Huey Lewis has asked that his song “Hip To Be Square” be removed from the soundtrack of the new movie American Psycho, proving that even a fossil of the greedy ’80s can be drawn back into the spiraling jabberwocky of rock and roll irony. As a result, many of us are having an Obi-Wan Kenobi moment — scratching our chins and remarking of Lewis, “Now that’s a name I haven’t heard in some time.” The last time Mr. Sports showed up on the Top 40 with a News original, he was asking for a “Couple Days Off.” A grateful nation obliged, putting him on chart sabbatical.
Lewis’ recognizable face has been put to some use on screen in recent years, notably in Robert Altman’s Short Cuts. In what a less sensitive critic might deride as a bit part, Lewis played a fishing buddy of a more important character; his main assignment was to offer up the Full Huey for the camera. In a movie that also gave us a pantiless Julianne Moore, that’s a lot of surf and turf to choose from. Anyway, Lewis has been less visible since then.
Not that I think it’s a publicity gimmick, Lewis’ asking that his song, which will continue to be heard in the movie, be axed from the serial-killer flick’s album. I mean, underground good guys Archers of Loaf didn’t turn down the My So-Called Life soundtrack (or whatever it was); why would the more mainstream Lewis give up an extra paycheck? He is, after all, working for a living. Having been filmed pissing by Altman, Lewis is uniquely entitled to comment on cinema, and we should heed his voice. Is a movie to which Huey Lewis won’t grant the use of a song really worthwhile?
Koch, the label now forced to recall and destroy the 100,000 or so Lewis-soiled copies of the disc, haughtily contests Lewis’ claim that the movie is distasteful. He hasn’t seen the movie, they say, so how could he be offended? Considering that the disc opens with the musically bereft Dope covering the already egregious “You Spin Me Round” — an ’80s hit by Dead or Alive, that goth-Culture Club — Lewis doesn’t need to see the movie to know he’s in over his head.
As a further warning to discriminating filmgoers and music fans, the soundtrack contains New Order’s “True Faith” and “Pump Up the Volume” by M/A/R/R/S, both of which adorned the unwatchable movie Bright Lights Big City. Maybe it’s a subtle commentary on the rivalry between bratty writers Jay McInerney, who wrote Bright Lights, and Bret Easton Ellis, who penned not only American Psycho but also Less Than Zero, the ill-fated film that, coming on the heels of Mannequin, finished off Andrew McCarthy’s career.
Ellis’ American Psycho uses a catalog of name brands and shallow hit singles as the backdrop for grisly murders committed by the protagonist. In particular, psycho killer Patrick favors the oeuvre of ’80s-mode Genesis and Phil Collins. Collins’ management made similar objections to the use of his “Sussudio” in the movie, an amusing plea considering that even among Collins sympathizers (see this column, March 23, 2000), the song inspires homicidal thoughts. As irony, it’s ham-fisted on the page, though actually seeing a boff-and-slice combo projected on the silver screen and set to the robo-swing of Collins’ song promises a little more kick.
But Collins (who was never signed up for the soundtrack, Koch perhaps being too low-rent for the jet-setting senior) and Lewis have played into the hands of the film’s producers. Their head-shaking will only fan the publicity flames. The record’s cover even boasts “Music from the controversial motion picture.” It doesn’t say “Controversial music from the motion picture,” because a Cure remix is about as safe as you can get.
Censorship is always, always, always bad, but I don’t have any beef with an artist’s deciding to detach his or her music or likeness from something to which he or she personally objects. (In fact, I wish that Aretha Franklin personally objected to Pepsi and that Smokey Robinson would issue a fatwa against Hardee’s.) Call me Tipper Gore, but I’d be more inclined to pooh-pooh New Order, a band born from the ashes of a group whose lead singer hanged himself, for including its signature song on yet another soundtrack than berate the suddenly moralizing Lewis and Collins. Regardless of whether the logic of their decisions is sound or truthfully expressed by publicity flacks, there’s more to applaud in refusing Hollywood’s bidding than in wrapping up a song in exchange for a minimal cut of the soundtrack. Besides, if you really want to hear a shitty ’80s song about clean-living dorkdom, there’s always Glenn Frey’s “Livin’ Right” (from 1988’s all-around gerund-challenged album Soul Searchin’).
Love ’em or not, the albums and singles of the ’80s are in the past and should stay there. No covers, please. No repackagings, remixes, reduxes, or reminders. Savvy movie producers hellbent on portraying that decade or insinuating its neon shallowness should just scour cutout bins and used record store shelves for existing soundtracks. Turn those synthesizers into synergy! American Psycho‘s makers could have grabbed some of the countless discarded copies of the album that accompanied the comeback-proof John Travolta vehicle Perfect, sent them to a sweatshop for some new stickers, and ended up with a free soundtrack. No clearances or royalties, just rotten music. Coming the other way, Lewis could lobby the makers of the next hot-pants sex-killer movie to title their opus Fore! so that his 1986 album of that name (which contains “Hip To Be Square”) could serve as the soundtrack all by itself. And the sequel: No Jacket Required, the Movie. A killer idea.