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The Third Ear


Ahhh, family photos. That's me there, the homely farm girl in the shapeless green dress and knee-high socks, flanked by a squadron of bored young Nazi soldiers. The year was 1980, and my all-boys third-grade class was performing "The Sound of Music" for its annual play. Lucky me, I was stuck with the role of Brigitta von Trapp, whose only line was one that every red-blooded American boy longs to belt out in front of a packed auditorium of parents and students: "I flit, I float, I flee, flee, flee, I fly!"

Paging childhood trauma.

To make matters worse, my parents captured this surreal Kodak moment and hung it on their wall for years, part of a "This is your life" chronological family exhibit. I finally convinced them to remove it after citing the off-putting Hitler youth. Or maybe it simply fell one day.

I've been thinking recently about soundtrack music and how it was probably some of the first music I ever heard. Besides early childhood plays, I remember my dad singing the happy-go-lucky TV theme to the "The Courtship of Eddie's Father" during the '70s, or him dancing around to "Saturday Night Fever" with me atop his shoulders, pointing my arm up to complete the famous John Travolta lightning-bolt pose (no ceiling fans, thankfully). Or my cheerleading cousin Sherry in Roanoke, who made me sit through marathon games of Monopoly while repeatedly playing the "Grease" soundtrack on a tiny pink boombox like some graveyard-shift DJ from Abu Ghraib.

Strangely, though, when I look through my ever-sprawling CD collection today, I don't see many soundtracks. It's mostly some indie films that play more like mix tapes instead of orchestral scores. But in honor of childhood inspirations, I thought I might highlight a few offbeat soundtracks that have stayed in my collection for one reason or another. Note that none involves Julie Andrews.

"Wonderwall Music": Trippy, mostly instrumental debut solo album from George Harrison, featuring plenty of sitar and tabla.

"Nashville": One of my favorite Robert Altman films had a hilarious soundtrack that lampooned the Nashville country scene -- spawning its own minor hit, the creepy Keith Carradine come-on, "I'm Easy."

"Dueling Banjos: Deliverance": I once heard J. Mascis crank this classic banjo score through the PA at a Norfolk Scope concert — an eye-opening experience as to how rocking bluegrass can be.

"Rockers": Classic roots reggae soundtrack to the ultimate Rasta film.

"The Hired Hand": Soundtrack to the Peter Fonda cult Western from 1971, featuring hypnotic desert soundscapes by Bruce Langhorne.

"Crumb": Haunting old-time music includes one of the best songs ever recorded, "Last Kind Word Blues" by Geechie Wiley.

"Broken Flowers" and "Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai": Jim Jarmusch always features eclectic music in his movies, as well as cool musician actors (John Lurie, Joe Strummer, Screamin' Jay Hawkins). His "Broken Flowers" soundtrack introduced a generation to funky Ethiopian music, while his martial arts/gangsta film "Ghost Dog," features excellent, minimalist hip-hop by the RZA.

"Jesus' Son": Dark-humored film based on Denis Johnson short stories opens with the lovely "Last Dance" by Floyd Kramer, then tosses in some classic soul by Joe Tex and Barbara Mason.

"Oranj Symphonette Plays Mancini": Tom Waits sideman Ralph Carney and pals tackle the great Henry Mancini classics.

"No Direction Home: The Soundtrack (The Bootleg Series Vol. 7)": Filled with alternate versions, this is a great Bob Dylan compilation from the Scorsese documentary.

"The Squid and the Whale": Mellow folk music from the divorce film by Noah Baumbach. Includes great Bert Jansch stuff and the epic Lou Reed tune, "Street Hassle."

Anything by John Waters is usually good for funny, novelty tunes.

"Millie's Jukebox Hits: 1989-2004": Shout out to local DJ Chris Bopst, who does a wonderful job stocking 45s in the jukebox at Millie's Diner. This collection, featuring The Meters, Tito Rodriguez and Ann Peebles, among others, always makes me hungry.

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