Let’s be real—when we first think of Danny Elfman, we don’t think of a face. Or if we do, it’s Jack Skellington’s. It could be a voice—I have been a fan of Oingo Boingo for something like thirty years now. Or his beloved spectral choirs. But we for the most part hear him, when we think of him, we don’t see him. He’s been making music for a very long time; The Mystic Knights of Oingo Boingo were formed the year I was born. He’s acted a little, including of course Forbidden Zone in 1980, but that’s not what we know him for.
I was actually hoping to go to the Halloween concert back in ’94; my high school band teacher was friends with drummer Johnny “Vatos” Hernandez, and he’d claimed he could get me not just tickets but backstage passes. Didn’t happen. But I would’ve been the envy of my music and theatre nerd set if I’d been able to go, because while I’m not sure any of us would’ve cited Boingo as our favourite band, we all loved them (and shortened the name to Boingo even before the group officially did). We listened to KROQ, of course, the radio station that first gave them a wide audience with “Only a Lad.”
Actually, one of the reasons I’m as fond of the Burton Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as I am is that I feel it’s one of the only movies where he gets to indulge his full Boingo sensibilities; the lyrics may be by Roald Dahl, but “Mike Teavee” wouldn’t be out of place at one of the famous Halloween concerts. There’s a little of that in Corpse Bride as well, where he also voices Bonejangles, though my favourite music from that is the piano duet between Victor and Emily. And apparently the Bonejangles voice was very hard on Elfman’s vocal cords.
In fact, he also has irreversible hearing loss from his concert days, which he says is why there won’t be a Boingo reunion—he thinks performing live would only exacerbate it, and he’s pretty sure that would be true for the rest of the group as well. I don’t know what that’s doing to his movie composing, though. He has 92 composing credits, including three still listed as varying forms of in production. But composing can be done alone in a quiet room, and as we’ve established in another column, he doesn’t necessarily conduct the studio orchestra himself anyway.
He claims not to have a distinctive musical style. This is, of course, ridiculous; there have been movies he’s scored where I identified that it was his work before the studio logo even faded from the screen. (It helps that he’s Hollywood’s predominant user of the spectral choir.) Admittedly not all of his themes sound exactly alike; his Batman theme does not sound notably like his Simpsons theme, just to pick two of his most famous. I also don’t think a distinctive style is a bad thing; I can also pick out a Glass score without trying. (It’s his use of arpeggios.) But I also, as established, really like Elfman’s style. Even in many cases when I don’t really care for the movie itself.
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