This book is one where the subtitle tells you a lot: "Pop Music at the Movies and on TV". Phil covers a lot of ground, from the first three chapters on Mad Men to the last chapter on Donovan (yes, that Donovan), inspired by the appearance of "Hurdy Gurdy Man" in Zodiac, a movie he loves. Phil Dellio is the right person for this book, because he has lived the movies and the television and the music for a long time, and he worked as a teacher so he knows how to get our attention and then sneak a little learning in with the enjoyment.
Funny thing is, as much as I love Phil's writing, he starts off with something that I've always disliked. He's trying to decide how Mad Men will end, which a lot of us were, to be sure, myself included. But then Scott Woods emails Phil with an idea, and "as soon as I read it, I realized [it] may even be more important to me than what happens to Don: what song does Mad Men go out on?" I once had an essay published about the show House, where I complained that the series was not top notch because it always fell back on what at our house we called "The Song", something to emphasize what we had seen, something I inevitably found unnecessary and even insulting (what, we don't get it without help?). It's no coincidence that my all-time favorite show, The Wire, relied almost exclusively on diegetic music with the exception of an end-of-season montage.
But, as I knew would be the case, none of this matters when reading the book. Because Phil has things to say about the music and the films or series, and those things are interesting, and the ways he connects the music to those films and series is enlightening, regularly showing me a new way to think about the music, the visuals, or both. Sometimes the connections are startling, like when he finds that Diana Vreeland reminds him of Pauline Kael. Vreeland is a good example for another reason ... I have no interest in her, didn't know the movie he was talking about, but have been thinking obsessively about the Vreeland/Kael comparison since I read it.
Which is one way of saying that it doesn't always matter if you aren't familiar with a particular text, because Phil will get you thinking about it anyway. I knew most of the music, and especially with songs that have been overplayed over the years, it's a pleasure just to read someone putting those songs into a different context. The chapter about Donovan is one of my favorites, because I was a fan back in the 60s, and have long felt that he was underrated due to his spacey-hippie image. Phil jumps on this, calling it a "misguided caricature" that hippie music "was all sunshine and light", followed by a discussion of Donovan. The obvious starting point for me is "Season of the Witch", one of the truly frightening songs of that era. But Phil talks about "Mellow Yellow" and "Sunshine Superman" and "Hurdy Gurdy Man". "Season of the Witch" only sneaks in when Phil quotes Greil Marcus, who shares my feelings about that song. What this does is send me back to other Donovan songs ... I'm still certain "Season of the Witch" is his masterpiece, but now I'm listening to Donovan's entire catalog with a different ear, all thanks to Phil Dellio and Zodiac.
To top it off, Phil and Scott Woods are building a "clipography" on YouTube. You can find it here. It's just two long-time, opinionated friends talking about music and movies. It's quite casual, and you might not want to binge-watch all the videos at once. But it's fun to watch. Here's their talk about Almost Famous:
And here, for the zillionth time, I post the clip they refer to:
I realize I've never written about Almost Famous. Not sure why ... I certainly think about it a lot. My feelings intellectually about the movie are in line with what Phil says about Greil Marcus in their Clipography: Cameron Crowe, god love him, was an example of what went wrong at Rolling Stone. And the way Crowe works Lester Bangs into the story ... well, I suspect Philip Seymour Hoffman got him right, and for all I know, Bangs and Crowe were good buddies, but Lester Bangs was not about the Rolling Stone of the post-Crowe era. I love Almost Famous because I love Hoffman as Lester ... I am irritated by Almost Famous because of what it does to the Lester I admire.
Meanwhile, if I did a book like Phil's, then sure, 'Tiny Dancer" would have to be there. I'd have to watch movies for a specific reason if I was going to create a long list, though ... what would I include? Mick Jagger as Turner singing Robert Johnson in Performance? Virtually the entire movie Mean Streets? Fred and Ginger dancing cheek to cheek in Top Hat? My brain hurts just trying to come up with examples, which shows just what a remarkable feat Phil Dellio has pulled off in his book.