When Lukas Kendall contacted me recently to ask whether I would be interested in having FSM post online an undergraduate thesis I wrote in 1986, I was both thrilled at the prospect of my work being read by other film music fans and a little worried about the paper’s age and relevance in 2010. I mean, 24 years is a long time…almost half of my life...and to cast my mind back that far and revisit old scholarly pursuits is not something I do very often. My life and thinking have evolved in ways that I couldn’t have imagined in 1986 and I’ve lived and seen changes that would have boggled my mind a quarter of century ago.
The thesis I’m referring to is an analysis I did in 1986 of Jerry Goldsmith’s score for Star Trek: The Motion Picture and I shamelessly burdened Lukas with a copy of it when I first met him back in the early ’90s. I was young and optimistic then, and thoroughly convinced that every film music fan the world over couldn’t help but be enthralled by my somewhat dry academic ramblings on the topic. Well, to his credit, he has kept it all these years (hopefully putting it to good use propping up the short leg of some piece of unbalanced furniture) and just a month ago, tracked me down through a mutual friend and popped the question about posting it online.
Reexamining something that you wrote so long ago, let alone a college paper, is an odd experience. For me, we’re talking real ancient history. This was back in the days when research projects involved typewriters, snail-only mail and international phone calls made through an international operator in the middle of the night. Heck, I even had to visit brick-and-mortar libraries and understand the Dewey Decimal System! Needless to say, my concerns in opening up the thesis to 21st century scrutiny were manifold and I soon began to sink under the weight of grandiose plans to totally rework it. At this point, Lukas stepped in and offered the following wise counsel: “we mustn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good” and very calmly and logically talked me out of opening the can of worms that would be retyping, redoing the music examples, deleting/amending/updating content or doing a wholesale revision. “It’s so obviously a product of its times and a younger you,” he wrote in an email to me, “that people will understand its historical nature.” I hope he’s right!
To put the document into some sort of historical context, we also thought it might be interesting to recall and describe some of the drama that surrounded researching and writing the paper, as the whole process was quite a saga unto itself. So, here we go…
1986 was my senior year at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia. I was completing a Bachelor of Music Honors program, which basically meant I was majoring in both Violin Performance and Musicology, and the big requirement for the Musicology portion of the course was the writing and researching of a 15,000 word thesis on a subject of my choosing (pending, of course, approval by the Head of the School of Music). Being a film music geek, which in Australia at the time was a fairly isolated and sparsely populated niche in geekdom, I jumped in with both feet and requested that I do a full analysis of a Hollywood film score, from both a musical and technical point of view. Ah the rashness of youth! No one was more surprised than me when the subject was actually approved and I was faced with the stark reality of what score I should choose and how the hell I would get hold of it to study.
I was at the time a distant, but nonetheless enthusiastic, member of the Society for the Preservation of Film Music in L.A. (now the Film Music Society), and decided to write them asking for help and suggestions. My inquiry was very kindly and very promptly answered by the SPFM’s President, Bill Rosar, and we corresponded back and forth, discussing the academic merits of various scores and the inherent difficulties of getting hold of either the composers involved or the printed orchestral scores themselves.
While I was (and still am) a huge fan of the Golden Age composers and their work, I wanted to delve into something more contemporary….a score that I had grown up with…one that had made an impact on me in those formative teen years…basically from a movie I liked. My record (and fledgling CD) collection displayed an undeniable bias towards both Williams and Goldsmith (with nods to Broughton, Bernstein, Horner, Silvestri, Mancini and Poledouris too, of course), but in my musings about the thesis, I kept coming back to Jerry. In 1986, he was as prolific as ever and still firmly at the top of his game, especially in the fantasy/sci-fi arena. As far as I was concerned, every score he wrote was a classic. I teetered for a while, trying to decide between Alien and Star Trek, and only needed a slight nudge from Bill Rosar at the SPFM to settle on the latter. Bill also offered forth the tantalizing suggestion that I might consider coming to L.A. to try and physically see the score, maybe even to procure a copy of it for study and perhaps even interview Goldsmith himself. Well, long story not very short, he put me in touch with Fred Steiner, who in turn connected me with Bob Bornstein at the Paramount Music Library. Vague arrangements were made and my ever-supportive dad managed to foot the bill for me to fly out to L.A., not once, but twice, to collect what materials I could for my research.
Bob Bornstein was very gracious and supportive of my plight, and on arrival at Paramount, seated me in front of a large, unsorted pile of photocopied scores. It’s funny how an innocuous heap of paper can inspire complete awe in a researcher, let alone a rabid fan. It’s every Indiana Jones moment you ever imagined…finally reaching the end of a long quest, having within arm’s reach that which you have lusted after for years. I’m sure I probably just sat there and drooled quietly while Bob explained that I wasn’t to xerox anything but was cleared to copy by hand any material I wanted take and study. Duly inspired, I pulled out my 18-staff music pad and pencil and like a medieval monk sequestered in a lonely tower somewhere, set about copying and condensing the score into sketch form as quickly as I could. It took a couple of days, but eventually I had notes on and brief sketches of most of the major musical moments in the film, and could set about pursuing other leads.
One of those leads turned out to be a gold mine of fascinating information. Preston Neal Jones is a writer who compiled an oral history of the making of ST:TMP with the aim of publishing a book about its complicated journey to the big screen. Comprised of incredibly insightful interviews with key people in the ST:TMP production team (Goldsmith included), the manuscript contained a wealth of material that helped paint a complete picture of the score’s evolution. From these first-hand accounts, I was able to glean enough hard facts about the recording of the music to compile an accurate chronology of the score’s production schedule. I’ll be forever indebted to Preston for so kindly and enthusiastically releasing to me the relevant music/Goldsmith-related pages, as they proved an invaluable aid to my research and allowed me to glean information from people I had no hope of getting close to otherwise.
Of course the one person I did hope to get close enough to interview was Goldsmith himself. In addition to setting up the score viewing at Paramount, the SPFM also very kindly offered to put me in touch with his office, being careful all the while to stress that he may be unavailable during my visit and that it was completely out of their control whether he would agree to do an interview or not. I recall gingerly dialing the phone number I had been given and the feeling of terror mixed with jubilation I experienced when, almost immediately, I found myself talking to the wonderful Lois Carruth, Jerry’s longtime personal assistant. Now Lois is well-known for having been very protective of her boss…and rightfully so… he was a famous, busy guy…and having no idea who I was, set about grilling me on how I had gotten hold of Jerry’s direct office line. I don’t recall much else about the conversation, other than my ears becoming uncomfortably hot and my lower lip trembling like it did when I was a kid in grade school. Completely traumatized, I mumbled some sort of garbled apology to Lois, hung up the phone and never pursued that particular avenue of research again. Apparently, fallout from my call to Lois continued to reverberate in the SPFM long after I returned home, for they went as far as to print the attached letter in their journal, The Cue Sheet, in September 1986, warning prospective film music researchers of the potential frustrations of coming to LA specifically to meet composers and look at scores.
My saga does have a happy ending, though. While the rest of the 1986 school year was difficult and hectic, it hurtled along nonetheless to a successful conclusion. The thesis was well received and I passed all of my final recitals, managed to graduate and went on to work almost full-time in the two professional orchestras in Brisbane. In 1988, I was accepted into the Scoring for Motion Pictures & Television post-grad program at USC, so I upped stakes and moved to L.A. The USC program was only a year long, but I stayed on here in town and put down roots. I now work as a violinist, violist, orchestrator and composer, have married the love of my life and live with him and our two cats in Torrance.
I did finally meet Jerry Goldsmith too…and talked to him about Star Trek. He came in and taught us a few classes at USC and I even gave him a copy of the thesis, which he seemed to get a kick out of, in a reserved, God-I-hope-you’re-not-a-stalker kind of a way. He invited the class to a bunch of his sessions that year (including two days of Star Trek V), and I was fortunate enough to connect with him again in 1998 when I played under him in a concert of his music with the Pasadena Pops Orchestra. The connection continued through my partner, Darrin McCann, who played in the viola sections of Air Force One, Deep Rising, The Last Castle, Star Trek: Nemesis, Timeline, and his last film, Looney Tunes: Back in Action. I also saw and talked to Jerry one last time on the Todd A-O stage during the Looney Tunes: Back in Action sessions. Through a twist of fate that still amazes me to this day, I was brought in to orchestrate a couple of cues (not of his, alas) and provide some additional animation scoring on that film after he stopped writing because of his seriously declining health.
Being a little more mature and a little more experienced today than I was at age 21, there are a couple of parts of the thesis text that I find particularly cringe-worthy. Lukas suggested that we present to the reader “the naked, original document, warts and all,” which I’m all for. But before we do, I’d really like to address a couple of these issues, so please bear with me. Chapter 4, where I dig into the classical works that “inspired” Goldsmith, has always bothered me. It was a bit of an exercise in academic smugness on my part and though Goldsmith readily admitted to me in person that he had Vaughan Williams’s Symphony No. 6 “sitting on his turntable” while he wrote the ST:TMP score, I in no way want to come off as some little smartass playing “gotcha” with the guy. Were I to write this paper from scratch today, I would leave most of this stuff out. I respect the man and his body of work way too much to trivialize it by pointing out nit-picky similarities to classical works. I mean, come on…hundreds of films and television scores…hundreds of hours of music…you do the math. Let’s cut the guy some slack here! Secondly, there is a comment I made about Arthur Morton on p. 121, about his role being “that of a…glorified copyist” which makes me sick to my stomach. I honestly didn’t know any better! Reading that sentence 24 years on, I’m horrified that I actually wrote it. It’s just plain ignorant and dumb and I extend my humble apologies to my colleagues in both the orchestrating and music prep communities for making such an asinine remark. Having met both Goldsmith and Morton, as well as having worked as an orchestrator for many years now myself and having seen how the composer/orchestrator relationship works—well, let’s just say I recoil in horror looking at it!
While it’s arguable that not every score of Jerry Goldsmith’s rates as a must-have for hard-core collectors, every score he created served the picture for which it was written incredibly well. His dramatic sense was truly a gift and he continually amazed me with the timbres and colors he came up with…time after time creating fresh, exciting soundscapes and achingly beautiful melodies. He was the consummate film music professional, not precious about the process or the product, but always keen to provide the viewer with that “a-ha…I get it” feeling the first time you watched a movie through. Needless to say, my admiration for the man and his music remains as strong today as ever and he has had a huge influence on my life as a musician. His musical legacy is, for me, one that transcends the visual medium for which it was created and stands comfortably on its own as great, superbly crafted music.
So, fellow film music fans and scholars, all I have left to add is this: get out there and keep fighting the good fight! We need to make sure that film music is preserved, that film music collections are made available for research, that more of it is played in concerts and concert halls, and that more of it is taught in schools and colleges. I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but good music, however it came to be written, deserves to be heard, studied and celebrated!
Thanks for your interest and enjoy the thesis!
April 23, 2010