– all the more thrilling for seeming to start in the middle, chaos and conflict already in full bloom! It often works in telling stories. It has become almost a cliche in popular history books — start with some poignant, reflective moment late in [whoever]’s career and then flash back to tell us how the Portuguese came to be using those fishing routes in the first place, etc.
But sometimes it works well in music, too. Witness “The Wagon,” the only Dinosaur Jr. song I unreservedly love (and even if there were more, I wouldn’t dare give them a third chance in concert, since I already tried twice and it just didn’t work — and repeatedly teasing the audience with the start of “Just Like Heaven” didn’t help). Dawn Eden once explained to my why the song sounds as if it’s starting “Already in Progress,” something to do with technical music-structure phrases like “eighths” and “fifths” and “on the redondo” or whatever that I don’t really understand (and fear might cause me to like “Smoke on the Water” less if I did).
Similarly, as I think Dave Whitney once discussed with me (probably two decades ago, around the time that Dinosaur Jr. song came out), you have to love songs that start with the word “And.” “The Wagon” doesn’t, but “Closer to the Heart” does, and so too, of course, does “And She Was.” Likewise Nirvana’s song “Sappy” (the title of which I could not have recalled without Google assistance if my life depended on it, by the way).
And it’s worth stopping to reflect once a year or so on how many correct decisions the makers of the Lord of Rings movies made, including opening with one brief but epic glimpse of the original, ancient War of the Ring. Not quite how the book started, but it sure helped set the tone — not that I’m saying it was technically in medias res, just a prologue (and preceded by that lovely and rather conservative Cate Blanchett narration about things that should not have been forgotten).
Finally, you gotta love that Star Trek: The Next Generation episode that begins, without explanation, with the ship careening out of control and then frickin’ exploding. Yeah. Would that every Next Gen episode started with the ship exploding. That would’ve made it a more exciting series.