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liner notes
by lynn rapoport

Bad music for bad movies

I WASTED THE last night of my holiday watching Coyote Ugly. It wasn't raining. I just felt like it. I'm already going to hell for America's Sweethearts, so it's no big deal. Still, after two hours of watching girls smack their PVC-clad asses, light fires, douse one another with pitchers of water, and line-dance across a drool-slick bar in a watering hole whose clientele looked like the lower-Manhattan chapter of Future Date Rapists of America, I felt a little unclean. I dreamed about baby tees. And blonds.

A musical tie-in exists, though this is not, I'll admit, why I rented it. Piper Perabo plays an ingenue struggling to make it in the Big Apple. She walks around shoving her tape (?) at people because she wants "to be the one who writes the songs." LeAnn Rimes shows up. The best thing on the soundtrack is EMF's oft-repeated "Unbelievable," which provides a sort of Greek chorus to the plotline.

Oh, trash. I waste a lot of tears on it. When a movie reaches a certain level of badness, why complain about the senselessness of the soundtrack? Someone who knew how to manage her time would not spend it wondering why a film about a talented, deserving songwriter is filled with poorly written, unmemorable songs. Not if the only reason anyone went to see it was to watch Tyra Banks light a bar on fire.

I now appreciate Not Another Teen Movie. While it desecrated all that was holy in new-wave radio hits, it did so by paying Marilyn Manson and a bunch of shitty pop-punk and alt-metal bands with names like Saliva and Orgy for fearsome renditions of "I Melt with You," "Blue Monday," "Message of Love," and – god help them, god help us all – "Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want." Poor Duckie. But why not score a rip-off with rip-offs?

Generally speaking, though, the soundtracks to my favorite cinematic distractions are way out of sync and staggeringly bad. Sometimes they make so little sense it's a distraction from the distraction, and sometimes it just looks like the art and music directors came in on alternate days. That's the only plausible explanation (besides capitalism) for Crazy/Beautiful, in which Kirsten Dunst listens to synthetic pop rock while wearing a distressed Iron Maiden T-shirt, nails painted black to signify her wounds and disillusionment. That was confusing, but it didn't hurt like when 10 Things I Hate about You's Bikini Kill-lovin' heroine nearly peed in her pants over Letters to Cleo playing prom.

I remember being troubled by the new-wave club scene in Desperately Seeking Susan, where Madonna shows up and everyone's busting a move to "Into the Groove." But I got over it. It was a good song! And I still use those dance moves. Perhaps the youth of America possesses the same generosity of spirit today. Or maybe I'm looking at it all wrong and should just be happy somebody got a break – doomed bands who have chosen to call themselves things like Wheatus and Left Front Tire. It's hard to get anywhere in this world. But some of the songs are so dire – what will happen to the people who made them, and why did they?

I think about this every time I watch the credits roll after Dawson's Creek, which largely showcases musicians – like Wheatus – who don't deserve a recording contract and got one anyhow, so they could put out songs that would never in a million years get a pair of troubled teens through a first kiss or a lonely walk home, much less raise the empathetic hackles of a couch-ridden viewership. Felicity bores her professor again, or walks in slo-mo through the East Village, and somewhere a label churns out these no-hit wonders. Somehow, some way, money is being made, but why? I know I'm not exactly the target audience, but I'm not a martian. Does the youth of America really want Wheatus?

There's nothing you can do about the shitty soundtrack to your own life, about the downtempo in the café and the Mexican Bus on Valencia Street and the night you were trying to seduce someone skittish and 2 Live Crew screamed "We want some pussy!" from the window of a passing car. But on-screen these things should be negotiated ahead of time, so the music at least seems threaded into the story, setting the mood, instead of skidding along on a surface of hoped-for dollars no talented, deserving ingenue songwriter is ever going to see.

E-mail Lynn Rapoport at lynn@sfbg.com.