The View From Here

What Happens When Movie Stars Make Records

Michael Bonner

Leafing through last week's edition of Entertainment Weekly during a quiet moment in the office, I came across a three-quarter page spread devoted to a new band called She & Him. The "Him" here is M Ward while -- and this is what piqued my curiousity -- the "She" is Zooey Deschanel, the American indie actress who made her rep in David Gordon Green's brilliant All The Real Girls.

It struck me, following on from Scarlett Johannson's album of Tom Waits' covers, that this is the second time in as many months an alt-Hollywood "It" Girl has made a record. Which, inevitably, led me to wonder why exactly the good ladies and gentlemen of the movie industry feel the need to divert their talents out of their immediate comfort zone and into the world of music.

It might seem like a strange career digression, for sure. You don't, for instance, find many plumbers trying their hand at dentistry between fitting washing machines. Nor do many vets, at least to the best of my knowledge, embark on a second career as airline pilots when they're not rummaging around in the backsides of cows.

But there's a greater correlation between music and movies. There's a shared artistic mileu, for one, conspicuously in places like London, Paris, New York and Los Angeles, where, you might assume, pale and interesting types sit in coffee shops reading Lester Bangs anthologies or discussing the tenents of French New Wave cinema over a vanilla latte before embarking on a career in music or movies. Bars and such where, you imagine, people like Chloe Sevigny hang out with The Strokes and discuss limited edition Converse trainers.

Sure, there's a fairly lengthy history of movie stars making records. Of an older generation, Richard Harris, David McCallum, Edward Woodward, Albert Finney, Robert Mitchum and David Hemmings all cut discs. Mark Bentley, our production editor, swears by Woodward's This Man Alone, but I'm pretty intrigued by David Hemmings Happens, recorded with Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman, produced by Jim Dickson and featuring a previously unreleased Gene Clark song. I await with something approaching baited breath the imminent arrival of my eBay purchase, some weeks, presumably, after ordering it, delayed as I'm sure it will be in the eldritch parallel Universe that passes for the British postal service these days.

Kris Kristofferson successfully turned his hand to both acting and music, while Harry Dean Stanton fronts, as you'd expect, the Harry Dean Stanton Band (a minor digression here: as good as Willie Nelson's version of "Signor" was on the I'm Not There soundtrack, I'd have loved to hear Stanton take a pass at it). And on we go: Billy Bob Thornton, Joe Pesci, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi... To the best of my knowledge, Bill Murray has never recorded an album of Roxy Music covers.

Which brings us to the once thrusting young bucks of Hollywood -- Keanu Reeves and Johnny Depp. Now, I like Keanu; I feel sorry for him, saddled with a speaking voice that sounds like it drops several dozen IQ points between the thought originating somewhere in his cerebral cortex and leaving his mouth. He had the moderately unremarkable Dogstar, but Depp has played with everyone from Gibby Haynes to Shane MacGowan and Oasis, the latter before they became a karaoke version of themselves. Feel, as they say, the quality. In a great moment of pop culture meta-textuality, Depp even "played" Keith Richards with Keith returning the compliment in the otherwise wretched third Pirates Of The Caribbean movie by playing his dad.

So, why am I interested in what Scarlett and Zooey are doing? I guess initially because they're smart, hip folks, presumably the kind of people who don't employ a stylist to programme their iPods for them. Their records aren't the obvious choices if you're looking to top the hit parade; rather, they display a textured knowledge and understanding of our kind of music, off to the left somewhere. Which is no bad thing at all.


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