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America's Rockingest Home Videos

Why settle for MTV when you can make your own?

By Sara Bir

The other day, I saw one of the best videos ever. It's a video for the Ween song "The Mollusk," animated entirely with Lego bricks and those inanely smiling yellow-headed Lego figurines. The video follows the narrative of the song, an exchange between a man and a young lad who meet while strolling the shore: "Hey little boy, whatcha got there? / Kind sir, it's a mollusk I found / Did you find it on the sandy ground? / Does it emulate the ocean's sound?"

Like most Ween songs, "The Mollusk" is a befuddling mix of tongue-in-cheek snickering and utter sincerity, a fantasy rock ballad that would easily fit into a children's movie (and, unlike most Ween songs, it is profanity-free). In the video, Lego crabs scuttle along as Lego waves break against a Lego beach, and the little boy holds a Lego stand-in for the song's namesake mollusk.

You probably won't even see this video on a future Ween DVD, because it's an amateur video made by Ween fan Greg Perry, who has a lot of Legos and perhaps a little too much extra time. You can find the video linked to the official Ween website, though I found out about it through word of mouth. The video, while engaging, creative and humorous, plainly looks like someone made it at home, and therein lies its charm. For those of us raised on bloated videos of the late '80s and early '90s--fully stocked with explosions, helicopters and supermodels--homemade videos are a throwback to simpler times, an age when production values were as low as our expectations. In those days, to be deemed worth watching, all a music video need do was exist; they were still new and exotic.

Music videos are now much more secondary to a band getting exposure, though perhaps I'm saying this because, when I was a teenager, most of the albums I purchased initially snagged my attention via airtime on MTV. But with podcasts, file-sharing and Internet radio stations, it's easier for savvy fans nearly everywhere to sniff out new music these days, and videos served up with a hefty budget aren't as high on the list of priorities at big record companies.

Meanwhile, budding filmmakers, armed with inexpensive digital cameras and lots of bandwidth, have taken matters into their own hands. The lack of pressure liberates these DIY filmmakers to visualize the song as they see fit. Often, the result is not only original and entertaining, but surprisingly touching. That's the case with the fan video for Grandaddy's "Jed's Other Poem (Beautiful Ground)," which features the song's lyrics dancing in glowing green caps across the dreary slate-black screen of an ancient Apple II. That's it--words, an obsolete computer. The effect is eerie, perfectly suited for a song that speaks of isolation and hopelessness.

The latter video can be found on YouTube.com, one of a number of websites that provide amateur filmmakers with a platform to share their work. Another such site is MedicineFilms.com, where you will find Mitch Taylor's "Good Morning!" a video for a Richard Simmons song. If you thought David Letterman's favorite bundle of satin gym shorts didn't make albums, you were sadly mistaken. Taylor animates "Good Morning!" by simply zooming in and out of the album cover, which offers motion and energy to spare, thanks to Simmons' dynamic pose. And once you hear him sing, you'll understand why he moved on to Deal-a-Meal.

Thank God for thankless desk jobs--otherwise, when would people watch home movies on the Internet? Despite the plethora of possibilities the Internet provides, I still think it's mainly a handy tool for killing boredom and/or procrastinating. But so is television. And while TV offers only thousands of ways to waste time, the Internet offers millions. Who knows what untold video treasures are out there, waiting to be posted and discovered?

Visit Sara Bir's blog to find links to the videos mentioned above, plus a few more.

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From the February 15-21, 2006 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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