This is how it works in the modern age: A man writes a book, two other men make a movie based on the book, another man writes a soundtrack to the movie based on the book, then the man who wrote the book writes an essay about his reactions to the movie and its attendant soundtrack in which he insists the book didn't mean much of anything to him till he saw the movie and heard the soundtrack. Then, on top of all that, you, the reader of the book and viewer of the movie, read the author's post-film essay and realize that, yeah, maybe the book and movie and soundtrack and essay all mean something elseafter all--that something else being that thing you couldn't identify initially when you read the book and saw the movie and heard the music but nonetheless laid upon you like a ton of bricks. So it goes. Everything means nothing, till it all adds up to something so overwhelming it means everything. Or something.
The proof lies in, among other places, Nick Hornby's Songbook, a collection of essays about songs penned specifically for author Dave Eggers' McSweeney's gang; the book even comes with its own CD, where Hornby gets to play the rock critic who shows off his turntable taste to his cool new friends (a little Paul Westerberg, natch, a little Rufus Wainwright and Aimee Mann, too). One section finds him writing about "A Minor Incident," a song Damon Gough penned for the soundtrack to last year's About a Boy, based on Hornby's novel in which a selfish and single man named Will (Hugh Grant) finds he's not at all cut out for island living (as in, "no man is an island...") when he falls under the sway of an odd little boy named Marcus (Nicholas Hoult) who finally teaches Will to be, you know, a man. Gough, who performs as Badly Drawn Boy, wrote the song for Marcus' mother, Fiona, who Marcus one day finds overdosed on the sofa--a badly planned suicide, in other words. "A Minor Incident" is her suicide note: "You always were the one to make us stand out in a crowd/Though every once in a while your head was in a cloud/There's nothing you could never do to ever let me down/Just remember that I'll always love you." It reads not like it sounds, but as the perfect heartbreaking riddle.
Hornby wrote the book as pure fiction; he's no more Will Lightman than he is Nicholas Nickleby. But Gough has made the book-movie-etc. meaningful for its author, and Hornby, in writing about why, breaks your heart all over again, because Hornby writes at length about his own badly drawn boy: his son Danny, who is 9 and autistic, and has never spoken to his father. "How did Badly Drawn Boy know that it's the things that Danny will never do (talk, read, play football, all sorts of stuff) that make those who love him feel the most fiercely proud and protective of him?...That's where the excitement lies: in the magical coincidences and transferences of creativity. I write a book that isn't about my kid, and then someone writes a beautiful song based on an episode in my book that turns out to mean something much more personal to me than my book ever did."
And that may all mean nothing to you, but it might be something to keep in mind when you rent (or buy, 'cause you really should) the About a BoyDVD out this week, with its splendid deleted scenes and directors' commentaries and two wondrous BDB videos (for "Silent Sigh" and "Something to Talk About") and other bonuses. Sometimes, a movie isn't just a movie--not to the people who made it, not to the people who wrote it, not to the people who watch it and find a little of themselves in between the lines.