Who hasn’t run up steps without Bill Conti’s classic ode to trying hard, the Rocky Theme ‘Gonna Fly Now’, soaring through their head, or spun around at the top of a hill belting out Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s soaring blue sky-classic ‘The Hills are Alive’…
Can you go for a swim in the sea without hearing ‘duh-nuh… duh-nuh… duh-nuh… duh-nuh, duh-nuh, duh-nuh, duh-nuh’ – John Williams’ creepingly stubborn build of bass notes – or take a shower unaccompanied by Bernard Herrmann’s stabbing shrieks of a slashing violin clashing against the steam.
Then welcome, welcome to the latest We Love… as, over the next few weeks, our collection of movie-loving muzos put on their tight-white trousers and flowing dresses and profess their love for music in film in:
Romeo + Juliet
‘… The track list reads as a veritable who’s who of ’90s pop-rock acts…’
Deirdre Mc Mahon
“Would m’lady care to rock?”
There is nothing quite like the near-insanity of your first crush. Teenagers, girls especially, have all sorts of ways of accruing tokens of their beloved; ring pulls from cans you counted to the letter of his name, bus ticket numbers that added up to his initials. I remember spraying my pillow with Lynx Africa, the scent pour homme of the ’90s, in a bid to make it smell like the object of my affection. So when Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet was released at the peak of my teenage years in 1996, it was safe to say it found a receptive audience among my generation. With its tale of tragic young love, it was the film that launched a thousand Leonardo di Caprio crushes. I immediately went out and bought the soundtrack, which was then welded to my Discman for the next six months. Although teenage girls do not always have the best reputation for taste in music and film, I was in good hands with Baz. As the film updates this classic story to 1990s Verona beach, so to does the soundtrack reflect popular music culture of the era. The track list reads as a veritable who’s who of ’90s pop-rock acts; Radiohead, The Cardigans, Garbage, Des’ree and even our very own Mundy.
The epic tale opens with an operatic score ‘O Verona‘, telling the audience how this may be a flashy pop-culture update of Shakespeare, but it was still a film to be taken seriously. The Montagues are introduced as the rocker-punks, show-boating peacocks who drive around listening to the lyrics, “I feel just like a local God when I’m with the boys, we do what we want”. As a teenager you could feel drunk on your first sip of parental freedom. These lyrics embody the heady arrogance of this time and the empowerment of being part of a large gang. You need only sit upstairs on most double decker buses to be reminded how times may change, but human behaviour does not.
Let’s face it though, Romeo is a wimp. He’s a self-indulgent moaner whose all-consuming obsession with Rosalind is forgotten as quickly as MiniDisc players when he sets eyes on Juliet. But Romeo is anything but a wimp as he struts across an abandoned, sun-drenched stage to the soul-achingly melodic chords of ‘Talk Show Host‘ by Radiohead. Radiohead bridged the gap from shoe-gazing emo music to melancholic artistry and act as the perfect accompaniment for the introverted musings of Romeo. As an adult, his behaviour could be considered embarrassingly self-indulgent, but as a teenager it seems to validate all your feelings and how important they are.
Luhrmann also commissioned Radiohead to write a song especially for Romeo + Juliet – ‘Exit Music (For a Film)‘ is played over the end credits and appears on the seminal album Ok Computer. As well as being inspired by the end scene of Romeo + Juliet, Yorke claims inspiration for the lyrics came from another source: “I saw the Zeffirelli version (of Romeo and Juliet) when I was 13 and I cried my eyes out, because I couldn’t understand why, the morning after they shagged, they didn’t just run away. The song is written for two people who should run away before all the bad stuff starts. A personal song.” The human condition is a funny thing. We watch Titanic even though we know the boat sinks. Shakespeare tells the audience in the prologue that Romeo and Juliet will die, yet we still cry our eyes out when it happens.
The rest of the soundtrack may be less heavy weight than Radiohead, but not less iconic. The Cardigan’s big first hit and aptly named ‘Lovefool‘ provided the fluffy pop for Romeo and Juliet’s youthful, innocent love. Garbage’s single ‘Crush‘ provided the more edgy, tainted underbelly to this affair, with lyrics like, “I will burn for you, feel pain for you, I will twist the knife and bleed my aching heart”. After all, these are two teenagers who die for one another having met a few days before. Makes the fact that my friend used to keep the discarded cigarette butts of her crush seem positively normal.
Buying soundtracks is like the Macarena – something everybody did in the ’90s. Coming from a time when you had the interminable wait from cinema to video, it was a way of making a connection with a film that has since faded away. Even now, hearing a track from Romeo + Juliet, Pulp Fiction or Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels transports me back to a time of land-line phones, dolly mixtures siphoned from your parents spirit cabinet and the over-powering smell of CK One. And no modern-day ’90s revival will ever be able to recapture how it felt to be a teenager in that particular space in time.