Nothing can say it as well as the video itself, so attend:
The History of Knowledge is Skeptoid’s third observance of the tradition of every 50th episode being a musical. For episode #150, Screwed!, I employed composer Lee Sanders to write a lavish Broadway piece. For episode #200, I used the ill-advised tactic of applying my own ignorance and lack of talent to the project, and produced Buy It!. This time, I got composer Peter Zachos (peterzachos.com) to knock it out of the park with a history not only of pseudoscience, but also of music.
We started by tossing around a few ideas. Peter’s idea was to visit several eras throughout history, but I was worried that trying to create 4 or 5 different songs would be too much work and put the deadline at risk. Then I realized Peter was talking not about 4 or 5 genres, but more like 15. Hmmm. I politely suggested alternatives that I thought were more attainable.
But he put together a demo tape, came by my house and played out some ideas on the piano, and I was hooked. In the end we whittled it down to 12 musical genres, each an example of how pseudoscience or bass-ackwards philosophies were popular in the day:
Caveman – Pagan superstitions
Gregorian chant – Astrology as medicine
Renaissance – Bodily humors
Opera – Magical objects
Americana – Dowsing
30s Jazz – Seances
40s Jazz – Sexism and segregation
Elvis – McCarthyism
60s Rock – The power of you
80s Pop – The power of me
Indie punk – Conspiracy theories
Autotune – Energy healing
Not that it’s a comprehensive list, but it’s a fun one. I quickly learned that writing 30 seconds or a minute of a song is little less work than writing the entire song. You still need all the elements. So, basically, we wrote 12 songs.
My main job was writing the lyrics. I’ve done this before, and it’s never been easy for me, and most of the results have been terrible. But for some reason, the muse was shining on me. I’m actually damned proud of most of it. The grunge, the flower power, the Elvis, they actually came together and sounded like actual songs from those eras. Peter wrote some too, the Renaissance and the 80s, and also tweaked all of mine to fit the music, and added lines or two where needed. It’s a pretty solid piece.
Peter had two jobs. First was to compose and perform and engineer all the music, and that was only the small job. The larger one was making it sound like I can sing. You’re actually hearing hardly any of my real voice in there, even though all the lead vocals throughout are mine. What you’re hearing is the combination of rough source material (me), Pro Tools, and a talented sound editor. Recording something rough, off key, and off beat, and watching it transformed into an actual lead vocal was (for me) a Master Class in how music is created these days. I would sing several takes, line by line, and Peter would pick and choose a word from this take, a consonant from that take, and blend them all together. It was really something else to watch.
Peter also sang all of the backup voices, and created The Skeptettes (to echo the Andrews Sisters) from a singer he works with named Liz (elizabethegan.com). A session guitarist was also brought in, who made child’s play out of any musical genre. For a muggle like me, it was really impressive to watch what real professionals are capable of.
Composing the music proved to be much easier than I had initially feared. Pop songs are pretty much made of Lego these days, and someone who’s handy with the craft can throw one together in minutes. “Oh, 90s grunge? (blop) There. How’s that?” “Oh, a Wagnerian opera? (glop) Bob’s your uncle.”
The full credits are at the end of the video. We presented this at the Skeptoid 250th Episode Party in Irvine on March 19, so Peter’s production assistant Kimberly put together a Powerpoint to display the lyrics for the crowd of about 140. That’s what you’re seeing in the video. I hope one day to do more with it; it’s a really neat piece of music and deserves a full blown music video. I’m going to start buying lottery tickets now.
I hope you enjoy it.