I apologize for what is, on reflection, an incredibly obtuse title. Frankly, I couldn’t think of a better way to describe what had been in my head this week but as it is Sunday, my brain is officially off the clock so I’m not going to worry about it too much. So what am I talking about? Earlier this week I was driving my kids to school when a particular song came on the radio. This song was, to me, one of the most interesting songs I have ever heard, and I got to thinking about how when I first heard it, the song had completely opened my mind to a new genre and a new way of thinking about music in general. This got me thinking about other things like that and I thought I’d write it up on my Sunday post. These are the things (music, movies, etc) that have “transformed” my thoughts about media in general. While not necessarily my favorite items, they are things that opened my mind.
Since music started this I figured I’d start with music. There’s three things I want to mention here. I’ll start with the one that will, probably, make most of you snicker. As a young kid, Duran Duran was the first band that I really cared about. I liked other bands of course but Duran Duran was the first that I really seemed to notice and follow. There’s one song though that I can remember the exact time I heard it first. (Well, it is a bit vague. I can remember being in a car listening on a walkman I believe, but that’s it.) It was the remix version of The Reflex. (I was going to link to the Youtube version of this but there were too many to choose from.) The Reflex was an OK DD song, not my favorite, but before I heard the remixed version, I didn’t even know remixes existed. I’m not sure why, but I was completely fascinated by the idea of a song modified by someone else. Later on I’d discover cover songs and mashups, and they still fascinate me today.
The next one (and this is the one that was playing on the radio), is “Where Is My Mind” by the Pixies.
I can remember the first time I heard this as well. I was in my teens, and had some small inkling of “alternative” music, but I hadn’t really gotten into it yet. I can remember hearing this and realizing there was a whole area of music I needed to get more exposure too.
The final item I’ll list here is Disintegration by the Cure. I think the older Cure is a bit better, but I list this album because it was the first time I thought of an album as a complete whole. Again, I can remember the first time I listened to it. I remembered thinking how well the entire album played and just how much it felt like a cohesive whole. I rarely see that nowadays.
This one is a bit more difficult. I’ve been reading intensively for close to thirty years now. I love books. I’d walk away from music, film, and gaming in a heart beat if necessary but I never want to be away from something to read. I can think of many examples of books that have expanded my mind so I’m unsure of what to select here.
I can remember the first series that made me truly sad to finish - the “Twins” series from Dragonlance. (I’ve heard Dragonlance doesn’t hold up too well now but I’m still hoping to get reread them one day.)
I can remember reading “1984”, which probably everyone has read, but the concept of Newspeak still fascinates me today. It was the first time I began to think of language as something more than just words on a page.
I can think of one book though that truly surprised me: The Unbearable Lightness of Being: A Novel Believe it or not, this was discussed at a week-long summer camp I went to in high school. Kundera’s prose was just so… different… I remember being blown away. It was the first time I looked at how a story was told as much as, or more than, the story itself. It’s been far too long since I’ve read him.
I’ll end this section with a recommendation for China Miéville. His novels can be a bit dense sometimes, but they always tend to expand my mind in some way or another. I’m not sure what to compare him too. In a very tangential way perhaps you could compare his stories to “The Twilight Zone”, but I don’t think that does it justice. My favorite novel of his is certainly The City & The City. Start with that one first.
Unfortunately, TV is 99% utter garbage, but the 1% does tend to be real good. Sadly, those of us who like ‘geek’ TV are used to getting screwed in this regard. You’ll commit to watching some great sci-fi/fantasy story only to have it cancelled before any resolution. Jericho was the exception. Not only did we nerds resurrect it but it’s had a great continuation in comics. But in general, there isn’t a lot out there.
This is where Netflix has been awesome for me. This year I discovered that a typical hour-long TV drama was about 40-45 minutes without commercials. That’s perfect for my treadmill workout. This year I watched Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and am now catching up on Sons of Anarchy. All of these are pretty darn great (with Breaking Bad being the best) and makes me forget the rest of the crap on the boob tube.
But in terms of “mind opening”, I can think of only one thing that really fits here. I was home from college one weekend and flipping channels. This was in a small house on my grandparents property (my great grandmother’s place before she died) on a small TV with no cable. I’m not sure what channel I was on, but this show began that was trippy and weird. Very much a 60s show, I decided to give it a chance and watch the complete episode. It was the Free For All episode of a show called The Prisoner. For folks who have never heard of it, The Prisoner was a show about a spy (of some sort, for some government) who retires (for some reason) and is taken prisoner (by someone or some government or something) and is tortured, coerced, pushed, etc over the series to explain why he retired. You never truly learn why. You never learn the man’s name. It’s… weird. It’s also a very interesting look at individuality versus society. If you can get past the 60s-ish decor and give it a shot, I definitely think it is worth your time to watch.
Do not watch the remake.
I often think of advice I’d like my kids to learn. Not the serious stuff about being honest, but the more simple, low level, practical stuff. Like, I can remember my wife wanting to buy a new mattress. She wanted to spend what I thought was way too much money. I mean crap, it’s just a mattress, right? Yeah, I can still remember the first time I sat on it. I never complained about the cost again. (In fact, when she was considering replacing it after ten or so years I got scared since I was convinced any new bed wouldn’t be as good!) One of things I plan on telling my kids when they enter college is to take a film class. Yeah, it’s sounds like a cake-walk class, but I freaking loved it. I got exposed to all kinds of movies I never would have considered watching. Noir, westerns, etc. After this class I found myself really noticing how movies were made. The editing, how scenes were shot, etc. I don’t consider myself an expert by any means. (You guys see my reviews. It’s nothing that great.)
As much as I love films though it is a bit difficult to think of something that really fits the topic here. Everyone knows I’m a Star Wars freak, but as much as I enjoy it, it isn’t necessarily that mind expanding. I can also watch classics like the Godfather Citizen Kane again and again. They are definitely masterpieces.
If I have to select one film, it is one that I know many people don’t care for. But it is the one film that truly surprised me. Everything in it is just plain worked for me. Frankly, I don’t know exactly why yet. I can’t say it is this piece or that factor. Vanilla Sky, with Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz. Yeah, I know it is a remake (and I’ve got the original film but haven’t watch it yet). I also know a lot of folks don’t like Cruise. Personally, I’ve liked every film he has been in pretty much. I just remember being totally surprised by the direction of this film and where it went. (I almost wonder if it would be nice to skip teasers and trailers altogether and just go in with no idea. I’ve heard folks who did that with Terminator 2 were shocked by the twist. I plan on trying that with my eldest and see what he thinks.)
I’ll give Inception a close nod for being pretty mind-blowing as well. The only reason I’d not list it first is because it was marketed as such. Vanilla Sky was more of a surprise to me.
As someone who has been gaming since before the 2600 (ok, not much earlier), I’ve played more video games then I care to admit. I definitely consider video games a form of art, but one that is perhaps still somewhat new comparatively. I’ve played some very good games over the last 30+ years and have seen an incredible amount of innovation. My math skills failed me at Calc 3, but I can truly appreciate the knowledge it takes to create dynamic water.
I feel like video games are only now getting to a point where the technology can be paired with good story telling to create a good experience. But I think the story telling is just approaching the “good” level. I don’t say that to diminish the fine games I’ve played recently, but overall I feel like it’s just coming into its own as an art form.
In terms of really mind-blowing though, I have to go to the past. Many years ago there was a company called Infocom. They created text-based games that involved puzzle solving. (You can find modern text-based games too.) Many of the stories were simple Sci-Fi/Fantasy stories, but due to the limited technology they typically had very good writing. Some of these games were very different.
The best example of this was A Mind Forever Voyaging. The Wikipedia link does a better job of describing it, but the basic premise was that you played the role of an AI who needs to test how proposed social reforms in America would help turn things around. Unlike most puzzle-oriented games, this one had you exploring a simulation of America and taking notes of how things have changed. It was utterly fascinating.
I’ll give honorable mentions here to Ultima 4 (the game that asked you to become a better person as opposed to slaying some evil wizard) and Sim City (so wait, you never “win”??).
If I had to select anything more recent, it would be the “No Russian” mission from COD:MW2.
Ok, well, thanks for listening. If you actually read this entire post, congrats. ;)