photo & text by nacrowe
usually film soundtracks are a cash-grab, but the iconic use of class AMERICAN GOSPEL, R&B, ROCKABILLY and even SURF MUSIC in PULP FICTION (MIRAMAX, 1994) by director QUENTIN TARANTINO transcends this sad industry practice. and i mean right from the jump with opening credits utilizing DICK DALE's "MISERLOU" to genius effect. it is probably the most effect use of music in film since JOHN WIILLIAM's score in STAR WARS (TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX, 1977) and even BERNARD HERRMANN in PSYCHO (SHAMLEY, 1960). i'd put it right up there. full disclosure: my favorite score of all-time is PETE GABRIEL's evocative and global tapestry of score for THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST (UNIVERSAL, 1988), but in terms of popular appeal and cultural impact i will yield to WILLIAMS and HERRMANN.
in a film that is high referential and more than subtly tips its hat to multiple genres, most prominently FILM NOIR and FRENCH NEW WAVE, the fact that such a wide-range of music styles feels authentic to the narrative and the chaotic world it inhabits is a testament to TARANTINO's skills as both a director and a curator. not once in the film does the music take you out of the moment, if anything it transparently embeds you further within the dark seductive depths of depravity that these four concurrent storylines regarding hitman, boxers, gangsters, petty thieves and hangers-on spiral around. it is a real sonic achievement. the only other director that i feel has a similar gift for effectively utilizing popular music in way that transforms it from its original context and bends it completely to the will of multiple memorable scenes is DAVID LYNCH and films like BLUE VELVET (DE LAURENTIIS, 1986), MULHOLLAND DRIVE (ASYMMETRICAL, 2001) and LOST HIGHWAY (ASYMMETRICAL, 1997).
TARANTINO's music curation is also a key part of an overall cinematic aesthetic that has a sense of play in how it thoughtfully re-contextualizes the cultural baggage associated with disparate elements that also include dialogue, set design, editing, camera movements and even casting decisions. his movies are almost just as much about his love and meta involvement in the process of filmmaking as it is about the actual film itself. and that nerdom and intensely interior nature of his films are what make them so much fun and invigorating for movie junkies. and his use of music in PULP FICTION is a master class in said genius
id recommend the music of this soundtrack, but my inclination is to encourage anyone to see their use in the film first.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
i think i speak for a lot of people when stating that my mind's eye conception of THE BEACH BOYS is basically synonymous with that of the singular generational talent of BRIAN WILSON. in terms of composition, songwriting and production he is essentially a combination of GEORGE GERSHWIN, JOHN LENNON / PAUL MCCARTNEY and PHIL SPECTOR rolled into one person.
watching the BRITISH documentary DENNIS WILSON: THE REAL BEACH BOY (BBC, 2010), i realize now that what BRIAN WILSON lacked initially was a direction. he got that from his younger brother DENNIS who during his youth was involved with the emerging SURFING scene of the early 1960s in nearby MANHATTAN BEACH. he also drove cars, fast ones. couple those interests with his strong jawline, imposing physique and all-AMERICAN good looks and he was essentially the SOUTHERN CALIFORNIAN embodiment of the AMERICAN DREAM his brother so feverishly and convincingly wrote about. he certainly had his finger on the zeitgeist well into the late 1960s, even inadvertently admitting the wayward drifting songwriter CHARLES MANSON he befriended into his home (and recording one of his unaccredited songs) before his famous later murderous, drug-fueled madness the defined the end of an era.
DENNIS is an interesting and unique figure within THE BEACH BOYS in large part due to his being able to carve out a legacy separate from the group with his celebrated solo album PACIFIC OCEAN BLUE (CARIBOU, 1977), the only released during his lifetime. it is still a startling achievement in comparison to his famous discography for the maturity and complexity of his arrangements as well as the soulfulness of his voice. i am originally from ORANGE COUNTY and i basically grew up on THE BEACH BOYS, and to hear this record was an unexpected joy.
its also hard to listen to it and realize that this was his final hurrah as he descended into an interior world of ALCOHOLISM and DRUG ABUSE that ultimately resulted in a state of mind that led to his accidental drowning before turning 40. for a guy that lived a full life (complete with five marriages, financial freedom and the heights of fame and fortune), it feels like an incomplete story. its heartbreaking, especially hearing the later tapes after his voice started to deteriorate.
it feels a lot like the doomed narrative of HARRY NILSSON. just heart-wrenching.
i should add that this is a strong documentary withnotable interviewees such as BRIAN WILSON, TAYLOR HAWKINS (FOO FIGHTERS) and various recording engineers, roadies, backing musicians and former bandmates who all thoughtfully and lovingly recounted his life's story: the good, the bad and the ugly. again, such a sad, tragic story that is hard to make sense of.
art by nacrowe
check out HERE our recent episode of DEER GOD RADIO where we get into the origins and influence of SURF MUSIC from the 1950s.
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO as well as other MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC shows like MAKE HER SPACE, NOWHERE FAST, and THE SYNTHESIZER SHOW are available here at the DEER GOD website.