There are various subcultures I’ve dipped my toes into, but not all are created equal. Some have that “wherever you go, there you are” feel about them (eg. the otherwise excellent fan-music scene for My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic), but then some produce cultural artifacts that have a strong, distinctive feel all their own.
…so I decided, why not give a sampling of songs which were not only produced by a distinctive subculture, but manage to evoke such feelings in me:
- Pushin’ the Speed of Light by Julia Ecklar & Anne Prather
- This song evokes a feel that I associate with sci-fi from the middle of the 20th century. Maybe the 1940s through the early 1980s. New enough to have evolved beyond “cowboys in space”, yet old enough to not have lost the adventuresome spirit embodied in books like Niven’s Ringworld and the poignant humanity so well embodied in the song. (I also like the fact that it’s a minstrel ballad.)
- Sam Jones by Leslie Fish is another song which evokes this sort of feeling in me. (For comparison, The Horse Tamer’s Daughter is an amazing ballad from the same subculture and it checks off the boxes necessary to be called an epic, but, if anything, it evokes feelings of Darkover, rather than the subculture the novels existed in.)
- Sadly, I suspect that the essence of what I love exists only as fading wisps and the only place I’d be able to truly experience it was a 1980s sci-fi convention where the original casette tape releases of these songs were sold.
- 307 Ale by Tom Smith
- This song about sci-fi booze speaks to me because it feels like it carries a lingering trace of a subculture I caught the tail end of in amateur fiction. It’s the distinctive style I recognize from various authors in places I wandered into during the early 2000s. For example, the archive for the
rec.arts.anime.creativeUsenet group and Sapphire’s Place.
- I also get the impression that I’ll find more of it once I have time to get into some of the old Infocom and Legend Entertainment adventure games I’ve picked up. (It’s been a long time, but I seem to remember the Ditch Day Drifter game included as an example with TADS having at least a whiff of the feel to it.)
- For that reason, I suspect that what I’m picking up on was the college nerd/geek culture of the 1980s and 1990s, and that it’s also long gone.
- Various anime intro songs (and a few endings)
- Back in the early and mid 2000s, I spent several years obsessed with anime and manga and, despite my interests having shifted over the years, I think I’m entitled to eulogize the market shift away from what I loved so much.
- Back in the 80s and 90s, TV animation both in North America and Japan experienced a boom and, discovering anime in the early 2000s, it seemed like, no matter where I looked, Japan had done something that appealed to me, where they now drive me away.
- I could check out weird and cheesy things targeted at teenage males, like Maze: The Megaburst Space or Steel Angel Kurumi, without learning just how many different excuses the production company could find to sell softcore pornography to teenage males. (And, in some cases, I’d be surprised at how much work was actually put into giving the female characters depth in a “harem” anime.)
- Likewise, what was popular seemed to line up more with my tastes, with series like the original Neon Genesis Evangelion, .hack//SIGN, and Slayers (2) as opposed to things like Attack on Titan, Fairy Tail, the later seasons of Naruto. (Regardless of the quality of their intro songs.)
- In fact, I can do one better. I can provide a glaring comparison of how much the industry chased the lowest common denominator in one of the genres I loved:
- In the 1980s, Rumiko Takahashi gained a ton of acclaim. Two of her biggest successes were romantic comedies named Urusei Yatsura and Ranma ½. In Urusei Yatsura, a candidate for the world’s most lecherous teen winds up with an unwanted suitor who is an alien oni girl in a tigerskin bikini. In Ranma ½, the main character is a macho jock who’s cursed to turn into a girl and has an unwanted engagement set up by his buffoon of a father. (Ranma ½ is noteworthy in that some issues of the manga and the corresponding anime episodes have fanservice-y scenes involving bare breasts, but they’re implemented by finding a reasonable excuse to set an otherwise ordinary scene in a location where nudity is expected.)
- In 2009, To Love-Ru came out (a pun on how both that and “Trouble” turn into “Toraburu” within the limitations of the Japanese writing system). It’s a rehash of the Urusei Yatsura concept, with the lead picking up a troublesome suitor who is an alien devil girl instead of an alien oni girl, and, on more than one occasion, a story arc revolves around one of her gizmos leaving the main character stuck as a girl for long enough for titillating mishaps to occur. Where Urusei Yatsura and Ranma ½ tactfully couched their fanservice in terms of “Well, it’s relevant to the plot, so keep filming”, this… well… watch the intro. Tactless and blatant fanservice galore and the broadcast version required the addition of glows and steam clouds to censor things in some scenes.
- It may not be the same kind of fall from grace that western animation experienced, with My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic being the exception that proves the rule, but it fell at least as far, if not more so.
- Gentle Arms of Eden by Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer
- This one’s a bit more of an anomaly, because I get the impression that what appeals in it is less a fandom and more a community… something which I’ll have to clarify.
- For the fandoms, yes they’re communities, but they’re communities which exist and survive in a distributed fashion. You can make and keep friends online, with the occasional visit to a convention or a local meeting place and you’re not missing out on anything because that’s how it’s supposed to be.
- Here, it feels more like I’m picking up on what Americans mean when they say they moved to states like California or Oregon or Washington “for the culture”… a sense of “wouldn’t it be refreshing to live in a place with more of this mindset floating around?” …and I’m not in a position or mindset to do something as drastic as moving for something as nebulous and un-guaranteed as this.
- That said, it’s still a shame that we seem to have moved away from this kind of folk music in a more general sense. So many of my favourite songs are either by the folk and folk-inspired bands of the mid 20th century (Peter, Paul, and Mary, Simon and Garfunkel, Chad and Jeremy, etc.) or their covers of earlier folk songs (eg. Pete Seeger’s Turn Turn Turn   and Banjo Paterson’s Waltzing Matilda.)