Tiffany Anders is a musician, music supervisor and radio DJ. She has worked on films such as Drake Doremus’ Like Crazy and Breathe In as well as Gregg Araki’s Kaboom, Ry Russo-Young’s Nobody Walks, Malik Vitthal’s Imperial Dreams and James Ponsoldt’s Smashed and The End of The Tour. She currently hosts a radio program called Listen Listen on Tuesdays from 3-5pm on Luxuriamusic.com.
There are no bigger memory triggers for me than music. For some people it’s smells, for others, photographs, but for myself, I can be transported right back to the place, time and state of mind I was in when I first heard certain songs.
What was I doing in the summer of 1980? I was six years old and music was already my “thing.” I had a small collection of 45s and a portable record player and when I wasn’t roping my friends into putting together lip-sync shows in the backyard, I was at the Pickwick rec center in Burbank. It had a swimming pool, a drive-in, a bowling alley and, most importantly, a well-stocked jukebox. On constant rotation were the inescapable artists of the era, Cheap Trick, the Cars, Van Halen, wafting through the sounds of kids at play, a sonic backdrop to the smell of wet cement and chlorine, and the bleached-out colors under L.A.’s bright summer sun. Cheap Trick will always evoke these things for me. I was perplexed when I learned they were not from California but from Illinois, a fact I still can’t quite grasp.
A film made the previous year depicting rebellious youth in an American suburb had featured songs by the artists I heard playing all summer in my local rec center. The release of Over the Edge was short-lived as it was pulled from the theaters due to fears of potential youth riots, which had broken out when The Warriors had been released earlier that year. Therefore it was not playing at the Pickwick drive-in and I was probably too young to have seen it anyway. I first saw Over the Edge when I was in my early twenties, living in Seattle and playing music myself. The film had a huge impact on me, particularly for its use of hits from the era. From its opening credits, where Cheap Trick’s “Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace” plays over shots of the town and of the kids at their local rec center, I was immediately taken back to my own experiences at the Pickwick, making it a story I instantly connected with.
Predating Fast Times At Ridgemont High, and the classic John Hughes teen films in which music is an integral part of the storytelling, Over The Edge used popular music to significantly color the place and time, and add depth to its characters and story. Hits by the likes of Cheap Trick, the Cars, Van Halen, the Ramones and Jimi Hendrix are interspersed throughout this story of misfit teens in the humdrum fictional cookie-cutter community of New Granada.
Bored, frustrated and misunderstood, our main characters, Carl (Michael Eric Kramer) and his friend Richie (Matt Dillon), do what typical rebellious teens do: drink and do drugs, attend house parties, hang out at the local rec center, pull pranks, pick fights, listen to music and… occasionally steal and fire off guns. Carl is a sweet kid struggling with disengagement from his parents and general teen angst, and Richie’s a poorer kid who probably lacked proper parenting and a male figure in his life. As the cops, teachers and parents incessantly harass them, their rebellion escalates into a full-on war with authority.
The defiant tone is set as the first riff of “Hello There” by Cheap Trick plays over unbridled youth atop a freeway bridge, shooting BB guns at a cop car below. Cheap Trick is not a band I typically associate with rebellion, but in this context there’s an enthusiasm and a menacing quality to the riff that feels completely anarchistic, putting you exactly where you need to be to connect with the story. It’s thrilling, it’s exciting, it sounds cool as shit and you are now ready for the ride.
From here, we follow our archetypal 1970s teens — feathered hair, dressed in denim and half muscle tees — into house parties where we hear the unmistakable screech of Van Halen’s cover of the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me,” through abandoned houses in which our teens sing along to Cheap Trick blaring on a cassette boombox, and to nighttime fields filled with the sounds of the Cars’ “Just What I Needed.” These songs brilliantly establish tone, time period and characters and, simply put, they’re just incredible fun to hear.
For me, the best use of music in Over the Edge comes in the moments when Carl finds solace in the songs he plays through his headphones alone in his bedroom. “Surrender” by Cheap Trick is Carl’s go-to: “Mommy’s all right / Daddy’s all right/They just seem a little weird/Surrender, surrender/But don’t give yourself away.” Carl’s connection with the song in these moments makes you truly empathize with his character, and while it’s a little on the nose, what could better reflect teen angst than that chorus?
The role of music for teenagers has always been significant to identity; most of us can quite clearly remember the bands we wore as a badge of pride in our teen years, and the film does not overlook this nuance of adolescent life. Whether it be the rock tees they wear or the music they listen to, Over the Edge makes the role of music important in their lives and gives the story an authenticity that make these kids easily identifiable. It does all of the things a great soundtrack should do: it truly reflects the characters’ world and connects you as an audience member to that world.
After watching the film, I became curious about that process, how song selection could shape a story, how the choices could reach as far as an audience member’s own personal experience. It gave music a whole new meaning, and what it added for the film did the same. The idea of being responsible for coloring a film with music was highly appealing to me from this point on and led to me becoming a music supervisor.
We all have our personal soundtrack that accompanies our own stories. My memories are colored by everything from Cheap Trick and the Go-Go’s at six, Bow Wow Wow at eight, and on into my own rebellious teen years of listening to punk and grunge. Music in films can play a similar role, making the experience all the more enjoyable and meaningful. Over the Edge is a soundtrack I often come back to when approaching my own work. It created unforgettable moments with its use of music, and I can only hope that my own work does the same.