The Pulp Fiction soundtrack, with its signature Tarantino dialogue snippets, served as my quasi-Proust-ish connection to the film. I’d hear the first note of a song and the respective scene from the movie would hit me like a madeleine to the dome.
A couple years back, I heard an interview with Tarantino where he mentioned that his original song choice for the Marsellus Wallace-Gimp-Anal Rape-Samurai Sword-Lemon Party scene was not “Comanche” by the Revels but, in fact, “My Sharona” by the Knack. I wondered, had Tarantino been allowed to use the song, how I, and presumably many, many others, would react henceforth whenever “My Sharona” was played on the radio or over my Armenian mechanic’s jambox. What new life (or even death, perhaps) would the song have?
We know the effect Tarantino has on music (one could even argue the opening scene of Reservoir Dogs—where a bunch of hard scrabble gangsters debate the merits of Madonna—spawned the hipster-irony movement that’s continued to plague us to this day). I wouldn’t know Dick Dale if it wasn’t for Tarantino, there wouldn’t have been surf bands called Big Ray and the Futuras if it wasn’t for QT, and I certainly wouldn’t have been stage diving at their shows as an alcohol-and-likely-musically-impaired college student if not for Tarantino. Most definitely, the Black Eyed Peas would be without one less hit (boo hoo).
Obviously, I’m not saying that Tarantino is responsible for the marriage of iconic music with iconic movie scenes or that he’s the only motherfucker who gave music a new or different life outside of his films. What I am saying is that there is a certain logic-defying rebirth/repackaging of songs via movies that I don’t recall existing pre-Reservoir Dogs. Case in point: Iggy Pop, “Lust for Life.”
In 1995’s Trainspotting, “Lust for Life” (a song written by a heroin addict in a film about heroin addicts) is played over an opening montage whose main narrative is that junkies portrayed by Ewan McGregor and Ewan Bremner are running from the po-po. That song, because of the popularity of the film, transcended heroin, which is all well and good but, uh, ending up in Rugrats Go Wild? Theme song for the Jim Rome Show? A Royal Caribbean Cruise commercial? How did we get from scag to scuba diving and shuffleboard?
It’s the Tarantino effect. Hate if you want, but remember that Trainspotting was released by Miramax, same studio as Pulp Fiction, and that they marketed it as “Britain’s Pulp Fiction.” There were even rumors of a Vincent Vega heroin cameo, but apparently there wasn’t budget for reshoots (relax geeks, I’m full of shit). What exactly am I defining as the Tarantino effect? It’s music married to mayhem in film, creating subculture (Michael Madsen done cut off homeboy’s ear, son!). Subculture with critical acclaim and a little bit of box office cheddar creates pop culture which opens the doors to consumer culture, introducing the song to an audience who probably never saw Pulp Fiction or Trainspotting, who wouldn’t even grasp the original context. It’s like a game of musical telephone, the translation losing meaning with each usage.
So what if? What if Tarantino had been able to license “My Sharona”? Would we have remembered the song more for ass rape than statutory rape? Would Biggie have told Easy Mo Bee to sample “that Ving Rhames joint from Pulp Fiction?” Would it be used to sell the latest Kia? Would Doug Fieger somehow still be alive? Shit gets deep.
The answer? Probably all of the above (except the Doug Fieger part, RIP). We don’t really know though, and we never will. No one can explain the alchemy of how music marries film. As great as Tarantino has been at this, it’s only worked for him on two-and-a-half films (shout out to Jackie Brown). But for those who are curious what the world would have been like, go to YouTube, type in “pulp fiction my sharona,” and you’ll find your answer. Then throw the song over some car insurance commercial. Then, fuck it, auto-tune that shit.