Californication: “…the truth is what you need to finish this song…”

In Love Song, the sixth episosde of Californication‘s fifth season, creator and showrunner Tom Kapinos wrote a soulful, wistful and melancholic look at missed opportunities, love and authenticity.

Samurai Apocalypse (portrayed with insane style and panache by RZA) ordered his Santa Monica Cop screenwriter Hank Moody to write lyrics for budding songstress Kali. As Hank forced Kali to delve deeper into her memories, he got lost in his own, giving us black-and-white flashbacks to the moment when Hank and Karen first decided to stay in L.A.

(Whenever Kapinos shows us Hank and Karen’s past, he writes scuffed and dirty emotional riffs that move you. These episodes are rock-n-roll ballads, bluesy guitar solos, romantic, whiskey-soaked tales of all that could have been, and all that might yet be, if no one f**ks it up.)

As Hank re-lived this moment in time, while drawing lyrical inspiration from Kali’s increasingly painful memories, the theme became abundantly clear:

What makes your writing truly yours, what makes it really sing… is you.

Your soul. Your authenticity. Your truth. Nothing less than the absolute revelation of what you really, truly, need and want. Getting to the truth of who you are and why you do what you do. What drives you, what do you dream of? What makes you want those things, and what will you do — and give up — to get them?

Find the truth about who the f**k you are and how you fit into this world. Because you do fit into this world, even if you don’t know how yet. Some people know right away. Some take thirty years, some fifty or more. It’s OK. Your life is all about you, m***erf***er. Act accordingly.

Nothing you write will be good until you inject yourself into it. It’s what Dave Grohl talked about at the Grammys when he said music isn’t what happens inside a computer. He wasn’t ranting against technology itself, against any of the tools of making music; he was ranting against soulless music, which can just as easily be made with a guitar as an iPad. And the flip side is true: soul will always come through, must always come through, however you make your art.

Consider two extraordinary and seminal albums: The White Stripes’ Elephant, and Massive Attack’s 100th Window. The first made only on equipment dated pre-1963 (it’s a Jack White thing), the second made on laptops and in digital worlds, with songs and textures that couldn’t exist before 2003.

Both have beauty and soul, in different ways: Elephant is rough, heavy, pounding and wild, while 100th Window is hypnotic, evocative and dreamlike. Both are true and truthful, and it doesn’t matter how they were recorded or how we listen to them: the souls of the people who created them shine through, make them real; making them connect.

Whether you write poems, stories, novels, songs, or scripts, you need to make them yours, write them your way. Quentin Tarantino kept getting told that True Romance wasn’t written properly, that this wasn’t how scripts are done. He said, f**k you, because this is me and this is mine. Then he made Reservoir Dogs, and Tony Scott shot True Romance, and then came Pulp Fiction. Tarantino-esque became its own literary style and took over pop culture. All iconic & unique writers do.

Ultimately, being a writer, being any kind of artist, is all about you being authentic. That will shine brightly; the rest will follow.

So find your truth and finish your song.

Then let the world hear it.

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Inception

Christopher Nolan’s Inception is many things: a great heist movie, a metaphysical thriller, a metaphor for life and creativity. As writers and artists, we exist in three worlds: the “real world”, the world of our consciousness, and the world of our creations. All those worlds are narrated to a certain extent. Narratives are overlaid by others or by us, and events are given meanings and connections.

We collectively impose stories upon the external world, whether in broadsheet newspapers, on TMZ, CNN or The Daily Show. We have to create reasons, causes and effects, to make sense of our surroundings. It starts when we’re infants and everything is a mystery. We have to tell ourselves stories about why this leads to that, so that we can simply survive. This process just gets more sophisticated as we get older.

Likewise with our consciousnesses. One theory states that our brains have an ‘interpreter function’ that adds motivations to our thoughts, which is how we attempt to understand our feelings, impulses and desires. When we wake from a dream, those seemingly random images and feelings usually have a narrative, which some dream scientists and philosophers believe is only added in the moment of waking. Think about it. You wake up to a loud noise: in your dream, a complex series of events led up to something that made that noise, and yet only a second went by between the noise and your waking up. Our brains are incredibly agile: as Leonardo DiCaprio’s character states in a key scene within Inception, we create and experience simultaneously in dreams. It’s the same when we’re awake. We want something; we want someone. Until you question it, the feeling drives you and your actions. When you do question it, you search for the why. Why do I want this person? You search for clues, for a chain of causes leading to this effect. You add your motivation to explain why you did what you did. The interpreter theory says that this motivation is a story we tell ourselves, nothing more. We could have told ourselves a different story, gone  a different way. We experience ourselves and create ourselves, and we don’t always notice the seams, the joins. When we are in therapy, discovering why we took the paths we did, are the connections we make real, or simply useful fictions?

The third level, for creative types, is the creative world. We go deep into the creative trance state, the dream-world, where we are simultaneously architects and forgers, extractors and thieves. We create worlds, people, psychologies and emotions: we get lost in them. The external world, our internal world, and the world of our creations bleed into each other; the levels mingle, realities collide. It’s no wonder that many creative individuals lead intense existences; we are navigating multiple realities, all the time.

With Inception, Christopher Nolan deftly skips between worlds, displaying a seemingly effortless control and the lightest of touches (which is also a fantastic testament to and argument for the power of multiple script drafts). It’s an intense, thrilling experience, partly due to the story, and partly because such accomplished, bravura, show-stopping creativity is exhilarating to watch. We rarely see that in cinema anymore; but we do it ourselves, all the time, every day. We’re all creative geniuses; that’s what being human is.

Why TNT must renew Southland

Only days before the season, and possibly series, finale of Southland, the visually hyper-articulate and brutally kinetic LAPD drama that TNT rescued from NBC in the wake of the Jay Leno prime-time experiment, the future of this show remains uncertain. It should not be this way: Southland is in the highest tier of cop shows, of dramas, of any kind of show, on any kind of channel. With its perfect clarity of presentation, its visceral, dynamic, adrenaline-rush aesthetic purity, its ruthless psychological and emotional precision – its violent catharsis – this show stands above all others. It takes nothing for granted, including its viewers. Nothing is extraneous in Southland: it is the definition of spare, minimalist truth. You have to run to keep up, and this is just as it should be. The writers, directors, actors, crew, all of them strip back the unnecessary flesh of typical dramas to reveal the bare bones of reality, of people in unforgiving, challenging situations, whether those situations last a few moments, or for years. Behind it all, Los Angeles rises; the city has rarely been so thrillingly and excitingly used as a milieu. The simple matter-of-factness of the downtown skyscrapers or the Capitol Records building appearing in the shot as the camera whips and plunges and sometimes, sometimes, holds still  for a moment, gives the images a heft and punch they do not normally have. When you think about how many books, TV shows and movies have used the city, this is a remarkable achievement. The show is on its way to other places, in a hurry, so it does not have time to stop and check out the sights; we see them anyway, and they have a greater impact this way. The compelling dedication of everyone involved in this enterprise, from its creator and writer Ann Biderman through the crew, the other writers, to the leads including Michael Cudlitz and Ben McKenzie as the patrol cops, is palpable. Somehow, amidst the fury and the pace, the entire team manage to find oddly moving, quiet codas that expand emotionally inside you like devastating, slow-motion, hollow point mood bullets. You don’t even realize it’s happened as you stare at a pair of sneakers hanging from a phone wire, or a poster of Where The Wild Things Are, the shot held, and held, and you wonder why you are crying. That the Southland team can conspire to pull off such moments along with the wild kinesis of the action is a testament to the creativity of all involved. There are precious few shows that deserve the investment and time of their TV channel: Southland is obviously one of these few. It has an effortless quality and authenticity. These are only some of the reasons why TNT should do what NBC could not, and give Southland the time and space to truly become the show it is meant to be. Because, astonishingly, even though it is already in the top echelon of TV shows, there is more that Southland could give us, if it was given a full season to truly spread its wings and take full, uncompromising flight; to fully explore its interweaving storylines and its large cast of psychologically detailed characters. TNT – don’t you want to be the network that took Southland all the way?

set the controls for the heart of the sun

British space-rockers Muse have always been intergalactic.

They tend towards the epic. Their latest tour is no exception. Currently playing in arenas in the US (as opposed to their usual stadiums elsewhere in the world), they are in the ascendant here, expanding beyond the confines of the space into undiscovered dimensions. The show is like a million brilliantly-lit synapses firing simultaneously, Pink Floyd on acid, fast-forwarded into a monumental version of 2001:A Space Odyssey (their stage set has monoliths and is full of stars, and spending two hours watching it is like traveling through the star gate, over and over again), digitally spliced into an enhanced, particularly psychedelic version of the original Star Trek series, remixed into the atmospherically heavy, majestic and futuristic landscapes of Blade Runner, and with all the paranoia of the best sci-fi, and all the beauty – as Exogenesis: Symphony Part I plays out, digital imagery overloads our sensory capabilities to behold it as we see starry visions, endless space, poetic IMAX-level visuals like the more out-there scenes from Avatar, only more so.

And that’s just one song.

They play many more over the two hour show, and, having learned well from their stint supporting U2 on their 360 stadium tour last year, Muse work the stage, in the round, allowing fans on all sides to watch Matt Bellamy coax howls and whispers, screams and tears, roars and huge, monster crunching from his guitar as he croons and soars, playing furiously, with molten metal fluidity. The band is extraordinarily locked together, and they lay down crushing grooves as though several Led Zeppelins were on stage with a few Metallicas and Slayers; only Muse make it look effortless. They blend metal, indie-rock, orchestral majesty, virtuoso piano like Chopin. Imagine a supergroup comprised of Joe Satriani, James Hetfield, Thom Yorke, Jeff Buckley, a bevy of conspiracy theorists, an alien and Debussy, and you might get close to understanding the truly unearthly being that is singer-guitarist Matt Bellamy. The other two are peerless: Dominic Howard sounds like an army of drummers and delivers a brutal, monumental barrage of monstrous, relentless proportions, while Chris Wolstenholme transforms his bass from the super-charged engine of the Muse spaceship  into a fifties B-movie monster prowling menacing and vast through the future cityscapes created by Matt and Dominic, thrashing around, pounding at impossible speeds, rising up to loom over the whole.

The Muse experience is an insane, mind-dazzling rush delivered with absolute control, precision and power. They are becoming themselves in the US at last: powered by the triple engine of the Twilight soundtrack connection, the U2 support gig last year, and the release of what might be their best album yet in The Resistance, a slinky, hard-rocking, melancholy and space-operatic masterpiece with no inhibitions: the most perfect blend yet of the old-fashioned romance, paranoia, beauty and gazing into the far reaches of the universe that typifies Muse.

thrilling to the soul / the light of dreams

Listening to Massive Attack’s latest album Heligoland for the first time brings to mind David Lynch’s description of what it feels like to see visual effects done on the set in front of the camera, rather than added in postproduction: “thrilling to the soul.” It’s that first moment of experiencing, when everything seems like new light reflecting on the surfaces of your consciousness. The director’s camera catches the light in front of the lens, just as we capture the experience of hearing something new and wonderful that we’ve never heard before. Lens flare of the soul. Heligoland is another step forward for the Bristol band whose whole existence is predicated on fundamental evolution with each album: changing their game just as they change the music game around them. The leaps between albums have been, well, massive. From the youthful, playful soul-hip-hop mash-up of Blue Lines, to the smooth, monumental, melancholy soul of Protection, to the dark, noise-core tortured surveillance-paranoia soul of Mezzanine, to the beautiful, cascadingly digital choreography of soul and light of 100th Window, Massive Attack have delivered radical evolution with each cut, with one key through-line: soul. The sort of authentic soul that could only have been born in the city that is the shining heart of the West Country: Bristol. The music of Massive Attack has the city glow in its sky, even as it lurks in the shadows of surveillance cameras, clubs, sexual adventures, and other dark corners of the mind. Their songs can be like the confrontational architecture of a radical, futurist new structure in an old city, but the light in the sky beyond is the light of dreams. This latest set of tracks is not the leap into hyperspace that their previous work has been, but they have set high standards. For any other group, this album would be a quantum shift. For the Massive, it’s a significant departure, and a wildly brilliant leap forward, but it’s more of a conceptual evolution this time around: a hymn to clean lines, the shining clarity of slinky grooves and sonic layers, and a profound sense of intimacy. These songs, these vocals, sound right there in front of you, right there in your heart and in your soul. The sonic choreography and manipulation are still there, and still light years beyond what any other group are achieving, but they have coupled it with a beautiful, direct soul. Psyche and Flat Of The Blade are two tracks with uncompromising, electronically enhanced backgrounds and emotion-soaked vocals that murmur and whisper in our ear, full of memory and regret, alternately wistful and yearning and lost, using vocalists Martina Topley-Bird and Guy Garvey  to poignant effect. Saturday Come Slow takes this new simplicity and purity still further, pitching Damon Albarn’s plaintive cry over a deceptively clear arrangement of folky guitar and swelling majesty in the distance: do you love me, he asks, over and over again; what may as well be any writer’s fundamental question to their readers. Atlas Air, which closes the set, is one of the highlights, foregrounding Robert Del Naja’s whispering sinsisterism over hypnotically evolving basslines and dreamlike atmospheres. This album is full of moves they have never made before, as well as familiar reflections from earlier efforts. But on its deepest level, this is something else, a new landscape forever altered. It’s what all writers, all creative artists, might aspire to: changing the game with each creation, thrilling the souls of readers, viewers, listeners: experiencers. We can only hope that we can translate our dreams with such purity and authenticity that those who hear our dreams believe them.