It’s a Soundtrack Way of Life with Nostalgic Movie Songs on My Mind

It’s a Soundtrack Way of Life with Nostalgic Movie Songs on My Mind

“To me, movies and music go hand in hand. When I’m writing a script, one of the first things I do is find the music I’m going to play for the opening sequence.”

– Quentin Tarantino

A couple of months ago, I wrote about my affinity for original music scores. How the music shapes and molds the images you see is unbelievable. Still, the film score is solely one component of what makes up my favorite parts of the cinematic experience. Therefore, I thought why not venture back to the world of movie music, but this time focus on my most nostalgic movie songs. Many of my posts play around in the sandbox of nostalgia. I am a historian; after all, it’s where I feel most comfortable. But, what do I mean by movie music? Well, I am referring to those songs that immediately produce an incredible nostalgic feeling when I hear them on the radio, television, or film. When I hear the song, I grow still, the world around me becomes silent, and all I picture is where I remember it.

As a professor, one of my favorite traditions is to play “Back to School” at the start of the semester. Like those athletes you see getting off the team bus, headphones on, and walking into the stadium, I play this as I drive to class on day one. It’s smooth vocals and slow beat, quickly picking up tempo and ferocity in a fabulous 80s fashion. The song always has the power to pump me up, like a wrestler making their way to the ring with entrance music playing. Written by Richard Wolf and Mark Leonard and Jude Cole’s vocals, this anthem of the 1986 comedy film Back to School is heart-pumping fantastic. Sure, the movie, starring Rodney Dangerfield, is over the top, aged poorly at multiple points, but is in line with other 80s era films. The song always makes me laugh as I think back to watching it with my brother Jeff. I reflect on the film’s fun absurdity, and all the times I reenacted Sam Kinison’s cinematic moment when he yells “say it” and goes ballistic in the classroom. That is the power of a nostalgic film song.

As you can imagine the task of selecting nostalgic movie songs may sound like an impossible task. I have watched thousands of films, and most movies have several connected songs. No matter, it seemed a fun, worthwhile, and musically inclined venture. To find my most nostalgic songs, I focused on my most nostalgic movies, which I discussed in an earlier blog post, Cinematic Nostalgia: Traveling 88 mph to the 1980s. By focusing on those movies first, I could find those songs that inherently illustrate my love of cinema on a cellular level. But starting with those films does not mean it is where I will remain as I discover songs that strike the most nostalgic key. With that said, let’s dive back into cinematic music, but rather than listening to the original score, let’s put the cassette in the stereo, press play, skip over the instrumental and find the melody that brings all the memories flooding back.

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“Oceans Rise, Empires Fall”: Cinematic Historical Drama & “The Good Lord Bird”

“Oceans Rise, Empires Fall”: Cinematic Historical Drama & “The Good Lord Bird”

“Let me tell you what I wish I’d known/ When I was young and dreamed of glory/ You have no control/ Who lives? Who dies? Who tells your story?”

– Chris Jackson (George Washington) in Hamilton

When I started this blog, I wrote that I would not attempt to make these posts a history lesson. I love history, being a historian, and talking about history. While teaching American history is my profession and passion, I want this blog to mix that with all the other topics I appreciate. Still, there are times, like today, when I use my knowledge of history, not to teach a lesson but to shine attention on my addiction to movies and television. Allow me, as I put on my historian hat, which I like to imagine resembles the one worn by Denzel Washington in Glory or Daveed Diggs in The Good Lord Bird, and discuss my emotional reaction to cinematic historical drama.

During times like these, when history seems distant, distorted, and dismissed, I often look to cinema to help remind me of what inspires me. History has always been something that interested me. The other day, I watched Hamilton for the first time and felt emotions that I had not felt since the pandemic began. Teaching using ZOOM has left me disappointed, even while recognizing this format’s necessity and how lucky I am to do what I love. But, while I understand those facts, I have felt empty. Watching the filmed performance of the epic Broadway play on Disney + helped remind me, even if slightly, of my love of history. I believe that cinema can offer a powerful emotional trigger that can bring history into the present. So, join me as I reconsider this viewing experience alongside some of the best cinematic moments, for me, that repeatedly stirs up my passion for history.

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What a Difference a Year Makes: New Year’s Eve 2019 & a “Musical Reckoning” about Moby Dick

What a Difference a Year Makes: New Year’s Eve 2019 & a “Musical Reckoning” about Moby Dick

“There’s only now, there’s only here
Give in to love or live in fear
No other path, No other way
No day but today”

– “No Day But Today” – Vocals by Idina Menzel and Lyrics by Jonathan D. Larson

One year ago, for New Year’s Eve, my wife and I drove into Cambridge, MA, for a live performance of Moby-Dick, A Musical Reckoning at the American Repertory Theater. We had bought these tickets a couple of months before, mainly because on the one hand we wanted to see more live performances in the new year and, on the other hand, I love everything related to Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. It was a fantastic night, and the play was brilliant, unique, and the songs were memorable. What we didn’t expect was that this performance would be our last live event of the year. With the pandemic shuttering the doors of Broadway theaters and theaters around the country, we had that previous event as a powerful reminder of the things we lost out on in 2020.

Today’s post is my 30th since mid-July, which was when I started this blog. Next week, my post will explore a travel adventure in Central America, so this week, and since tomorrow is New Year’s Eve, I decided to reflect on that Moby-Dick musical and think back to those times I took in a play either on Broadway or closer to home. Each live theater experience provided a wonderful experience that I deeply miss. I know these theaters will open their doors again. Still, in the meantime, l am going to get my memory ticket punched and head back in time to reflect on those amazing musical performances.

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Holiday Movie Rewatch of “Anna and the Apocalypse”

Holiday Movie Rewatch of “Anna and the Apocalypse”

Anna: On Dasher, on Dancer on… the other ones? / John: Firebolt? No… that’s Harry Potter’s broom. / Anna: Oh no. We can’t hang out anymore. You’re too sad. You’ve hit like, peak sad. / John: They were a very popular series of books.”

– Ella Hunt (Anna) & Malcolm Cumming (John) in Anna and the Apocalypse

‘‘Twas” two days “before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring,” except the groans of zombies on the television. On TV is not Scrooged, Muppets Christmas Carol, or A Christmas Story, instead a holiday horror film with singing teenagers battling zombies. Is Anna and the Apocalypse a perfect Christmas movie? Hardly. Is it more a Christmas movie than Die Hard? Possibly. Is it a fun film with great music, quick comedy, and a fabulous way to stay goodbye to 2020 and hello to 2021? F*** Yes!

I think it was in late November of 2018 when I awoke in the morning, made a cup of wicked excellent coffee, and sat scrolling around in my phone. As per usual, I scroll around on IMDb and see what movie news awaits me. Then, I saw it; A zombie/ horror/ comedy in the same idea as Shaun of the Dead, but as a holiday musical. All I could muster under my breathe was, “Holy Shit! I am all in.” I did a little research and found out that the film, hailing from Scotland, was getting worldwide distribution for the holiday season.

I immediately went to the AMC Theaters website, plugged in my zip code, clicked on the title of the film, and saw “available.” All I had to do at this point was to convince my wife, Corinne, to go and see it. That would be an easy sell since she loves going to the movies, ordering movie snacks, and seeing a Christmas/Holiday film. Sure, a festive film with zombies, but also a musical. As soon as she was awake, I made her coffee and told her about the film. Her response, “as long as there are popcorn and snow caps in my future, then… Yes!” I do not often go to the movies, but this film, I felt, had all the ingredients of a one I wanted to see. Music, zombies, a badass heroine, some UK humor; how could it be bad? So, buckle up, as Corinne and I rewatch and discuss one of the best holiday/ horror/ comedy/ musical films, Anna and the Apocalypse.

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“Make it So!”: The Timelessness of “Star Trek: The Next Generation”

“Make it So!”: The Timelessness of “Star Trek: The Next Generation”

“Every choice we make allows us to manipulate the future… A person’s life, their future, hinges on each of a thousand choices. Living is making choices.”

– Patrick Stewart (Picard) from “A Matter of Time”

Whether it was Zoobilee Zoo as a child, Saved by the Bell as an adolescent, or the X-Files as a teenager, and shows like Dead Like Me and Being Human as an adult, I have fallen in love with multiple television shows during my four decades on this planet. While essential viewing, those shows are just a small batch of television shows that have brought me incredible joy for various reasons. Still, one show has impacted me and stayed with me probably the longest or positions itself as a close second to Dead Like MeStar Trek: The Next Generation, which I refer to as Star Trek: TNG or simply TNG in this post, is that showLet’s boldly explore, with a personal story, “strange new worlds…new civilizations.” On this journey to the “final frontier,” I will discuss Star Trek: TNG and its impact on me as a kid and how, as an adult, I always think back to those episodes and Star Trek conventions that taught me valuable human lessons. 

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“Nobody Does It All Alone”: The Beauty of Film & Television Original Scores

“Nobody Does It All Alone”: The Beauty of Film & Television Original Scores

“I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. Truth is, I don’t want to know. Some things are best left unsaid. I’d like to think they were singing about something so beautiful, it can’t be expressed in words, and makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you, those voices soared higher and farther than anybody in a gray place dares to dream. It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made those walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free.”

– Morgan Freeman in The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

The other day, while my wife was at work, the one day of the week she is not remote, I felt terrible. I didn’t feel sick, but rather anxious, and found myself falling deeper into a somber place. I immediately grabbed my phone, put on my music streaming app, and turned on my preprepared playlist, “My Film Scores.” I selected “Constant,” which is from the fourth season of Lost by Michael Giacchino, walked into the sunroom, and moved a chair so I could look out the window. I sat down, eyes closed, and did some deep breathing as the song played. With its slow but beautiful orchestral progression of intersecting piano and violin play, I felt my heart grow warm, regular, and my anxiety slowly dissipated as the instrumental music comforted me.

I am not sure when I began gravitating towards film scores at moments of sadness and heightened anxiety. It’s not new, but it’s not old either. They seem to reset me when I feel low and bring me to a place that only they can guide me. It’s like being transported to an island of one with music broadcast over the speakers, similar to that powerful scene in The Shawshank Redemption, from the quote I use above. Even for a minute, it seems all the craziness, the current reality of life, and my fears and worries are proven imaginary. The villainous face these feelings appear as are finally unmasked, as the music reminds me of who I am and everything is alright. But why film scores? Let’s explore that for a moment.

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Movie Rewind: “Trollhunter” w/ my Father-in-Law Pat

Movie Rewind: “Trollhunter” w/ my Father-in-Law Pat

“Thomas: In a sense, you’re a true Norwegian hero. / Hans: No, you’re wrong about that. There’s nothing heroic about what I do. It’s dirty work.”

– Otto Jespersen & Glenn Erland Tosterud in Trollhunter

The story goes like this…

Several years ago, I was at my in-laws in NY and was speaking to my sister-in-law Kaitlyn about a horror movie I had watched. Kaitlyn, like myself, enjoys watching horror movies. It’s a fun genre, which I detailed in my blog post from last week, that allows you to tune out the outside world. You watch, get entertained by the film’s stupidity, and enjoy yourself in the cinematic fiction. Still, not all horror movies are created equal, and I do not enjoy slasher and horridly violent films. As you all learned last week, I like monsters, zombies, and horror mixed with comedic elements. The movie I was telling Kaitlyn fits into the latter category and is called Trollhunter.

While telling Kaitlyn about the film, my father-in-law walked into the room and picked up our conversation. While pouring some iced-tea, he chimed in, “Are you talking about Trollhunter?” The moment I heard Pat ask that, my mouth dropped to the ground in shock and disbelief. Had my father-in-law, Mr. ESPN, had he seen Trollhunter? I knew of no one else who had seen this movie but are you telling me Pat had? So, I asked him. “Pat, are you thinking about the Norwegian found-footage horror film?” He responds, “ya with a guy hunting trolls!!” All I could muster at this point was, “holy shit, Pat’s seen Trollhunter!”

Thinking back to that moment, I can’t help but laugh. How did my cool and calm father-in-law see such a random movie? I mean, I hang out with Pat often when I am in NY. We watch sports together and sometimes a random show on Netflix. Still, I had never known his taste in specific movie genres, so I was shocked and amazed when he said he had seen it. Therefore, with this blog, I feel like now is an excellent time to consider the movie one more time. To do so, I need Pat’s reaction. No better way to spend time chatting with my father-in-law than discussing the film and exploring it together. Welcome to Trollhunter rewind with Pat!

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Horror Genre & My FIVE Favorite Scary Movies

Horror Genre & My FIVE Favorite Scary Movies

“There’ll be food and drink and ghosts…and perhaps even a few murders. You’re all invited.”

– Vincent Price in House on Haunted Hill (1959)

It’s that time of year when it’s perfectly acceptable to watch way too many horror films. When you tell people you enjoy watching horror movies in months other than October; you can sometimes get a side-eye. But the age-old question is still significant, what type of horror? Now, I do not pretend to be a movie critic or even understand every aspect of the horror genre. I do enjoy movies, and I have enjoyed many different types of horror films. But it does make you think; what kind of horror films do I like to watch the most? That is why I set out to compile what I feel are the five most enjoyable horror films I have watched. This top five list celebrates Halloween and the month of October, which I consider the one month when you can watch as many horror movies as you want without your friends and family starting to question you! Let’s explore my favorite horror movie list.

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Hersheypark October Excitement: Theme Park Rides, Troegs Brewing & a Half Marathon

Hersheypark October Excitement: Theme Park Rides, Troegs Brewing & a Half Marathon

“John Hammond: All major theme parks have delays. When they opened Disneyland in 1956, nothing worked! / Ian Malcolm: Yeah, but, John, if The Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, the pirates don’t eat the tourists.”

– Richard Attenborough & Jeff Goldblum from Jurassic Park

A year ago, in October of 2019, my wife and I accompanied my brother, his wife, and two daughters to Hershey, PA, for a theme park vacation and the running of a half marathon race. It was a fantastic weekend, filled with Hershey candy, beer, running, great food, some intense roller coasters, and of course, October family fun. It is strange to think back to last October and consider that it has been a year since our family trip, now with a new October upon us. With the pandemic hitting only a few months later, it seems the trip got lost in my recollection, and now, with the return of fall, I seek to both remember the journey and see hope in its enjoyment.

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Discovering Calm in LEGO: Building the Ghostbusters Firehouse, Two Volkswagen Automobiles & a Haunted House

Discovering Calm in LEGO: Building the Ghostbusters Firehouse, Two Volkswagen Automobiles & a Haunted House

“To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, to draw closer, to find each other and to feel. That is the purpose of life.”

– The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

As far back as I can remember, I have always loved LEGO bricks and sets of various sorts. I used to enjoy getting them as gifts on my birthday or at Christmas or as an unexpected treat when I was able to pester my mother long enough to get them from Kmart or KB Toys. Whether it was the pirate ship Black Seas Barracuda or Skulls Eye Schooner, the medieval King’s Castle, or any of the space sets, I had them all and enjoyed constructing and displaying them. It was the gift I received frequently and the one I looked most forward to getting.

Therefore, it is not surprising that when the pandemic hit, and we went into lockdown, I needed a daily outlet, besides my weekly movie chats with my brother, which I detailed in POP! Culture on Repeat, or video game adventures with my brother-in-law Kyle, discussed in A Newcomer Joins Borderlands 3. I sought out fun and unique LEGO sets to use my hands, shut off my mind, and follow instructions and build something. Again, I sought comfort in my past to help cope with current turmoil. So, I went online and bought the LEGO Volkswagen T1 Camper Van and Beetle. It didn’t take long before I felt like a kid again and was hooked on those classic LEGO bricks!

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