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When you think of a singer/songwriter, what are your first thoughts? If they are not of zombies, robots, genetic-tampering, and self-loathing and heartbreak as essayed through the metaphor of sea creatures, both large and fearsome and small and wistful, then you are not thinking of musical genius and all around geek god Jonathan Coulton. His songs are sometimes sad, sometimes funny, often times both, and even occasionally uplifting. He accomplishes the double task of conveying poignant emotion through complex and humorous lyrics, and also satisfying us wannabe musicians through the crafting of cunning chords. The trick to his music is that he never winks; he genuinely occupies the three-minute world he has created, even if that world consists of anthropomorphized, color-coded stuffed animals. Being a natural storyteller, JoCo’s songs are inherently cinematic, and always generate strong visual images in my mind. I recently combed through the one hundred or so JoCo songs on my iPod, and compiled this list of songs that I think would make wonderfully idiosyncratic movies.
It was tough to narrow it down to fifteen, since I could do it for every single one of his songs, but I am willing to put in the time for you, all six of my regular readers. You’re welcome.
1. Re: Your Brains: Well, this is a good first stop on our whirlwind tour of the mind of JoCo, since it is most people’s introduction to him in the first place. If you have never heard the song, or seen the World of Warcraft video that a fan made for it, it is a zombie story about Bob, recently risen, leading a pack of flesheaters against a resilient band of humans led by Tom, who used to be Bob’s subordinate at the office. Bob explains reasonably and logically why Tom needs to open the door and let the deadites crack his skull open. I mean, it’s not like anyone’s going to eat his eyes. Naturally Tom resists, and Bob’s band is forced to concede the stalemate...sort of. I envision the eventual cinematic adaptation to be a cross between Office Space and Dawn of the Dead, and cannot wait to see how one might dispatch a reanimated corpse thirsty for the living blood of humans with a stapler and a slightly stained coffee mug. On a side note, try as I might, some of the chords in this song are just too twisty and turny for my dumb fingers to wrangle. *sigh*
2. Dance, Soterios Johnson, Dance: This song was born from JoCo listening to the titular man’s honeyed-voice soothing him with the morning news on New York’s NPR, and wondering what kind of night life he might have. Hence, we get this brilliant imagination of a sturdy newsman who downs a can of Red Bull, pops a tab of X, and heads out to a rave. The younger people have to stand back and watch in awe as “he shimmies his shoulder, undulates his slender hips, arms akimbo, Jagger-esque, he pouts his lips.” This one gives me strong images of Urban Cowboy, with Crimes of Passion double-life vibe, except without the creepy religious dude (RIP Anthony Perkins).
3. The Future Soon: This is probably my favorite JoCo song (subject to change). It starts out like a pretty normal heartbreak song, with a young man making the mistake of professing love for a girl who does not requite, and quickly goes off the deep end into the boy’s delusions of a high-tech future, and his central role in bringing about massive changes for humanity through his superior intellect and inventing abilities, and not all of them exactly positive. He does it all for Laura, of course, and when he meets her again, after the robot wars, she twigs that maybe he is not so innocent, and tries to flee. Which does no good, since he has upgraded his body with the latest cyborg advances. This crazed, dysoptian future of course takes place completely in the boy’s head, as he sits in his room, nursing his hurt feelings, reading Omni magazine. What makes this song so perfect is the chorus: It’s gonna be the future soon/and I won’t always be this way/when the things that make me weak and strange get engineered away/it’s gonna be the future soon/I’ve never seen it quite so clear/and when my heart is breaking I can close my eyes and it’s already here. I mean, that is the most profoundly sad thing I have ever heard. Naturally, this film would be a strong mix of Napoleon Dynamite and The Matrix.