KEXP Video Roundup: Top Five Music-Related Films of John Cusack

John Cusack. You can’t hear his name without thinking of the iconic boombox scene in Say Anything…, right? Over his 30-year career, and with more than 80 acting credits to his name, Cusack’s love of music has informed some excellent film choices along the way. In an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, Cusack says, “The way I experience music is autobiographically… I chart my life through music that inspires me. Music keeps changing but great music you can come back to and it re-inspires you. I don’t separate music from film from performance — it’s all the same stream.” In honor of Cusack’s 51st birthday today, KEXP is taking a cue from High Fidelity, and presenting the Top Five Music-Related Films of his career.

5) Tapeheads (1988)

In 1988, Cusack starred in Tapeheads, a film produced by Michael Nesmith of The Monkees (spot him in a cameo as the water cooler guy in the trailer below). Cusack portrays video director Ivan, who, along with his best friend Josh (Tim Robbins), tries to revive the career of their favorite (fictional) ’70s soul duo Swanky Modes (performed by Sam Moore and Junior Walker). This now-cult classic features guest appearances by Soul Train host Don Cornelius; Courtney Love; “Human Beat-Box” Doug E. Fresh; Fishbone (performing under the name “Ranchbone”); Stiv Bators of The Dead Boys and The Lords of the New Church; “Weird Al” Yankovic; and Dead Kennedys frontman Jello Biafra in a cameo as an FBI agent.

4) Love & Mercy (2014)

In the film Love & Mercy (which screened at the 2015 Seattle International Film Festival as part of the “Face the Music” series), Cusack portrays none other than Beach Boys founder and frontman Brian Wilson, a role he shares with actor Paul Dano who plays Wilson in the younger years. When he heard the film was being made, he actively pursued the role. “I called up and said, ‘I’d love to read for it.’ I thought this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so I went after the part and was lucky enough to get it.” He told the L.A. Times, it was his love for music that motivated him to take the part, but also “the chance to play such a complicatedly fractured man.”

3) Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)

This 1997 film was Cusack’s first foray into screenwriting and producing. With his high school buddies Steve Pink and D.V. DeVincentis, he formed the production company, New Crime Productions. And one of his first acts as the boss was to reach out to his pal Joe Strummer of The Clash to compose the score. Strummer explained to Media Cyanide, “We nearly acted together in the Spanish desert in a crazed spaghetti western from Alex Cox called Straight to Hell, but he was fired for not shaving his head. That didn’t stop us from hanging out a couple of days.” When Strummer passed, Cusack penned a eulogy for the Huffington Post so heartfelt, we’ll look over the misspelling of “Billy Bragg.” In addition to songs by The Clash, the soundtrack featured ’80s new wave faves like Violent Femmes, Echo & the Bunnymen, The Specials, The Jam, to name a few. The soundtrack made it to #31 on the Billboard charts, prompting the release of a second volume.

2) High Fidelity (2000)

The New Crime trio of DeVincentis, Pink, and Cusack strike again with their film adaptation of Nick Hornby’s 1995 novel of the same name. According to a May 2000 article in Spin Magazine, the three spent their teen years rummaging through the record bins at Chicago-area stores like Record Exchange; Vintage Vinyl; Shake, Rattle, and Read; and the retail outlet for the label Wax Trax! Records. “I spent a lot of time in those record stores having those dumb conversations,” DeVincentis admits. “That’s why I had to do this movie. I didn’t want to see it made with really stupid references.” It’s with that level of love for music that they tackled the film’s soundtrack. “The film has 70 song cues, and we probably listened to 2,000 songs to get those 70 cues,” Cusack told The New York Times.

He elaborates on the process in a chat with AV Club, explaining, “It was really just me and a few guys choosing what we wanted on the soundtrack. But then to get the songs from the record companies was incredibly hard, because each big conglomerate has their own catalog, like the Polygram masters or the MCA masters. We dealt with this horrible corporate system where you’d have to pick the catalog that you thought had the best cross-section, then you’d have to work these side deals directly with the artist to get the stuff in the catalog that you absolutely had to have. It was pretty hard to get all the songs in, but it turned out exactly how we wanted it to.”

In one of KEXP’s favorite scenes, record store manager Rob Gordon (played by Cusack, natch) whispers to a co-worker, “I will now sell five copies of The Three E.P.s by The Beta Band.” In the first month that film was in theaters, Astralwerks reported album sales for The Three E.P.s quadrupled.

1) Say Anything… (1989)

And, no surprise, Cameron Crowe’s directorial debut tops the list. Over his 30-year film career, he’s become known for his on-point soundtrack selections, and with Say Anything…, he got it right straight out of the gate. That said, it’s hard to believe Peter Gabriel‘s “In Your Eyes” wasn’t Crowe’s first choice. During filming, Cusack is blasting Fishbone’s “Bonin’ in the Boneyard,” which is not exactly the song I imagine Diane wants to hear outside her bedroom window. In the script, Crowe had written “To Be A Lover” by Billy Idol. But, as he tells Entertainment Weekly, one day he was listening to a mix tape he had made for his wedding to Heart’s Nancy Wilson, and Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” came on. “I got this chill because all the words linked up to what we’d filmed and what we were struggling to find a score to or a song.” The rest of the soundtrack bounces around from The Replacements (“Within Your Reach”) to the Red Hot Chili Peppers (“Taste the Pain”) to Joe Satriani (“One Big Rush”), but Crowe says he wouldn’t change a thing. “It feels like the movie,” he tells EW. “I might put more Replacements on there or a Who song or ‘Clash City Rockers’ or something like that to flesh it out, but basically it feels like the movie and I dig it.”

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One Comment

  1. Christine
    Posted June 28, 2017 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

    Thank you, for this – it made my day!

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