Thursday, February 8, 2018

Aliens: Reach Out

Purchase: Heavy Metal Soundtrack

Aliens, UFOs, little green men in carbon zoot suits, come down to Earth to collect rocks, or kidnap people and probe them for info. Maybe probe our livestock, too...

What comes to my mind when the topic of aliens arises stems from the movies. I've never been much of a sci-fi reader, but I do love a good, ol' fashioned flying saucer flick.  There's the old standbys, like Sigourney Weaver in her underwear and vicious little creatures pulsing out of chest cavities in a shower of gore. But, what else? What other little green men walk through the halls of my imagining? Invaders destroying everything they encounter with death rays, ala Mars Attacks!; strange, long fingered and round-eyed curiosity seekers, peeking through windows, like ET: The Extraterrestrial; or Donald Sutherland recognizing Veronica Cartwright upon exiting his pod and becoming part of the Invasion of the Body Snatchers...

And, my personal favorite, and original encounter with the wonders of R-Rated films, the spaced out aliens on their way to Earth via a blissed out Venice Beach, California, in a giant, smiley faced orb, from 1981's Heavy Metal...

Heavy Metal, with its excessive cartoon gore and oversized, lampoon nudity, it's oddly-shaped plot and disconnected framing devices, devil's cabinet of bizarre characters, and overall bizarrely full blown technicolor beauty, was my first R-rated film. I saw it for the first time as one half of a double-feature on a sleep over, in a dark basement, under the snoring, un-watchful (probably snoring) noses of a friend's mom and dad (the other film was John Carpenter's The Thing). 

And not to understate things, but at the first sign of cartoon boobs, zombie tail gunners, and the glowing green menace called the Loc-nar, among many, many more glorious oddities, I was pretty much hooked, for good. On comic books, nudie mags, and most of all rock n roll, and maybe heavy metal--the magazine and the sound. And, while the only real metal on the soundtrack was a cut from the Ronnie James Dio led Black Sabbath, the movie was a pulsing, stereo blast of day-glo guitar fever, a romp through the wildest kind of imaginings.

My memory of the film is tied directly to the sound: the imagery is forever tied to the music in the film that played over the scenes, a roving scoped-out freak show of atmospherics. Slashing guitars, thrumming, angry keys, phasing drums, Sammy Hagar's howling vox, Don Felder's space trip title track, a dobblering car horn from a UFO speeding past, and the strange incantations of Blue Oyster Cult's "Veterans of the Psychic Wars." But, by far the standout cut from the soundtrack is Cheap Trick's "Reach Out". The song is driven by a purely 80's inspired keyboard march, one that sounds like a bank of spaceship computers pumping out data and coordinates. It's powerpop at its finest, with soaring vocals and churning guitar, but the song is also a spaced out symphony of great early Cheap Trick, with ethereal melodies from a galactic orchestra, laying layers of sound over a staticky transmission.

Aural association is a potent force for me, and just a few seconds of a sound byte will send my imagination and my memory tumbling end over end to not only a movie, but the entire span of an era. The sounds of a song pulled from a memory come with all sorts of weight. And I love the impact, the immediate and and total sensation of nostalgia, when you hear a song from your past.

As I grow older, to continue the metaphor, I often feel alienated from my past--not the places or the people, but the emotional aspects of who I was. My sense of wonder, my curiosity, my willingness to be expansive and expanded by what I saw and heard, and the avenues of discovery I could wander so easily--this all before my psyche began to feel bent and worn down from taking on the weight of too many daily burdens. Hearing old music will especially take me back to being a less complicated, more easily awed kid, bowled over and blown away by all the oddness of the universe, rather than buried beneath the weight of it all.

I still scan the sky for UFOs, eager to catch a lift to places unknown. I signal with a flashlight, I signal with a lighter (Incubus), I dream of concerts on Mars, and I know that aliens can get Pearl Jam tickets a lot more easily than me (The Simpsons), and while I have many more alien references, I feel like I'm beating this metaphor into stardust...Sail on, space cowboys. I'll see you on the dark side of the moon...

EXTRA-CURRICULAR READING: A great write up on the soundtrack from Crave

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