Is there anything more science fictional, more fantastical, than rock’n’roll? From Puff the Magic Dragon to Ziggy Stardust, from Coheed & Cambria to the classical mythologies that inspire countless Heavy Metal subgenres (who needs Satan when you have Viking Power Metal?), rock’n’roll has often taken its cues from genre fiction, because only the larger-than-life worlds of science fiction and fantasy can compete with (and/or compliment) its larger-than-life bravado.
Naturally, because art imitates life imitates art and so on, it was only a matter of time before fiction started taking its cues from rock’n’roll in turn. Below are some of my (personal) favorite pop/rock groups from the realms of science fiction and fantasy (in no discernible order), whether it’s TV, comic books, film, or novels.
Dingoes Ate My Baby — Named after a really bizarre case of Australian (alleged) infanticide, Dingoes Ate My Baby were one of the hottest bands out of Sunnydale High School. Featuring everyone’s favorite sensitive werewolf Daniel “Oz” Osbourne on lead guitar, Dingoes Ate My Baby were a staple at the Bronze, Sunnydale’s hippest spot for nightlife/vampire attacks. The band appeared/performed in nine episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer over the course of three seasons, starting with Season 2’s “Inca Mummy Girl” and ending with “The Initiative” in Season 4. (One assumes they broke up following Oz’s whole Tibetan sabbatical/werewolf recovery thing. If nothing else, it put a massive strain on touring.) The music for the band was actually provided by Four Star Mary, who also appeared physically on screen as Giles’ backing band in “Restless” and released an album in 1998 called “Thrown To The Wolves” (which may have been entirely coincidental but I’m not inclined to think so). Aside from Oz, the band also featured Devon MacLeish on lead vocals and hooked up with both Cordelia and Harmony (nice!) and Sam on bass, plus some other dudes that no one really cares about.
Figrin Da’an and the Modal Nodes — Little did you realize that those funny lookin’ eggheaded fellas tooting away in the Mos Eisley Cantina were once among the most celebrated jizz bands in the galaxy. (Yes, jizz bands. They’re aliens, okay? And George Lucas has been known to make a few, well, odd decisions.) Unfortunately, by the time we catch up with the band in A New Hope, they’ve been relegated to playing at seedy dive bars, like Chalmun’s Spaceport Cantina in Mos Eisley on Tatooine. According to Tales From the Mos Eisley Cantina, the band had entered into an exclusive contract with Jabba the Hutt, shortly before the Battle of Yavin. Unfortunately, Figrin was a bit of a risktaker with a gambling problem, and decided to book the band for a gig at the wedding of one of Jabba’s biggest rivals. Jabba, of course, is less than forgiving of such transgressions, and soon put out a hit. The band hid out by playing shows at Chalmun’s Spaceport Cantina in Mos Eisley—which is right where they were when Luke and Obi-Wan met Captain Solo for the first time. Fun fact: that song they play at the beginning of the cantina scene is apparently called “Mad About Me.” (Funner fact: somewhere in the Star Wars canon there actually exists a Figrin Da’an and the Modal Nodes tribute band, cleverly named Figrin Da’an II and the New Modal Nodes. Who ever said that tribute bands lack originality?)
Lila Cheney — You know that whole rock’n’roll in-joke about some no-name Americans being “Big in Japan?” Lila Cheney is kind of like that, except instead of Japan, she’s big in the entire freaking universe. A mutant with the ability to teleport over vast intergalactic distances, Lila’s history is constantly intertwined with that of the X-Men and their affiliate teams, including an on-again-off-again relationship with Sam Guthrie AKA Cannonball (Guido AKA Strong Guy also serves as her bodyguard from time to time, helping to beat off all those screaming alien fans). Lila’s powers have made her fortunate enough to never have to beg for gas money after a show, a rock’n’roll rite of passage that any musician would have gladly skipped over. Private jets are cool and all, but touring in a Dyson sphere? Now that is rock’n’roll.
The Weird Sisters — Not to be confused with the Canadian rock band the Wyrd Sisters, the Weird Sisters are one of the hottest bands to ever come out of the wizarding world. Even the marriage of bass player Donaghan Tremlett received a prominent mention in the The Daily Prophet, and as anyone who follows rock’n’roll can tell you, no one ever cares about the bass player.* The band, which consists of eight members (all of whom are actually male, also described as being “hairy” and wearing “artfully torn” black robes) performed at the Hogwarts Yule Ball during Harry Potter’s fourth year of enrollment. According to the Harry Potter Wiki, their classic song “Do the Hippogriff” reached Number 1 on the Wizard Singles Chart, and remained there for thirty-four weeks (it was also apparently certified 24x platinum, which I’m not entirely sure is possible, but, ya know, magic). In the film version of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the band makes a brief cameo appearance, portrayed by members of Pulp and Radiohead (Johnny Greenwood on triple-neck guitar oh em gee!).
*Flea and Sting being possibly the only exceptions, but that might just be because they have funny names. Also Paul McCartney, but, well, that’s different.
Buckaroo Banzai and the Hong Kong Cavaliers — Probably the best rock’n’roll band that’s also a team of cutting edge multidisciplinary scientists based out of New Jersey, if I do say so myself. Not only did they invent a specialized Jet Car capable of driving through solid matter, these guys also put Huey Lewis & the News to shame when it comes to sick shredding on the pocket trumpet (not to mention those killer guitar licks). Although, did anyone else find it odd that the Black Lectroid alien race that they allegedly saved from annihilation all looked like Rastafarians? Eh, I guess if you save the entire planet from World War III while playing totally sweet rock’n’roll tunes, you’re allowed to make a few choices that might seem peculiar to us commonfolk.
Buddy — The King of Rock’n’Roll is dead, and Buddy, armed only with a guitar and a samurai sword, is determined to make his way across the post-Commie-pocalyptic wasteland of America to reach Lost Vegas and claim the throne. Six-String Samurai is one of those films that delivers absolutely everything it promises (mainly a six-string samurai, rocking out, and doing samurai things. Obviously). Buddy battles Russians, Redneck Mutants, and Death himself (who bears a curious resemblance to Slash), using his samurai badassery and totally sweet guitar licks; he also has a soft spot for obnoxious orphan children. Little else is revealed about this mysterious rock’n’roll loner, but thanks to his signature horn-rimmed glasses, it’s generally assumed that his last name is Holly. But seriously, what’s more rock’n’roll than a semi-hollow Gibson EE-339 that doubles as a sheath for a samurai sword? Yeah, that’s what I thought.
Teen Age Music International — The very first page of Matt Fraction’s psychedelic spy-fi romp Casanova introduces us to Teen Age Music International, which we just assume is some kind of throw away generic pop band, with their hit single “Deja Vu” playing from a nearby radio. But this tune is more than just foreshadowing of the time-and-reality-hopping espionage robot sex party to come. As it turns out, Teen Age Music International (or T.A.M.I., for short, because this entire world is populated with ridiculous acronyms) is not only a pop group, but also an expert team of sex robot assassins, with secret maps embedded on their skin in ultraviolet ink! I mean, obviously. Even after Casanova Quinn battles (and/or possibly has sex with?) T.A.M.I., the first chapter of each consecutive volume of Casanova treats us to another infectious pop hook by the group, including “Barely Regal” and my personal favorite, “S.I.D.S. (Sudden Infant Dance Syndrome).”
Sex Bob-Omb — I’m gonna go ahead and say that these guys have the most badass name of anyone on this list. How do you make an edgy rock’n’roll pun off of the name of those little bomb dudes from the Super Mario games? Just add sex! Done! Sex Bob-Omb is Scott Pilgrim’s band (well, technically Stephen Stills’ band; Scott just plays bass), from the Scott Pilgrim graphic novel series. What makes them especially awesome is the fact that, well, they’re actually kind of bad (or at least, not very good—but whatever, that’s all part of their charm). They even have great Sci-Fi/Fantasy song titles like “Erasmus the Enchanter” and “Herself the Elf” (not to mention “Launchpad McQuack, named after the Duck Tales character). In the movie version, their music was written/performed by none other than Beck, who probably ranks as one of the most science fictional musicians to ever live. (Have you seen how skinny that guy is? And there’s something weirdly ominous about “The New Pollution”.) Also, pretty much every song begins with drummer Kim Pine shouting “We are Sex Bob-Omb! ONE-TWO-THREE-FOUR!” Which, ya know, is awesome. Eat that, DeeDee Ramone.
DriveShaft — Featuring that lovable heroin addict Charlie Pace on bass guitar and his brother, Liam, on lead vocals, DriveShaft was a one-hit-wonder BritPop band that was totally not meant in any way to be Oasis. Their hit single, “You All Everybody,” is heard at least 108 times over the six seasons of LOST, and surprisingly, it never gets too old or annoying (a particularly impressive feat considering the fact that the lyrics don’t really make any sense). If not for DriveShaft—and the Pace brothers’ frequent fighting—Charlie would have never been on Oceanic Flight 815. Charlie flew to Australia to convince his newly sober brother to reunite for an eight-week tour, but was unfortunately turned down. Charlie booked a return flight to Los Angeles—and the rest, as they say, is history. And then some time travel back into even more history. Plus some kind of trippy flash-sideways spiritual limbo thing. Whatever. It’s not Penny’s boat.
Wyld Stallyns — Wyld Stallyns are the greatest band in the history of mankind. Or at least, they will be. The future of the human race will be shaped by their profound and poetic mantra, “Be Excellent To Each Other,” ushering in a utopian era full of pacifist George Carlins. Wyld Stallyns consists of Bill S. Preston, Esquire and Ted “Theodore” Logan on guitar/vocals/being excellent, the Grim Reaper on bass, and Station on bongos (thus making them the only band with bongos that is also totally awesome). Moments before their debut performance began, however, Bill and Ted both realized that they didn’t actually know how to play their instruments, so they hopped back into their trusty time-traveling phone booth and went back in time to learn how to shred, as well as grow totally sweet beards (also babies). And the song they played that changed the world? “God Gave Rock’N’Roll To You” by KISS, obviously (a song which I recently learned was actually written by Argent, featuring former members of The Zombies, but that’s neither here nor there). SAN DIMAS HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL TEAM RULES! *air guitar*
BONUS: “The Musical News” — Less a “band” and more an “inexplicable thing” that inhabits the bizarre world of Jonathan Lethem’s debut novel, Gun, With Occasional Music, alongside hyper-evolved babies, Karma credit cards, and the nerve-swapping of erogenous zones. The Musical News seems to be an alternative means of broadcasting news that would otherwise upset or disturb people. I’ll let Lethem’s own words from the first page of the book describe it:
The feeling was there before I tuned in the musical interpretation of the news on my bedside radio, but it was the musical news that confirmed it: I was about to work again. I would get a case. Violins were stabbing their way through the choral arrangements in a series of ascending runs that never resolved, never peaked, just faded away and were replaced by more of the same. It was the sound of trouble, something private and tragic; suicide, or murder, rather than a political event….The violins said I should get up that morning and go down to my office. They said there was something like a case out there.
So, uh, yeah. There’s that.
Thom Dunn is a Boston-based writer, musician, homebrewer, and new media artist. He enjoys Oxford commas, metaphysics, and romantic clichés (epecially when they involve whiskey and/or robots). He was once paid $200 to dress up like Spider-Man and sign autographs at a Wal-Mart. This remains the single greatest moment of his life, but that doesn’t stop him from trying. He can be found online at thomdunn.net or @thomdunn.