Daily Song Study

I Fight Dragons – The Future Soon

In songs on December 15, 2011 at 10:12 am

At this point, there is little doubt that the fragmenting of popular music into a vast panoply of niches has precluded the rise of another Beatles or Michael Jackson, some artist who bestrides the world and whose songs everyone knows. Some lament this development, but when I look at examples like today’s tune, that state of affairs seems perfectly natural.

Most music historians I’ve read tend to place the beginnings of geek-rock in the late 1970s with the rise of Talking Heads and Wall of Voodoo (one might argue that prog rock falls into that category, but it wasn’t geeky in its heyday of the late ’60s and early ’70s). The aforementioned They Might Be Giants upped the game in the 1980s, and during the ’90s the beast sprouted many heads including those of Ben Folds, Barenaked Ladies, Ween, and to an extent, R.E.M.

It only makes sense that the internet boom would be accompanied by a geek-rock explosion, and indeed the past decade has spawned a massive online scene for that genre. No one has ridden the wave higher than Jonathan Coulton, the author of today’s tune. He has perfected the art of channeling the collective id of the nerd community into his lyrics, which are accompanied by brilliant melodies and arrangements which are a compendium of geek-rock history.

I would have included the Coulton version for this study, but the cover above done by NES-rockers I Fight Dragons serves so much better to illustrate the overall thrust of this post. The fact that a band can have a genre designation based on their use of video game music engines is proof positive that geek-rock has come into its own. (and I haven’t even included their version of the Legend of Zelda theme song)

The point is this: One of music’s functions is to speak our hopes and fears aloud to a tune we can sing. Obviously humanity is far too diverse to have a small number of artists accurately represent them. The attempts to squeeze ourselves into popular molds over the years has been a large part of why there is a “nerd” designation in the first place. Far better that everyone have a niche to inhabit and let others do the same.

The popular refrain has always been that music brings people together. I have found that it just as often does the opposite. It can divide old from young, in-group from out-group, men from women, and friend from friend. Ideas are like that. And music, at its best, embodies ideas in a form that we can digest easily and allow them to help us grow, though we may not even be aware of it.

And perhaps, if we feel that someone somewhere understands us, the alienation that causes so much conflict in this world might be alleviated. That may be a pretty tall order for a 4-minute song, but perhaps over time, in that way, music can finally bring people together.

Then the robots will destroy us all.

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  1. […] discussed the rise of the niche nerd market before, and few bands have made more hay out of it than […]

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