Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Songs That Changed the Landscape of Human Thought and Understanding: John Parr's "St. Elmo's Fire (Man in Motion)"

John Parr's theme for the epic 1985 Joel Schumaker vehicle St. Elmo's Fire is a stunningly original pop-hit and a distinctively singular moment in Western Civilization. For centuries, literally, people had yearned for a song that simultaneously addressed the themes of "the mid-life crisis" and patriotism by way of an unusual weather-related metaphor. Herman Melville writes, in his classic novel Moby-Dick, "Who would think, then, that such fine sirens should not regale us with an essence of tune in the inglorious key of crinkled mortality with the fragrance of our holy eagle in flight behind the smoldering lightning of the sea as we grow old?" As a seaman, Melville was very familiar with St. Elmo's Fire, an unusual weather occurrence in which a glow of light emanates from a grounded object during a lightning storm. He was not, however, familiar with St. Elmo, who was canonized by the Catholic Church in 2001, as the patron saint of tickling. Needless to say, Parr realized this all-too-human desire in this rapturous song that had been part of the human DNA for generations just waiting to be expressed.

To realize this longed-for song, Parr needed some inspiration. He got it from Joel Schumaker and Carl Kurlander, those angelic scribes, who wrote with typewriter ribbons dipped in God's spittle the screenplay for St. Elmo's Fire, a film about aimless rich kids trying to figure out their lives after college and the horrors of doing huge loads of cocaine while locking oneself in a bedroom with the window open during a windstorm. Reading this, Parr remembered a great patriot who once said, "This is America: Home of the Eagle." That was all he needed to complete this piece de resistance. Parr describes a young person, not unlike Demi Moore sixty years ago, who finds "you're all alone" and that "everything has changed." With this queue, Parr launches into one of the finest vocal performances of the ages, drawing on the magical powers of our national scavenger, the Eagle: "I can see a new horizon / Underneath the blazin' sky / I'll be where the eagle's flying higher and higher." As he sings these immortal lines, he possesses the power of a hundred Celine Dions -- but far less creepy -- hitting octaves that aren't even in a dolphin's vocabulary. Fuse this top-notch vocal performance with the sweet keyboard sounds of the mid-1980s and we are left with a composition for the ages.

1 comment:

  1. Nearly as good as Freddie Fender's "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights." Nice post.