If you erased the entirety of television history; if you took everything ever broadcast and pretended that it had never existed, you would be at the beginning of understanding just how badly The Wire puts the term “television show” to shame. It’s beyond a television show. The Wire is a piece of visual fiction, a novel told in sixty minute chunks on celluloid. It creates a community of characters that you care about, because you know they exist somewhere. It creates a tapestry of an environment that is seems as tangible as the office you work in or the house you sleep in, because it doesn’t seem like fiction. And how do you get such a well-written, detail-oriented, rich in texture tapestry that captivates minds, spurs imagination and thoughts of what kind of prison we’ve created for ourselves in our society? You mix and match of course!
You take a former cop/school teacher and match him with a journalist/writer. You take cops, dealers, politicians, union workers, middle school students and dope fiends and mix them together. And of course, you mix vibrant visuals with amazing audio and music made to match. Part of what helps contribute to the atmosphere of the show is the music.
The responsible parties always pick songs that are authentic for the setting at the time, be it a slumland street or a blue collar bar, swanky political fundraiser or a police officer’s wake. The beauty of it is that they never play songs just to play them, and they never take over the scene, merely complete it. Cars passing by, a radio on a front stoop, a band playing in a bar, an alarm clock, a song on the radio during a conversation in a car. Songs are subtle background pieces that perpetuate the realistic feel of the entire show. Sometimes, as with some of the Baltimore rap songs, they float subtly from a car window of a passing Escalade to remind you of your surroundings. At other times, as with The Pogue‘s song “Body of an American” and “Efuge Efuge” by Stelios Kazantzidis, they become central to the action as they bring together characters in revelry.
And now, thanks to the good folks over at HBO, you can fill your ears with the songs and dialogue of The Wire. Released January 4th, …And All the Pieces Matter (or on iTunes) shows the diversity the show possesses. The rap songs are here, the rock songs, the four different versions of Tom Waits‘ “Way Down in the Hole” from the first four seasons, and the songs that are used in the season finale montages, all peppered with memorable clips of dialogue from characters both dead and alive. It’s extremely well balanced, featuring songs and clips from the first four seasons and a small tease clip from season 5. So go cop the package, son. The next time you’re in your car or walking with your pod, you’ll feel like you’re back in Bodymore, Murderland.