December 20, 2003
Return of the King, and Respect for the Drum
I met up with Madison of Diesel Nation and went to see Return of the King. Quite simply a wonderful film, and as I said to the Japanese news crew outside the theater, this entire trilogy has turned out to be a phenomenal achievement. What a miracle that the studio trusted Peter "Dead Alive" Jackson of all people with such a gargantuan project, and gambled so much of their money and resources on giving the freedom to pursue his vision. What an even greater miracle that Jackson pulled it off in such grand fashion. I really do believe this will be remembered as a landmark event in the history of cinema.. and not only because Sam and Frodo set a new standard for latent homoeroticism.
That being said, I do have a bone to pick. Am I the only person who has noticed that whenever humans in middle earth are making music it's always something purely melodic, like singing or blowing a horn, but the monsters are always banging on a drum? What's up with that!!?
Ok, I'm mostly joking. The implication that drums are favored only by lesser, more primitive species does conjure unsavory connotations, especially when traces of cultural bias are already hard to deny in these films as a whole. But that may have been unavoidable given the source material, and I wasn't nearly as troubled by it as some other folk.
Still, as a lifelong representative of hip-hop, I really am bothered whenever the drum gets treated like melody's stepchild. My major beef is that when this anti-drum bigotry rears its ugly head (though this doesn't seem to be the case with ROTK) it usually stems from an assumption that melody is the prime determinant of musicality, the core element of music to which rhythm is always secondary. And it's largely due to this perception of rhythm as subordinate to melody that hip-hop has so often faced an uphill battle to earn respect as a legitimate musical form.
I'm sure you can all recite the hater's anthem by heart: "How is that music? It's all just drum beats and talking, they don't even sing!" And this bias infects heads inside the culture too, as reflected by the often overblown praise for emcees like Cee-lo or Dre who shift towards singing, as if it were inherently more "artistic" or "musical" than emceeing. The musical=melodic equation is just never healthy for hip-hop.
You'd think the errant nature of such assumptions would be obvious to anyone familiar with the dominant role drums play in so much of African music*, and the African roots that feed so much of American music. But somehow it persists..
And that's why I always get touchy when people don't show proper respect for the drum. Never should the drum be treated as a second class citizen, whether in America or Middle Earth!
Great movie though.
*I should note that African drums could often be used to convey melody as well as rhythm, not to mention the communicative role of the talking drum, etc.