Tales From the Bottom of the Film Business

Sunday, September 11, 2005

What the Kids Are Listening To

Depending upon your age, mode of dress and choice of hair products, you may or may not know about a band called Fall Out Boy. Well, I didn't until about a week ago, but believe you me, there are legions of screaming girls who do, as I realized when I worked on the music video for their song, "Dance, Dance." Boom operators don't generally work on music videos, which, for the lone sound person lucky enough to be chosen for such a job, revolve around playing back the song for the video repeatedly and moving around the hernia-inducing anchor speakers required to project it
at high decibel levels for the band to lip-sync to - and generally getting yelled at at some point for not doing one or the other fast enough. (It occurs to me that I mention fear of getting yelled at pretty often as a tool of work-force motivation. Do other people pushing middle age with normal jobs have this?) For this video, I was hired to boom a bunch of dialogue scenes, a sort of mini-movie that cast the members of the band as high school nerds at a prom at which Fall Out Boy itself was playing. This gave me the unique opportunity to spend most of my day sitting around (okay, maybe that's not so unique in my line of work), watching them do their Milli Vanilli. But with this band, there was a little more to it than synchronized hip swinging. These guys seem to do a little bit of everything, with the bassist whirling dervishly, the guitarist leaping high into the air in a circle that took him dangerously close to hitting just about everything (we were told this is why they don't use Gibson guitars, because they go through too many of them) and the lead singer stomping his foot during the instrumental in a way that bore a distinct resemblance to Flamenco dancing. Whatever it was all about, the fans ate it up, and the rest of us had a hard time walking away too. I even caught some of the grips watching. These are guys who generally work between shots moving heavy equipment and by the time they've gone from movies (youth, bonding, do-it-for-the-love-of-the-project) to commercials (I am a slave to corporate America) and music videos (I am a slave to corporate America but I am getting paid less and my day could last up to 48 hours if the band is doing the right kind of drugs), they'd usually rather wander off to relax or cop a cheese curl while the camera's rolling than watch what's actually being filmed. And the fact that most of us were tapping our feet to the song at the beginning of the day and came away not altogether hating it is also pretty impressive, considering that the band's demographic seems not to be underachieving adults 15 years or more out of college but more punk/Goth/general misfit type high schoolers.

What exactly the music and it's demographic were became the topic of our second meal conversation. Second meal comes, by union rules, six hours after lunch, which comes six hours after call time (the beginning of the day). But while lunch is never "first meal," because nobody wants to imply that there might be a second meal, neither is second meal ever called "dinner." "Dinner" sounds like something peaceful and relaxing that you have at the end of your day, whereas the fact that you are even breaking for second meal means that you've got at least a few hours to go beyond the 12 you've already done. Anyway, I was sitting with grips Dave, Kurt and Ted, who had kindly welcomed me at their table since my boss had decided that napping was more important than food at this point in the day.

"Are all their fans female?"
" They were complaining they couldn't get enough guys to show up."
"What kind of band are they?"
"I guess it's sort of punk or post-punk."
"Except maybe combined with a New Romantics or Glam Rock kind of thing, with the mascara and the clothes –"
"'New Romantics?' What the hell is that?"
"Like Spalding Ballet."
"They're sort of like Blink 182."
"Boy, you guys are really up on this stuff."
"I was trying to think of what the equivalent would have been when we were in high school."
"There wasn't anything like them when we were in high school. They couldn't have happened without grunge, which came after punk and made all that stuff popular, and that led to Blink 182 and Green Day."
They all stared at me after I said this.
"I just saw a documentary about it, that's -"
"Did we tell you you could sit at the grip table?"

The main result of this conversation was that we all felt really old. I was one of those screaming misfit girls 20 years ago, albeit at a Duran Duran or Men at Work concert. Yes, I was a member of the original MTV generation. A typical rebellious reject who couldn't relate to high school or my parents, I could always find some band who I knew was speaking right to me – even if I didn't know exactly what they were saying (has anyone ever figured out what "The Reflex" is about?) Now I was so out of touch with what was going on in the music world that I didn't know what type of music I was listening to. Plus, I might like the music, but looking at those 16-year-olds in their strapless, black, lace prom dresses - looking eerily like we did because the 80s are back! Why? Why??? - I knew I could never go see this band play. I'm even too old to buy the album, or download the album, if anyone calls it an album any more. I'm too busy to spend hours poring over the lyrics like I did as a teenager and I'm too old not to care what they're saying - having started to dig certain beats only to find them backing up references to bitches and 'hos. I'm certainly too old to think the lead singer is cute. I'm old enough to be his mother!…at least if I were from West Virginia or Kansas.

On the other hand, what should I listen to? Lite jazz? I used to get my ideas about what to listen to from the radio and music videos. Now at least half of the people you hear on the radio can't sing – and because of how pop radio is completely reliant on popularity poll-generated playlists, nobody can break in without the big bucks behind them.
Little did I know that turning our music into images would inevitably lead to their becoming more of a driving force in the business than the music itself. If video didn't kill the radio star, I think it at least kicked the crap out of radio before imploding on itself with shows like Punk'd and Pimp My Ride which have nothing to do with music. So it's no wonder I'm out of touch. Clearly I still have angst. But where's a gal to get her music?

I thought about this as I watched Fall Out Boy over and over and over again for 14 hours. I got bored, but those kids they convinced to donate one of their last days of summer never did - and the band did act like they appreciated it. It's nice to see a band that really does seem to relate to their fans. Seeing them in their geek attire, I thought of how great it must be to go, in a just a couple of years, from square pegdom to winning an award at the VMAs. Success is that much sweeter if it's got a little element of "Look at me now, you jock asshole!" mixed in. Maybe I'm projecting.

Maybe I'll just go buy the album and not tell anybody.