This week’s question is from TV Editor Erik Adams:
What soundtrack or score would you like to see performed live?
Resisting the urge to reunite the entire Canadian music industry (plus Beck) to play me every track from Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, I’ll keep my answer in the realm of the plausible: I’d love to see Aimee Mann perform the Magnolia soundtrack. Mann’s music—including and especially the heartbreaking “Wise Up,” which serves as the centerpiece of one of the film’s most haunting sequences—was as much an inspiration for Paul Thomas Anderson’s rambling, beautiful mess of a film as it was inspired by it, and hearing Mann play through the whole thing, from the clanking funk of “Momentum” to the wry self-loathing of “Deathly,” would be a sad, beautiful treat. (And if I got a new cover of Mann playing Supertramp’s “Logical Song” and “Goodbye Stranger” out of the deal, so much the better.)
The raw arctic wasteland of a Minnesota winter frequently gets me thinking of Robert Altman’s anti-Western, McCabe And Mrs. Miller; a fittingly biting movie with a sparse soundtrack taken entirely from Leonard Cohen’s debut album, Songs. I was fortunate enough to see Cohen in concert during his last world tour, and while his incredibly generous performance pulled material from his entire career, it would be wonderful to hear selections from the movie in a smaller venue. A more intimate place where Cohen’s broken voice and acoustic guitar accompaniment can do justice to the spartan longing of “Stranger Song.” The only possible problem with this performance is the soundtrack for McCabe and Mrs. Miller consists of exactly three songs. The aforementioned “Stranger Song,” “Sisters Of Mercy,” and “Winter Lady.” But the experience could easily be stretched out to concert length by interspersing each song with lumberjack breakfasts; stumbling, talked-over conversation; and even a lengthy intermission to either lose yourself in an obliterating opium haze or to lie on your back in a snowbank and slowly fade away, thinking about the futility of your life’s endeavors.
Had you asked me this a few years ago, I would have instantly said Harold And Maude. The 1971 Hal Ashby film offers a soundtrack of Cat Steven’s best songs, and would have given me a chance to see him live—a feat I considered impossible… until Cat Stevens broke his 38-year tour hiatus and I was fortunate enough to see my favorite artist (besides Rush) perform. Now, for similar reasons, I’ll say The Graduate. I would love an excuse to see Simon & Garfunkel live, because I wasn’t even born when Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel performed their last proper concert together. And I would be more than happy to sit through hits like “The Sound Of Silence”—three times, if they wanted to remain faithful to the film’s use of the music—with a little Dave Grusin instrumental here and there, in a dimly lit, sit-down venue, cocktail in hand.
Perhaps this answer is a sop to my teenage self, but I would be thrilled beyond measure to see a live concert version of the Singles soundtrack. This would entail seeing all of the bands and artists on the album perform the songs at the age they were when they recorded them, mind you, because I take this question seriously, and to me, that means the musicians as they were at the time the music was originally put to tape. This means it would essentially be the Holy Grail of early ’90s rock, as grouped under the only-somewhat-appropriate heading of “grunge.” So not only would I get to see Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam, Mudhoney, Screaming Trees, Smashing Pumpkins, and Soundgarden at the height of their youthful power, but I’d get to see Mother Love Bone, in all their glam-rock glory, before the tragic death of singer Andy Wood made that an impossibility. Plus, Paul Westerberg, The Lovemongers, and solo Chris Cornell sets. Oh, and did I mention I’d get to see Jimi Hendrix perform? Yeah, that would happen. That’s a deal-clincher by any metric.
Listen, I’m not always bitterly sarcastic. I like irie vibes as much as anybody, as long as they’re not coming from frat boys bumping Bob Marley out of a Honda Civic. Okay, so maybe not as much as anybody. But I do have my moments, which is why I would love to see The Harder They Come soundtrack performed live on a sultry summer’s night. Jimmy Cliff never fails to put me in a good mood, even when I’m just out driving with the windows rolled down, and hearing his optimistic anthem “You Can Get It If You Really Want” alongside feel-good hits like Toots And The Maytals’ “Pressure Drop,” the easy groove of Scotty’s “Draw Your Brakes” and Desmond Dekker’s “007 (Shanty Town),” and Cliff’s shudder-inducing vocals on “Many Rivers To Cross” would be enough to last me oh, I don’t know, at least a month? Not to mention the refreshments!
If you want to see the soundtrack to Purple Rain performed live, all you have to do is watch Purple Rain, concerning, as it does, a musician known only as “the kid” who has a gig at Minnesota’s hottest club that involves him getting on stage every night, playing one song, and then storming offstage because no one understands him. Which sounds like a terrible night out, except that kid is Prince, at the absolute peak of his powers, when he could toss off a song like “When Doves Cry” in an afternoon and run through its absolutely untouchable guitar intro with his eyes closed. Yes, you can just buy a ticket and see Prince perform in 2016. But to go back and see him at First Avenue, rubbing elbows with Apollonia and Morris Day? You’d be seeing the greatest pop musician evolution ever produced, playing his best album, in a series of blistering performances that might be the best live show ever captured on film.
Since we are imagining beautiful dream scenarios, the murderers’ row of Trainspotting soundtrack artists reads like a fictional Coachella bill, albeit one better suited for a hallucinatory All Tomorrow’s Parties festival. As this is my dream, I’m planning the set list, and would like it played in the exact track sequence thank you very much. Kicking things off on an almost unbearably awesome high note we would get Iggy Pop’s “Lust For Life.” Then we cool things way down as Brian Eno takes the stage for a beautifully ambient “Deep Blue Day.” From then on we’re taken on a amazing journey through IDM and Britpop history, as Pulp, New Order, Primal Scream, and Underworld enter and exit (Underworld obviously bringing the house down with a fist-pumping rendition of Trainspotting anthem “Born Slippy”). Since this is a dream, and I’m taking Trainspotting #2 into consideration, we’d also get performances from Lou Reed and David Bowie.
Josie And The Pussycats isn’t a real band: They are, variously, a comic book, a cartoon, a group of actors miming to dubbed-in music in an underrated movie, and a studio composite on that movie’s soundtrack (led by Kay Hanley of Letters To Cleo). As such, I don’t particularly need to see the band that actually recorded the super-catchy pop-punk songs from the soundtrack to the 2001 film Josie And The Pussycats perform those songs in full. I’d rather kill two birds with one fantasy stone and have Jemima Pearl play particularly raucous interpretations of “Three Small Words,” “Pretend To Be Nice,” “Spin Around,” and so on—alongside her own wonderful and underappreciated solo songs. I’m sure it would also be okay to see Letters To Cleo mixing some Josie songs into their set, but this is my ridiculous fantasy pulled out of the air, so I’m sticking to it. That said, if Donald Faison, Seth Green, and Breckin Meyer want to perform songs by fake boy-band Du Jour as the opening band, that would be fine.
Well, if I’ve got an opportunity to transcend both time and space and life and death to see the soundtrack of She’s Having A Baby performed live, I might as well take it. I actually ended up owning it for several years before I ever got around to seeing the movie, but it’s not like I cared about having a baby when it came out, anyway. I was only 18, so I was just focused on the fact that it contained new (or at least previously unheard by me) music by a bunch of my favorite bands. To see it performed live, though, would be brilliant for several reasons. First of all, I’d get to see XTC perform live, something that was virtually never an option by the time I discovered the band’s music, thanks to Andy Partridge’s crippling stage fright. In addition, I’d get to see Kate Bush perform live, something which I couldn’t afford to fly to the U.K. to do during her epic Before The Dawn concert series. And then there’s Dave Wakeling, Love And Rockets, Gene Loves Jezebel, Bryan Ferry, Everything But The Girl. Ah, who am I kidding? There’s no point in continuing down the playlist: More than anything, I’d just want the chance to see even one more song by Kirsty MacColl.
When I first saw Basquiat, painter-turned-director Julian Schnabel’s appropriately expressionistic and powerful biopic about his late friend, painter Jean-Michel Basquiat, it was like Schnabel had raided my record collection—or a theretofore-unnoticed annex of my record collection. Honestly, it was so directly targeted right at my core—actors, themes, and music—that it became eerie. I was simply helpless against it, and it’s become one of my most-rewatched favorite films. My dream soundtrack show would bring out Basquiat supporting player Michael Wincott to kick things off, as he does in the film, by reading from an article by his character, art critic Rene Ricard about the need to discover and examine art from the most unlikely places and most unlikely people, his eternally gravelly voice all the more affecting for its supposed gruffness—which would tail off over the driving opening bass line of Public Image Ltd’s “Public Image.” Then it would be a parade of the weird and the wonderful, artists as diverse as Brian Kelly (“She Is Dancing”), Melle Mel (“White Lines”), and The Psychedelic Furs (“India”). Band changes would flow past to the strains of Charlie Parker’s “Koko” and “April In Paris” and Miles Davis’ “Flamenco Sketches.” And then the big boys would come out—The Rolling Stones playing two (“Waiting On A Friend” and “Beast Of Burden”) before Keith Richards shoos Mick Jagger away for his achingly lovely solo song “The Nearness Of You.” And then it’s Tom Waits for “Tom Traubert’s Blues” and “Who Are You This Time” before The Pogues swoon away with “Summer In Siam” and an all-star singalong of “Fairytale Of New York.” Then everyone clears the stage but for a spotlit piano for John Cale’s version of “Hallelujah,” closing things out with the best version of that song ever. Sure, it’ll take all the money in the world to put it together, but it’s my damned dream show.
Having just watched Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars, I’m tempted to make that my pick, because sweet blessed lord would it be an exciting and transcendent and life-changing experience watching David Bowie perform those songs with that band, that roaring, swaggering aggregation of brilliant musicians, particularly guitarist Mick Ronson, whose chemistry with Bowie was Paul McCartney-John Lennon, Mick Jagger-Keith Richards level (indeed, just before the band roars into a cover of “Let’s Spend The Night Together” which I blasphemously prefer to The Rolling Stones’ original, he tells the crowd the song is for Ronson) and whose stage presence was unmatched in popular music. But that would somehow feel like cheating, so I’m going to say Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. John C. Reilly actually toured as Dewey Cox when the film came out, but I would love to see those songs performed live (including, appropriately enough, a wonderfully cheesy disco variety-show take on Bowie’s “Starman”), because they’re both hilarious, pitch-perfect pastiches of everything from Dylan protest folk to Brian Wilson trippy psychedelia. And you better believe my lighter would be aloft when Cox launched into a majestic “Beautiful Ride.”
It’s interesting how many of these are soundtracks are dominated by one artist at the top of their game. Mine fits into that category: The Bodyguard. This is peak Whitney Houston right here. She’s shed the girlishness of Whitney and has evolved from the baby-sultriness of I’m Your Baby Tonight to become a truly charismatic, full-fledged performer. Soundtracks became Houston’s medium for awhile, as if an album couldn’t contain all she was, and she needed a movie like The Bodyguard to show her full range. How great would be to see Whitney do “Queen Of The Night” without the distraction of a psychotic stalker, like in the movie? Or rock “I Run To You” complete with windblow hair? Hell, even RuPaul’s Drag Race’s Michelle Visage gets to perform with her S.O.U.L. S.Y.S.T.E.M. cover of Bill Withers’ “It’s Gonna Be A Lovely Day.” (Do you think she can still rap? Lord knows she can still rock those those killer nails.) This doesn’t even begin to cover “I Will Always Love You,” which is of course the showstopping encore.
Since we’re talking dream scenarios, I don’t have a particular soundtrack or score I’d like to hear performed, but I’d sure love to play Howard Shore’s The Lord Of The Rings symphony. As an orchestral violinist, I’ve gotten to play plenty of great orchestral film music, from Lawrence Of Arabia and The Magnificent Seven to King Kong (1933) and Star Wars, and it’s exhilarating to exist within those powerful melodies, part of the larger organism of the orchestra, breathing and moving as one to create something beautiful and larger than oneself. When Howard Shore orchestrated his The Lord Of The Rings scores into a six movement symphony, I looked forward to eventually getting to live in Middle-earth for a concert cycle, assuming the success of the films would make the symphony a popular pops concert choice. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened yet, at least near me, but I hold out hope that one day I’ll get to experience the frantic scurrying of Shelob’s lair, the mournful horns of Gondor, and the welcoming warmth of the Shire in person.