The Music of Bo Harwood - Essay


Rainy Fields of Frost and Magic


It is too far in the past and much too in depth to recap the entire month of Cassavetes films at Cinefamily throughout March, but I did want to mention one special moment that came at the end of the long madness. The final night of the retrospective involved an enormous Q+A with Cassavetes alumni: grips, DP's, actors and actresses, and an encore screening of "A Woman Under the Influence." Bo Harwood, Cassavetes' musical collaborator, was among the alumni on the bill, and when I found out he was going to be there performing songs I flipped out. There are musical moments in all of Cassavetes' films, "Woman" and "Killing of a Chinese Bookie" in particular, that move me to incredible heights. I'm thinking particularly of the moment in "Woman" when Mabel sees her kids pull up in the school bus. In the theater with an audience, hearing the piano and guitar come in together, moved me to tears. And that's all Bo Harwood. So I was pretty excited he showed up.

I still find it difficult to associate Cassavetes with the pop-savvy, bad-ass musical cue kind of filmmaking that's synonymous with PT Anderson, Quentin Tarantino or Wes Anderson, but it's right there, kind of hidden like everything else but just as potent as Cassavetes' other talents. So, during the intermission I mosey up to Bo Harwood and ask him why, despite many minutes of googling, I can't find the soundtrack to "Killing of a Chinese Bookie." After explaining that the soundtrack has never been released and that he's going through the legal process of one day releasing a compilation of his efforts, he says it never even occurred to him to try to release a soundtrack to the film. He sums up his position in a way that expresses the profound sense of community and generosity that all the Cassavetes alumni appear to have about all of the films. He tells me, "I always figured the songs were exactly where they should be: in the movie."

I asked Bo about a particular song in "Chinese Bookie" that might be untitled. As far as I can tell, it is named for its first lyric: "Rainy Fields of Frost and Magic." For my money, this song is as good as any Neil Young composition. The thing is just so damned moving. He was genuinely flattered that I even knew the makeshift name of the song, and we chatted for a few minutes before he had to perform. He asked my name again, thanked me, and I sat down.

Bo played a few songs from "Opening Night," which were great to hear, then for his very last song he played "Rainy Fields," dedicated it to me by name, and thanked me again. It's difficult to explain how kind of him this was. It's a beautiful piano song, and he played as much as he could remember on guitar, apparently just for me. This alone would have been more than enough, but the song came at the end of a month long dive into John Cassavetes, a man who willed into creation at least seven works of deep personal worth armed with nothing but his love for the medium and his dedication to each film. At the time I was in the process of willing out my first movie, attempting to access this same well of love to just push the damn thing out of my brain and onto the screen. I think in every movie I saw that month I was searching for a bit of the answer to that question: how do I finish this? Where can I pull more energy from? How can I summon so much love for this one tiny flawed thing? How can I love this thing into being? And Bo kind of answered that for me. I loved this song of his so much, and in return he brought it from the screen into the real world for me just because of that love. Thanks, Bo.

Afterwards, instead of watching "Woman" again as I had planned to, Emma and I decided to head into the real world. We drove to Mabel's house. It's just a couple of miles from mine, sitting there pretending to be a normal apartment filled with people who may or may not know that they are living in a place of great emotion, love and otherwise. We sat outside for a while, took in the night, and drove home. I finished my movie.