Thursday, January 24, 2008

Don't you remember you told me you saw the movie?

With its inclusion in the movie Juno, Sonic Youth's cover of "Superstar" has been getting regular airplay recently on all three of the commercial alternative radio stations here in L.A. (Indie 103.1, KROQ, and the new 98.7). Which is fine by me; I think it's a good version. (This post on Aquarium Drunkard allows for hearing it if you're not hearing it on the radio.)

Of course, I thought that back in 1994 when I had the If I Were a Carpenter compilation CD on which it originally appeared. Back then I don't recall even hearing it get played on the radio once.

That a critically lauded and commercially successful (and now Oscar-nominated) movie featured the song led to it getting back in the cultural radar is hardly surprising, nor is it intrinsically bad that it took such a thing to get everyone on the bandwagon. (Where would the Shins be without Zach Braff?*)

When I have been hearing the song get back-announced on the radio by whatever on-air personality was at the microphone, they have been consistently alluding to it only as part of the Juno soundtrack (on which, yes, it does appear), with seemingly no awareness of the song's origin.

It ends up coming across (in my admittedly jaded mind) with the implicit message that the song was recorded for the Juno soundtrack, and that it's a new song. I'm not saying that I've heard that explicitly stated, but from the way it was spoken about that was how I interpreted the on-air personality's level of understanding about it.

Just a short while ago I heard it played on Indie 103.1, and the on-air personality (TK) discussed a great deal of the history of the song (not merely the Sonic Youth version) that I barely knew or didn't specifically know: That it was written by Leon Russell, that Richard Carpenter saw it performed on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and thought it would great for Karen's voice (leading to the Carpenters recording their version, which is generally the one people think of). He then alluded to Thurston (Moore, of Sonic Youth) thinking it would be great for the Juno soundtrack.

TK's little back-announcement was a nicely structured, and I concede it was intended to be more entertaining than informative, but given that the Sonic Youth version was released over 13 years ago does undermine his last bit; I'm highly skeptical that any member of Sonic Youth actively sought to get the song on the soundtrack.

As anyone who saw the movie and was paying attention knows, in the movie the song is not merely played over a montage; it is something the characters actively talked about in dialogue. Jason Bateman's character even specifically mentions the compilation CD on which it appeared while holding the CD in question in his hands. The CD appears briefly on screen.

I guess it's only obvious to those of us who actually knew of the CD that it wasn't a fictionalized thing in the movie but something from the reality outside the film. (I may have been the only person in the theater who, at the moment when the CD was mentioned on screen, thought: Oh yeah, the Sonic Youth song was pretty much the only really good one on the disc; no wonder I ended up selling it to a used CD store years ago.)

I know it's expecting too much of contemporary on-air personalities to know much about the music being played (although on Indie they tend to be better than most commercial stations), but I can't quite shake the slight disappointment stemming from knowing that the only research necessary to know the origin of the song is to actually see the movie--the one for which it proved so well-suited that the writer put it in the script--which they indicate they have done, recommending it as a good movie after talking about the song.

Maybe, like me, they were distracted by someone behind them in the theater failing to refrain from talking during the movie...

* I'm sure the Shins would be fine, actually. They may not have gotten played as much on the radio, however.

1 comment:

  1. Ugh. I feel your frustrations.

    God forbid a contemporary DJ actually absorbed the history of their entire trade.

    Lazy I tell you.

    Anyway, I dunno if you read it or not, but I blurted--more like vomited up my opinions regarding contemporary media.

    It's long, but you might relate. I wrote it in July.

    I would have linked it properly had I had the know how to do so. So, here's the link, Old School!

    be well,


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