Everything is connected! Or at least some things are in life as well as in art. Everybody has made a connection between seemingly unconnected events in their lives and as a tribute to these connections I have decided to share some of the connections I have made in art.
This is not an academic exercise and I am by no means referring to the extremes of such allusions as to Dante or Shakespeare nor do I mean the meat-and-potatoes type that you find in MI’s Safe
, but of the midway kind, the type that requires a brain but not a sparkling erudition; the type that can be gotten with an average knowledge, curiosity and a memory. You may not even need a substantial portion of your memory dedicated to the art form, as most of the connections are made subconsciously and for the rest there is the internet, after all as Roger Ebert says, “for memory, modern man has Google.”
But even using Google efficiently requires effort and some skill especially when you only have the barest of data to insert in the search bar. So you do require an active brain and willing fingers after all.
Sometimes you may get lucky: I saw the movie Going the Distance and it contains a hilarious Top Gun reference I’d have missed if I saw the movie weeks before. Let me explain: I downloaded the song Take My Breath Away a fortnight before I saw the film and it was only then I knew the artist and realized it was a soundtrack. So when Drew Barrymore laughed and said, “Take me to Berlin”, I laughed with her both because the scene was truly funny and because of the irony- I had wanted to see the movie earlier but seeing it later made me enjoy it more.
Sometimes “getting the joke” isn’t chronologically linear, that is, sometimes a recent discovery helps explain an earlier reference. I only just realized that the Green Day 2007 record Jesus of Suburbia was a play on the title of a 1990 book by Hanif Kureishi The Buddha of Surburbia. And I did not make the connection until this year when serendipity led me through a sequence of events: first I read the English novelist’s short story Intimacy in 2009, and then read an interview in 2010 where Tolu Ogunlesi quoted Mr. Kureishi when asked what it is to be a writer. This year I remembered that short story and “wikipediaed” Kureishi and got names of earlier novels- the Surburbia book was one of them. Voila!
There are high-falutin allusions that are made for classrooms and conference tables, but those discussed here are not for formal gatherings but for sitting rooms, chatrooms, bedrooms even, when the closeness you feel to the words or discovery are mirrored by the proximity of the listener to you. The type everyone has come across but are not entirely given to connect because sometimes the references are indirect and may cross genres or even media- Time magazine used EM Forster’s admonition, Only Connect, in a piece on Mark Zuckerberg who had never heard of the English novelist.
Most times the hindrance to connecting may be missing out on a previous event, other times it is the thinking that understanding the reference is immaterial to enjoying the material in itself. A true fan would tell you otherwise; he/she would tell you that familiarity with nursery rhymes and fairytales leads to a more robust enjoyment of the Shrek franchise and seeing more than a handful of horror flicks generates more laughs from the spoof Scary Movie.
Not many people know that the refrain at the end of Banky W’s Strong Thing is from the Notorious BIG song, N.O.T.OR.I.O.U.S T.H.U.G.S: “So many girls/ I gat to find one/ All these girls/ is she the right one/My situation is a tight one/What you gonna do…” Of course not knowing this does not prevent anyone from dancing to the song, but perhaps it is good to know if you are involved in an argument on Banky’s songwriting especially as he carries the Umbrella remix albatross. There’s also the Obiwon line in Onyinye: “Don’t be a hard rock when you really are a gem,” that line is from Lauryn Hill’s That Thing and that crude last line delivered by Muna in Tha Suspect’s I no send You (remix) was used by Missy Elliot in her Under Construction album years ago.
A facebook friend made me realize that “I bet you think this song’s about you” from Janet Jackson’s Son of A Gun might have been modified from Carly Simon’s “…You probably think this song is about you” from the song You’re so Vain. Fast forward to 2010 and you hear that line almost rendered in its entirety in Mike Posner’s Cooler than Me. (In a rare example, a song lyric has been derived from standup comedy: American comedian Chris Rock joked sometime in the nineties that he’d never raise hit a girl but he would shake her vigorously, in the noughties, Kanye West relayed the same on the song Bittersweet.)
Lines are not the only features that can be connected, there are words rhymed by several artists spanning decades, spanning genres. Lips-hips have been used by everyone, from the rock band U2 to the rapper Too short; world-pearl-girl is another popular one, the earliest song I know to have used it is Prince’s Diamond and Pearls, Wizkid used it in his Gidi girl, Anita Baker in Sweet Love; dance-chance-romance and boy/toy rhyme are popular across genres too.
Connections can also be made with regards to concepts: every time Durella shouts Enemies, it should not be taken as a crude if meaningless chant but as a continuous interpretation of western hip-hop’s fascination with ubiquitous and often faceless ‘haters’. Rihanna might have gotten some people aghast with the song Rude Boy when she says, “Come here rude boy. If you big enough…” but few years ago the female R&B group TLC had sang a line along that line in Girl Talk, “When you finally get your blood flowing, it would be looking like a pinky with a glove on it…” You don’t need to be a genius to see the connection between both, a little attention delivers it to you.
If the repetitive lyrics in popular music appear to be the caused by lazy songwriting, it cannot be expressly said of some fiction writers when such is seen their works, to be sure even they borrow lines from previous works and religious books especially the Bible. There’s a line from James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room modified from the Psalms. While that reference might be obvious to the religious person there are some from books so diverse that it is near impossible to conceive of the authors meeting yet a connection can be made but only if a phrase or a sentence persists in the memory. I found the following in Joseph Kanon’s The Good German and Pete Hamill’s collection of short stories, Tokyo Sketches:
“Laughter after all was a form of intimacy.”
“…a bed laugh, intimate as touch.”
The first is from Hamill, the latter from Kanon. Both lines speak of the intimacy of laughter, a sentiment perhaps impossible to argue with and it is possibly the veracity of the opinion that gives both writers the appearance of originality. We would never know but I believe it would be stretching it to say Kanon- whose book is more recent- channeled Hamill, the more plausible rationale being like some science discoveries stumbled upon by two different scientists working independently of each other. This accidental type of connection gives the most joy when discovered, as it appears you are privy to a secret even both authors are not aware of.
No one person can get all the references or make all the connections possible- the realms of knowledge are infinite and the individual mind is vastly limited- but it helps to at least make some effort at getting the reference and/or making the connection if the appreciation of any type of art form is to be robust. It is not merely a chore for the critic but to a lesser degree for everyone who gets some form of satisfaction from consuming a particular art form.
In conclusion, let me ask, the title of this piece is connected to a program on cable television, can you make the connection?
11th April 2011: Asokoro, Abuja.