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‘Rushmore‘ was my meditation when I was a freshman in college. I watched it roughly monthly for about a year, buoyed by its balance of humor and it’s autumnal, yearning tone. I was a far better student than Max Fischer academically, a lot less driven, but nevertheless fancied myself a bit of a dreamer and a little precocious. I related to Max (and his creator, Wes Anderson) as a romantic from more or less the same unromantic mid-Southern world, and related to Max’s and Wes’s limited means and lofty ambitions. I was undeniably a bit of a self-absorbed dork, like Max; but was self-aware enough to appreciate the film’s understanding that for all of his fantastical vision, Max had to get taken down a peg or two and stripped of some of his pretentiousness and entitlement in order to really blossom. But beyond the thematic resonance, a huge part of why I returned again and again until I’d memorized every shot and every line was the music: Mark Mothersbaugh’s evocatively precious pocket-orchestral score, each piece like a little toy; and the wonderfully out-of-context bravado and world-weariness of its vintage rock’n’roll and sophisticated pop songs.
At the same time as I was in love with ‘Rushmore‘ and ‘Bottle Rocket‘, my youthful musical world was expanding by leaps and bounds, as I was busy discovering Can, Miles Davis, Wire, Donna Summer, Nick Drake, James Brown, Sandy Denny, the Nonesuch Explorer Series, and on and on, exploding from there: finding the bedrock of my whole world of music to this day. That sense of discovery wed in my memory with ‘Rushmore‘. As Wes Anderson’s cachet grew thereafter, while I was fond of some of the movies (‘The Royal Tenenbaums,’ ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox,’ ‘Moonrise Kingdom,’ ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel‘) and found myself strangely unengaged by others (‘The Darjeeling Limited,’ ‘The Life Aquatic,’ ‘Isle of Dogs‘), to me they were all a little like what would’ve happened if Max Fisher had been given every wish his heart desired, being given command of Rushmore Academy rather than being expelled. Wes Anderson, I felt, was at his best when he faced obstacles and limitations: like how to make suburban Texas seem interesting, instead of being given the money to build a fantasy New York, New England, Eurasia; or only having the acting budget to focus in on a few misfits and their imperfect relationships, rather than hiring huge likeable ensembles of big-name stars. That said, I still look forward to seeing what he’ll do with each new film–certainly few others are doing anything quite so unabashedly formalist and crafted, and there’s still a childlike sincerity to the films, even when they’re a little too big and deluxe for their own good. I’d just love to see him work a little. . . smaller.
So what would I want to see from Mr. Anderson that would bring things back to the humane, small-scale emotional core of ‘Rushmore‘ and ‘Bottle Rocket‘? Give him the biggest canvas of all, and send him into the cosmos: into ‘The Great Wide Yonder,’ of course. In a strange way, I think the infinite possibilities of space would have the effect of returning the focus in on a few characters who, through whatever perils and challenges befall them, truly need each other. The world-building of ‘The Life Aquatic‘ was impressive–and space, space ships, space stations, would give Mr. Anderson total freedom in literally inventing every square inch of what we see. But for my money, ‘Aquatic‘ would’ve been more compelling with half as many characters, who were forced to spend the film together within the confines of the big ship–or even the submarine, instead of flitting around the world, growing the team wherever they go. Space, as infinite as it is, requires containment–restraint–for any human trying to venture into it. Perhaps what I’m imagining is a little like ‘Gravity‘ in how it drew intimacy from the tension between infinity and humanity. Wes Anderson’s take on the same central tension could be thrilling–and, emotionally moving, as glimpsed in moments of his more recent films.
I don’t have a story written out or in my mind for this imaginary Wes Anderson film ‘The Great Wide Yonder,’ or specific characters in mind (though my “movie poster,” above, shows you the actors who people my version). What I do have is a sense of exactly what I would want the soundtrack to be–and that’s what you get in this mix, sequenced in a way that I hope feels narrative and cinematic, even without a script.
There was a brief time during the few years after man-in-space went from being a fantasy to a reality, when primitive electronics (associated since the 50s with sci-fi and space) had matured enough that almost-normal musicians could use them, but they were still temperamental, warbling, far-from-slick machines. With increased access, the contexts of their use bloomed. The result were kinds of electronic music that weren’t simply fascinated by the robotic wild-and-weirdness of bloop-bleep electronics as suited for ‘Lost in Space‘ (or the similarly alien world of academic electronic maestros and research labs)–not electronic music for electronic music’s sake. Instead, the music being made was a hybrid of man and machine, taking advantage of the new sound palates offered by the later, but with the capacities for emotional expression of the former. In some contexts, there was an explicit cosmic (or “Kosmische”) thrust to this organic-electronic popular music. Others worked from more acoustic, even pastoral starting points but with an interest in venturing toward the future. The result heard throughout this mix–spanning Krautrock, oddball electronic pop, Library and soundtrack compositions, futurist R&B, and open-eared singer-songwriter music–is a sort of bespoke, hand-crafted futurism that strikes me as the absolutely perfect match for what “Wes Anderson Cosmic Sci-Fi” would look like. It’s cool and Futurist and “Space Age” Mid-Century Mod in some ways, but it’s also lively and colorful and playful and heartbreaking. Emotionally, this music seems the perfect fit, too: fundamentally optimistic, seeking, hopeful, but tinged by sadness, even tragedy, filled with riches for both mind and heart. This music is cosmic-but-warm, infinite-but-intimate, and often overwhelmingly beautiful. I hope it will prove both deeply enjoyable in its own right, and that it will set your imagination out into an Anderson-esque interstellar journey of limitless possibility.
Download/stream the mix below the tracklist. As always, please, buy this music, support the artists, support the shops and labels that get this music out there for us all to enjoy. Without your direct support, music will become a streaming commodity that can’t support artists, won’t create community, will isolate us rather than bring us together–and, in a streaming-only world, can disappear at any moment. Buy music to make it last–don’t rent it.
Various – ‘The Great Wide Yonder‘ (a film by Wes Anderson)
1968-1975 (mixed 2020)
01 [00:00] KRAFTWERK – “Elektrisches Roulette” (‘Ralf & Florian’ 1973)
02 [04:15] Silver APPLES – “I Don’t Care What the People Say” (‘The Garden’ 1969)
03 [07:10] STARDRIVE – “Strawberry Fields Forever” (‘Intergalactic Trot’ 1973)
04 [10:55] Sven LIBAEK – “Conversations With HAL” (‘Solar Flares’ 1974)
05 [13:50] HELDON – “Ballade Pour Puig Antich” (‘Electronique Guerilla’ 1974)
06 [15:30] Franco BATTIATO – “Fenemenologia” (‘Fetus’ 1972)
07 [19:05] Stevie WONDER – “Look Around” (‘Where I’m Coming From’ 1971)
08 [21:50] 101 STRINGS – “Flameout” (‘Astro-Sounds From Beyond The Year 2000’ 1968)
09 [24:25] Gil MELLE – “The Piedmont Elegy” (‘The Andromeda Strain’ 1971)
10 [25:50] Ash Ra TEMPLE – “The Fairy Dance” (‘Starring Rosi’ 1973)
11 [29:00] PLACEBO – “Balek” (‘1973’ 1973)
12 [33:20] Duncan BROWNE – “Last Time Around” (‘Duncan Browne’ 1973)
13 [38:00] CAN – “Spray” (‘Future Days’ 1973)
14 [46:20] Brian ENO – “The Big Ship” (‘Another Green World’ 1975)
15 [49:10] CLUSTER – “Hollywood” (‘Zuckerzeit’ 1974)
16 [53:35] David BOWIE – “Five Years” (‘The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust…’ 1972)
17 [58:20] Jan HAMMER – “The People” (‘The First Seven Days’ 1975)
18 [65:30] Richie HAVENS – “End of the Season” (‘Alarm Clock’ 1970)
19 [69:05] EROC – “Sternchen” (‘Eroc’ 1975)
20 [72:20] Egisto MACCHI – “Nuovi Planeti” (‘I Futuribili’ 1971)
21 [75:45] These TRAILS – “Psyche II” (‘These Trails’ 1973)
22 [78:10] Sensations FIX – “Space Energy Age” (‘Fragments of Light’ 1974)
23 [81:50] COMUS – “To Keep From Crying” (‘To Keep From Crying’ 1974)
24 [87:25] SYRINX – “December Angel” (‘Long Lost Relatives’ 1971)
25 [95:30] Judee SILL – “Lopin’ Along Thru the Cosmos” (‘Judee Sill’ 1971)
[Total Time: 1:38:40]