But! The editor of the collection has said it's cool for me to post what I wrote here, in the meantime. SO PLEASE ENJOY MY THINKY THOUGHTS YEP YEP.
The Ghost of You: Watchmen and music
by Mary Borsellino (http://monkeywench.net)
Music runs through every stage in the life of Watchmen: it inspired
Alan Moore and David Gibbons, it shaped the way they told their story
in the graphic novel, it infuses the 2009 Zack Snyder film with historical
and cultural relevance, and is now the creative medium chosen by a number
of Watchmen's more famous fans. It loops, repeats, offers themes and
variations throughout the story's lifespan. To understand music's role
in the ongoing tale of Watchmen is to gain a new layer of understanding
of the work as a whole.
Structurally, Watchmen is shaped not only by individual songs or artists,
but by the possibilities present in music as an artform. Moore has cited
experimental writer William S Burroughs as a main influence -- Nova
Express, one of Watchmen's in-world print publications, is named after
a Burroughs novel. Moore has explained that Burroughs's mark on Watchmen
can be found in Moore's attempts to "put some of his [Burroughs's]
ideas into practice; the idea of repeated symbols that would become
laden with meaning. You could almost play them like music. You'd have
these things like musical themes that would occur throughout the work."
The Nova Express interview with Adrian Veidt which appears near the
end of 'Watchmen' contains many of the most telling and significant
references to music of the novel. Veidt's servant is quoted as saying
"he's not one of your pop music stars", as a way of vouching
for Veidt's lily-white moral character -- he's not a drug user, he doesn't
sleep with groupies, he doesn't take advantage his wealth. But only
a few paragraphs later the journalist is describing Veidt's appeal in
rock-star terms: "Every girlfriend I've had in the past four years
has wanted to nail this guy, more than Jagger, more than Sprinsteen
or D'Eath or any of those also-rans." The links between Veidt and
the larger-than-life world of pop icons is emphasised by the film, where
he's shown hanging out at Studio 54 with Bowie, Jagger, and the Village
Veidt may himself not be a "pop music star", but he has a
kind of fame which can only be articulated by the language of that type
of celebrity. The theatricality and charisma of superheroes finds its
closest analog in our world in the form of rock stars; a fact which
equates the superhuman feats -- and the violence -- performed by Watchmen's
superheroes with the metaphorical foundation-shaking which pop music
can perform on society.
Consider, as an example, Hollis Mason's remarks about the cultural revolution
of the mid-twentieth century, and its affect on the heroes of the time:
"Partly it was the beatniks,
the jazz musicians and the poets opening condeming American values whenever
they opened their mouths. Partly it was Elvis Presley and the whole
Rock and Roll boom. Had we fought a war for our country so that our
daughters could scream and swoon over young me who looked like this,
who sounded like that?"
Let's keep in mind that Mason himself looks like a policeman dressed
up as an owl in a pair of armored shorts, and that the real world's
'Elvis lives' conspiracy theories in the world are echoed strongly in
'Watchmen's suggestion that early heroes Hooded Justice and Captain
Metropolis faked their deaths (see http://watchmen.wikia.com/
Superheroes are rock stars and rock stars are superheroes, no matter
how much Veidt's servant may wish otherwise.
To return to the Nova Express article: near the end of the piece, Veidt
himself is asked about his music tastes.
Veidt: "I like electronic music. That's a very superhero-ey thing
to like, I suppose, isn't it? I like avant-garde music in general. Cage,
Stockhausen, Penderecki, Andrew Lang, Pierre Henry. Terry Riley is very
good. Oh, and I've heard some interesting new music from Jamaica ...
a sort of hybrid between electronic music and reggae. It's a fascinating
study in the new musical forms generated when a largely pre-technological
culture is given access to modern recording techniques about the technological
preconceptions that we've allowed to accumulate, limiting out vision.
It's called dub music. You'd like it, I'm sure."
John Cage was an American composer,
regarded by many people as the most influential American composer of
the twentieth century. His most famous work is the 1952 composition
4'33", which contains no notes. It was intended to be heard as
the sounds of the environment around the listener, rather than simply
silence -- an artistic intent which finds a dark echo in Rorschach's
assertion that existence is meaningless save for that meaning he imposes
upon it. Cage believed that music was "not an attempt to bring
order out of chaos nor to suggest improvements in creation, but simply
a way of waking up to the very life we're living", which is a considerably
different attitude to that employed by Veidt himself.
Karlheinz Stockhausen was, like John Cage, seen by many as a deeply
important composer in the twentieth century. German in nationality,
he was a controversial composer. Some of his most ground-breaking work
was in the field of aleatoricism, which is art created through controlled
randomness. The William S Burroughs novel 'Nova Express', which was
one of Moore's major influences in writing 'Watchmen', is another example
of aleatoricism -- the book was created out of a chance order of slips
Krzysztof Penderecki is a Polish composer. In 1960 he wrote "Threnody
to the Victims of Hiroshima". The piece was featured in the 1982
British film "QED: A Guide To Armageddon", which simulated
the outcomes of a nuclear bomb being exploded over London.
Andrew Lang was a Scottish writer: novels, poems, literary criticism,
and -- apparently of most interest to Veidt -- metrical experiments.
His strongest legacy has been as a collector of fairy- and folk-tales.
Pierre Henry, a French composer, was one of the founding artists behind
major electronic music techniques, particularly the incorporation of
sound other than that made by musical instruments or voices. Without
this breakthrough in thinking, electronica mainstays such as looping,
slowing-down or speeding-up of a recording, and the creation of the
synthesiser would never have occurred. Henry's "outside the box"
application of existing technologies in order to create outcomes beyond
traditional thinking make him an obvious choice as one of Veidt's favourites,
though Veidt's choices have a considerably darker impact on human history.
Terry Riley is an American minimalist composer. In the 1960s he would
perform improvised music from dusk until dawn, employing an organ harmonium
and a tape-delayed saxophone. When he grew too tired to play he would
replay looped fragments recordered earlier in the evening, a technique
mimicked by the (wholly new) inclusion of historical materials interspersed
"Dub" is short for "double"; the dub version of a song is typically one which emphasises the beat
elements of the original, lowers the bass pitch, and reduces or removes
the vocal and instrumental elements. Dub revises existing songs, just
as the Watchmen universe is Moore and Gibbons' superhero-based revision
of the real world. Dub music, despite being carefully constructed, has
a very organic feel to it.
Dub music originated, as Veidt says, in Jamaica, in Duke Reid's Treasure
Isle studio in 1968. Sound system operator Ruddy Redwood wanted to create
a dub-plate -- a quality-control disc created before a studio commits
to a master recording -- but the engineer left the vocal track off by
accident. Redwood kept the end result, playing it at his next dance
while an MC rapped over it. The name of the studio, tying in as it does
to Watchmen's motifs of piracy and buried treasure, must have been known
Veidt's remarks about modern techniques without modern preconceptions
can also be read as a remark on the narrow focus employed by mainstream
comics. Despite the near-limitless potential of sequential art, the
overwhelming majority of titles produced are superhero stories. This
fact is used as the basis for the extreme popularity of pirate-themed
comics in the world of 'Watchmen': since a world where superheroes really
exist would be unlikely to be interested in superhero comics, another
equally niche genre becomes monolithic. The result, while not quite
parody, nevertheless reveals the absurdity of the mainstream comics
industry. Through Veidt's comments regarding dub music, Moore is arguably
pondering what might happen if our vision suddenly ceased to be limited
by preconceptions of what comics should be.
The comic book within Watchmen's world, "The Black Freighter",
takes its name from the lyrics to a song in a Berthold Brecht/Kurt Weill
play, a fact which is noted in the magazine article "Treasure Island"
within "Watchmen" itself. The comic-within-a-comic can be
read as an allegory for several of the central characters in the main
"Watchmen" story, but Moore himself has said that it was designed
to parallel the arc of Adrian Veidt. Both Veidt and "the Black
Freighter"'s central character are driven to increasingly abhorrent
acts in an effort to save civilisation, culminating in bloody murder
in order to perhaps prevent wider carnage.
Berthold Brecht's work is famous for using the artform of the theatrical
production in ways which challenged the form's traditional limits, much
as Watchmen challenged and redefined the comics form. Ironically, two
of the methods employed by Brecht to break down the accepted limits
of theatre were the projection of captions over the stage, and having
characters carry picket-signs. Both of these elements are present in
Watchmen, but here they slip seamlessly into the narrative rather than
"Pirate Jenny" is a song from the play "The Threepenny
Opera", written by Brecht and composer Kurt Weill. The song's original
German name is "Seeräuberjenny"; it details the revenge fantasies
of a hotel cleaner, who imagines the day when a ship -- "the Black
Freighter" -- will come into harbor and destroy completely the
town which oppresses her. Then the ship will head back out to sea, and
when it leaves she will be on it, the Pirate Jenny.
By the time Moore wrote "Watchmen", "Pirate Jenny"
had a set of deeply significant metaphorical meanings attached to it,
thanks to the version of the song performed by Black singer Nina Simone.
"Pirate Jenny" was included on the 1964 album "Nina Simone
in Concert", along with a selection of civil rights songs such
as "Mississippi Goddam" and "Old Jim Crow". Simone
transformed "Pirate Jenny" into a civil rights song too, making
"the Black Freighter" a metaphor for an African-American force
powerful enough to destroy the racism and intolerance of the American
South. Simone did not perform the song often, saying that it took so
much energy out of her that it took her seven years to recover each
"Pirate Jenny" was also a strong influence on highly political
folk singer Bob Dylan. Biographer Clinton Heylin says of Dylan's early-sixties
album "The Times They Are a-Changing" that "as Pirate
Jenny dreams of the destruction of all her enemies by a mysterious ship,
so Dylan envisages the neophobes being swept aside in 'the hour when
the ship comes in'." This album also includes the song "The
Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll", the story of a Black female
hotel worker beaten to death by a White man, a real-world event which
demonstrated how lightly the life of a Black woman was valued by the
American justice system of the time. Pirate Jenny is the dreamer, but
Hattie Carroll was the likely reality for someone in that position.
Less than two years later, Dylan wrote and recorded the song "Desolation
Row", which was to become one of the starting points for 'Watchmen's
creation. The opening lyrics of Desolation Row are reference to the
murder by lynching in 1920 of three Black circus workers, which happened
within a few blocks of where Dylan's father lived at the time. A photograph
of the dead, still-hanging bodies of the three men was later made into
a postcard and offered for sale.
A complication which arises from the use of 'The Black Freighter' and
'Desolation Row' is that all the Black characters in Watchmen die horribly
during the execution of Veidt's plan -- the Black Freighter has come
to sack the town, but it is not a moment of metaphorical civil rights
revolution of the kind presented by Simone. The instigator of the mass
murder is Veidt, a blonde White man, and the two main-character survivors
aside from Veidt whom we follow after the moment of murder are Laurie
and Dan: both are White, and in their new identities in the brave new
world are both blonde.
The focus becomes even narrower: the future of this world, the reader
learns, is "entirely in your hands", but the "your"
in question is a staff member of a racist, right-wing organisation which
has earlier been shown to support the actions of the Ku Klux Klan. Revolution
has come, but it's a revolution absolutely at odds with that which "Pirate
Jenny" typically represents in pop culture.
When interviewed in Entertainment Weekly about the film adaptation of
Watchmen, directed by Zack Snyder, Moore referenced Snyder's earlier
film '300' -- also based on a graphic novel -- in explaining why he
did not intend to see the film of "Watchmen":
I didn't particularly like the
book 300. I had a lot of problems with it, and everything I heard
or saw about the film tended to increase [those problems] rather than
reduce them: [that] it was racist, it was homophobic, and above all
it was sublimely stupid.
While Moore evidently does not consider himself racist or homophobic,
this does not mean that works created by him cannot be unintentionally
guilty of these sins.
A later tempering of some of the more confrontational racist imagery
in 'Watchmen' comes from the graphic novel 'The New Frontier', written
and illustrated by Darwyn Cooke and published by DC Comics in 2004.
In Cooke's story, a Black man named John Wilson survives the 1950s lynching
of his young family and becomes the vigilante John Henry, and the costume
he dons for this role strongly echoes that of the Nazi-sympathizing
sadist Hooded Justice in Watchmen. A little, at least, of the revolutionary
strength co-opted by Whites in Watchmen is returned to its original
Black owners through this act, but "Pirate Jenny"'s anthemic
possibilities are yet to be reclaimed.
Another song quoted as a chapter end in 'Watchmen' is John Cale's "Sanities".
The song was intended by Cale to be called "Sanctus", but
the engineer couldn't read his handwriting and so mis-labelled it as
"Santies". Later printings corrected this to "Sanities".
Like most of the music enjoyed by Veidt, this period in Cale's career
was marked by his spare, spacious instrumentation.
The music of 'Watchmen's world, like the world itself, has some touchstones
of similarities with our own world and some divergences. Billie Holiday
and Devo are both present in the popular culture of the book's world,
and serve as a metaphor for the generational gulf between Dan and Laurie.
Dan -- who is old enough to have owned the pornographic Tijuana Bible
featuring Laurie's mother at a time when Laurie herself was still only
four years old -- is a Holiday fan, but Laurie doesn't recognise her
voice. Devo, on the other hand, is modern enough that Laurie makes reference
to them; a reference Dan doesn't understand. This is one of the few
nods in the book to the fact that both of Laurie's lovers, Dan and Dr
Manhattan, are sufficiently older than her that they can be plausible
father substitutes as well as romantic partners. Indeed, both Dan and
Dr Manhattan worked alongside Laurie's father in their superhero days.
Music which exists in the world of Watchmen but not in our own world
exists in the novel primarily as a vehicle for foreboding imagery. There
is an upcoming "stupid dyke disco" benefit performance for
the organisation Gay Women Against Rape (GWAR), with the poster advertising
this event later torn in Veidt's attack on New York and afterward simply
reading WAR. One of the centrepieces of Veidt's carnage is Madison Square
Garden, where the bands Pale Horse and Krystalnacht were mid-concert,
their crowds of fans now a horrifying tableu of bodies.
"Krystalnacht" alludes to "Kristallnacht", one night
in November 1938 in which 30,000 Jewish people were rounded up by Nazis
and taken to concentration camps, hundreds of synagogues were destroyed
and thousands of businesses were ransacked. Many historians now cite
Kristallnacht as one of the key points in the progression of Nazi doctrine
toward the mass genocide later undertaken. Literally, "Kristallnacht"
means "the night of shattered glass", a name echoed hauntingly
by Gibbon's drawings of New York following Veidt's attack, in which
the streets are littered with the remnants of broken windows.
"Pale Horse" is the literal translation from Greek of the
forth Horseman of the Apocalypse, commonly reffered to as "Death"
in English-language media. The band's lead singer is named "Red
D'Eath", which may be an allusion to the Edgar Allan Poe story
"The Masque of the Red Death"; the Red Death of Poe's story
is an agonising and gory plague which kills those infected almost instantly.
Like Moore's novel, Poe's short story utilises repeated images related
to time and blood. The vicious punk gang the Knot Tops, who are responsible
for the murder of Hollis Mason, take their subculture's fashion cues
from Red D'Eath. One of the Knot Tops, Derf, is depicted in the Zack
Snyder film of 'Watchmen' as wearing an upside-down Anarchy symbol on
his clothing. Upside-down, the Anarchy 'A' becomes a shape halfway between
the original symbol and the V employed by the lead character in Moore's
V for Vendetta, and also offering a dark counterpoint to the $ symbol
on the hero Dollar Bill's costume, and the iconographic S of Superman.
Dave Gibbons noted, at a screening of the 2009 Snyder film, that the
verse beginning "Now at midnight all the agents..." in Dylan's
Desolation Row was one of the starting points of the Watchmen comic.
"All Along the Watchtower", also by Dylan, is not only used
as the source for a chapter title but also provides imagery echoed in
the comic: one chapter ends with the quote "outside in the cold
distance, a wildcat did growl. Two riders were approaching, and the
wind began to howl." In the panels of the story itself, Bubastis
the lynx, inside Adrian's compound, growls at images of Rorschach and
Nite Owl approaching through the snowstorm on their hover-scooters.
"The times they are a-changing" is used as the text on an
ad for Nostalgia perfume in 1975, despite the connotations intended
to be carried with the perfume being at direct odds with the original
intentions of Dylan's song of the same name. The song "The Times
They Are a-Changing" was designed to be an anthem of change for
the 1960s. Dylan explained in 1985 that "I wanted to write a big
song, with short concise verses that piled up on each other in a hypnotic
way. The civil rights movement and the folk music movement were pretty
close for a while and allied together at that time."
By contrast, Veidt's perfume brand Nostalgia is designed to appeal to
people's fear of change and their desire to cling to the familiar and
known. Part of Veidt's design for a brave new world is to phase out
Nostalgia and replace it with the forward-looking Millenium scent.
"The Times They Are a-Changing" is also used in the Snyder
film, where it serves as the soundtrack to a series of static shots
depicting the history of costumed superheroes throughout the years as
the opening credits play.
Another song which appears in both the comic and the film, but in very
different contexts, is "The Ride of the Valkyries" from the
opera Die Walküre by Richard Wagner. In the graphic novel, original
Nite Owl Hollis Mason makes reference to the song as part of a story
from his young pre-superhero days, explaing that "every time I
hear it I get depressed and start wondering about the lot of humanity
and the unfairness of life and all those other things". In the
film, the song is the soundtrack to Dr Manhattan and the Comedian's
involvement in the Vietnam War, thereby incorporating echoes of the
1979 film Apocalypse Now into Watchmen's altered-history depiction of
the same conflict examined by the earlier film. The invocation of "Apocalypse
Now" in this way allows themes from that film to cast their shadows
onto "Watchmen", specifically ideas of American imperialism
over the world and the darkness in human nature, even as it plays with
the generic pop culture standing of "Ride of the Valkyries"
as a song now associated with on-screen depictions of the military.
Just as music has been a deeply significant influence on Watchmen, so
too has Watchmen been an influence on music. The graphic novel's impact
on several highly popular bands serves as a demonstration of the large
ripple effect which a work of art of such stature as 'Watchmen' can
have on subsequent creative acts in the years following the initial
The musician with the closest associations to Watchmen is, of course,
Alan Moore himself. Moore's 1980s band The Sinister Ducks released a
recording of "This Vicious Cabaret", a song originating in
Moore's V for Vendetta, and he recorded two tracks as "Eddie Enrico
and His Hawaiian Hotshots" for inclusion with copies of The League
of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier. Considering how heavily music
is incorporated into the Watchmen novel itself, it is perhaps unsurprising
that Moore never created a musical tie-in for that particular book.
As well as writing music to go with his comics, several of Moore's songs
have been turned into comics themselves, published by Caliber Comics
Moore was heavily involved in the 1980s punk scene, writing music journalism
under the psudeonym Curt Vile, which was a reference to Threepenny Opera
composer Kurt Weill.
The 1989 Pop Will Eat Itself song "Can U Dig It" references
Alan Moore and V for Vendetta directly in its lyrics, while the music
video features numerous scenes of members of the band playing in front
of a wall of television sets highly reminiscent of Veidt's setup, as
well as use of a variety of panels from the Watchmen graphic novel itself.
The band became increasingly political in the years following this top-forty
hit, with their later songs making scathing attacts on far right groups
and the apathy of those who didn't seem to care that the far right was
gaining a foothold in society.
The "Can U Dig It" video tied the world of music and the world
of Watchmen together into a single unit; music fans who hadn't encountered
the comic before were now introduced to it, while the comics industry
and fanbase had concrete evidence that Alan Moore's, and Watchmen's,
significance in popular culture had reached an iconic level.
The guitarist Joey Serlin named his late-eighties alternative rock band
The Watchmen as a nod to the graphic novel, of which he was a fan. The
band went on to be one of the most commercially successful alternative
groups of the late 1990s in Canada, sharing rotation time with Pop Will
Eat Itself and further cementing Moore's place in the pop lexicon.
New Yorker Jeffrey Lewis's acoustic punk music is often tagged as "antifolk",
for the ways it deconstructs the earnest sensibilities of the 1960s
folk movement. His current discography includes more than twenty releases,
and he has written essays on songwriting for the New York Times online.
Lewis's lyrically sophisticated songs are simultaneously bleak and optimistic,
and are informed by his appreciation of Leonard Cohen and of New York
As well as sharing this contextually similar frame of influences with
Watchmen, Lewis's career has been as much about the comic as it has
been about his own musical work. His senior university thesis was on
Watchmen, and he has given cultural studies lectures analysing the book
in Belgium and America. Lewis's analysis of Watchmen -- published as
"The Dual Nature of Apocalypse in Watchmen" in the book The
Graphic Novel, edited by Jan Baetens -- centres around themes of vision
being obscured and becoming cleared; of structural homages of William
Blake's Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience; and the clashes
between Veidt's man-made triangle motifs and the circles and loops of
natural order, which ultimately triumph over the triangular forms.
Popular Chicago pop-punk band Fall Out Boy collaborated with Elvis Costello
on their 2008 song "What a Catch, Donnie". Costello's song
"The Comedians" is among those whose lyrics are quoted in
the original Watchmen graphic novel, bringing Fall Out Boy within the
same frame of reference as the story. The connections between the band
and the graphic novel run much deeper, however, with drummer Andy Hurley
citing it as his favourite book, explaining in his online journal that
Watchmen is "probably the greatest piece of fiction ever written.
It is an absolute masterpiece, in every sense. Its depth, complexity,
mastery of the artform and amazingt story all come together to create
perfection in one graphic novel. It is historical. Read this before
you see the movie, which could be good, or could be the biggest piece
of shit. Either way, it has nothing to do with the graphic novel, which
stands in a league of its own."
The band with arguably the deepest connection to "Watchmen"
is the New Jersey punk quintent My Chemical Romance. The band's lead
singer, Gerard Way, explained in an opinion piece for the British newspaper
The Guardian that
Anyone who wants to create a progressive
comic is going to be influenced by Watchmen' Watchmen is not only the
greatest comic ever written, it's a really important work of fiction.
More so than any record, it was the first thing that really made me
say to myself, "This is what I want to do".
In addition to being a rock musician, Way is also the author of his
own comic book, the Eisner award-winning Umbrella Academy. In an interview
with the site ComicBookResources, Way explained the connection between
his own work and "Watchmen":
One of my favorite aspects of 'Watchmen
was that Alan Moore cared enough about the characters to actually kill
them, for real. Overall I'd say one of the similarities between 'The
Umbrella Academy' and 'Watchmen' is that certain elements of the characters'
lives may be unconventional. Other than that, the book has a very different
feel… it's more quirky and bizarre, in a way akin to Grant Morrison's
work. But it feels at times like a European comic.
He also elaborated the ways he was inspired by the earlier comic in
his Guardian article:
My comic series, the Umbrella Academy, is absolutely indebted to Watchmen.
You don't want to rip somebody off, but you want to explore things they
started to explore. Even if it's just characters having an awkward conversation
while drinking coffee on a rooftop or in a diner. The fact that the
characters in Umbrella Academy already had a history was definitely
a nod to Watchmen, too. And the fact that they're all 30 and the fun
of their youth is kind of over. I think that anyone who wants to create
a progressive comic is going to be influenced by Watchmen.
Way, as a comics writer, is very much an heir rather than an echo of
Moore. If the final words of "Watchmen" are read as a call
to arms for future creators, that the medium has been left entirely
in their hands, then Way is one of the most striking new voices, picking
up where Moore left off and making what came next his own.
Way's work as a musician has also been influenced by Watchmen, even
moreso than his work as a comics writer. On their second album, 2004's
"Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge", one of the songs is titled
"The Ghost of You", which Way has said was taken from Watchmen's
Nostalgia advertisement copy "Oh how the ghost of you clings".
The phrase in fact originates in another song, the popular 1935 standard
'These Foolish Things', which reveals another point where Moore has
drawn richness from the world of music in order to strengthen his story.
My Chemical Romance are the only artists on the Watchmen soundtrack
whose recording does not originate from 1985 or earlier. They contributed
a cover of the Bob Dylan song 'Desolation Row', with Way explaining
in his Guardian article that
Our version came from a desire
to do something "of its era", which in the case of Watchmen
is an alternate 1980s. I wanted the music to feel like how youth culture
might feel at the time, so we approached it like an 80s new wave song.
He went on to elaborate on why 'Watchmen' meant so much to him as a
work of art,
The thing about Watchmen that people
should know is that when it came out there was absolutely nothing like
it. Up until then comics were about the same thing: a guy in tights
fighting another guy in tights and saving the girl – that was
it. The only touch of reality might be Peter Parker getting a cold.
When I was in high school and listening to a lot of punk rock and watching
Taxi Driver, Rorschach was a character I could identify with. And I
think he's going to relate to a lot of young people who see this film.
He's angry and he sees the world in the way that I saw the world at
the time. As I got older I identified with Nite Owl more. Then, to some
extent, I became a lot more interested in the Comedian. He's the most
real character in the story because he has so many faults, more than
anyone in the book.
The story asks: what does it take to have peace? Does it take six million
people to die? Alan Moore is a prophetic writer. I think of 9/11, which
was one of the most horrible things in the world. I remember what it
was like being in New York a week, and then seven months, after that
event. People finally got along with each other and respected each other
more. That only lasted about a year, but it was like seeing what he
had written come to life in a very sick way. It's a commentary about
the world at large, and how people treat each other. It's an inspiration.
Gerard also wrote about his relationship
with Watchmen and his intentions with the cover song in the My Chemical
Romance blog, explaining that
Sometimes an interviewer will ask
a musician "What's the one record or musical experience, like a
concert, that made you want to make music?". Usually people will
mention some sort of 7 inch record or a show they saw in a basement
that really changed their lives, got them into punk rock, and shaped
the way they looked at the world. For me it was Watchmen. At 15 years
old, just as I was discovering The Misfits "Walk Among Us"
I was reading the first chapter of the graphic novel. It is the one
thing I can pinpoint that shaped my views and aesthetics, even down
to the way I dressed at the time, not that I walked the hallways in
a stained brown trench coat, but I definitely chose more antisocial
articles of clothing, like an army jacket, picked up after watching
Taxi Driver for the twentieth time, a film I was lead to by the comic.
So I would definitely say it's pretty important to me and the band.
The talks started about the same
time as Projekt Revolution, and I remember getting on the phone with
Zack, who was as excited as I was, somewhere in the middle of the desert
as out bus rolled to the next venue. We talked about the comic and he
asked what I felt the approach to the song should be, which was to take
a cue from Jim Carroll, who is not only the author of The Basketball
Diaries but also a musician, and a pretty great one at that. On his
album, Catholic Boy, he has a song called "People Who Died",
which I love, as does Frank, as he always includes it in our "Front
Of House Mixes" you would hear during set-change during one of
our concerts. Zack responded to this approach right away, as he actually
used that song to end his remake of "Dawn Of The Dead", which
I had totally forgotten about, even though the whole band saw it on
opening night and loved it. So the tone was decided upon and then came
the length, which initially Zack wanted to be the full version of Dylan's.
Now, I would consider myself a
pretty big Dylan fan, especially after having worked with Scott Allie
on my comic, as he really got me into him even more than I was before.
And while I didn't want to alter the song at all, I found that I had
to, due to the new approach and the aggressive nature of the cover.
There was simply no way I felt you could make it feel like a trashy
punk song and play it for ten minutes...I think it's impossible to keep
that kind of energy up without either burning out or boring yourself,
as anyone will note that most Ramones songs don't exceed three minutes,
and there's a reason for that. Down-strummed til your wrist breaks!
Fast and fucking hard!
So back at a hotel in Arizona I
sat in a hotel and did a rough arrangement, which clocked in at around
2:40, and I paid careful attention to the lyrics, while losing some
of my favorite verses I managed to keep the ones I felt were represented
by Alan Moore in the comic. We then started playing the song at sound
check, and had so much fun doing it that we decided to play it live,
to get warmed up for the recording.
We did some initial tracking in
Nashville and then just lived with it for a while. When crunch time
came, and after seeing some of the film, I became increasingly unhappy
with my vocal performance, and we felt we could get more out of the
guitars. So we asked our friend Rich Costey to help us finish the track
and get some new sounds, which he did, in NYC at Electric Ladyland,
with the addition of some sweet old Marshall Plexi's, to get a kind
of Sex Pistols tone, and we had a blast.
And thats pretty much the story
of the song. We're really proud of it, and really excited you finally
get to hear it.
PS- Special thanks to Bob Dylan
for letting us cover the song and for not getting really mad at us for
hacking out some of the best lyrics ever written.
Other members of the band have also voiced some of their responses to
the graphic novel and the film, demonstrating the kind of connection
with the texts which only invested fans can feel. When asked by a magazine
which of the Watchmen characters was his favourite, rhythm guitarist
Frank Iero responded:
Rorschach of course! He is such
a fucking badass, man. He's just awesome. Everything about him is great.
He doesn't take shit from anybody. He's a true renegade. That whole
sequence where he says, "The world will scream out, 'Help us,'
and I'll whisper, 'No'" is so fucking intense!
While the band's lead guitarist, Ray Toro, made a lengthy review post
in the band's blog after seeing the film, which read in part:
Throughout the book you learn more
and more about their motivations and how they ended up where they are.
Its like the slow peeling of an onion, and getting this across in a
film is a tough feat.
Zack and crew managed to do just
that. The way they handled Rorschach and Manhattan felt the best to
me, as these two characters I feel are the most interesting in the book.
Rorschach is amazing because he is very one track. His sense of justice
is absolute, and never falters from that. With Manhattan, you're asked
an important question. What if you had the power to save the world,
but didn't want to? You will feel sorry for this man with infinite powers,
yet no desire to use them.
They also amped up the action sequences,
which was a smart move. In the book, you get a sense that even though
the Watchmen aren't true "super-heroes" in the expected sense,
they know how to fight. These fight scenes and the violence overall
are brutal and bloody.
Zack Snyder also directed the music
video for the song, which was released as the movie soundtrack's feature
single. In the video, My Chemical Romance are playing at a venue which
lists Pale Horse as an upcoming concert. My Chemical Romance's performance
in the video is disrupted when a fight breaks out among the audience,
which is populated by Knot Tops.
After the music video was released,
Gerard again made reference to 'Watchmen' in the blog, saying:
Serious life-long dream to be a
part of this film in some way, and we were lucky enough to have Zack
direct it. He did a bang up job. Everyone on the set did...
Some of my favorite people on the set were the guys that played the
"Knot-Tops", which is a street-gang from the comic. So I snapped
a picture of them hanging out...
I would say this is in continuity...
And so the loop-like form of the natural order of things manifests itself
in the life of Watchmen, as a story and a cultural artifact. The medium's
future was left "entirely in [our] hands" at the end of the
graphic novel, and so we as a generation of comics readers went off
to create our own works of art. In the case of My Chemical Romance,
this manifested in both Way's own comic stories, which are influenced
by but not beholden to Watchmen's legacy, and in the 'Desolation Row'
cover for the film. Fittingly, the song begins on the soundtrack over
the final shot of the film, of Rorschach's journal in a pile of letters,
awaiting possible discovery. It was left in their hands and now, as
Gerard put it, their own work can now be argued to be "in continuity".