Your Band Should Be A Kung Fu Movie

By Ricky Armellino of This Or The Apocalypse
thisortheapocalypseband.com

You know, I thought I understood Kung Fu movies for the most part. They’re a martial arts equivalent of pornography, right? A little bit of asinine set up here, some action there, a couple of unbelievable plot developments solely there to catalyst more “incidents” and a cast of allegorical characters with plenty of overt racial stereotyping. Seems easy enough.

Wrong.

Recently, I spent three straight weeks out of this month watching these flicks every morning: I shamed myself and I dishonored the Wu Tang Clan. I could have skipped countless hours of lesser entertainment over the past few years spent lethargically shuffling through the Netflix Instant catalogue with my roommate. Kung Fu movies have everything anyone young and ambitious should be shoving in their head before they start storming the scene. They’re full of camp, they’re fun, teach discipline, have plenty of people getting back handed, show us how to live with a code, stay socially conscientious of current events, encourage the respect of women, and accurately depict true strife and sacrifice. During an era where James Bond was out showing us how privileged, white, imperialistic British dudes got laid to their hearts content while saving the day with expensive toys, Kung Fu movies were celebrating the little guys who needed their hands and little else. They had no need for the sexy ladies nor the fame, they simply needed to crush all oppressing forces that stood between themselves and true freedom. Bad ass, man.

If you don’t love a good underdog story, why start a band in the first place? Pay the rent? Get real. I decided to break down the structure of your standard Kung Fu movie, take some of the morals out in chronological order, and throw some guitars into the mix. Let’s see the results.

1. You need a cast of heroes worth believing in.

Kung Fu characters translate pretty well to starving artist types: An immigrant working minimum wage to send money back to his or her family overseas, an affluent yet friendly gambler in debt to the mob, a young veteran from the Vietnam war, a pair of siblings struggling to keep their parents’ diner in business. We want to watch some idealistic nobodies with a cause and a compulsion to violently hurl their talents at the world. We celebrate the young at heart because they remind us of our own personal dreams, not because they go where the money is.

2. You need a threat worth railing against.

Here’s the thing: Heroes simply wouldn’t fight if there weren’t an enemy. They’d stay home and contently help their parents around the house. They’d get old with a smile on their face. The threat is crucial. It’s what sends us all out of our comfort zone: the threat of poverty, the threat of being a failure, the threat of unexpected medical bills. Well, our band isn’t writing songs about the rising costs of car insurance, though. We need an all-purpose, ambiguously nationless enemy in our sights, loaded with an endless hoard of misguided foot soldiers and a multi-level organization. We need unchecked corporate greed. We need the politically active, oil tycoon Koch brothers.

3. You need to know what defeat feels like.

The first concert is coming up quick and our heroes are combining their self-taught mastery into a concoction of whatever genre it is that will make you enjoy reading this article more. They’ve got a fire in their heart and they’re going to put their ankles into it. This is the moment they’ve been waiting for their whole life, right? Nope. They get their ass kicked in a humiliating display: Kids play four-square outside the venue during their set; the trust fund kids with a new management deal, choreographed spin moves, and 15 thousand dollars of gear they can’t play lip sync along with tracks running from their drummer’s iPhone 5. The metal boy-band on stage confusedly sings lyrics about girls being whores and then tells their audiences to respect one another in between songs while the kids go wild. Our heroes look on at their pathetic merch display as every show goer walks out the door with a t-shirt featuring “authentic hardcore” artwork from the other act. They have been crushed. On top of that, our young Vietnam vet announces he can’t “do this anymore” as he leaves for school to become a financial advisor. Shit! I really liked him. Chalk another casualty up to the man. At this point, many of you are probably wondering how a young Vietnam vet is in the same band as an owner of an iPhone 5. I’d like to point out that you’re overthinking a theoretical scenario.

4. Rock bottom is the best training ground there is.

Some lessons just can’t be taught from a distance. I can’t think of any good band that hasn’t gone through some form of, if not constant, harsh disappointment. When you’re at the bottom, there is no better time to start reinventing everything from the ground up. For most of us, those first few shows suck, the first batch of merch designs don’t sell, those first few tours bomb. It’s easy to start pointing the finger in every direction but the mirror. Our heroes, however, aren’t going to sit and fill their friends facebook newsfeeds with rants about how “nobody cares about real music anymore” and blame the music business for their shortcomings. They’re going to spend hours a day becoming people worth believing in, strive to understand each individual nuance of their craft, and study what wins an audience. No matter how many beatings get handed to them, they’re going to approach the stage with more enthusiasm than the last time. You simply can’t tell someone truly young at heart to give up on what they’re trying to do.

5. Choose your mentors wisely and know when you’ve outgrown them.

Along the road, many seek to give advice and the wise will always consider that those trying to help have shrewd motives. As our heroes progress, no favor goes unpaid as countless wolves dressed as sheep offer to manage their tours and business in hopes of being credited for any success our heroes may come across. A good mentor seeks little in return; he or she is beyond such trite things in life and will know when it’s time for you to move onward. It’s a beautiful thing to see the whole cycle performed in harmony: Young artists growing to succeed the old methods of their predecessors, taking some bits here and cutting some fat there. Old wisdom remains true but could always use some fine- tuning here and there.

6. Never take your eyes off your opponent, but do not become narrow-sighted.

When Bruce Lee points at the moon, he scolds his student for looking at his finger and “missing all that heavenly glory.” In the music business, it’s easy to think in basic “if this than this” causality. Countless artists look towards others and say “they have a manager from that company and thus they are successful” or “all kids want to hear is this type of thing” without considering any other contributing factors in the peripheral. Bitterness is easy to succumb to when you’re watching what other people are doing while you desire their exact situation. You can never have the same circumstance no matter how hard you try, they are once and then they are done. However, with hard work and dedication, one can look back on their life’s work contently knowing that it will never be redone in that manner, bringing us to the last our last lesson.

7. Win gracefully.

One thing I learned to love about Kung Fu movies is the way they ended abruptly after the final conflict with hardly any plot wrap-up, epilogue, or eulogy. At first, I wanted to know the aftermath and all of that. But after a little while, I learned that the aftermath isn’t the catharsis. The journey is what mattered the whole time; if you didn’t get a chance to feel any catharsis you simply weren’t living in the moment. Victory never comes in the form we hope it will, we learn to accept it for what it is. When it comes around, don’t gloat about it. Bow, and get the hell out of there. As for defeat, I’d like to refer back to one of my favorite scenes in Enter the Dragon, when the main villain Hans asks Williams how he’s going to prepare for Defeat. Hans simply looks back at him and says, “When it comes, I won’t even notice. I’ll be too busy looking good.”

Ultimately, I’ve learned that most of us live our aspirations through the bands that we love. We submit to their set of values and we trust them to continue to live by them. No different than how we imagine ourselves fighting on screen in action movies, we secretly imagine ourselves on the stages our favorite artists perform on. They transmit our hopes and fears into a language that we rarely know or feel like expressing with our own words. Give a couple of these movies a shot and see if you can pull anything else from them that I missed out on. Go on, seek discipline, follow your path, and beat some ass. Regardless, they’re a great chance to get some sweet 70s era samples for your music so there is little to lose here.

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