Songs and Stories

In its endless quest for the next “sure thing,” Hollywood seems to offer the following types of movies:

  • Sequels
  • Sequels of sequels
  • Prequels
  • Adaptations of TV shows
  • Adaptations of comic books
  • Remakes

Many of these films still wind up tanking because, in the immortal words of screenwriter William Goldman, “Nobody knows anything.” You would think that the occasional breakthrough original screenplay (“Juno,” “Little Miss Sunshine,” “Up in the Air”) would encourage similar high quality fare, but it hasn’t happened yet. Studios continue to rip off material from other media.

That’s why I’m surprised we don’t see more movies based on songs. The only ones I can think of are crappy movies based on crappy country tunes: “Convoy,” “Ode to Billy Joe,” and “Harper Valley PTA.”

On the rock side, plenty of classic songs are like little movies unto themselves. Here are a few that come to mind:

“Maggie May” – It’s getting harder and harder to remember that Rod Stewart was once a legitimate artist. But back in the early 70s, nobody wrote better story songs. To this day, “Maggie May” is one I never tire of. The (probably) biographical chronicle of a young rock and roller in a love/hate relationship with an older woman would make an entertaining indie flick. Honorable mention goes to another Stewart saga, “Every Picture Tells a Story.” I can see Lucy Liu as Shanghai Lil.

“Tangled Up in Blue” – If you are a regular reader of my blog, I’m sure you’re tired of me mentioning this Dylan classic. To me, it represents the highest form of the song-writing art. In six minutes, Mr. Zimmerman disregards time, space and logic to weave a fascinating tale that manages to sound both fresh and eternal. I’ve probably listened a thousand times and always hear something different. I still can’t figure out if the point of view is that of Dylan, a fictional character (some folks would maintain that Dylan is a fictional character) or even multiple narrators. But an imaginary film strip always runs through my mind. Turning this song into a movie would present a major challenge; it needs the steady hand of an innovative filmmaker to do it justice. Christopher Nolan, are you listening?

“Brown-Eyed Girl” – As seemingly-simple as “Tangled” is complex, Van Morrison’s coming-of-age story always leaves me with a bittersweet sepia-toned smile. The escapades of our randy young Irish lovers, frolicking in the old mine, all along the waterfall, in the green grass behind the stadium (and anywhere else they can think of)… well, it’s just made for the big screen.

“Rosalita” – Sure, any of Springsteen’s mean-streets-of-Jersey adventures would work just fine. But “Rosalita,” a rocker’s attempt to win the hand and heart of his beautiful senorita, exudes a pure joyousness rarely heard on vinyl (or whatever the hell CDs are made of). When we learn that our hero just got a big record company advance, enabling him to give Rosalita the life she deserves (while telling her mama and daddy to f-off), the audience in my brain stands up and cheers. Besides, I wouldn’t mind visiting them at their pretty little place in Southern California down San Diego Way.

“American Pie” – Oops, too late. It’s called “The Buddy Holly Story.”