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James Horner (1953-2015)

June 24, 2015

JamesHornerRIPJames Horner (1953-2015)

My heart and thoughts go out to the family and friends of James Horner, who sadly passed away earlier this week. Much has been said, by many, often more beautifully than I ever could. What could I possibly add to all the wonderful eulogies? And how? And then I remembered a simply instruction, once given to Horner himself – write your soul.

It’s just a shade over 20 years ago when I bought my first James Horner album; and I still remember that day very clearly. It was towards the end of May in 1995. It was a warm and sunny day, with the smell of spring filling the air. I was seventeen at the time, living with my parents in the Netherlands. They were celebrating a wedding anniversary – and to mark the occasion, we ventured out to the city of Cologne in Germany. It’s a magnificent city, most famous for its awe-inspiring cathedral, but there is beautiful architecture everywhere you look. There is (or at least: was) also a very large music store which my dad and I would often visit on our own, looking to pick up both the latest releases as well as rare finds. My dad, generous as always, told me that I could pick one or two CDs at his expense. I don’t know what else, if anything, I got – but I got “Legends of the Fall”.

“I had never experienced anything quite like it before, and I’m not sure I have ever experienced anything like it since.”

That evening I retired to my room to explore my latest purchase, and I did something that is quite unusual for me. You see, I am an impatient listener. Of course I will sit down and listen to an entire album from start to finish, but not before I quickly preview the album, skipping through tracks, picking up snippets so that I get an early understanding of where the journey is going to take me. I don’t like ‘not knowing’ and, as said, I’m too impatient to ‘wait and find out’. It’s for this reason I’m terrible with books! Yet, on this occasion, I did not cheat. I did not try to catch a glimpse of what was about to unfold. (Mind you, I hadn’t seen the movie either.) I sat down and I put my headphones on and quietly mumbled something like ‘go on then Horner, show me’. And boy, did he! Through the course of 76 minutes Horner laid out the perfect score to me. I had never experienced anything quite like it before, and I’m not sure I have ever experienced anything like it since. Afterwards I sat in complete silence, with only the faintest of white noise coming from the headphones as my company, for at least ten or fifteen minutes trying to recompose myself – such was (and is) the power of his music.

“His music has been a constant through most of my life.”

My love for Horner, and indeed for film music in general, did not start there though. I got into film music, properly, in 1990 off the back of Alan Silvestri’s “The Abyss” and “Back to the Future”. Yet there were other scores that contributed to me ultimately becoming a film music aficionado. There was Michael Kamen’s “Highlander” and John Williams’ “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and a whole host of childhood favorite movies that just happened to have been scored by James Horner. From the steel drums of “48Hrs” to the crashing tubular bells in “Gorky Park” to the sinister synth sounds in “The Name of the Rose” to the ferocious action music in “Aliens” and most notably – the astonishing beauty in “Willow”. That long-lined wistful theme for “Willow” would pop up in my head at random times for no apparent reason. I’d not seen the movie in months, I wasn’t even into film music yet, and it would take me days to remember where the melody came from. Long before I consciously realised it, Horner’s music was already planting its seeds in my subconscious. His music has been a constant through most of my life.

I wasn’t his biggest fan from the start – I have to be honest. At first I did not much care for those steel drums, the crashing bells or the sonic brutality. I was too young and to inexperienced to understand its purpose. Only later did “Aliens” and “Brainstorm” grow to become favourite scores. Still, for most of my film music-enriched life I would call him my favourite composer (with either “Legends” or “The Spitfire Grill” cited as my favourite scores, and with “Apollo 13” pulling me through several weeks spent ill in hospital). I went on to write soundtrack reviews, participate in online forums, meet new friends (some real, some virtual) and ultimately move to England  – all of the back this love for film music. And there is that word again: love. The emotional reactions to Horner’s passing have been overwhelming – and the one key word that lights up in all news stories and eulogies is love. So many people have said such wonderful things, in ways that are more profound than I ever could. As such, I urge you to read the personal stories of Jon Broxton, James Southall, Scott Glasgow, Bear McCreary, Tom Hudson, Armen Ksajikian and so many others. His music clearly touched so many people on such a personal level, as is evident from the wonderful personal stories that are emerging everywhere. Horner poured his heart and soul into his music, and in return people loved him back. Him and his music. Love inspired it, and it inspired love.

“Love is the common denominator throughout Horner’s vast array of works.”

Love is the common denominator throughout Horner’s vast array of works. From the obvious romance in “Titanic” or the sacrifice in “Braveheart” to the more surreal in “Brainstorm” and “Aliens”. Sometimes it was the love for nature (“Wolf Totem”, “Avatar”), sometimes the love for a country or an ideal (“Glory”); and perhaps most of often it was the love for flying (from the adventure in “The Rocketeer”, to the glorious lift-offs in “Apollo 13” or “Cocoon”, to the acrobatic and balletic “Write Your Soul” commissioned by The Horsemen aerobatics team, who dubbed Horner ‘the fourth horsemen’). One of his last works was for the IMAX documentary “Living in the Age of Airplanes”.

He has left us far too soon, of course. Yesterday I woke to the unimaginable news that a childhood hero, an inspiration (not just to me, but to many), a musical genius, a wonderful human being, a father, husband, son had passed away. Perhaps we can take comfort in the fact that ‘he died doing what loved most’. I don’t know… I’d rather he lived doing what loves most. Still, I take comfort in knowing that his Monday morning was filled with the excitement of taking to the skies. An excitement he passed on to us through his music. May you soar in heaven as you did on earth. Thank you for enriching all of our lives through your music. Thank you for the beauty you brought to this world.

Pete Simons.

Image source: The Guardian.

From → News

  1. Captain Future permalink

    It was in that very large CD store in Cologne (Saturn) that I would buy my very first score album: CHARIOTS OF FIRE on vinyl.

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