Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Music: Food for the Movie Soul

A long time ago, in a state far far away I was a high school kid still developing my obsessive nature for film. In fact, in high school my movie obsession was probably fairly normal. It didn’t go much beyond seeing “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” on opening weekend, or renting that strange “Blue Velvet” thing with Dennis Hopper that all my friends had been hearing about.

No, my obsession at that time was with music. I had always had something that consumed me as I grew up. First there were Legos, then Dungeons & Dragons, Garbage Pail Kids, and G.I. Joe—but as adulthood loomed a deeper investment into something more profound and personal became necessary. Pushed along by my best friend at the time and the opening of an independent music store, I grabbed onto music as an outcry of the soul.

Really the roots of my music obsession began in grade school, when that same friend and I would throw in a song on his boombox—“a boombox is a powerful thing”—lie down and visualize some form of story to go along with the music. I remember I had trouble separating the movie in my mind for Billy Joel’s “Pressure” from the video that was in heavy rotation on MTV at the time, but Journey’s “Lights” was something wholly original in my mind. After a song had ended the two of us would relate the stories we each envisioned to each other.

Later, after we had already developed our music obsessions into something above and beyond the average teenager’s tastes, we would get together with two other friends as equally ensconced in their music obsessions as the two of us and combine our CD collections into a giant mass of music collage. We developed an intricate system to randomly select which albums would be thrown into a multi-disc player set to shuffle and spend from dusk to dawn playing pool, philosophizing, and commencing with our early discussions on film, while listening to the tunes that inspired us.

In college, I finally started to develop my deep-rooted obsession with film as I studied to be a professional actor. Surround by other actors who recast “The Godfather” as it would’ve been with the Hofstra Drama Department—the honor of Concigliore Tom Hagen was bestowed upon me—my full passion for movies could no longer be denied. But even with the new fascination, I found my music mania flourishing due to the school’s close proximity to a Tower Records.

With a subscription to CMJ (College Music Journal), I soon discovered bands considered obscure by the average music consumer—Bark Psychosis, Codine, Red Red Meat, Julian Cope. I gained a reputation on campus as a music guru. If somebody wanted to know when a new album would be released, they came to me. If someone needed a mix tape of new and fresh music rather than the same old pop tunes, they came to me. The editor of one of the student magazines asked me to review REM’s “Automatic for the People” because he knew I would have it well listened to before anyone else.

The advent of DVD changed the way everyone consumed movies, especially the film buff. It also drastically altered my own consumption of music. My free time shifted to watching more movies. Building my movie collection became my primary fixation and music took a back seat. As I began to know more movies, I became fonder of movie scores, less reliant on popular music, and to a degree less in touch with my own emotions. I no longer sought music for my own emotional outlet, but as in a movie, music became a background element in my life.

Recently, I’ve rediscovered my passion for music. In a way, I feel I lost a decade of my life by failing to pursue my music interests. However, the hard times that a recession brings also will force us to return to comforts of the past. Throughout, what has become an extremely busy summer I’ve eased back to some degree on my movie watching and greatly increased the amount of music I listen to.

My passion for film is just as strong as ever, but it is once again matched by my enthusiasm for music. And once again I feel the connection between the two. Both embody fantasy, but the music can be much more personal than the movies, something I can make my own as well as admire.

The other day, as I sat outside the Lyceum Theater in Arrow Rock, calming myself prior to a performance. I listened to the sad and seductive voice of Margo Timmins of the Cowboy Junkies. She told a story with her lyrics and I pictured it, once again forming a movie in my mind to go along with the song. It was sad and tragic, but it filled me with joy.

You said never to grow old,
But you forgot to tell me how.
You said never to grow old,
And then you sank your teeth into those final feet.

Cowboy Junkies, “Those Final Feet”


Alan Bacchus said...

Thanks for this fun self-reflection Andrew.
I'm now curious what your favourite movie scores are, and music-influenced films.

What about using pop music in films - which movies for you best combined these two passions?

Andrew D. Wells said...

I don't really like picking favorites, but some scores I really enjoy are Basil Poledouris-Conan the Barbarian, John Williams-Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, Danny Elfman-Batman, anything by Bernard Hermann (yes, I will pick just one) my favorite composer, Jerry Goldsmith - Alien, John Carpenter - Halloween, anything by John Barry. I recently picked up Cliff Martinez's Solaris (2002) and find it compelling in a similar vein to the Alien score. And I found a gold mine with the 5 disc set of The Complete Kurosawa, with selections from every one of his films.

As for pop music, nobody does it better than Tarantino. Trent Reznor also did a wonderful job producing the Natural Born Killers Soundtrack.

But that's all just off the top of my head. Perhaps I should consider doing an article similar to the one you did a couple of years ago on composers and soundtracks.

t-rocc said...

nice, man. very nice.

Jud said...

Thanks for this reminder -- getting a chance to visit with a certain old friend recently has got me feeling the same way... where does the time go?

David said...

Very nice, Andy-- an excellent reminder of some time very well spent! I look forward to our next collective musical adventure.