Thursday, December 31, 2009

Five Favorite Discs from 2009

Let's face it. 2009 sucked.

Unless you were a soundtrack nerd. For us, 2009 was a neverending roller coaster ride of holy grail releases. Hanover Street. Back to the Future. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Escape From the Planet of the Apes. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Freakin' Khan. Just to name a few. It's a wonder any of us have any money left to buy food.

Yet amidst this treasure trove, many of my personal favorites actually emerged from the more humble, ordinary releases. And, so, here are five discs you might have missed.

Twilight Zone: The Movie. Okay, so this one did not fly below anyone's radar. For me, though, it was a mind-blowing revelation.I've owned the LP since, well, 1983. But apart from enjoying the lovingly recreated theme from the TV series, the album got very few spins. It just never hooked me. Enter FSM's knockout expansion. From the thunderous percussion that opens track 2 to the sometimes slashing sometimes swirling strings that flit and surround the "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," this is a score that truly deserved an expansion. Each section contains delights that simply never appeared on the original suite-form release. I never understood why folks clamored for a rerelease of this music until I popped it into the cd player. Truly an outstanding release that would top the list any year it arrived. But the Jennifer Warnes song still blows.

Captain Nemo and the Underwater City. I've never seen the movie. I'd never even heard of the movie. But something compelled me to shell out for this disc and I couldn't have been happier that I did. Angela Morley's music is delightful, a sort of melding of golden age and silver age sounds that also plays like a cross between a sixties feature score and a sixties tv score. A few cartoon-y moments pop up around the more lyrical passages, but it makes for a solid album and it's remarkable that this kind of score could find a release anywhere at all ever, let alone a release so lovingly produced by the always thorough FSM crew. And, yes, one of the main themes does have a resemblance to part of Goldsmith's Supergirl.

Space 1999: Year Two. Look. If Space: 1999 is the red-headed stepchild of science fiction tv, then the second season of the show is some sort of freaky mutant zombie buried underneath a boarded up closet. It was juvenile and ridiculous when it first played on television and it's all but unwatchable now. But I still love it. I harbor a secret love of the 70's tracksuit-style jackets, the absurd dismissal of many fundamental laws of physics, and the leaden-paced, nonsensical storylines. And I've had a crush on Maya that's remained unabated since 1976. For years, decades even, Derek Wadsworth's jazzed up, synthy theme tune for season two stayed right at the top of my holy grail list, until the mid-nineties saw a promo release of some of his music for the show. When I saw that Silva Screen was releasing a new disc of his Year 2 music, I wasn't sure if I should spring for it, in light of the promo I already owned. But ultimately I did and I'm happy to say i made the right decision. The new disc is terrific, offering numerous passages that don't appear on the promo, and all of it crisp and gorgeous. I never heard the 2cd Fanderson release, so I can't compare it to that, and the new release lacks the nifty alternate themes from the promo, but as an addition it's simply invaluable. The music itself is dynamic and jazzy in a seventies Spyro Gyra kind of way. I can't always sit through a whole episode of this stuff, but I can always sit through this entire disc.

Inside Daisy Clover. I'm not really much of a golden age guy. But there are a few specifc scores that I'll snap up if they get released and, well, if the movie stars Natalie Wood, there's an ever bigger chance of me going for it no matter what era it's from. Inside Daisy Clover remains one of Natalie's better films and the score that accompanies it is also well done. I've long loved the "You're Gonna Hear From Me" song but to hear it done by Wood herself amidst the bonus material was another chance to realize why, sadly, she was nearly always dubbed. As we say in the South, bless her heart she tried her best. This is a dynamite 2 disc set of great Previn music and alternate takes and unused songs and I just love it. (By the way, I loved the original novel even more than the film. It's still a great read.) A real treasure for music fans and Natalie Woods fans alike.

Which brings me to Love With The Proper Stranger. This is easily my favorite Natalie Wood film, and the tender, lyrical score finally FINALLY got a release at the end of this year. It's a typically lovely effort from Elmer Bernstein and is paired with another score to a film called A Girl Named Tamiko. The score is short and sweet, with a few tougher passages depicting some of the rough times the characters face. You can easily add the Jack Jones song not included (and not missed) and give yourself the full bells and banjos treatment. Go see the film, then you'll get that last reference. Oh, never mind.

From the Film Score Monthly blog

Monday, November 23, 2009

Man From Atlantis

It's no secret that the music from Man From Atlantis, the short lived 1977 NBC series, is, was and always shall be my one and only original holy grail of releases. In particular, it's the music from the pilot movie that I've been wanting to own since, well, 1977.

While no cd is in sight as far as I know, I am pleased to see that Warner Brothers has released the pilot film on dvd as part of its Archive Collection. The disc is printed on demand and ships only to US addresses. It's no frills, just the movie, no bonus features or anything as far as I can tell.
For someone like me, the information found on the order page is telling. The copyright goes to Warner Brothers and Hanna-Barbera. So that, at least, gives me hope that the rights are fairly clear and maybe, just maybe, someone out there can license the music.
Disclaimer: I am a blogger, I am only a blogger, I have no knowledge or special relationship with anyone at any label, including but not limited to the fine folks at FSM. So I have NO IDEA AT ALL whether a soundtrack release of this music is, was or ever will be planned.
But here's hoping.
Fred Karlin scored the pilot film and the subsequent episodes. I haven't seen anything but the pilot film since, well, 1977. I haven't watched the pilot, released on vhs, for many years, but much of the music still lurks in the back of my brain. Especially, the wistful music that plays near the very end as the Man From Atlantis swims back to the sea, only to engage in flashbacks to his adventures, causing him to return for the possibility of a sequel. If you're familiar with Karlin's work on Futureworld, his music here is in much the same vein.
I seem to remember seeing a thread on the message board around the time that Fred Karlin passed away that indicated that Reel Music Down Under (who released the Futureworld cd) had the tapes for Man From Atlantis but needed someone to produce it.
Maybe someday someone will respond to that call and make my tiny little dream come true. In the meantime, I'd better order that dvd. Then I'm off to the pool to try that undulating dolphin-like swim technique. Just like I used to do in the summer of 1977.

From the Film Score Monthly blog

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Star Trek Fears

I tried not to find out too much about the new Star Trek movie before it came out. I wanted to see it with as little foreknowledge of plot and characters and such as possible.

But I read a couple of times that Bruce Greenwood was playing Captain Pike.

And that made me nervous. Because when I read that name, I pictured this face:
Bruce Davison

So I thought that Pike was going to be portrayed as, well, a bit of a cowardly weasel.

Needless to say, I was thinking of Bruce Davison instead of the actual Bruce Greenwood, who looks like this.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Wisdom Figure

Last fall I sat in on a six week memoir writing class. We'd be given a couple of topics during class time and just do some free writing for 15 minutes on that topic.

One of the first exercises we did involved first making a list of five wisdom figures, people who've assisted us in our quest for meaning, who've helped shape our core values. I scratched out a list with a little difficulty and picked one of them to write on. Here it is.

Okay, so he's got pointy ears. So what? Big deal. Yes, he's from another planet. Yes, he lacks emotions. Yes, he's fictional. But Spock is there, in my memory, in my views of the world, in the views of my own life. He stands there erect, hands clasped behind his back in an "at ease" position that I still mimic to this day. Every Sunday as I recite the Apostle's Creed, I'm standing straight and still like Spock. He's loyal. Rational. Yes, I have to say it, he's logical. He appreciates the scientific method. and while he maintains a cool reserve, we all know that underneath he's got a seething cauldron of raw feelings boiling away, kept under control by a single upturned eyebrow and a healthy curiosity about all things new. Puzzles are a challenge, a way to learn something new. And while he's been known to throw a punch or two in his time, he mostly handles conflict with a zen-like detachment, coolly pinching an opponent's shoulder, dropping the villain instantly into a cold, deep sleep. He's a stranger amidst a crew of irrational humans, trying to understand the foreign language of emotional responses.

For a kid who kept moving to new houses, new cities, new friends, why not rely on someone constant, someone whose judgment you could trust, who would loyally appear in your living room weekday afternoons at 4. Kirk got the girls. And that's certainly an appealing trait to emulate. But Spock truly understood -- if not himself, at least the world - the universe - around him. Maybe, one day, I'll be able to say the same. It's not logical, I know, but maybe, someday, it will be true. Could he actually be a part of me, lurking deep within, forged in childhood, shaped in high school?

Speech contest. Do a dramatic monologue. I come up with a selection from Leonard Nimoy's book, I Am Not Spock, an internal dialogue section, in which Nimoy wrestles with the Spock inside himself. Maybe, inside me, there's still a Spock, a logical creature, trying to get out.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

My Two Cents (Thoughts on Star Trek as Originally Posted to Film Score Monthly)

So, rather surprisingly, I got out of the house and made it to a movie theater. On an opening weekend. It’s harder than you think with my two kids. They’re high energy, they’re fun and they like to do everything together as a family and by the end of a day it’s all I can do to drag myself into bed.

But I wanted to see Star Trek. I’d hoped to see it sooner rather than later, but it was proving tricky. I didn’t really want to go by myself (although I was ready to resort to that). My wife decided from the promos that the film was aimed at 18 year old boys and would be “too much” for her. The friend I have in town who’s closest to a Trek fan already had plans to go see it with his girlfriend. I figured I’d get to see it at some point with another friend – and, frankly, I had no idea of his history with or opinion of the Trek franchise. But then he called Friday evening. “You want to go see it tonight?”

The kids tucked into bed, I ate a bowl of ice cream to help guard against sleepiness and headed to the theater. I think I was expecting to see at least a few people dressed up in Starfleet uniforms of some vintage or other, but there was nary a comm badge in sight. And I left my Spock ears at home (in the package where they’ve always been, to be fair).

Like Mark Ford and Jeff Bond and, I’m sure, many others around here, I grew up on the reruns. I discovered the show circa 1970, around second grade, and it quickly became a staple. The first books I ever bought with my own money were some of the Blish novelizations and David Gerrold’s making of books, The World of Star Trek and The Trouble With Tribbles. I searched in vain for toys that bore any real resemblance to the actual series props. But in the hinterlands of Iowa, there were no conventions – at least none of which I was ever aware – and it remained only a beloved show and, later, a beloved series of films, but I never became a raving “We’re not Trekkies, We’re Trekkers!” kind of guy. I finally allowed myself to enjoy the Next Generation, but I only caught one or two episodes of Deep Space Nine (yes, the Tribbles episode was one) and gave up on Voyager after the pick up truck in space episode (although I did begin watching again when Seven of Nine showed up. Yeah, I know, so sue me.) It took me a couple of weeks to finally catch Insurrection and I almost didn’t bother to see Nemesis in a theater at all (but the hype about Jerry’s score finally sold me a ticket).

I tried not to find out much about this new installment. The whole idea seemed a little, well, lame. Why do they keep trying to do prequels? Who cares already? And as for JJ Abrams, I know nothing. Haven't seen lost or anything else he's done. I don't even really know what else he's done right off the top of my head.

So now that I’ve seen it, I thought I should blog some thoughts about it here. But with a coupla message board threads and blog posts already bursting forth with opinions, it seems sort of anticlimactic to add my tiny opinion to the fray. But I loved it. I had a great time. I don’t care that it killed old Trek continuity. I mean, come on, one of the first episodes of the original series called him James R. Kirk and the term Federation didn’t even show up until, I don’t know, late in the first season. So let’s not kid ourselves. It’s just a show. We should really just relax.

And, in it’s latest form, it’s a rousing good time. Sure, the fights and editing are a little Bourne-ish at times (cut so quickly it’s hard to follow what the hell’s going on) and the plot’s not going to withstand a whole lot of critical explication, but it hit the right buttons and never had me glancing at my watch. The character introductions were spot on, the little nods here and there to the big nerds (like seeing an Admiral Komack) were sprinkled in nicely and it was just a lot of fun,. I haven’t had this much fun seeing a movie since, well, I don’t really know. Granted, I don’t really get to see movies anymore, but still…

As to the score, well, since the days of Goldsmithian Hornerosity are long gone and never to return, I thought it worked well. I’m eager to hear it on cd. I was never a big fan of Courage’s theme apart from the justly iconic opening fanfare, but it really made me smile to hear it again in this new setting. Everything old is new again.

Now if I could only justify buying the amazingly awesome prop toys that are being made these days.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


I'm thrilled to feel like I know a great novelist. John Pipkin, who (along with his wife Eileen) was a classmate of my good pal Julie Steward while they were both at Rice University , just published his first novel, and it's getting amazing reviews.

It's called Woodsburner: A Noveland it riffs off of a little known incident in the life of Thoreau.

He got a cover blurb from historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and a review I read of it the other day declares it Pulitzer Prize material. Zounds!

My copy arrived today and I can't wait to read it. I haven't seen John or Eileen for years (since I left Houston in 1996ish), but I remember them fondly -- and also remember when John was working on a big sprawling novel about Ireland. Maybe that one will be his follow-up.

Anyway, buy the novel. Support people we know!

Friday, April 17, 2009

My New Favorite Coffee Place

Sometime last year I walked into a Dunkin' Donuts for some, well, coffee and donuts. I noticed a big plastic travel mug on sale and I figured, what the heck, I could use a mug to keep at the shop and my old Dunkin' Donuts mugs are, well, old. So I bought one. It looked a lot like this. (Image from an ebay auction of a mug similar to the one I bought.)

Today, Bob and I stopped at a Starbucks to get some coffee. This would be a nice change of pace from the 52 cent gas station coffee I'd been getting the last couple of weeks. So I handed over my Dunkin' Donuts mug and asked them to fill it up. I perused the pastry selection while the barista rinsed out my mug. Then she walked to the back of the store. She came back out and said this to me. "My manager says that if you give us your Dunkin' Donuts mug, he'll let you have any mug in the store."


I walked over to the shelf of mugs. I glanced around, I asked the barista, "Which one is the most expensive?" She showed me a mug she particularly liked. I liked it, too. I said, "Okay!"

She filled it with hot, tasty coffee. I thanked everyone several times and proclaimed this to be the best day ever. The manager smiled and told me, "Good choice. I have one like that at home." I asked him what he was going to do with my old mug. He unceremoniously dropped it into the trash.

I now feel a warm affection toward this particular Starbucks. This was only the second time I've ever walked into this particular Starbucks. It certainly won't be the last.

Behold the mug!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Star Trek Lives

Yes, it seems as if, once again, life imitates art.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Lump in the Throat

(Another Piece Written for Film Score Monthly)

Maybe it’s a lump in the throat or a chill up your spine. Perhaps you feel the hair stand up on the back of your neck or you just get a good case of the shivers. Whichever way it manifests itself, there’s one piece of music that can still get to you, even after hearing the piece again and again and again.

And not just that feeling you got the first few times you heard that THX crescendo.

These are emotional moments, cues that invoke memories of a particularly poignant moment in a movie, or maybe just in your life. Moments that hit you sometimes for no logical reason at all.

For a long time, for me, it was “The Enterprise,” the rapturous cue from Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I’d turn it up good and loud and no matter how many times I heard it, when that bass rumbled at cue’s end, I’d feel it, that emotional rush. There’s something transcendent about that piece, and for a Trekkie nerd like me, that long, loving look at the starship during the film could never go on too long, especially not when accompanied by Goldsmith’s glorious music.

More recently, I keep getting the goosebumps whenever I listen to “All the Strange, Strange Creatures” from the Doctor Who Series 3 soundtrack. Here’s the thing. I didn’t cry at my wedding. I didn’t cry at the birth of my children. But when the Master returned on Doctor Who, I got chills, I got choked up, I started crying like a little girl. It was like a bolt coming straight from my childhood, a weird nostalgic vision of watching the Jon Pertwee Doctor battle wits with the Roger Delgado Master. And hearing that music reminds me of that moment, that amazing revelation that the Master had indeed survived to fight another day. Oh, by the way, spoiler alert.

Another that always affects me, although not in such a visceral way, is James Newton Howard’s Promised Land. The film, little seen, came out in 1988 and starred Kiefer Sutherland and Meg Ryan. I was living in L.A. at the time and saw the film in a theater on Van Nuys Boulevard, and when it was over, I walked directly across the street to a record store and immediately bought the cassette. There’s something soothing about the music for me. I associate it, I think, with that period of my life, when the world seemed wide open with possibilities and whenever I hear those first notes of "The Plymouth Waltz," I immediately feel just a bit more calm and centered. There’s almost a physical sensation of tension dropping away from me when I listen to the CD. It’s a powerful testament to the amazing ability of music to affect my mood. I think I’ll go turn it on right now.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Damnation Alley, or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Cockroaches

(another one for Film Score Monthly)

Early in eighth grade, still living off the high of Star Wars and the appearance of The Man From Atlantis as a weekly series, I began to really look forward to seeing Damnation Alley. I’d read about it in Starlog and become totally enamored with the Landmaster. It promised to be the coolest vehicle since Ark II.

After seeing the film, I still loved the Landmaster, but the only other thing that made any sort of lasting impression was the scene featuring the giant cockroaches. I’d already begun to appreciate film music, playing my Star Wars album almost continually and recording the Man From Atlantis theme from the television, but I noticed nothing about Damnation Alley’s score. I might not have even known the name Jerry Goldsmith at that time. Life went on.

When I lived in LA in the late eighties, I always got a secret thrill when I’d come around that corner on the 101 toward Hollywood and see the Landmaster and a couple of hovercrafts from the Logan’s Run series rotting behind a fence.

It never occurred to me to think about the scores that accompanied any of those vehicles on screen.

Years go by. I do not think about Damnation Alley.

Then, a couple of years back, I noticed that the movie was showing up pretty frequently on Fox Movie Classics, so I figured I’d watch it. By then I’d seen message board threads praising the score and lamenting its “lost” status. I watched the movie. I sort of noticed the score this time but mostly noticed how dumb the whole thing was. I still loved the Landmaster, though.

Then Varese released the Goldsmith at Fox box and I bit. And now I truly got exposed to the score. And I loved it. It’s a great example of the kind of thing Jerry did so well – creating a soundscape that always complements, often enhances and sometimes transcends the material on screen.

After the typically wonderful main title sequence built on brass fanfares, the score moves to an ingenious cue that sonically creates a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Here you can detect hints of some of the effects that would be employed even more devastatingly in Alien just two years later. Next comes some Goldsmithian bombast as the brass motif gets a real workout. Then the Landmaster is introduced in a suitably heroic fashion with more reference to the main brass motif, ending with some discord that perhaps hints at the troubled journey the travelers will face. Then we get the cockroach attack, one of the film’s most embarrassing sections that nevertheless gets a vicious underscore from Jerry that truly creates a feeling of simultaneous action and terror. It’s been said many times that Goldsmith seemed to be able to score some idealized version of a film in his head rather than what he actually saw on screen, and this entire score is a great example of that. Even the closing cue, with a trumpet-led melody evoking blue skies and a new beginning for the human race, captures the mood and tone of the film better than the actual scene as filmed. The entire nine track score as represented on the disc plays out as a satisfying musical journey on its own, as so many of Goldsmith’s scores do.

Now I can’t speak to any missing tracks, the missing electronic overlays and all that. I haven’t seen the film again since getting the Varese disc so I haven’t been able to compare what’s there with what we got on disc. But I’m more than satisfied. Now when I see a reference to Damnation Alley, instead of just recalling a cheesy film about giant cockroaches and an RV on steroids, I think of another Goldsmith score I absolutely love.

But I still kinda want my own Landmaster.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Rescued Monologue

I wrote an opening monologue for the Buddy Holly concert show I did recently for Centre Stage and I really liked the way it turned out.

Of course, it got cut for time.

So here it is, so I can at least send it out into the world somehow...

The day the music died. It’s a cliché now, but at the time, we hardly knew what to think. Back in 1959, rock and roll was young, a fad, it seemed, followed only by teenagers. Sure, the big news outlets made cursory mentions of the crash, but it was only in the halls of the high schools that the news really reverberated. The few radio stations in town that actually played rock and roll spun some of the hits in memoriam and Dick Clark featured a tribute on his American Bandstand. But it took time for us to really understand what we’d lost. The talent. The music. The potential. These were artists knocked down in their prime, taken away in a senseless tragedy that was miles and years away from the drug overdoses and craziness that would rob us of later musical icons. When that plane went down in that snowy Iowa cornfield, we lost some of our innocence. We lost some amazing innovation. We lost the driving musical genius that had burned so brightly in rock and roll’s infancy.

The last concert they played happened exactly 50 years ago at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa. Ritchie Valens, the Big Bopper and Buddy Holly were touring with Dion and the Belmonts and a young singer named Frankie Sardo on a tour that was dubbed the Winter Dance Party. What a show that must have been…

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Long Ride

(for the Film Score Monthly blog)

When my band director asked if I’d give him a ride, my brain scrambled onto one thought: what cassette did I have in the car?

This was high school. This was the early eighties. This was the time for cassettes. To be fair, though, I had cassette players in all my cars until about 2003. I didn’t see any advantage to having a cd player since the cassettes I listened to were all mix tapes (although I never heard the term mix tape until maybe 2001). Why be forced to just listen to a prerecorded cd when I could record my own hand-picked mix of selections – and tape over it with a new batch at will?

At that time, most of my tapes all sounded pretty much alike, filled with tracks from Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back, of course, plus a couple of tracks from Superman and two or three cues from Star Trek The Motion Picture. Only the playing order varied, but you’d undoubtedly hear "The Asteroid Field" and "Ben’s Death/TIE Fighter Attack" and "The Enterprise" and the Main Titles from all and the End Titles from all and maybe something like Maynard Ferguson’s take on the Star Wars theme as an alternative.

But when my high school band director asked if I could give him a ride back to the school, I worried about what tape I currently had in the car and which specific track would come on when we got in the car. Earlier that year we had played the "Main Title March" from Superman as part of our field show in marching band, and I kind of hoped that it would play while we were in the car so he would recognize my appreciation for the art of John Williams.

We crammed into my orange VW beetle and started off. As luck would have it, when the music came on it was smack dab in the middle of the Superman March. I felt a swell of pride, envisioning him smirking happily at my choice of music.

We drove in silence for a few minutes.

“Is this Star Wars?” he asked, incredulous, the tone betraying the notion that he couldn’t believe anyone would willingly listen to this stuff.

“Uh, actually, it’s Superman,” I replied.

“Oh yeah,” he said. “I can’t really tell them apart.”

I think we drove the rest of the way in silence.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Close to the Source

(Written for the Film Score Monthly Blog)

I couldn’t figure out why a hole had been punched in the upper left hand corner. The album was sealed in plastic wrap, but someone had shoved a pencil or something through one corner. Is that why it was selling for only a dollar?

There didn’t seem to be anything wrong with it other than that, so I begged my mother to buy it for me. I owned only one other LP at the time: The Carpenters Close To You (I’d had trouble deciding between it and Olivia Newton John’s Have You Never Been Mellow, but opted for the Carpenters when I decided I recognized more song titles on their record than on Olivia’s). This was before the arrival of that historical pivot point, Star Wars. I had some 45s, like “Last Train to Clarksville” and “Popcorn” by Hot Butter, but LPs were still a bit beyond my usual price range.

So this new LP, stuck in a box with a bunch of country and western albums and priced at only a dollar, seemed like it might be something I could convince my mother to buy for me. It was the soundtrack to a movie called Westworld, a movie I’d seen on television and really enjoyed. Plus, my friend Reese claimed that his dad, who lived far away in California, had actually worked on the movie, helping to do the pixelated simulation of the robot’s vision.

When my mother agreed to buy it, I couldn’t wait to get back home. Westworld turned out to be a wonderful collection and the tracks are burned into my memory. It opened with the “Western Warble,” which instantly delighted me with its toothy whistled sound. I loved the “Hovercraft Muzak.” I loved the “Bar Room Piano.” The first “Chase” track, with its electronic rattlesnake sound gave me the chills. I even enjoyed the medieval world tracks. The album’s got an amazingly delicious variety.

More than anything, though, I loved “Stagecoach Arrival.” Clocking in at a single minute in length, I still hum it in my head to this day if I want to count off one minute. I chose it as the theme for the “radio station” that broadcast from my bedroom via cassette, station QQQQ. We’d “broadcast” episodes of Space:1999 and Man From Atlantis, the audio taped off the TV. “Stagecoach Arrival” opened each tape, and then I’d come in, holding my nose to alter my voice, as QQQQ’s resident announcer. I’d start talking right about 18 seconds into the track, just as the first trumpety fanfare stuff begins to fade, and say “Welcome to QQQQ!” I’d then let the guitar section play out and, about 30 seconds in, just after the fiddle introduces the banjos, I’d return to announce “On this tape…” and go on to describe the TV episode or music mix or whatever would follow.

Flash forward some twenty or thirty years.

Film Score Monthly releases Westworld on CD. I may have been the only person buying the CD for Westworld and not for the Goldsmith it was paired with. The idea of an expanded Westworld thrilled me. What kind of wonderful extra stuff could there be?

The first thing that struck me about FSM’s release was how much I loved The Carey Treatment. I’d never heard of the film, didn’t know Roy Budd as anything more than just a name and, if it had been released by itself, I most likely would have read the release announcement and never thought about it again. Instead, I was instantly blown away by the marvelously infectious main title. I loved the intimate piano version of the theme in the courtship track. And the jazzy party cue. And then perhaps my favorite source cue ever, the track called 1M2. It’s a driving jazz number that stands up on its own as a composition that would fit on the setlist of a swinging combo playing dark, smoky nightclubs.

Oh, and then there’s Westworld.

The playing order is different, much more in the film order than the LP sequence. But there were the Hovercraft pieces, plus a bonus Hovercraft piece on disc 2. And everything else was there, plus some extra source cues. But the sound was subtly different here and there - most especially on my beloved “Stagecoach Arrival.” Little did I know that the mix on the old LP was not the mix used in the film. The track now has a harmonica overlay in the section that immediately followed my “Welcome” announcement. Every time I hear it now, I’m startled because it doesn’t fit the version I grew up on, the version that plays in my head as a built-in stopwatch. But I love it. I love all the tracks on the CD. Sure, it’s full of source cues, usually the bane of a soundtrack afficianado’s existence, but these are detailed source cues, not just throwaways. These cues help define the films they’re in. And they make great listening apart from the film.

One of these days, I need to really listen to the Goldsmith stuff on disc 2. I still haven’t been able to warm up to the idea of listening to Coma. Maybe it’s those two disco tracks that open the Coma section on the CD. Yikes. I mean, I love the CHiPs discs, I love Stu Phillips’ “Something Kinda Funky” from Buck Rogers, so it’s not an innate fear of disco. It’s just that the two Coma tracks are, not to put too fine a point on it, crappy. Even (sacrilege, I know) Goldsmith’s muzak-y version of his “Theme from The Prize” is, well, boring.

But I guess that just makes the other parts of the disc that much more amazing. Roy Budd and Fred Karlin somehow outmastered the master himself when it came to writing source cues.

Now, I wonder if I still have any of those old episodes of Man From Atlantis on cassette? Sure wish somebody would release that soundtrack…

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


Yeah, I did that 25 random things about me on the Facebook a few weeks ago. And today I thought I'd post them here because they were fun to write.

1. I am, at the moment I'm typing this, listening to a discotastic track from the recently released soundtrack of Chips. Volume 1. I also own Volume 2. I anticipate buying Volume 3 when it gets released.

2. In high school, I dated the head cheerleader. For two years.

3. My son, Shaw, is named after my great-grandfather. Even though he died when I was young, I have vivid memories of Grampa Shaw (Shaw was his surname -- his first name was Arthur) sitting in his customary spot: the chair beside my grandfather's t.v.

4. My daughter, Emma, is named after my wife's great great great cousin, or some such relationship. Her name was Emma LeConte and she kept a diary when she was 16 or so that documented her experiences as General Sherman marched on Columbia SC where she lived. The diary was later published and is still in print. It's called When the World Ended: The Diary of Emma LeConte and it's a really interesting read.

5. While in middle school I won some kind of contest, maybe you filled out a card at a store and dropped it in the box. The prize was a 40 channel CB. I wish I still had it, even though I still don't know what I'd do with it. Better go take a 10-100.

6. I wrote a short documentary about the SC upstate during World War 2 for an exhibit at a local history museum. I'm informed that it won an award from a national organization, but I've never seen any evidence of that.

7. I've lived in 40 different dwellings.

8. I didn't cry at my wedding or at the birth of my children. But when The Master returned on Doctor Who last year, I got goosebumps, got choked up then cried like a little girl.

9. Today I wore a scarf that my parents first gave me when I was in third or fourth grade.

10. In the nineties, I sold a joke to Playboy.

11. The first time I rode my bike after moving to Chicago, it got stolen. So I bought an old green Raleigh with big old man fenders on it and I stuck a nice nerdy basket on the handlebars. Once I got to SC, I didn't ride it at all and it sat in the basement through floods and then, in our current basementless house, sat behind the fence under a tarp. Now that Emma has a bike, I thought I'd get my back up to speed. I took it to a bike shop. They just shook their heads sadly. I left there discouraged and went to my next scheduled errand, dropping off some items at a thrift shop. I got to the back door to do the drop off and there was an old green bicycle with big old man fenders. I asked if it was for sale and they looked at it and said "How about fifteen bucks?" and I took it straight to the bike shop for new tires and a check up. I picked it up today. It's sweet. Now I need to put my basket on it.

12. The first time I met my wife, she was sitting in the bleachers, looking radiant in the sun. The next time I saw her she had a cold and had to keep blowing her runny nose. But I didn't care. I could still feel the radiance.

13. Sometimes I think about things I did years or decades before and I shudder.

14. I've been keeping a list of every book I've read since 1987.

15. There are twelve pages so far.

16. Here are the first and last books on each page. Den of Thieves by Katherine Stall and Before I Get Old by Dave Marsh. The Columbo Phile by Mark Dawidziak and The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury. Mostly Harmless by Douglas Adams and Throat Sprockets by Tim Lucas. And Now For Something Completely Trivial by Kim Howard Johnson and Moby Dick Rehearsed by Orson Welles. Good Benito by Alan Lightman and The Alligator Report by W.P. Kinsella. Sombrero Fallout by Richard Brautigan and A Widow For One Year by John Irving. Singin in the Rain by Peter Wollen and Exploring Space: 1999 by John Kenneth Muir. The Year 2000 by Harry Harrison and Foundation and Empire by Isaac Asimov. Sources of Strength by Jimmy Carter and How to Build A Time Machine by Paul Davies. The Subatomic Monster by Isaac Asimov and The Expectant Father by Armin Brott. The Birth Book by William Sears and Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way by Susan McCutcheon. The Android's Dream by John Scalzi and Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov.

17. Dunkin' Donuts. Not Krispy Kreme.

18. There's still something radiant about my wife.

19. I've never seen American Idol or Survivor.

20. I'm a little sad that my children will not grow up in a world where Star Trek and Gilligan and Brady's and Lost in Space and McHale's Navy and other cultural icons greet them after school.

21. I'm supposed to be uploading photos from the camera and sitting on the couch with my wife right now, so I better finish up.

22. Favorite number is still 42.

23. My dad took me to see Tora Tora Tora when I was a kid. Apparently, I rooted for the Japs.

24. I wish we had some pie in the house. Razzleberry pie from Marie Callendar. Or just a nice cherry pie. Or apple.

25. Sometimes I wish I'd become an astrophysicist. Or a Dunkin' Donuts manager.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Still Waiting

(written for the Film Score Monthly blog)

I spend most of the day building furniture and cabinets and otherwise creating a lot of sawdust. Our shop sits in an old building in a fashionable section of Main Street.

A few years back, my boss built himself a guitar (an absolutely gorgeous archtop) and started learning to play it. One day I decided to dig my saxophone out of the attic, where it had resided more or less untouched for 20 years, and play along. We gathered up some old standards and started sitting out in front of the building playing music during coffee breaks.

Since we’re on Main Street, we often get a fair amount of foot traffic. Sometimes, one of those passersby will drop a dollar into the open guitar case. And sometimes, just sometimes, a couple will be walking by and they’ll pause while we’re playing something like “Misty” and they’ll listen for a few moments and then they’ll look at each other and they’ll begin to dance, gently swaying back and forth on the sidewalk.

And so often, especially when I’m warming up, I’ll start playing Jerry Goldsmith tunes and see if anyone pricks up an ear in recognition.

Nothing too easy or blatant, like the big Star Trek march, but “Ilia’s Theme” definitely. Or the gorgeous motif that opens “The Old City” track from Masada. I’ll do the doDEEdoDEEdo doDEEdo horn fanfare from The Wind and the Lion. I’ll attempt the theme from Hawkins. I’ve played that wonderful melody from Medicine Man that soars in a string arrangement during “The Trees.” I’ve done my own interpretation of the theme from Bandolero and completely failed to do justice to The Great Train Robbery.

And all the time I watch, looking for a turned head or a knowing grin, waiting for that one person to cast me a quizzical glance and say, “Is that Jerry Goldsmith you’re playing?”

I’ve been playing this game on and off for nearly four years.

I’m still waiting.

But I’m not giving up. You never know who’s going to walk by. Maybe someone will stop one morning and say, “That’s a lovely song. What is it?” and I’ll be able to encourage them to look for a particular cd that will provide them with the tune in all its original glory.

Or, more likely, I’ll just continue tooting to deaf ears. I mean not even my guitar-playing boss, sitting beside me as I noodle through Goldsmith tunes, has ever commented on them. I’m a lone voice crying into the wilderness. But that’s okay. It’s still fun to see if I can play an identifiable version of the theme from Room 222 on alto sax. I can amuse myself for minutes at a time doing this, and that’s what matters in the end.

Maybe next time I’ll try some John Barry. “Bond Meets the Girls” from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, anyone?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

True Story

(This was written for Film Score Monthly's blog and is also posted there.)

True story.
I walk to the back of a huge warehouse into the confined, fume-filled finishing room. I get the attention of David, the busy man in charge, and ask him my question (it’s about putting glaze on a cabinet door, if you must know). He asks if I have some time to wait, then sprays some noxious finish on my sample door.
I stand around waiting for it to dry. He gets back to his business, pausing only to press play on the portable cd player perched on a shelf beside bottles of stain. The music begins. It’s instrumental, which immediately draws my attention. It’s not country or pop or anyone singing at all. And it’s not classical either, not exactly. I can’t place it -- but I know film music when I hear it. So I ask him what we’re listening to.
Mask of Zorro,” he replies.
I freak out a little, inside at least. If you’re here on this site reading these words, you know how rare it is to hear film music being played anywhere other than your own stereo.
“You listen to a lot of film music?” I ask, trying to draw him out.
“Not really,” he says. “I like this one. It’s by James Horton.”
I bite my tongue, then, “You listen to a lot of Horner?”
“Nah,” he says, measuring out a custom stain color. “If you’ve heard one, you’ve heard them all.”
I laugh out loud and actually do a fist jab into the air.
“I have a friend who listens to a lot of this stuff,” he continues, “and I like this one, but all of Horton’s stuff tends to sound the same. He seems to have just one bag of tricks he uses over and over again.”
In my mind, I see all those message board threads, all the back and forth, and I hear the danger motif in my head and I recall my own first experiences with Horner. I actually saw Battle Beyond the Stars in the theater and just loved the score. For a long time I thought that if I could only have that soundtrack album, I’d be happy. When I got it, I laughed with glee at the flubbed notes during Cowboy and the Jackers and thought the opening French horn trills were thrilling and unexpected and my girlfriend, who played French horn, agreed that the score was a lot of fun to hear. I remember getting excited seeing Horner’s name on the Star Trek II poster, and joking with my girlfriend that maybe we’d hear those French horns again. Little did we know…
Back in the warehouse, I eventually asked David if he ever listens to Jerry Goldsmith.
“Never heard of him,” he said. “What did he write?”
I’m pretty sure I now know exactly what the word “aghast” means. Sadly, I was so flummoxed that I couldn’t come up with anything. I eventually coughed out, “Uh, the first Star Trek movie, uh, Patton…” and then all I could think of was The Thirteenth Warrior, which I was currently listening to in my car, and other similarly obscure titles. Mercifully, David interrupted my train of thought.
“No, I don’t really care about that old stuff. Who did National Treasure? That one’s great.”
This happened to me last week. My purpose in relating it is not to reopen the various Horner self-plagiarism arguments or start a round of bashing Media Ventures or whatever it is they’re calling themselves these days. No, I just wanted to share because even as we think of ourselves as a tiny group of aficionados, as much as we sometimes feel like musical outcasts in a pop culture sea, there are others out there. There are regular folks out there who like one or two scores, and that’s about it. They don’t need to own every Trevor Rabin score. They just like to listen to National Treasure. They have a favorite Horner score and they couldn’t care less about Jerry Goldsmith. And it’s okay. It’s what makes this music so great. It doesn’t always just disappear amidst the wall of sound that most movies have become. Sometimes a score can pop out and grab the attention of someone who normally wouldn’t care less. And that person will seek out that score and it won’t be just the hardcore Rabin completists who buy the cd. Sometimes it’s just a guy who likes what he heard in one single movie.
And next time, maybe he’ll perk up when he sees the composer’s name in the credits. And later, he’ll form some general opinions and maybe, just maybe, one day he’ll stumble across this wonderful little place called Film Score Monthly.
Then we can finally start ramming Goldsmith down his throat…

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Breakfast Challenge Details

So here's the whole deal on this breakfast challenge. I lined up the ingredients.
I whisked the eggs. Added milk. Added flour.
Yes, I added flour.
And I whisked it up as it got thicker and thicker and thicker.
And I realized I'd pout in a whole cup of flour instead of half a cup.


So, I set that bowl aside and started over again. From the beginning.

Now, I finally tossed the butter into the hot pan.
Then pulled it out.
Swirled it a bit.
Added the batter.
And stuck it in to cook.
Then I couldn't just throw out the other batter, so I tossed in a bit of brown sugar and sprinkled in some baking soda and tossed it into lumps on a baking sheet.
The pancakey thing cooked, sort of rising, but not really a whole lot.
Then I took it out and it deflated even more and was a sort of flat thing which was okay with powdered sugar and syrup all over it.
Then I baked the lumps for a bit and ended up with this. Pretty bread like and a bit bland, but tasted great when each bite was smothered in raspberry preserves.
And thus ended the day's cooking adventures.


Well, mine didn't puff up anywhere near Charlotte's.

Kind of tough and bland.

Ah well.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Saturday Breakfast Challenge

Why write this up myself when Charlotte has already done it so well?

So, That Neil Guy has issued a culinary challenge. (Not so much a challenge really, but it sounds cooler to say it that way, like he took off his oven mitts and slapped me with them or something.) Anyway, he was intrigued by this recipe, and will be making it this Saturday morning. He asked me to make it as well, to see if we get similar results. Since it is a baking experiment, it is likely that we will have wildly varied results.

The funny thing is, this is a recipe for a Dutch Baby. AB made a Dutch Baby on his "Popover Sometime" episode and I was really intrigued by it. It looks like a ginormous Yorkshire pudding.

So I will be preparing a Dutch Baby this Saturday morning, using the above-linked recipe. Wanna try it too? If you do, and if you have a blog, post your results. If you do, and you don't have a blog, email me your results, and I'll post them. If you don't, then fine. Be that way.

Tune in Saturday to see us go dutch, baby.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Short Order

From the vaults, a student project by Michael Crawford & I, starring the fabulous Andy Williams and the president of our college, Harry Smith. This is dubbed straight from the original VHS tape, warts and all. It's a leisurely paced thing, I'll say that, and the end credits seem nearly as long as the film itself. But it sure was fun to do. Too bad that Michael couldn't get any daytime train footage. We once reshot a couple of scenes, but Michael has that tape and it's on 3/4 inch tape, I believe, so it may never see the light of day. Enjoy -- if you dare!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Frankly Speaking

Inspired by J'Mel, I'm posting a short story I wrote a while back. Comments welcome.

I peered through the frost of the stasis tube, watching Frank Sinatra open his eyes.
Wow. They really were blue.
I popped the last of the fail safes and slid the tube open.
He blinked a few times before staring at me.
“Where the hell’s my robe?”
“Yes, right here, sir.” I’d rehearsed this enough times you’d think I would have it ready. But the shock of the reality knocked the wind out of my extensive training.
He slipped into the robe and examined the chamber.
“A man could die of thirst before he’s offered a drink around here.”
The Medbot produced a Jack and water. Three ice cubes.
Sinatra eyed the drink suspiciously before taking a sip.
“Okay. What is it this time?”
I cleared my throat. “Well, sir, we’ve become concerned over a growing trend—“
“You’re younger than the last one,” he said.
“Uh, yes, sir.” In fact, during the last Sinatra Crisis, some four hundred years earlier, Benson himself served as Technician In Charge. The legendary Benson, the Technician who single-handedly salvaged the Facility after the Grid Wars, must have been nearly 70 when that particular Crisis manifested.
Now we’d reached another obvious Crisis Point. And I knew I was no Benson. How could I possibly interpret Sinatra’s advice correctly? Benson had a lifetime to study the Roasts and hear the discs. I’d only just seen From Here to Eternity. What if his advice had something to do with The Tender Trap? I’d never know. Unless he mentioned Debbie Reynolds, I suppose.
“Hey!” He snapped me back to reality. “Let’s get this over with. My drink’s almost gone.”
“Yes, sorry, sir, I’ll get right to it.”
“You do that.” He walked to the window, staring at the snow-covered sands.
“We seem to have taken things in the wrong direction,” I began.
“Are we still in Palm Springs?” he asked.
“Yes, the remains of Palm Desert and—“
“Christ. You bimbos really screwed it this time.”
“Yes, sir.”
He drained his drink, removed a single ice cube, then handed the glass to the Medbot on his way back to the stasis tube.
“I’ve seen enough,” he said.
“But the climate, we’re not sure if this severe cooling is our fault or a natural—“
“Turn the tube back on,” he said. “I’m done.”
“But the crisis, sir. We need you. We need your help!”
“Here,” he said, tossing the ice cube to me. “Go skate on it.”