Saturday, August 30, 2014

Awesome Mix Vol. 1: an analysis

  I recently saw Guardians of the Galaxy, twice.  I might go see it again.  But the experience drew me towards, almost a character in and of itself, the soundtrack.  Now keep in mind that I haven't read anything about the soundtrack other than a few comments from director James Gunn so I may be retreading some ground but I wanted to share my thoughts and my interpretation.

  First off the soundtrack lives up to its name.  It plays very powerfully in the movie and stands up to multiple listens in the real world.  It's been the only thing on in the CD player in my car lately.  So not only is it a great set list that plays well in sequence but it does something else that's pretty interesting: it connects you to main character Peter Quill aka Star-Lord.  I listen to these songs and imagine a person with only these songs to listen to.  You have slower more melancholy songs that I imagine a teenage Peter Quill playing over and over again when he missed home or after a yelling at by Yondu.  There are harder songs I can imagine he played to get amped up before a confrontation as a Ravager.  Songs he played when entering atmosphere on a planet and songs he played when trying to romance a lady alien.  More than anything it connects you to that character and by listening to it you can empathize and imagine yourself there, living his life, listening to the same songs he listens too.  It makes it so much more than a collection of music used for a fancy moving picture.  Now that that's out of the way let's get to the analysis.

  Director James Gunn says that the tape, played on an old school Walkman (that I had at one point in my life), is Peter Quill's only connection to his home Earth.  But that's not the intention of a Mix Tape.  For those not in the know a Mix Tape was used to either make a combination of your favorite songs (usually for yourself but you could lend them out to introduce others to your style) or, more importantly, to convey an emotion or feeling that you just weren't able to.  The second example is more of the kind that you gave to someone.  You sat down and made music that conveyed a message about how you felt about that person so they could know how you felt and either reciprocate or ignore.  It was the most passive-aggressive way of letting your crush know you liked them.  I don't know how The Kids do it now.  Have Spotify playlists replaced the Mix Tape?  If so that's kind of sad.  Part of the point of a Mix Tape was conveying your feelings or intention to the limitations of a tape or CD.  So, like, 10-13 songs or roughly an hour.

  Therefore we can't look at Awesome Mix Vol 1 as a character device.  That doesn't tell us anything.  Let's look at the tracklisting for the biggest reason why:

1. “Hooked on a Feeling” Performed by Blue Swede
2. “Go All the Way” Performed by Raspberries
3. “Spirit in the Sky” Performed by Norman Greenbaum
4. “Moonage Daydream” Performed by David Bowie
5. “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” Performed by Elvin Bishop
6. “I’m Not in Love” Performed by 10cc
7. “I Want You Back” Performed by Jackson 5
8. “Come and Get Your Love” Performed by Redbone
9. “Cherry Bomb” Performed by The Runaways
10. “Escape (The Piña Colada Song)” Performed by Rupert Holmes
11. “O-O-H Child” Performed by The Five Stairsteps
12. “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” Performed by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell (While part of the retail release of Awesome Mix vol 1 the song is the only song on the list we KNOW comes from Awesome Mix vol 2)

  There we go, that's our tracklist.  We have to assume that Peter's mom put those songs in that order or we'll be here talking about it all night.  Notice we don't have any songs that about Earth?  The Mix Tape wasn't made to connect Peter to Earth.  It may serve that function since it's really all he has of Earth but Meredith Quill did not make that Mix Tape to connect Peter to Earth.  I believe she made that Mix Tape to connect Peter with his unknown father.

  We have some light space themes with Spirit in the Sky but where we really get the space theme is Moonage Daydream.  That song is an early cut off the incredible "Ziggy Stardust..." album by David Bowie.  It's not the most on the nose spaceman reference (Starman, the cut after Daydream, would be the most obvious) but with lyrics like "Put your raygun to my head..." you are squarely in sci-fi romance territory.  I say that because in the context of that song that lyric is romantic.

  So what we have here is Meredith Quill trying to tell Peter about his father who is an alien.  She is trying to connect Peter to his father by telling him about his fathers origin and their love affair.  All the songs contain some connection to love.  From the euphoric love in "Hooked on Feeling" and "Go All The Way" to the end-of-relationship-denial in "I'm Not in Love" to looking for somebody else only to find the person you want is the person you have in "Escape (The Pina Colada Song)".  You get hints of Peter's father alien status from tracks like "Spirit in the Sky" and "Moonage Daydream".  You get the impression that her parents weren't happy about the affair from the rebellious "Cherry Bomb".  You understand that she still loves Peter's dad and misses him from songs like "I Want You Back" and "I'm Not in Love".  You get a sense that what started out as something more passionate turned into love from "Fooled Around and Fell in Love" and "Come and Get Your Love".  She wants Peter to know how she met and fell in love with Peter's father and what that relationship gave her and what she hopes to give Peter.  The Mix Tape ends with "O-O-H Child" which is Meredith welcoming the result of her love affair:  her son Peter and letting him know that while things might be bad now, with his father gone and his mother sick, life will just get better.  

  More than connecting Peter to Earth, more than his mother sharing her favorite music this is Meredith using music to communicate to Peter about his parents.  To create something that would last Peter the rest of his life, something she probably knew she wouldn't be there for judging by how sick she was at the opening of the film.

  Beyond Awesome Mix vol 1 we get a hint of Awesome Mix vol 2 in the form of "Ain't No Mountain High Enough".  This tape was given to Peter on his mothers deathbed and we can assume that this mix, made by Meredith at the very end of her life, was designed to show Peter how much he was loved by his mother.  Another interpretation could mean that the mix was designed to tell Peter that while she couldn't physically be there for her son his father would come for him eventually as the song could mean that Meredith will always be with her son no matter what or that Peter Quill's dad would look and come for him no matter what.  Without hearing more songs we can't know but it offers an interesting tease.

  I look forward to GotG 2 and hopefully and Awesome Mix vol 2 as well.

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