If you’re not a borderlands fan — well, first, I’m baffled. I dislike first person shooters, and even I can’t get over how fantastic this I.P. is — but also, you probably missed this video, and you need to see it for my gushing to make sense.
It’s a perfect song for, really, any of the Borderlands games because that is a world of Byronic Heroes, Antiheroes, and, uh, Byronic Antiheroes. But what really had me excited was that, when I first heard this song, Zach told me that it had been written specifically for the game. That made visceral sense to me, and I didn’t question it. It fits Borderlands so perfectly that I just nodded and said, “that makes a lot of sense.” After all, a piece composed for Civilization IV won a Grammy, way back in the day.
A quick fact checking round before I started writing this revealed that the song was actually written in 2009. I was disappointed. Deeply. It’s still a great match for Borderlands, but there is always something magical to me about songs that are about stories, and the song was a lot more special to me when I thought it was in some tangential way about the rag-tag band of four fighting psychos to stop Handsome Jack.
I don’t think stories have enough song in then. And I don’t think songs have enough story in them. My favorite moments from both are when they combine. Say anything else you want about the Hobbit movies, this scene was brilliant and enchanting:
Songs about stories in stories are powerful world building devices, but they’re also a welcome break from songs about love, partying, fighting, how tough someone is, or songs that are written with a sort of beautiful and poetic vagueness that lets them be about anything at all. (I cut a music video a long time ago that made Owl City’s Fireflies about 9/11.) One of the reasons I adore Celtic and folk music is that they very often tell stories, and even if those stories are about love, partying, how tough someone is, or they’re odes to poetic vagueness, the presence of a narrative deepens the song and, frankly, the whole genre in a way that I don’t see anyone really talking about.
It’s surprising, too. Narratives are the structures within which we build society, politics, culture–everything. Without narrative, we’re automatons. I suspect that what prevents a rich culture of songs about stories, or songs that tell stories–I like both about equally–is a combination of copyright law (tributes aren’t parody and will likely never make money) and a fairly myopic opinion from the oligarchy that controls hypermainstream music publishing about the role of music (read: to make oligarchs wealthier) and what music actually is.
This touches into why I was excited when I thought that This Ain’t No Place for a Hero was written for Borderlands 2 specifically, and why I was disappointed to learn it wasn’t. I want more songs about stories, and more songs in stories that tell stories. I love them. Every media I bump into that has this always burns itself into my mind and carts away a little bit of my love. Remember the end of Portal?
My hope is that the power of story songs as world building and character building elements will cement into the minds of video game designers that song writers and musicians should be on the list of contractors they need to finish their game.