How Rebecca Sugar Uses Music

I don’t have many nice things to say about Rebecca Sugar. I couldn’t tell you why I bristle at her mere mention but I simply don’t have many kind words to say to her. I do like many of her works, I think she was one of the best parts of Adventure Time and her writing made the show better and Steven Universe…well, that could be an entire other post. But I have to give credit where credit is due: Sugar is a fantastic songstress. And for that very reason, I want to give a little time to talk about how Sugar uses sound, lyric and score and to praise her, even briefly because game does recognize game.
If you listen to me gush about Adventure Time many times the moments that are most powerful to me are the ones that involve songs. I’m a musical person, I relate easily to music. But before we jump headfirst into a list of songs that probably made me cry, let’s start with some history. Rebecca Sugar is cut from a cloth that I got to also be cut from: fangirl on the internet. She’s most notable for me for his fanfiction and fan art. She is an animator, artist, musician and more and we grew up with similar fandoms and shows even though we do not in any way know each other. She worked on the staff of Adventure Time under Pendleton Ward during what may be the best run of the series but she’s most famous for breaking away and doing her own show: Steven Universe.
Sugar is a songstress in so many ways. She writes lyrics, she sings, she plays instruments and she is incredibly tactful with how she employs song.
I want to go over a few in depth because I think they merit analysis.
Let’s start with Remember You, employed in Adventure Time between Marceline and the Ice King. This song is gone into more depth in another post but I want to talk about the use of lyrics are plot device here. Sugar is able to blend plot, character and more using a song to bridge the gap built by these two characters and thus fill us the audience in on a secret hundreds of years in the making. It’s a heartbreaking moment that I won’t forget and is responsible for making me cry alone in my car at least once.
Next up is Stronger Than You, sung by Estelle in Steven Universe. How SU uses gender and sexuality could be its own blog post if I cared more to write about it but with Garnet I am particularly invested. As a person who doesn’t follow the gender binary, a duet with the self is incredibly powerful. Both parts of me are fantastic and make me the whole as both parts of Garnet, Ruby and Sapphire are fantastic. The triumphant tone of the song was such a power anthem for me for so long and was a great way to help me analogize my gender identity to questioning Muggles.
We’ll take another dive into SU with It’s Over, Isn’t It sung by Pearl in an episode that was entirely musical. But this song was clearly meant to be the showstopper. It’s a deeply emotional ballad where Pearl discusses her love for the fallen Rose Quartz and the bitterness and jealousy that can come from loving a woman who doesn’t choose you. Pearl has had to cast aside every negative feeling she’s had to raise Steven and she’s clearly still quite raw about the whole thing. This song was so vulnerable and emotional and very resonate for many women (especially ones like me) who have longed for another woman only to see them leave and have to maintain the facsimile of a friendship with them and do your best through gritted teeth respect the man they chose over you. Not to say this is healthy or perfect. The one-sidedness of this song does highlight the fact that Pearl’s feelings, while valid, are still unhealthy and her damn near predatory romance when it comes to Rose and her deep resentment towards Steven and Greg Universe continue to be antagonizing forces in the narrative of the show.
Which brings us to the most recent song that made me cry: Time Adventure. This song was used in the final episode of Adventure Time and while the finale to me was mostly blah this song was so heartfelt and emotional that as soon as I heard Sugar sing it during the final cast panel at NYCC, I cried. It’s a song about friendship, how time is a trick and it doesn’t matter who you are at your worst or who you may be, what matters is the bond formed because that is in fact timeless. The way she uses language in the lyrics is actually quite brilliant:
Will happen, happening, happen
It’s all a funny trick of tense that carries you melodically but also logically. And it’s simple rhyme scheme and lyrics make it easy to remember. This is one of the rare instances where I do think a cover is better. In the finale (SPOILER) Bee-mo is the one to sing this song and in Bee-mo’s auto-tuned voice, it rings a little hollow and hard to understand. But Sugar singing this carefully, softly, clearly and over the ukulele (because of course she did) made the song sound so intimate and personal: like you were the only person in the room hearing her play even though it was in fact, a packed convention hall that got to share in such a precious moment. Time Adventure is a gut punch of a song that I found myself singing by myself in moments of quiet when my inner demons got a little too loud. Like a little lullaby I could sing to myself to soothe my insecurities about myself and those I have surrounded myself with.
I wish I had kinder things to say about Rebecca Sugar. I wish my feelings weren’t so muddled in not liking the fandom she helped create and the person who is simply a creator. I wish I could go home again with many of these shows. But despite my cynicism and disenchantment, I have to give her credit: she sure can sing.


When I Don’t Remember You

“Nothing can last forever. There isn't any memory, no matter how intense, that doesn't fade out at last.” ― Juan Rulfo.png

2018 has been a pretty heavy blog year, hasn’t it? I’ll blame Mercury’s Retrograde or something. But I wanted to tell a personal story and it all relates to Adventure Time and the struggle it is to grapple with the legacy of someone who is no longer with us.

For the record, I love Adventure Time. It was one of the first cartoons I started watching after college and it hit me at a perfect time and place in my life. I was emotionally vulnerable, had far too much time on my hands and was easily swept into a light-hearted yet incredibly emotional adventure with a boy and his dog. I had no idea that this show would emotionally gut me over and over again. Famously, there was one night after the episode Simon and Marcy aired that I remember messaging Carlos and telling him “Be prepared to hate the theme song from Cheers.” to which then an hour or so later I got another message from him saying that he hated me, hated the song and that he was mad a show for kids made him emotional at all.

Truthfully, it wasn’t even when this particular episode aired that it made me emotional, though I did cry a little as I learned the lyrics to the song. I was because the narrative demanded I be so but it was more recent that it brought a more thoughtful tear to my eye in an entirely different context. It was after re-adding a few of the songs I lost after the tragic death of my Zune to my current musical cloud and I found a song that I had downloaded years ago from Adventure Time. It was I Remember You, sung by Marceline and the Ice King. Narratively, it’s about a lost relationship due to the crippling loss of one’s mind and a preemptive apology for all the things one does as they lose their mind.

You may know where I’m going with this.

My grandma passed away a few years ago. She was diagnosed with dementia when I was in the first half of my college career. Grandma was always sort of flighty and scatterbrained; her chronic forgetfulness was easy to write off. But medicine proved that she was losing her memory and we had little precious time with her as we knew her. I was fortunate that she was very aware for a majority of her later years in life. I didn’t notice a serious decline until after I graduated from college. Hell, we even casually joked that once she didn’t remember who I was that it was done. That would be the end of our relationship as granddaughter and grandmother. Though it was a joke, it was also a clear line in the sand for my sanity and for hers. It didn’t mean I’d ever stop loving and respecting her but I had to set that hard and fast line. Because the spiral of losing her was something that I would not wish on anyone.  

My grandma said some nasty things as she began to lose herself. She was usually sweet but when she was combative it was scary. It was difficult watching the woman who helped raise me during my early years decline in such a way. I never thought she meant the mean things she said but it was always difficult to deal with when my grandmother berated me for denying her iced tea at lunch (she had a heart condition that forced us to seriously limit her caffeine intake).. It wasn’t always bad. The bad times came in bursts. Most days were quiet but the beast did creep up in moments. Grandma would get paranoid after watching hours of crime procedurals. She’d ask about her husband who had passed away over a decade ago. She’d ask about plenty of people who were no longer with us. It is disingenuous to make it sound like it was all violent outbursts; it was in fact their scarcity that made them so powerful. And in her moments of lucidity, it was like you could see the flashes of the person my grandmother used to be. After saying something horrible, she’d apologize a day or two later or she’d just simply forget: it’s hard to hold a grudge against someone who doesn’t remember the argument.

And talking to my aunts about it seemed to do very little. I mostly dealt with it by simply shutting down and not dealing with it. All of us were processing this thing at the same time and that left very little room to help each other cope with the thought of losing our family’s matriarch. So for the longest time I mostly just internalized the pain of watching her slip away by ignoring it, keeping my head down and remembering the better times. I was working in a mall at a job I hated, I had a routine, an all be it terrible one, but it was a routine.. And my routine often revolved around my grandmother. I worked so that I could be with her in the morning and I seldom stayed out late with friends: someone had to be there with her. We did our best to work together as a family and I know my grandmother received the best care we could give her. But once I moved away, I finally had time to realize that I had kept those feelings of loss and longing bottled up. I did my best to call but the physical distance of moving away makes it difficult to maintain even the most important of relationships.

There was one day that I called and my aunt went to hand over the phone. My aunt said “It’s Amanda on the phone.” and I could hear my grandmother say “Who is that?” and my aunt had to remind her that I was her grandchild.

I don’t think I told anyone how much that bothered me. I don’t think I even told myself how much it really bothered me. And I stopped calling for a while. When I heard that she wasn’t doing well, I came back home to visit and she passed away while I was making my way home. I stayed the night and returned home long enough to pack and prepare for the funeral.

That was 2 years ago.

So when I was sitting in my car listening to the lyrics of I Remember You which says so clearly:

Please forgive me for whatever I do, when I don’t remember you.

I cried.

I sat there for a moment or two and just sort of let it happen. It was far from a dramatic anime cry but one of those small tears you barely notice until the headache of emotional weakness kicks in.

I had always thought I had forgiven my grandmother for the things she said in anger. I realized then that not only had I not but I had barely reconciled the person who passed and the person I looked up to so much.  I handled her passing about as well as I did my mother’s, in that I didn’t. I accepted it and moved on. I kept moving forward but it was while stopped at a stoplight and listening to my cursed musical cloud on shuffle that I had to pause and take stock in the feelings that I had buried for my own protection.

I’m working towards forgiving her for the things that she did I’m working on forgiving myself for not always being an enlightened saint during that time.

So thank you, Adventure Time for being one of many songs that can bring a tear to my eyes. Maybe, just maybe, catharsis isn’t so bad after all.