What Pynchon Sounds Like

In Paul Thomas Anderson’s film adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s novel “Inherent Vice,” the song playing in the title sequence is Can’sVitamin C.” (Whew. That’s a lot of links.) What I was going through all of that to say is that the song sounded amazing in the movie, so I’ve been listening to it on its own. I’ve decided that whoever requested/found/recalled this song, then put it in a movie based on a Pynchon novel, is a genius. (Is this Anderson? Some low-credited music producer who’s content to secretly be a synesthetic music selection superhero?)

The Reason I’m Still Writing: “Vitamin C” sounds, to me, somehow (all very mysteriously), exactly like a Pynchon novel…well, sounds. But novels don’t have sounds, right? It’s hard to put a finger on it, but this song and this author, they share something. A spirit maybe. There’s a shuffle. A swagger? A tinge of paranoia in the stagger of the base line (especially sencond verse)? Or maybe it’s just the whole self-consciously weirdo cool thing. And check this out: “Vitamin C” was released in 1972, “Gravity’s Rainbow,” Pynchon’s masterpiece, was released in 1973! THESE THINGS ARE NOT COINCIDENCES. 

We’ll, they are and aren’t. Nothing’s planned, but very little that happens truly randomly happens. It’s complicated, and after listening to “Vitamin C” this morning and reading “Gravity’s Rainbow” I’ve come to understand that it’s because we say much more than we are speaking, or rather, that we communicate in many ways, not just verbally. And we don’t just make plans with these communications, we transfer ideas, habits, worldviews, meaning, spirit with them. To do this, we use a multitude of expressive media scattered among words, pictures, and sounds, but in this context, where we’re talking about a song that “sounds” like a book, these categories all kind of blur together. Words, pictures, and sounds, are each a product and a component of the other, so they can be readily interchanged. The only difference between a word and a sound, after all, is the style in which the idea is expressed. How do you choose a style? It’s the one that works best for you. It’s the style you understand well enough to connect it’s message to totally different styles.

One last question: is the connection I make between this song and this writer universal? Would others agree with my association? I’d suppose some would, but not everyone, never. Remember, art (well, good art) is often as much about the work it’s interpreter must do as it is about the labor of it’s creator. Most of this work is subconcious, informed by experience to build a taste, a discernment of meaning and spirit from the contexts and contents of various styles of expression. It seems like there would inevitably be millions, billions, of strange and fascinating and beautiful associations out there!

Anyway, this kind of intersection in meaning/spirit, like between Can and Pynchon, between the different styles we use to express ourselves? It seems like it would be a pretty weird scene. In a good way. Worth a morning’s reading and writing anyway.