The Decision: Edwards III to Join MIB

What would your answer be if you were asked to erase your existence, but still have a pulse? 

Nobody will ever know you exist anywhere. What about mom? She finally just retired from 30 back-breaking years at the postal service? She was looking forward to now spending more time with me, her only child. And Pops…wonder if knowing him would have any impact on this decision at all? My mind is racing and replaying conversations, thoughts, memories. It’s hard to suppress that one small yet monumentally heavy word: “Ever.” Can I follow through with this?

Of course I had to ask what the catch was. Of course it would have been self-extermination. I joined the force because I wanted to lock up criminals like the ones who roamed my streets. As a cop, the catch is that one of these criminals may be able to draw his weapon quicker than I can. As an officer, if I would fall to the “catch,” I’d be honored by the city of New York. The mayor would give mom a folded flag and gently touch her shoulder while telling her how sorry he was but also how proud she should be of how her son served his city. A police officer’s catch is much different than the one Kay just layed on me. This catch is more of a condition. The job, if you could call it that, relies on this catch. There would be no ceremony, no dedications, no press coverage, no acknowledgment. “Ever.”

Is this all worth it? Kay, whom I literally just met, without hesitation, said that it would be, just before walking off into the sunset. That sunset though, you never really just sit and look at them anymore. Growing up in Harlem, the sky would turn all the apartment buildings into gold, if only for a couple hours each evening, before the street lights flickered on. Running around those streets with the crew, life’s lessons were learned in the hardest ways during the simplest times. If I took this opportunity, would I miss them? I wonder if they were even human?

As darkness consumes Battery Park, the tourists head back up town, business-folk turn in, and the park turns silent. I’ve covered the beat on these streets at night. I know the the type of New Yorker who emerge from their daytime slumbers. At least, I thought I knew who they were. It’s like watching a zombie movie from this bench. As they approach me for change, food, or just to humor themselves by telling some fucked up story, I can’t help but stare at them, looking for some sign of the unordinary. A twitch. A grunt. Human…alien?

Getting up from this bench seems about just as tough as making this decision. It’s like a chess piece; once released, the move is final. Why do I want this so badly? Why do I trust Kay so much? I feel like I’ve known him all my life, but that’s impossible, right? Should I sleep on this? I only have till sunrise to decide on wiping myself from existence. No time for sleep. Mom is going to be crushed, but it’s a sacrifice. She didn’t talk to me for a month after becoming a cop. What scenario are they going to give her if I decide to join the Men in Black. I sigh and think about her reaction. Maybe one day she’ll know that I’m part of something bigger.

At some point right before sunrise, I notice a man park himself next to me. He’s practicing a ventriloquist act. Maybe it’s the lack of sleep or need of a mental break, but I’m fixated on watching this man manipulate the miniature boy-looking figure on his lap. Poor little guy. This guy has his hand all up his ass and making him say whatever the man wants him to say and do. He can’t make any decisions for himself…because he’s a dummy. My mind gets a jolt, my adrenaline spikes, and I’m all of a sudden ready to say goodbye to James Darrell Edwards III, because I’m not a dummy. Basically jumping out my skin, I tell my bench neighbor, “I’ve made my decision! I’m going to take my skills to 504 Battery Drive.” I’m going to save this planet and I’m going to make it look good.

Movie Soundtracks: 1997 Yearbook

In the pre-Napster universe of 20 years ago, motion picture soundtracks had big time appeal with the masses.  Often featuring singles not yet available on their artist’s LPs and frequently containing tracks hand-carved for their big screen counterparts, these albums were chart-topping monsters in the mid-to-late 90’s.  The appeal made sense.   Not only did they offer exclusive content, but in an era when hearing an act predominantly meant purchasing their full album , they also provided a variety of artists to test drive.  Let’s survey the field at the time…

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The Precursors: Late ’96

One cannot fully understand the success of movie soundtracks in 1997 without first examining how 1996 would end.  Three soundtracks released in the final quarter of the year would combine to sell nearly 20 million records in the US:  Romeo + Juliet (5M), The Preacher’s Wife (a Whitney Houston solo effort; 8M), and Space Jam (6M).  Each of these represented fairly distinct genres– alternative rock, gospel/adult contemporary, and hip-hop respectively.  A bevy of hits resulted, including The Cardigans’ “Love Fool“, Whitney’s “I Believe in You and Me” and “Step by Step”, R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly“, Seal’s “Fly Like an Eagle“, and Monica’s “For You I Will“, among others…

The emotional ballads from Houston and Kelly followed a recent trend of tear-jerker tracks from tent pole films that would terrorize airplay, in the vein of “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You” (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, 1991), “I Will Always Love You” (The Bodyguard, 1992),  “Will You Be There” (Free Willy, 1993), “All for Love” (The Three Musketeers, 1994), and “Kiss from A Rose” (Batman Forever, 1995).  If you were not a fan of these types of songs, your ultimate scourge would arrive in November 1997.

The Setting-Enhancement Compilations

While 1997 would not be short on blockbuster ballads, a variety of soundtrack sub-genres would see success during the year.  Particularly enjoyable were albums that utilized older records to establish the film’s setting.

Boogie Nights masterfully performed this task, with director Paul Thomas Anderson handpicking disco aces like “Best of My Love” and “Got to Give It Up”,  80’s power jam “Sister Christian“, and pool party staple “Spill the Wine” to transport us to the San Fernando valley of yesteryear.  The soundtrack was so successful that a second part was release a few months later.

Jackie Brown found its muse in the blaxploitation films of the 1970’s and set it’s tone from the opening credits with Bobby Womack’s “Across 110th Street”.  Tracks from the Delfonics and The Brothers Johnson continue the California cool vibe for Quentin Tarantino’s crime caper on an album easily enjoyed regardless of one’s familiarity with the film.

1997 would also mark the release of the first Austin Powers movies, introducing a new generation to Burt Bacharach and “Soul Bossa Nova“.

Artist Vehicles

Two very different movies spawned two very different albums that can be grouped under this category.

Selena, a biopic of the Tejano performer killed only two years earlier, starred Jennifer Lopez but used vocals from the titular character for both the film and soundtrack.   It is essentially a compilation of the late singer and went platinum.

 Six of the fifteen tracks on the Good Will Hunting soundtrack were written and recorded by Elliott Smith, with “Miss Misery” nominated for an Oscar.  Not surprisingly, it is equal parts good and depressing.

Hip-Hop and R&B Mixtapes

1997 would be a landmark year for hip-hop music crossing over from a niche genre to a mainstream mainstay.  Concurrently, a swell of soundtracks targeted these same audiences with line-ups of the artists frequently atop the charts.

Gridlock’dstarring Tupac Shakur, premiered four months after his murder.  The late actor/rapper’s record label, Death Row Records, released the soundtrack which featured heavy contributions from their roster, including Pac himself, Snoop Doggy Dogg, and The Lady of Rage.

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Booty Call would be released the next month with an emerging Jamie Foxx in the lead role.  The soundtrack gave way to singles from SWV & Missy Elliot (“Can We“) and Joe (“Don’t Wanna Be a Player“), the latter of which would be sampled later in the year by Big Pun on his debut single “Still Not a Player“.

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Nothing to Lose carries a rating of only 29% on Rotton Tomatoes, but its soundtrack went gold.  Two singles “Not Tonight“, featuring a who’s who of leading lady rappers (including Lil’ Kim and Left Eye), and Coolio’s “C U When U Get There” charted in the top 15 on the Billboard Hot 100 and saw significant rotation on MTV and BET.

 

Babyface produced seven of the fifteen tracks on the more R&B focused Soul Food soundtrack, featuring the likes of Boyz II Men, Dru Hill, Usher, and En Vougue.  The album went 2x platinum.

Big Budget Albums About Big Budget Movies

Warner Brothers dumped $125 million into Batman & Robin and while the film was panned by most critics, batfans, and its director, it would more than recoup its cost at the box office.  Clearly the studio hoped to reach all swatches of fans (and succeeded, as the album went platinum), releasing singles by The Smashing Pumpkins, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, Jewel, Goo Goo Dolls, and R. Kelly from the album.  Kelly’s contribution, “Gotham City”, smells like an attempt at recreating both his success with “I Believe I Can Fly” and the previous Batman ballad success of “Kiss from a Rose”.  It straddles the line of “over the top” and “palatable” better than the film, complete with a children’s chorus.  Kels would go back to the soundtrack well twice more with “Bad Man” from Shaft and “The World’s Greatest” from Ali.  Both will be featured in some way on this blog 🙂

 

“Here come the Men in Black…” clap, clap.

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This was the big summer blockbuster that Batman hoped to be, grossing nearly $600M (more than twice the Caped Crusader), receiving favorable reviews, and spawning two sequels.  The album performed similarly well, going 3x platinum, and marking Will Smith’s comeback to the music world.  It’s hard to believe a pre-jiggy era ever existed.  The titular single, cleverly sampling “Forget Me Nots” by Patrice Rushen in a way that may have rendered the original mute, blew up with airplay over every medium imaginable.   Smith followed up with “Just Cruisin’, perhaps to prove he could make songs about more than the movie in which he starred, although he would do plenty of that again.  Nas, Snoop, and Jermaine Dupri also stop through on a generally fun, summer album.

 

The Inevitable

So that earlier chronicle of sappy ballads leads us here.  Much like the iceberg, we should have seen it coming.  Celine Dion had a smash single in 1996 with “Because You Loved Me”, setting records for its reign atop the charts.  The song was the theme from the movie “Up Close and Personal”, but curiously was left off the soundtrack (likely negotiated by Dion’s management).  James Cameron would make no such deals, and “My Heart Will Go On” would tow the Titanic soundtrack to more than 30 million (!) copies sold, despite being the only song on the album with words.  A few months later, Sony would release another album (Back to Titanic) with more sounds from the movie that would go platinum, this one containing a version of “My Heart Will Go On” with clips of dialogue from the film (another trend started in 1996 with Bruce Springsteen’s “Secret Garden” from Jerry Maguire).  At the time, an album of white noise with the the word “Titanic” anywhere near it would have gone gold– I would be surprised if someone didn’t try.  This was everywhere, forever.  It’s still too soon to hear again, but enjoy this classic Billy Zaine line.