We couldn’t have asked for a better subject to subject himself to the first installment of the Geek Music Survey than Dave Hartley of Nightlands. A supreme geek and thoughtful dude, Hartley handled the survey with a precision akin to his work on Oak Island, which came out last week on Secretly Canadian.
1.) The Beatles or Elvis (or Joni Mitchell)?
Dave Hartley: What is the point of spilling ink over the Beatles, when so much ink has been spilled already? Well, the point is, they are truly a gift from the old gods and the new. I have distinct memories of being a very young child and just being blown away by Sgt. Pepper and Rubber Soul. The greatest and most astounding thing about The Beatles is how they can utterly devastate your mind with their all encompassing genius over and over and over again. I’d say every year and a half or so I hear a corner of their discography and am reduced to near-tears. It is not just their pure musicality I admire, it is their place in the perfect moment of history and their improbable humanity. They should have been deluded assholes but somehow they became beacons of sensibility in a world going mad. The Beatles are not to be criticized or over-analyzed. Just be thankful.
2.) James Brown or Al Green (or Mos Def)?
Whether or not D’Angelo makes another album, he will go down as one of the greatest or perhaps the greatest modern soul singer. Voodoo is a game changer and its stature will just grow and grow as the years pass and its singularity comes into focus. There are songs on Voodoo that I can point to specifically as Nightlands inspiration—songs where every line is three-part harmony and the harmonies are mixed very evenly to the point where the voices blend together to become one thing. I remember listening to that as a young man and saying, “I want to do that.” Not use harmonies as “background vocals” that pop in and out but as colors to blend together to create a new color. Also it is clear that D’Angelo and Questlove were playing with time, trying to bend it and trying to take rhythm out of the heavily quantized rigidity of the day, to make you feel differently as the beat is stretched to the point of breaking.
3.) Star Wars or Star Trek?
Star Wars, by a mile. I have a theory about Star Wars, though: without John Williams’ score, the movie would have never achieved anything close to its present state of total cultural saturation. In the first film (or, Episode IV) when Luke is gazing across the planes of Tatooine at its many moons the music drops into a booming lower register and reprises the main theme and makes your heart explode. It is the music that created fanaticism and it’s the reason the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which is a great epic series, will just age ungracefully (along with its CGI) into obscurity—it lacks that iconic, perfect score.
4.) Kurasawa or Hitchcock?
Hitchcock, though I greatly enjoyed Kagemusha and the other Kurosawa films I’ve see–especially the precise-as-a-painting cinematography. When I was young my parents wouldn’t let me watch anything remotely PG-13 except Hitchcock. So, in a fervent desire to see violence and cleavage, I cruised through the entire Hitchcock catalog. Like great music, it can be appreciated in a childlike, surface-oriented, way, or from an analytical, technical perspective. I re-watched Rear Window recently and just couldn’t believe how beautifully it holds up. All the continuous shots that required such a degree of synchronization, few directors have the balls or ambition to attempt such feats today, since they can just “fix it in post.”
5.) David Lynch or Quentin Tarantino?
Tough one—I love them both in such different ways. Tarantino is clearly in a class of his own, playing by no one’s rules and just pummeling his way through history forcing the lowest brow into unholy matrimony with the highest. But Lynch is in my Hall of Fame on the merits of Twin Peaks alone (though his catalog is rich and varied). The Angelo Badalamenti score is much like Williams’ aforementioned Star Wars score—inseparable from its visual counterpart and probably largely responsible for its fanatical following. I have analyzed the Twin Peaks soundtrack pretty heavily (its use of 9ths and 7ths, specifically) and, ahem, “borrowed” liberally.
6.) Sci-Fi or Lo-Fi?
Can someone please look up “false dilemma” on Wikipedia, por favor? These two things are essentially unrelated and not to be compared (Fi means something different in both cases, obviously), but I’ll use this as an opportunity to say: Sci-Fi is in my blood. But only the highest quality Sci-Fi. The hard stuff. The good stuff. The hall of fame material: 2001: A Space Odyssey, Solaris, Blade Runner and the like film-wise; Stranger in a Strange Land, Rendezvous With Rama, Foundation, Dune and the like novel-wise. It’s not a genre, really, it’s just literature or filmmaking in a much, much broader context.
7.) The Walking Dead (the comic) or The Walking Dead (the TV show)?
Definitely the comic. The show was quite disappointing to me, particularly because I love love love the graphic novels. Maybe it’s just not made to be adapted? The characters were all just so unlikeable, and all of the zombies looked like actors in make-up pretending to be zombies. I’d rather listen to the Odyssey and the Oracle, any day, while we’re comparing apples and oranges.
8.) Beer, Wine or Spirits?
9.) Margaret Atwood, Toni Morrison, Thomas Pynchon or David Foster Wallace (or Shakespeare)?
I’m gonna go with Roberto Bolaño. Though I have only read his sprawling masterpiece 2666, I feel more people need to know about this book (he is the author of the much-better-known The Savage Detectives). It defies categorization, the work of a dying author (he died as he finished it) calling on all his powers and with a dark sense of beauty and foreboding. The novel takes place in various times and places and from the perspectives of a slew of different characters. I won’t attempt to describe the narrative trajectory but will only say that it seems to marry beauty and sadness in a way few can. Along with (Cormac McCarthy’s) Blood Meridian and Jonathan Littell’s The Kindly Ones it comprises what I refer to as my “Ditch Trilogy” (in reference to Neil Young’s “Ditch Trilogy”: Time Fades Away, On the Beach, Tonight’s the Night … “Travelling there soon became a bore so I headed for the ditch. A rougher ride but I saw more interesting people there.”) Tales of darkness and violence are hard to read and digest but so much can be learned in the ditch. People who have not tasted despair aren’t of much interest to me, honestly.
Editor’s Note: Artists were asked to fill out an arbitrary series of geeky questions. They could answer as many or as few as they wanted. Additionally, the artist was given the freedom to muse on anything related to the question, if they weren’t feeling the original question.
Check out some Nightlands music here:
Nightlands’ “I Fell In Love With A Feeling” video
Nightlands’ “So Far So Long”