There is so much to love about Stephen Chbosky’s “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” which opened at the Tara and Lefont Sandy Springs last week.
Aside from the gut-wrenching performances by Logan Lerman, Emma Watson and Ezra Miller and the alternately heartbreaking and exhilarating story by Chbosky, there is the music.
Movie fans who grew up in the John Hughes era remember how every soundtrack from his films delivered one of those songs that changed your life as a teenager.
“Wallflower” should do the same for this current generation. Though, since the film is set in the early ‘90s, many of the songs reach back – far back in the case of The Beatles’ “Something,” which has pivotal meaning, and David Bowie’s “Heroes,” which becomes the theme song of the film.
Last week, Chbosky, a smart, funny, friendly fellow who hasn’t lost his blue-collar Pittsburgh down-to-earth-ness though he lives in Los Angeles with his family, stopped by the W in Buckhead to discuss the film, which is based on his book of the same name.
Rather than ask the usual movie-related questions, I kept the focus on the strong musical elements in the film and Chbosky, 42, seemed happy to answer questions that had nothing to do with casting or plot points.
Here’s our chat:
Q. So, were you a mixtape guy?
A. Oh, I loved them. I loved making them, I loved compilations. And I was a big driver. I loved to drive around and listen to music, I took many cross-country road trips, and, you know, you needed ‘Alternative Music 2’ and ‘Mellow Sounds 3’ and the ones that people gave me, like ‘Steve’s Death Mixx,’ with two x’s of course. I never threw them away; I have every one of them.
Q. When you were writing the book, were there any big differences between them as far as music?
A. ‘Heroes’ was not in the book. The only songs that translated were The Smiths’ ‘Asleep’ which is THE song in the book and two of the songs form ‘Rocky Horror.’ I referenced a couple of Nick Drake songs in the book, but they are not in the movie. Everything else grew out of Alexandra Patsavas, our music director. This was our era, and the movie became our mix tape back and forth to each other.
Q. Why ‘Asleep?
A. I think it’s simply one of the most beautiful songs ever written and recorded. It captures the emotional side of being young and being lost in a way that no other song captures it. It was a perfect fit for the book and the movie.
Q. With ‘Heroes,’ when I was watching the movie, I did think, ‘Did they really never hear that song before?’
A. OK, let me set the record straight. Here we go. You represent Russ Smith and John Malkovich, two of our producers, who were like, ‘Come on.’ I said, listen, all right, in the early ‘90s to me – and this is based partly on my life – Bowie was the ‘Let’s Dance’ guy. He was a Top 40 guy and then later in life is when I discovered the ‘70s Bowie. So it may not be realistic for people, but it is entirely real, I assure you. I was into grunge and Nirvana and Pearl Jam and Red Hot Chili Peppers and Soundgarden and so Bowie was like, ‘What’s that?’ So I wanted to capture that moment when you first heard the great ‘70s Bowie.
Q. Was ‘Heroes’ always the song you had in mind?
A. No, I tried other things. There’s a song by Ride called ‘Vapour Trail’ that I love. I tried it, but it didn’t quite work. I tried a song by Spiritualized called ‘Sway.’ Really, I dug deep into my time back then to find a song. We tried some [Smashing] Pumpkins, even Radiohead, but then Alex brought ‘Heroes.’ It’s an immortal song as far as I’m concerned. I think people will be listening to it in 1,000 years.
Q. I loved that scene at the dance when they started playing Dexys Midnight Runners.
A. I love that song, it’s great. There were a few gems from the ‘80s and’ 90s that we either lost for the new generation or never got the street cred they deserved. ‘Come on Eileen,’ to me, is one of the great dance tracks. But not only is it fun – if you really listen to it, it is so scandalous and so subversive, but no one gets it because it’s so poppy.
Q. Were you specifically going for alt New Wave?
A. It naturally happened. Alex is alt New Wave; I’m a little more mainstream, so we met in the middle. It really was our mix tape back and forth. I would throw in some Indigo Girls, but it felt too mainstream to her. Indigo Girls cross a lot of paths, but I would say how about Indigo Girls for this sequence and Alex would say, ‘How about L7?’
Q. What about the Rocky Horror? Why that particular movie?
A. When I was growing up, ‘Rocky Horror,’ if you were left of center, that’s where you were. I didn’t go to a lot of live music and because I had more mainstream tastes, it was ‘Rocky Horror.’
Q. Were you one of the ones who would go to the singalongs [like in the movie]?
A. I’d go to all of them, but I would not dress up. I was the guy in the audience who desperately wanted to be on stage, but I just couldn’t do it. I was doing ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ and ‘Annie’ in high school instead. Just a little too shy. It is the perks of being a wallflower, after all, not the perks of being an exhibitionist.
Q. Is music still a big part of your life now?
Q. What do you listen to?
A. I love the Swell Season, the Strokes. I love Albert Hammond’s first solo album, it’s fantastic. I think The Fray is really great. And Coldplay even though they’re a little more Top 40, I think those bands are so passionate. I love Mumford and Sons. Brandi Carlisle, oh my God, her voice is incredible. There are a few artists if they release a record I will buy it, I don’t have to hear anything. I think I’ve just listed all of them.
Q. Do you still do today’s version of mixtapes?
A. Yeah, I do. I categorize playlists by either the project I’m writing or by year and I just document it. Like, oh, right, 2011, that’s when I bought Kris Allen’s version of ‘Live Like We’re Dying,’ and it will always be associated with that time. Or, this year Rachel Crow, that girl from ‘X-Factor,’ I love that song ‘Mean Girls.’ I think it’s so cute and so earnest and perfect, I’ll always think about that, the YouTube sensation Rachel Crow.
Q. “Something” [by The Beatles] has a significant role in the movie, though we never hear it.
A. [Laughs] Well, we didn’t have $40 million. How are we going to afford ‘Something’? But in a way, that song was really important to me growing up. Frank Sinatra called it the most beautiful love song ever written.
You should know this story: Normally how it works in Hollywood is, you do a test screening and put in every song you want and show the movie and when the test screening is done they say, ‘That’s great! Now replace everything with cheap songs’. And the response was so overwhelming to the movie and the music that Summit, to their credit, released our contingency and said you can have all of your songs, which is unheard of, and it made the difference because this soundtrack, as a time capsule of that era…I’m very proud of it.
It’s humbling to me that all of these artists, that somewhere out there someone said, ‘Hey, Morrissey, there’s this movie called ‘Perks of Being a Wallflower…’ and that he said yes and that David Bowie said yes, that Cocteau Twins and Dexys and Cracker said yes. It’s very cool.
Q. Being that your cast is pretty young, were they familiar with some of the songs or did you have to explain their significance?
A. I feel that for whatever reason, music travels back 20 years, so they were more ‘80s. I graduated high school in the late’ 80s, so I went to the late ‘60s – the Beatles, The Doors, things like that. So for these guys they were really into ‘80s, so they knew some of it. They did know ‘Dear God,’ [by XTC]. Logan did, he’s a real musician, he plays piano. Actually, they all are. Emma sings, Ezra plays piano and drums and sings. They kinda formed a band. One of their bonding moments was staying up all night, writing songs together and also, I know specifically Logan wrote a couple of pieces on piano that helped him get into the character of Charlie. Emma made me a mix CD, Logan made me two of them.
Q. What did they put on there?
A. Oh, God. [Logan] loves the band Yes, he also loves the Velvet Underground, so he had some old school tastes. Emma she’s a little more Top 40. These bands from England I’d never heard of before. I always say you know when you’re getting a little older…it’s not when bands you’ve never heard of are in the Top 10, it’s when band’s you have literally never heard of have greatest hits albums. That’s when you’ve know you’ve gotten older.
Take a listen to The Smiths’ “Asleep” and Dexys Midnight Runners’ “Come On Eileen.”
By Melissa Ruggieri, Atlanta Music Scene