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Jun 01, 2018

On "Into the Wild:" This Soundtrack Provided Some of the Best Songwriting of the '00s

The Alaska of my dreams... Photo: NotYourAverageBear/Shutterstock

This summer, ManMade is organizing a Alaskan adventure for our community, where we'll gather for DIY workshops and day trips to some of the most beautiful places in North America. In homage of the trip, each of our team members will be reflecting on their own impressions of Alaska. 

In honor of our upcoming Alaska excursion, I was revisiting the media that resonates with Alaska. In all fairness, there isn't that much. I mean, I vaguely remember watching some episodes of Northern Exposure when I was a kid. I liked Jewel a lot, back when Jewel was a thing. Did that movie Bear take place in Alaska? Whale Rider? I mean, Alaska certainly has whales.  It's a place that is so majestic and so mythic in its own right, that not a lot of media sticks to it, or needs to, for that matter. It lives in black and white photographs of craggy mountains and the pristine majesty of trees and rivers and salmon runs. I mean, honestly––it is a land that is irradiated by green curtains hung in space. What is a human person supposed to do that's interesting against that backdrop? 

But then, the voice of Eddie Vedder filled my head. Oh that's right. I know exactly what resonates in my eyes and ears when I think of Alaska––the extraordinary compilation of music put together by Vedder as the backup to Sean Penn's okayest film, Into the Wild. This is not a movie entirely ABOUT Alaska, but Alaska looms over this movie. Into the Wild is a movie about Alaska in the same way that Moby Dick is a book about a whale. And this music, oh, this music! Many of the tracks are barely songs––some of them feel more like vignettes than compositions. Others are stripped down, perfectly balanced tunes that capture the stakes of the film. You can pick the pieces out, and they glow like embers in a campfire.

Here's an example. 

I'm not even one of those Pearl Jam people for whom Vedder can do no wrong. But this song slays me. 

But here's thing, this album––and it truly is one, which is saying something for a movie soundtrack––flows together effortlessly, and its orientation throughout is Alaska––both the majestic, mountainous Alaska of paintings, where a moose is around every other bush, as well as the uncompromising Alaska of frozen school buses, and rivers running wild. Track by track, movement by movement, Vedder weaves songs that fit all of the landscapes in the film as the main character and the viewer wind their way through the labyrinth that will end in the great wilderness of the North.

Listen to this album. It is not hard to find. Let it wash over you and fill your veins with chilly water and and your nose with the smell of burning currency and feel the grain of the Great Plains on your fingers, but mostly, see in the gloomy and uncertain distance this Alaska that will tame you and challenge you and, if you are not careful, end you. 

You know, as a subject of media, Alaska is pretty underrated. Someone should fix that. 

 

Ready to take on Alaska with ManMade? There's a spot for you, and the trip is ON SALE now. Join us. 

 

 

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Luke Dickerson on Jun 06, 2018:

A great film and a fantastic album (society is my favourite)
For more alaska goodness check out a film called Insomnia; Robin Williams and Al Pacino, murder mystery, endless daylight, really shows of the landscape


JoelSelby on Jun 06, 2018:

Nice post! This is a great soundtrack—seriously, "Rise Up" resonates in a deep way.

I'm glad you mentioned '00s songwriting—I don't think it's just nostalgia informing me that it was a really good era. (The lyrics and compositions from bands like the Decemberists, the Shins, Iron & Wine, etc. still inspire me 10 years later.)