Image credit: Phonogram: The Singles Club Issue #4: Konichiwa Bitches
If you’re reading this article, then there is a pretty damn good chance that you are a Phonomancer. You also probably have no idea what I’m talking about, but you will soon. Just keep reading. If you do know, great! Come along for the ride anyways.
Pick a song. It can be any song, but it can’t be just any song. It has to mean something to you, and you have to mean something to it. Vinyl may or may not (it totally does) work best for this exercise, so maybe grab one of your favorite records that you haven’t listened to in awhile. Or maybe grab one you can’t stop listening to. There’s also a good chance, since you are reading this on a computer or mobile device, that you’re not near your turntable at the moment. That’s ok, this should still work, just make sure you have as few distractions from the music as possible.
Play the song. Drop the needle, tap your screen, click your mouse, squeeze the button on your headphone cord, whatever it takes. Start the tunes. Close your eyes. Focus hard, or let loose. Let it wash over, or rush through you. Listen like it’s the only thing in the world, until it really is.
This next part is the most important. Do whatever the hell you want! Keep dancing on your own! Cry a literal river! Live your life for the stars that shine! Have a secret meeting in the basement of your brain! Get lost in the supermarket! Make love and listen to Death From Above! Do the things that YOU do, like only YOU do them, to the music that YOU love, in the way that YOU love it. Together, we can do it all, just don’t let the music stop.
Now, do you feel it? Magic.
The world of Phonogram, an Image comics series written by Kieron Gillen, drawn by Jamie McKelvie, and colored by Matt Wilson, is one where music is magic. You know, real spells, hexes, covens and stuff. Phonomancers are practicing magicians, but even though they curse and glamour and have out of body experiences, they’re very much real people, and they live in the same world as us (well, at least they listen to the same music as we do). The magic just serves to illustrate the the ways that we all use music to guide ourselves through our lives and influence each other every day.
The difference between us and them is that, when Penny dances, she sends the room into a glamorous euphoria and glows like a disco ball. When Marc or David Kohl are haunted by romantic misfires, the specter of their ex actually appears before their eyes. When Lloyd holes up in his room to design his latest plan to take the music world by storm, he does so in a ritual surrounded by glowing magical symbols. When Emily Aster cuts away half of her personality in a Faustian deal to improve her image and gain power, she is haunted by the other half every time she looks in a mirror. When Laura speaks in quotes from “bad” Long Blondes records, well, she speaks in quotes from “bad” Long Blondes records, but because it’s a comic, the song title pops up in a convenient little box in the panel. I could go on, but I’ll let you discover the rest of magic for yourself.
There are three series of Phonogram currently in existence. The first, “Rue Brittania”, follows David Kohl’s investigation into the disappearance of the goddess of Brit Pop, Brittania, who he first worshipped when he got started as a Phonomancer. Second, “The Singles Club”, is a series of seven issues, each from the perspective of a different character during the same night. It’s Seth Bingo’s club night and there are three rules: 1.No male vocalists. 2. If you have legs, you must dance. 3. No magic. There is an issue in this one that takes place almost entirely behind a DJ booth, and I love it so hard. Third, “The Immaterial Girl” chronicles the consequences of the aforementioned pact made by a young Emily Aster, when the half of herself she traded for image and power comes back to make its peace.
The first two are available as trade paperbacks, and the third is half way through its run on comic stands right now. You should read them. I would recommend starting with “The Singles Club”, because it’s more immediate, easier to follow (despite the interlocking timelines), and in full color. I started with “Rue Brittania”, though, and I turned out OK, so those of you who need to follow in chronological order, go for it. Or, maybe just grab the first “Immaterial Girl” issue off your favorite comic retailer of choice, physical or digital. What I’m trying to say is that you can start anywhere, as each story is meant to stand on its own.
I have tried to keep this introduction mostly spoiler free, but forgive me just this minor one. There is a moment of cross-generation musical understanding between Lloyd and David Kohl towards the end of “The Singles Club”, that speaks to what I feel Phonogram means to me. Kohl tells Lloyd about one of his favorite rising acts, Los Campesinos!, “They’re going to be bi... Actually scratch that. They're never going to be BIG big. But they're going to be big to some people.” Los Campesinos! are big to me, and they will always be big to me, but there was a time when that band’s music meant EVERYTHING to me. It will never be like it was back then (oh… college), but that’s what magic is for. It freezes these moments in our memory kingdom and allows us to revisit them whenever we need that magic back.
What are the bands, albums, or songs that mean everything to you? How has that changed? How has it stayed the same? Which band was your first? Are you embarrassed to admit that it was Good Charlotte (because I might be)? Which albums stand your test of time? Which ones don’t (totally Good Charlotte, unless you still love them, in which case what the hell do I know)? And most of all, why? Why do we place so much importance in the words, visions and melodies of total strangers? Why does music affect us so? What makes it so magical?
These are questions that Phonogram has no intention of answering, because only you, Phonomancer, can answer them for yourself.