A Personal Note From Lukas Kendall
Years ago, I had the privilege to write liner notes for a Star Wars Trilogy CD box set. I was 19. The album producer, Nick Redman, instructed me, “Whatever you do, do not write, ‘I first heard the Star Wars soundtrack when I was six years old,’ because no one cares.”
“Of course not,” I lied, for that was exactly what I had planned to do.
Nick later made an entire first-person documentary, on Warner Home Video’s dime, in which he and his colleagues walk the locations of The Wild Bunch in Mexico.
The point is: we are irresistibly driven to explain a piece of movie or TV history in personal terms. “Discovery narratives” are common with Star Wars but less so with Star Trek—perhaps because fans first fall under the spell of George Lucas’s colorful whiz-bang action as young children, then “graduate” to the more sedate, cerebral Star Trek.
The appeal of Star Trek is easy to understand, especially for awkward male teenagers: it dispenses with the ugly, ordinary, petty anxieties of the everyday world in favor of a brilliant, bully-free fantasy where mankind has solved its problems and taken to the stars—utopia. And it uses that expansive setting to fulfill the function of literature: to explore the human condition, the conflicts of existence more meaningful than cafeteria gossip or homework.
There’s also the great line in Futurama by Philip J. Fry about Star Trek: “But most importantly, when I had no friends, it made me feel like maybe I did.”
Briefly: circa 1990 I was an awkward, brainy yet lonely high school student with few likeminded pals, growing up on a remote island (Martha’s Vineyard) that is surprisingly empty and dull during the long, frigid winter. My family lived in a house in the woods (no friends next door) and to make matters worse, my recently divorced parents were moving on to new relationships. Could there be any more perfect viewer for Star Trek?
Given the suckitude of the recently released Star Trek V, the rapidly maturing Star Trek: The Next Generation became my best friend—Picard and his crew were appointment television. My bedroom was a soothing cocoon of Star Trek magazines, comic books, novels, spaceship blueprints and fanzines.
And soundtracks. I had always noticed that most of the sci-fi movies I loved had really cool—usually orchestral—music. While there seemed to be a fanzine for everything under the sun, it was virtually impossible to find anything written about film scores (at least in the U.S.). So I started the newsletter that eventually became Film Score Monthly.
At first I loathed the music of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It sounded like bland wallpaper next to the comfortable, old-fashioned library music of the original series, and the robust, symphonic feature scores by Goldsmith, Horner and Rosenman.
Gradually, I admired TNG cues here and there: the Irish jig of “Up the Long Ladder,” the “Terrorist Attack” from “The High Ground.” But when the synthesized choir entered at the end of act two of “The Best of Both Worlds” I had a full-on religious conversion: this fellow with the shorter name, Ron Jones, was writing music for me. Somewhere, out there in the universe, he was my friend.
I retroactively devoured his scores from past episodes, videotaping the syndicated repeats and memorizing the scores. Dennis McCarthy’s music was frustrating because, try as I might, I could not remember a melody; but Jones’s scores each had a theme of their own, and every cue seemed fully formed. They wove themselves into the narratives, becoming the storytelling moments. And the fact that not a single note was available on CD made the scores all the more captivating—the only way to experience them was to rewatch the sequences on VHS.
In 1991, GNP/Crescendo released a CD of “The Best of Both Worlds” that became one of my all-time favorite albums. I longed to make movies myself one day, just so I could have such an awesome soundtrack.
Shortly thereafter, Ron disappeared from TNG, and I discovered a new world of intrigue—behind the scenes. To this day, it is annoying beyond belief that the producers of The Next Generation, and in particular Rick Berman, had a boneheaded notion that good music was bad for their show. Certainly, they were right to not want bad or cheesy music, but Ron’s music was perfect: an elegant fusion of theatricality, originality, subtlety and style.
I am positive that the quality of his music was the reason he wasn’t canned sooner. Having gotten to know him during the ensuing 20 years, I love him, but I can see how he could be a pain in the ass. Put him together with studio accountants and you can expect blood.
Ron Jones was the first composer I ever interviewed, and you can read a transcript of that conversation here. I could not believe the way he talked about his music as a metaphor for his penis (not the word he used).
Ron is like a big kid. His heart is on his sleeve. He is the world’s worst speller. He is a brilliant musician. He lives comfortably in Burbank with his wife, Laree, and seems like a typical well-to-do Midwestern Dad, maybe a little wacky. The only thing that really sets him off is when art and creativity are not valued—which happens a lot.
He is delightfully funny: not in a joke-telling way, but in his outrageous take on the world. I saw him conduct a Family Guy cue that involved a sight gag about huge breasts. Between takes, as the orchestra was getting ready and cartoon bosoms filled the video monitors, he quipped, “This is why we’re in Iraq.”
I rarely stay in touch with film and TV composers. Put two of them together in a room, and all they talk about is recording gear and royalties. But I adore Ron. All he cares about is the work. He’s a lunatic, like me. He’s my friend.
It was my great pleasure that Ron hooked up with Seth MacFarlane on Family Guy. Ron deserves a patron who will appreciate and protect him from the corporate nudniks. The only downside is that Family Guy, as an animated comedy, rarely allows for the kind of extended dramatic music that Ron was born to do. I am positive that, in the future, their collaboration will allow Ron to spread his wings. (Seth is a pretty successful guy.)
As FSM became a magazine, then a record label, it was always in the back of my mind to do a box set of the entirety of Ron’s Star Trek music. I even used to fantasize how many discs it would take and where the breaks between seasons would go.
I daresay it was my dream project.
If there is a secret to Ron’s success, it is never losing sight of the kid within himself, and always writing for the viewer. So too do I consider the 16-year-old version of me, lonely and wishful on Martha’s Vineyard, absorbed in Star Trek, and I fantasize about some sort of time machine that could bring this box set to that boy.
It’s important to keep dreaming. —