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Shut Up And Play The Hits

19 Jul

Shut Up And Play The Hits, the documentary on James Murphy’s retirement of LCD Soundsystem as a band, the accompanying grand finale concert in Madison Square Garden, and Murphy’s dealing with his decision to end his band, played as a one off event Wednesday, and my wife and I joined a theater full of Durham hipsters for the show. And just so we’re assigned the proper number of cool points by the cool point assigners, let it be known that we were, by far, the oldest fogies there. So before the movie started, we patted ourselves on the back for just how cool we really are, and generously gave the scene making kids props for their awesome taste in music. There is hope, after all, for the youngsters of the world.

As for the movie, I’ll start by saying you know you’ve put on a smoking concert when you leave the viewer feeling like there should have been more music. The title of this one was perfect, because while I didn’t necessarily want Murphy to shut up, I did leave wanting to see more music. I’ve read that a version is being put together where it’s 100% the nearly 4 hour, three part concert. That’s a show I’d like to see, albeit maybe in two parts. For this film, selected songs (well selected, for sure) from the show were interspersed with an interview with Murphy, as well as Murphy facing his post LCD life the day after the show.

The show footage was nothing short of a celebration. Murphy was apparently quite involved in the post production editing of the concert footage, and he definitely presented himself and his band in the best possible light. The cameras were placed well, giving us a sense of the scope of the crowd that jammed into MSG to see the show, but still showed what LCD is at heart, a super jamming party band that could show up to play your packed warehouse party and rock it out hard till the sun comes up. It also showed that while Murphy may be the mastermind behind it all, and certainly has the talent to do what he will going forward, this was a tight, tight band made up of an awesome core of musicians. They really seemed to have fun and really got off, in the best way, on simply playing the music. The crowd in the film was exactly what you would hope, 18,000 hardcore fans of something they are really, really into joining together to say thank you. You could argue there were a few too many self-congratulatory shots of sobbing fans at the close of the show, but there is no denying the devotion LCD’s fans showed on the night of the final show. In the end, there’s not a lot to complain about in the concert footage.

The rest of the film was hit or miss. As I mentioned, the concert footage would give way throughout the movie to either clips of Murphy being interviewed, or Murphy going about his business The Day After the final show. In the day after footage, the real star of the show was Murphy’s dog. The dog got more attention than Murphy, which seemingly confirmed Murphy’s hope that he could keep himself at a level of famous that would still allow him a normal life. Either that, or those scenes just showed that New Yorkers yawn at the sight of a guy walking his dog with a bunch of cameras following him.

The interview was conducted by culture commentator, rock writer, and current hipster Chuck Klosterman. Klosterman is about half a generation older than most LCD fans, so it’s debatable how much the hard core fans really got out of him being in the movie, but he was obviously there to bolster the cool factor, and even got second billing in the “cast” list after Murphy himself (what about the band?!). As it turns out, the “interview” was a staged recreation of a previous interview Klosterman did with Murphy. Apparently Murphy was happy with that interview and, for whatever reason, Klosterman agreed to recreate the interview for the movie. The “for whatever reason”, I imagine was money. And for Murphy it was a good way to control the message he wanted to get across about why he was ending LCD Soundsystem.

Klosterman is a well-regarded writer and his essays and writing are often perceptive and intelligent takes on pop culture. As an interviewer, though, he makes himself way too much of the show, not so much asking questions as spouting theories and expecting his subjects to explain to him why he’s right. If I’m going to read one of his books, that’s great, I’m reading him because I want to hear what he has to say. But when he’s interviewing someone, like he is here, I want to hear what the interview subject has to say, not why Klosterman thinks Michael Jordan has failed in life away from basketball or his theories on what bands are really remembered for. When Murphy did get a chance to speak, his reasons for disbanding were interesting. My wife and I often use the line “people are complicated”. The point being you can’t stick individuals in pre-conceived theories or boxes, like Klosterman wants to do. Murphy ends up having the confused jumble of thoughts that you would expect a guy to have when he is leaving something because he wants to, on his own terms, but also something that he loves dearly. He’s a guy that in the concert footage clearly has deep feelings for his band, but doesn’t let them speak a word in the documentary. He decides to end LCD because he doesn’t want to become “too famous” and wants to live a normal life on his own terms. But he produces and puts out a documentary concert film that focuses entirely on him.

I think my favorite part of Murphy’s commentary was when he talked about being pretentious. When I was young, pretentious people were any people who didn’t like what I liked. Now that I’m older, I barely even believe in people being pretentious, they’re just sincere people who like things because they like them. Murphy references this in reverse when he says that when he was younger, he’d read certain books or listen to certain bands because he thought it would make him seem cool. But, as he points out, trying to be cool led him to read a lot of really good books and listen to a lot of good music, etc, so it all worked to his favor. He’s interested in what it means to be a “rock star”, isn’t sure he wants everything that goes along with it, and wants to stay in control of as much of his happiness as he can.

The ultimate message in a documentary like this is naturally controlled, so who knows what is the “real” person or not, but taking things on face value, Murphy came across as sincerely conflicted, but ultimately comfortable, with ending LCD. Which seems like a perfectly reasonable state of mind when you’re ending a huge part of your life that you’re ready to move on from, but will always love. In the end, Murphy ended it because he could. It felt like he simply reached the eye opening (for him) conclusion that deciding to end something because you want to and you feel it will make you happier and healthier is all the reason you need. And if you can send it all off with a kick ass party at Madison Square Garden and record it for posterity, all the better.

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