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Funbag

Some Rules For Movie Soundtracks

Gracie Films/20th Century Fox

Time for your weekly edition of the Defector Funbag. Got something on your mind? Email the Funbag. And buy Drew’s novel, Point B, while you’re at it. Today, we’re talking about Dak, saxophones, baby formula, and more.

Your letters:

Peter:

Compile the ultimate movie soundtrack: 10 songs, unlimited budget. I leave the genre to you (you could even shamelessly plug a soundtrack to an adaption of one of your books!) But I WILL judge you on the title track. Sets the tone for the whole movie. If I hear “Fortunate Son” I know I’m about to watch a Vietnam War movie. If I hear “Solsbury Hill” I know I’m about to watch a pompous indie flick. What you got?

That’s the problem right there. So many movies/shows/ads have been using the same songs for so long that the music adds NOTHING to the voice of the movie itself. Some songs need to be forcibly retired from pop culture duty, with “Gimme Shelter” and “For What It’s Worth” chief among them. Every time songs like those get licensed, it cheapens both the movie and the song. It’s insulting. What is this, a fucking Jack FM station? I came here for something NEW. So now, I’d like to throw down a few music rules that Hollywood will absolutely ignore.

1. Go one cut deeper than the obvious choices. I don’t need the deepest cuts in my movie. But the number of certified hits from the past that NEVER get used by Hollywood is just unforgivable. I’ve tweeted about this shit before…

…but I’ve got a million other examples. And listen, I know that plenty of you find my musical taste questionable. But bear with me while I just rifle through a few examples. “Gimme Shelter” is in every Scorsese movie. Meanwhile, “Rocks Off” is an even better Stones song, and it’s never in anything. Obvious ’80s cuts like “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” which was itself an OST song, get used repeatedly. Meanwhile, the bulk of Janet Jackson’s back catalog gathers dust. And nothing interesting from the ’90s gets licensed. Why the fuck isn’t the intro to “Cannonball” in more shit? In fact, I haven’t ever seen any movie or show get the ’90s right in ANY form. We could have had a Dazed and Confused for the ’90s by now and we don’t. GET ON IT, LINKLATER.

2. Use more existing classical music. Stanley Kubrick, one of the greatest directors who ever lived, used music from legendary composers all the time, including for one of the best sequences in movie history:

All this music is in the public domain, and it’s all better than anything Hans Zimmer could cook up with a full orchestra at his disposal. The King’s Speech won Best Picture one year not because it was a great movie, but because the money scene in it was scored to Beethoven’s Seventh. I wanted to storm every beach on every coast after watching that scene because that piece of music is so insanely badass. And not it’s as if that’s the only symphony Beethoven composed that’s been criminally neglected. There are a shitload more where that came from. The man’s fifth symphony clocks in at over half an hour, and yet most people only know two minutes of it (dun-dun-dun DUNNNNNN) thanks to DiGiorno commercials.

3. Make actual soundtracks again. The Coen Brothers are about the only filmmakers alive now who commission actual, original soundtracks for movies. And they only do it for a couple of them, like Inside Llewyn Davis. I grew up with smash OSTs for Beverly Hills Cop, Purple Rain, Saturday Night Fever, Judgment Night, Flashdance, etc. They don’t make actual soundtracks now, because they’re expensive and because no one buys albums anymore. This list of the best selling soundtracks of all time contains just ONE soundtrack from this century. That one soundtrack was O Brother, Where Art Thou, which was released 21 years ago. Movies are worse off because of this. It doesn’t even have to be a GOOD soundtrack. Just gimme two bigass hits and fill the rest of the tracklist with absolute dreck. When I hear the money song, I wanna think of the movie, and vice versa. Whenever they dump that Black Widow movie onto HBO Max, they should score it to nothing but original Slayer songs. And Bach.

4. Stop using songs as obvious cues. “Oh wow, they’re playing ‘Hip To Be Square’! That means we’re in the ’80s! That’s so funny!”

5. For TV shows, no more musical outros. I wrote about this after The Americans closed out its run with “With or Without You” (again, and another overused cut). But at least that finale used its cursory music sequence to reveal a vital plot point. The way it usually works on a TV show now—be it prestige TV or some generic network procedural like Chicago Ski Lodge—is that something awful happens, and then you get an extended sequence of people grieving, all set to a solemn acoustic cover of “Relax” by Frankie Goes To Hollywood. They may as well put a super up on the screen that says IT’S OK TO GO TAKE A SHIT RIGHT NOW. It’s a crutch. The only reason shows use music now is to fill out the running time. And the worst thing is that it works on audiences. You get tricked into thinking you’re watching something profound when, in reality, the story stays perfectly still for three straight minutes.

I have soundtracks in my head when I write books. I had one for The Postmortal. I had one for Point B that I still listen to regularly. In my head, the entire story of The Hike is scored to two songs: this one and this one. Will you like ANY of these songs? Possibly not. But the point isn’t necessarily for you to have the same taste in music as me. I’m not Zach Braff forcing his love of Zero 7 on people. The point is that the music should be part of the voice of the work. The more diverse or unexpected those choices are, the more distinct that voice will be. And that’s why my next book will be mentally scored, from beginning to end, to “Can’t Stand The Heartache” by Skid Row.

Mike:

The other day I found a plastic disposable cup on my kitchen counter with my name written on it in sharpie. It is not my handwriting. I live alone, moved into this apartment post-COVID, and have almost never had anyone over to visit, let alone have a party where you’d be writing names on cups. How freaked out should I be by this? I can’t come up with an explanation. 

The most obvious explanation is that you made up that story to get into the Funbag. In which case … well played, sir. Very well played. The second most obvious explanation is that you got absolutely HAMMERED, blacked out, went to a Starbucks to get a dragon fruit smoothie or some shit, and they actually got your name RIGHT when they wrote it on the cup. First time for everything.

Or someone is planning to kill you. Did you piss off anyone online during the pandemic? I know I have. No one has yet to break into my house and leave a used Solo cup on the counter to toy with my mind, but I remain wary of the possibility.

Mendy:

Why does the NFL not have different color flags for offensive vs. defensive penalties? The absolute worst part of watching a game is holding your breath after a huge play when you see the little yellow graphic. You don’t know if you should cheer or groan! I think different color flags would help a ton.

I agree and I assume the idea has already been floated around league headquarters, and then shot down for impossibly stupid reasons. Here are five of those reasons off the top of my head.

  1. They LIKE keeping you in suspense during the telecast (most obvious explanation)
  2. They worry a ref might throw the wrong color flag by accident and spark an international incident.
  3. Giving the refs different colored flags is simply too much to ask of them.
  4. New policy might anger coaches for some reason.
  5. TV partners object to new flag color after working for MONTHS on subtle tweak to their existing yellow penalty graphics.

Throw all those into a thick and hearty stew and you leave the NFL bureaucracy paralyzed. But yes, I would like different colored flags for offensive and defensive penalties. This wouldn’t be necessary if every play-by-play announcer were able to do their jobs (good ones can usually tell you right away which team did the deed), but alas.

Brian:

Our little guy just graduated from formula to straight up milk. Know what that means? I’m free from the tyranny of having to make bottles in multiples of two ounces. Five and a quarter? No problem. One and a half? Why not!? The only limits are my imagination and the graduations on the bottles. This legitimately excites me.

Oh wow I haven’t thought about that milestone in years. I remember when our pediatrician gave us the go ahead for normal-ass milk. Not only was I freed from the tyranny of the formula scoop, but I was also liberated from the cost of the formula itself. I felt like a millionaire. All of our kids had acid reflux (yours will, too), which meant we had to shell out of Enfamil A.R., which already cost more than regular formula. And we got off EASY. We had friends who had to buy prescription baby formula that cost like $80 a can, or top shelf OTC brands like Nutramigen that aren’t much cheaper. The racket that BIG FORMULA runs is very real and very hurtful to parents who can’t or won’t breastfeed. So the day my wife and I could feed our children using milk that cost five bucks a gallon at the store? Listen man, there’s a reason I could afford to buy a new couch last fall.

When you’re a new parent, it feels like an eternity to reach any of these milestones: the switch to milk, giving your kid regular food, ditching the pacifier, ditching diapers, successful night-training, getting the baby out of the crib and into a regular bed, ditching the car seat, etc. So when you finally DO surpass them, it feels like you won the goddamn Super Bowl. I’m past the majority of those victories now. My reward for it was being locked in this house with three grumpy schoolchildren for over a calendar year. HOW SWEET IT IS.

Grant:

I was watching hockey the other day and thought about how fun it would be if there was an extra player on the ice as an agent of chaos who belonged to neither team. No teammates, but they could score on either end and the points would only count for them, and any possible assist to the other teams would not count for them, either. They could sub themselves in and out at will to maximize their use of energy and game situations. 

So then a universal Tie Domi? That’s what you want? HEY-OOOOOOOO.

Anyway, your idea sounded good for half a second. Then I remembered that I like watching hockey teams SUCCEED on the ice. I don’t want some bonus goon sent out there to act as the Senate parliamentarian to the game, gumming up the works for both teams and preventing goals from being scored. No thank you. When in doubt, the best tweak to any sport is no tweak at all.

That goes for the NBA All-Star Game too, by the way. I know everyone enjoyed LeBron rigging the draft at the expense of the Utah Jazz, but I’d rather they just do the teams by conference the way they always do. These games are always a fucking joke (that was especially true of this year’s ASG), but flipping the channel and seeing a matchup between Team LeBron and Team Durant makes it feel even MORE pointless somehow. I need that shit to be 20 percent less random. I am not a crackpot.

HALFTIME!

Steven:

Did Bill Clinton kill the saxophone? There are a million songs from the 70s and 80s with great saxophone solos, and now that’s extinct. I remember when he was running for office he was cool and sexy because he played the sax. Is Bill Clinton the death of saxophone solos?

No, Kenny G was the death of sax solos. That and common sense. I say that knowing that there are at least two incredible songs from the recent past—“Run Away With Me” and “Midnight City”—that use the saxophone to great effect. A sax solo is like a keyboard solo: It works best when you don’t see it coming. Small doses, etc.

But when you make those instruments a regular staple of your work, you’re suddenly just a stone’s throw away from soft rock. I know yacht rock got a second wind thanks to Spotify and to revisionist boomers like me, but I lived through the rise and fall of Will To Power in real time. The barrier for entry into what makes Good Yacht Rock is EXTREMELY high.

And if you’d like to counter me with a HEY WHAT ABOUT BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, please go choke on a pink Cadillac gearshift. I like Bruce Springsteen, and the late Clarence Clemons was very, very good at his job. But that shit is still Broadway rock.

Matt:

Utilizing whatever variables you choose to reach your conclusion, how many current Americans could actually win a Presidential election?

Three. I know Trump made it seem like anyone could win the Presidency, because he had zero qualifications and was the absolute worst person for the job. But Trump was already famous when he announced his run. His racist beliefs coincided perfectly with his own party’s. And he got to exploit social media in its pathetic infancy. All the stars aligned for his sorry ass. You, Matt, would not defeat Biden in 2024 using the Trump playbook. Plenty of more experienced politicians will try, and they might succeed, but all of them still need the right combination of money, experience, charisma, evil, and prevailing economic and social circumstances to pull it off.

And frankly, I don’t think anyone in Washington actually knows how to win a Presidential election anyway. They point to all the shit they did AFTER they won to explain it. But really, it’s a fucking crapshoot. All I know is that you have to be the right person at the right time with the right people behind you (SEE: Abrams, Stacey) to pull it off somehow, and virtually no one in America right now besides a couple of big names in the potential 2024 field can be that person.

So don’t get your hopes up for The Rock to be your president anytime soon. He still has to put in a few decades of grifting to get his sea legs.

Josh:

This past year, I took up an interest in finance. One day I was discussing this topic with my folks, and my old man gave me his copy of that day’s WSJ. Seeing as how I haven’t touched a physical newspaper in years, it caught me off guard when I had to flip between pages in the middle of an article. The story wasn’t even that long! Why did we ever abide by this format? Isn’t this the equivalent of, like, reading some shitty Bleacher Report blurb that has 30 slides? 

Well it was the only format I ever knew growing up without the internet, so there’s that. But lemme put on my ink-stained wretch visor for a second and explain it from the publishing side of the equation. The people at BIG NEWSPAPER want you to read the entire newspaper. That way, all of the ad space they sell has value. So they put a bunch of stories on the front page to tantalize you to open the broadsheet and read on. That front page acts as a table of contents to the day’s news. If the front page was just one story and 95 percent small type, you’d be like, “What the fuck is this?”

Space consideration also comes into play. Every story has to be written and laid out alongside the ads to fit perfectly inside a set number of section pages, with no blank space. That means stories have to be broken up in order to get them to fit. It also means that stories are often edited for space as much as they are for content. I was on the masthead at GQ for seven years. If you’ve ever read a physical copy of that magazine, you’ve noticed that it’s laid out like most other fashion magazines. All of the story intros are in the meat of the book, with enough copy to fit alongside all of the artwork and all of the pricier ads. Whatever copy doesn’t fit into that space gets relegated to what’s called the “runover,” at the back of the book. That’s when you see a “continued on page 137” note midway through a profile of Chris Evans or whoever. The last 10–20 pages of every issue consist of runover.

But even THAT space is at a premium. I’ve had to cut out grafs or trim sentences from pieces in order to make the page layout fit, both at the front of the book and the back. I never minded doing this, because I could easily restore those cuts to the online version of the story if I wanted to. But when you’re reading a physical newspaper, just know that they had to make various adjustments to get all that shit laid out properly. “All the news that’s fit to print” is a phrase you can take literally if you so choose. It’s even true of headlines. Do you know why the New York Post calls the Giants the “Jints” even though NO ONE, not even in the tri-state area, says it that way? It’s to save a letter in headlines and in subheds. Now you know.

Man, that was a lot of insider talk. Let’s go back to complaining about food.

John:

We ordered a takeout dinner from a nice local restaurant for my wife’s birthday. One entree was filet mignon, and we asked for it medium rare. After we got home and sat down, we realized that the steak was purple inside. We ate it, and nice steak is nice steak (mmm), but it wasn’t what we ordered. Do you think we should follow up with the restaurant? On one hand, these times suck for restaurants, we ate it, and who cares. On the other hand, this is a newish place, and they are aimed at the higher end market. Honest feedback might help their business. What do you think?

If you wanna help the restaurant out in the middle of the pandemic, you can call and tell them that the steak was undercooked but NOT ask for a refund. That way, you’ve gotten your feedback across to them without being dickish and without making a scene on Yelp.

Also, you should learn from this. I’ve said this before, but the worst kind of takeout to order is fancy restaurant food. I know Caviar was a big go-to for rich assholes in quarantine, but some food needs to eaten in a restaurant. It’s not gonna travel well, and it’s never gonna live up to the price tag.

That’s especially true of steak. You could have bought your own filet mignon for less than you paid to order it, and you could have cooked it yourself and had it turn out WAY better. A basic Google search will unearth easy ways for you to do it. Even before COVID, I barely bothered ordering steaks out. Whenever I eat out, or whenever I order takeout, I want food that I know damn well I can’t make myself.

Alex:

When I saw the Dak Prescott contract, I said out loud “Damn, he got paid.” This got me thinking on the nature of the phrase “x got paid,” and how it is used. Should it apply to any athlete that signs a contract, or does it only apply based on the amount of money in the contract (the larger the sum, the more likely someone says the player got paid)?

The phrase only applies if the player in question got a shitload of money and DESERVED it. When the money is long overdue, as was very much the case with Dak, you cry out PAY DA MAN when he’s still playing on his rookie deal or stuck under the dreaded franchise tag. And then, when the money DOES come in, you get to cry out MY MAN GOT FUCKING PAID when the guaranteed number hits the Twitter feed. That all applied perfectly to Dak. It does not apply when the Panthers sign, like, a guard a midlevel deal. You’re not gonna swoon over Nick Easton’s $8 million signing bonus.

JJ:

Did Woody Allen curse the Knicks?

Sure, why not. Knicks Twitter, your team will never be truly elite until Woody Allen has been thrown off a bridge. You know it’s true. You know that your current record is a lie, just as it’s a lie when people tell me Woody Allen makes interesting movies. You know what must be done.

Email of the week!

Andy:

At an oil company, there was a guy I used to work with named Wally, which is not his real name. He spent some time in the early 80’s in Saudi for work. If you were lucky enough and could gather a few people he liked, Wally would tell you a story about a day off he had at the beach there with a few of his co-workers. On their way home from the beach, he felt a terrible rumbling in his stomach. Fortunately, on their drive home, they happened upon a hill with a three-sided, open-air, hole-in-the-ground outhouse (which was relatively common in a place lacking western toilets).

He described the deed as a “plug” and then a “whoosh”. It was a relief, but it was messy, which resulted in him needing to use his shirt to clean up (which also went down the hole). As soon as he threw the shirt down there, he realized something was off. His coworkers started driving away, so he had to run down the side of the hill to catch them. He heard a man yelling at him as he was running to the Jeep, which he remembered as something like “Ha-la-la!” He made it to the Jeep, but as they drove around the hill, he looked back at where he came from. To his horror, it wasn’t an outhouse after all, it was an earth home! That hole in the ground was the stove pipe to the kitchen. He felt terrible about it, but we joked with him that the root of all strain between the US and the Middle East can be traced back to him.

PS: A few years later, a group of younger coworkers were in a refinery (including Wally) and one of the younger guys decides to tell this story. Wally listens intently to the story until near the end when the storyteller states that the yelling man chasing the dumper was carrying a sword. Wally interjects and says, “Wait a minute, there was no sword. I know because he was chasing me.”