The music that bridges Clint's county

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 July, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 July, 1995, 12:00am

ROBERT James Waller's The Bridges of Madison County seems destined to inspire music one way or another. The book, about a photographer and an Iowan farmer's wife who fall in love and have a passionate four-day affair, has sold nearly 11 million copies and - according to one newspaper article - has 'oozed like treacle into the crevices of people's minds'.

While the book is said to have inspired many of its readers to live their dreams or track down lost loves, Waller himself was moved by the response to make an album The Ballads Of Madison County and a video starring his wife, Georgia.

But, when craggy-faced tough guy actor Clint Eastwood took over as director of the film from Bruce Beresford, the heartwrenching novel presented him with the perfect vehicle to launch his newly-acquired Malpaso Records for which he will serve as A & R (artist and repertoire) manager.

A jazz and blues aficionado and an accomplished musician in his own right, Eastwood has seen to the selection of all the songs for the film's soundtrack himself and has also composed the movie's haunting theme Doe Eyes .

'We were talking about a nice simple theme for the picture that would have the right melancholy and I kept putting it off. Up in Carmel, I finally sat down and come up with something,' said Eastwood, who plays the cornet and the piano.

Doe Eyes is not the first movie theme that Eastwood has written: he also composed music that had been used 'in part' in Tightrope and Pale Rider , as well as the themes for Unforgiven and The Perfect World , which starred Kevin Costner.

Most of his composing is done on his computer keyboard, but he said: 'My piano-playing is strictly composer piano-playing. I fill in what I need to get the melody and the tune the way I want it, then I have someone step in and do an interpretative version.

'I've played several instruments over the years, but I'm not a great reader [of music] . . . I usually get a trained person to come in. To quote a line from a movie I did, 'a man has to know his limitations'. ' Growing up in the 40s, Eastwood used to play at nightclubs in Oakland, California, in return for a free meal or 'a free beer if I sat down and played the piano for awhile'.

'I played the blues music of the era, jazz and a little bit of ragtime [but] my film-making career has kept me from doing it as much as I would like to,' said the Dirty Harry star.

It has been easy for Eastwood to amalgamate his two loves - music and films - with his involvement with the soundtracks for many of his movies.

'I've always felt that music was an important part of the components that go into making a movie. Music can either destroy a mood or enhance [it],' he said.

'It was very important to get the right kind of music or else the film just won't work. Every film has its own life so it's important that the music sort of sings up.' Eastwood cited Bird , in which he starred, as an example.

'Music was very important in that because it was a film about a musician. The big problem there was how to do a story about such a big pioneer artist and still get that sound [because] the old Charlie Parker records were made in mono in the 40s,' he said.

In the end, they solved the problem by over-dubbing the original material and bringing in the same musicians where possible plus new ones, where not, to play along with it.

He credits himself for 'discovering' a lot of music and records along the way which he has used in his films.

'The First Time (Ever I Saw Your Face) by Roberta Flack was headed for obscurity when I put it in Play Misty For Me and it became the number one record in the country. I have been involved on the periphery. Hopefully I can get some things like that and move it into the Malpaso label,' he said.

Not surprisingly, Eastwood returned to familiar hunting ground for the kind of music that he felt would bring out the best in the romantic TheBridges Of Madison County .

The story is set in the Iowa farmlands in 1965. Meryl Streep plays Francesca Johnson, the wife of a farmer, whose life changes totally when Robert Kincaid (Eastwood) drives into her life in his green 1961 pickup truck.

A photographer commissioned by National Geographic to take pictures of the Roseman and Holliwell covered bridges, Kincaid loses his way and stops to ask for directions at Francesca's farmhouse.

Her family is away at the fair, and he ends up staying for four passion-filled days of love-making. They fall in love, part, but are never able to forget each other.

Unlike others who would automatically lassoo in country and western music for the rural mid-American tale, Eastwood had other ideas.

'The music from Bridges was quite different. One of the elements that made the story evolve the way it does is that they like music from another era as opposed to the pop music of the 60s period,' he said.

'They're from mid-America but they're very musical people. She's listening to opera at times and blues at others.' Eastwood naturally gravitated towards his jazz roots, because he thought it would be equally as enjoyable for the audience since there were some 'awfully good tunes' from the 40s and 50s era.

But it was not enough to have music from another era. Eastwood also chose to use more obscure jazz artists rather than conventional ones that might have been heard in the particular period.

Digging through his collection, Eastwood discovered a few albums of a singer named Johnny Hartman, from which he chose three songs for the soundtrack.

'I first heard Hartman when he was playing in the Bay area in the 40s. He stood out and he was quite good, but he grew out of being a sideman singer with a jazz orchestra,' he recalled.

'Although he passed away in 1983, there may be a resurgence of popularity that maybe wasn't there before. I think in this case, a lot of people might remember the songs but not the singers. I think they will after they see the movie.' Eastwood used quite a few songs from people, such as Irene Kral and James Rivers, who did not reach commercial heights even though he felt they were artistically outstanding, but he also reverted to big names such as Dinah Washington and Maria Callas.

'Dinah Washington is a stylist whom I have always liked very much,' but, in her case, he used a couple of her lesser-known songs - 'romantic tunes that kind of go into our story'.

Despite his enthusiasm for the soundtrack, Eastwood still managed to keep his priorities.

'I waited and showed the film to the Warner people to give them a chance to see where it was headed as a movie, and then they could see whether they thought it would work in the album as well.

'Basically, I was making a movie first,' he added.' The Bridges Of Madison County soundtrack will be the first Malpaso record to be released and Eastwood is hoping that it will develop into a respectable jazz and blues label specialising in what he called 'boutique music'.

'I've always wanted to do some jazz or blues, but not on a mass-produced basis, because jazz has a lot more limitations than, say, pop music. I wanted to do it more as a boutique thing,' he said.

Eastwood is optimistic, yet humble, about his soundtrack's future. 'Hopefully, it will have the same effect for people who have seen the movie and will want to re-visit it soundwise or people who haven't seen the movie and just think of it as a good track,' he said. 'We'll take any listener we can get.'