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HBO's Biting New Theme Song

These pages have dealt with TV theme songs from time to time. It's time to add another strong, new entry to the body of proof that those of us who treasure these recurring music videos with meaningful lyrics have a lot to celebrate: True Blood.

What do you say about a television series set in the Deep South that stars a Canadian by way of New Zealand, an Englishman, an Australian, and assorted other people who not only didn't grow up south of the Mason-Dixon line, but may never even have heard of it? You say, it better have someone around there who knows what they're talking about.

It does. True Blood, the HBO series that premiered this year, is the brainchild of Alan Ball, Academy Award-winning screenwriter of American Beauty (1999) and director of the acclaimed HBO series Six Feet Under. Ball came upon Charlaine Harris' The Southern Vampire Mysteries, a series of books set in the fictional town of Bon Temps, Louisiana, and decided they would be a great basis for a TV series - one to which he could bring his Southern and gay sensibilities. The Atlanta native managed to snag Canadian/Kiwi Oscar winner Anna Paquin to play Sookie Stackhouse, a telepathic waitress who falls in love with Bill Compton (Englishman Stephen Moyer), a Civil War era vampire in an America in which vampires are now recognized citizens with legal rights and protections.

The parallels between gay and vampire rights are especially pointed ever since Proposition 8 put a stake through the heart of gay marriage in California. But Ball is careful to underplay the politics even as he populates Bon Temps with gay men and vampires. HBO hasn't gone as far as to allow gay, or even interracial, sex on the screen the way it has with its explicit and fairly kinky couplings of opposite-sex humans and humans/vampires. Perhaps this is just another nod toward the sexually hypocritical attitudes of religious Southerners Ball exposes during most episodes.

It is the subject of Southernness that I really wish to explore, specifically in the opening credit sequence and theme song that in many ways are a lot better than some of the show's episodes. They illustrate a South that may seem stereotypical, but that as a native Northerner, I feel I may never penetrate during my life. I rely on my husband, who spent many years in Georgia, to help me sort out what I'm seeing and how well it touches the heart of Southern culture. He assures me that the opening credits give slice-of-life shots of parts of the South that are still quite prevalent today. I don't know if it's going to get me in a lot of trouble to say that, but take a look, and I'll meet you at the other end.

Hmmm. Lots of sexy, writhing women, a few naked bodies if you look closely. A snake striking in slow motion. A suspended alligator skull showing a predator tamed. A Klansboy. An insect shaking as it frees itself from its shell juxtaposed with a black woman shaking in religious ecstasy. Violent protests. "God hates fangs." Death and decay. Every major theme of the show is covered in this compelling opening sequence - sex, intolerance, primitive Christianity, predators harmless and deadly and, well, death and decay.

The theme song breathes so naturally with the opening sequence, a brilliant marriage of images perfectly edited to match the song's rhythms. The lyrics of "Bad Things," by Jace Everett - who I thought at first was Chris Isaak - are as follows:

When you came in the air went out.
And every shadow filled up with doubt.
I don't know who you think you are,
But before the night is through,
I wanna do bad things with you.

I'm the kind to sit up in his room.
Heart sick an' eyes filled up with blue.
I don't know what you've done to me,
But I know this much is true:
I wanna do bad things with you.

When you came in the air went out.
And all those shadows there are filled up with doubt.
I don't know who you think you are,
But before the night is through,
I wanna do bad things with you.
I wanna do real bad things with you.
Ow, ooh.

I don't know what you've done to me,
But I know this much is true:
I wanna do bad things with you.
I wanna do real bad things with you

I particularly like how the lyric "And every shadow filled up with doubt" references Alfred Hitchcock's film Shadow of a Doubt, in which a trusted uncle is revealed to his namesake niece to be a psychopathic killer. Again, the edge on which the characters balance is perfectly encapsulated in this lyric. Sookie trusts her vampire lover, encouraging him to bite her the first time she ever makes love. But as in a television show True Blood liberally rips off - Buffy the Vampire Slayer - will Bill become, like Angel/Angelus in Buffy, the killer he is capable of being?

The humans come off even worse than the vampires - a human is almost certainly responsible for slaying a series of waitresses. This is, as the opening shows us, the frightful irrationality that some see in the ways of some Southerners, a temperament that stays very close to the sources of life and death from which the "more civilized" North prefers to keep its distance. Tapping this beating heart of darkness, the True Blood opening is as compulsively watchable as a train wreck.



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Posted on November 18, 2008


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