The Cult of Jerry
I don’t know how it is in other countries, but in the U.S. hero worship often goes overboard. And in this country, “hero” is a very loose term. Why “celebrities” like Kim Kardashian and someone/thing called “The Situation” garner so much airtime and print is beyond me. (In the sheltered world of my cave, I actually have no idea who these people are, what they look like, or what their claim to fame is.)
I would like to think that educated, intelligent adults wouldn’t get caught up in the mindless drivel that constitutes much of pop culture beyond what slim amount of entertainment value it may have. But I’m continually surprised at the time and energy, and the countless amount of Facebook postings, tweets, and message board threads that are wasted on what I consider to be freakish venerations of the famous and the not-so-famous. (American Idol anyone?)
Film music is generally far removed from the world of pop culture (the occasionally blockbuster score like TITANIC notwithstanding). But even in our sheltered little niche, we apparently have our gods and demi-gods. And no other figure garners such cult-like devotion as Jerry Goldsmith. Not even John Williams inspires such bowing and kowtowing.
Now, in no way do I rank Jerry with the questionable names above. His talent and craftsmanship are undeniable and his status as one of the giants of film music is richly deserved. His music was my initial entry into film music and he will forever hold a special place in my heart. But I am amazed at the idolatry that surrounds Goldsmith’s work these days.
The release of a Goldsmith score, even for the most wretched of films (let’s face it, Jerry, like most composers, got stuck composing for some real cinematic junk), is nearly always guaranteed to sell out. And depending on the amount of the limited edition, usually overnight.
If someone polled the entire film music community for the Top 10 composers, I’d bet money that Goldsmith would land on top. So what is it about his music that generates such devoted interest from so many fans?
- Is there something particular in his compositional style that speaks to more fans? If so, what are the specifics that make his music stand out above his contemporaries and predecessors?
- Is it the films themselves? Then what’s the explanation for the popularity of lesser titles like LINK, INCHON and THE SWARM? Or is it his ability to write music that rises above such drivel on screen?
- Is it a perceived “underdog” status? A lot of message board threads question why Jerry won only one Oscar. Considering most people’s disdain of the awards themselves, I don’t see why winning more of them would have given him the “proper” credit due (not that the Oscars are the pinnacle of someone’s “success” by any stretch of the imagination).
- Or is it simply inexplicable emotional reactions to the music itself? If so, what are those reactions?
Given my Oscar obsession, it’s probably no surprise that from my earliest days of discovering film music, my approach to a particular score is usually through the project itself, rather than through the composer. Even when I’m a fan (for lack of a better word) of a particular composer (think Alexandre Desplat in today’s terms), I’m not necessarily interested in hearing everything they compose. If the film interests me, then I’m likely interested in what they did with the music.
I personally don’t trust any single-minded devotion to a particular entity, whether it’s a composer, a sports team, actors, a religious figure, or what have you. I don’t want to give anyone or anything that kind of power in my life, much less my energy. Maybe that’s a defect on my part.
This post is not meant as an attempt to slam Jerry (not that he would have cared anyway), denigrate anyone’s beliefs, or call into question someone’s entertainment choices. Can I compose music like Jerry? Not even close. Can I throw a baseball like Andy Petit? I think we all know the answer to that one. (I hope you appreciate that I actually knew that name but still had to look it up to confirm the sport and other particulars.)
By all means, let’s admire and be inspired by the talents of others, whether it’s a stranger or a close friend. For me, that’s a celebration of what makes each of us unique. But I get a little freaked out by blind devotion to anyone or anything.
And the “cult of Jerry” freaks me out.
Is the “cult of Jerry” a figment of my imagination? If not, I’d love to hear your thoughts on his influence on you personally and what you think of the whole Goldsmith phenomenon.