Monday, October 21, 2019

How Quentin Tarantino got the '60s sound for ‘Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood'

Mark Lindsay of Paul Revere & the Raiders, left,
Quentin Tarantino and David Wild in conversation
at the Grammy Museum on Wed., Oct. 2.(Rebecca Sapp / Getty Images)
Mark Lindsay of Paul Revere & the Raiders, left, Quentin Tarantino and David Wild in conversation at the Grammy Museum on Wed., Oct. 2.(Rebecca Sapp / Getty Images)

OCT. 3, 2019 2:05 PM

For a brief moment in his then-young rock career, Mark Lindsay lived in a gorgeous home at the top of Benedict Canyon. The singer-songwriter, co-founder of the group Paul Revere & the Raiders, moved there with his buddy, record producer Terry Melcher, in the late '60s. He wrote some of his band's best work there, including the single "Good Thing," which he penned on a piano in the living room.

Lindsay left the house when Melcher wanted to live with his girlfriend, actress Candice Bergen. They soon rented the place to director Roman Polanski and his wife, Sharon Tate.

What happened next in that living room inaugurated one of the darkest weeks in L.A. history. But Lindsay still remembers the place fondly, even if he did once bump into Charles Manson at a party there.

"Those two years were my golden years," Lindsay said onstage at the Grammy Museum on Wednesday night in conversation with director Quentin Tarantino. "I remember drinking rosè in the garden with Terry outside in that liquid sunshine and saying, ‘it doesn't get better than this' and thinking it'll never get worse. It didn't until 1969."

For director and L.A. native Tarantino, however, the coincidence is a thread that ties his whole film "Once Upon a Time ... In Hollywood" together. All of his obsessions — vintage rock and roll, movie-business lore, darkly comic idylls cut through with horrific violence — wound through that property at the top of Cielo Drive (it's now demolished, of course). He and Lindsay talked about evoking that golden era of L.A. rock radio in "Once Upon a Time ..." and how it set the tone for the nightmare to come.

"Paul Revere & the Raiders was exactly the kind of band that would have rocked my little socks off," Tarantino said of Lindsay's pre-fab conceptual, velvety-voiced act. "And the reason Manson knew of Terry Melcher was because of Paul Revere & the Raiders."

"Once Upon a Time ..." was the rare original summer flick to best $100 million at the box office this year. The star-packed throwback follows a TV actor (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his loyal stuntman sidekick (Brad Pitt) through the wane of their careers in late-'60s L.A., all while something evil kindles in the canyons over the hill.

Throughout the film, Lindsay's songs help set the hyper-specific tone of the era's music — less the raw psychedelia of the tastemaking historians and more the amber hues of the innocence that Manson would soon shatter. Though Margot Robbie's Sharon Tate pokes fun at the band in the script ("Don't tell Jim Morrison you're dancing to the Raiders!"), their slinky, creepy song "Hungry" plays as she meets her eventual killer for the first time in the driveway.

"The room where Abigail Folger slept was my room," Lindsay said. "It's just like I'm back again."

On Wednesday, even Tarantino's conversation was peppered with such callbacks. Onstage, moderator David Wild, a rock journalist and Grammy scriptwriter, got a text from another favorite Tarantino soundtrack source, Neil Diamond, suggesting the director sync a few more tunes in his next project. Tarantino's movies have always mined vintage rock for unexpected revelations and new contexts, ever since his impeccable use of Dick Dale's "Misirlou" in Pulp Fiction.

"I want to be known for my discography as much as my filmography," Tarantino said. When he's picking soundtrack cuts, he joked that he imagines that "every director I know is in there going ‘Oh god, now I have to get out of the business'."

"Once Upon a Time ..." was a chance to marinate ever deeper in the era's AM radio (especially the old L.A. station KHJ). Tarantino and music supervisor Mary Ramos unearthed around a full daytime block's worth of recordings from the era for research — ad jingles, DJ patter and all. Drive-time radio wasn't just a historical reference point in the film, he said, but a way to set the ambience in the eternal, doomed summer of '60s L.A. at the margins of the movie business.

"There's an L.A. quality to Brad Pitt's character where he works in Hollywood but doesn't live there," Tarantino said. "He's given his life to the entertainment business but doesn't have anything to show for it. He drives home to Panorama City, and in that time you hear four songs, which gives you an idea of how long it takes to drive there."

For Lindsay, the return to the stage has indeed been a long drive through a career that, if he hadn't lived it, could have been scripted by Tarantino. It wasn't all L.A. classic rock; Lindsay performed the synth score for the 1980 Japanese action flick "Shogun Assassin," a favorite sample source for the Wu-Tang Clan and other rappers.

But on this night, he did his best to invoke the mood of "Once Upon a Time," performing three songs from the movie with a choral ensemble from Orange County's Tesoro High School.

Lindsay's voice still had that velvety touch that made long, aimless drives through the Hollywood flatlands so moody back then. Tarantino almost always makes stars of his deep-cut soundtrack picks, but this was something else: an ever-rarer chance to hear the actual voice ringing through that house on Cielo Drive, back before everything went dark.


Matt said...

Preview 'Manson: The Women,' Airing August 10 On Oxygen

Peter said...


Monica said...

Great article. Love hearing all the connections Tarantino thought about and presented, such as wih Mark Lindsay. I Loved Once Upon A Time...keep watching it to see the details I missed and agree that the music (and perhaps Brad Pitt's 6-pack) made it extra special.

Jeff Harper said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeff Harper said...

I've never heard that about Lindsay running into Charlie before. Anyone else?

Matt said...

Peter said...

Back when her show was fairly new I referred to it comically as "The castration Hour".

grimtraveller said...

Jeff Harper said...

I've never heard that about Lindsay running into Charlie before. Anyone else?

It's a fairly long running story that Lindsay has been telling for many a year. Whether it's believable is down to each person but on the balance of probablities, I wouldn't say it's not true. It seems a little more likely than the one Alex Chilton told.
Anyway, from Billboard magazine:
“I remember that at the house, the living room was on the left and the kitchen and dining room were on the right,” remembers Lindsay. “As I walked in, I could see (Beach Boy) Dennis Wilson was there, as was Terry and some suits who were attorneys who I knew. I figured there was a big meeting going on and I didn’t want to disturb that. So I walk into the kitchen to get a drink and squatting against the refrigerator was this little guy in a blue shirt, jeans, long hair and a beard. And he was like a doorstop against the fridge. He won’t move so I said, ‘Excuse me!’ and he still wouldn’t budge. So I walk into the living room and say, ‘What’s with the weird guy in the kitchen?’ And someone says, ‘That’s just Charlie Manson, he’s okay.’ It may have been Charlie, but he wasn’t okay.”

Lindsay soon moved out of 10050 Cielo Drive so Melcher and Bergen could live together; replacing them was director Roman Polanski and his wife, actress Sharon Tate. Tate, four other adults and her unborn child would be slain at the residence on Aug. 9, 1969 by members of the Manson cult............the tragedy of the Manson murders. “We wrote ‘Good Thing’ under the beam where the rope was apparently thrown over Sharon and Jay’s necks,” says Lindsay, still astounded by the extreme violence. “When we heard about what occurred, it was the biggest shock of my life because that was the last place that I could ever think something bad could have happened.” As a result of the murders, Lindsay notes the mood in Los Angeles was altered both drastically and permanently. “It was a pretty freaky time. Everybody was locking their doors, hiring bodyguards and getting guard dogs. It just changed the atmosphere overnight.”

While rumors abounded whether Manson had intended to target the house with the goal of killing Melcher as payback, it’s subsequently been reported that Manson had other motives and knew the producer had moved out of 10050 Cielo Drive. Still, Lindsay notes that he was informed by the police following the murders that his and Melcher’s names were on a Manson death list. “At the time, I had a .44 Magnum under my pillow because I had some weird fan messages from the year before and I slept with it for years as a protective device,” says Lindsay. “I always wondered what had happened if Terry and I had still been living there and I had that .44. Things might have been different.”

Jeff Harper said...

Thanks Grim. I've read a lot and don't know how that slipped past me.

beauders said...

From what I understand about guns a .44 is huge, he must have been really scared.

orwhut said...

Between worrying that it would fall on the floor and go off and trying to put my head on a spot without a hunk of metal under it, I don't think I could sleep with a pistol under my pillow.

Doug said...

I just spoke to Alex Chilton's Box Tops bandmates about the validity of this and, both Bill Cunningham and, Terry Manning say it's 100% true. They were also at Dennis Wilson's at that time.

I have screen shots of pur conversations.

Remember, The guys in the Box Tops were kids themselves - similar in ages to the MF girls.

Terry Manning:

"There was definitely an "encounter" with Manson. In fact, after his first "encounter," I later went to LA with Alex to meet with Carl & Brian on a record deal possibility, and we had a short "encounter" with CM at Dennis' house. Not sure what "no milk" means though."

Bill Cunningham:

"True. I was there briefly, but left due to vibe. Later in the early 70s, I was in LA and called Carl to say hi. He asked me for Alex’s number, which I gave. Said Brian wanted to record him. In 2005, Alex mentioned to me a bit of his experience working with Brian, but don’t think they ever thought of Alex as a potential Beach Boy."

Terry Manning:

"The Manson girls were freaky."

I had asked if the CM story was true...or, an urban legend AND, if Alex had been asked to join the Beach Boys (per rumour).

Doug said...

This conversation was prompted by Bill Cunningham posting a photo of Dennis and Carl Wilson with them (Bill, Alex and Rick of the Box Tops) dated AUGUST 4, 1968