Grace Of My Heart (1996)
Director/Writer: Allison Anders
Stars: Illeana Douglas, John Turturro, Sissy Boyd, Matt Dillon
An aspiring singer, Denise Waverly/Edna Buxton, sacrifices her own singing career to write hit songs that launch the careers of other singers. The film follows her life from her first break, through the pain of rejection from the recording industry and a bad marriage, to her final triumph in realizing her dream to record her own hit album
IMDB sample review:
Interesting & Nostalgic…, 26 April 2003
“Grace Of My Heart” is similar to “Valley Of The Dolls” because the characters, in both films, are “loosely based” on actual people showing their rise & fall in show business. Illeana Douglas plays singer/songwriter Edna Buxton who becomes Denise Waverly. She’s based on Carol Klein who became Carole King. A New Yorker who churned out hit after hit in the famous Brill Building. Where some of the action in “Grace Of My Heart” also takes place. John Turturro is based on record producer Phil Spector (complete with bad toupee & the wearing of sunglasses indoors). Matt Dillon fronts “The Riptides” (The Beach Boys).
Joel Millner: I have the perfect producer lined up. this guy, he’s the new hit-making genius, the next Wunderkid!
Denise Waverly: Phil Spector?
Millner: Spector?!? History!
Denise: Shadow Morton! Shadow Morton?
Joel: (watching TV) This guy is no Liberace – he’s an Einstein in the control booth, a wizard!
The Riptides: (played by Redd Kross, on TV) take a run at the sun
Interviewer: (on voiceover) While The Beatles and The Byrds are both at work at what are being termed ‘concept albums’, teen favorites The Riptides are also changing directions
Joel: Jay Phillips, the one on the guitar – the brains behind the band and the wizard behind your next hit!
Interviewer: (on voiceover) On their last album Jay Phillips caught the critics’ attention when he added orchestral instruments into their popular surf sound. It seems this was only the beginning of Phillips’ imagination…
Interviewer: Tell us a little of what we can expect from this new record?
Jay Phillips: Well I really don’t know what to expect myself, I’m just gonna let the album dictate itself to me. BUT I can guarantee it will be different from anything you’ve heard from The Riptides before.
Joel: VERY talented. Very sweet, a little out there, from California…
Interviewer: Is there any particular theme or subject stringing it all together like some of the other ‘concept albums’ being recorded now?
Jay: (thoughtfully) Childhood. Innocence. How a kid looks at things, how a kid’ll make up a song so the lyrics don’t always make sense to adults (laughs)…kids are cool…
Interviewer: Can you give us an example of a lyric?
Jay: Well, I heard Lennon wrote a song about a walrus…and McGuinn wrote a soing about a spaceman – there’s a thing in music now, you can write a song about anything at all – not just protest or love songs…on this new album I’m really into writing songs like kids do when they’re singing to themselves, or playing in their yard
Interviewer: Sounds pretty, er, far out!
Jay: Yeah, far out…
Interviewer: The world’s waiting, Jay!
Later, in the studio, a tracking session for Denise Waverley’s next single God Give Me Strength
Jay Phillips: Uh, all right, ok, let’s stop – STOP! ENOUGH! STOP! So let’s just step back –
Denise: Is he always like this?
Jay: – needs a little bit more uh needs more uh BITE!
Denise: I like it!
Jay: – so between bar 52 and 56 I want you to play pizz on bar 2 and 3
(to drummer) and what are you doing over there man? You’re like er stirring oatmeal or something! I need you to er (concerned) is everything all right? Cos I need you to really POP this thing, like er, give it
(hits kettledrum hard) – you know, this is rock and roll!
Ok, this is a pickup from bar 50, OK?
Jay: (back in booth) What the fuck is that drummer doing man?!? Fuck!
The drummer pops that thing on the next take
Jay: This is the board, its got all these cool EQs and knobs that do all these far out things…
Jay: Are you digging the work?
Denise: Oh yeah, I never had any idea how much you got involved in the work – the producing, the arranging…
Some time later, in Jay’s home studio, recording a track for the new Riptides album
Music sounds like an outtake from Mercury Rev’s Deserter’s Songs; the theremin is a bit too loud in the mix to make out the lyrics clearly. This track is not on the film’s soundtrack album
The theremin player can actually play the woo woo machine
Riptide members look unhappy in the control booth – that’s ‘Mike’ (left). with ‘Al’ I think
This is maybe ‘Dennis’ or ‘Bruce’, but he’s called Brian
J. Mascis is the engineer
‘Al’ doesn’t like what he is hearing
It suddenly gets all banjo yee-haw, with odd cartoonesque vocal countermelodies
and ends on a sustained vibrato theremin note.
‘Al’: Well, I’m wondering how we’re supposed to do that live…
‘Mike’: Where are the cars, where are the surfboards? It’s not The Riptides. I’m not singing that stuff!
Jay: ‘Brian’, anything to add?
‘Brian’: I dig the theremin at the end…
Jay: (to himself) Cool, he likes the theremin…that’s great man, (unhappily) everyone’s really fucking happy.
Engineer: It’s great man, c’mon!
Denise: It’s great baby
Engineer: It’s a great song man, how can you not like that?
Denise: I thought you guys were a little harsh
‘Mike’: What’s it all ABOUT?!?
Engineer: You know, the future.
‘Mike’: ‘The future’? What’s THAT supposed to mean?
Engineer: What, you’re gonna sing about surfboards the rest of your life?
Denise: It’s metaphor…
‘Mike’: Metaphor for what? For ‘psychedelicness’?
Engineer: Have you ever heard anything like that before?
‘Mike’: No I haven’t!
Denise: I liked it!
‘Mike’: I hated it.
The album doesn’t get finished.
Jay freaks out when he thinks his mastertapes are being messed with
and accuses Denise.
Jay has a breakdown, and stays in his beach house.
Despite signs of a recovery,
Jay walks into the sea, drowning himself.
These are selected scenes from about half an hour of Grace Of My Heart – and excludes the piano/vocal ‘demo’ of Burt Bacharach and Elvis Costello’s God Give Me Strength – it’s only peripherally-related to The Riptides’ ‘new direction’, but is so good you should watch it, here. Jay Phillips is understandably impressed.
It’s also obvious that The Riptides themselves, the studio players and Jay’s engineer are musicians, and have some familiarity with the recording process. And, while the ‘Smile session’ music is kind of odd, and actually not so great, it is infinitely more imaginative and ambitious, both musically and lyrically, than the ‘official’ Beach Boys – An American Family faked ‘Smile session’:
Mike: What does this MEAN?
geronimo leaps and bounds for glory over the dustbowl…?
But then Smile was supposed to seem laughable to An American Family‘s audience.
The Riptides have much better hair than The Beach Boys, and must have had a riot of a time sneering at the ‘psychedelicness’ of Jay’s ‘metaphor for the future’; ‘Mike’ would not have been the short straw at Casting. The God Give Me Strength session, and Jay’s interaction with the musicians, especially his drummer, really rings true – as fiction, as a well as a fictionalised Pet Sounds-type session. To me anyway. Matt Dillon is a good Brian Wil–I’m SORRY, I meant “Jay Phillips”.
Not everyone agrees:
One of the WORST movies in rock history. EVER., 24 February 2008
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
One star is far too generous for this film. I have registered just to show my absolute DISGUST at this movie. I read a fine comment, which stated the biggest problem; this movie should have stuck to being either completely fictional, or else said “yes, Turturro’s Spector (though Spector’s name IS mentioned, presumably to avoid a lawsuit.) Turturro’s the Spector character, Illeana’s the Carole King one (and the person who commented about it here and said she’s ugly outta get slapped! Even if you don’t find Illeana Douglas good-looking, who the hell are you to go around calling people UGLY like that? HEARTLESS!) Most disturbing was Matt Dillon as Brian Wilson. (okay, the part near the end, that would be what, if Dennis Wilson DELIBERATELY fell into the ocean? a Suicide?). This movie, I had a good feeling going into it considering all the praise heaped upon it by so many; I now understand the problem; everybody’s CRAZY! Or they know SO little about rock and roll’s past, its history, that they don’t get, or care, who gets SKEWERED in this movie? I thought it would be a heart-warming vehicle about a woman’s struggle to make it in the music industry, not unlike the fictional part, played by Lorraine Newman, in the mostly non-fictional (well, it blended both SUCCESSFULLY) American Hot Wax. THAT was beautiful. THIS was dreadful, the songs wore horrific, the whole thing was the worst imaginable joke. Like a comment of it here that I read, I want to forget this ATROCITY as soon as possible, a film that IMMMEDIATELY became one of the worst films ever for me. I’ll have to get rid of it (but not before loaning it to my best friend, for he will surely cringe at the sight of Matt Dillon as Brian Wil–I’m SORRY, I meant “Jay Phillips”!
Matt Dillon as Brian Wilson.
WORST ROCK MOVIE EVER!
Glimpses – Lewis Shiner (1993)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I’ve lost two copies of this, the paperback and the hardback:
Usefully Glimpses is back in print. The Project Smile CD-ROM also has the full text of Chapters Three and Four (the Smile part, OCR-ed), which means that it is at least quoteable. Amazon’s synopsis sums it up pretty well:
Shiner has written what may be the first rock n roll time-travel novel. Ray Chackleford is a self-employed electronics repairman whose marriage is foundering and whose father has recently died. These unresolved relationships are complicated when Ray travels to the Mexican site of his father’s death and promptly falls in love with a woman even more unstable than he. In the midst of this emotional turmoil, Ray–a rock drummer during his youth in the late Sixties–begins to hear in his head and manages to transfer to tape legendary unfinished recordings by Jim Morrison, Brian Wilson, and Jimi Hendrix. This music is accompanied by “journeys” into the troubled lives of these rock musicians. Shiner’s appealing main character and his gripping style overcome the less believable aspects of his story. With the current comeback of the Sixties, this novel should be widely popular. – A.J. Wright, Univ. of Alabama, Birmingham
This reviewer likes it:
IMO, here’s where the author turns what could have been a straightforward novel of time-travel into a shamanic journey of raw spiritual power–because it’s NOT the past Ray is visiting, as his actions there never affect the present. I’d argue that he’s entering the collective unconscious of our species–a sort of matrix of memory and desire. While in this realm of the unconscious, Ray Shackleford, music lover and accidental shaman, meets the musical gods of the late Sixties, on a mission to save their great works lost to mental illness or death. Instead of just repairing stereos, he tries to repair the past: the lost life, the lost futures, and the lost music…Read this book if you love the Beatles or the Yardbirds or Hendrix or the Beach Boys (especially the Beach Boys).
Like Grace Of My Heart, it could be terrible, but it really isn’t. Like Grace Of My Heart, it only deals with Smile as part of a larger narrative (and, in Grace Of My Heart, a wayward timeline…). Because the writing is good, and because these were constructed by people who know their subjects and their histories, they’re both better Beach Boys fictions than Endless Harmony or Summer Dreams, An American Family or An American Band, or worse.
This is the narrator’s summary of Brian Wilson’s fate for the general reader, in our timeline:
At the end of November 1966 the Beach Boys returned from their European tour and listened to what Brian had done on Smile. Mike Love hated it. He called a meeting with Van Dyke Parks, who wrote the lyrics, and demanded to know what the songs meant. What did all this bizarre Americana and obscure wordplay have to do with the Beach Boys? Van Dyke quit.
Brian, meanwhile, was already freaked. Fires broke out all over Los Angeles after he recorded “Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow” including one across the street from the studio. Brian thought it was his fault, and supposedly tried to burn the tapes. He got obsessive about the moral content of his work, about the kind of vibes it put out. He meant to record a new “Fire” segment based on the idea of a candle rather than a raging inferno. He never got around to it.
There were so many songs. A couple dozen, anyway, most no more than fragments. Before he could finish one he would have another idea and lay down basic tracks for it. Then Mike Love stepped in to throw his disapproval around. Capitol wanted an album right away, only not this album, and sud- denly it was June of 1967 and Sgt. Pepper was on the stands.
Why break up the band, the only family he had left since he and Murry quit talking, just so he could come in second to the Beatles again?
That was the end of Smile. Brian threw together a neutered version of “Heroes and Villains” so Capitol could have a single. He’ d left the house on Laurel Way in April and moved to a mansion in Bel Air with its own recording studio. He took two weeks out of the summer to whip out a replacement album called Smiley Smile where he let the other guys play their own instruments and sing whatever they wanted. He took his name off as producer. He gave up.
It was the start of a long, slow, downhill slide for Brian, and the beginning of the end for the Beach Boys.
Later, Ray Shackleford wakes up in Los Angeles. It’s November 1966; he manages to get into Brian’s home (fairly easy due to parties and ‘hangers on’), gets Brian’s confidence, and then tells him that Good Vibrations will be the Number One Record the coming Friday. It is. Brian is intrigued. Brian and Ray get very stoned, and they talk about Smile:
“For the sake of argument, let’s say I was from the future. Let’s say I know everything that’s going to happen if you wait for Dennis and Carl and Mike.”
Brian was so huge. He was like some kind of bear or something, looming over me. I could see his eyes, bloodshot from the pool and the drugs, glow in the dark. “Tell me,” he said.
“You play the tapes for them. Mike hates it. He says, `You’re blowing it, Brian. Don’t fuck with the formula. Surfing and cars, Brian.’ He calls Van Dyke in and demands to know what `crow cries uncover the cornfield’ means. Van Dyke refuses to explain himself and quits in a huff. Capitol demands to hear what you’ve got and they hate it too. You lose momentum. You know the album is brilliant, but your confidence is shaken. It’s so hard to keep pushing. You fool around, start more new songs and don’t finish them. You think if you get it perfect enough, everybody will have to like it. Suddenly it’s June and there’s a new Beatles album out. It’s called Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”
“No. It’s got songs that run together and repeated themes and sound effects. It’s not as good as Smile, but it is really good, and it takes the world by storm. It’s acknowledged as rock’s first masterpiece. It takes the heart right out of you and you never finish Smile. Never.”
The first emotion across his face was disbelief. Then he said, “This is too weird. You couldn’t be making this up.” He got up and shambled around the room. “Fucking hell.”
The Beach Boys return from touring, and the narrator is at the meeting between Brian, The Beach Boys and Van Dyke Parks. Things go exactly as predicted, and Brian accepts Ray’s story.
If you could go back to 1966 to finish Smile, Brian Wilson, of any of the subjects of Inside Pop, would probably be the most accepting of a visit from the future. I would imagine.
Smile gets finished, as a Brian Wilson solo album:
It took Brian six days to finish Smile, like Jehovah in the Old Testament.
I watched it come together and I saw why nobody else could have reconstructed it from the tapes in the vaults. It was like the Tommy Tedesco guitar part. Nobody but Brian knew what the missing pieces were, and the missing pieces changed everything.
He worked all day and all night. We would sleep five or six hours in the morning and then go back to it. He delegated what he could and then put all the pieces together. I was in charge of sound effects.
Finally we get to hear Smile:
The tape started. The sound of a pedaling bicycle (me), laughter (human), laughter (horns). A distant, tinkling foretaste of the bicycle rider theme, then into “Heroes and Villains.” It’s a full-blown comic opera, complete with legendary cantina scene, gunfights, and even, buried deep in the mix, Brian’s voice saying “Estoy aqui por loco, no por pendejo.”
Then into the “Barnyard” and “Do Ya Dig Worms” segment, “The Old Master Painter” and “You Are My Sunshine”, on through “Cabinessence” at the end of side one without a break. I couldn’t tell if it was crazy or not. I was too close to it, somewhere deep inside the music, fitting it carefully into my head so I wouldn’t lose a note of it, smiling and crying at the same time.
Brian’s voice came over the intercom. “Side two,” he said.
“Good Vibrations” led off. Instead of fading where the single did it went into a brief orchestral section which recapped the bicycle rider theme, slipped into a few seconds of “George Fell into His French Horn” and then segued, amid the laughter of horns, into “I’m in Great Shape.” Then “Child Is Father of the Man,” “Vegetables,” and the Elements Suite proper: “Grand Canyon,” “FreeFall,” “Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow,” and “Love to Say Da-Da.” Then, finally, “Surf’s Up,” complete with columnated ruins dominoing.
I knew “Surf’s Up” would be the last song. It was the thing I’d been afraid of since the lights went out. With the first notes, spare and haunting, just piano and bass and Brian’s voice, I started to shake. Like the version I knew, it built into a reprise of “Child Is Father of the Man” and then it went further, pulling everything in, the “ahhhs” from “Good Vibrations,” the cellos from “Old Master Painter,” the laughing horns, finally the “Bicycle Rider” theme and I knew it was over, all of it, not just the album but everything I’d come for.
The final notes of the harpsichord swelled instead of fading kept getting louder and louder until they distorted, until I could feel the pressure of the sound in my ears. I didn’t know if it was the tape or me. I couldn’t see the lights from the booth. I thought I might have fallen onto the floor. I couldn’t tell. I only knew that I’ d found Smile and now it was me that was lost.
This is a fantastic fan mix.
Oct 2012 update: Glimpses, as a revised reprint, is available in full as a free PDF here.