It’s been some time since I’ve tried to watch Cowboy Bebop all the way through. I’ve had a beautiful DVD set for years, a gift from a good friend who originally turned me on to the series in the first place. Said friend and I used to do movie nights at least once a week when I lived back in Chicago and over time he probably showed me a good three-fourths of the series and the movie, however our viewings were random and never in chronological order. After he gave me the set these viewings were fresh in the head, so it took me a while to work back around to attempt to re-watch the show, this time in order. When I finally did I made it to the final two episodes and … they wouldn’t play. Since it was a relatively new set and there were no marks on the discs, I assumed it was the cheap piece of crap DVD player I had at the time.* Shortly after this I uprooted my life, moved across country and forgot about my burning need to tie the final pieces of Spike’s origin story together with the movie and finally ‘get the whole picture’ of Cowboy Bebop.
Recently I finally started re-watching Bebop again. It’s been a good six years or so since that last attempt and although I go back to the soundtrack often I’d forgotten how freakin’ amazing the show is, and how much the music, perfectly capable of being enjoyed on its own as some of, in my opinion, the best jazz ever**, really brings the show up to a level of quality few (if any) other animated projects can match. The music of Cowboy Bebop – much of which was performed by Japanese band The Seatbelts*** – cements it in the popular vernacular as a grand and charming space noir – at once futuristic and modern while still retaining an old fashioned and endearing comic book quality. And of course, as with many comic book stories, chaotic as all hell at just the right times.
The characters are all lovably built and encoded, but Spike is perhaps the most “Cowboy” as well as the most “Bebop” of all of them. That chaos I was just talking about? Spike seems to be the story’s avatar for that chaos, the living embodiment of it as a primal force that runs through the heart of the show. And that’s not the only thing Spike seems to embody.
The music. Spike is the music and the music is Spike. Jett has his pockets of the score too, all the characters do. But Spike is the one that the music embraces and exemplifies as he treads that chaos, wailing horns, rubber-band bass and machine gunning, often cacophonous drumming synesthetically warping the sense of the character through the viewer’s senses and into the stuff of legend. It’s no coincidence the music in Bebop tends to rocket into high gear when Spike gets knee deep in it, as he so often does, and it’s this consistent reinforcement of not only action and drama but the by-the-seat-of-your-pants-how-the-hell-is-this-going-to-work levels the plots take Spike to, and the fact that he always trumps that chaos and makes it out alive, that make the show such a goddamn pleasure to watch and listen to.
As a side note I made it as far as episode seven this time, Heavy Metal Queen, and the disc crapped out. This time I could not secede the problem to the DVD player, because last year my wife surprised me with a beautiful Harmon Kardon as a gift. So she asks me what I want for my encroaching birthday as I’m going over and over the menu of disc one, the endlessly re-starting of the theme music driving both of us crazy as it continually makes it a mere two or three bars in and then gets re-started again as I set the language and again as I choose episode selection and again as I choose the scene where the freezing first began, all to no avail. “A new copy of my Cowboy Bebop so I can finally finish the fucker!” I call out in defeat, buzzed now and perplexed/frustrated that I’m once again, and this time so early on, getting shut out of my goal. I hear her fingers click-clacking on her keyboard upstairs as I finally take the disc out and the silence surges across the meager household, no doubt searching through online shopping databases for the best deal.
Best deal? Yeah, well guess what? That amazing edition of the set that I have? It’s called the ‘Perfect Edition’ (or something like that) and it’s worth… $600?!? I ended up getting a not-quite-as-great set as a replacement, definitely adequate for my purposes (I hope – all I really want now is to watch the damn thing, packaging be damned). I may possibly cannibalize my current one for it’s packaging, resting easy in the knowledge that although the perfect edition A) doesn’t work and B) can’t be sold (I wouldn’t do that – there’s not a scratch on the fucking thing yet it still just doesn’t play), it is still one of the awesomest gifts I’ve ever received.
See Ya later, Space Cowboy
* This brand called … um, Sony? They make some other electronics stuff too, and those might be fine, but I’ve never known anyone who had a Sony DVD player that didn’t suck
** I put it up there with Miles Davis Live at the Filmore West, John Coltrane’s middle-clutch of albums, Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz to Come and John Zorn’s Naked City album. I guess I’d be remiss to forget Angelo Badalamenti’s work for Lynch.
*** Here’s a little something I found on the youtubes. Enjoy: