Monday, March 26, 2007

Important Trivial Pursuits

Now, that’s an oxymoron.

I’ve got this new hobby of checking out references in pop culture. How can I not? The wiki age has made it so convenient. And I am astonished by the number of contributors. There are a lot of people who expend time and effort to compile them.

So, the question begs to be asked, “How important are trivial pursuits?” I say, in the case of culture, there are no trivial pursuits. There is trivia (read: details), and the devil is in it.

Picking up on a statement I wrote in my last post regarding the development of culture in the evolution of modern man, human activities that are not primarily rooted on survival instincts are distinctly what make us human. Without writing this blog, I will still live. However, writing gives me a sense of satisfaction. And knowing that I am being read doubles the pleasure. We, as a species, have a sense of ourselves and, collectively, we reflect this through our cultures.

Like any social construct, culture does not exist in a vacuum. What came before is associated with what is being thought and done now. Culture evolves and referencing is one process in defining its form over time. So, before this blog becomes a pedagogical discourse, let me share with you how I became interested in references to and within pop culture.

My nephews, Oweng (17 yrs. old) and Yves (12), and my niece, Justyne (16), have been fans of The Simpsons for most of their formative years. I usually watch it with them. Once, when I told them that the show was three years older than Oweng, they were amazed.

The animated show is so much a part of their lives that all three do pretty good impressions of the characters. They are able to seamlessly use them in social interactions together with their impressions of Spongebob, Patrick Star, Squidward, and a host of other movie, cartoon and anime characters.

This to me is in itself a form of referencing and, aside from being amused, I find it a very clever way of communicating. To be able to appropriately incorporate impressions in a regular conversation takes wit and a very good grasp of the dynamics in gab. A good example of someone who has somehow perfected this competence is Robin Williams, although I do find him annoying at times when he overdoes it.

Anyway, back to The Simpsons, there was this episode where Homer got loaded on medically regulated pot (“Weekend at Burnsie’s,” season 13, episode 16). In one of the scenes where he was stoned, the 2-D animation took on a 60s hippie, technicolor and psychedelic vibe while some mood music played. The tune sounded familiar. The lyrics seemed foreign except for the last line. What I heard was, “Color sky hav a na lek, Color sky ros cal methene, Alles arian crimson, Wear your love like heaven." I told Oweng that I had heard this song before. He thought it was purposely made for the scene. No, I said, it was a proper tune.

In fact, I liked the song so much that I had to search for it on the net. I knew I heard it before in a streaming video of a Monique Lhuillier runway show. I replayed the video and true enough, it was there. I still had no idea of its title, artist or lyrics. I searched for the Simpsons’ episode on wikipedia and there it was. The site listed all the cultural references in the show including the soundtracks used.

The song’s title is… surprise, surprise… “Wear Your Love Like Heaven.” It was written by Brit artist Donovan Leitch who also did “Mellow Yellow.” It was released in 1967. As for the weird lyrics, apparently Leitch was known for his whimsical songwriting. And being an artist in the 60s, who can blame him?

All the layers of references in that Simpsons’ episode now made sense to me. From the use of “Burnsie’s” in the title, to the psychedelic animation and to soundtrack choice, how clever, Matt Groening!

So, this was how I got hooked on this hobby. And here’s what I have so far on Donovan Leitch’s “Wear Your Love Like Heaven."

The unintelligible lyrics I was telling you about, they are in fact legitimate English words of oil paint colors strung by Mr. Leitch, perhaps when he himself was stoned. But of course, the last point is just pure speculation. It goes, "Color sky havana lake, Color sky rose carmethene, Alizarian crimson, Wear your love like heaven..." and that plays while Homer prances in 2-D technicolor, psychedelic trance (The Simpsons S13, Ep16, “Weekend at Burnsie’s”).

“Color in sky prussian blue, Scarlet fleece changes hue, Crimson ball sinks from view…” Sarah McLachlan sings her 1992 remake of the 1967 Donovan Leitch tune, “Wear Your Love Like Heaven” (From Sarah McLachlan’s Solace album).

“Can I believe what I see, All I have wished for will be, All our race proud and free...” Donovan Leitch's "Wear Your Love Like Heaven" plays as models glide down the runway in Monique Lhuillier's Spring 2006 Bridal Collection.

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