by Jessica Letkemann
SONIC MEETS CINEMATIC
When filmmaker Tim Robbins had finished shooting and editing his latest
directorial effort, the true story of a Nun who becomes the confidant and
savior of sorts to a murderer about to be put to death based on a book of
the same name by the nun, Sister Helen Prejan, he felt that the film would
benefit from a soundtrack of songs inspired by the film done by artists
Robbins invited a select list of musicians to see the rough cut of the film,
hoping they'd be moved to make music based on it. A number of folk responded
with songs in place of just simple yeses, among them Johnny Cash, Patti
Smith, Suzanne Vega, but also the unlikely combination of Eddie Vedder and
Pakistani devotional singer (and very famous in the Near East too!) Nusrat
Fateh Ali Khan.
SITAR AND GUITAR?
After seeing the film, Eddie was interested in working on the project, but
apparently his answer became resoundingly affirmative when he heard that
Nursat, whom Eddie is a fan of, had already agreed to work on it. Robbins
brought the two together.
In equal measure to each artists' creative powers, there are two songs on
the final soundtrack; one a Nusrat song that features Eddie on co-vocals,
and one Eddie song that features Nusrat on co-vocals.
"It was like watching clowns in a great Italian film," Robbins
said of the duo. "Nusrat's going off in Qawwali and Vedder sings in
English, but you don't need to understand what they're saying to feel the
Both Eddie's "Long Road," and Nusrat's "The Face of Love"
were recorded at New York City's Sony Studios in October. The Dead Man
Walking version of "Long Road," is markedly different from
the Merkinball version. Here it is softer, with a more acoustic sound. Though
Eddie's voice retains its ragged edge, it sounds more supple here than on
Merkin. Nusrat and his family/band accompany Ed's guitar with taboulas (a
west Asian drum with a sort-of cool, rubbery sound) and other sounds. Nusrat
goes for vocal improvisation during the song's instrumental breaks, exploring
sounds rather than words to express his emotion.
"The Face Of Love," is extremely Indian sounding, for lack of
a more PC description. Both Nusrat and Ed chant-sing their parts over a
backdrop of haunting sacramental grooves. Instead of choruses, Nusrat breaks
off into controlled shouts and other vocal bursts (not unlike Ed in PJ songs.)
SONIC MEETS CINEMA PART TWO
Robbins placed a reedited version of "The Face of Love," over
the opening credits and cinematographic scene in the film. The songs opens
musically as normal, but instead of hearing a Nusrat verse (as in the Soundtrack
version,) Eddie's mantra-like refrain comes in loud and clear. The scene
it plays over is a verdant southern pasture and highway glowing in the sun,
which soon cuts to a lively, spring like scene in an urban neighborhood
(cars, buildings, kids playing), the afternoon sun drenched the scene in
The film closes, also on a southern past. Among the first few on-scene credits
are Additional Vocals by:with Nusrat' name and then Eddie's name each alone
on the screen. The last song played over the final bit of the credits is
Susan Sarandon plays the Sister Helen Prejan in the film, and Sean Penn
is the condemned man, Matthew Poncelet. Both turn in gut-wrenching, visceral
performances. The film has already been nominated for three Golden Globe
"THE FACE OF LOVE"
(Lyrics to Ed's Refrain)
Look in the eyes
of the face of love
look in your eyes
for there is peace
no, nothing dies
within your eyes
only one hour of this pure love
to last a life of 30 years
only one hour
so come and gone...
copyright 1995 Tickle My Nausea / J. Letkemann