By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
This week's Elizabethtown is only the latest to reveal a director's love affair with soundtracks
By Robert Wilonsky
Cameron Crowe recalls how, in 1982, he had to fight with Universal Studios execs over the soundtrack to this little movie he had written called Fast Times at Ridgemont High. The studio wanted a conventional score--strings and things, very old-fashioned. Crowe demanded something the SoCal kids in the film (and the audience) might actually listen to, and in the end he won the battle; hence, an album filled with the Go-Go's, Stevie Nicks, Tom Petty and Jackson Browne, whose "Somebody's Baby" became its melancholy anthem when Jennifer Jason Leigh lost her virginity in a dimly lit dugout. The songs were as integral to the film as the actors, which is the least one could expect from a movie penned by a former Rolling Stoneand Creemcontributor.
The filmmaker's soundtracks sound like comps made by an old friend with a good ear and great connections: Say Anything... contained not only Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes," used in that iconic scene with John Cusack hoisting that boom box, but also the Replacements' "Within Your Reach." Singlesboasted new tracks by Paul Westerberg, Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam (who appeared in the film). And Almost Famous' soundtrack played like a classic-rock radio station programmed by an alt-rocker with a hard-on for deep cuts. Since Crowe's films play more like concept albums than narratives, his movies overflow with music--but none more so than his new Elizabethtown, an elegy for his late father that switches earthy, alt-country tunes as often as a drunk with a short attention span DJing a late-night throwdown. One second it's Elton John singing "My Father's Gun"; the next, Ryan Adams is begging you to "Come Pick Me Up"; and the next, My Morning Jacket (who appear in the film) wonder "Where to Begin."
"I wanted to have a lot of music in the movie, and there is a lot of music in the movie," says Crowe, whose catalog of possible songs for Elizabethtownwas longer than its screenplay. (He concedes a complete soundtrack would make up a three-disc boxed set.) "Elizabethtownmore than the others, really, was built around the songs--except maybe for Singles. You just choose the music that works, and hopefully you arrange the songs in a mix tape order when you put it out so that it kind of flows as a long-playing experience. It's meant to take you into another world. When Orlando Bloom's character enters into Elizabethtown, the movie takes a shift, like Local Hero or some of my favorite movies that sort of have an elixir that the music provides. And that's what I wanted Elizabethtown to feel like."
Now that the inevitable double disc live album has been released, and seeing that Murry Hammond lives in California and Rhett Miller in N.Y.C., it's a good time to look back at an era when both Old 97's mainstays were extremely local, before the days of Letterman and Leno, before girls gave a damn whether Rhett wore glasses or contacts.
Recorded therapeutically before a sweaty audience at Austin's legendary Gruene Hall in June 2005, Alive and Wired is a band getting back to its core, a 31-track apology for trading in Haggard for the Beatles. Nearly every song from their best effort Too Far To Care is here, songs from seemingly a lifetime ago before Jeanine Garofalo came a-calling. However, the years prior to the Old 97's prove that their early '00s switch from alt-country bumpkins to semi-rowdy popsters was not a drastic departure for either Miller or Hammond.
Way back in 1989, Miller released his solo debut, Mythologies. The disc, produced by Hammond (who, at the time, was fronting The Peyote Cowboys, a noisy trio much indebted to Sonic Youth) got a pressing of 1,000 and features what you might expect from an 18-year-old private school student. Songs like "Candy Apple Corkscrew Hair" and "Between Timid and Timbuktu" practically define fey, as Rhett reveled in his innocent, upper-middle class muse, and Hammond tried to make everything sound as '60s-retro as possible.
The two formed The Sleepy Heroes the following year. The band's lone effort, Under a Radio Sun, added a petite rock pulse to the acoustic daydreaming, as our heroes remained puzzlingly fascinated with psychedelic pop. The quaint, dated offerings included "Dollar Star," "Lullahello" and an absolutely horrible cover of David Bowie's "When I'm Five," as our duo and some guy named Benjamin Warrenfells (credited with drums and "percussiveness") attempted mock folk with neo-stoner, poetic significance. The packaging was just as amusing, from the painting of a bizarre flaming jukebox to the hilarious, bedroom-in-a-field insert photo that is attached here for your entertainment. Hammond claims to have once used copies of Radio for drink coasters, which makes the disc's high price on eBay that much more comic.
So the next time anyone claims the Old 97's sold out alt-country, please remind him or her that the painful history is out there for a hefty online auction fee and a piece of your musical dignity. Rhett and Murry didn't discover pop; they were simply making amends for embarrassing blunders from their past.