Welcome once again to Five Songs About, our new weekly (so far, so good!) feature in which we pick a topic and then dig through music history to find relevant songs by some of our favourite artists. It's sort of like a musical parlour game, but mostly it's designed to keep us from finally going insane in this batshit era in which we live.
Movies! We all watch 'em, we all love 'em. And in this era of streaming services, it's possible to binge-watch 24 hours a day and never run out of things you haven't seen. While we don't recommend that, we do recommend checking out the following selection of songs inspired by five movie stars. Well, four movie stars and one Chasey Lain. And, admittedly, most of these songs are about the tragic downfalls of their subjects. But, hey: movies! Enjoy!
1. Bauhaus, "Bela Lugosi's Dead" (1979)
Bela Lugosi died in 1956, so his passing wasn't exactly breaking news by the time Bauhaus recorded "Bela Lugosi's Dead"—which was, the story goes, captured in a single live take on what happened to be singer Peter Murphy's first-ever visit to a recording studio. The song isn't about the real Lugosi, who was most famous for his portrayal of Dracula. Instead, it imagines a world in which Lugosi identified so strongly with the Transylvanian count that he never quite stopped playing the role. Well, until he died, clearly. "It is about the vampire," said Bauhuas bassist David J, who wrote the song's lyrics. "It's also about the actor—it's about retiring from the part, but then he sort of plays with the idea. A vampire can never retire from being a vampire, because that's for eternity." That explains a lot about Tom Cruise.
SAMPLE LYRIC: The virginal brides file past his tomb/Strewn with time's dead flowers/Bereft in deathly bloom/Alone in a darkened room/The count
2. Nick Lowe, "Marie Provost" (1978)
Adopting the principle that "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend," Nick Lowe took to immortalizing silent film actress Marie Prevost (although he spelled her name wrong) with one of his wittier couplets when he sang, "She was a winner/Who became her doggy's dinner..." on his essential 1978 album Jesus of Cool. (Retitled Pure Pop for Now People for the sensitive U.S. market.) The legend in this case was first floated by Kenneth Anger in his scabrous but equally essential book, Hollywood Babylon, which claimed that the fallen star was eaten by her pet dachsund after drinking herself to death by the age of 40. The truth is slightly less gruesome. The poor little guy had chewed at Ms. Prevost's arms and legs in a sad attempt to rouse her from, well, being dead, but he never swallowed. There's actually a picture of her corpse in Hollywood Babylon, which you can stare at while listening to Lowe's song for the full effect.
SAMPLE LYRIC: She'd been lyin' there for two or three weeks/The neighbors said they never heard a squeak/While hungry eyes that could not speak/Said even little doggies have got to eat
3. The Bloodhound Gang, "The Ballad of Chasey Lain" (1999)
Had he not found his calling as a singer with Boston genre-mashers the Bloodhound Gang, Jimmy Pop might have made a fine standup comic. You want comedy gold? Well, start with "I was lonelier than Kunta Kinte at a Merle Haggard concert" from his band's country shitkicker "A Lap Dance Is So Much Better When the Stripper Is Crying". Or consult every hilarious minute of "The Ten Coolest Things About New Jersey" off 1999's Hooray for Boobies. Given his penchant for offbase humour, it's hard to tell if Pop is being sincere in "The Ballad of Chasey Lain". Is he brutally honest when he proclaims himself to be the world's biggest supporter of the porn star and card-carrying member of the AVN Hall of Fame? Or is Pop being a smart-ass when he comes out with lines like "I just wanted to ask/Can I eat your ass?" Only the man born James Moyer Franks and the woman known to her mom as Tiffany Anne Jones know for sure. As for you, argue all you want about Lain's status as a true movie star. The last time we checked, she was top-billed on the boxes of such VHS video productions as Desperately Horny Houswives, Interview With a Vibrator, and How the West Was Hung. All of which we, back in the day, forgot to rewind before returning to Red Hot Video, where, funnily enough, Hooray for Boobies always seemed to be playing on the sound system.
SAMPLE LYRIC: You've had a lot of dick, Chasey/But you ain't had mine
4. The Clash, "The Right Profile" (1979)
Poor Montgomery Clift. A rising film star in the age of James Dean and Marlon Brando, Clift suffered a devastating blow to his life and career when he fell asleep at the wheel and crashed his car into a power pole in Beverly Hills. The actor turned to booze and pills to get him through his recovery, which set him on the path toward what Actors Studio founder Robert Lewis called the "longest suicide in Hollywood history". R.E.M. arguably gave Clift a more sympathetic tribute in "Monty Got a Raw Deal", but the Clash certainly got one thing right. Clift had started filming Raintree County before the car wreck, and he finished shooting after. He correctly predicted the film would be a box-office success if for no other reason than that the moviegoing public would be eager to see just how messed-up his face was. "The Right Profile" perfectly captures that morbid public curiosity: "Everybody say 'What's he like?'/And everybody say 'Is he all right?'/And everybody say 'He sure looks funny'/That's Montgomery Clift, honey!"
SAMPLE LYRIC: I see a car smashed at night/Cut the applause and dim the light/Monty's face is broken on a wheel/Is he alive? Can he still feel?
5. Nirvana, "Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle" (1993)
Kurt Cobain's inability to cope with his sudden status as a rich-and-famous rock star is one of the many factors that led to his tragic early flameout. It also informed some of the more harrowing songs on In Utero, Nirvana's final studio outing. When he launches into "Frances Farmer" with the lines, "It's so relieving/To know that you're leaving/As soon as you get paid," it's evident that there is something truly, deeply wrong behind them. What any of that has to do with Frances Farmer is anyone's guess, but it's easy to see why Cobain found her story so compelling. The Seattle-born actress found Hollywood success in the 1930s and '40s, starring opposite the likes of Bing Crosby and Cary Grant. Fame was fleeting; bouts of binge drinking and erratic behaviour eventually earned Farmer a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia and a five-year stint at a Washington-state mental institution, during which, according to her autobiography, she was brutalized: "I was raped by orderlies, gnawed on by rats and poisoned by tainted food. I was chained in padded cells, strapped into strait-jackets and half-drowned in ice baths." Lest we leave her story on that horrific note, we hasten to mention that Farmer did return to acting, retiring only after a triumphant run of the play The Visit, which culminated in what she considered the finest performance of her career. So it wasn't all rubber rooms and shock treatments.
SAMPLE LYRIC: Our favorite patient/A display of patience/Disease-covered Puget sound/She'll come back as fire/To burn all the liars/Leave a blanket of ash on the ground