There is possibly no time in your life where music becomes an integral part of who you are and how you see the world than in high school - at least if you are a child of the 80s. Perhaps that has changed, but, my gut suggests it remains the same. As you make the transition from child to adult (although that appears to take a bit longer than it did in my generation), it is hard to understand, grasp or accept certain situations because, more often than not, they are new to you. In two short years it was possible to go from making sure you had plans for Friday night to wondering what you might do with your life and what kind of person do you want to be. It can be heady and painful road, with guaranteed failures and moments that will define you and make you smile in your car driving to work for decades to follow.
In my youth, mostly from grade school to middle school, I was almost strictly a soundtrack guy. Pretty much anything John Williams did, the Popeye soundtrack and Rock and Roll High School got some pretty heavy play in my basement room on Locust street. And though that gave me exposure to the Ramones, I never sought out an entire album of theirs, I was happy to just relive the movie listening to the soundtrack. My dad even hooked me up with the Animal House and Meatballs soundtracks.
My brother, I realize now, took an entirely different path. Not surprising. He was the "sports guy" so soundtracks didn't hold quite the appeal to him as they did me. As I got into high school, my chums got me listening to Rush and Pink Floyd, with a smattering of Yes and Blue Oyster Cult thrown in for good measure. Don't get me wrong - I still listen to them all these years on and I'll always be happy that my first concert was Rush...and that I did the same thing for my son a generation later. I just don't listen religiously like I used to when I was trying harder to keep my geek cred. If Rush comes on one of the LA stations, its 50/50 I'm going to listen. If the song suits my mood it stays on, but, maybe I'm gonna look for a Bob Seger song. That doesn't mean I didn't get chills when Tom Sawyer started playing half-way through the new trailer for Ready Player One or that a huge grin didn't splay across my face when Rush played a part in the same book. I just have to be in a specific mood for my dose of falsetto.
What I didn't realize until near the end of college, and then more so each and every day. Is the music I don't turn off, without regard to mood, is what my brother used to listen to. If not for him, I'd never know of The Rainmakers, Todd Rundgren, Billy Falcon, Steve Earle and finally...The Talking Heads (although I grew to love The Hooters all on my own). When I die and they look at the music that has probably now been implanted in a chip in my head, that is the music they will find. So, I was over joyed when looking through a St. Louis paper one day in 1986 and saw that David Byrne of the Talking Heads had written and directed a film. However, it never made its way to my small part of the world...so I waited for the video release.
It was worth it.
There are many films I can rewatch, but, as it turns out, the ones I enjoy the most tend to be musicals. Rocky Horror, Shock Treatment, The Wall, The Apple, Popeye, and of course, The Blues Brothers. But, as great as these films are (and I've suggested and always will that The Blues Brothers is simply one of the most theologically sound films ever made - fact) the one I will always find a nuance that escaped me before is True Stories.
The film takes place in the fictional town of Virgil, Texas as it prepares a celebration of "Special-ness" to celebrate the the 150th, or sesquicentennial, of the founding of the Republic of Texas. As Byrne's unnamed, cowboy hat wearing character takes us throughout the town to introduce us to the residents as they prepare for the event. Through these interactions, as simple as some of them are (and the film switches from documentary style to fourth-wall breaking comedic insight), we get to know not only a truly Texas cast of characters, but, a microcosm of the United States at the top of its game. Virtually all is grand for the residents of Virgil - in 1986, there was no thought of what could possible go wrong (with the exception of nuclear holocaust). We were winning.
What a cast this film has. While many people my age think of John Goodman from Rosanne, I've always remembered him from this film where he portrays a simple man looking for love named Louis Fyne - and his performance at the celebration is a noteworthy and titular moment in this film - I'll try to find a video and include it below.
But, my favorite moment in the film is not a musical number at all and comes from someone who was lost to us far too soon. Spalding Gray plays civic leader (and Futurist) Earl Culver. I'd grown quite fond of Gray from watching his one-man shows. He was sometimes maddening, always insightful, occasionally anger inducing and poignantly honest. A combination that led to his premature demise. Depressing to remember we live in a world devoid now of not only Gray, but, Bukowski, Williams and Bowie.
Playing Culver's wife is the beautiful Annie McEnroe, who survived making The Howling 2: Your Sister is a werewolf (I do so love that film) and went on to steal this film and make an impression in the film Beetlejuice. I've wonder now all these years, how she didn't become a household name. A wonderful actress and a stunning beauty.
I didn't write this small essay because this picture needs defending. While not everyone's cup o' tea, the film is certainly NOT reviled. I think most people over time have grown to see the nuanced genius of the film; and, a quick Google search certainly suggests I'm the late comer when it writing a small ode to this movie.
It reminds me of better times when I had my whole life ahead of me and was convinced I would do great things. I would be a writer and save the world..or at least be a History professor and save the country. Neither panned out that way - sometimes because of choices I made, sometimes because of choices made for me (don't let anyone plan your life...and never apologize to them for not letting them. It's too late for me...you still have a chance!). Maybe the biggest take away of this film for me is that I never thanked my brother for his insanely kick-ass taste in music. I rather doubt it is what he listens to now...but, that's okay - I took over for him.
Miss you Pops