We’ve offered this forum from time to time to guest writers. And now seems like a great time to make that offer again. Many readers may already be aware of Anthropocene from his regular comments here, and his outstanding hypothetical Season 6 of Chuck at fanfiction.net. So many of you may realize how big a role music plays for him as a fan. With no further ado, Anthropocene on Chuck Music.
Do You Still Hear Them?
Music was a defining characteristic of Chuck, right from the iconic opening credits sequence set to an instrumental sample of “Short Skirt/Long Jacket” by Cake. The complex soundtrack by Tim Jones—finally released to eager fans just a little more than a year ago—fit the dramedic nature of the series like a glove: at times playful, at times deadly serious—always authentically “spy,” with just the right hints of Bondian chords. Over the course of 91 episodes, the Tim Jones soundtrack was skillfully interwoven with hundreds of eclectic musical cues, selected by the celebrated musical director Alexandra (Alex) Patsavas. The playlist leaned heavily on alternative/indie rock songs, frequently by artists somewhat out of the mainstream, but once in a while we’d hear a classic Neil Diamond or Journey ballad, a Western-movie showdown theme by Ennio Morricone, or a rowdy Oingo Boingo tune. Episode 2.5, “Chuck Versus Tom Sawyer,” was essentially plotted around the eponymous hit by Rush.
And then, of course, we have the sundry covers of late-20th-century hits by Jeffster!—fun accompaniments to pivotal plot moments such as Ellie and Devon’s initial attempt at a wedding, or the birth of Clara Woodcomb, or the series-bookending bomb threat at the Pacific Concert Hall. The music of Jeffster! was quintessentially Chuck (…although personally, I think that these covers sounded just a little better in the moment, on screen, than they do today on the soundtrack album).
Thanks to Chuck I listen to alt/indie rock a lot more than I used to, and as other fans have done, I’ve assembled my own playlist of selections from the series and listen to it often. More than four years after the show ended, that music brings me right back. I always feel a little bit of melancholy whenever I listen to “Your Hands,” by Ghost Society—but a segue into “Three Rounds and a Sound” by Blind Pilot (which gets my vote for the most romantic Chuck & Sarah tune in the whole series playlist) perks me right up again. And just from the conversation threads on this blog over the years, I’m aware that many other fans also continue to listen and to accrue similar emotional responses. Chuck set a musical mood that is still very much with us.
Do you still hear a song for the first time and think, “That sounds like something from a Chuck episode?” Maybe it was—but if not, I would put it in one of two categories based on the images that it evokes.
Chuck adjacent music
For every song that was used as a cue in an actual episode of Chuck, there were others that could have been used to similar effect, owing to their melodies or lyrics or both. ChuckThis! principal joe, who for years gifted readers of this blog with thoughtful recaps and reviews of the musical elements of Chuck on an episode-by-episode basis, applied the term “Chuck adjacent” to describe such songs: although not actually heard on the show, they could have been because they fit a scene or a plot theme just as well.
A “Chuck adjacent” song may predate the series, just as many of the songs on the actual playlist did. I also think that evocative “Chuck adjacent” songs continue to appear regularly. For example: the first time I heard “Taking Chances,” by Sharon Van Etten, which was released in 2014, my immediate response was that it could have been used in a Chuck episode if it had been around then. If you’re not familiar with this song, have a listen, and see if you agree:
In the dark
On the way out
It’s even enough sounds
It’s the combination that takes
Why don’t we go now?
No need to think on our own now about it
Even I’ve taken my chances
Even I’ve taken my chances on you
I can vividly visualize a specific moment in the series where this song would have worked well, involving Sarah struggling with her feelings for Chuck. Suppose we’d seen a little more of Sarah and Chuck’s night flight from the Buy More after her decision to run with him away from the CIA (ep 2.20, “Chuck Versus the First Kill”). I could definitely hear this song playing as Sarah silently wrestles with her feelings behind the wheel of her Porsche, with Chuck sitting quietly beside her. Or it might have fit somewhere in mid-season 3, as the “misery arc” ends and Sarah and Chuck finally come to the realization that they love and need each other. Hence: “Chuck adjacent.”
What songs would you consider to be “Chuck adjacent?” What foreground or background events in the canon series do they complement? I’d love to see (and listen to) your nominations. Let’s start a thread!
Chuck subsequent music
Expanding on joe’s terminology, I’ll use “Chuck subsequent” to describe music that evokes scenes or plotlines in Chuck that never actually transpired—except possibly somewhere in the pages of post-series or AU fan fiction, or in a fan’s homemade tribute video. Hearing a “Chuck subsequent” song would hopefully cause a devoted fan to imagine some event in the happy, fulfilled, and still exciting post-series life of a reconciled post-“Goodbye” Chuck and Sarah (and possibly their progeny) or other members of the cast. (No alternatives to that scenario will be brooked here.) A “Chuck subsequent” song is one that might have been used if new episodes of Chuck were still being produced today, or one that still could be used in a series revival or miniseries or movie.
Some of us who’ve written post-series Chuck fan fiction have tried to channel a little Alex Patsavas and suggested musical cues for readers to listen to while immersed in our imagined future scenes. I would consider all such music to be “Chuck subsequent” as well.
As an example of this second category, here’s “Fix You,” by Coldplay, released in 2005: one of the cues I embedded in a fan-fiction piece a few years ago. The same song has also been used in several Chuck fan tribute videos that can be found online, so I think it’s an appropriate example. Coldplay lead Chris Martin wrote the song for then-wife Gwyneth Paltrow to console her on the death of her father, and the song was critically acclaimed. No doubt Lester and Jeff would have sneered at it (possibly many Chuck fans, too). But I thought it evoked a post-finale Sarah, back together with Chuck, but tormented by guilt and nightmares over having been brainwashed to reject and nearly murder her own husband. Chuck, of course, sees what happened very differently, and—standing with Sarah at the front door of their tainted “dream home”—he offers gentle reassurance and comfort to his wife until her guilt finally subsides for good….and they buy the house!
Have you heard music you find to be “Chuck subsequent?” What scenes involving our favorite characters play out in your mind as you listen? Hopefully we can get a fun thread going on this category as well. It also seems quite possible that some songs could be so broadly evocative, or evocative in different ways to different people, that they could be both “Chuck adjacent” and “Chuck subsequent” at the same time. Any suggestions?
Since the series ended, we’ve spent a great deal of enjoyable time, thought, and discussion on alternatives and sequels to the plot of Chuck, and herein I propose that we spend a bit of the same on alternatives and sequels to the music of Chuck! Hope to hear from you. My sincere thanks to atcDave for the opportunity to play in this sandbox. And it probably goes without saying that the opinions I’ve expressed in this guest post don’t necessarily correspond to those of the principals of the Chuck This! Blog.