Monday, December 16, 2013

High Plains Drifting

Pub. Note: One day several weeks ago when I was noodlin' on some ideas for the Bijou Backlight, I ran into Rob Bullington (Hackensaw Boys, Flight of Salt) at the Richmond Waldorf School, where our kids go to school, and I off-handedly asked him if he had any songs about movies. As it turns it out he did -- or does -- and so, today, we present to you a new type of feature on Bijou Backlight: a fresh take on film from an art form other than the traditional written film reviews, essays and criticism. Let us know what you think of this idea and if you -- or any of your artist friends -- have poems, songs, paintings, photographs, sculptures, etc. that are inspired by the movies. Now, without further ado, enjoy Rob's song, "High Plains Drifting," and the story behind it. -- JP 


“High Plains Drifting”
by Rob Bullington
Performed by Flight of Salt

I’ve been trying to write songs since I was 14 years old and master of three chords on the guitar. Since then, I’ve been in several bands, written lots of songs, learned how to play an assortment of instruments, toured all over the place, met and played with a bunch of rock stars, recorded albums for major labels and participated (somewhat reluctantly) in making videos. Along the way, I’ve learned that sitting down with the goal of writing a song usually guarantees that nothing worthwhile will be written; much better to let songs come along on their own accord.

If this seems like a lazy approach to the craft of songwriting, so be it. I’m not saying it’s the best approach, but it works for me.

Even more importantly, I’ve found that it’s usually best to avoid trying to impose a specific message to a song-in-progress at the outset. Instead, I try to let the words fall into the melody naturally and then later arrange and edit them for meaning.

For instance, I would never set out to write a song about a movie. While songs written for (and used in) movies can be rich and vital (even more so than the movie itself), songs about movies are somewhat more suspect.

Before I go further, however, I should clarify what I mean by “songs about movies.”

I don’t mean simply name-checking a movie in a song (which can be effective if used sparingly) or writing a song about a particular actor or actress (one of the few things that Don Henley and Kurt Cobain have in common) or even writing a song about the movie industry generally (The Kinks and Cracker, among others, have gotten away with this very well).

What I mean is to say to oneself: “Today I will write a song about Gone with the Wind and I will start by describing the outward appearance of Tara.” The results can be so bad as to be cool (look no farther than “Die Hard” by Guyz Nite) or so cool as to be badass (check out Tom Waits’ cover of Daniel Johnston’s “King Kong”). But whether cool, bad, or badass, rarely do these types of songs bear repeat listening.

But then there are those songs inspired by a movie that remain true to the spirit of the movie without being true to the movie itself. These songwriters brandish the same artistic license that permits movie makers to translate novels into film. Or, to put it another way: the license to create something that can stand on its own. Examples of this type of song include “The Union Forever” by the White Stripes (inspired by Citizen Kane) and “Debaser” by the Pixies (inspired by Un chien andalou).

Depending on one’s musical tastes, other songs in this genre include Neil Diamond’s “Heartlight” (inspired by ET: The Extra-Terrestrial) and Iron Maiden’s “Man on the Edge” (inspired by Falling Down). All of which is to say: I never intended to write a song inspired by High Plains Drifter. As soon as I realized, however, that I was writing a song inspired by High Plains Drifter, I did a bit of quick research and learned the following things:

    • It was filmed in a complete town (the buildings had interiors) built on location specifically for the movie.
    • Though inspired by Eastwood’s time in Spain acting in Leone’s Westerns, HPD was filmed in California and the production was ruthlessly more efficient than Leone’s lacksidasical approach to filmmaking: HPD was filmed in sequence, completed 2 days ahead of schedule and under budget.
    •  It was a financial success, but some critics called it “derivative” and “shallow” even though they appreciated the cinematography.
    • It was denounced by John Wayne as a betrayal of the Western genre.

    So, my song wound up being inspired by the movie as well as the circumstances surrounding its creation and release. Soon after the song was finished, I was invited to submit it for the Bijou Backlight blog. After rehearsing it with my band – Flight of Salt - recording a demo version and putting together a video, I am finally able to oblige.

    A word about the video: I am not a videographer, but since this is a movie blog I felt it was important for you have the option to look at something while you listen to the song. Please look elsewhere while you listen if you prefer.

    If you like “High Plains Drifting,” you may download it for free here – and please visit Flight of Salt’s Facebook Page to hear more of our songs and find out where we’re playing around town.

    "High Plains Drifting"

    From a high and windswept plain
    Drifts a man we never know his name
    He takes his guns into that town
    That’s what he does
    He’s the one

    See there’s no need to rehearse
    Just act the best at doing worse
    Until the whole damn town goes down
    Then we cut
    And it’s done

    I’ll take you away and we’ll start a family
    In the middle of nowhere we can build a city
    And when it goes bad
    We’ll do what I said
    We’ll paint the town red.

    Now there’s drugs all over the set
    Cause time is not infinite
    Too much gold and not enough rest
    This ain’t Spain
    It’s the West
    Now the reviews are mixed at best
    They say the lead seems too depressed
    But they love the final shot
    Out of the sun
    It’s the one

    I’ll take you away and we’ll start a family
    In the middle of nowhere we can build a city
    And when it goes bad
    We’ll do what I said
    We’ll paint the town red. 

    Pub. Note: Flight of Salt is playing at the Camel this Thurs., Dec. 19, at 9 p.m., on a bill with The Northerners and Starlighter.

    1 comment:

    1. The use of movies is well-done in the video for the song "You Think" (written and performed by a guy who was born and grew up in Richmond -- Allan Bullington -- yeah, same name!) Check out "You Think" on this page --