Variations on a ZIM Theme

Unused production art for the show.

Unused production art for the show.

I should be working right now, but I thought I’d take a little break to share with you, the horrid reader, the story of how I recently came upon an ancient artifact of mine long thought lost to time and space, like the Ark of the Covenant, only instead of me finding it locked up in an enormous government warehouse filled with countless treasures and plunder, I found it someplace much more awesome.

I’ve a large wooden chest, and at some point the thing had become a repository for old, defunct game systems, games and ridiculous peripherals that would never be touched ever again, except to move them aside during searches for rare and specialized cables, which is precisely what I was doing a few nights back.

The cable in question was the a/v cable for my old Sega Dreamcast. A new surface had been revealed near the small television in my drawing area, and it seemed like a good place to reconnect the ol’ Dreamcast for the odd game of Chu Chu Rocket or Marvel vs. Capcom 2, and, most importantly, my copy of The Typing of the Dead with accompanying keyboard (which are still missing!).

What I found instead of Typing was a submission cd, from way back during the early pilot phase for INVADER ZIM’s production day, containing a test version of the theme music for the show.

A brief bit of history on ZIM’s theme music: Back when I had just moved to L.A. to work on the show bible and then immediately the pilot, I had a friend named Mark Tortorici come up with some ideas for the theme, and we eventually settled on a particular direction for it. Mark came out to stay with me in my Los Angeles hovel for a bit once the pilot was being animated and did a more complete version that is, more or less, the music you know now. So Mark is the guy that came up with that ZIM theme, doing the original demo on the Alesis QS7 I had at the time, using Cubase. We ended up with a really messy, very demo tape sounding piece that worked just fine for those early days.

What ended up happening for the full production of the pilot’s musical side, however, was that Mark was busy fighting bears back home, or doing terribly amazing things that made doing music for my lil teevee show not an attractive future for him, so I had him killed. End of his story…sort of.

Needing a more dedicated composer for the pilot episode, we had to seek out professional composers with no bear-related aspirations and distractions, ultimately coming upon Michael Tavera, whose music is what you would now hear throughout that silly old pilot episode. I recall him being a nice guy, but we were not a great fit for one another, creatively, and I recall always asking for various tracks to be killed until, ultimately, we ended up with not even half of what he would submit. It was definitely a more “children’s television” sound, much more traditional and not as surprising as I would want in the future, but it worked for the pilot. As it turned out, Mark’s themesong, nor Michael’s cover version, never even made it into the pilot as we had no credit sequence to drop it into

But here’s Michael’s version, or one of them. I recall the crew having a pretty good laugh at just how cheesy this take on the theme was. Not in a cruel, despicable way, mind you – Tavera had was simply submitting a take on the show based on very little information on it beforehand. The second I heard those sampled “ZIM”s in there, I just lost it. Thing is, it’s so much slicker and kiddie show sounding than anything I could ever have imagined for the show. The thought of this preceding every episode, acting as a terribly inappropriate lead-in to organ harvesting and screaming children is amusing enough.

Funny, yeah? Well, I think it is? What, you don’t? Then get out of my car, dammit. Why are you and I even friends?

Anyhow, like with almost everything in that pilot, Tavera didn’t end up being part of the series that followed. Again, not because of a lack of talent or anything like that. Really, it’s just the maddening nature of trying to find other human beings who feel like a natural fit for something that exists almost entirely in your head, and the list of incredibly skilled and talented individuals that come and go on a production can just trail on for miles. Hell, there are versions of the pilot out there where other actors supplied ZIM’s voice, including Billy West and Mark Hamill! Both did great jobs, but Richard was the particular idiot that I played well with for that job, and he’s the one that got pulled into my hell on the series, that lucky bastard.

Of course, the version most of you would recognize is neither Mark’s nor Michael’s, it’s Kevin Manthei’s take on it, the composer for the entire, teensy run of ZIM’s life. Mark actually came back in to work with Kevin on keeping the spirit of the thing, but was called back to the bay area by his primal desire to do battle with bears again or whatever. Who knows, really.

There’s something about the original, awful sounding demo version of Mark’s that was never quite captured, however, and I’ll include it here for you all to listen to for the first time. It’s a somewhat scarier version of the song, a little more mad, like a riled up ghost-bee of a sort, more cacophonous and insistent. Check it out, won’t ya!

So there you go, some musical history explained for those of you that find that sort of thing interesting.