Chattanooga Now Phillips: Why Frankenstein's creature would like jam music

Chattanooga Now Phillips: Why Frankenstein's creature would like jam music

April 20th, 2012 by Casey Phillips in Chattnow Music

In her 1818 novel "Frankenstein: Or the Modern Prometheus," Gothic author Mary Shelley spins a terrifying tale about a creature created in a horrific experiment combining body parts harvested off corpses.

"Big deal, who cares?" you might be asking. "I've seen a movie or two. I know my monsters."

Indeed, actors ranging from Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi to Robert De Niro have portrayed Victor Frankenstein's monster as being a pretty awful guy worthy of a pitchfork sticking or two.

But you see, Shelley's version isn't so one-sided.

Yes, she describes the creature as pretty horrible to look at -- all barely covered-over organs and muscle -- but he's also curious, even philosophical, about his place in the universe.

He eventually manifests a pretty scary degree of intelligence, teaching himself to read and to speak, and an animal cunning tempered by innate kindness. He doesn't even realize he's a monster until attacked by humans.

Of course, the novel ends with him hunting down his creator and eventually burning himself alive, but that's beside the point. Stick with me on the whole "he's just misunderstood" idea.

When I read "Frankenstein" in college, I found myself sympathizing with the creature. If nothing else, Shelley's novel taught me to give anything a chance, even oddball combinations that seem, on the surface at least, to be destined to fail.

That attitude is an invaluable one in the post-label era, when it's the rare band that is satisfied with sticking to a single musical genre.

Without the need to fit neatly in a stylistic category for marketing purposes, bands have been freer than ever to sprawl across genre lines to create new and exciting hybrid genres.

The days of being just a pop band or funk band are long gone. Now, we have exciting blends such as ska punk, jam, acid jazz and any number of other stylistic fusions of elements from unlikely genres.

Just as I love the idea of Frankenstein's monster or animal hybrids such as the wholphin (whale/dolphin) and zorse (zebra/horse), I find myself drawn to bands who adventure beyond the cookie-cutter norm.

If you share my sympathy for these musical devils, Track 29, 1400 Market St., is hosting a couple of excellent adventurous artists this week:

Sunday, 8 p.m. -- Punch Brothers employs instrumentation familiar to bluegrass fans but then hops the fence to run wild. The group's technically challenging, progressive acoustic songs defy classification but dip into everything from psychedelic pop to classical. Tickets are $17 in advance, $19 at the door.

Thursday, 9 p.m. -- Colorado jam artist Leftover Salmon has roots in bluegrass music but dabbles in a number of genres, from calypso and zydeco to rock and funk, among others. Tickets are $25 in advance, $27 at the door.

You see? Not all monsters are as scary as they seem. Stay tuned for next week, when I'll explain how "Dracula" justifies my dislike of Justin Bieber. (Kidding.)