My wife loves wildlife documentaries. PBS and The Discovery Channel have been an absolute godsend to her. I, on the other hand, fail to understand the appeal. The daily life of a lion on the Serengeti can be very interesting. And it is… the first time you see it. But they keep returning to the same subjects time and again, retreading material that David Attenborough covered splendidly years ago. I don’t pay close attention to these shows but I’ve seen enough that I could probably teach a class on the mating habits of salmon without much trouble.
But it’s what she loves, and I would not dream of interfering with her enjoyment. If I did, I’d essentially be begging her to make disparaging remarks about the music I enjoy. Marriage is a kind of cold war that nonetheless keeps you warm at night. So it is not uncommon for her to watch the television by herself while I retreat to the den to listen to music. Not often, but occasionally, she’ll come in during a commercial break to let me know the show she’s watching has something new to offer. And I’m glad of it, because I do enjoy new things.
And so it was a few weeks ago, while I was meditating on the latest Swans release, that Carol came into the den to tell me the show she was watching had “some pretty weird music” that I’d probably like. The show is called Hunters, and the soundtrack turned out to be performed by The Residents, a San Francisco-based performance group she has begrudgingly learned to cope with over our years together. They occupy a strange space in my mind, in that if someone were to tell me their music was featured on television every week I wouldn’t believe it, but if I was specifically told it was in a Discovery Channel documentary series, I’d somehow not find that surprising. Odd, yes, but not outside the realm of possibility.
The Residents attempted soundtrack work in the past with mixed results, but this time it seems they’ve gotten it absolutely right. The music is subtle enough to fall into the background, but retains enough hallmarks of their particular sound that it rewards the attentive listener. It doesn’t sound like The Residents, yet remains unmistakably Residential. I find the narrator distracting though – it seems every time I get to really concentrate on the music, he bumbles in to remind me that bears are dangerous. I can’t fault him on that though, because the show wouldn’t work without the voiceover. And perhaps the music doesn’t hold up on its own, and the interruptions actually help it. But it’s frustrating at times.
Apart from the music, the show isn’t that great. It has a different theme each week, but even then the subject is too wide to cover in an hour. It acts more like a primer or broad overview. This is most apparent when something truly interesting comes up. In one episode about underwater creatures, it began focusing on sponges. Sponges are quite bizarre and could hold my attention for an hour. But a minute later the focus shifted to sea anemones – something else I could watch for a full episode. Then the focus changed again, and again. Just a taste, then move on to the next subject. Which is not unlike The Residents. They follow one path for a while, then hop onto another when their interest wanes.
So Carol and I found ourselves watching a television show together, but for different reasons. It didn’t make me appreciate nature shows any more, and it didn’t endear her to The Residents, but that’s not important. We’re together because we love each other, and we respect and embrace our differences. But for a little while we got to mutually pretending the other was “finally getting it.” A little fantasy now and then serves the soul, and it was nice to have this shared fantasy inspired by the same event.