Recap: For those who have not read Part One of this trilogy, this column may not make sense. Then again, it may make perfect sense for that very same reason. Regardless, part one’s contention was that, for a variety of reasons, there are no great songs, only great performances.
Life is like a box of chocolates.
It is a now-famous line of dialogue from the movie Forrest Gump uttered by its title character as portrayed by actor John Travolta, who went on the win the Best Actor Academy award for his performance.
Except it wasn’t John Travolta.
It was Tom Hanks, who accepted the role only after Travolta turned it down, and did indeed win the Academy award.
Travolta as Gump? Some can imagine, maybe even believe, that Travolta would have done just as well playing the affable Alabaman as Hanks clearly did. Perhaps, Travolta too would’ve won an award. Others of us disagree, the same way we would probably disagree that Al Pacino, while a brilliant actor, would have made a lousy Han Solo (the Star Wars role he turned down that went to Harrison Ford).
Pacino flying the Millennium Falcon? Who-ah? No.
Hollywood lore is filled with casting stories like this one. Just as there are actors that seem perfect fits for their iconic roles, it is a vision that occurs only in hindsight. Someone thought of Travolta and Pacino before Hanks and Ford, and at the very least, how different those movies would be had they not declined.
A movie is only a movie when it is filmed. Until then, it’s a script presented to actors as an outline, a guide as to what will happen once the director shouts, ‘Action!’ In much the same way a song is a script and really is not a song until it is performed.
Lyrics exist like lines in a script. Chords and notes exist on a page like setting and stage direction; indicators of what and where things happen while the words are delivered. But is not a movie until the cameras roll and it is not a song until it is performed.
Consequently what makes a line like, ‘Life is like a box of chocolates,’ so memorable, so effective is how it is being said, when it is being said, the lighting, the wardrobe, the angle, everything that composes a shot or scene. Until then it is words on a page. Great words, but still just words.
Similarly, a song is built of suggestions, elements that are offered by the writer or author that he/she believes will best communicate a thought, an action, or an emotion. Still, it is just a suggestion. It isn’t a guarantee of delivery.
While the scene in a script comes to life with the aforementioned list of components influenced by the participation of humans and technology working together, as well does a song.
The tempo, the tones, the inflections, the phrasing, the volume, the dynamic, the interplay, the mic choices, the room choices, the energy, the mix, the medium; it all matters as to whether or not the music and lyrics make for a great performance. Just like a script without an actor, without these things it’s not a song. How can a song be a song without a singer? Its existence depends on a performance, and it’s that performance that determines its appeal.
It’s Gump with Tom Hanks versus Gump with Vinny Barbarino. (Actually, I liked Travolta in Blow Out, Saturday Night Fever, Get Shorty, and Primary Colors)
Here’s another way to think of it.
A song prior to being performed is like a recipe- a list of things to put together to make something that presumably tastes appealing.
But if you use spoiled ingredients, mix it poorly, and cook it at the wrong temperature, how good is it going to taste?
And does anyone ever remember eating a meal and saying, “That was a delicious recipe.”? The great comes from the execution, from the performance of the chef and the quality of the ingredients. From technique and equipment and how well the chef uses those tools.
Now, what if I have the same recipe and the same ingredients and the same equipment as Chef Gordon Ramsay, and we cook the same dish at the same time? Anyone think mine will be better?
I’ll answer that one in part three.
Recommended listening: Forrest Gump The Soundtrack
Larson Sutton, 39,
is a writer/musician
living in Los Angeles.
Picture By Brian Gimmel
Listen To Larson's Band Today! On iTunes