I’d like to take a moment to share an online musical group that I’ve become quite fond of over the last several of months: Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox (or PMJ, for short)
While Postmodern Jukebox superficially has very little indeed to do with writing -except perhaps as a fantastic soundtrack for a dieselpunk novel- they could be considered a lesson in interpretation and revision. I’ll admit that I’m not a big fan of rap or hip hop. I find nothing wrong with those styles of music, they just don’t speak to me like other kinds do. However, PMJ can take a song from those styles and convert it into something quite enjoyable. And different.
Sometimes, they’re quite cheeky and the music seems to be made more for the irony of it than as a re-interpretation but that is a rare event. It takes an extreme amount of skill and innovation to take one person’s creativity and transform it in such a fundamental way that it might become something altogether different. It takes vision and bravery and I can respect that.
Pablo Picasso once said “every act of creation is first an act of destruction”. Even if we are not literally deconstructing art like Postmodern Jukebox does, reducing someone else’s song to its raw materials and the re-crafting a new form in our own image, we still do so in a multitude of other ways. Writers are in a constant state of revising and recreating: our own works, our stories, our characters, the expectations of our genre and of the readership, even ourselves. Literature is both transformative of its readers and of its environment and is itself always transforming, mutating to new forms as it is manipulated and re-envisioned by the writer.
Postmodern Jukebox reminds me of the best aspects of the acts of adaptation and recreation. These are not covers; merely copies of something that already exists. They entertain yes, but also inspire you, challenge you to rethink something you might already think was good enough, encourage you to imagine taking a thing and viewing it in a different way or expressing it in a different voice. There is no one way to create, express, emote, discuss or believe. A thing does not have only one way to view it or one answer to it. In writing, this is integral to finding the best way to form your narrative. It might not be traditional, it might be quirky or weird, or go against all tradition or even offend, but its not wrong. Ever. So it is with all art.