As I write this, I’m listening to Radiohead’s The Bends. “(Nice Dream)” is one of my favorite songs, in part because it reminds me a bit of a lullaby. I will confess that I haven’t seen Radiohead play live, nor does that same song mean anything similar to others that have listened to it as well. Am I rambling? Yes, but there’s a point to it. A favorite song – of which I could listen to on repeat for quite some time, happily – does connect to recent film-going experience. You see, I recently got the chance to watch Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room. For a film about band members battling Neo Nazis for survival, this film manages to speak volumes about the nature of authenticity and meaning in music, and why we need to combine experiences in order to make the most out of the musical experience.
|Step right up and get your experience here!
When the film starts, Pat (Anton Yelchin) makes an interesting point about how to quantify the experience of picking one band’s recorded music as opposed to sharing the a live performance of music. Out of all the band members, Pat can’t pick just one artist or band that he would listen to on repeat for an unforeseeable amount of time in isolation. He insinuates that pressing play on a recording doesn’t lead to growth, which is a valid point; the repetition does nothing for new discovery, and is an isolating experience. Pat uses this reasoning for the fact that the group fights digital distribution, as Tad (David W. Thompson, who I damn near mistook for Christopher Mintz-Plasse) details the band’s lack of social media presence. For Pat, the experience of seeing a band play is something that is fleeting and momentary: it’s a shared experience with a group of people, and the reactions become far more personal than any recording. In order to truly get the message and the full extent of the music’s power, it must be seen and heard, despite that it might be imperfect. In a very real sense, he’s correct in that the live music experience is something that can’t be exactly duplicated: it’s real, it’s in the moment, and it’s authentic to everyone that chooses to participate. Case in point: Saulnier makes sure to show us how the crowd interacts with one another during The Ain’t Rights’s show for the skinhead crowd. We see the band members rocking out, playing with enough gusto to move instruments. We see the crowd stand around, skeptical. We see them start to nod their heads, and then we see them slamming into each other as they embrace the music, crashing and yelling. This is a snapshot in time of a fleeting experience. It’s the moment at its core, and it makes the music infinitely more meaningful based on the memories associated with the act of physically interacting with it.
|Performing and watching are pretty incredible, have to admit.
However, Pat’s philosophy can be argued as a type of idealistic inexperience, and he gets all the experience he can handle whilst free of music in the green room. Part of Saulnier’s tension-building technique stems from the fact that there’s no bitching soundtrack to the carnage in this film. There’s no Slayer playing, no Nine Inch Nails yelling, no Cannibal Corpse, Behemoth or Carcass playing. We are left to experience pure paranoia and trauma with this bunch, and nothing to really latch onto it as a coping mechanism. We have flickering lights and box cutters, but there’s no silver lining in the form of the comfort of music. There experience may be shared by Amber (Imogen Poots) and the band members, but outside of the music in their heads – namely, Amber’s mentions of Madonna and Slayer – there is nothing safe or comforting on which to grip. This makes the ordeal all the more burned into the minds of the survivors, despite that it’s happening under circumstances that Pat describes as the only way to experience something: together, in the moment, and something that can’t fully be repeated. Have to admit, there’s a point there: these people can only die once, nor is this something they would want to relive.
So how does this tie back together? Music is the coping mechanism, and that’s why Pat can now pick a single band at the end of the film. While the shared experience of a live performance is good, it manages to closely mirror the shared experience of torture and near death for him. This ordeal is not pleasant in the least: it’s something that has seen the near loss of his hand, the deaths of his friends, and the crossing of the threshold of pure, innocent, idealistic musician into a calculated killer bent on survival and punishment. And how does he cope? By realizing whose recording he would listen to over and over again on repeat. In the end, despite that he got the real experience, Pat needs something stable in order to move forward and make sense of what his world has become. In a sense, this repeat is something that will help him shut off and deal with the trauma he’s experienced. It’s a PTSD theraputic mechanism. He needs that unvaried, fixed point in order to remove himself from the memory of a bad experience.
|There’s a reason this doesn’t have Dead Kennedys playing over it.
The grand irony is that the one other person that is left standing after this experience – Amber – makes it clear that she doesn’t want to continue to share it with him. Pat’s got it figured out finally in order to move forward, and Amber replies, “Tell somebody who gives a shit.” She doesn’t care, and she’s already had her chance to latch onto Madonna and Slayer in order to live with losing her friend, people that she’s viewed as family, and the pain of physical injury. So as Radiohead comforts me when I need it, Pat had to find what comforts him, and that gets to be just his. In his awful experience of murder and mayhem, he gets to learn that sometimes, the safe, replicable experience of the same thing may just be the safe thing that gets you through the horrible live experience. And both are equally authentic to the listener.