|Title: A Simple Love Story
Source: City Limits magazine (UK), by Peter Guttridge. Photography by David Corio. Thanks to Kevin Molony for donatng scans
Date: London. July 1-7, 1983
Key words: One From The Heart, Used Carlotta, Francis Ford Coppola, Bad Timing, Paradise Alley
|Page lay-out (entire article). 1980/ 1983. Photography by David Corio. Thanks to Kevin Molony for donatng this scan|
A Simple Love Story
Tom Waits, gruff-voiced romanticiser of the seamy side of urban life, spent much of 1981 holed up in a two-room office off Santa Monica Boulevard working on the music for Francis Coppola's 'One From The Heart' which is released this week. On his last visit to London he talked to Peter Guttridge about writing music for the movies and the mogul.
With his obsessive interest in hookers, hoodlums and wasted lives, Tom Waits might seem to have more in common with Scorsese than Coppola. But the collaboration on "One From The Heart' worked well artistically. It needed to. Coppola, with his customary brinkmanship, had gambled the future of his Zoetrope company on the success of the 'simple love story'. For Waits the movie offered an opportunity to reach a wider audience than the cult following his albums had garnered.
The film opened in the US to lukewarm reviews. The soundtrack album sat on a shelf for months(1) until legal wrangles were sorted out in Britain. The album was finally released by CBS earlier this year and the film has its long-overdue London opening this week.
"What's "One From The Heart"? Son-of-a-bitch is what it is, ' says Waits, 'I've never been in that kind of situation before. Doing a film score requires an application to detail I'm not accustomed to. Plus I was working for someone else's approval, which was hard for me at first.'
How did the collaboration come about? 'Got a call in the middle of the night and went over. It was like having an audience with the pope. I used to think directors were genies with wings you know...' Coppola had heard Waits' entertaining barstool duet with Bette Midler, 'I Never Talk To Strangers', on the Foreign Affairs album and wanted Waits to duet with Midler on the soundtrack. Midler had other commitments(2) so Waits worked with Crystal Gayle: an eccentric combination if there ever was, but one which works.
Waits was happy to get involved 'since the project was so interesting and I was new to it. The money didn't matter - money's not a barometer for me, never has been.' Waits and Coppola worked very closely together. Waits wrote about twelve different songs to be used wherever the were required. 'I strung them together like an overture for a musical. What he wanted was a glass of music that you could add to or take from. Then we got together and made a scratch tape where we spotted the story for music. I was reworking themes so I got about 175 musical cues to be extracted from the score. It ain't fun doing that.
'One From The Heart' was to be a relatively lo-budget musical, a 'fable with music' set in Las Vegas, and featuring three off Coppola's repertory company - Frederick Forrest, Raoul Julia and Terri Garr - with the addition of Nastassia Kinski. But the real Las Vegas didn't suit Coppola's image of Las Vegas so he constructed a new Las Vegas on nine huge sound stages. The budget soared accordingly. Initially all the music was to come from a Las Vegas act - piano, bass and drums (which, with muted sax, is Wait's favourite combination) - but that too changed.
'Francis was very open to suggestions. For example there's a Used Car Lot piece(3) conducted with a dipstick. The main lead (Forrest) owns a wrecking yard for abandoned cars. It's a perfect set-up because he loves cars - he's a little mad but that's why he's in the business - then he has to sell his Studebaker - breaks his heart. So I came up with this idea for a used car lot piece where the music is conducted with a dipstick. Coppola shot it. I gave him a few other ideas too.
'But you know that man is incredible. there's no distance for him between imagination and execution. It's devilish. I have an idea, Francis says great, starts working out ways to do it. I'm saying yeah well it's em, only an idea just occurred Francis - next day he's set up the machinery and doing it.'
Waits thinks highly of Coppola: 'Coppola is an angel, a man with vision. He wants to be one of those old moguls with big cigars but he's not your typical cigar - he really cares. I admire his courage because he's getting into a lot of trouble over his social conscience thing - he cares about cinema, where it's going.'
Waits has had a nodding acquaintance with films before. Strangely a couple of years back he was touting around his own screenplay 'Why is the dream so much sweeter than the taste?' about a used car dealer on downtown L.A. 'He was a guy who was a success at being a failure.' All the action takes place on New Year's Eve, which makes the whole thing uncannily like Coppola's own movie set on the eve of July 4.
'On The Nickel', a haunting song off the Heartattack and Vine album, was written by Waits for Ralph Waites' film of the same name. 'It was a wonderful picture, I mean it, but it didn't make it. It wasn't no "Towering Inferno", just a small picture with a lot of feeling. It was set on skid row in Los Angeles, Fifth Street, downtown. The locals call it "the nickel".
'Nicholas Roeg asked me to write a title song for "Bad Timing" but I was busy. Roeg took some off one of the albums.' What he took was 'Invitation to the Blues', a drifter's paeon to a roadhouse waitress which might have fitted 'The Postman Always Rings Twice' but certainly not Roeg's coffee table psychodrama. What did Waits think of the film? 'Well. I don't know anybody who wants to see Art Garfunkel with his shirt off.' Sly Sylvester Stallone hired Waits for a cameo role in the ill-fated 'Paradise Alley' (4) as a Hoagy Carmichael bar pianist. A few snatches of his music make it onto the soundtrack, though Waits did not score the movie nor write the main theme, sung over the credits by Stallone himself. Intended as a Damon Runyan comedy the film didn't fare too well with either critics or public. 'I went and sat in front of a piano for three weeks and then I went home. I didn't go to see it after.' Waits' appearance seems rather truncated in the film. He agrees. 'I had more scenes but they got cut. I finally saw it on TV with my wife (a script-writer from Twentieth Century Fox he married in '81 after breaking up with long-time partner Rickie Lee Jones). I sat her down to watch it, got really excited - look honey, here I am - shit where'd I go?'
'One from The Heart' opens on June 30 at the Lumi�re. See Cinema: West End for details.
(1) The soundtrack album sat on a shelf for months:
Jay S. Jacobs (2000): "Bones Howe had negotiated a one-off deal with CBS Records to release the One from the Heart sound track, but the idea didn't sit well with Tom. Bones remembers that Tom called him and said, "'I don't want to give them the sound-track album. 'I said, 'Why? 'He said, 'I think it's too commercial Hollywood. I think what I should do is I should just sit at the piano and just sing all those songs. The sound-track album should just be me singing the songs from One from the Heart by myself at the piano.' said, 'Well, Tom, that's not what CBS bought.' So Tom went to Francis, and Francis said, 'No, I don't think that's what we should do. We should put all the sound effects into the sound-track album from the place where they are in the movie. The sound-track album should be like a little audio minimovie.' So it turned into this huge brouhaha about all that, and finally CBS just kind of threw up their hands and said, 'Well you guys just figure out what you're going to do."'... Soon enough, though, the decision was made for them. Coppola had set up a New York preview screening for One from the Heart, and the critics in attendance gave it a big thumbs down. The word was that Francis Ford Coppola had followed up Apocalypse Now, a modern masterpiece, with a stinker. The love story was confusing, the characters were cyphers, and the happy ending felt tacked on. One from the Heart was rushed back to Zoetrope for some hasty surgery, but the damage was done. By the time it was released, One from the Heart was doomed to failure. Says Howe, "Then, of course, the guy from CBS called me and said I'm not going to put out a sound-track album from a stiff movie. So there that sound-track album sat for six or eight months,". While the film itself was almost universally panned, few had a bad word to say about the sound track. Many felt that what Waits had achieved was truly amazing. "Picking Up After You" and "This One's from the Heart" were rightly heralded as small masterpieces. Critics and music execs alike praised the score - the only problem was that only those who bought a ticket to see the movie could hear it, and few, apparently were willing to go that far. About eight months after the film had fallen on its face, Bones Howe finally saw an opportunity to deliver the music directly to the people. When he discovered that One from the Heart was about to be released in Europe, he quickly got in touch with Coppola's attorney, who had worked out the original contract with CBS, and said to him, "Francis Ford Coppola in Europe is like Truffaut is here. He's a God. You call [CBS] and you tell them that [One from the Heart] is going to come out in Europe. If the foreign division Of CBS finds out that there's a sound-track album in the can and they're not going to release it, there's going to be a lot of heat. " So the attorney put in a call to CBS and asked them if, given the circumstances, they were going to release the One from the Heart sound track in Europe. The answer was, "We don't know," so Howe announced that he would contact CBS in England and tell them all about it. "And it's amazing," he says. "It worked! You know, you just kind of dream these stupid things up and figure, well, if this is the show-business game, I'll play the show-business game. But fear really works ... They said, 'Well, how do we do this?' I said, 'You have a Tom Waits and Crystal Gayle album. That in itself should be worth something to you.' That's what they did. They just flipped the covers, put the front on the back and the back on the front. Called it Tom Waits and Crystal Gayle Sing Music from One from the Heart." (Source: "Wild Years, The Music and Myth of Tom Waits". Jay S. Jacobs, 2000).Further reading: One From The Heart
(2) Midler had other commitments:
Jay S. Jacobs (2000): "The official word was that Midler would not participate in Coppola's project due to "scheduling conflicts;' but that entertainment-industry catchphrase conveys only a grain of truth. When Bones Howe floated the suggestion to Midler's people, he discovered that the Divine Miss M. had some serious reservations. She was working on a concert film called Divine Madness, and she'd recently acted in her first film, The Rose, in which she played a boozing, pill-popping, self-destructive rock diva, loosely based on Janis Joplin. It was an impressive debut, the film had been well received, and Midler also had a smash single with The Rose's title track. Her second film would be jinxed, a failed attempt at pitch-black romantic comedy, costarring Ken Wahl and Rip Torn, that would effectively stop Midler's acting career dead in its tracks for about four years. At this point, however, she sensed that she was riding her wave of success straight to the top, and she was a busy, focused woman. "We went through all sorts of gyrations because [Coppola] wanted Bette to be there," Howe maintains. "I called Bette's manager and he said, 'Bette doesn't want to sing in a movie that she's not acting in . . .' [I said], 'But she's going to be the voice of the movie. The same voices are going to be through the whole movie. It's a great opportunity for her. She's going to be working with Francis Ford Coppola. 'He said, 'She's a bigger name in film than Francis is.' I said, 'Jerry, if you believe that, she shouldn't do the movie.' That was the end of it." (Source: "Wild Years, The Music and Myth of Tom Waits". Jay S. Jacobs, 2000)
(3) Used Car Lot piece: this would be from the mysterious project Waits had been working on with Paul Hampton "Why Is The Dream Always So Much Sweeter Than The Taste?" The project would never be realized. It is generally assumed the script was later used for Waits's play "Frank's Wild Years". A small part at least was used for Coppola's "One From The Heart" (Used Car Lot scene):
- Also mentioned in "Wry & Danish To Go" MelodyMaker magazine, by Brian Case. Copenhagen. May 5, 1979. "The Neon Dreams Of Tom Waits" New Musical Express (UK), by John Hamblett. London. May 12, 1979 and "Tom Waits: Hollywood Confidential", BAM magazine (US). Travelers' Cafe/ Echo Park. February 26, 1982; "One From The Heart & One For The Road" New Musical Express (UK), by Kristine McKenna. Wayne's Cafeteria, Los Angeles. October 1, 1983.
(4) Paradise Alley: Released September 7, 1978: movie and soundtrack album "Paradise Alley"
Jay S. Jacobs (2000): "Bones Howe remembers that Sly and Tom "got to be friends somehow or other. Maybe Sly saw him at the Troubadour or met him through somebody. I have no idea. He was suddenly there. But it wasn't unusual, because Tom had a way of accumulating people. Chuck E. Weiss. Rickie Lee Jones. People just sort of appeared all of a sudden." Stallone offered Waits the small role of Mumbles and asked him to record some songs for the Paradise Alley sound track album. Tom jumped at the chance to act, and the part was perfect for testing his wings. Mumbles, a piano player at a neighborhood saloon, wasn't exactly a stretch for him. Howe recalls that in the end he and Tom only contributed a couple of songs to the film's sound track - "Bill Conti was really upset because he wanted to do all the source music himself. He and Sly were very close, but Sly wanted Waits in that movie." Conti, a jazz musician, had scored Rocky, and he was thrilled when the movie's rousing, horn-based theme rose to the top of the pop charts. Of the five tracks that Waits and Howe recorded for Paradise Alley, only two made it into the sound track: " (Meet Me In) Paradise Alley," a pretty piano ballad in which one of Waits's barfly lovers wards off desperation in the local taproom; and "Annie's Back in Town," a sad love tune with just a touch of West Side Story grit. The other tracks that Waits and Howe had laid down for Stallone were a new version of the Small Change song "Bad Liver and a Broken Heart" (which incorporated the old standard "As Time Goes By" into its intro and outro) and two different versions of a song called "With a Suitcase." Neither version of the latter song was ever released. One was done with a rhythm section. The other - the "street" band version in which, says Howe, "we were banging on bass drums and all that kind of stuff " - reflected Waits's growing interest in experimental tones and instrumentation. Paradise Alley was released to scathing reviews, and it flopped at the box office. Tom, however, didn't experience the acute disappointment that Stallone must have felt. After all, the project had allowed him to become an actor, and he'd thoroughly enjoyed himself." (Source: "Wild Years, The Music and Myth of Tom Waits". Jay S. Jacobs, 2000)