Explosions In The Sky: Your Hand In Mine
I used to have a subscription to Mojo, an English music magazine that epitomizes the rock snobbery that I have to sheepishly admit to sometimes indulging in. I used to love their album reviews, which often seemed to create micro sub genres on the fly—“Oasis influenced post-apocalyptic arena rock” “Neo-Goth industrial grindcore” “Downtempo synth-banjo drone” (OK—I made those up, but the real ones were similar). How to classify music by genre is, as with most things critical, a matter of personal taste.
When I worked at WPRB in college, we had classical, jazz and rock shows, and late at night, we had “specialty” shows—prog rock, punk, avant-garde, etc. And I think most people were comfortable that Mozart was classical, and John Coltrane was jazz, and Led Zeppelin was rock. That Genesis was prog and The Ramones were punk. But could you play a Phillip Glass piece on a jazz or rock show? Or Pat Metheny on a rock show? I know I heard Van Morrison’s “Moondance” on a jazz show. And what the hell were you supposed to do about Brian Eno? Luckily, there was no formal test, although when I was program director, I might have made a call to a DJ who played the Sex Pistols during the classical programming or segued Beethoven from The Police.
When I started using an mp3 player, I was confronted with the “genre” field, and iTunes also allows you to use narrow sub genres—Alternative Rock. Indie Rock. Alternative and Punk. Punk. Not to mention Unclassifiable. I tend to keep things pretty broad—Rock, Jazz, Folk, Blues, etc. But even that can lead to moments of staring at the screen trying to decide the proper genre.
Which brings me to Explosions in the Sky, and “Your Hand in Mine.” The band is usually classified as “post-rock,” a genre which seems to assume that “rock” is over, and we have moved on. This would probably be a surprise to pretty much anyone who listens to rock music. According to Wikipedia, “The term ‘post-rock’ is believed to have been coined by critic Simon Reynolds in his review of Bark Psychosis' album Hex, published in the March 1994 issue of Mojo magazine.” Mojo magazine strikes again!! Reynolds defined the genre as "using rock instrumentation for non-rock purposes, using guitars as facilitators of timbre and textures rather than riffs and power chords."
The original version of “Your Hand in Mine” appears on Explosions in the Sky’s album “The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place,” in an 8:16 version, featuring the four members’ chiming guitars and active drumming. The producer of the movie “Friday Night Lights” (adapted from the book of the same name) approached the band, and much of the movie soundtrack was Explosions in the Sky music. The version of “Your Hand in Mine” that appeared in the movie was shortened, and strings were added by the arranger David Campbell, who happens to be the father of Beck (someone also familiar with cross-genre music).
The movie “Friday Night Lights” is very good. It was adapted into one of the great TV series of all time. The theme for the TV version of “Friday Night Lights” sounds like Explosions in the Sky, but it isn’t. It was written by W.G. Snuffy Walden, a veteran composer of TV themes (including “The West Wing,” another great TV show). Check out the video:
But it really, really sounds like Explosions in the Sky, whose music was, in fact, used in a few episodes of the show.
So, to sum up, this song was written for an album, adapted for a movie version of a book. The movie was adapted for a TV show, whose theme was influenced by the original music. I think that qualifies as “mixed formats.”
This week’s theme is an experiment. We will be presenting songs in a variety of formats, and I mean that both in terms of the music itself and the way we present it. Some of us still have file hosting and will be sharing mp3s. But others, myself obviously included, will share videos. There may also be some streaming audio. The goal is to present as much music as possible for you, our readers. This mix of audio and visual formats may be how we proceed for a while at least, so I hope you will take the time and use the comments to let us know what you think. Incidentally, the picture on the sidebar this week is by artist Miriam Pinkerton. You can get a better look at it, as well as seeing more a possibly purchasing some of her work here.
Rockit was an MTV sensation in 1983. Probably very few viewers, however, had heard of Herbie Hancock before. Hancock had long before established himself as a jazz master. He was with Miles Davis when Davis invented jazz fusion, and Hancock greatly advanced fusion with his Headhunters band. But Rockit is not jazz, is it? The song combines a funky groove with a lead line on synthesizer with the turntablism of Grandmaster DST. Hancock was finding in the music that would later be called hip-hop the same improvisational spirit he knew so well in jazz, but the song is surely not jazz itself.
Or is it? Here’s Hancock and his band performing the song again, this time live in Los Angeles in 2008:
Now, some connections snap into place. Now, on finding this video, I understand at last how Herbie Hancock could have been responsible for Rockit in the first place. This version of the song makes clear how it relates to Hancock‘s jazz fusion work. It is unquestionably the same song, but this treatment brings it home for me. The band stretches out, and this version is clearly jazz.