A Fire Was In My Head

Pop Music
19 April 2009, 1:29 am
Filed under: Influence

From the time when I was very young, nothing has ever stuck with me the way popular music has. Something about the bravado of its rhythms and attitudes has always struck me as a very playful and worthwhile approach to life. Good pop music lyrics manage to speak volumes much better than any actual musty volumes can. And in my present rationale, the ability of a pop lyric to linger, both in word and melody, in the brain, repeating itself almost at random–well, this residual pleasure represents the apex of poetic ambition. If poetry is the stuff of moments, one may judge it partly in its ability to persist out of print.

In the spirit of persistence (and of fun) I offer up a list of popular music lyrics that have made it their business to squat among the furrows inside my head.  Surely this exercise does more to venerate the genre than any attempts on my part to produce originals, which could only look and sound flabby in comparison with the rich backlog of exemplars. You may find it here, or underneath the “features” link to the left.

My personal definition of “pop” is a broader one than is used by most contemporary music critics. As a rule, I use the term to signify music from the 1940s or later that has been commercially produced and recorded in a way that makes it generally available to the public and can (read: should) be sung along with. This working definition allows me to include much of the hip-hop that, for commercial and less savory reasons, in presentation is largely segregated from the rest of American music. With a few exceptions, I do not include the world of jazz, which fascinates me in a very different way. Besides, so much jazz music contains no lyrics in English or any other spoken language.

The inaugural selections come from Chuck Berry, Outkast, and Paul Simon. Enjoy.


At Last, a Great Truth
11 December 2008, 4:59 pm
Filed under: Influence | Tags: , , , ,

From Pride and Prejudice, which I am sorry to say I have only just begun.  Elizabeth’s mother is speaking of her other daughter, Jane:

“When she was only fifteen, there was a gentleman at my brother Gardiner’s in town so much in love with her that my sister-in-law was sure he would make her an offer before we came away.  But, however, he did not.  Perhaps he thought her too young.  However, he wrote some verses on her, and very pretty they were.”

“And so ended his affection,” said Elizabeth impatiently.  “There has been many a one, I fancy, overcome in the same way.  I wonder who first discovered the efficacy of poetry in driving away love!”

Well, there it is, plain as day.


Anna Anthropy
11 November 2008, 4:10 pm
Filed under: Influence | Tags: , , , , , ,

As I mentioned in the original post here, I plan to write short pieces profiling some of my influences.  This practice affords me the opportunity to delve into my inspiration from a more critical and less intuitive perspective.  Additionally, I am primed to flatter at will, recklessly if necessary.  I begin with the focused and ferocious Anna Anthropy.

Anthropy occupies a unique space, both in metaphor and web-literally.  She maintains a blog called Auntie Pixelante, where she advertises herself as “a freelance scratchware game creator and critic and an all-purpose pervert.” Certainly, her work testifies to that modest but confident (and humorous) introduction. Reading the Auntie Pixelante blog is rather like gawking at some expanding kaleidoscopic portfolio, as keen as it is diverse, and somehow concrete in its mutability. (For example, the introduction above has undergone many revisions without notice; most recently Anthropy amended the phrase “freeware game designer” to the current “freelance scratchware game creator.” But who could claim that the current form has ever been anything less than absolute? Or that its semantic ancestry does not still teem in the depths?) In fact, I admire her structural approach to the blog–it is at once workshop, distribution center, and reception hall–so much that I have styled this one after it.

Perhaps because she treats the task as a given in the context of her other work, or because she prefers to operate under a veil of subtlety, Anthropy fails to promote (and many readers remain ignorant of) her most heroic and necessary–let those two adjectives intermingle infinitely, so dear is each to the other–role to the infant art of game design, that of historian.  With significant cunning and commendable diligence, she constantly tells a history of gaming that counters the received versions propagated by more mainstream sources, especially the big-business game proponents who insist on a chronicle that centers on big-business game making.

Though she rarely states it, her dissatisfaction with the current  accepted mythos of gaming’s past and future pervades every pixel of her work.  Reading her blog often feels like that college history or anthropology class that made you question most of your educational foundation.  Whether profiling unheralded games (past and present), writing more substantial essays, creating her own playable games and interactive fiction pieces, or simply sharing aspects of her design process such as font design, Anthropy strives to situate herself, her outlook, and her audience (which is, happily, growing) within her own preferred gaming context.  Her process performs the double feat of anchoring her work in a rich past, as well as lifting precious precedents into an otherwise oblivious present.  Singing a new narrative to rival the powerful extant one is a daring and admirable political act for the young art-form.

Of course, telling a story is also an inherently literary act, and this facet of her work concerns me most as a poet.  Anthropy’s daunting docket of responsibilities in her turn as historian includes the translation of game design and play concepts into a functional critical language.  She has worked (often visibly) to nail down concepts like “setpiece,” “verb,” and “narrative” as they apply to games.  Recently, as can be observed in the endnotes to her essay, “From Darkness,” she has sought to divorce the often confused notions of “player” and “protagonist.”  To be more general, I appreciate the way she is honing a vocabulary.

Due to the proliferation of writers in the world and literature’s entrenched status both within and without various institutions, its historical conspicuousness from so many angles, it would be ridiculous for me to attempt a trailblazing in the vain of Anthropy.  However, I do struggle to attain her obvious care with the origins and effects of words, which, if post-structuralism and linguistic cataloging have taught us anything, make for slippery tools.

If it suits you, you may refer to a conversation between Anna and me about public access to playing independent games (“Why We Need an Overmars Engine“) that she posted on her blog. I clearly dote on her, playing Plato to her Socrates, a conscious position of mine that was at the same time completely natural. (I like to think of it as a little nudge in Heisenberg’s ribs.) In any case, it’s an enjoyable read, and useful if you have any interest in the politics or sustainability of games.

Edit: Somehow, right under my nose, I failed to notice before publishing this piece that Anthropy has topped herself with the essay “The Princess is in Another Castle,” about Orbient, Super Mario Bros., and the strength of unrequited love.