I am inordinately fond of that chunk of music. It’s music for a very specific and important portion of my life.
Gremlins 2 came out in 1990, the year I got my driver’s license…and within a month, like a dumbass, had my first and I hope worst car accident. (That accident remains the worst sound I’ve ever heard.) I was a 16-year-old high school sophomore (James Madison High School, Vienna, VA) at year’s start, a 17-year-old junior at the end…and more to the point, that year I started to take more stuff seriously. I was a decent though not great student, but I was finding a niche in my high school journalism program, and getting into my writing. (I started my first journal that year; I still have it.) I also was photographing more, making surprisingly good use of what were called Disc Cameras: they used small negatives laid out on a flimsy circular platter instead of actual rolls, so the camera bodies could be thinner. (Here's a really cute other commercial for it!) The cameras looked like modern-day digital cameras, but a lot less technical. And bigger, come to think of it. (That Christmas my parents got me my first genuine SLR, to encourage my hobby with better technology. And oh yes, I got better: LOTS of photography in ’91 and ’92. I filled five photo albums with my output those two years…)
And I’d watch movies. That was the first summer I could drive myself to the theater, usually the Merrifield Multiplex. It was a surprisingly hip place for a multi-screen movie theater; it actually had curtains for the screens, and when Fantasia was re-released the curtains were pulled inward slightly to better frame the near-square image. Elegant, is what it was, at least compared to the garishness of most multiplexes. I went there plenty of times, and paid plenty of attention to the movies and their scores. My film music fandom, which had been quietly present in the Eighties – I was more likely to leave Top Gun humming the Harold Faltermeyer theme than any of the songs – had really begun to develop in 1989, and had become a major interest of mine by 1990.
I saw Gremlins 2 at the aforementioned Merrifield Multiplex with my friends Mike Keegan and Leo O’Drudy (a guy who I thought showed his true coolness when he referred to the Ave Maria as “the Catholic theme song”), and we had a blast. Leo commented later on how he’d liked “that cartoon music, like Looney Tunes with those sound effects” that Goldsmith wrote. As Gremlins 2 was indeed more cartoonish than the infamously gory Gremlins, Goldsmith paid a bit of tribute to the Looney Tunes and their musical insanity. I got the tape (released by Varese Sarabande Records), dubbed it for Leo, and kept a copy for myself. And as 1990 progressed to ’91, I played that tape ’til it was wobbly.
At the time, I was learning and growing. It was as if I was seeing more of the world and finding it…Cool.
1991 was a strange year for me: a little more dramatic than previous years, and a lot more vivid. (Example: that autumn Mt. Pinatubo erupted, indirectly causing some of the most colorful sunsets of my life, sunsets I was capturing with grainy 1600-speed film and which still came out colorful and spiffy.) I honestly was more than a little stressed that year by life and schoolwork, losing weight I shouldn’t have lost, but I had this strong feeling of just wanting to figure out more stuff.
Some of that being sexuality stuff. Yes, heterosexuals spend time figuring that out, too, or at least we should. (I like the concept of “coming out”; I find it useful, a needed honest thing, and think it’s worthwhile to come out about other stuff. I’m amused that “Weird Al” Yankovic, for instance, in a way came out as a straight man; his romantic life had been so quiet that even some of his relatives had pegged him as gay!) Obviously for many years I’d known I liked girls, but around that time it was as if I was figuring out my future relationship-involved self; how was I going to be for a girlfriend? was the question I was pondering at some level. I was a dumbass when it came to dating – I never dated in high school; I just didn’t get around to that until my senior year of f’ing college – but I seemed to be preparing myself for the relationship thing. And I was realizing, at another level, that sexuality is allowed to be a little odd, and offbeat, and sometimes even goofy…and that that’s OK, and in fact can be good and needed.
I also was noticing more the non-hetero sexuality, in both the world and in pop culture. Example: L.A. Law’s C.J. Lamb, the first bisexual regular character on prime time television (and played by Amanda Donohoe at her most engaging). Lamb had been introduced in the fall of 1990, and in February 1991 (the week before The Silence of the Lambs, one of my favorite films of the Nineties, hit theaters) the so-called “Kiss” episode established that she wasn’t straight. (“I like men,” said Michele Greene as Abby Perkins. “So do I,” C.J. said. “Oh. Then, you mean, you’re, um…” “Flexible?” C.J. joked.) I was opening up and thinking more about things like that, to the point that I was finally starting to get annoyed when I’d sense homophobia. Oh, by the way: around that time, some of the jerks in my school assumed I was gay, and made jokes about that. It never got as bad as being gay-bashed, so I wasn’t exactly battle-scarred. Plus, I was still fundamentally such a dumbass about sexuality (mine and others) that the specifics of those jokes often went over my teenage head, leaving behind just the annoyance that comes from being looked down on for something I was, at some level, trying to understand. But it likely laid the foundation for me being a sexuality-friendly person…which is good with the social circle I now have…
And one of the major bits of personal soundtrack for that major formative chunk of my life (with plenty more personal details that I didn’t get into here) was Jerry Goldsmith’s wonderfully nuts Gremlins 2 music. Which I finally got on CD sometime in college, when my film music study and collecting really took off, though I still expect to hear the wobbly bits that I was so used to from my tape copy. There are a lot of moods in the music Goldsmith composed, but there’s an overall warmth, especially for the good gremlin Gizmo and his human protectors. There’s also a lovely openness to cues like the end of “Gizmo Escapes,” and it seemed to match the more-open-to-more-of-the-world mind I was growing at the time. There’s snarling music (the eruption of bad gremlins in “Leaky Faucet” and the first gremlin attack in “Pot Luck”), there are musical jokes (Goldsmith parodying his own Rambo scores in “Gremlin Pudding”), there’s a smile-causing fanfare for the opening shots of Manhattan (“Just You Wait”), there’s a happy ending for everyone but the bad gremlins (“New Trends”), and then finally there’s that truly insane end credits music. Good stuff.
Jerry Goldsmith wasn’t always the best at comedy; he scored very few of them, relative to his huge output. But the over-the-top nature of the films he scored for Joe Dante (who directed both Gremlins and Gremlins 2) allowed Goldsmith to fly his freak flag proudly, and be hilarious, along with gripping and lovely and even moving when need be.
So: thank you, Jerry Goldsmith, for making this music that was so right for one of the many intriguingly strange times of my life.