Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Unofficial Jon Chang Reading List

I don’t know if the United Duchy of Geekdom has ever thought of naming an official ambassador to the outer states, but if it does, Jon Chang has got to be in the running. The Discordance Axis/GridLink vocalist has done more than just about any other underground figure to scour through the best of comic books, science fiction, role playing games and Japanese cartoonery and present them to the target audience.
His exhaustive liner notes on the Discordance Axis album not only gave an insight into his lyrical and conceptual influences but name dropped some of the 20th Century’s more interesting thinkers.
Join me on a tour of the fractured mediascape that has inspired some of Chang’s most insightful art.

Philip K. Dick inspired many of Discordance Axis’ songs, and Chang swiped the title for Jouhou’s “Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said” from the PKD novel of the same name. The congenitally weird science fiction scribe’s trippy 1974 novel follows television star Jason Taverner as he wakes up one morning to find the world doesn’t know who he is. As Taverner tries to get a grip on his altered reality, we learn life as he knows it is all the delusion of one drugged out woman. Whoa.

Frank Miller’s (300, Sin City) gritty four issue miniseries, The Dark Knight Returns, along with Watchmen, grimed up comics in the 1980s, introducing complex characters and probing the twisted psyche of not only the villains but the supposed heroes. In this reinterpretation of Batman, Miller revisits an aging, bitter, quasi-retired Bruce Wayne as he watches Gotham circle the toilet of gang violence. Jouhou’s title track was inspired by the fate of Harvey Dent/Twoface, who has spent the last decade getting a thorough psychological going over on Wayne’s dime only to relapse back into crime.

Chang has some great taste but even he will admit to enjoying the occasional clunker. Case in point, 1989’s Allen Smithee-directed fromage fest Gunhed. The low budget singularity-inspired Terminator rip off live action mech film referenced in Ulterior’s “Wheels Within Wheels” follows a bunch of tech scavengers as they run up against a severely mean spirited computer that has decided humanity is no longer necessary. Though it inspired a decent song, the film’s dialogue and special effects, in Chang’s own words, will make you “squirm.”

Masamune Shirow is an icon among devotees of truly insightful science fiction manga and anime. Chang has also repeatedly cited the The Ghost in the Shell author as an influence on songs such as “Dominion” and Appleseed,” both named after and inspired by his work. In between white knuckled action scenes, Shirow also manages to wedge weighty thoughts about the interactions between humans and the technology we think we understand and control. Dominion is set in a world where toxins have poisoned the environment beyond repair while Appleseed grapples with the rights of artificial organisms within human society.

And we simply can’t overlook that Chang’s latest project takes its name from limey cyberpunk Neal Asher’s debut 2001 novel Grindlinked. Chang’s staying mum on Amber Gray’s lyrical themes until the plastic platter is actually in our hot little hands hopefully this spring, but the novel deals with a government agent who slowly loses touch with his own identity after being linked far too long with an artificial intelligence. Fertile ground for Mr. Chang, indeed.

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