PART III: MAGE’S MEDIA INFLUENCES
(Jaz Coleman – chaos magician and bandleader of Killing Joke.)
Q: What are some of your favorite movies, TV shows, comedians, and musical artists? And how might they have influenced your work on Mage?
For starters, I prefer artists and shows with something important to say. “Mindless entertainment” doesn’t really do much for me. A sense of passion is also vital. Especially given the vast landscape of art and entertainment we can access these days, I have no time or patience for stamped-out commercial product. I’m not saying that I don’t enjoy big-budget spectacles or slick productions – I rather like Lady Gaga, and The Avengers is one of my all-time favorite films. To get my attention, though, there’s gotta be more going on than a big CGI budget and a by-the-numbers script… and, speaking as a creative professional, crap that goes no further than slick spectacle really pisses me off. I work fucking hard at what I do, and I’m annoyed by folks who get Hollywood paychecks for scripts that wouldn’t pass a Screenwriting 101 class.
My favorite artists and media include that sublime quality we talked about earlier. And so, my favorite films include movies like Casablanca, Ink, The Fountain and Spirited Away. (As the credits rolled when I first saw The Fountain, I turned to my friend Ben Dobyns and said something like “Thank all the gods that SOMEONE in Hollywood still has an imagination and the balls to use it.”) I’ve always been fond of silent movies (I grew up on old-school horror flicks) and so-called “foreign films.” In college, I minored in Cinematography, and I used to teach History of Animation and Language of Film at the Art Institute of Seattle. As a result, I’ve got a pretty decent grounding in cinematic storytelling techniques and the evolving history of film. I appreciate audacity too, and so my favorite directors – Terry Gilliam, Akira Kurosawa, Joss Whedon, Katherine Biglow, Spike Lee, Darren Aronofsky, Werner Hertzog, Quentin Tarantino, Peter Greenaway, Julie Taymor, Luc Besson, Craig Brewer, Mira Nair, Guillermo del Toro, Ken Russell, Spike Jonez, David Cronenberg, Zhang Yimou, Edgar Wright, Kevin Smith, the Hughes Brothers, the Wachowskis, and so on – combine an awareness of technique and cinematic language with the willingness to kick an audience in the balls occasionally. Even certain “event” filmmakers – notably Stephen Spielberg, James Cameron, Ridley Scott and Francis Ford Coppola – continue to command my loyalty even when they make shitty films because there’s something more than mere spectacle going on in their work. I endeavor to bring those same qualities to my own.
(From the climax of The Fountain.)
And yet, I also cherish the anarchistic quality of avant-garde weirdness and fucked-up horror flicks: Liquid Sky, Repo Man, The Machine Girl, The Re-Animator, Koyaanisqatsi, Dead Man, Blue Velvet, Punch, Hardware, Titus, Meshes in the Afternoon, City of Lost Children, Gothic, π… no list of my favorite films would be complete without those titles. Movies where offbeat artistry collides with those other elements – as in Pan’s Labyrinth, Night Watch, or the horrific French film Martyrs – make me very happy indeed.
A list of “essential Mage movies” would have to include the following films: Ink, The Fountain, Roshomon, Strange Days, π, Hero, Inception, The Matrix, The Crow, The Prestige, The Man With the Iron Fists, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, Run Lola Run, Repo Man, (the original) Robocop, V for Vendetta, The Fifth Estate, Ghost in the Shell, Donnie Darko, The Doors, American Beauty, Minority Report, Night Watch, Brazil, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Being John Malkovich, Cosmopolis, Cloud Atlas, The Truman Show, Prospero’s Books, Spirited Away, The Baader Meinhoff Complex, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Julie Taymor’s The Tempest, the first two Terminator films, the (fairly terrible but very Sorcerers Crusade) 2011 version of The Three Musketeers, and the documentaries Rize, Koyaanisqatsi, The Corporation, What the [Bleep] do We (K)now?, and Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media. Most of these films are not “mage movies”; hell, many of them have no “magic” to speak of. The themes, ideas and images within these films, however, are very Mage… and the fact that most of them came out after I had finished my run on the series shows just how much the concepts within Mage have become part of popular culture since that game first appeared.
(Perhaps the most Mage movie of them all… but to hell with its sequels!)
Speaking of “shows,” I’m not much of a TV fan myself. My partner Sandi and I don’t even have TV reception or cable – if there’s a show we want to watch, we get it on DVD and watch it without commercials. I loathe the “perpetual crisis” mode that TV stations use, and avoid it whenever possible. Still, I do enjoy the following shows, several of which exerted some level of influence on Mage: Spaced, Game of Thrones, Veronica Mars, Rome, Deadwood, Carnivale, Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Daily Show, Key and Peele, Behind the Music, The Deadliest Warrior, Xena and Buffy of course, the 1990s La Femme Nikita, and perhaps my favorite TV show ever, the late, lamented Firefly. (Damn you, Fox – damn you forever!)
As someone who came of age during the heydays of Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Mad magazine and Monty Python’s Flying Circus, I appreciate satire with an angry edge and a sense of socio-political absurdity. That sensibility may be most obvious in my treatment of the Technocracy in general and the Syndicate in particular, although – the Syndicate aside – Mage’s overt satire comes more through Brian Campbell, Bill Bridges and Kathleen Ryan than through me. These days, I favor satirists who take a straight-faced approach – Sarah Silverman, Sacha Barton Cohen, The Onion, Stephen Colbert, and Key and Peele – to the ridiculousness around them. Even so, the righteous fury of Chris Rock and Henry Rollins always has a welcome place in my heart. I’m sorry that Bill Hicks didn’t live long enough to give us his observations on the current era; if he had done so, though, poor Bill probably would have spontaneously combusted from apoplectic rage.
(The late, lamented genius Bill Hicks.)
I could write whole books on the place that music has in my creative process. That subject, in fact, has inspired my forthcoming series Powerchords – Music, Magick & Urban Fantasy, my short-story collection Tritone, and an ongoing collection of essays and articles that I often report on my blog (see the many listings under the Music tag.). As a kid, I grew up on Motown, classic soul, and ‘60s folk and psychedelic rock; came of age with old-school heavy metal and hardcore punk; and acquired my interest in lyrical mysticism from King Crimson, Jethro Tull, the Doors, and Rush – all of whom left their mark on Mage. I used to DJ at my high-school and college radio stations, facilitated at various freeform ecstatic dance groups, and played bass guitar in about a half-dozen bands over the years. I always write with music playing, and that music, in turn, influences what I create.
A “short” list of artists who’ve influenced Mage would still be ridiculously long. The most obviously influential bands from the “classic Mage” era include Rush, the Doors, White Zombie, Patti Smith, Oingo Boingo, Kate Bush, Killing Joke, Ministry, Concrete Blonde, Faith and the Muse, The Changelings, Dead Can Dance, Ozzy-era Black Sabbath, Henryk Gorecki, and the spectrum of darkwave artists whose music was an intrinsic part of the ‘90s White Wolf experience.
In the years since then, my tastes have migrated more toward world-fusion techno (MIDIval PundiZ, Suns of Arqa, Shpongle, Hilight Tribe, Cosmosis, etc.); postmodern classical (Phillip Glass, Jocelyn Pook, Tan Dun, Kronos Quartet, George Crumb, and the like); dark/ black ambient soundscapes (Caul, Lusmord, Dark Sanctuary, Coph Nia, Alio Die, Rajna, Desiderii Marginis, Endura, Atrium Carcerai, pre-Semantic Spaces Delerium, and similar artists); “ghost-country” (Neko Case, Earth, Brandi Carlile, Grinderman, the Voodoo Organist, late-period Johnny Cash, that sort of thing); neo-shamanic polyculture fusion (Kan’Nal, Soriah, Niyaz, Delhi 2 Dublin, Shiva in Exile, Afro-Celt Sound System, Master Musicians of Bukake, etc.); neopagan, faerie-punk and neo-medievalism (Wendy Rule, Tori Amos, Faun, Omnia, Corvus Corax, Hu Dost, the WiccaMen, and so forth); and the symphonic metal subgenre I call “Viking Chick Kaboom” (Nightwish, Epica, Leaves’ Eyes, Where Angels Fall, the SLoT, and similar bands).
These days, certain “old-school Mage” artists – most notably Killing Joke, Patti Smith and Concrete Blonde – remain at least as influential as they once were, if not more so. And a crop of newer artists – especially Miyavi, Macklemore and Lewis, Lady Gaga, Canibus, Bat for Lashes, Lorde, Susheela Raman, SJ Tucker, Anathema, Archive, Sleepin Pillow and Florence + the Machine – have seen constant rotation during my work on Mage 20, and will probably continue to influence the line over the coming years.
(The magnificent mind-fuckery of Miyavi, perhaps my favorite artist of the new millennium, next to SJ Tucker.)
Wrapping up this interview (finally!), I’d like to urge everyone who reads my words – in any venue, and preferably all of them – to keep looking for miracles and new experiences. Watch for those “miracles just out of sight,” and never forget that you have the power to change your world, often in ways you might not expect until. In her song “Mandolin Holy Man,” SJ Tucker tells us “Sometimes you do good that you never see.” I’ve been fortunate enough to see a bit of what my work has done for the world at large. May all of you – Mage fans and otherwise – dare to change your world, and have the good fortune to someday see what your influence has done.