“The past, hey” Thomas Pynchon wrote in Bleeding Edge. “It’s an invitation to wine abuse.”
For some of us, the past is every case where we embarrassed ourselves. Sometimes it’s that moment where you took too many drugs that one time when you came home from your first year in college, but yet did not take enough drugs, and somehow it has you looking up how to grow psychedelics in your home.
Not speaking from personal experience or anything…
But for most of us, the past is a place of fond memories. The Harvard Grant Study took pains to remind the reader that their study was different in Triumphs of Experience. Prospective studies, asking questions of the participant, at the moment of lived experience, is much more accurate than tackling the question in hindsight. When we say “hindsight is 20/20” and when we used the phrase “rose-tinted glasses,” it turns out to be true. That is because our memory is not meant to be accurate.
Our memory is designed to keep us alive.
Disney’s Grip On Our Past
Disney has had their trouble in the past. Hell, even now, they are making top level decisions with Disneyworld that is horrifying. Opening the park not only during a pandemic, but in Florida, an epicenter for the virus, belies imagination. On the other side of the country, Disneyland has continued to stay closed, and their cases pale in comparison.
But love em or hate em, Disney has a hold on many of our pasts. When I watch old Disney movies, there is a kind of parallel structure, where I can see myself at the age of first viewing. I will listen to the original piano riff of Beauty and the Beast as the prologue plays out in stained glass and feel tears behind my eyelids at that first experience of seeing Belle travel from the French countryside to the gothic castle of the Beast himself.
My mother and I happen to have a soft spot for The Hunchback of Notre Dame and its underrated music.
For each movie, there is a previous experience I am trying to get back to. Thanks to Don Draper from Mad Men, I know that nostalgia is both pain and pleasure. It’s attempting to return to the past you can’t go back to, and maybe deep down do not want to, because it would not be the same as it was that first time.
But what if it could be as close to the same as possible? What if that moment watching that movie from Disney was signalling to your brain that exact feeling, instead of trying to start up the nostalgic feeling from scratch?
I would argue that Pogo exemplifies the closest we can get to our Disney nostalgia, and I’d like to try and explain how he does it.
I cannot really recall the first time I watched one of Pogo’s mix tracks. If you have not yet, I would highly encourage you to watch it as well as listen. The audio for some of these simply is not enough.
Until about the age of thirty, many people believe that creativity means “new.” For anyone artistic enough to explore the works of history, we know that not to be the case. What it is more like is probably what Michel Foucault described with his grid-like concepts. There’s nothing new under the sun. All we really do is recombine the tried and turn into something true for us.
That is what Pogo does with famous films.
His electronic music comes out of the materiality of the films themselves. Whether it is Boo, Sully, and Mike closing and opening doors in Monsters Inc., or leveraging Robin Williams’s many voices in Mrs. Doubtfire to create melody, Pogo will use repetition to create a song from the movie you never knew existed.
It is as if Pogo has gotten to the heart of what a movie is without having to understand the plot. When you watch “Doubtfire,” you do not even need to have seen the movie recently (though it adds to the experience). Instead, your body is sort of taken over by the experience of aligning your nostalgia and the song. And you realize that they are incredibly close.
Some songs will work better for you than others, and it may not have to do with your closeness to the movie. I have a particular closeness to “Grow Fonder” which is based on Robin Hood despite the fact I have not seen the movie in over two decades. And although my favorite might remain Pogo’s sophomoric “Alice” from Alice in Wonderland, I picture in my mind only how much the book has profoundly affected me, rather than the movie he springboards from.
Conventional Disney logic dictates that the musicality of the work is done explicitly. It is the music that is produced by the characters singing and the music composed alongside. Alan Menken’s Disney original magic may have helped to bring back what I like about Disney, but what Pogo does is remind you that the entirety of the work outside of the music is also a kind of music as well.
Beyond Intuitive Nostalgia
In Pogo’s more conventional track listing, songs like “Expialidocious” take previously sung lyrics and does a one-two punch. He will introduce a melody, provide a second melody, and then by the third act will combine them both in a way that is just glorious.
But what is more incredible is when he manages to do this with sounds never originally sung at all.
Pogo’s “Upular” is a masterclass of reminding a viewer that it is not simply plot, characterization, theme, and animation that are the makings of a beautiful film. It is also something beyond those things. I love Up. I challenge you to not cry after the first twenty minutes. But when you listen to “Upular,” you realize that the voices too exemplify the themes of the movie. The wistful adventurous boy scout has the voice of a naive child. His rounded voice is the same as is rounded face. The gravely voice of the old man too carries a dismissive and legalist tone, and it plays out in his square jaw. But the pitch of their voices in the movie is just as important. The sound design of these movies is what your brain remembers as being beautiful, though when you watched it all those years ago, it might have been something that barely crossed your mind.
We owe it to artists like Pogo to remind us of the beauty in nostalgia, for they manage to pinpoint as close as we can what it is our memories are searching for. The plot and the characters matter less than the tone and the atmosphere of the Disney experience. And somehow he is able to show us that magic once again.
So when Disneyworld is a cesspool for coronavirus, maybe watch these instead.