The LOST Soundtrack: An Analysis
Music and Socio-Cultural Impact
The songs used to compose the LOST soundtrack are projected to viewers through the process of transmedia. Culturally, the one element that unites nearly all of the songs of the LOST soundtrack is that they are all components that exist within popular culture. Popular culture has existed in society since the birth of media, and regardless of social differences—everyone is exposed. Thus, cultural materials are absorbed into the every day lives of listeners and viewers.
Moreover, identifying music within the narrative and understanding its place in popular culture is not enough for viewers to become completely unified in their comprehension of what the songs meaning actually suggests about the narrative. Tia DeNora suggests that music and visual context function hand in hand to convey social meaning: “Music’s structuring properties were understood as actualized in and through the practices of musical use, through the ways music was used and referred to by actors during their ongoing attempts to produce their social situation and themselves as selves” (6). Therefore, the emotive performance conveyed by the actor or actress not only drives the narrative, it forces the viewer to understand, empathize, and be connected with what is actually happening on the screen.
Throughout the narrative, songs and lyrics are visually conveyed through characters and their actions. Viewers identify with the characters by correlating visual representations and the use of song to their knowledge of how and where the music (song or performer) exists in pop culture. Jack Shepard (Matthew Fox) portrays this in the Season 3 finale3, where instead of seeing Jack in a flashback, the viewers see Jack in the series’ first flashforward after leaving the Island. During the flashforward scenes the viewers see Jack succumb to a dark path of self-destruction as he develops a bad addiction to alcohol and painkillers.
In one scene, Jack drives up to a funeral parlor while Nirvana’s “Scentless Apprentice” plays out of his car stereo. This flashforward mirrors Jack’s life to Kurt Cobain’s life with allusions to suicide and depression—enacted when Jack stands on the edge of a bridge about to jump to his death. His entire life falls apart when he loses his marriage, medical license, and friends. Jack’s physical appearance during this flashforward is the total opposite from his professional suit and tie wearing, clean cut aesthetic. Instead, he wears a baggy flannel shirt and dirty jeans. His beard is gnarly and long, and his eyes are dark and swollen. Jack visually represents the Kurt Cobain that people generally identify with drug addiction and suicide.
Furthermore, Jack’s visual representation as well as the use of Nirvana’s song, “Scentless Apprentice” do more than merely make a connection between narrative and popular culture—it compels viewers to watch and listen, and then re-listen in order to find a deeper meaning. In understanding significant emotions and human actions through visual imagery and popular icons, viewers become unified on a greater level regardless of their social differences.
Similarly, Simon Firth suggests, “The question we should be asking is not what does popular music reveal about ‘the people’ but how does it construct them” (qtd. in DeNora 5). For the viewer, the initial reading of this scene is correlating Nirvana’s grunge sound to events that are actually taking place in the narrative. However, by re-listening and re-watching viewers find deeper meaning by remembering a pivotal time in history that enables them to recall where they were and the felt emotions that were shared culturally.
Non-Western Music in LOST
LOST is recognized as one of the first television series that includes a wide variety of international characters—most being central characters within the series. Jonathan Gray notes: “It’s regular characters included an Iraqi, an Australian, an Englishman, a Nigerian, two Koreans, a Frenchwoman, and a Scot…It is thus, to date, US primetime television’s most international show” (223).
However, despite the array of international characters, the LOST soundtrack lacks songs from non-western cultures or performers. International artists are limited throughout LOST’s series, consisting of only a few commercially known international songs: “Eko Lagos” by Ferni Kuti (“The Cost of Living,” 3.5), “The Celtic Song” by Glen Daly (“Catch 22,” 3.17), “Jazzamor” by Wann ist es Liebe (“The Economist,” 4.3). Other international song appearances include compositions by classical composers.4
First and foremost, it is important to discuss how viewers understand visually represented images of non-western cultures within the narrative. Continuing with Gray, he argues, “European and US attempts to make sense of the rest of the world have long been characterized by a process of Othering. An Other is a psychological foil created as a repository for characteristics, ideas and urges that one wishes to disown, and hence Others serve as projections of that which we do not want to be” (223).
Therefore, the ways in which viewers understand different cultures is through a process of labeling such as inferior or different with adherence to negative connotations. However, with the limited use of international songs within the soundtrack of LOST, perhaps viewers aren’t obtaining an accurate read on other cultures. Instead, there may be a lack of material that is needed to portray traditions of non-western cultures. Jeremy Wallach refers to Greg Urban in describing non-western cultural forms:
“Urban characterizes contemporary mass-mediated societies as operating under a ‘metaculture of modernity’ in which cultural forms (such as popular songs) are both disseminated as mass-produced artifacts (such as music recordings) and replicated through the creation of similar yet novel forms… He argues that unlike societies that operate under a ‘metaculture of tradition,’ which value the precise reproduction of expressive forms (such as the recitations of myths), contemporary complex societies emphasize innovative elements when producing cultural objects, and the successful circulation of culture in such societies depends on these innovations and on how they are interpreted by audiences (4).
Therefore, by limiting the use of non-western songs within the LOST soundtrack, viewers are unable to completely understand specific cultural forms intended for specific characters. Assuming the producers intended to limit cultural references may be for the betterment of the viewer, and their personal relationships in identifying with the characters.
Furthermore, instead of music, visual representations are often used in LOST for viewers to better understand cultural references and non-western traditions. Visual representation frequently occur in Jin and Sun episodes; during a flashback sequence in “Ji Yeon” (4.7), Jin buys a large stuffed Panda as a gift of congratulations for a Chinese ambassador in attempts to secure future business relations between Paik Industries and the client. However, even in western cultures the image of the Panda bear is commonly associated with good luck—linked to Chinese culture.
Therefore, the selection of the Panda bear seems like an obvious choice for a gift, an object that has meaning cross culturally. Moreover, the choice between blue and pink ribbon that Jin has selected is better understood in relation to American culture as opposed to Korean or Chinese. This is just one way that producers aim to connect the viewer to the character through visual references—which may not always be culturally accurate. Unfortunately, the lack of non-western music, and the westernized representation of cultural images may misguide viewer’s perceptions (Lavery and Porter, 170).
Soundtrack Music and Active Viewership
The formula for which commercial music exists and recurs within the LOST soundtrack inherently makes all LOST viewers better viewers. However, the initial understanding as to why LOST’s producers selected specific songs, as well as the analytical process viewers undergo to better understand the significance behind the music is not the key to discover deeper meaning. Allan Moore argues that we are all listeners on a fundamental level: “My emphasis on the listener I regard as central. We are not all performers, writers, producers, critics or followers of any of the other activities supported [by music], but we are all listeners’” (qtd. in Kennett 200). Ultimately, listening is how viewers can track songs within the narrative—which then triggers discussion amongst viewers.
Continually, in tracking the music within LOST’s narrative, there are many recurring songs and performers throughout multiple episodes to cite—one example being “Make Your Own Kind of Music,”5 by “Mama” Cass Elliot. The record player, which plays the song is the opening shot for the Season 2 premier and is most commonly linked to Desmond Hume (Henry Ian Cusick). In “Flashes Before Your Eyes” (3.8), Desmond experiences a series of flashes after he turns the fail-safe key in the hatch. The flashes are essentially the act of Desmond’s mind jumping back and forth in time from 2004 to 1996—which he thinks is the present time.
While in 1996 Desmond begins to have quick flashes of the future, however, he has no recollection of who the people are or what the flashes mean. The flashes happen whenever Desmond encounters someone or something that is a constant in both times. In a pub scene (1996), “Make Your Own Kind of Music” begins to play on the jukebox and he recognizes the song immediately. The song is significant because he remembers it—which inevitably leads him to believe he can change the past and stay with Penny forever. In understanding the link between the song and Desmond’s flashes, Harry Witchel explains the relationship between music and memory:
Music differs from other sounds such as speech because music taps into powerful memories even the memories that have not been memorized, the learning was subconscious and the sounds have changed from the original. Not just with songs like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, which was contrived to be unforgettable, but even when adolescents do not know the words to their favorite song, music can be a hook for memories because the territorial memory of music is based on recognition, not recall. (182)
LOST viewers also experience the ways in which music affects memory simply by the viewers’ ability to recognize recurring songs throughout the series. When one song or one performer plays twice or more, the viewer automatically tries to find any and all connections between the differing moments when the song played—simply because in all complex forms of literature recurring elements generally bear significant meaning—thus, lending to a more active mode of viewing.
Fictional Music and Fandom Culture
Another aspect connected to the music within the LOST universe is the enormous fan culture that developed in response to the two fictional bands in LOST—DriveShaft, and Geronimo Jackson. Evidently, much of the LOST series includes commercial songs that the viewer hears in a diegetic manner. However, there are original songs that are performed live by DriveShaft, which lends to the evolution of a fan base for the band: “Fans soon created fake DriveShaft websites and began to develop their own merchandise. ‘You All Everybody’ and ‘Saved’ can be downloaded from the DriveShaft MySpace site” (Porter and Lavery 117).
The open accessibility to songs and artists within online communities lends to active participation and consumption among viewers, which correlates directly to Henry Jenkins reference to ‘collective intelligence’—“The ability of virtual communities to leverage the combined expertise of their members. What we cannot know or do on our own, we may now be able to do collectively” (27).
Furthermore, DriveShaft has generated a real world fan culture in which viewers actively engage with one another, and also communicate their opinions and theories on the music in relation to the narrative. Essentially, the fan culture dedicated to DriveShaft has enabled the band to evolve from fictional to real—as the song “You All Everybody” is available and can be downloaded onto Rock Band and Rock Band 2 (“You All Everybody”).
Geronimo Jackson, the second of the two fictional bands in the LOST series generated a fan culture after they were first referenced in “Man of Science, Man of Faith” (2.1). Geronimo Jackson is important to LOST’s narrative because they represent a generation and time period that is significant in understanding the greater picture. The band is visually represented in multiple episodes—firstly in: “Man of Science, Man of Faith” (2.1), all the way through to the end of the LOST series—and generates what Jason Mittell names ‘forensic fandom.’
Even though some of the LOST characters within the shows narrative knew and liked Geronimo Jackson, there was speculation amongst viewers as to whether or not the band was real or fictional. In podcasts, producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse suggest that the band actually existed: “They’re a band not a lot of people have heard about. They just pressed one very obscure album in the mid to late ‘70’s” (“Geronimo Jackson”). Even the ABC TV store website sells Geronimo Jackson merchandise and provides a brief history of the bands origins and their appearance at Woodstock in 1972. However, the speculations were put to rest when Edward Kitsis (a writer on the show) confirmed in an article for Wired magazine that the band was completely fictional (“Geronimo Jackson”).
Moreover, in knowing that Geronimo Jackson is a fictional band, viewers feel the need to understand the bands purpose within the narrative, which fuels the act of ‘forensic fandom.’ Essentially, this type of fandom is the compulsive act of reviewing each episode where Geronimo Jackson is referenced, and taking clues found in the images or dialog and then piece them all together to find total meaning. Many theories have been made about Geronimo Jackson in online forums and in wikis—insofar as claiming familiar LOST characters to be specific band members that appear on the album cover, such as Horace Goodspeed and Walt (“Geronimo Jackson”).
In the end, viewers want to feel connected to not only the characters within LOST’s narrative, but also to each other. Viewers want to share gained perspective with one another—develop new theories, and understand new possibilities. In “Exodus, Part 2” (1.24) Michael, Jin, Sawyer, and Walt leave the Island aboard the raft. As they look back towards the Island, Sawyer sings a few lyrics from Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song.” Michael asks Sawyer if he is singing Bob Marley, to which he replies “no”—then shortly asks Michael if he likes Bob Marley. Michael replies, “Man, who doesn’t like Bob Marley?” This commonly shared love for Bob Marley creates unity between characters, but on a broader level it creates unity between viewers. The connections we share with one another, and the ability to communicate those connections is paramount for growth. LOST’s soundtrack keeps viewers connected.
In the end, we as a culture understand music in many different ways—however, the most important aspect in understanding the composition of a soundtrack in narratives is to understand how to find meaning in it. The comprehension of how and why music has cultural impact, and how we as viewers can become better people because of it is what bears significance. The LOST soundtrack includes a variety of different musical genres, and performers from different generations and cultures—and in listening carefully, viewers are exposing themselves to art history. Viewers learn from music and lyrics: of different people, different ideologies, and different cultures. Music is paramount, and a significant component within our social fabric. So go ahead, open your ears and tune in.
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