Monday, August 03, 2009

A Tribute to John Williams

No, he's not dead (thankfully). However, John Williams is one of my all-time favorite artists and someone I believe had he been born any other time would be considered one of the great composers of all time. Because we are living in a modern age and movie composers don't quite get their due or rightful appreciation: John - this one's for you.

John Williams is my musical god. Some of you may not know him by name but you would certainly know him by ear. He is the composer of some of the greatest movie scores of all time and is to blame for bringing us the music to Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Jaws, Home Alone, Schindler’s List, Empire of the Sun, Hook, Jurassic Park, Harry Potter, and countless other masterpieces – including the theme of the Olympic games and NBC Nightly News. John Williams also wrote a composition specifically for President Obama’s inauguration which was played right before he took the presidential oath.

I wanted to pay tribute to this man, who I consider the Beethoven of our time. If he had been born 400 years ago, we’d still be listening to his music today. While I am glad he was born in present day, it saddens me to think that when we lose this genius, his work will be lost to time and his resounding themes will probably not be played several centuries from now. I consider him one of the great musical masters and I wish his work could live on in infamy. John Williams themes aren't just vital to film history, they stand alone as prodigious pieces of triumph, terror, joy, and heartbreak on your radio or iPod just the same.

What would these great movies be without John William’s music, which perfectly captures and evokes the feelings and emotions of these cinematic gems? I don’t think any of these movies would be what they are without his contributions. E.T. was actually written as a completely different film until John Williams wrote the captivating soundtrack which caused a complete rewrite of the film and an entirely different change of direction. Our images of Jaws, the beastly man eater, wouldn’t be complete without his haunting theme. Visions of Jedi and Sith wielding light sabers to any other music would be a travesty. “Duel of the Fates” made Phantom Menace worth it.

No doubt, I was familiar with John Williams themes as a child growing up in the 80’s. However, my first specific recollection of his music and it’s effect on me was when I saw Empire of the Sun in school in fifth grade. I was too young to understand the movie (and am a bit shocked such a violent film was played in class, at a Catholic school no less) but I remember being completely floored by the soundtrack, particularly “Toy Planes, Home, and Hearth” which I thought was the most beautiful tragic piece of music I’d ever heard. I went out and bought the soundtrack and used to listen to it on my headphones, tears flowing every time. That probably wasn’t normal, haha, but I couldn’t help it. I was so moved by the piece and the power of the composition.

I began collecting John Williams soundtracks and soon amassed quite a collection. John kept giving me so much to work with. Home Alone was one of my favorite childhood films. I absolutely loved the soundtrack, which I considered heavily influenced by my all time favorite song – The Nutcracker Suite. Such songs are in the tradition of 'neoromanticism', which I can never quite get enough of. There is a beautiful haunting melody on the Home Alone soundtrack CD that doesn’t completely make it’s way to the film that is mind boggling.

Hook and Jurassic Park also took my breath away.

I had the opportunity to see John Williams perform some of his classic film scores at the Hollywood Bowl and never made it out. It’s one of the few regrets I have in life. For those fortunate enough to have an opportunity to see John perform live, I urge you to go - I’ve seen performance clips of the show on YouTube and it’s awe-inspiring. He also plays from time to time in other major cities, please check him out of he comes to your area, I guarantee you won't be disappointed.

As some of you know, The Legend of Zelda is one of my favorite theme songs of all time. There is an orchestral version that exists and is available for download on file-sharing sites or can be viewed on YouTube. It is mistakenly attributed to John Williams, but is actually played by the amazing Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra which redid several classic video game themes into sweeping soundtracks available on a rare multi-disc set. However, it’s easy to see the similarities between the Zelda theme and classic John Williams compositions, especially when you hear the orchestral version which is so epic. The composer of the Zelda music, Koji Kondo, unsurprisingly lists John Williams as his main influence musically. John Williams has involved himself in some surprising projects in the past so I suppose it isn’t completely unrealistic to assume how this rumor may have been started.

The hallmark of a John Williams soundtrack is that one feels completely overwhelmed and invincible after hearing it. It will make you cry, get chills all over your body, or send your heart racing even when you are in your car listening to a soundtrack CD. There is truly no other individual I would rather listen to. I credit Steven Spielberg for hearing one of John’s early soundtracks and recognizing his potential, wanting him to be the person to compose for his films. It takes a great to know a great.

A few fun John Williams facts:

One of John William’s sons replaced the lead singer of Toto.

John Williams has been nominated for 45 Oscars for his soundtracks, and only won 5 (He is the only living individual to receive that many nominations).

As John gets older, I shudder to think of a world without him. His impact on my life has been beyond measure. I’m sure my love affair with the movies was in part due to those very compositions that changed me profoundly. While he clearly isn’t reading this, I just want to send some great karmic vibes into the universe for him and let him know how much he is appreciated and that he is singular. No one can replace him. To me, his name is right up there with the all time greats where he belongs. None of those movies would be the same without him.

Many orchestras, bands, symphonies, and artists have been inspired by John Williams and have countless performances on YouTube, including compositions conducted by John himself. I am adding a few links of some incredible performances for your viewing pleasure, I encourage you to check them out – they are well worth it.

Thanks, John. You are truly and simply, THE MAN.

Additional links to amazing John Williams compositions. (Must click!)
Watch these and imagine what those films would be without the amazing scores they were blessed with: (Jaws, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, E.T. orchestral) (Phantom Menace Soundtrack orchestral) (for the Harry Potter fans)

Even Puerto Rico gives mad love to John Williams: (Jurassic Park Boricua Style!)

And, if you really want to dork out:

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