Tarantino and Zamfir: Memory by Song

Posted by  Been
July 30, 2013

I am listening to Zamfir’s ‘The Lonely Shepherd’.  It’s on the Kill Bill Vol. 1 soundtrack and in the film it memorably, hauntingly, plays behind the scene where The Bride is presented with her Hattori Hanzo katana.  Quentin Tarantino has always had a keen sense for music.  He chooses unexpected songs, iconic songs, eerily unforgettable songs and has them back scenes you can never un-see whether for their violence or the sheer impact of the visual at work.  ‘Twisted Nerve’ as Kill Bill’s Elle Driver saunters down the hospital hallway wearing that red cross eye patch with her nurse’s uniform.  The searing use of ‘Stuck in the Middle With You’ in either the best or worst torture scene ever committed to film in Reservoir Dogs.  ‘You Never Can Tell’ backing Mia Wallace and Vincent Vega’s Pulp Fiction diner twist.  It is one of Tarantino’s many gifts but one of his most singular, the gift of writing scenes to songs and matching music to visuals in ways that defy dismissal.  If you know who Mr. Blonde is, you can’t hear that Stealers Wheel hit without seeing his shimmy in your mind’s eye and knowing with a tightening in your gut what comes next.  The lyrics mock and tell in time.  “Well I don’t know why I came here tonight / I’ve got a feelin that something ain’t right / I’m so scared in case I fall off my chair...” Even in his guest directing spot on CSI Tarantino used his keen understanding of music to taunt and punctuate.  The special package that arrives for the CSIs after Nick’s abduction in 'Grave Danger' contains a cassette with only The Turtle’s ‘Outside Chance’ on it.  

Quentin Tarantino understands how powerful a musical cue can be.  How the mind is capable of latching onto a melody and assigning memory to it, like enclosing the moment in amber so that ever after when that song is heard the memory floats to the top of the mind as clear as the day it was formed.  Our emotions are imprinted upon lyrics, our experiences catalogued album by album.  It is the best auteurs who understand this.  If you’ve seen The Exorcist could you ever casually relax to 'Tubular Bells'?  ‘The Lonely Shepherd’ is a key piece for me.  Someone imprinted it upon my psyche before Tarantino, though: my dad.  We listened to a vast array of musical stylings during dinner when I was growing up but certain songs resonate more than others and ‘The Lonely Shepherd’ is one.  I immediately travel back in time to the kitchen table, in my usual place against the wall beneath the cuckoo clock, with the brown-draped living room dim and the kitchen bright, I can nearly smell pork chops and mashed potatoes, and I see my family around the table: dad on my left and mom on my right and my sister across from me.  It’s wild how immediate the rewind is in my mind.  I used to hate the song.  Dad’s boring “old” music played over and over at dinner.  Why couldn’t we ever listen to New Kids on the Block?  Or Paula Abdul?  But now the haunting strains are perfection.  And the memory of such a routine event is sweet.  It’s why I almost superstitiously write to certain albums and don’t listen to them at any other time.  It’s why vacations can be recalled with sudden clarity when you hear the song that played on the beach that day.  It’s why break-up songs get us through heartache and then can never be listened to again.  It’s why weddings have first dances.

Let the music move you.  Choose the soundtrack of your life with abandon and infuse as many different songs with memories as you can.  But whatever you do, don’t play the Psycho theme anywhere near your shower.

Copyright Corinne Simpson

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