I was listening to some concept albums and rock operas lately and by the time I was finished, the most overwhelming feeling which came to my mind was exhaustion. Why does every concept album (at least that I’ve heard) have to be about these grandiose, melodramatic stories? It seems like a lot of the big ones you immediately think of: Tommy, Quadrophenia, The Wall…and even some more obscure ones like Where’s My Daddy? are about these super-troubled people with ridiculously sad back-stories and over the top angst almost to the point of self-parody. I enjoy a good chunk of the music, but the overarching sense of dread is often so ridiculous I just can’t take them seriously at times. That, and I really have to work up the gumption to ever listen to them again. I’m not saying they’re bad, just…why do they all seemingly take that route?
I’d like to see something in this genre that’s less self-indulgent and depressing. I’d like to see a rock opera take a quirkier tone and try to be fun. So, purely for shits and giggles, here’s a basic outline of what I’d do if I were talented enough to write music. If anyone out there wants to compose melodies to my lyrics sometime, I’d be down to do a collaboration 😛
Why not a concept album or rock opera that’s about a little boy who goes outside for the afternoon? And he climbs a tree…goes over to the neighbor’s and plays tag with their son. Maybe the whole cul-de-sac joins in to play hide and seek. During the game, the original boy and his next door neighbor sneak through the woods and find a playground they didn’t know existed. To them it’s the discovery of the age; they relish in their lost paradise like the first American settlers of an exciting new world. After having a nice chat on the swings about some such cartoon, or their budding interest in girls, they get called home for dinner.
That could be a side of vinyl. Something chill, laid back, enjoyable. Something where you don’t feel all the weight of the world on your shoulders after listening to it. It’s just a whimsical little story with a good beat and catchy rhythms, not trying so hard to quantify all the undo suffering of mankind into one self-important record.
And then the next side of vinyl, the boy is playing some Super Nintendo, stuck in the Arctic world of Donkey Kong Country…or maybe that same friend from next door is over and they’re playing TMNT4: Turtles in Time. They beat the game on hard mode for the first time! All the while, the friend is creating his own ethos for the game, the sort of nonsense storytelling only a child could come up with. (How Slash was really the Turtles’ father, etc.) There’s a song with lyrics about the boys’ teamwork and unique friendly dynamic. Then maybe in the last track that ties it all together, they go back outside. The two play make-believe based on the video game, and develop their own fantasy world off of the imagery and characters therein. Overall, this second side of vinyl is about how the two play off of the stimuli that the game provided, and make their own new world out of it.
That’s an album. No over the top bullshit about a blind deaf and dumb boy learning to love through the power of music or anything like that (no offense, Who fans). Just a carefree day in the life of a little boy, captured in music. Something light, something that doesn’t bring you down the rest of the day for hearing it. It would have the advantage of being more relatable to the listener, plus if you wish, you could work in some Alice in Wonderland plays on logic or puns against The Little Prince style childhood innocence.
You could even go one step further if you want, and add in a corresponding story from an alternate POV.
Maybe this could be a double album with one disc about the boy/youth’s perspective and the other about a girl/adult’s life. And there’s songs about her putting on makeup and becoming someone else, to compliment the boy playing pretend from Disc 1. There’s some songs about how the act of walking down the city street is an adventure in itself. Not so dissimilar to the boy’s outside journeys, and yet this is adventurous for different reasons. The make-believe monsters are now in plain sight, and they’re salivating over you. It’s like a reverse-tag the boy might have been playing, where you’re the only one who isn’t “it” and everyone is out to touch you. Or at least, that’s how it feels a lot of the time.
Another track might be going to the grocery shop and imaging what a person can cook with all the ingredients you see…oranges, flour, spices, cheese. Selecting the groceries is described as a personified meeting of different cultures. The produce aisle becomes a set of ambassadors coming together to sign trade deals. The frozen foods section is a Roman Triumph where all these foreign treasures are taken in bondage and paraded for the conqueror’s pleasure. (The corresponding song for this section could contain Latin chanting of “Remember, you are mortal” and “hail Caesar!”)
Then side two of this second disc opens up with a husband or boyfriend coming home and untying your apron, throwing you on the bed like a rag doll and forcing you to submit. You revel in the amazing contradiction of being at the mercy of someone stronger, who intends to drill through your loins without mercy, yet this same force of nature protects you and your home from the “monsters” lurking outside with his brute strength. He’s your guardian and destroyer, it is for his pleasure that you made a nice dinner from the “grocery triumph.” And it is for you he fulfills all these depraved fantasies without reserve. The corresponding songs for this scene could work in metaphors of how there’s always someone bigger and badder, every empire crumbles, and contain allusions to the Germans invading Rome.
Maybe there’s a track exploring your train of thought after the act, while the Man of the House reclines on the balcony smoking a cigarette. Alone on the bed, marinating in his essence, you’re wondering how it all started. Maybe it just grew out of being a young kid watching those Inspector Gadget reruns where Penny would get captured, bound and gagged like every fifth episode. Maybe it was seeing Princess Leia in a chain getting yanked around in Return of the Jedi that awoke these submissive kinks. Maybe it’s just how your sexuality morphed after getting assaulted in high school; perhaps this was the only way your psyche could take ownership of that traumatic experience…
Or the answer could be buried in something more existential. It might be the fact that all the rest of the day you feel like someone else’s slave—your unreasonable boss, the guys who catcall you on the street, the 1% gaming the system, and Congress legislating away your rights and dignity. But for that one special hour or so, there is only you and your man. In this particular method of submission, you feel like you belong to him alone. That special man you’ve chosen remains the only one with enough power and control to do that to you. “I may have to work a job I hate for my boss, and jump through hoops to get healthcare because of Congress, but nobody except my husband can make me scream.”
And in that small bit of choice, of holding out the last of your dignity for someone of your own choosing to take, you remain, in a small sense, free. It’s as if that’s the only way in which one can assert their own independence in the modern world. Reserving that last bit of power to one person is the only control she has left…
And in the end, perhaps it’s implied that the boy and woman are one and the same. There are parallels in the songs which subtly communicate this. Like track…I don’t know, seven…on Disc 1 would be about journeying to foreign lands in the boy’s imagination while climbing fruit trees, and track seven on Disc 2 is about personifying ingredients as foreign dignitaries as you put fruits in the shopping cart. Disappearing into the identity of Samus Aran on the SNES is mirrored by disappearing into a mask of makeup. The fear of the dark in Disc 1 is contrasted by a fear of people at night as a vulnerable young woman. Just small parallels of that nature, with repeated themes, or contrasting outlooks and subtle cues from the lyrics/melodies that these are the same person.
Or perhaps they’re different people and the point is that there are threads of experience which tie us all together, even if we express them in different ways. It’s up to the listener’s interpretation.
And we’ll call it…Zenon. (If anyone gets the reference–it’d have to be indirect so Disney won’t sue.)