The past month has been an incredibly lazy one for me. Now that I’m out of school for the summer, I haven’t really had much incentive to do much of anything, including writing on this blog. To tell you the truth, I’ve spent the majority of the past month sitting on my butt and watching TV. However, though this time could have doubtless been better spent, all this time watching TV (particularly late on Sunday nights when I really should have gone to sleep already) has proven to be an unlikely source of material for this blog. Here are the most important things I learned about music this month, all from watching TV.
1. Even the most awful emo band has hope for redemption.
For the past few weeks, I’ve taken up the habit of watching Fuse late on Sunday nights for two stellar musical programs: Live from Abbey Road and Later…With Jools Holland. The former is an 90-minute program that features three bands or artists per episode. The bands and artists perform a few songs at the legendary Abbey Road Studios (so named because it was where The Beatles recorded the legendary Abbey Road), and in between songs talk about their music and influences and all that jazz. Well, the first episode that I saw of Live from Abbey Road featured Panic! at the Disco (I beg your pardon, Panic at the Disco. They’ve apparently dropped the exclamation point some time between their previous and current album). I probably never would have been exposed to Panic! at the Disco on my own accord, but I was unfortunately subjected to them against my will at torturous volumes by my former roommate at the worst possible times, like when I was trying to do homework or sleep. So, needless to say, I never considered myself a fan. However, what I heard on Live from Abbey Road surprised me. It turns out that sometime between the first time I had to involutary listen to “I Write Sins, Not Tragedies” and the present, the band has not only dropped the punctuation mark from its name, but has also shed a great deal of its emo sound in favor of something a bit more mature and timeless. What really had me convinced of this band’s potential was their cover of “The Weight” (originally by The Band), which was surprisingly, well, excellent (and I’m very nitpicky when it comes to covers, especially covers of bands I love by bands I don’t love). Who knew?
2. Never judge a band by its name.
On Fuse’s Sunday night line-up, Live From Abbey Road is followed by Later…With Jools Holland, a British import hosted by enthusiastic middle-aged Renaissance man Jools Holland and featuring about five bands or artists a week from various different genres, each playing at least two songs, with Holland giving an occasional short interview with one of them. One night this month, the show featured a band called Vampire Weekend. I had heard of this band before, but had never had any interest in hearing them, and for a very shallow reason: their name, which I automatically assumed could only be conceived by a bunch of pathetic emo and/or goth wimps. Boy, was I wrong. Turns out, Vampire Weekend does not sound anything like their name led me to believe. In fact, they have a very upbeat, unique, and somewhat retro sound that I really like. They also tend to infuse African percussive beats to their infectious indie pop-rock, which makes for an interesting juxtaposition that works surprisingly well.
3. Good musical sitcoms are not dead.
About two years ago, one of my college friends introduced me to the iconic 1960s sitcom The Monkees, and I instantly became a fan. Not only did the show have great music, but it also had an element of psychedelic randomness that kept it interesting. It was also the very first show of its kind. Never before had there been a sitcom that centered around rock musicians and their crazy adventures. Granted, as the show progressed, their crazy adventures had less and less to do with their being a rock band, but the important thing was that these four very different guys — the intelligent leader Mike; the hyperactive joker Micky; the naive hippie Peter; and the diminutive English ladies’ man Davy — shared the common bond of music. And, without fail, each episode featured at least one song, usually accompanied by a romp — that is, a montage of random action that was often out of sequence with the rest of the episode — or, especially in later episodes, a music video at the beginning or end of the episode. Alas, The Monkees only lasted for two seasons, yielding a mere 58 episodes. Though the genre of musical sitcom has thrived since then, for a long time I was convinced that nothing within that genre nowadays — in the era of Hannah Montana and the Jo Bros — could even come close to being as entertaining as The Monkees. But about two weeks ago when I was staying up inordinately late on Sunday night watching Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim program for some reason, I was introduced to the British cult phenomenon that is The Mighty Boosh. Like The Monkees, The Mighty Boosh features at least one song per episode, and though it does not focus on a specific band per se, the two main characters are both very passionate about music and join several bands throughout the series. Nervous intellectual Howard Moon (Julian Barratt) spends every morning in a “jazz trance”, and androgynous fad-surfing Vince Noir (Noel Fielding) idolizes Gary Numan and Mick Jagger. The show is a match for The Monkees when it comes to random, low-budget surrealism. Howard and Vince’s two closest friends (besides each other) are a shaman named Naboo and a talking gorilla named Bollo, and their adventures include journeying to the Arctic tundra to search for a valuable gemstone the size of a schoolboy’s head, avoiding getting raped by yetis (no, really, I can’t make this stuff up), and saving the jazz-allergic Vince from being destroyed by the Spirit of Jazz. After discovering The Mighty Boosh, I’m happy to say that entertaining musical sitcoms are not extinct.