19 February 2012

#99 : Hans Zimmer - You're So Cool

Hans Zimmer - You're So Cool
from True Romance OST, 1993

More than any song on my list, this one takes me back to a a singe moment--a very particular night of my life. When I went to Cameroon in 2000 (Jesus Christ, 12 years ago), I had a fairly good idea that my life would be changed by the experience, but I'd be a fool to tell you that I was certain that I'd come out the other side as a professor of African politics. For that reason and others, my semester in Cameroon was one of the most important short chunks of time in my life--a period that influences my life every single day.

While there are a lot of people and a lot of memories that mean a lot to me from that time, the days and nights I spent with my two best friends --Dahveed Benson and Gustave River--were probably the most important. Dahveed was (is) my old camp counselor and sometimes boss at the Concordia Language Villages, as well as the former director of the study abroad program in Cameroon that I attended. Gustave was (at the time) his best friend--a rastafarian, reggee musician, and tailor with exceptional talent as a songwriter and clothing designer.

Despite being on sabbatical during my semester abroad, Dahveed was around for most of it, and it was with his help that I had most of my great adventures--his introductions to hundreds of Cameroonians across the country who knew before the rest of my group arrived in our sweaty blue minibus to ask for "Hubert," his urging that I take chances with food, travel, and crazy situations, and his beer. Oh, the beer. I ow my career as an Africanist to Dahveed more than anyone else.

So what of the song? My best, most memorable night in Cameroon was a simple one, about a month into the program. I'd been in country just long enough to have a twinge of homesickness, and Dahveed was getting ready to go on his own sabbatical adventures. So we decided to have a night in, with no pressure--no French, no planning or studying, no being "on" as very visible foreigners--just a case of Cameroonian beer and Dahveed's movie collection, sent to him film by film from the US by family and friends.

That night we watched his favorite move at the time--True Romance, a 1993 dark comedy and romance starring Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette, and written (mostly) by a then-barely known Quentin Tarrantino. The movie is about one of the most beautifully beknighted and inconvenient love affairs in the history of cinema--the nerdy comic book store clerk played by Slater and his hooker with a heart of gold-turned wife Arquette, on the run from the mob with a bag of stolen cocaine. It's not a perfect move, by any means--although with star appearances by Christopher Walken, Gary Oldman, and Val Kilmer, it ain't bad. But what's so great, so memborable about the film is its wonderful use of a mix of score and pop music--songs by Chris Isaac and Soudgarden mixed with Hans Zimmer's glockenspiel masterpiece, "you're So Cool." The song, which is a simple and clean, minimal, even, bit of echo-y percussion that builds to a slow climax over about 3 and a half minutes, plays ofer the opening and closing monologues given by Arquette's character, Alabama, a perfect match to her coquettish voice.

Despite the violence and gore predicated on Slater and Arquette's mad courtship and drug deal gone bad, the song ties their love into the narrative, giving it an emotional center in their relationship that many Tarantion films, with their hipper soundtracks full of jarring pop, lack. Over the next four hours, we watched it twice, Dahveed stopping on key scences to recite the dialoge, and me memorizing the scenes bit my bit. The night ended with a crazy drunken walk down to Gustave's tailor shop (where he was still working away at 2 AM on an old black Singer machine), more beers, and an even more drunkenly prepared can of potted French Cassoulet that Dahveed had brought over in his luggage several years before. It tasted of Heinz baked beans and duck fat, and it was brilliant.

Since that night, I've probably watched "True Romance" 30 times, each evoking memories of that night and a life I can't ever go back to. Dahveed and I are both married (he has two lovely young boys). I've never been back to Cameroon, and Dahveed left in the mid-2000s, burnt out on illness, ornaizational hassles, and a little witchcraft. Gustave, who meant so much to me that a picture of him and I still hangs in my living room (over my liquor cabinet, fittingly) disappeared in Amsterdam in 2004 (I think), jumping his travel visa and eventually making it to the US as an undocumented immigrant and asylum seekeer (asylum from what, we were never sure). My buddy Andre tracked him down in New York years later, but he wasn't the same--drugs, or hard living, or something else had made him into a person we didn't know any more.

There's no going back to the simplicity and (for me, at least) innocense of that first month in Africa, learning about what I loved and thinking about where it might lead. But that night, drunk as I was, that movie, this song (and even that cassoulet) were all perfect.


1 comment:

Lin said...

I'm surprised that any film score made your list, though it makes sense in hindsight. I got one coming up here shortly, too.

I don't think I've ever heard this piece in isolation and it really is a great little tune.