One of the questions that I sometimes get asked about this blog is, “what’s with the name?” Watermelon Banzai, at first, does seem like it’s just two random words put together but there’s actually a bit of a story behind them; they’re a reference to one of my favorite movies of all time.
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension is an interesting film, for a variety of reasons, and is therefore hard to explain in turn. One of the reasons why this is the case is due to it’s “in medias res” style of storytelling (a nod to it’s influences which I will get into in just a moment), which is a term to describe stories that begin in the middle of the action rather than at the beginning.
In fact, when the movie begins, it does so with the titular character of Buckaroo Banzai in the middle of performing brain surgery on an Eskimo. Why? It’s never really explained, nor does it really need to be, because as soon as he’s done with that he’s whisked off to testing an experimental jet car in the desert. Buckaroo Banzai is, for a lack of better terms, a renaissance man as in one scene he is a neurosurgeon, the next he’s passing through a mountain and straight into the eighth dimension in his aforementioned experimental jet car, to playing in a small club in New Jersey after that as the front man for his band known as “Buckaroo Banzai and the Hong Kong Cavaliers.”
Earl Mac Rauch, who created the character of Buckaroo Banzai, derived inspiration from Doc Savage who was an equally talented man with his own unique band of adventurers. More to the point, during the heyday of Doc Savage and his adventures, they were portrayed on the silver screen in serial form. Serials, for those unaware, were more or less akin to television shows where an “episode” of a serial would be shown in a movie theater for about a week or so before the next one would be screened. Some viewings might have a brief recap of the prior iteration but, for the most part, it was assumed that the viewer had been watching along the entire time and was in on all the information therein.
Rauch, adventurous himself in his desire to tap into that serial nostalgia, penned The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension to have that same sort of feel. Which is to say that characters are not so much introduced, and things are not overtly explained, as it’s assumed that the viewer is already familiar with the characters and events in turn. Furthermore, other characters and prior events are alluded to but are never revealed, like an unused stockpile of Chekov’s Guns. Some would be quick to point out that this is why the film failed so fantastically at the box office, and they’re most likely right, but it’s this serial style storytelling that gives the film it’s overall charm.
Perhaps the best example of this is from the following scene:
So, why is that watermelon there? While there is an in-universe explanation (albeit it was given after the film was released), as well as a behind the scenes reason, it is never explicitly stated within the film itself. Again, that is the overall charm of this film: it’s mystique and the aura in which it exudes. It is quirky and, above all else, it does it’s own thing without fear of being judged. It takes itself seriously while at the same time not being afraid to realize just how ridiculous the whole premise is in the end.
Which, on the surface, appears to be nothing more than an alien invasion movie but it’s so much more than that as it’s got layers upon layers to sift through. It’s one of those movies that requires multiple viewings and not just because those subsequent viewings will help to better explain the situation. It begs to be watched again and again simply because it is a rewarding experience filled with memorable characters, moments, and dialogue.
One of the most quoted lines from the film is spoken by Buckaroo Banzai himself when, in the midst of trying to calm down a disrespectful crowd in that New Jersey club, he says “don’t be mean, we don’t have to be mean, cause remember: no matter where you go, there you are.”
Allow me to break this quote down into two halves of which I will give some personal context to how much it means to me overall. I just turned thirty one this year so to say that I’ve heard a lot of music in my lifetime thus far is an understatement. However, there is a key difference between hearing music, listening to music, and experiencing music. We’ve all certainly heard music, if we mean to or not, as it just tends to crop up in our every day lives and usually from a source outside of our control. While that is a passive activity, the act of listening to music is an entirely different thing as we are purposely focusing our attention towards a song or even an entire album. I have also most certainly listened to plenty of music as well, to which I assume most people have.
However, experiencing music is an entirely different thing in comparison. I don’t just mean the act of attending a live performance because I have attended a number of such “live experiences” where I didn’t so much experience the music but just listened or even just heard it in the background while checking my watch. No, what I mean by experiencing music is forming a connection to it on some kind of personal or even spiritual level where by it doesn’t matter if you’re seeing it performed live or not because you elicit the same response either way.
Believe it or not, throughout my life, I rarely ever experienced this connection with much of any music. Nothing really ever “spoke to me” in such a way. I had plenty of friends where this was not the case as they would wear their band shirts, display their battle vests, and attend show after show. I got into such bands by association, but unlike them I couldn’t tell you anything about the bands themselves, their history or even remember any of the lyrics. I just thought they sounded good and that’s the point: I listened to them but I didn’t experience them in turn. This is not to say that just listening to music is a bad thing, not at all, but there is a fine line between simply listening to a song because it sounds good and experiencing a song that makes you actually feel something.
I was born in 1986 but the earliest time period that I can vividly remember is the early 90’s. I am more a product of that decade than the one I was born in and yet I hold a deep nostalgia towards my birth decade for some reason. It probably has to do with the fact that, growing up, I watched a lot of 80’s television via reruns and movies on VHS. My Dad owned a VCR in the 80’s, along with a subscription to HBO, and recorded a lot of movies for free as a result. I therefore grew up with a real appreciation for the style, the aesthetic if you will, but most importantly the music of the 80’s.
That was probably the first instance in which I really experienced music. While other people were jamming out to whatever was actually playing on the radio in the late 90s/early 2000s, I was listening to hair metal and new wave. However, there’s something to be said about experiencing music after the moment has passed and experiencing music in the moment. The first time that I can truly say that I experienced music was when I discovered synthwave and, although it may be cliche by now, I did so the moment I left the theater after seeing the movie Drive.
Kavinsky was the sound that I was always looking for but never knew until I heard it and as soon as I did I had to hear it again, and again, then hear it some more. After that I began to search for more, anything, that sounded like him and that is when I truly fell down the proverbial rabbit hole and never looked back; I finally found music that I truly connected with and as a result it changed my life in my ways. Over time I became aware of the community that surrounded synthwave and, yes, while there are always some bad apples in any scene I personally didn’t find them to ruin the bunch as I became friends with many fellow listeners and producers alike as a result.
“Don’t be mean, we don’t have to be mean.”
For many years I was bullied and for various reasons, one of which being the music that I listened to because in those middle to high school years it’s all about conformity and listening to “old music” is certainly not “cool.” I suppose, in a way, this was the basis for my struggles to really connect with other people over the music that I enjoyed. I spent so many years afraid of openly enjoy things, never truly developing thick enough skin, until I was well into the end of my twenties. By then I just didn’t give a fuck anymore but also, and more importantly as I already stated, synthwave had become that one true experience.
I finally felt comfortable in sharing that experience, wanting to help it grow and become noticed, and due to a lifetime of loving to write I began to have ideas of starting a blog to help highlight acts in the scene trying to get noticed. There were already established blogs in the scene doing this and so that gremlin of doubt began to speak negatively into my ear as it had always done before, but this time the synthwave community spoke louder in return and encouraged me to write. So I did. Watermelon Banzai officially started on April 1st and, despite a month long hiatus in between, it has continued up until today when unfortunately I have decided to end its run.
It was not an easy decision, of that you can be assured, as I spent the last few weeks struggling to come to terms with this very moment. Watermelon Banzai, despite being a brief ripple in the ocean of synthwave, has meant a lot to me as it allowed me to discover so many acts in the process and make many more friends as a result. It opened doors and opportunities as well with perhaps the biggest thing that came to pass was being offered a spot on the staff over at Heavy Blog is Heavy.
While originally a blog dedicated mainly to heavy metal music, hence their name, in the past year or so they’ve started to expand their outreach and coverage. It was not just my own work on Watermelon Banzai that helped me to land on their radar and offered a chance to join them as their synthwave reporter/reviewer/columnist, but your continued support as well. For awhile I tried to balance both, running Watermelon Banzai as a one-man operation while also contributing to Heavy Blog is Heavy but, no matter what I did, I was left feeling stressed out as the candle burned at both ends. I ultimately knew that a decision had to be made one way or the other.
Therefore, effective immediately, I will be writing and contributing over at Heavy Blog is Heavy full time. Now, I want to make one thing perfectly clear: nothing is really going to change in terms of my writing and coverage of the synthwave scene other than I believe that my writing and coverage in general can and will improve as a result of this decision. After all, and this is when the second part of the quote comes in, “no matter where you go, there you are.”
I don’t see Watermelon Banzai ending as a true end but a new beginning and, if it is an end, it’s the end of one chapter and the beginning of the next. My resolve and determination in covering the synthwave scene has not faltered by this decision, if anything it has only strengthened, and therefore I hope that not only do you understand but that you’ll continue to join me on this journey because your support means the world to me. Much like Buckaroo Banzai, at the end of the day he is nothing without his support team and neither am I. Thank You.