Two nights ago I finished watching Julie Taymor’s interminable Across the Universe, essentially Rent with Beatles songs. I can even hear her pitching it that way to the studios. It’s a noble and even interesting experiment, but done with a suspicious lack of care, considering the conspicuous electronic-pitch-witchery for many of the cast’s attempts at Lennon-et-al’s higher notes, and also considering the huge mis-casting of Bono and Eddie Izzard as Tim Leary types, who can no longer sing or never could sing, respectively (what, Tom Waits and Stephen Merritt were unavailable?) Shamefully, ignoring a crucial strength of many Beatles songs, there’s too little harmonizing — a luscious rendition of “Because” excepted.
At least Across the Universe‘s failings provided an interesting path toward realizing what I like best about specific Beatles tunes (although critical distance from music that scored my pre-teen childhood, like the Beatles’ did, is probably impossible. I used to dream about the Beatles reuniting when I was a kid. And they were all still alive, so it was possible). A rendition of “Strawberry Fields Forever” had me missing the drums and cellos, both that song’s primary strength despite the gorgeous melodies. Is that song essentially when the Beatles had truly begun to use the studio as an instrument?
I also realized that there’s really no rendition that could destroy the magnificence of the title track. That song has gone through my head at random moments since 1976.
And don’t get me started on Dana Fuchs destruction of “Don’t Let Me Down” etc with her blues-rock Melissa Etheridgisms. Janis Joplin she’s not, and I never liked Janis, either (who needs her when Aretha’s Spirit in the Dark exists?).
Which gets me wondering: whose pop music would best convey a film narrative? I have to vote for the Smiths, in that one could film a love story/successful singer story-arc, set in 60s Britain, of major hilarity and drama and possibly also complexity, beginning with “The Headmaster Ritual” and including no less than “This Night Has Opened My Eyes” (that first verse, after she’s pregnant – oh) and “Frankly Mr. Shankly” (when the male lead is broke). “There is a Light That never Goes Out” sung from the top of a bus. “Death of a Disco Dancer.” You’d have to cast it with real voices, though, because the Mozzer didn’t cheat — I’m thinking Yorke, people, who’d do the lead unless he’s crazy. Kate Bush out of retirement for any role, and Mary J. Blige. Yeah, you heard me. Mary J. Ending credits to “Oscillate Wildly. You get the idea, and could probably add more.
In any case, Taymor’s tragedy has been wiped clean by my viewing, last night, of Gus Vant Sant’s Last Days. I didn’t think I could be taken back to the early nineties so well, and still be haunted by it a day later. Scary to think I had many weekends – no weeks – just like that (save for the sex with Lukas Haas – he was still a minor then) back in early nineties.
There is a Light That Never Goes Out – String Quartet Tribute to the Smiths