Should I spend a lot of time complaining about other people’s music, instead of making my own? And what would happen if I start building a 3.5 million dollar house before the blueprints are done?
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In this episode, Carl King shares an essay: “Don’t Complain About Other People’s Music” and then examines David Cronenberg’s Scanners (1981 Film)
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SHOW NOTES / LINKS
How Big Things Get Done
A Guide To The Good Life by William Irvine
Conversations at the American Film Institute
I get a LOT of questions here. And the two questions I’m asked more than any other are: 1: “How many hours a day should I spend complaining about other people’s music, instead of making my own?” And 2: “What would happen if I start building a 3.5 million dollar house before the blueprints are done?”
So this week, I’ll answer both of those questions. First, we’ve got a segment called “Don’t Complain About Other People’s Music.” And then, we’ll examine David Cronenberg’s Scanners, the 1981 film. Understanding is useful, so here we go.
I’m Carl King, and this is The Carl King Podcast, where EVERY WEEK, we learn about music, filmmaking, and creativity. If you like this show, head over to Patreon.com/carlking, and join for just $1 or $5 per month.
Or send a tip through PayPal or Venmo to username CarlKingdom. Special thank you to my Illusionist $51 level patrons, both Hank Howard III and Chewbode.
Quick shout-out to my music endorsements: Vienna Symphonic Library, Fractal Audio, Ernie Ball Strings, Toontrack, and Millennia Media. Now let’s get this episode Beginned!
CARL KING THE HUMAN UPDATES
Just a few Carl King The Human Updates, and then we will officially get beginned.
First of all, I got myself a vegan chocolate shake this weekend. That tasted good.
Second, I’ve been reading some books before bed:
1 – How Big Things Get Done by Bent Fly-v-b-jerg and Dan Gardner
2 – A Guide To The Good Life by William B. Irvine
3 – And Conversations at the American Film Institute with the Great Moviemakers.
I’ll put links to those 3 books in the show notes.
Third, I received some supportive YouTube comments on my recent episodes, and I’d like to share some of them here.
1 – In response to my segment about Richard Elfman’s Forbidden Zone, from episode 27, YouTube user Joe Lesser had this to say: “Huh?”
The Forbidden Zone – Episode 27
2 – In response to Episode 59, in which I mentioned Mr. Bungle’s Disco Volante, Don Joe Fonzarelli commented, “I’m old enough to remember when Disco Volante was considered a disappointment (not by me, favorite concert ever was on that tour).”
To which I responded: “Yes. The first day I bought Disco Volante I was furious because it made ZERO sense to me. It sounded like a prank album of people just making random noises. It took me weeks to start hearing songs in the chaos. Luckily, around that time I also took a Music Appreciation class and learned about 20th century music. It all clicked.”
3 – In response to my YouTube short about Mike Patton’s vocal melody on “Everything’s Ruined,” Deena Foley typed, “Love your breakdowns! I teach music and have an experimental class this year and we have been making our way through the Ipecac catalog. I always recommend they watch your videos!”
Deena Foley, I’m so glad this show has educational value. It’s exactly what I set out to do, so thank you for sharing it with your students.
Mike Patton’s “Everything’s Ruined” Melody (SHORT
4 – In response to my Robert Eggers THE LIGHTHOUSE segment on Episode 58, John La Grou said: “A great film – an actor’s workshop at the highest level. Best analysis, too. After watching the film on release, I had to know more about the unique look and feel.
Learned that Eggers used an old-style wide-grain negative film stock called Kodak 5222 along with custom filters that emulated early 1900s orthochromatic stock. The movie was shot with a single hand-held film camera. Superb in all respects. Thanks for the brilliant Carl King treatment. Suggest you contact Eggers for an interview to continue the deep dive.”
John La Grou, thank you for the thorough reply. I am dang pleased that you enjoyed my analysis.
Episode 58 / Fantomas The Director’s Cut + Robert Eggers The Lighthouse
If YOU have a nice YouTube comment to leave me, please do so, because I’d love to hear from you. I might even feature it on an upcoming episode. And now, let’s move on to This Week’s Motivational Creative Career Motivation of the Week.
DON’T COMPLAIN ABOUT OTHER PEOPLE’S MUSIC
In This Week’s Motivational Creative Career Motivation of the Week, I’ll share my thoughts on Complaining About Other People’s Music and why we should stop. I believe it is a bad habit. I’m going to tell you why, and also how I counteract it in my own brain.
First of all, complaining is a huge waste of energy and focus. It sucks away time that can be spent productively. Andrew Huberman, PhD said it this way:
“If you’re focusing on how someone else is failing, what’s wrong with X, Y, or Z, you’re wasting valuable neural real estate, building less, creating less, and slipping backwards. That’s the slow lane. We all have limited forebrain resources. Use them wisely.”
Second, complaining amplifies negativity and makes our lives, and other people’s lives worse. It’s addictive and only leads to more complaining.
However… it IS possible to reframe your complaints into something useful. If you don’t like a piece of music, you can create a detailed analysis, and determine what specific changes YOU would make to it.
Diagnose, clearly label, and learn from each of the “mistakes” so you can avoid them in your own music. To test your ideas, you could take it a step further and “rework” the song on your own.
Now I briefly addressed this topic of Complaining About Other People’s Music in last week’s episode, and in my own totally subjective opinion, I failed. I was having a rough week. And unfortunately, I used the wrong TONE. I spoke with a negative attitude. (Which is ironic, considering I was preaching the opposite.)
On the topic of attitude, The Cowboy said: “A man’s attitude… a man’s attitude goes some ways. The way his life will be.”
And The Cowboy was right. I ended up personally offending the person I was responding to, which wasn’t my intention. We talked about it, I apologized, and I explained that while it sure seemed I was singling him out and misinterpreting his comments, I was actually trying to make a broad philosophical point that I believe is important.
I was careless, and I want to try conveying the idea again. So here it is. I’m calling it: “Don’t Complain About Other People’s Music.”
Have you ever gotten a new album by your favorite band or musician, and been angry that they didn’t make the music you wanted to hear? Maybe you thought: man, why do they SUCK now?
Or have you ever found yourself feeling “triggered” by music you consider BAD? Maybe it’s Nickelback, or Red Hot Chili Peppers, or Country Music.
I spent YEARS of my life in that state of mind. Hearing 5 seconds of “bad music” could ruin my day. I was always one bluesy pentatonic riff from spiraling into a deep depression.
I’m no neurologist, but here’s what I suspect. When we’re teenagers, and get serious about listening to music, our brains are still developing. And we don’t just listen to music and like it. We use it for the important process of forming our identities.
At that age, we don’t know who we are. We’re wandering around looking for ourselves. Then one day, we stumble upon THAT SPECIAL MUSIC and we think, “oh my god, this music is ME. I found ME.”
We see aspects of ourselves in it. It might express things we feel, like anger or alienation or humor or complexity. But we’re kinda projecting aspects of our own personalities onto the music, finding meaning that might not actually be there. At that age, picking a favorite band is an easy way to define ourselves. Our favorite music can feel like our own personal flags or national anthems.
At the same time, we identify other music as the “ANTI-ME.” As in, I don’t like it, and it’s bad, period. Anyone who likes it is WRONG and my ENEMY because they are the opposite of my identity, and my identity must be protected at all costs.
I think it’s likely because we associate that music with specific people we don’t like. Long after the memory of the person is gone, we still react negatively when hearing it.
Now, taking this all a step further, those artists who made the music we DO love and identify with? We feel an imaginary closeness to them, as if we know them personally. They can feel significant and central to our lives, even more than our family or friends around us.
We imitate them. We act like them and dress like them. That can be especially powerful if we don’t feel we fit in with a social group. We’ll look up to the people in our favorite bands, because maybe we feel they are able to say or do things, that deep down, we want to say or do. We might see them as superhero versions of us.
Years later, when we’re adults, it feels like no other music will ever be as good as THAT music. We might wonder, “why is all new music BAD?”
But I’m pretty sure it’s an illusion. Here’s an example. My favorite album of all time is Steve Vai’s Passion and Warfare. In high school, I’d carry the cassette around with me in my pocket as if it were my best friend.
I’d read the credits and lyrics over and over. I was going through hell, but that tape was there with me. I listened to it every night through headphones when I went to bed. It was my escape to another world. It will probably always be my favorite album. In my own totally subjective opinion, there’s no music that’s more exciting to listen to.
That album is such a big deal to me that I went crazy in an auction last year and bought Steve’s original handwritten liner notes and a bunch of other materials from those recording sessions at The Mothership.
But I believe it is VERY likely, if I had never heard it back then, and he put that exact album out TODAY, it wouldn’t have the same impact on me. It would probably be just another album.
I’d listen to it occasionally, and enjoy it, like the rest of his albums, but it wouldn’t be the idea in my mind that is PASSION AND WARFARE. Because at my current age, my brain isn’t in that “impressionable” state of identity formation.
When I was a teenager, it seemed every few months there was another band blowing my mind. There was Faith No More, Mr. Bungle, Primus, Ween, NoMeansNo, Rush, They Might Be Giants, Victims Family, Pantera, Negativland. Hearing them just once, my world was changed. Those artists opened creative doors for me, showing me what was possible. It was a rapid expansion that happened in the span of only 5 years.
But I’ve heard so much music at this point, that it’s difficult for me to be surprised. In addition to that “loss of novelty” as we age, when an artist changes, or stops making the kind of music we expect, it can feel like a profound betrayal. It’s like they’re saying, “Remember that special thing we had, you and me? That’s over. I don’t care about you.”
But we’ve got to get over that. We’ve got to get our brain UNSTUCK from that teenage reference point. So here are things I tell myself:
1 – Since humans seem to project meaning onto everything, music is highly subjective. The music I listened to as a teenager probably isn’t objectively better than anything else. IT IS POSSIBLE… that when someone listens to what I hear as BAD MUSIC, inside their brain, they are actually hearing GOOD MUSIC, equivalent to my favorite album.
2 – Musicians are just people (like me) making whatever music they want to make. I might not enjoy their recent music, and that’s okay. But if I were friends with them, would I tell them that? Probably not. So why would I write it on the internet? I wouldn’t want them going out of their way to complain about MY music. And I’m sure there’s plenty they could criticize.
3 – I should not expect them to make more music in the style I liked almost three decades ago when I was a teenager. It’s wasted energy. Over time, people’s tastes (and career goals!) change. Being upset about that accomplishes nothing — other than making me more upset.
4 – If I think I can make “better” music than them, I’m free to do it. They’re not stopping me. As someone once said (and attributed to Mahatma Gandhi), “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
5 – If I don’t like someone’s music (or their latest music), I could simply not listen to it. In the book, A Guide To The Good Life, William Irvine wrote: “The key to having a good life is to value things that are genuinely valuable and be indifferent to things that lack value.”
So if someone makes music I don’t like, I should just be indifferent to it. I should go listen to music I actually DO like. There is endless music out there to listen to… and to MAKE.
6 – As I mentioned earlier, I can ALWAYS use ANY music as an opportunity for analysis and improving my own craft.
So here’s my mantra: Don’t complain about other people’s music. Be too busy making your own.
Join me next week for “Don’t Complain About People Who Complain About Other People’s Music.”
DAVID CRONENBERG’S SCANNERS (1981)
This Week’s Analytical Filmmaking Analysis of the Week is David Cronenberg’s Scanner’s, from 1981. Screenwrited and Directored by David Cronenberg himself, when he was 38 years old.
We are going to examine this film, and at the end, I’ll give you 5 tasty screenwriting leftovers for your mental tupperwear.
For context, according to the internet, this was Cronenberg’s 7th feature-length fiction film. Although he had made short films, documentaries, and television throughout the ‘60s and ’70s. All this to say, Scanners was far from being David Cronenberg’s first film.
And it shows a less-developed artist, but still contains strong hints of the filmmaker he would soon become.
Scanners was only 2 years before Videodrome, and that’s remarkable because of how much his Type 2 creativity developed, in that time. By comparison, Scanners is less rich in terms of ambiguity, abstraction, subtlety, non-linearity, and all the other things we look for in the later Type 2 Cronenberg films.
If you don’t know what the heck I’m talking about by Type 1 and Type 2, please see Episode 57: “Are There Two Types of Art?” In which I lay out a whole system with 7 dimensions.
In his defense, according to the internet, Scanners had major problems during production. Cronenberg called it one of his most difficult films to make. Because in order to take advantage of a government tax deal, he had to begin filming before the sets or even the script was finished. And that is a BAD situation.
As a reminder, or for those who don’t realize this, the script is not just the words the actors say. It’s the setting, the characters, the story, the scenes, the structure, the theme — the complete recipe for cooking the film.
And in this analogy, Cronenberg had to start cooking before knowing what he was making. Before the recipe was even fully written. That’s a BIG risk, most likely leading to a mess.
The Opening Scene
So let’s talk about that Opening Scene. When I start watching a film, I always want to know: 1 – what’s the opening scene / teaser, 2 – how long is it, and 3 – how long does it take for the first dialogue to happen?
Well, the film starts with a continuous shot of the main character, Cameron Vale, walking into a mall food court. He sits down and eats a hot dog. And this woman sitting nearby, says to her friend: “I’ve never seen something so disgusting in all my life. I don’t know why they let creatures like that in here.”
I was puzzled. I wasn’t sure what was disgusting about him, or why she was calling him a “creature like that.” Maybe this is an alternate world Cronenberg is setting up, and I just haven’t learned the rules of that alternate world yet.
And when those two women speak, it IS dialogue, but it’s more like their distant commentary. The volume of it is low, they’re not right next to him, so we’re experiencing the scene from his point of view.
The bulk of that opening scene is 4 minutes of visual storytelling. And aside from being confused about why he was being judged, I was onboard. This is definitely going to be a Type 2 film.
Dialogue Issues Begin
At 5:25 we get another scene, where Dr. Ruth speaks to Cameron Vale for the first time. This feels like the first official dialogue: “You’re 35 years old Mr. Vale. Why are you such a derelict? Such a piece of human junk?”
Wow, that’s a harsh thing to say. And that was actually the point where it occurred to me that Cameron Vale was supposed to be HOMELESS. I had to go back to the previous scene, and I realized the hot dog he ate was left-behind on the table by someone else. But by today’s standards he looks totally normal. His appearance definitely didn’t scream “derelict” or “piece of human junk” to me.
Dr. Ruth fires off some exposition: “The answer’s simple. You’re a scanner, but you don’t realize it. That has been the source of all your agony. But I will show you now, that it can be a source of great power.” And then he turns and says: “Let them in.” He’s referring to a bunch of people who come into the room, so Cameron can read their minds.
And this was the first point where the dialogue jumped out at me as being too heavy-handed, very Type 1. I might have trimmed it down so he simply said: “The answer’s simple. *pause* Let them in.” I’d leave the audience to fill in that blank.
Then, we get a long montage of Cameron strapped in a bed, having seizures, overwhelmed by hearing people’s thoughts. It goes on a LONG time. It’s pretty melodramatic. And it did remind me of how I feel in crowds, with my autistic tendencies.
Still, even with the cacophony of people’s thoughts, there’s very little actual dialogue in the first 10 minutes. Scripts are typically 1 page per minute. But if you were to add the dialogue up, so far, there’s maybe 1 page of dialogue at most.
And a typical writer might have filled that same space with 10 pages of dialogue. Or if you’re Aaron Sorkin, 20 pages. And that’s nothing against Aaron Sorkin, because I love what he does. My point is, these scenes are slow and deliberate, building tension. Making us curious.
Following that, there’s the iconic scene with the exploding head, and then a scene with an exploding car. And up until now, we discover the premise of the story without having to hear too much talking about it. We SEE it all happening.
Taking A Sharp Turn
But then, the film’s style takes a sharp turn towards Type 1. Up until this point, there had been sparse dialogue, heavy visual storytelling, and lots of mystery.
At 17:37, there’s a nearly 5-MINUTE boardroom meeting with a bunch of executives for a company called ConSec. And it’s heavy exposition. A group of men sit around a table and talk, telling the audience what we JUST SAW for the past nearly 18 minutes.
But they don’t really need to do that. We already KNOW that there are deadly telepaths called Scanners. We just watched them going around killing people, making their heads explode.
That seemed to bring the film’s pacing, and its intrigue, to a halt. The story STOPS. Facts are delivered, in the form of questions and answers. And that lasts until 22:13.
Towards the end of the scene, the guy in charge says to Dr. Ruth:
“What do you suggest doctor?”
And Dr. Ruth answers: “Contact a scanner who is as of yet unknown to the underground, convert him to our cause, and then send him out to infiltrate the underground.”
So there it is. At 21:07, the plot is stated. We know the mission we’re about to watch.
But then, just a couple minutes later, at 23:14 we get another exposition scene, where Dr. Ruth explains to Cameron Vale what a Scanner is. I’m going to guess that this exposition was repeated because of that “writing the script during filming” problem. Who knows what order these scenes were actually written or shot in, or how it needed to be assembled to make sense during editing.
Two minutes into that scene, at 25:18 – Cameron Vale asks: “How do you know these things?” And Dr. Ruth answers: “It’s my profession.” And the scene ends.
But 30 seconds earlier, Dr. Ruth had just told him, point blank: “I’m a psychopharmascist by trade, specializing in the phenomenon of Scanners.”
So why did Cameron Vale ask him: “How do you know these things?” Possibly because the writing of the script was hurried, or because they were solving a bigger problem in the edit by putting that line at the end of the scene. As an editor, I can relate. As David Lee Roth said, “I ain’t complainin’, you do the best with what you’ve got.”
For MOST of the rest of the film, it continues in that Type 1 style. We get on-the-nose dialogue like: “Come on, we’ve gotta get out of here” when they’re in a car that’s on fire. And “come on, let’s get out of here” when they’re being chased by bad guys. Those lines could have been left out entirely, if you wanted to make it more Type 2.
And the focus switches to the aspect of the corporate conspiracy, rather than digging deeper into the premise of telepathy. The story becomes physical, rather than psychological. External instead of internal. It’s driven by the plot rather than by the characters. And that’s okay, but it’s very Type 1.
At this point I began to wonder: if we were to remove the fantasy / psychic powers element of the film, would the human story itself still be compelling? I think that’s a good exercise, because the ability to “Scan” is MOSTLY used from that point on as a means of combat. It may as well have been guns or swords or even fists. Rather than being woven into the characters, or explored on deeper levels, it’s more of a surface element. And that’s why It can be a good idea to build on a solid foundation of OTHER storytelling elements, and not just the fun eye candy.
But, towards the end of the story, Cameron is able to DIAL into the corporation’s computer modem and MERGE his nervous system with its analog tapes, attempting to erase them. I’m not sure how his telepathic ability suddenly expanded to also apply to computers.
There doesn’t seem to be consistency to the magic here. And that’s another thing you want to consider — the rules of the fantasy world. What can the powers do, what can they NOT do? Those limits can help inform the story.
All production difficulties considered, we ended up with a Type 1. But that is, in my own totally subjective opinion, not what David Cronenberg does best.
Here are 5 tasty screenwriting leftovers for your mental tupperwear:
1 – Get that screenplay locked down before production begins.
2 – Decide if you’re making a Type 1 or Type 2. Try not to shift between them drastically as the story progresses.
3 – If there are elements of magic, determine the rules. What can the magic do, and what can it NOT do?
4 – As an exercise, remove all fantasy elements. Do you still have a compelling human story beyond your fantasy elements decoration?
5 – If you’re David Cronenberg, do whatever the heck you want, because your next film is Videodrome.
Since I honestly can’t complain about anything David Cronenberg does, I gave this film 5/5 stars on Letterboxd.
That’s it for This Week’s Analytical Filmmaking Analysis of the Week. If you liked this video, support the creation of more by joining my Patreon for $1 or $5 a month. That’s Patreon Dot Com Slash Carl King.
OK, that’s the end of this Episode of the Carl King Podcast. Remember to subscribe on Spotify, Apple, YouTube, or anywhere else you listen to these dang podcasts.
And if you like this show, support the creation of more episodes by joining my Patreon for $1 or $5 a month. That’s Patreon Dot Com Slash Carl King. Or send a tip through PayPal or Venmo to username CarlKingdom.
And as always, special thank you to my $51 a month Patrons, at the special Illusionist level, Chewbode and Hank Howard III. And thank you to ALL of the Very Good Friends of Carl King for listening, and as I always say: Come on, we’ve got to get out of here.