I miss great music videos. Don’t get me wrong, music videos like “Pressure Off” are fun too. I can watch something that like and not really need to get past the frivolity – and to be fair, isn’t that really the point of the song anyway?
On the other hand, I love art. I just watched David Bowie’s new video for “Lazarus”, and marveled. It’s dark, disturbing, even scary. It made me uncomfortable, and I really found myself thinking. (gasp!) How appalling to be forced to employ the grey matter while watching pop culture, right? Wrong, at least as far as I’m concerned.
Pop culture has the potential to be fraught with messages and artistic meanings, if one cares to look. I love the irony and sarcasm…the double entendres, and even the intelligence and dry humor. This past weekend, I went with my son to the Getty Center up in Los Angeles. Truth be told, he’s taking an Art History course this year and he needed to go and find a work of art to study and write about otherwise I’m fairly certain I could have never convinced him to go. I, on the other hand, couldn’t wait to visit! I’ve been to the Getty several times, but it had been several years since I’d gone – and I knew they had an exhibition on Ishiuchi Miyako. She is a Japanese photographer, and the entire exhibit, named Postwar Shadows was meant to profile her career, beginning with the series Yokosuka – focusing on the town she grew up in, post-war and ending with her current series, Hiroshima – which is a collection of photographs of artifacts from the bombing. I loved the entire exhibit, spending more time in there than I did in a few other areas of the Getty. There were two areas within the exhibition that profoundly affected me. Scars -photographs of scars on humans – no faces are in the photos, just close-ups of the battle wounds from life. My son thought they were bizarre – not really feeling the same sort of soul-bearing emotion that I got from the work. Even more so were the collection of photos entitled Mother’s. She had begun by taking photos of some scars her mother had received from a horrible scalding when she was young as well as some of her belongings. As she worked on that series from time to time, her mother passed away. She continued the work, focusing on photographing some of her mother’s belongings, in effect turning the collection into a beautiful tribute, almost eulogizing her mom. One pair of photos I loved most were tubes of her mother’s lipsticks. They were taken up close, with every possible crack and crevice exposed. I think that in my head, they sort of illustrated a life fully lived, but just as we never know how long we have – they were half used, assuming they had a “tomorrow”, when in fact they did not. Just ordinary tubes of lipstick, shot in a way that felt like such an intimate exposure. I won’t forget those photos any time soon.
That’s honestly how I feel about some music videos. I will never forget the mark they’ve left on me. On one hand, it’s “just” music, as I’m sure many might be thinking in response to this post. On the other, videos (and music of course) have the potential to be wonderful art, to convey a message and/or tell a story. At one point, videos had many of these themes in spades, often times hidden just enough so that viewers from the broadest of spectrums – everyone looking for anything from art to escapism, basically – would be entertained. The more bizarre, the better. I think of “Like a Prayer” by Madonna – not necessarily bizarre but definitely controversial, even more so after the Vatican condemned the video and later on as sexual abuse in the church was brought to light. How about “Two Tribes” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood? Not weird, but certainly with a message about Cold War. Here’s one for you, “Radio Ga Ga” by Queen. What’s odd about a family sitting at home, listening to the radio….while wearing gas masks? I’ll let you decide. I just know I LOVE it! Let’s talk about “Wild Boys”, by our own favorite group! Not necessarily that weird. No even all that controversial, but how about that windmill? Or John Taylor strapped to a car? (I had to throw it in here just to see if anyone was still reading!) One last one for now – Genesis’ “Land of Confusion”. I still don’t get that one, but I dig it all the same! More recent examples I can name, both from the Duran Duran “family”, would be “Falling Down” (obviously Duran Duran) and “Euphoria” (TV Mania).
My point here is that while I dare say that music videos were better in the 80s, it is really because I miss the weirdness. I miss the less-than-obvious messages and the creativity. Mostly, I miss Duran Duran doing videos like that, because I know they’ve still got it in them. This is a band who, beneath it all, still very much believes they are art school-based. In some ways I think they’ve bottled that creativity once reserved for videos (which in all fairness were conceptualized by directors, not the band themselves) and brought it to their live show. Now to just remind myself to tear away from the minutia of the show long enough to grasp the bigger picture. Even so….
Seeing a glimpse of real art in David Bowie’s “Lazarus” today was a breath of fresh air.