June 5, 2013

Completely Obsessed

The soundtrack made my life

I feel like I owe it all to soundtracks. If I were to really think about the damn question we all get about our all-time favorite albums, mine would include just as many soundtracks as anything else. In my formative days, these were the compilations that introduced me to new artists, or at least artists that were new to me. This was the time before blogs, and that modem connection wasn’t helping, either. Besides, it was mostly tied up with downloading porn, very slowly. So a well thought-out soundtrack was the place to go.

Of course, they also posses that annoying nostalgia factor. I lived through it once, and I’m not excited to relive it every time I want to play “The Crow.” But on the flipside, the right soundtrack recalls that great cinematic moment. How can you hear “Tiny Dancer” without seeing the bus scene from “Almost Famous”? The headbanging in “Bohemian Rhapsody” without “Wayne’s World”?

It was probably “Dazed and Confused” that jump-started the whole deal for me — that moment all teenagers go through, discovering classic rock for the first time. Richard Linklater’s breakthrough was a right place, right time for me to first realize Dr. John’s “Right Place, Wrong Time.” I was going into freshman year, as was Mitch Kramer, and there was nothing like cruising the mall in Leitchfield in my older cousin’s car, blasting “Free Ride” like it was the first time. I got my AOR education from those two discs.

Couple that with a few years earlier, when my mom was nonstop on the “Now and Then” soundtrack, filled with the AM sunshine of The Archies, Tony Orlando & Dawn, and The Monkees. It’s a history of pop, perfectly primed for my new mind to soak in.

Of them all, no other had a bigger impact than the double-disc journey of the “Grosse Pointe Blank” soundtrack. At that point, I was living on the modern rock staples of whatever was on the radio and getting bored with the ’70s classics. John Cusack’s cult classic featured more than enough of the ’80s alt scene to thoroughly blow my mind. I caught a new wave and found punk with the help of The Clash. Siouxsie & the Banshees’ “Cities in Dust” played nonstop, and I fell completely for the low drone of Echo & the Bunnymen (an easy jump after spending a year on The Doors). And the Violent Femmes! What kind of crazy was this?!

In 2004, it was “Garden State” that not only topped my year but defined a generation much in the same way Baz Luhrmann’s “Romeo + Juliet” did eight years before. Introducing much of the world to The Shins and Iron & Wine, Zach Braff’s movie also helped propel this new “indie” thing into the mainstream. Did The Shins really change our lives? Well, yeah, kind of.

The people who put these together, music supervisors, really do have power to change the world, even in a small way. Alexandra Patsavas should probably hold the crown for the last decade. She’s responsible for music on “The O.C.,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Gossip Girl” and the entire “Twilight” series. Think about that. Four of the most influential (musically speaking) works to come out the ’00s all stem from one person. It’s not hyperbole to put her up there with Kurt Cobain … just different.

I’m curious to see if “The Great Gatsby”’s comp has that same power. It hasn’t pulled me in the way others have, but it could very well be something important to those in their mid-to-late teens and early 20s: those who lived for high school drama class. Those are the ones who create these giants, for better or worse. I was one once, as we all were, one way or the other.

Soundtracks are definitely more of an industry these days, but surprisingly, that’s only made them better. What used to be an afterthought for the studios and a place for an artist’s toss-offs is now a platform to showcase a different sound, or that great cover a band could never find a spot for. They arrive as events now, whether it’s “True Blood”’s new Vol. 4, or the odd period pieces from “Game of Thrones.” For a guy in love with discovery, soundtracks are still one of my favorite go-tos.

Kyle Meredith is the music director of WFPK and host of the nationally syndicated “The Weekly Feed.” Hunting bears was never his strong point.