And the Hits Just Keep On Comin’

Timecode: 31:46 – 33:47

You got authorization from Aunt Ginny.

Perfectly within my province.

Does Aunt Ginny have a barn? We can hold the trial there. I can sew the costumes, and maybe his Uncle Goober can be the judge.

Uncle Goober

This week’s Minutes involves a pair of (consecutive) scenes that show us Kaffee at his most (sexually?) frustrated (with Commander Joanne Jo and her interference) and at his most relaxed (slinging cliches back and forth with Luther at the newsstand)¹. And while the two scenes have plenty of memorable moments², I thought I might focus instead on what joins them together: music.

By and large, the AFGM soundtrack is a March Shaiman joint, relying almost exclusively on his gripping, original score. In other words, this isn’t exactly The Breakfast Club or Garden State soundtrack that you’d fire up on a long road trip. In fact, there are only four songs used throughout the entire movie — the first of which we hear when Kaffee fires up his ‘63 Chevy Impala and tries to get as far away from Commander Joanne Jo as possible:

That’s right, folks. Four years before Elvis laid down his iconic version of “Hound Dog”³, Big Mama Thornton recorded it first. And like a lot of blues recordings of that era, the sound is far more visceral than anything (even the King himself) could ever hope to achieve. It grabs you by the scruff of the neck and doesn’t let go.

What’s crazy is that until I did the research for this post, I’d always thought a man was singing whenever I watched this scene. In my defense, I was probably unduly swayed by two things: the more popular Elvis version and the fact that the next character you see on screen (Luther at the newsstand) looks like he could be a member of a blues band that would cover this song in a smoky club on some random Friday night. I guess you can add it to the list of gender/race-”defying” voices that have flummoxed me over the years.Can't Beat Em Join Em

As for the song’s use in the film, it not only is the first song featured, it’s ultimately the only one (as the other three songs, discussed below, are all playing in the background of otherwise dialogue-heavy scenes). While I think its placement is largely used for a tonal transition (from one scene to the next), one can’t help but find some echoes of the plot in its lyrics:

You ain’t nothing but a hound dog
Been snoopin’ ’round my door
You can wag your tail
But I ain’t gonna feed you no more

Whether Jo or Danny is the hound dog in this analogy, of course, would depend entirely upon which of the two of them you asked.

As for the other three ditties featured on the soundtrack, you’d have to pay very close attention to even notice them. They merely act as a subtle emotional backdrop for the scene they play behind. In the order they appear:

Patty Loveless, “Timber I’m Falling in Love” (1989)

This plays in the seafood restaurant, while Danny and Jo break bread (and crab legs) and exchange resumes. Given the sappy lyrics of the song, its placement sure feels like a vestigial limb of an earlier draft of the script, in which Danny & Jo had much more of a fully-realized Hollywood love story.

Jimmy Cotton, “Next Time You See Me”(1967)

This plays during Danny’s return visit to the newsstand — right before Markinson stealthily slips into the backseat of his car. Makes perfect sense to choose another bluesy riff (just like “Hound Dog”) to lull us into a sense of security. And the cliche-laden exchange with Luther will double-down on that expectation before…

…BANG! Markinson scares the shit out of us (and Danny). Plus, I mean the lyrics, c’mon! Could they be anymore on the nose? “Next time you see me, things won’t be the same…”

UB40, “All I Want to Do” (1986)

Time after time I say to myself
Working all my life isn`t good for my health
Get old, get tired, get put on the shelf
I do all the work, someone else gets all the wealth
Wish I was on an island in the sun
Where I wouldn`t have to worry how to get things done

While you can’t actually hear these lyrics in the bar where Kaffee meets Smilin’ Jack Ross to tell him about Markinson, they do seem to fit their work-based friendship. On a different night, the two of them could share a beer and a laugh, and they’d never have to resort to cheap shots about daddy issues or softball skills. But tonight is not that night.

Taken as a collective, the thing that stands out is that despite playing an incredibly minor role in the story, the songs have clearly been very carefully selected. It just goes to show you that a movie is nothing more than a collection of thousands upon thousands of very specific choices that are crafted to look like one seamless tapestry.


¹Long live the parenthetical!
²(Chronologically): 1) Jo’s hip-swaying walk to Kaffee’s car. 2) A peek into Louden Downey’s life on the farm. 3) This aforementioned classic. 4) Danny’s 1963 Chevy Impala. 5) Luther’s triumph in a battle of wits.
³Which changed the lyrics a bit from the original.
What? You thought all that business about white people hijacking rock ‘n roll from African Americans was an old wive’s tale? Pssh.
Like Jackson Browne or Ray LaMontaigne (who I thought were black the first time I heard them), or Dobie Gray and Maxine Nightengale (who I thought were white), or early Tevin Campbell or Nina Simone (who I thought were the opposite genders).

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