Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Puppets Are Apparently in the Forest

(Apparently I’m starting September by firing the geekiness in full force.)

I have this thing where I like something and then find out the thing I like seems to be referencing something else that I liked long ago and had forgotten about. It’s strange, because I end up wondering if my liking of this later thing has resulted from my own conscious processes or something deeper and less deliberate. I suppose the jury will remain out on that matter. Also, I’m a TV geek. And a video game geek. And, inasmuch as one can be when one lacks any aptitude for it, a music geek. And today’s post hits all three pegs.

Long, long ago, I saw a few episodes of The Storyteller, a Jim Henson-produced TV series that employed puppets to tell old tales from various world folklores. I can’t even remember how I first saw this, and given the show’s BBC affiliation, I think it might have been during one of my childhood stints in New Zealand. But I did see it, and I loved it, even if I more or less forgot about it in my later life. Then, slightly less long ago, I played a particular video game, Super Mario RPG, this wonderful team-up between the people who gave me Super Mario Bros. and Final Fantasy. It had an especially memorable soundtrack for a video game, and to this day, years later, I find these tunes sneaking out of my lower brain registry, into my consciousness and then into my humming mechanisms. (I feel like people wonder what I’m humming and why it tends to loop.) So imagine my great surprise when it was pointed out to me that the Storyteller closing credits theme song greatly resembles one of the more stand-out tracks from this video game.

(A break: I generally refrain from posting those kind of “OMG this song rips off this other song OMG!” posts, mostly because I don’t have the greatest technical understanding of music, despite seven years of piano lessons. It mostly comes down to a fundamental failure on my part to “get” music. For all I know, the similarities I’m hearing in certain pieces aren’t actually that remarkable but instead are just indicative of typical, standard chord progressions and whatnot. Regardless of my musical ineptitude, I’m pushing this one on you. Decide for yourself.)

So here they are, side-by-side: the end credits theme from The Storyteller and the forest music from Super Mario RPG:

I mean, aren’t they strikingly similar? If the video game one doesn’t cut it for you, imagine its more primitive, digital instrumentation replaced by the real deal. Then, now, imaginative one, can you hear it?

In case you don’t, I’d like to point out two major reasons why I’m not crazy. First, the Super Mario RPG theme plays during the point in the game when the player is wandering through a forest, chasing Geno — the blue-cloaked character in the video image and a very Pinocchio-esque character who starts out as a wooden puppet and then comes to life. Yes, a puppet — not a Muppet but still. In the context of a Jim Henson cultural connection, that seems noteworthy. Secondly, the name of the video game track is “Beware the Forest Mushrooms.” Doesn’t that sound like the title of some old world fairy tale? Doesn’t that sound like the warning some headstrong Eastern European orphan would not heed, therefore brining about his own demise? The song title ties in with the game, yes, but couldn’t it also be a nod to the composer’s inspiration?

And if you outright pooh-pooh the idea that video game music or even video games in general could have a cause-and-effect relationship with “higher” pop culture, then consider this: The composer, Yoko Shimomura, went on to do more video games, including a sequel to my beloved Secret of Mana games. One of the songs from this game ended up getting sampled in a Janet Jackson song.

And that’s pretty weird on its own.


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