By Amanda DK
Every December I spend between four and six days in Vermont with my family. I like to call this time “hibernation.” It is quite fitting. The temperature drops much colder than I’m used to and I avoid human contact as much as possible. Unlike most hibernating animals, however, I am (mostly) awake. And so I use this period not only for much needed sprawling on the couch, but also to reflect on the year that is coming to a close and the one impending.
During the past few visits home to Connecticut, my big project has been to purge my childhood bedroom. Throw old clothes in bags for Goodwill, clean out desk drawers, sort through the piles and piles of photos I have collected over the years – I am constantly amazed at how much crap adolescent and teenage me managed to accumulate (Did I really need eight empty journals and two address books? Was it that important to keep the beads from when I got my hair braided in the Caribbean during spring break 1997?). Since I only make the six-hour trek east two to three times a year, I still have a ways to go on this journey.
This winter, I had only a few hours to make what little progress I could before we embarked on our annual migration up north. Rather than set to work on more nooks and crannies in my too-massive desk, it was my CD rack that caught my eye, untouched since the summer after my freshman year of college, now over seven years ago.
Before I go any further, a brief detour. In order to understand why this next part is so fascinating to me, you should probably know that I fell ass backward into what I do now. I studied theatre in college, dabbled in writing for the stage and screen, and decided to move to Los Angeles to pursue a career as a writer-slash-producer-slash-development executive-slash-something along those lines. I began temping at a studio and after four months, when a job opened up assisting the music attorney there – I jumped at it. I was desperate to start learning something about the filmmaking process, and while I would’ve certainly never considered myself a “music person” I did always enjoy music. I made mixtapes. I owned an iPod. It seemed like a good enough place to start. A year later I had the opportunity to move onto the creative side of music for film and television, and I’ve been there ever since.
But back to my high school CD collection. At first glance, it’s pretty much exactly what every other tweeny-bopper suburban thirteen-year-old girl was listening to in middle school during the late nineties. When I looked closer however…nope, still hugely embarrassing.
Parade, Aida, Titanic, The Last Five Years, Damn Yankees, Wicked, Hercules, Anastasia
Theatre has (for better or worse) always been in my DNA. There’s a home video of me when I was four or five running around my backyard in a tutu shouting, “I’m a movie star! I’m a movie star!” and refusing to allow my little brother to get any more screen time than I did. In second grade I played a turtle in a community theatre production of Snow White, and spoke my first “official” line on stage: “Help I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” Growing up, I went through fixations with most animated films of my youth – The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Hercules, Fievel Goes West, Anastasia – which, let’s face it, are all stage musicals waiting to happen (or have happened).
Through my senior year of high school, I participated in every play, musical, one-act, monologue competition, and poetry festival I possibly could. The summer after my freshman year of college I must have spent at least $1,000 on tickets to Broadway shows that I went to mostly by myself. When I chose to attend one of the best theatre schools in the country, it wasn’t long before I realized that my performing talent was not going to match up; as the saying goes, “those who can’t do, teach,” so I coined my own phrase. “those who can’t perform, stage manage,” and made myself into the go-to stage manager for all the major musicals. My love of musical theatre was so strong that I decided to end my collegiate career by putting myself through the agony of producing a completely original musical revue, written, and performed and built by around 100 students.
“Climbing Uphill / Audition Sequence” from The Last Five Years
1990’s Pop Music
*NSYNC, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, 98 Degrees, Pink, No Doubt
In the epic battle of Backstreet Boys vs. *N SYNC fans, I was at least at the rank of Lieutenant General in the *N SYNC army. I first discovered them via channel surfing, when I landed upon Disney’s *N SYNC concert special in 1998. My thirteen-year-old self had never seen or heard anything like them. I immediately bought every album I could get my hands on, even CD singles (remember those?) and both the German and British versions as well (different tracks!). My very first concert (that I can remember) was seeing *N SYNC in Cleveland, Ohio during their very first North American tour. It was not long after that my room was completely covered in *N SYNC posters. I would say that I wish I could demonstrate the magnitude of this obsession with a photo, however I don’t actually wish that. And it didn’t just stop with *N SYNC. This love extended to other pop artists of the day as well; I saw both Britney Spears and 98 Degrees on New York stages while they promoted their first albums. I wanted pink hair like Gwen Stefani, but the closest I ever got was a color that my best friend still refers to as “red cabbage.”
No Doubt “Just A Girl”
10 Things I Hate About You, Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, Now and Then, Buffy The Vampire Slayer (TV Series), Armageddon, Never Been Kissed
As I read the titles of the soundtracks that populated my collection it was like a trip through my teenage years. Now and Then inspired my friends and I to look up the meaning of a “hard on” in the dictionary (see: “erection”), and 10 Things I Hate About You not only introduced us to the glory of Heath Ledger, but also stunned girls of all ages with the revelation that Joseph Gordon-Levitt was no longer “that kid from Third Rock from the Sun,” and actually…kind of a babe. Plus who didn’t want to be Julia Stiles, or Alex Mack – I mean, Larisa Oleynik – in those days?
Every song on each soundtrack brought me right back to the scene in which it was used. Now and Then first acquainted me with the Jackson 5 and The Monkees. Because of Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, it is now impossible for me to hear “Time After Time” without getting the urge to burst into interpretive dance. “I Don’t Want to Miss A Thing” made Aerosmith relevant to a young audience obsessed with Ben Affleck. And Mr. Ledger’s version of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” is the first that pops into my head when I think of the song, nevermind that the original was made famous by the legendary Frankie Valli. Music played large roles in each film and they were all made that much more unforgettable because of it.
Now, I probably shouldn’t have shared this here, on a music blog, where I am trying to establish myself as a credible source of quality music. But as embarrassing as all of the above is though, it was only when I surveyed the combination of those clunky jewel cases, did I realize the impact each phase had on where I am now. As I mentioned earlier, I never planned for a career in music supervision. Even now I constantly doubt whether or not I’m truly qualified to continue on the path I’ve chosen. I didn’t study this in school. I barely played an instrument. Do I really know enough about music for anyone to take me seriously? To do good work?
I didn’t love *N SYNC just because they were a group of “dreamy” boys who could harmonize; I never labored under the delusion that the lyrics were clever or had a love of synthesizers. I clung to them because I found them. No one told me I should like them. Prior to stumbling across their concert special that night, I had barely heard of them. It might be a strange to say this about a quintet that defined the adolescence of millions, but I felt a sense of ownership over the band, a special connection. Even after I took down the posters and moved on to other artists, I still bought their albums because I felt like I “should.”
Guys and Dolls may be a far cry from The Girl With A Dragon Tattoo, but the practice of storytelling through music has attracted me for decades. I want to use music to tell stories, and I think I have the potential do so very well. It doesn’t matter whether it is an independent film, studio blockbuster, half-hour comedy, one-hour drama, web series, television mini-series, period, contemporary, futuristic – I want to unite my experience with words with my love of a compelling song in as many ways as I can, provided that their marriage always leaves an indelible mark on the audience. I want people to be inspired and delighted in the same way I am when I encounter a great song for the first time – whether by a new artist or a fresh take on an old track. I’ve never had a need to be the first to find or share something, but I cannot deny the thrill of personal discovery. That feeling is so sweet to me that I have to believe I’m supposed to keep pursuing it, for now anyway.
“All of you people, there is a big world out there… bigger than prom, bigger than high school and it won’t matter if you were the prom queen, the quarterback of the football team, or the biggest nerd in school. Find out who you are and try not to be afraid of it.” – Josie Geller, Never Been Kissed
Defying Gravity – Idina Menzel & Kristin Chenoweth by Wicked_Promos