Friday, November 28, 2008

Convergence, Structure and New Energy

I'm not sure where to start this post.

I went to see The Sisters of Mercy in concert on Wednesday. They're a band you would have known about had not grunge music drop-kicked goth into a corner in the early 90's. Goth music's found a strange and peaceable immortality in that corner. My boyfriend, an otherwise respectable individual, can't quite free himself from the lure of the drum machine to this day. I try to stay tolerant.

Now, Goth came out of the same musical explosion/implosion that brought about a lot of good musicians. Think punk, post-punk, hardcore, art rock -- on and on. There was a huge upwelling of talent in and around Birmingham, UK, that made music what it is today. It was real, creative, new. Just watch this documentary about Joy Division. You don't have to like Joy Division to understand that something important happened when Ian Curtis got on stage.

None of this made me excited to see The Sisters of Mercy, of course. Nothing sadder than a bunch of people older than yourself singing along with a drum machine. But something amazing did happen before they came on.


What's a Hypernova. It's a star exploding, like a supernova. But larger.

It's also a rock band from Iran. And a damn good one. They played with a kind of excitement I haven't seen in a long time. Two guitars, a bass, drums and vocals. The lead singer, Raam, sounded like an Ian Curtis coming down off the lithium -- more and more excited, excitable, out of control. The band kept growing into the night. It was remarkable.

On stage you couldn't help but draw parallels to Joy Division. Their album sounds like a cross between The Strokes and Joy Division.

Now, neither of these groups demand a significant portion of my attention. But that's what made me think about screenwriting.

I'm doing more and more teaching these days. There's a great deal of screenwriting that needs to be taught -- how a character is constructed. How a plot works. How readers read. There are 32 rules that all point toward One Thing. I get tired sometimes. You can follow all 32 rules and come up with a passable story. But that's not something worth spending time with, is it?

Hypernova beat the pants off The Sisters of Mercy because they cared more. There's probably nothing as corrosive to The Islamic Republic as Joy Division. Nothing so liberating to hear than the voice of a few post-punk Birmingham artsy types singing for the right to live. It'd be wrong to speak for them, of course. But it's hard not to see them at 12 years of age caught up in something illicit, beautiful and alien as rock music. And understanding better than almost any poor American soul who grew up surrounded by it, with full access at record stores and friends' houses.

They studied it. They used the structure. They write good songs. Then they pour something meaningful into it to communicate to an audience in San Francisco, decades later.

This is why we write. This is what's worth caring about. But you can't get there without knowing how it's put together. You can't break the 32 rules until you've mastered them first.

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