It’s a concert arrangement (as opposed to an actual film-scoring performance) of the theme music that John Williams composed to represent Princess Leia in the original Star Wars. It appeared on the original 1977 double-LP and was the only such piece included. Actual film-score music was sacrificed to make space for it.
I can still remember the vague bafflement I felt listening to this track at age ten, getting my first inklings of both the depths of emotion that existed and that music could move you to them.
It is tender, it is haunting, it is sweeping, it is achingly romantic. It is, in short, everything that Princess Leia herself—pragmatic and hard-edged—is not.
Star Wars is inarguably a towering achievement in film-music composition. So how did John Williams get Princess Leia so wrong?
One possibility is that it’s not Princess Leia’s theme per se, but rather the theme for Luke’s adolescent romantic idea of her.
Another possibility is that George Lucas wanted Princess Leia to be more traditionally feminine than the script or Carrie Fisher’s performance allowed, so the music does the extra lifting required.
But the real reason, I suspect, is that John Williams was working through the recent sudden death of his young wife, Barbara Ruick, and the composition is his public expression of love and grief.
Now listen again. I won’t judge you for choking up.
It was Little League day at AT&T Park yesterday, and when we got to the Giants game against the A’s it was already the fourth inning. (We’d spent the morning at Maker Faire.) So we missed the ritual singing of the national anthem at the beginning of the game.
I was therefore surprised when, at the beginning of the seventh inning stretch, fans were asked to stand and remove their hats for “God Bless America.” (My infrequent visits to the ballpark led me to expect only “Take Me Out To the Ballgame.”) The whole stadium dutifully complied as Kate Smith’s recorded voice echoed from the loudspeakers.
The whole stadium except for me, that is. I was disturbed that citizens would treat that song, patriotic though it is, with the same respect that is due the national anthem — which, for the record, is “The Star-Spangled Banner,” not “God Bless America.” For one thing, it diminishes the importance of the national anthem. But more importantly, it trains people to regard anything concerning national identity with unthinking veneration. A little patriotic pride is a fine thing, but the clearest lesson of history is that an excess of nationalism is poison.
Besides, neither of these is the best choice for a song that obliges its listeners to stand at respectful attention. “God Bless America” is merely a plea to God, with nothing in it about America per se other than that the singer lives there, gladly. “The Star-Spangled Banner” commemorates a battle and a flag, not a nation or its people or its ideals, and it’s notoriously difficult to sing to boot. But “America the Beautiful” is full of praise for our wonderful country, and it’s so easy to sing even a Muppet can do it.
A few years ago a friend of mine who didn’t quite see the point of blogging asked why I do it. I had a few answers for him: a love of composition, a desire to educate and entertain, and a certain narcissistic itch that I can scratch by imagining I’m addressing a bigger audience than I likely have. But I really caught his attention when I added that by “putting myself out there” I may be creating opportunities for exciting things to happen that certainly wouldn’t happen otherwise. Here’s a story to illustrate that last point.
Among the tragically few people who know of the terrific but defunct band Splashdown are readers of this blog and a young Scottish woman named Alice Ishbel Watson. Unlike most Splashdown fans, she had considerable vocal and guitar-playing talent of her own. She posted videos of herself covering a few Splashdown songs (1, 2, 3) on her YouTube channel.
Splashdown’s guitarist, Adam von Buhler, discovered these videos and reached out to Alice with the suggestion that they record a song together. Alice documented her reaction in another YouTube post: “Aye, right. Sure you’re ‘Adam from Splashdown.’” He proved his identity to her with a video of his own, and now, a couple of years later, the two have released their first EP! Their band is Map & Key and the six-song CD is called Ancient History. It sounds great — the songs are catchy and they capture a lot of what I loved about Splashdown.
Isn’t that a great story? I hope they have a ton of success. Congratulations and good luck to Map & Key, hooray for YouTube, and hooray for putting yourself out there — the best way to make exciting things happen.
Here’s where I’m supposed to concoct some trenchant observation about society in the 1980’s to explain why so many songs with such names became hits, as opposed to the 70’s, 90’s, or other times. Unfortunately I don’t have any handy, but maybe you can make one yourself with the added facts that:
We elected an actor as president;
The advent of widespread microwave cooking reduced meal preparation times from hours to seconds;
Coca-Cola’s tagline, which over the years varied among “The pause that refreshes,” “It’s the real thing,” “Things go better with Coke,” “Coke adds life,” and many others, was reduced in the 1980’s to the hypersimplified, “Coke is it.”
One day in the summer of 1979, when I was not quite 13 years old, I opened a newspaper and learned not only that Star Wars was being re-released to theaters (ending a long drought — in those days there was no other way to see it), but that it would be preceded by a trailer for next year’s sequel, The Empire Strikes Back.
I fairly rocketed out of the bungalow, whooping and hollering, to spread the news. It was the first I’d heard that a sequel was in the works, and that the Star Wars oeuvre, which — can you imagine? — was all of two hours long,1 was about to be doubled.
The nine months between that August and the following May were the longest of my life. Beginning in February or so, desperate for crumbs — there was no TMZ or EW to keep me abreast of production news — I began cutting short my subway ride home from school each day, exiting at Woodhaven Boulevard to enter the Sam Goody music store that was there then, to see if they had the soundtrack album in stock yet. Invariably they didn’t and I’d walk the remaining mile and a half home.
…Until the day, a couple of dozen tries later, that they did have it in stock! I almost couldn’t believe it. I bought it and ran it home to play it. There, just as I expected, was the opening trumpet blast and fanfare, just as in the first movie (but was that a slight difference in instrumentation I heard? and oh! surprise! the fanfare now ends on a higher note than before). As I listened to the new but occasionally familiar music I scoured the liner notes for what information I could about the movie, which was still interminable weeks away. An asteroid field scene — cool! Jedi training! A city in the clouds! Hmm, “the effigy of Han Solo” — I didn’t like the sound of that (after I looked up the meaning of “effigy”).
The new Imperial March was impressive, of course. Princess Leia’s new theme was pretty, but it left me without the profound sense of yearning that the concert version of her original theme gave me three years earlier. Unable to visualize the on-screen action yet, I found much of the album a lot less listenable than my trusty old Star Wars LP’s, but I did play the more thrilling pieces to death — “The Asteroid Field” and “Hyperspace.”
Honestly, I don’t know if I would have made it those last few weeks before the movie’s premiere if it hadn’t been for John Williams’ music to tide me over. Now, oddly, decades later, my boys walk around the house humming the same John Williams tunes that I once did — with a few notable additions, such as his “Duel of the Fates,” a composition whose musical qualities are conspicuously out of proportion to the caliber of the movie it appears in.
But that’s always been true. The presence of a John Williams score in a bad movie can elevate it to watchability, even respectability. In a decent movie, his music is still usually the best thing about it. (I’m looking at you, Superman. And where would Close Encounters have been without him?) And even when a great movie has a John Williams score, long after one’s appetite for watching the movie has flagged, it’s the music that it’s possible to enjoy over and over without limit.
Er, not including a certain very forgettable TV special. [↩]
The rousing musical score that John Williams wrote for Raiders of the Lost Ark included several melodic themes: two for Indiana Jones and one for Marion, a motif for the German army, and of course a theme for the lost ark itself, suitably spooky. As an avid fan of the film and of John Williams I’ve listened to the score countless times over the past 27 years. But as a musical layman, it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I noticed something clever that John Williams seemed to be doing with the Ark Theme.
We hear the Ark Theme for the first time when Indiana Jones shows an illustration of the ark to the Army intelligence men who come to meet him.
As you can perhaps hear in that clip, the melody doesn’t quite resolve; it segues into a few notes’ worth of Indy’s theme (a.k.a. “The Raiders March”). But the Ark’s theme is heard again just a few moments later when Marcus expresses his misgivings about this assignment to Indy.
In this clip, Indy starts out thinking about his old flame — “Suppose she’ll still be with him?” — and Marion’s theme plays for a few bars, but then Marcus tells him, “For nearly three thousand years, man has been searching for the lost ark,” at which point the Ark Theme comes in. But once again it does not resolve, segueing this time into the flying-boat travel montage.
The next time the Ark Theme appears, Indy is in the Map Room. This scene is divided into four sequences, each of which includes a rendition of the Ark Theme, each separated from the others by a cut to Indy’s friend Sallah, who’s waiting for him outside.
In the first Map Room sequence, Indy lowers himself by rope into the room and looks at the miniature city on the floor. The Ark Theme plays almost to completion, but leaves off the final note when cutting to Sallah being harassed by some German soldiers.
Next Indy deciphers some hieroglyphics and checks the position of the sun. The Ark Theme plays barely halfway through this time.
Now Indy affixes the medallion to the Staff of Ra, places the staff in the proper hole, and fervidly awaits the proper alignment of the sun. At last the angle is right and a brilliant beam of light reveals the location of the Well of the Souls! The music reaches a crescendo and a satisfying resolution — but while Indy was waiting for the sunlight to creep across the Map Room floor, the melody modulated into another key. We still have not heard the Ark Theme play from beginning to end!
In the coda to the Map Room scene, Indy snaps the Staff of Ra in two and looks for his rope to climb out, but it’s missing. Sallah drops an improvised replacement into the hole. The Ark Theme peters out on a visual gag: Indy discovering a Nazi flag knotted into his makeshift rope.
In the very next scene, Indy, disguised (poorly) as an Arab, ducks hastily out of sight when some soldiers approach too closely. He enters a tent and discovers, tied to a tent pole, Marion — who he thought had been killed! He’s about to free her when he realizes he can’t without raising an alarm. Marion wonders why he’s not cutting her bonds. He tells her, “I know where the ark is, Marion,” and we hear the Ark Theme again. As he explains and she becomes frantic, the music segues into Marion’s theme.
Next, Indy uses a surveying instrument to convert his Map Room calculations into an actual location for digging. A variation on the Ark Theme plays, still unresolved.
A short time later, Indy arrives at his calculated location with a team of diggers. He clambers up a rise alone, scopes it out, and calls his team over. The first half of the Ark Theme plays three times in slightly different forms, and there’s a crescendo as Indy removes the first shovelful of sand, but it’s still not a resolution of the complete Ark Theme.
We get a few notes of the Ark Theme again (listen closely) as Indy and Sallah heave the stone cover off the chest protecting the ark…
…and then a few more as they lift the ark out of its container…
…and another few when Belloq spots the illicit dig early in the morning (“Colonel, wake your men!”)…
…and then once more as German soldiers converge on Indy’s dig site. Once again the final resolving note is left off.
The next appearance of the Ark Theme comes much later. The main characters are now all on a secret Nazi island submarine base. The Ark Theme accompanies the procession of Belloq, Marion, a lot of Germans, and the ark itself (and secretly Indy too) across the island to the ceremonial altar. It’s interrupted when Indy steps out of hiding and levels a bazooka at the group.
Indy’s bluff is called, and he’s captured and brought to the altar to witness the opening of the ark. Belloq mutters some sacred words in Aramaic, the ark is opened — and the stone tablets are not inside, just a bunch of sand. (Psych!) Disappointment turns to bewilderment, though, as the electrical equipment shorts out and an eerie fog spills out of the ark. Here’s the Ark Theme again. This time, just before it resolves it gives way to a danse-macabre version of itself.
That version also doesn’t resolve. Instead it becomes a staccato nightmare as the power of the ark is unleashed.
Finally, the one and only time in the whole film that the Ark Theme is heard from beginning to end, complete with a melodic resolution in the same key, comes as the ark purifies the island by fire, then seals itself back up.
The long-awaited resolution of the Ark Theme creates a sensation of finality. The music subconsciously reinforces the action on the screen: hearing the melody conclude at last, there can be no question that that’s all we’ll see or hear from the ark. Not even the film’s final scene, in which the ark is packed away in a crate inside a gigantic warehouse, repeats the resolution.
Now let’s see if the new sequel betrays that satisfying sense of finality by “going back to the well,” as it were (the Well of Souls!) and unearthing the ark again.
Saved Brooke Shields from drowning. Blows reward money hiring Van Halen to play his birthday party.
Andrea had to do a lot of convincing, but once she got me past the mental hurdle of “hire a live rock-and-roll band for a party full of six-year-olds?” it became immediately obvious that it was the right thing to do, and we did it: we blew some of our “reward money” hiring The Sun Kings to play Jonah’s party. And it kicked ass.
Here are some of the top queries from various search engines that resulted in hits on my blog during the past year or so, reproduced verbatim from my server logs. (Last year’s results are here.) Each related family of queries is listed with a main variant in bold and selected other variants, plus the percentage of query-hits represented by that family.
I was at first surprised to see that hits for “James Bond villains” outnumbers hits for “vampire lesbian girl scouts” (etc.) and “sex” (etc.) combined, but then realized: the percentages are a function both of the popularity of that search and of the ranking of my site in the search results. In other words, if you’re looking for anything about vampires or lesbians or sex I regret to say there are a lot of likelier websites for you to visit before mine.
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Amy Linker; what happened to amy linker; amy linker and tv land awards
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Legobiggest lego city ever made; Cool lego creations; LEGO WORLD RECORD FOR MILLENIUM FALCON
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