Granted magical powers to transport myself back to 1994 and change whatever I wanted, I’d look after two things* right away. First up, the baseball strike never happens. Matt Williams hits 63 home runs, Greg Maddux posts the lowest ERA ever relative to his league, and Frank Thomas wins the triple crown. (The Jays don’t three-peat, and widespread PED use is not averted—those ships had already sailed by the time of the strike.) That taken care of, next thing I’d do is look up Robert De Niro and sit him down for a short chat. “Go make Casino and Heat—you’re already contracted for them, and they look promising. But as soon as they wrap, stick to directing and never ever act in another film unless it’s your own.”

What would we have missed? No Louis in Jackie Brown, and that would be a major loss. (“Is she dead?” “Pretty much.”) After that, I’m drawing a blank—I’m sure I encountered some good work in there somewhere, but I’ve forgotten it amidst all the cheque-cashing slumming, most of which I have happily avoided. I don’t even blame him for all of that, I should add—with what he’d done from Mean Streets to Goodfellas already part of film history, he would seem to be entitled to a little cheque-cashing. A lot, even.

De Niro was one year removed from A Bronx Tale in 1994, his first director credit (and, to date, one of only two; he would later direct The Good Shepherd in 2006). I’m guessing that I went to it at the time with a certain amount of heightened expectation—he’d had relatively few missteps of any kind in his career up to that point—more or less ensuring that I’d be disappointed. Which I think I was; I immediately forgot the film and never went back for a second look.

AMC was playing it recently, though, and I wandered in where aspiring small-time hood Calogero was driving along through neighborhood streets with the top down and the Four Tops’ “Baby I Need Your Lovin’” on the radio. Hooked me immediately. Couldn’t be simpler—with the post-Mad Men soundtrack (and that’s basically how I view this blog, post-Mad Men, in spirit if not always in fact), most of what I write about here has been placed very deliberatively, oftentimes even conceptually, and I’m all for that, hence the blog—but this felt like a welcome throwback to what I used to derisively call the Flamingo Kid soundtrack, where the beginning and end of a song’s purpose was to fix the date and the mood. Especially the date: “Oh, ‘Happy Together’—it’s 1967.” In any event, this time it worked. Maybe it was the song (“Baby I Need Your Lovin’” belongs to a genre that Elaine Benes and I like to call Swoon-Worthy), maybe it was the red convertible Calogero was driving, I don’t know. It felt like an authentic moment.

The first third of A Bronx Tale, which lays the foundation for the rest of the film with a couple of formative events from Calogero’s childhood, begins in the early ‘60s. “It felt like there was a doo-wop group on every corner back then,” Calogero says in Goodfellas-style voice-over, and indeed, when I caught part of the film again a couple of days later (AMC tends to run films multiple times), I rather comically thought “Wow, how come nobody ever mentions how much Goodfellas was influenced by this?” Probably because the influence, not surprisingly, flows in the other direction, slavishly so at times—Junger Fever is also very much in the mix.

The film is on sure footing with the doo-wop (sometimes literally located on the corner) of those early scenes. De Niro does some inventive stuff with Dion & the Belmonts’ epic “I Wonder Why” over the opening credits, syncopating the song’s vocal gymnastics with street-level games of stickball and leapfrog, before immediately segueing into the Cleftones’ “Little Girl of Mine” (which I initially mistook for Curtis Lee’s “Pretty Little

Angel Eyes”). Sometimes De Niro gets overly schematic with the soundtrack: doo-wop for Calogero and his friends, Sinatra and Dean Martin for the neighborhood wiseguys, WIlson Pickett’s “Ninety-Nine and a Half (Won’t Do)” and Don Gardner and Dee Dee Ford’s “I Need Your Lovin’” for the black kids whose incursions into the neighborhood infuriate and disorient Calogero’s buddies (but not Calogero himself). And then there’s Calogero’s father Lorenzo, played by De Niro: he’s the only bus driver in the world who listens to Kind of Blue and Coltrane while on duty. That sounds sarcastic—it actually works, and the commuters seem okay with it too.

The two musical highlights for me both center around Jane, the black girl Calogero is mesmerized by (Scorsese again) after spotting her on the bus. After a couple of sequences where they exchange meaningful glances—a street-corner version of “I Only Have Eyes for You” on the soundtrack—he gets up his nerve and approaches her one day for a painfully awkward non-conversation. (“So you wait for your brother, huh? That’s great.” “What’s so great about it?” “‘What’s so great about it?’ It’s just great.”) Jane adjusts Calogero’s hat, they agree that they both have beautiful eyes, and then, having just snuck back into the background, the street-corner “I Only Have Eyes for You” morphs into the real thing, the Flamingos. This is at least the third film I can think of (along with American Graffiti and Heart Like a Wheel) that makes memorable use of the song—much like it’s impossible to record a bad cover of Neil Young’s “Only Love Can Break Your Heart,” “I Only Have Eyes for You” is soundtrack-proof. Later, after some miscommunication, Calogero and Jane reconcile as the Impressions’ “I’m So Proud” plays. Notwithstanding that Jane seems to give Calogero a pass on something I would think might be unforgiveable, the scene dovetails nicely with “For Your Precious Love” earlier in the film, when Calogero talks to neighborhood legend Sonny for the first time.

When De Niro turns the soundtrack over to rock music, his choices are much more pedestrian, especially “Come Together” (I’ll admit to some bias there—among my least favourite Beatles songs), “You Really Got Me” (which feels all together wrong in context), and the 732nd appearance of Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower” in a movie. The Young Rascals are better, and I actually liked “Nights in White Satin” for a key scene where Jane’s brother gets beat up by Calogero’s friends. The song isn’t supposed to be ominous like the Beatles or Hendrix; it speaks more to the sadness and inevitability of the assault.

All in all, well worth the revisit. I see that Lillo Brancato, who plays the teenage Calogero, went on to appear in five episodes of The Sopranos’ first season; no recollection of his character (Matthew Bevilaqua) at all. Robert De Niro went on to…well, that’s where we came in.


*I know—Trump. Fix that problem first. I understand.


Some Stupid with a Flare Gun

As Chris Penn so eloquently says in Reservoir Dogs, first things fucking last. (It hurts my head when I try to parse those words, but I love the line.)

Just finished the first three seasons of Better Call Saul, after devoting a couple of months over the winter to catching up with Breaking Bad. Not sure which makes more sense to write about first, but I’ll go with Saul while it’s fresh in my mind. You would think the prequel is the logical place to begin anyway; it doesn’t feel right, though, a paradox I’d need Nice Guy Eddie to explain.

Something the two series share in terms of how they use pop music: pick your spots. Strictly speaking, that’s not true: there’s far more music in Breaking Bad than in Better Call Saul. But in Breaking Bad, a lot of the music was just there in the background, or else new and unknown enough that deep resonances weren’t necessarily the objective; it felt like they were really trying musically—all in, so to speak—only a handful of times, and when they did, they usually succeeded on a Mad Men level.

More on that later. With Better Call Saul, there’s no music to speak of until the third episode. Ambulance-chasing lawyer Jimmy McGill is searching for the Kettlemans—Crooked Craig and His Lying Wife, as someone might nickname them—who’ve apparently been kidnapped, but who in fact have staged their disappearance and absconded with the $1.6 million Craig embezzled during his tenure as county treasurer. Jimmy alone sees this; now, to get himself off the hook with drug-dealer Nacho, he has to find them and get them back. After an unsuccessful search of the Kettleman’s home, Jimmy stands by their backdoor pool staring at the mountainside in the distance as Bobby Bare’s “Find Out What’s Happening” starts up, a minor country hit from 1968. Not

a song I was familiar with—initially I thought I was hearing Charlie Rich or Waylon Jennings. The song (surprise) is addressed to a woman, but the lyrics are made to order for what the Kettlemans might say to Jimmy:

Before I say farewell, I’ll give you one more day
So you can find out what’s happening, find out what’s happening before long
If you don’t find out what’s happening, you’re gonna find out that I’m gone

The music Rich made during his window of Grammys and chart success was dubbed countrypolitan; while “Find Out What’s Happening” vocally sounds like Rich, I wouldn’t call it that—it’s pretty swinging, and I don’t hear any strings. In any event, and most importantly, it gets Jimmy from the Kettleman’s backyard to their tent (the clip stops seconds before he finally locates them) in grand fashion.

The Bare song plays in its entirety; seven episodes later, in a sequence that ends the first season, there are approximately 10 seconds of “Smoke on the Water” that might be the most unexpected resurrection of a classic-rock standby since “Sunshine of Your Love” in Goodfellas. (Much more so, though—whereas Scorsese tapped into something sinister that was always evident in “Sunshine of Your Love,” “Smoke on the Water” is pure dead weight.) At the end of Season 1, Jimmy McGill walks away from a partner-track job interview with Davis & Main, his Stephen-Dedalus-on-the-beach epiphany on the way to recreating himself as Saul Goodman*, the charmingly shady lawyer we know from Breaking Bad. “Help me out here,” he says to parking-lot attendant and future tough-guy fixer Mike; “Did I dream it, or did I have $1,600,000 on my desk, in cash?” As he drives away, having assured Mike that some misguided sense of ethics is “never stopping me again,” he remembers his scam-partner Marco back in Philly and begins humming “Smoke on the Water”—more grunting than humming, like Marco used to, as if he’s underwater. After a couple of bars, Deep Purple join him. It reminded me of “You Really Got Me” in Mad Men, just after Peggy informs Don she’s quitting SCDP, and also Kevin Spacey singing gleefully along to “American Woman” in American Beauty, just before he gets his dream job (“I’m looking for the least possible amount of responsibility”) at Smiley Burger. Moments of great liberation, all of them, of no longer giving a fuck about anything. There must be a deep connection at the genetic level, some kind of synaptic memory, that explains why overplayed classic rock lends itself so well to such moments.

Nothing much caught my ear in Season 2, but Season 3 begins with a pre-credit sequence almost as startling as “Windy” in Breaking Bad (again, more later). Better Call Saul has an intricate time-structure: most of it is set in the years leading up to Breaking Bad, but you also flash back way into the past, to Jimmy and his brother Chuck’s childhood, while periodically flashing forward to Jimmy’s post-Breaking Bad life, a Cinnabon manager in a mall. That’s how season 3 begins, our third or fourth peek around the corner at Jimmy’s new life, again rendered in black and white but this time with a song: “Sugar Town” by Nancy Sinatra. Same deal as “They Don’t Know” in Our Nixon, which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago: you couldn’t find a song with a more perfect balance of counterpoint and on-the-money.

I got some troubles, but they won’t last
I’m gonna lay right down here in the grass
And pretty soon all my troubles will pass
‘Cause I’m in shoo-shoo-shoo, shoo-shoo-shoo
Shoo-shoo, shoo-shoo, shoo-shoo Sugar Town

That’s literally Jimmy’s life right now, surrounded by gooey pastries and living in Sugar Town. (The song even mentions the fantasy of having a million dollarsI’d have to go back and check what kind of financial shape Breaking Bad left Saul/Jimmy in, but I think he may have just let several million dollars slip away.) The counterpoint is how Sinatra’s winsomely ebullient song contrasts with how Jimmy feels about his new life, morosely sleepwalking through his mundane, anonymous existence, a broken man. The sequence ends with Jimmy reluctantly identifying a teenage mall thief for a couple of cops, barely able to lift his index finger high enough to point the kid out (presumably fearful that any kind of interaction with law enforcement risks exposing himself). Jimmy’s got some troubles, and they may or may not lastI missed being in sync with Season 4 by a week, so I’ll have to wait a few months to find out.

(Let me add brief mention of Miles Davis’s “It Never Entered My Mind” in Season 3’s finale. The song plays during Jimmy’s final check-in with Chuck, just before Chuck goes all Harry Caul and destroys his own house. The Davis album is spinning on a turntable, and we can see it’s the old Capitol label, the black one from the ‘60swill have to look into the accuracy of that.)


*Turns out to be a false epiphany: Jimmy spends Seasons 2 and 3 still trying, unsuccessfully, to do the right thing.

Some Stupid with a Flare Gun

I’m Not Well, Mum

I’ve mentioned Quadrophenia a couple of times before on this blog: for its playing-records-in-a-movie scene, one of the best of its kind, and, more recently, as one of three pop-related films I saw multiple times in the fall of 1979 (along with Rock ‘n’ Roll High School and The Kids Are Alright). Truth is, I hadn’t seen it in ages—it was completely out of circulation for a number of years until Criterion picked it up in 2012. Or maybe not—I see now that there’s also a regular-issue Blue Ray available on Amazon. In any event, I went the more sophisticated route: found a VHS copy for $1.99 a couple of weeks ago at BMV. I still have a player, it is indeed hooked up, and tapes look okay on a big-screen TV…relatively speaking—they’re built to last, anyway.

The experience of watching Quadrophenia for the first time since it came out was akin to rereading The Catcher in the Rye a couple of decades removed from high school: I can see the outline of what affected me so much at the time, and I have a pretty good understanding of how I got from there to here, but I’m looking through the wrong end of the telescope now. Quadrophenia’s Jimmy isn’t quite as aggressively disagreeable as Holden Caulfield—and, under the sway of both, neither was I at the age of 18, though not for lack of trying—but it’s still a little exhausting to spend much time with either one of them.

Musically, most of Quadrophenia holds up fine. There’s a lot less of the album than I recall, and that’s good. The Quadrophenia songs don’t merely seem unnecessary, they often feel intrusive—they’re explaining things that don’t need to be explained. (I’ll make an exception for “Love, Reign O’er Me” at the end, perfect backdrop for vertiginous shots of Jimmy cycling along the cliff; “5:15” kind of works too.) I can’t remember whether I saw the film or bought the album first (the original 1973 album, that is—the Who rerecorded about half of it for the film’s soundtrack); one followed close on the other, I know, and they essentially existed as one. But Quadrophenia the album disappeared from my life just as surely as the film did—horns, Daltrey at his most rock-guy emotive, Townshend’s ever-lengthening songs, it all got tossed aside for punk (as did Who’s Next, one of my three or four favourite albums in high school; I eventually made peace with that one). Seeing the film again has not inspired me to pull the album off the shelf, where it’s been sitting there dormant for 35 years.

The rest of Quadrophenia’s soundtrack comes through loud and clear, though, beginning with a couple of non-Quadrophenia Who songs. Besides the aforementioned house party where Jimmy plops “My Generation” onto the turntable, there’s an even better scene, one I’d completely forgotten, where he watches the Who play “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere”* on Ready Steady Go!, his father standing behind him making incredulous, derisive comments the whole time (“You call that singing? Sounds like a drowned dog”). Jimmy shushes him, but you get the feeling he’s secretly thrilled with the idea that his father is forced to confront what he sees. Meanwhile, Jimmy jerks his arms and torso spasmodically as he tries to physically keep up with the song. He’s mesmerized by what he sees and hears. Nothing gets in his way, not even locked doors—suitably psyched, the next scene finds everyone headed off to Brighton.

The big dancehall scene when they get there is the film’s highlight. Sting dancing to “Louie Louie” is the best argument I can think of as to why there’s a Sting; toward the end of the song, Jimmy hovers perilously atop the balcony and invents the mosh pit. Quadrophenia joins American Graffiti as the second film to make memorable use of “Green Onions”; ominous and sinister in Lucas’s film, here it’s the epitome of mod cool. Lots of girl-group throughout—two or three Spector songs, the Chiffons, “The Wah-Watusi.” There’s even a good joke about possible other worlds when a girl earnestly tells one of the mods about a place called Greenwich Village.

A word about Leslie Ash as Steph. She basically drives Jimmy mad, or at least plays on his madness and pushes him over the edge. Steph is Judy Geeson and Julie Christie, Pattie Boyd and Jane Asher, a perfect vision of dreamy mid-‘60s Carnaby St. beauty. Ash has had a rather difficult life post-Quadrophenia that you can read up on if you want. Steph’s overpowering effect on Jimmy is one instance where I feel for him.


*Some more then-and-now. Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy was another key high-school album, but “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere” was one of my least favourite songs on there. Somewhere along the way, that changed. Watching that Ready Steady Go! clip, I can only wonder: what was I not hearing way back when?

I’m Not Well, Mum

Such a Long Time Now

It’s been a great couple of years for Richard Nixon. Not only does his name invariably pop up in connection with every new Trump outrage—up to a point, anyway; Trump’s very creative on the outrage front, and he regularly leaves Nixon back at the starting blocks—he, like just about every iconic post-war Republican villain (a litany where Nixon always held down the top spot), has lately been given the “suddenly, such-and-such doesn’t seem so bad” treatment. Or at least until Vietnam enters the conversation.

If you want to reacquaint yourself with the O.G. himself in all his unguarded splendour, I very much recommend a couple of recent fly-on-the-wall Nixon documentaries: Nixon by Nixon: In His Own Words (2014, an HBO production—you can watch that one on YouTube) and Our Nixon (2013—saw it when it came out, just bought a cheap copy from Amazon). The first, which a friend alerted me to, is exactly as advertised, an assemblage of clips with the audio completely given over to Nixon; mostly excerpts from the tapes, as I recall, but maybe some of what you hear was gleaned from other sources. It’s a very somber affair, punctuated by Michael Bacon’s beautiful score.

Our Nixon documents Nixon’s presidency through super-8 footage shot by Haldeman, Erlichman, and Dwight Chapin. (Again, not exclusively; you get TV news reports and Oval Office addresses mixed in, and I have to believe some of what you see comes from elsewhere—or did Haldeman and other two actually infiltrate anti-war demonstrations for the sake of some footage?) It covers many of the key events of Nixon’s term-and-a-half, from his first inaugural through to the forced resignations of Haldeman and Erlichman, but it’s far from exhaustive—Kent State, for instance, is by-passed altogether. What you get instead is something more impressionistic, more dreamlike, a kind of slow-motion reverie that is embedded in the DNA of super-8 home movies. Some highlights: Nixon sitting alone watching the moon landing, dancing with Tricia at her wedding, and the American delegation gathering for a group photo just before they head back from China in 1972. You can spot Walter Cronkite, Barbara Walters, Dan Rather, and Helen Thomas nestled in with the dozens of government officials and support staff surrounding Nixon (Walters to his immediate right, Rather right in front of him), everyone smiling and collegial and one together, “the end of a very memorable day in American history” (Haldeman in voice-over). Knowing full well that Nixon’s contempt for the press ran even deeper than Trump’s (who, after all, has spent most of his life in thrall to reporters of every kind), the home-movie format—McLuhan and all that—makes it feel like a world far removed from this one.

Not to worry—whenever the visuals start to inspire such lofty sentiment, there’s always audio to tamp that down. “The last six Roman emperors were fags,” Nixon explains to Erlichman at one point, a little historical detour inspired by his having stumbled over an episode of All in the Family. My favourite bit of “the old Nixon charm” (as Anthony Hopkins calls it in Oliver Stone’s film), though, is his appraisal of Nelson Rockefeller as he and Haldeman keep score of reactions* to the silent-majority address: “Rockefeller called—well, the hell with him, but nevertheless.”

Introducing an incendiary command performance by the Ray Conniff singers (right—incendiary in a non-musical sense), Nixon cagily pronounces that “If the music is square, it’s because I like it square.” Pop music is pretty much absent throughout Our Nixon—“Nixon Now,” the ’72 campaign song, comes up a little short—with the exception of Tracy Ullman’s “They Don’t Know”** over the opening credits. That also happens to be the whole point of this entry. We’re getting close to decade-end lists; if I make up a music-in-movies list next year to go along with my favourite songs and films of the 2010s, “They Don’t Know” in Our Nixon has a good chance of ending up as my #1. I didn’t remember a whole lot from the film heading into a second viewing, but the feeling of sitting in the theatre as Ullman played and thinking “I can’t believe how good this is,” that stayed with me. That’s what brought me back.

Roughly speaking, there are two ways to make pop music count in a movie. (Very roughly—there are actually 736 different ways if you start parsing.) First, and most obviously, you use a song that perfectly encapsulates the emotion of the moment, or reinforces the timeline, or that fits in some other instantaneously recognizable way. Deservedly famous example: “The End” in Apocalypse Now. And then there’s counterpoint—the song that disorients, that comes out of nowhere and, for a variety of reasons, makes no sense, but that also, for as long as it plays, feel so right that it seems like the only possible song the director could have chosen. “Nowhere to Run” in Andy Warhol’s Vinyl comes to mind. Or a better known example: “Hip to Be Square” in American Psycho.

There’s a spectrum there, of course—you could just as easily argue that “Nowhere to Run” is a natural fit for Edie Sedgwick frugging. In any event, “They Don’t Know” is a spectacular opener on both counts. The counterpoint is what initially floored me. You would expect any film on Nixon to go the Ken Burns route (I loved The Vietnam War; this is not a criticism) and start with “Ohio,” or “Volunteers,” or Phil Ochs, or you-know-the-roll-call. An MTV-era love letter to girl-groupdom was not on my radar as the film began. At the same time, though, it’s a song that articulates the Nixon-Haldeman-Erlichman dynamic (throw in Chapin, too, and all the other Nixon loyalists who went down with the ship) as precisely and as evocatively as any song could:

Why should it matter to us if they don’t approve…

Got my eyes wide open and I see the signs
But they don’t know about us
And they’ve never heard of love

Will there be an Our Trump one day, predicated upon the same kind of unfathomable secret bond? I can’t see it—there’s no there there with Trump, just a petulant blowhard and the empty shell of obsequious and interchangeable Eddie Haskells who do his bidding. Nixon did a mountain of horrible things, all right, and you have to keep that central fact front and centre at all times, but there was a there.


*One thing the film makes clear is Nixon’s ritual of keeping score after every big speech or Oval Office address of how many cabinet members called in with praise and support. He almost seems like the kind of guy who’d keep an enemies list.

**Somewhat embarrassed to admit this, but it took the film to lead me to Kirsty MacColl’s original, which I like almost as much. I can see how the song got lost in 1979.

Such a Long Time Now

We Feel More Like We Do Now Than When We First Came Here

Ron Mann packs a lot of music into Dream Tower’s 47 minutes—it’s not quite Scorpio Rising’s wall-to-wall collage, but with at least a dozen prominent songs, there’s almost always something in the background that catches your ear. I first saw Mann’s documentary about Toronto’s short-lived Rochdale College 10 or 15 years ago—on TVO or the CBC, I believe; it was produced for television—and it had stayed in my mind ever since because of its soundtrack. The only way to watch it right now is online (where it resides on two or three oddball streaming sites), but somewhere along the way I was able to pick up a DVD, so I had easy access for another look.

Rochdale, if you don’t know, was a student-run cooperative adjacent to the downtown University of Toronto campus for a few years at the turn of the ‘70s. Initially conceived as a potential residence for U of T students, for tax reasons it was reconceptualized as an alternative learning institute for those seeking something of more permanent value than just a diploma. Spoiler alert: what began as a utopian experiment in democracy with lofty philosophical underpinnings quickly degenerated into chaos, red ink, and drugs. I don’t mean for that to sound as snarky as it does, but if you’ve seen The Pruitt-Igoe Myth, Inside the Crazy World of Apple, or just about any documentary covering somebody’s great idea coming out of the headiest days of the mid-‘60s, then you know how the story ends.

Those heady days are captured beautifully by Mann right at the outset, as Rochdale begins to take form: overtop what looks to be an Expo 67 promotional clip, including a peek inside Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome, you get about a minute of Mama Cass’s “New World Coming,” a minor hit from 1970 that I have zero recollection of ever hearing before I saw the film (and just assumed was the Mamas and the Papas). I’ve tried to describe that moment—year, really; 1967—in Canadian history before, in connection to the Hylozoists’ “Soixante-Sept,” when all sorts of incredible things were happening (our centennial, Expo, the Leafs won their last Cup, Trudeau jumped into the Liberal leadership race) and Canada began attracting international notice like never before. In that one minute, thanks in no small measure to the song, Mann captures the mood perfectly; Design Canada, a recent documentary about the myriad of iconic logos to come out of Canada in the ‘60s and ‘70s, also got it right. Do I remember that moment well? Well, I was five-going-on-six, but it must have left some kind of an impression on me, as I’m always on the lookout for vivid recreations.

Next up, for Rochdale’s first year of operation, Friend & Lover’s indelible “Reach Out of the Darkness” (always helps to add “you know, the So-Groovy-Now song” for purposes of identification). Had to check back to the beginning of this blog, but I’m glad I included “Reach Out” in my Mad Men Top 10, where it ended the RFK-assassination episode (which a half-asleep Pete believes his Alzheimer’s-afflicted mom has confused with the other Kennedy assassination: “That was years ago, mother”). That might have been the most chilling use of music ever on Mad Men—far, far beyond the easy irony sitting there on the surface. Nothing like that in Dream Tower, where the song finds a more natural fit overtop crowds of students moving about through hallways—we’re still very much in the heady zone here. (As Friend & Lover finish, you get a student being interviewed by a rather gorgeous Adrienne Clarkson, future Governor-General of Canada.)

Other highlights include Hendrix’s “Are You Experienced” (a crackdown on Yorkville that leads to an influx of unwanted squatters), Spanky & Our Gang’s “Like to Get to Know You” (situation deteriorating rapidly—love this song, wish it’d played longer), some Cancon with the Archies’ “Sugar Sugar” (drugs—lots and lots of drugs), the Flirtations’ “Nothin’ but a Heartache,” even a snippet of Mason Williams’ “Classical Gas.” Also “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.” I try to stick to the good stuff here.

Rochdale somehow hung on until the spring of ’75. That’s about when my friends and I started taking the Go bus in from Georgetown so we could go to Sam’s and play pinball. (Uh, that’s why we went down initially, anyway.) We confined ourselves to Yonge St., so I doubt that I ever got so much as a glimpse of Rochdale. Wish I could say that I’d ventured over there and, I don’t know, taken some pictures at least. By the time I started at U of T myself in the fall of ’79, it was gone.

(Weird omission: nothing at all about the music in Dream Tower’s end credits. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Mann’s film wouldn’t be nearly as effective minus all those songs.)

We Feel More Like We Do Now Than When We First Came Here

Colors in the Air

I was going to tack on a footnote about Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel to my previous post—I saw it a few weeks ago at the Revue, and didn’t think I could remember details well enough for anything more (it was mostly one song I wanted to write about anyway). But I was able to rewatch it via YouTube, and, besides being quite good, I think I can say it’s a fashion-related film where I actually understand. While she wasn’t quite as monumental as Dylan or Warhol or Godard, the film makes a good case that Vreeland was one of those incandescent forces—an “upside-down original” Lauren Hutton calls her during the opening credits—who, by virtue of being in exactly the right place at exactly the right time, had an improbable hand in shaping the 1960s. Much like Pauline Kael had seemingly been waiting for Bonnie and Clyde, Vreeland had been waiting for Twiggy and the Rolling Stones. And when they materialized, she was ready.

Not sure how much this is just me projecting, but Vreeland reminded me of Kael a lot. Besides her very theatrical way of describing this as “marvellous” and that as “devastating”—I can hear Geraldine Chaplin’s “Pure, unadulterated Bergman—of course, the people are all wrong for Bergman, aren’t they?” from Nashville in the voice of either woman—she took naturally and voraciously to everything that was happening in the ’60s despite the fact that her own personality had been shaped decades before (or, to put it another way, she came very late to the party—Vreeland turns 62 in 1963, when the Beatles release their first album and she assumes the editorship of Vogue). The Belle Époque of her Parisian childhood (supposedly spent in the company of Nijinsky and Diaghilev, sort of like Roman Castevet in Rosemary’s Baby) and the 1920s of Fitzgerald and Josephine Baker (in a what becomes a running metaphor for her habit of embellishing, Vreeland claims that she once spotted Lindbergh flying directly overhead) were Vreeland’s frame of reference, so she immediately and effortlessly embraced the cultural upheaval of the mid-‘60s as a return to something that felt familiar. Vogue is credited by photographer David Bailey as publishing the first photo of the Rolling Stones (a claim I find a little suspect—maybe he means the first major publication), and the magazine was giving space to Janis Joplin and the Doors and Simon & Garfunkel when Rolling Stone was just getting off the ground. The ‘60s were a very comfortable fit for, in Vreeland’s words, “the world of my world.”

Three songs, all used well. I reached the saturation point with the Shocking Blue’s “Venus” years ago (even before the Bananarama cover, I think), but I liked it here as a backdrop to Vreeland’s celebrity-mad, post-print years with the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute. (She was ready for Warren Beatty and Studio 54, too.) There’s a minute or two of Martha & the Vandellas’ “Jimmy Mack” while Twiggy (“Such a personality, such a kid, such a girl, such a wow…”) sways playfully and a procession of Vogue’s quirkier models fill the screen, a rather persuasive counter to Greil Marcus’s contention that the Vandellas were a woman- rather than a girl-group. The best musical cue comes right away, “She’s a Rainbow” over the opening credits. There have been times in my life when I would have named that as my favourite Rolling Stones song, even though (or, typically, maybe because) it’s such a left-field anomaly for them. I loved it a few years ago during Kristen Wiig’s Saturday Night Live send-off, and it’s almost as good here (somewhat undermined by the intrusion of a few brief interview clips).

Did Vogue have a regular film critic in 1967? It’s fun to envision Kael and Vreeland together, although it’s almost impossible to imagine Kael getting the same amount of space as she was given at The New Yorker. And that sure would have been a lot of incandescent force for one enterprise to circumnavigate.

Colors in the Air

Not a Trip at All

I went into The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story with barely a thought as to what kind of soundtrack it might have, even though the first installment of the ACS enterprise, The People v. O. J. Simpson, ended up being a major surprise on the musical front. It was simply the story that drew me in: I followed it at the time with some interest, and found the Maureen Orth book that came out of it (credited as ACS’s source material) compelling.

If they’d followed the O.J. lead, the opportunity was there for a meticulous period reconstruction: the O.J. film, as I wrote earlier on this site, was exceptionally accurate when it came to period veracity, and Versace is nothing if not timeline-obsessed, prefacing all events with precise dates. But there’s not a great deal of music over Versace’s nine episodes, or at least not much that registered with me, and what’s there often seems to be placed arbitrarily: when Company B’s spectacular “Fascinated” plays in one of the gay clubs Andrew Cunanan frequents, either the filmmakers are a few years out of sync or Cunanan’s there for “Remember the ‘80s?” night. As I scan a YouTube compilation of soundtrack clips—Soul II Soul, Technotronic, Lisa Stansfield, Samanatha Fox—all I can recall with any specificity is Cunanan gleefully hamming it up in the car to Laura Branigan’s “Gloria” as he’s on the run from the Lee Miglin killing and headed for Miami (reminiscent of Patrick Bateman’s wildly disconnected musical theatrics in American Psycho). If you love “Gloria,” you’d probably find that scene pretty great; I don’t, so there’s a ceiling there. I shouldn’t be so quick to designate Versace’s soundtrack as chronologically arbitrary: there does seem to be the implication that these songs are locked in place somewhere inside Cunanan’s mind, a return to the years just before he snapped.

My favourite musical set-piece did honour period, sort of: a 1996 cover of “You Showed Me” by the Lightning Seeds (never heard of them), runway music for a Versace show in July of ’97, a few weeks before Cunanan catches up with him. The scene begins with an extended argument between Versace and his sister Donatella (played well by Penelope Cruz, even though she’s completely miscast; it’d be rather cruel to explain why) over the mood of the show: Versace wants a celebration of life, Donatella is looking for something much more (Versace’s words) “dark and morbid.” My standard joke as to why I watch fashion-related films (mostly documentaries) is “I want to understand.” Fashion is an utter mystery to me—one look at me and you’d figure that out very quickly. (Probably my favourite thing that anyone has ever said about me was Larry Baswick’s carefully-worded assessment of my sartorial elegance the day he interviewed me for a full-time teaching position at Huttonville: “You look a little…rumpled.”) So there’s the usual disconnect as I watch Versace’s allegedly life-affirming models parade across the runway—they look as remote and as artificial as models almost always look to me—but in terms of “You Showed Me,” Donatella gets her wish; I don’t know that I’d call it a dark and morbid song, but it sure is an austerely spooky one in three of the four versions I’ve now heard (throw in the Byrds original, found on Preflyte, and the Turtles’ hit cover a few years later; I recall that Salt-n-Pepa goofed around with it some in their version). I included the Turtles in one of the Top 100s I’ve drawn up over the years (the CKLN list, I think), and above and beyond the song’s languorous dreamscape, the lyrics couldn’t be a better fit for Cunanan’s delusional reveries:

You showed me how to do
Exactly what you do
How I fell in love with you

As Versace is accompanied off the stage by two of his models at the show’s conclusion, Donatella can be seen giving him a perhaps-chastened thumbs-up from offstage; her brother intuitively understands what she (and I) don’t. Cunanan, meanwhile, already on the FBI’s 10-most-wanted list for four murders, is somewhere back in Miami waiting.

Not a Trip at All