clap clap blog: we have moved

Wednesday, May 31, 2006
The Lapsed Nerd's Guide to Final Fantasy's He Poos Clouds[1]

Mr. Owen Pallett, Final Fantasy himself, says that the three goals of this album are as follows:

1. A set of songs that attempt to modernize each of the eight D&D schools of magic
2. Every song will be written for string quartet and voice
3. Nobody who listens to it will ever again entertain thoughts of suicide.
Ah, but what are the eight D&D schools of magic, and how do they relate to the (ten, unfortunately) songs on the album? Well, armed with the lyrics and a copy of the D&D Player's Handbook (third edition[2]), I set off to find out. As it turns out, there's a pretty clear one-to-one correlation between the songs and the schools.

1. "The Arctic Circle" = Abjuration

Player's Handbook says: "Abjuration are protective spells. They creat physical or magic barriers, negate magical or physical abilities, harm trespassers, or even banish the subject of the spell to another plane of existence."

Final Fantasy sings: "Shieldth up! Shieldth up! Bar the door, and keep your duketh up!...
But the quarry don't share his taste for Anne McCaffrey
And he dresses alright but the conversation is wrong, all wrong
Nobody nobody nobody will ever know his longing
He has a heart that will never melt...
Now you can endure the fear now you can endure the hell
Now you can endure the lies now you can endure the fear.

2. "He Poos Clouds" = Enchantment

Player's Handbook says: "Enchantment spells affect the minds of others, influencing or controlling their behavior...All enchantments are mind-affecting spells...A compulsion spell forces the subject to act in some manner or changes the way her mind works."

Final Fantasy sings: "And move him with your thumb, I move him with my thumb
He needs, he needs my guidance, he needs, he needs my time
Though I am not the only one
He swam!
To the edge of the wall of the world!
Followed my voice, and he cried
Master! The answer is maybe... Maybe not... Maybe not...
Maybe not! I have goals!
Gotta fulfill the seven prophecies!
Gotta be a friend to grandmother!
Gotta rescue Michael from the White Witch!
Gotta find and kill my shadow self
Gotta dig up every secret seashell
You may have been made for love...But I'm just made."

3. "This Lamb Sells Condos" = Conjuration

Player's Handbook says: "Conjurations bring manifestations of objects, creatures, or some form of energy to you; actually transport creatures from another plane of existence to your plane; heal; transport creatures or objects over great distances; or create objects or effects on the spot."

Final Fantasy sings: "Have you seen our visitor? Look! Over the treetops!
Newly conjured erections are making him a killing
And Richmond St. is illing, so the graduates are willing
To buy in to the pillage, now there is no hope for the village...
When he was a young man, he conjured up a firemare
And burnt off both his eyebrows and half a head of hair
And then as an apprentice, he took a Drowish mistress
Who bestowed upon his youthfulness a sense of Champagne Chic
Oh seduction, his seduction to the world of construction
Now his mind will start to wander when he's not at a computer
Now his massive genitals refuse to co-operate
And no amount of therapy can hope to save his marriage"

4. "If I Were a Carp" = Necromancy

Player's Handbook says: "Necromancy songs manipulate the power of death, unlife, and the life force."

Final Fantasy sings: "Tragedy, tragedy! Death has you fooled!
No throne of bone, no terranean pool!
No scythe, no cowl, no skeleton
His greatest trophy is the myth
Every sailor, salmon, every carp will follow rivers to the source
Only the dead complete its course, and furthermore...
Do you really want to know of the afterworld?"

5. " --->" = Evocation

Player's Handbook says: "Evocation spells manipulate energy or tap an unseen source of power to produce a desired end. In effect, they create something out of nothing. Many of these spells produce spectacular effects, and evocation spells can deal large amounts of damage."

Final Fantasy sings: "A taut wire, her father's evil empire
Jenna dreams of being physically able
To behead herself at the dining room table"

(this is the entire song; I think he may be giving Jenna a little too much credit, but then again the image of a failed evocator rings true.)

6. "I'm Afraid of Japan" = Necromancy

Player's Handbook says: "Necromancy songs manipulate the power of death, unlife, and the life force."

Final Fantasy sings: "For some the spell was shafted, but I am in your sway
Yes, I am still enchanted by the ways of yesterday...
If I do it with an ice pick, will I come back as a jock?
If I fast until starvation will I be born again a Christian?
I read that death by burning means returning as a girl
But only by seppuku can I retain my virtue
But all my efforts have only made
An army of greedy gays..."

(incidentally, these are probably my favorite lyrics on the album, and the D&D parallels here are actually revealing: he's afraid of Japan because he views their honor & ancestors system as a kind of creepy-ass necromancy, necromancers in the D&D system often being after sort of half-human ghouls.)

7. "Song Song Song" = Illusion

Player's Handbook says: "Illusion spells deceive the senses or minds of others. They cause people to see things that are not there, not see things that are there, hear phantom noises, or remember things that never happened."

Final Fantasy sings: "Out of dust, out of empty space
From the bedroom to the marketplace...
Concern concern concern yourself with the invisible!
Concern concern concern yourself with the incredible!
Don't turn to motherhood so fast, you have been blinded
There's a word for all you keep inside
And though you try to hide it, we will write it!"

8. "Many Lives -> 49 MP" = Divination

Player's Handbook says: "Divination spells allow you to learn secrets long forgotten, to predict the future, to find hidden things, and to foil deceptive spells."

Final Fantasy sings: "Hey, Timothy, I wish for clairvoyance
I wanna see my wife and kids
And how I would live, and how I would die...
I picture a man who lives in the past
He keeps a book of photographs
Of his younger self, clairvoyant self"

9. "Do You Love?" = Transmutation

Player's Handbook says: "Transmutation spells change the properties of some creature, thing, or condition."

Final Fantasy sings: "This hand, this hand is a cunning little bugger
With a habit of turning every A into a B...
There's a twitch twitch twitch and a rash, and an itch
For a job, for a magic job, and a magic diet and exercise plan...
Take a look at this brochure:
Inject, inject, strip away, peel away
The scars of self abuse with a couple of hours in a private clinic
What have I left in life?
The Knife! the Knife! this knife! this knife!
Every inch, every inch of me will come to know its magic!"

10. "The Pooka Sings" = kind of a grand summing-up

And so, we might as well take an opportunity here to sum things up, this blog being, if nothing else, annoyingly schematic. While at first I was fascinated with the music on the album, over time I've come to be less impressed with it. The turning point was probably when I saw the new version of Sweeney Todd, which I meant to do an entry on in earnest because it's so interesting. But the point is, where before I had seen it in terms of composition-major influences, I now saw it as a take on artistic musical theater[3], with the music's tendency toward the unmemorable being wholly justified in its service of the lyrics, which I then proceeded to enjoy without reservation. They really are the best thing on the album, highlighted by the fact that they actually fulfill their mission: not only do individual songs productively tease out the metaphorical implications of the individual schools, but over the course of the album a lot of parallels are drawn between the fictional settings of not only D&D itself but nerd culture as a whole, and the reality in which those geeks live, a juxtoposition that can be roughly summed up as "going to a sci-fi convention." That Pallett is as interested in nerd culture as he is in D&D itself is probably most blatant in "I'm Afraid of Japan," since, after all, Japan technically has not a damn thing to do with D&D, but it has a lot to do with modern nerd culture.[4] But the exploration is everywhere, from the semi-ironic casting of anti-gentrification efforts as an epic struggle in "This Lamb Sells Condos" to the melding of dates at the shooting range and Anne McCaffery[5] in "The Arctic Circle" to the application of magical language to dieting in "Do You Love?"

But I think the most interesting example is the title song, which begins with a D&D-ish computer game that is compared to human relationships ("But hey, hey, all the boys I have ever loved have been digital/I've been a guest, on a screen, or in a book!/I move 'em with my thumb, I move them with my thumb") to the much more prosaic/banal, sordid/dirty real world of dating and sex ("Escape! Escape! This time, for real!/We fool around in the service lane/He's the only friend I have who doesn't do cocaine") and then back into the mythically distant ("He swam! To the edge of the wall of the world!/Followed my voice, and he cried/Master! The answer is maybe... Maybe not...") which is supposedly a differenet kind of cleansing distancing than games--chronological separation rather than the more present barrier of the screen--but even here it's put in the language of computer games, as anyone who has experienced their character bumping up against "the edge of the wall of the world" can attest. It brings up all sorts of interesting metaphorical parallels--between role-playing in games and in life, between emotional distance from fiction and emotional distance from reality, between myths about the outside world and myths about the self--without explicitly stating any of them, and in the process represents the movement between the private and public spheres with remarkable precision and complexity. Good shit.

[1] People complain about the album title, but in retrospect it's a pretty smart move, given that not only does a general search for "Final Fantasy" prove unhelpful, but a search on the All Music Guide doesn't even turn up the Canadian FF--it turns up some UK techno act. There is, however, no other album named He Poos Clouds in the history of music.
[2] Although I had a really good Thursday in general last week, the highlight of my day was undoubtedly when meeting up with Scott to borrow a copy of the player's handbook: as he works near Broadway and Price, and as we wanted to see which edition had a better description of the schools of magic, we ended up standing outside the Prada store, comparing versions of D&D guides.
[3] Much as I think there's a temptation to hear Rehearsing My Choir in terms of the Furnaces' live shows, but it's more productive to view it as a song cycle; I left the theater with the distinct impression that RMC was the best album of the decade, but this is a horrible indie-rock thing to think, I know.
[4] Although the reference to The Sound of Waves has nothing to do with either; it's just straight nerdy, or I guess maybe geeky. God bless us aesthetes.
[5] Sort of the Pink Floyd of a certain type of nerd girls, for the unfamiliar. (Pink Floyd is the Pink Floyd of a slightly different type of nerd girls.)