I’ve been having a little Mars Volta resurgence this week. One thing that I’ve always found interesting about this band is the fact that each album is imbued with underlying concepts and storylines. Their latest album, ridiculously named Noctourniquet, is apparently about the Greek hero, Hyacinthus, and the DC Comic villain, Solomon Grundy.
I love the idea of artists injecting their work with all sorts of subtleties for themselves. The Mars Volta aren’t going to give you a straight explanation of what every lyric means, nor will they care if most of us just don’t get it. They do this sort of thing simply because they want to.
Some might call this self-indulgent. I think that is just about the most redundant criticism you can make about any kind of art. Would you prefer it if an artist cared less about their work? Would it be better if they were less passionate? Should an artist sacrifice their own integrity in order to please others?
Another “self-indulgent” creation causing people to scratch their heads lately is the indie game, Dear Esther. It’s technically not really a game, because all you do is walk through an environment, look at things and listen to fragments of a story. Nevertheless, it was made with a gaming engine and was sold through gaming avenues, so people played it.
I must admit, I was a little underwhelmed by Dear Esther. Although I admired the art design and unique concept, the writing sometimes uneven and the overall story was a little bit too obtuse. But if I wanted to, I could play through it again, hear more of the story, piece together more of the puzzle. There is depth, if you want to go looking for it.
Which leads me to the point that I’m floundering towards. We live in a world where a lot of art – be it music, games, film or books – is backed by publishers, labels, distributors etc. It’s all business, and the point of business is to make money. So you can’t really blame businesses for playing it safe and backing things that are going to appeal to the widest possible audience.
This is why it is so refreshing, so exciting, when someone decides to just go, “fuck you. If you don’t understand it, then it’s your own damn fault.”
I love it when someone has actively decided to make something complex and multi-dimensional and they don’t even care if a whole lot of people aren’t going to “get it.”
Sometimes, you can be obtuse, difficult, subtle or even a bit ridiculous, and still succeed. Despite barely being classified as a game, Dear Esther turned a profit practically the same day it was released. The Mars Volta continue to sell records even though no one knows what the hell they are going on about.
I already know that a lot of people won’t like my book. Sure, it’s not as obtuse as The Mars Volta or Dear Esther, but it’s not entirely straightforward either. Some readers might feel disappointed or alienated. Some readers might get three quarters of the way through and then not like where it’s going. That’s okay. I’m not aiming to please everyone. But I hope the people who do like my story will go searching through its murky depths to find all the little self-indulgent gems that I’ve hidden. I promise it will be worth it.
Here is the film clip for my favourite Mars Volta song, Televators:
And here is the trailer for Dear Esther: