Recently I’ve been gnawing away at Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World Revisited, a series of ruminations on the state of modern society (modern as in 1958, the year the book was published) and its relationship to the themes in his dystopian novel Brave New World, which had been published 26 years prior. One of the chapters, title “Chemical Persuasion,” addresses existing and newly invented psychotropic drugs and compares them to soma, the hypothetical substance used by the denizens of Huxley’s new world to medicate themselves, and more insidiously used by the scientific overlords of this world to maintain order and complacency within the population.
In Brain Candy, the troupe of comedians known as the Kids in the Hall provided their own satiric take on the subject, postulating a new compound called GLeeMONEX, which encapsulates its users in the frame of mind they experienced during their happiest memory. Ultimately, the theme of this film echoes that of Brave New World, that eternal bliss can come at a steep price, and that it is a fundamental perversion of human nature for a person to be blissfully happy all the time.
The Film: Brain Candy
The Song: “Pablo and Andrea”
The Artist: Yo La Tengo
Who’s Who: The Kids in the Hall are a Canadian sketch comedy group that consisted of Dave Foley, Mark McKinney, Kevin McDonald, Bruce McCullough, and Scott Thompson. The troupe formed in 1984, and under the guidance of Lorne Michaels (whose speech patterns and mannerisms are mimicked brilliantly by Mark McKinney) produced a popular show that lasted from 1988 until 1994. Brain Candy was released in 1996, to limited success.
Yo La Tengo are one of the more venerable acts in the indie rock universe. Originally formed by the husband and wife team of Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley in 1984, the band has produced 15 albums – including I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One (1997), I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass (2006), and a large number of recorded covers. The band appeared briefly in the role of the Velvet Underground in the Valerie Solanas biopic I Shot Andy Warhol (1996), and more recently has provided the soundtracks for the films Junebug (2005), Game 6 (2006), and Shortbus (2006).
Why it Works: The blissful guitar part, with wispy descents and bent notes, and murmured vocals of this song would be the perfect soundtrack to a lazy makeout session on a couch on a warm afternoon late in the summer (and no, this doesn’t come from personal experience – in my own case the song that accompanied such a blissful memory was Ben Harper’s “Give a Man a Home”). It really does seem like the kind of song that could accompany a person’s happiest memory.
What Goes Wrong: This song would be absolutely perfect for this scene – if you could actually HEAR IT. Honestly, would you have been able to identify this song without both knowing the song very well, and paying very close attention? When I write about Zach Braff’s Garden State (2004), I’ll engage in a full rant about how much I hate it when filmmakers include a token, barely audible burst of a song in a film solely in order to include it on the soundtrack. That’s a huge problem with the Brain Candy soundtrack, which is actually a pretty great collection of music.
Other Stuff: I wonder what Huxley would have though of Prozac, or of Elizabeth Wurtzel, or of Prozac Nation. I suspect that given his fears of deindividualization, he might have been pleased to meet someone so fantastically self-obsessed.