With Guardians Inferno stuck in my head again, I have Guardians of the Galaxy on the brain, and thought I would throwback to this post (originally on Sourcerer). I also wrote a post generally about the music as a character in the film. This furthers that idea into the effects that character had on Star Lord. I argued overall that the music stands in for the mother – and all of Earth and human culture. Which is an interesting contrast then with the second film, which is about the relationship between Star-Lord and his father – and father stand-in. There’s probably more to say on that point, but I think that’ll wait until seeing the film a second time!
Here on Sourcerer, I have blogged about two things: comics and music. Today, I get to talk about both!
Let me set the scene. In Guardians of the Galaxy, one of the great movies and greater soundtracks of the summer, there was an odd scene at the beginning. Making a ridiculous spaceship escape, the hero, Star-Lord, gets confronted by a female woman who was sleeping below decks, and got thrown around as the ship flew off-planet. And his line, in this moment, was, “I forgot you were here.”
Star-Lord, or Peter Quill, is a human who was abducted at a young age by a crew of alien pirates, and grew up with them. He ends up as a womanizer, con man, and liar, and it might be easy to dismiss this sort of moment as “oh, those pirates.” From the other angle, it’s been criticized as a scene that really did not even need to exist. They could have cut it and not changed the movie much at all. Sure, Gamora later accuses him of being a womanizer, but how did she know? And do we need a throw-away scene to, as the audience, know that about him?
I have come to find a third opinion about this scene, about this character trait, this aspect of his personality. I use the term “rake” to describe it, perhaps a dated term but one I know well from my history thesis on William Hogarth (with his Rake’s Progress), and more recently with something like the Decemberists’ The Hazards of Love. I suppose more modern terms would be “player,” “ladies man,” or my favorite (from Scott Pilgrim versus the World), “lady-killer wanna-be jerky-jerk.” So why is Star-Lord this way? It makes sense to me now, and I want to share why.
It’s Not From The Comics…
Cover from Guardians of the Galaxy #1, 2008
Over on Comparative Geeks, one of the things we do is read the source material and then see the movie, something we call LitFlix. Well, for my Guardians of the Galaxy LitFlix, I read the whole 25-comic run of Guardians where you first see this group of heroes (plus friends) together. I’ve read some of the start of the newer run, as well. Sure, there’s a lot more of the comics I haven’t read, and Star-Lord has been around since 1976.
Still, in what I have read, Star-Lord has not been a Rake. He’s been manipulative and lies, uses his charisma and words as his weapons as much or more than his trusty elemental pistols. But him and relationships? Or less than that – him and womanizing? Not really a part. Certainly not to the extent that it shows up in the movie!
So it’s not some little detail they snuck in to try to be faithful to the comics, it’s not a nod to the hardcore fans. Assuming there even was such a thing for Guardians of the Galaxy before the movie was announced…
Where Does It Come From? How About The Music?
I’ve talked about the music in Guardians of the Galaxy before, and the wonderful Awesome Mix Vol. 1. So rather than rehash all of that, some greatest hits:
- The soundtrack music used is also the actual music that Star-Lord has. It’s the album his mom made him when he was a kid, was the thing he had from her with him when he was abducted. Therefore, it functions in multiple ways in the movie.
- Most importantly, I argue it is the voice of his mother, it is the lessons she has to give him. It is all he has left to learn from. She died right before he was abducted – two reasons that he can’t get/learn more from her. She remains a character throughout, though, in the music.
This is a movie that wants us to believe that, in an epic final battle with the Big Bad, to save the world, Star-Lord’s plan is a dance off. I mean, really…
But we believe it, because the music runs throughout. Because it motivates Star-Lord. Because when he has to present the story of a hero from Earth, it’s Kevin Bacon in Footloose.
And sure, this could be just a way to ask the science fiction, speculative, what-if question, “what if you were abducted by aliens and had only one album with you?” But the movie doesn’t just ask the question – it also answers it.
So this is where the details of Awesome Mix Vol. 1 matter. A set of songs from the 1970’s, an era of free love an changing moral attitudes, an era of rock and roll becoming popular. And the lyrics… the lyrics to this album I (and many others, I’m sure) have been obsessively listening to ever since. And which, critically, Star-Lord was listening to obsessively throughout his life…
Or to look at one song in particular, “Escape,” the Pina Colada song. When you get down to it and listen, it’s the story of a guy falling out of love with his girl, responding to an ad in the paper for a man, and then finding out the person who put out the ad was his girl. And they learn more about each other, and fall back in love. It’s a story of finding true love, real love, in the last place imaginable in the age of free love: finding it with the person you’re already with!
If this was Star-Lord’s moral instruction, there’s probably only one way he could really come out. He was always going to be a Rake. And if the music was as important a part of the movie as it needed to be, he needed to reflect what the music said. So he did.
Just think of lyrics like this as your instruction on how to be a man… on how to be an adult… on how to be a human. How else could he have turned out?