. We are each of us sustained by the Earth’s water, it’s oxygen, and the other life around us. We are part of a greater scheme of life that is infinitely mysterious. When we strip ourselves of our societies, our ideas, our convictions, our clothing, and our presuppositions, we find that we are part of nature, and no longer think ourselves better or higher than the livegiver. We as humans try to rule everything, including one another, and we bring about only chaos, discord, and fear. Which fear is greater: the fear that tomorrow we could be attacked by a predator and eaten, in which case we would at least have a chance to defend ourself, or the fear that tomorrow our town, our city, or our country could be engulfed in a wall of heat and flame and destruction, tearing through fields and burning all life to cinders, incinerating our buildings, our roads, and ourselves, leaving behind dead wastelands where once, before we took up hammer and nail, stood endless adundant life?

This is the difference between we humans, and the Earth. We take from it, because it gives us freely of itself. It is ferocious, and with it’s storms, predators, and illnesses, strikes rightful fear into us. But it is not our enemy, it is our home, and as far as we know, it is the only home in the universe that can support life. Maybe one day another planet will evolve to this stage, and the Earth will be a red, barren wasteland in the sky that they look upon, but right now the Earth is full of vibrant, pumping life. All other creatures take of this life, and return it to the Earth. This is the cycle, and this is how life continues. Will we, with our walls of dead stone and our cities of lifeless concrete, take from the Earth and greedily store up it’s riches, using them away and planting nothing to replenish them, until there is nothing left to take? If humanity finds itself in a world no longer capable of supporting life, who will we blame?

#30: It Gains The More It Gives

I’ve had somthing of a musical epiphany. Or more appropriately, a repeat of a musical epiphany. If you’ve been following the blog or reading up to this point, you’ll have noticed my recent interest in Tori Amos. I went all out like I always do, browsing her catalogue, learning some songs on the piano, reading and watchin interviews, and all that’s very well and good. The thing is, I’ve been having some problems lately and I’ve really needed something uplifting.

I can’t make a judgement on Tori Amos having only heard a good deal of material from about four of her eleven albums, but for me personally, so far I’ve found that while her music can be intense, it’s just so dark. I mean, really dark. And I think part of what makes it so dark is how off-center it is; any normal music you would refer to as dark probably has a lot of mention of the words “death,” “crying,” “lies,” etc. Tori Amos’ music is very abstract, particularly on the albums I’ve been listening to: Boys For Pele, American Doll Posse, Under the Pink, and even on Little Earthquakes. Her songs make abstract, nearly nonsensical lyrics into something so dark and depressing. Honestly, I don’t really understand anything in many of her songs, and that’s not necessarily so bad, because in many ways the songs communicate more feelings than they do literal message when the lyrics are so personal and difficult to understand. For instance, one of my favorite Tori Amos lyrics is in Caught a Lite Sneeze,

“The spire is hot and my cells can’t feed
And you still got that Belle dragging your foots, yes
I’m hiding it well, Sister Ernestine
But I still got that Belle dragging my foots, yes.”

I don’t know what that could mean literally, but it evokes so many images, the words just sound so good together, it’s like it’s crafted from the subconcious, and that’s really what’s probably magical about it. I think I’ve really just answered my own question: why are Tori’s lyrics so mystifying and obscure? Maybe it’s because they’re from such a deep place, that they don’t have to make coherent sense. The lyrical passage above proves that point, when I hear that section of the song, it just brings so many feelings up, conjures so many mental images.

The thing is, as depressed as I’ve been lately, and as really weak as I’ve been, I’ve needed something uplifting, and Tori Amos’ music hasn’t exactly made me giddy with excitement.

 And then, like a gift from Heaven, I just happen upon a few Imogen Heap collaborations and Frou Frou rarities I didn’t know about before. I heard a Frou Frou B-Side called Deal With It, and I found it absolutely hypnotizing. It was filled with this sadness, but it was so otherworly, and I really enjoyed it. Though I discovered Imogen Heap at about the beginning of this year, thanks to hearing Hide and Seek on accident, I really haven’t given much leg room to Frou Frou. I even bought Frou Frou’s album (currently the only one), Details, a few months ago, but at that time I didn’t really care for it, and I set it aside. In fact, though it be shameful to admit, Frou Frou made it to the very bottom of my CD collection (I often organize my CDs by rank: for instance, Imogen has been first place since I discovered her, and recently Tori has been number two). I mean, being put on the spare shelf with Kanye West and The Used is pretty embarassing.

But the thing is, I don’t think I was ready for Frou Frou. I was still primarily interested in all of Immi’s instruments, her method, and her personality, but I don’t think I was ready for her music. I don’t know that I am now. Her talent is so extreme that sometimes it’s like you have to be blessed with an incredibly adept musical ear to understand it. The thing is, the album that jumped out at me the easiest so far has been I Megaphone, but I’d listened to so much of Speak For Yourself with my ears instead of my heart, and I found Ellipse to have little backbone; but the reason for all of that was because I wasn’t prepared for Immi’s music. I’ve known about her for months, but I didn’t really begin to understand her style until I discovered Frou Frou. And discovering Frou Frou is not the same thing as buying the album.

A couple of nights ago, when I posted lyrics from The Dumbing Down of Love, that was really the night that I started to be digested than Frou Frou. That’s really the best way to describe it; I often describe my musical process as “digesting” an album, but with Frou Frou it was the reverse: I was being taken in by the music, rather than taking it into myself. That’s really how you know you’ve stumbled upon something special.

The thing about Details is that there isn’t a bad song on the album. Every song is special, and The Dumbing Down of Love struck an emotional chord in me that isn’t struck often. I’ve also got some B-Sides, rarities, and bonus tracks: Close Up, a rock-oriented B-Side from the It’s Good To Be In Love single; Deal With It, which as far as I know has never been released on anything official, at once reflective and otherwordly; Holding Out For A Hero, a cover of the original Bonnie Tyler song for the Shrek 2 soundtrack used as a bonus track on some editions of the album, it’s very Frou Frou and still a bit of a dance song; Old Piano, another bonus track on certain editions, which is mostly instrumental. Old Piano is actually my least favorite B-Side at the moment, it didn’t quite jump out at me like the other songs did, but it’s still Frou Frou. While I enjoy the B-Sides, I really feel that the album is complete in it’s original eleven track format; Let Go is perfect at the beginning and The Dumbing Down of Love is perfect at the ending.

Frou Frou is a very special musical project, and anyone can clearly see the influence Guy Sigsworth had on Immi when you look at her later albums, particularly Speak For Yourself. Frou Frou really puts Immi’s music in perspective. It makes Ellipse and Speak For Yourself so much more enjoyable.

I’m just happy that I’ve discovered Frou Frou. Really a great project, and maybe one day we’ll see another album; with how much Imogen has grown, and surely Guy has, I would have no idea what to expect from another Frou Frou album. Imogen’s albums are all drastically different, and her catalogue right now (I Megaphone, Details, Speak For Yourself, and Ellipse) is diverse as can be. I expect it would be something very new, I would expect no less from Imogen. I honestly don’t know too much about Guy Sigsworth, but I always wondered why I enjoyed In The Zone so much more than Britney Spears’ other albums, and after learning that Guy Sigsworth produced it, and had some help from Imogen Heap, it makes a lot more sense.

Really, after going through so much lately, even if it has all been mental, the last thing I need is to be constantly listening to music that offers me no comfort, and in fact causes me even more stress. Frou Frou and Imogen Heap just have this joy about them; when I hear Immi’s music I just feel so refreshed, so inspired, so new, and happy. Frou Frou and Immi really have done a lot for my mood in the last couple of days, I’ve honestly felt a lot better.

I don’t know why I often find it necessary to have an obsession, be it a musician, a video game, a TV show, but I usually need to have something to be engrossed in. Musicians offer themselves to this very easily, because there’s always more to discover, and there are usually lots of rare tracks, live performances, and interviews to hunt for. But I kind of consider Immi a role model; since I started watching her vBlogs back in January, I just find her to be inspirational, not just as a musician, but as a person. She just has this positive energy buzzing about her. Tori just doesn’t quite lend herself to being a role model for me personally. I’m not saying she isn’t talented, but compared to Imogen she just doesn’t offer me the inspiration to live my life with a smile on my face. Immi makes me want to play new instruments, explore new types of music, create create create. Tori has raw skill on piano, but I often find her music very skewed and not quite my style often, and as I mentioned, there’s so much darkness and negativity in her music.

There is one another little thing, and I don’t want to be offensive or anything, but I do want to mention it. Tori is a perfectly beatufiul woman, but at some point she started having plastic surgery. That I know of, she’s never commented on this, and for all I know it was necessary plastic surgery, how do we know she wasn’t in a terrible accident and she had to have plastic surgery to recover her face? But I seriously doubt it’s anything like that. Anyway, she just looks… absolutely alien now. In some of her more recent pictures, especially for her 2009 album Abnormally Attracted To Sin, she just looks sweaty and shiney, her face looks like it’s been pulled back and stretched over her bones, it’s really scary and sad. I’m not the only person to mention this either, I see a lot of comments from people saying that they’re still Tori fans and always love her music, but that they’re very surprised and dissapointed with what she did to her face. I guess it’s not my place to tell anyone else what to do, and if she wants plastic surgery, she’s absolutely as entitled to have it done as anyone else, but in my personal opinion, I think she messed up her face quite a bit. Alien is really the best way to describe it, she just looks completely strange, and I still almost can’t tell they’re the same person looking at her back in the beginning of her career andcomparing it with now, that’s how different she looks. Like I said, she’s free to do what she wants, but I think it was a bad decision.

Imogen is just a really good role model, and a good person to have at the forefront of my music collection. It’s funny how something like who I listen to can so greatly effect my life, but during my Tori phase I was just steeped in this darkness, this unsureness, this anger at the world. She’s certainly talented, but I’ve felt from the beginning that she might not be my cup of tea entirely. That’s not to say I dislike all of her music, but it is somewhat askew for me. I suppose it just has to do with what strikes you. Right now I’m really happy that I’ve found Frou Frou, and found so much joy in it. It’s not often I find music that truly touches me. The joy I’m feeling right now, thanks simply to this music, is just taking me back to other places in my life where I’ve been happy. It’s really unexpected, but truly, Frou Frou is helping me to recover from so much mental stress, and honeslty making me feel happier. That’s really something special.

I mentioned in an earlier blog (my first link to another entry! Milestone, anyone?) that after doing a live improv at Pop Tech, Imogen later performed another live improv later titled The Shepherdess at the Great Ormond Steet Hospital in Sheperds Bush Empire, London. The Shepherdess was made available for download, at the cost of at least one pound, and all of the proceeds went to the Great Ormond Street Hospital, where as a child, after being diagnosed with Osteomyelitis, a surgeon operated and saved her leg. At the beginning of this improvised piece, the key, time signature, and tempo had been chosen by the audience.

On her North American tour, Imogen did the same thing, improvising a piece every night of the tour, with the key, time signature, and tempo chosen by the audience, and making it available for downlaod, for at least one American dollar. At each stop, Imogen picked a local charity and set a goal, based on the maximum capacity of the venue, and all of the proceeds are donated to each respective chairty. 

All 23 of the improvs are now available for download on her website, in the charity section, and have been compiled in album format for 20 dollars or more, with all of the proceeds divided equally amongst the charities. The album, howevr, containes the “trimmed versions,” where each individual download contains the “trimmed” version, or the actual improv itself, and the full version, which contains Immi talking with the audience, their participation, and Heap getting the song in order. I actually will probably try to get them all individually, because I really enjoy anything with Immi talking and being her spritely self, besides it’s just fun to hear the audience partcipate.

So, now that Immi has pretty much been moved to my musical front burner, I’ve decided I’m going to get I Megaphone. I’ve gotten the album from the internet, but I don’t have the actual CD, and besides I’d like to contribute to Imogen’s continued work. I might actually order it from the manufacturer instead of eBay just for that purpose, but don’t quote me, because last time I tried to order a somewhat old CD from Barnes and Noble (where I usually buy things), it literally took about a week, instead of the maximum three or four days. eBay is cheaper, and the delivery time is usually quicker, but I suppose I could just go to Amazon. I’m pretty sure the proceeds would go to the appropriate places.

I Megaphone is really a cool album. Though it’s very much Heap, it’s primarily piano driven; the piano shows up on most tracks, and always provides a very solid and powerful foundation. Sweet Religion starts out with this brilliant jumpy arpeggio that had me on the hook immediately. I think it’s a really special album; it’s a little more approachable than her newer albums, and that’s really a testament to her skill, because if Ellipse were easy to approach after listening to mainstream music, it wouldn’t show off Heap’s talent. Her new albums are so much more uncategorizable because she’s grown so much. She just keeps making her own music; it’s whatever she decides to do, whatever she loves, there is no formula, there is no telling what the next album or even the next song will sound like. I Megaphone is very much a piano-driven rock ballad, with it’s soft moments. Details is truly a soundscape, absolutely brimming with emotion and brilliance. Speak For Yourself is probably the hardest for me to categorize of them all, and that might be because it’s where I began with Heap, and I wasn’t really ready for it. I need to take some time experience it again.

Ellipse is a rainforest. That’s really the best way I can describe it, it is at many times a rainforest to me. It could be because of the album art and the generally green, wooded theme, but it’s very elemental. I feel rain, soil, the sky. It really feels like nature. In fact, a good deal of it feels like the creation of the world. I know I’m speaking very abstract, but many of the songs, 2-1 especially, just feel like the world’s creation. The feeling of the album is many times that of creation in the dark, mystifying, organic. The visual theme of the album goes perfectly with this.

And there it is. There is much Imogen Heap in my life at the moment, and I really feel uplifted thanks to this. It’s funny how music can change the way you perceive the situations around you, and I think at first Imogen Heap’s music helped me to rediscover myself, and now it’s helping me to appreciate my life, and most importantly the people who live in it.

Along with the huge creative buzz I get from listening to Heap, I’ve been enjoying reading Pride and Prejudice. While admittedly I’m probably less than fifty pages in, the book is absolutely chock full of storyline and dialogue. You really have to keep up, I’m sometimes afraid that I’ve forgotten or skimmed over a character or situation I should have been paying more attention to. Chapters are brief, but full of important details. It’s a really interesting style of writing that’s very much to-the-point, and gives the dialogue a lot of room to be the centerpiece, while still keeping the narration moving the story along. I’m beginning to see why Jane Austen is such a renowned writer.

I’ve listened through details almost four times while writing this, if not more, and I feel I’ve sufficiently got out everything I wanted to. I’m feeling very creative, and a lot more positive, since discovering Frou Frou and rediscovering Heap. Go check out the live improvs on Immi’s website, and c’mon, you can buy just one can’t you? The audience participation is really a lot of fun, so I suggest buying one individually, so that you can have the full experience, see if you like it, and you only have to spend a dollar. I personally reccomend the very first one, in Detroit, Michigan. It’s the only improv I’ve really heard all the way through, and I found it really good, plus it has some vocals (they all do, but Immi actually sings a little in the middle, and even though her lyrics are kind of funny, it’s still so passionate and beautiful). Also, at this moment, it’s the one closest to reaching the target, and the page says that improvs are only available for two months after their release, and I imagine the reason all of the improvs are still available is because they haven’t yet reached the target. So hurry!