Generally the word “method” in relation to movies has to do with acting. But legendary producer T Bone Burnett, one of the Coen Brothers’ favorite musical collaborators, put himself right into a character’s head.
Case in point: “The Big Lebowski.” When the Coens handed him the script, The Eagles’ “Hotel California” was already in there. But the rest of it was a blank canvas in terms of placements. “‘OK, The Dude just burned one and he’s doing Tai Chi at his place in Venice, so he’s going to be listening to [Captain] Beefheart,” Burnett said. “That was easy. You just put yourself in the characters place… and I put myself in the The Dude’s place as often as possible.”
The crowd at his Billboard Hollywood Reporter Film & TV Conference Q&A (video below) erupted into knowing laughter. Burnett seemed to hold attendees in the palm of his hand as he held court about a great number of things, offering strong opinions along the way. It all started for him when he became frustrated by the the obvious fakery happening in old school movies.
Billboard-THR Film & TV Music Conference 2013
“It was so distracting because I’d be watching the left hand [on the guitar]. It made me want to work in film. ‘I can do better! This will be like taking candy from a baby!’ There was that sense that films didn’t take music that seriously.”
Burnett likened the Coens’ cultivation of seemingly disparate influences into unique, cohesive films to the way Bob Dylan would combine things like blues and rockabilly into what became timeless classics. He spoke generously about his workmanlike drive to create. Making the first season of ABC’s “Nashville” was the equivalent of some artist’s entire catalog. He loved collaborating with the guy who now holds the reigns almost entirely himself with Season 2.
“The best thing about working on ‘Nashville’ was getting to work Buddy Miller,” said Burnett. “He has such integrity and taste. We did a hundred songs or something. That’s like 10 albums in 8 months! But I like to [work like] that.”
He spoke emphatically about topical subjects like digital (“I’ve been A/B-ing audio equipment for 50 years. The best sound for recording is analog tape”); the lack of curating and egalitarian delivery systems (“everybody’s making music and nobody is listening. It’s a problem”); The influential book “The Long Tail” by Wired Magazine’s Chris Anderson (“the opposite happened”); and singers who fake the funk (“We never use Auto-Tune. In Australia, they’ve outlawed it. It’s the most sane cultural decision in decades.”).
He concluded the panel by talking about the often unsavory collision of creative expression and corporate commerce.
“Artists are artists who make art. They don’t make ‘content.'”