Written By Phillip Mottaz
Dedicated to those songs that I can't stop playing, humming, or thinking about; the 4+ minutes you fall head-over-heels in love with. Past instances have included AC/DC's "Rock 'n' Roll Damnation," Beyonce's "Single Ladies," and Outkast's "Dracula's Wedding."
Here are some dick-headish things to think about the soundtrack of Once that you may already agree with, but you won't allow yourself to articulate:
1) Most of these songs -- the ones where Glen Hansard does the lead singing at least -- sound the same. As far as full album production goes, if they hadn't mixed in different vocalists at strategically chosen points, the disc would have sounded like one guitar strum over a warble after the next. The Glen songs are obviously all good, but they're not good by virtue of variety.
2) I guarantee anyone who gets offended by that last fact only heard the soundtrack after seeing the charming film of the same title, and therefore have transposed the movie's charms onto the movie itself. This is all fine. It's normal. It's difficult to compartmentalize why we like something artistic from why we like the artist him or herself.
3) Jon Stewart pulling Glen and Marketa Irglova back onstage during the Oscars was a nice thing to do for those two people, but it was a jerk-ass thing to not do for the other less-adorable Oscar winners before them who didn't get to speak. Yeah, that was nice for her, but somewhere one of the winners for Best Achievement in Sound is thinking "What did I do to be so ignored?" And the answer is, "This is Hollywood, and you're a 50+ year old man, Kirk Francis."
4) I'm kind of glad that Glen and Marketa didn't end up together in real life. After watching the special features of the album I received, they revealed after the movie that there really was true love between them, and this made everyone feel great. Everyone except for me. It's not because I don't want true love to exist, and not because I want people to never find happiness or any of that dramatic stuff, I just want the illusion of the movie to be realistic. See? That hardly seems crazy at all, right? I just want my disposable fiction world to be closer to reality.
The movie Once is not about a couple falling in love. If it were, they would end up together at the end. It's really about a man and a woman creating music together and developing a friendship through that music. By creating beautiful art together, they somehow move beyond mere mortal feelings of desire and love and all that garbage and ascend to a higher level of existence, one occupied only by music. Music says what words fail to explain, and because I want to believe in that -- a very real kind of magic -- I'm happy that these two people ended up apart in real life. It validates the movie's hypothesis. Tons of people get married every minute. A movie with a message like Once comes along very rarely.
5) I love "Into The Mystic" as powerfully as a human man can love a noise. This might be despite all my earlier complaints, or maybe it's because of them. Regardless, "Mystic" stands above the pack.
It doesn't stand out only because it's the one non-movie song on the disc, but that certainly helps matters. As I stated earlier, all the other Hansard sung songs sound sort of familiar and repetitive by the 15th listen, so one is forced to search for something new among the wreckage. A cover of Van Morrison, "Into The Mysic" carries none of the scenic baggage of its peers. I cannot listen to "Falling Slowly" without picturing that empty piano store from the film (see fact #2), but there's no pre-destined image in my head for "Mystic", even if it is a cover song. If the previous 13 songs provide movie instant recall, then "Mystic" is like the iTunes visualizer. Being liberated from the movie ever so slightly, it allows itself to represent everything the movie really stood for (see fact #4). This is the song we've been waiting for and no mere movie can capture it.
It's more than a tacked on bonus track. "Into The Mystic" feels like a finale, which is a big plus in the album's column since it comes at the end. It's one last sing along with the people we've grown to know (over the course of the movie or the album) doing what they do best. And who the hell cares if they are together or not? Right now, at the very moment of them recording that song, everyone sounds their best and we're the better for it. It deceptively starts like all the other songs (see fact #1), tricking us into believing it might be another guitar-only affair. But a closer inspection reveals finely chosen traces of bass and electric guitar perking up the background, dressing things up a little more for this final curtain.
The crown jewel of the song is the vocal harmonies, and no, that doesn't make me a liar. These two were skilled when apart, but they are more powerful than twenty lions together, and the harmonies and chorus prove this again and again. The unabashedly cheery gibberish section -- something I've always loved from bands, despite what Strong-Bad says about "not having real lyrics" -- brings everything to the mountain top. It feels like it should be played at the end of the day, but I cannot help playing at the beginning. We are among friends. We may not all agree, we may not be together forever, but these feelings are true and they're perfect.
NOTE: the attached performance is good, but the production on the album cut is truly gorgeous. I included the one I did because it has electric guitar and bass, just as I mentioned earlier, but this version has a pretty violin part that should not be missed. There's weird (read "awkward") laughter when they pull a woman who kind of looks like Loretta Lynn on stage to sing along, but it's still pretty great.