Wednesday, March 26, 2008

i'm pulling on the red chord

exhibit number one in "why i love the frames/swell season" - glen hansard. i'm going to copy and paste this whole interview, because it's too good not to. i found it on the frames messageboard.

But on the night of Sunday February 24, after two decades of stubborn graft, Hansard and his partner Marketa Irglova found themselves on the stage of the Kodak Theater in LA clutching the Oscar for best original song, ‘Falling Slowly’ from John Carney’s Once, the indie cinema dark horse of 2007.
The film, an unconsummated love story that rejuvenates the musical format by featuring songs rendered in credible, realistic settings, was shot in Dublin for about a hundred grand but made back more than $14 million worldwide, won Sundance and Independent Spirit awards and garnered ecstatic critical notices and praise from industry old boys like Steven Spielberg. That the song bagged a Grammy nomination has almost been forgotten in the Oscar fuss.
If he felt like it on the night, Hansard could’ve justifiably claimed to have eclipsed many of the acts he and The Frames adopted as avatars or peers in their various evolutionary stages: The Waterboys, The Pixies, Jeff Buckley – even U2. After all, it took Martin Scorsese 40 years and at least half a dozen masterpieces to get an Academy Award. Bob Dylan still proudly displays his trophy for ‘Things Have Changed’ on the piano when he’s touring.
“With this, there’s a sense of responsibility,” Glen tells me in the RTÉ television building the day after he and Marketa return from their awfully big Oscar adventure to appear on the Ryan Tubridy show. “It’s like, ‘There’s your fuckin’ award, now fuckin’ hold it, and don’t try to get off the hook. This is yours'.”
For Hansard, the biggest challenge was how to accept his new status as an item on the six o’clock news and a picture on the front of the daily newspapers. Two decades of self-financed tours and albums, of minor victories and major setbacks, had rendered him accustomed to operating in a default state of siege. But that night in LA, he finally transcended the various roles he’d been assigned over the years – eager young firebrand, Commitments apologist, dogged independent slogger, local hero/villain, leader of a people’s band who sometimes seemed doomed to play the bridesmaid abroad – and in one fell swoop he and his collaborators were at last awarded respect and recognition from the mainstream music and film industries.
“That aspect became evident to me about a week and a half ago,” Glen says when he takes a seat in his dressing room, a tad rumpled, but obviously still buzzing from the Oscar victory. “I was looking for a guitar shop – I knew I’d need new strings ’cos we were playing the Oscars – and I went into McCabe’s in Santa Monica. And T Bone Burnett happened to be in the shop the next day, and they mentioned that we were playing, and he came to see us play this tiny little gig, 120 people or so. But the next day we went for lunch and he said, ‘My two favourite bands in Ireland are Kíla and The Frames'. And I was shocked that he knew Kíla, but I was like, ‘You know who The Frames are?’ And he says, ‘You’d be surprised how many people know who The Frames are. There’s a lot of affection out there for your band, and has been for a long time, but people haven’t had any reason to step forward and say, 'Oh by the way, there’s a band in Ireland that no one’s ever heard of called The Frames and they’re great'. No-one’s ever had any reason to fly your flag, and now you’ll find people coming out of the woodwork who’ll know who you are'.”
Like the song says: “You have suffered enough/And warred with yourself/It’s time that you won.”
“I can’t help thinking Mic must’ve had something to do with this,” Glen tells me shortly before he and Marketa attend to Tubridy soundchecking duties. He is referring of course to his late friend and musical sparring partner Mic Christopher, who died as a result of a fall while on tour in the Netherlands back in the winter of 2001.
It’s too big a question for either of us to address under the current circumstances, but in some ways Marketa has inhabited Mic’s role as Glen’s busking partner and travelling companion (their version of Dylan’s ‘You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere’, a staple of Glen and Mic’s, appeared on the soundtrack of Todd Haynes I’m Not There.)
After they run through ‘Falling Slowly’ on Tubridy’s couch, there’s warm applause from the crew. “Are those the clothes they’re wearing on the show?” one tech says incredulously. “Are they not getting changed?”
Russell Brand’s producer calls Glen’s phone at one point, requesting a radio interview later that night. I tell him it’s time he changed his number.
"Too right," he says. "Everyone’s got it."
Including Bono, who texted the message “From a busker to an Oscar” mere moments before they performed at the ceremony.
Always an articulate and intense interviewee, this evening Glen is understandably a little more under-slept and prone to digression than usual, in contrast to Marketa, who despite her relative youth (she turned 20 two days before our interview), exudes a quiet self-possession.
The pair first met seven years ago through Marketa’s father, a promoter, cultural figure and independent newspaper publisher in the Czech Republic. Over subsequent visits they forged a collaborative relationship, but given the 17-year age difference, Glen was understandably wary of anything other than a musical tryst. Once, the story of a Dublin busker and Czech immigrant who forge a profound connection through their shared passion for music, changed all that.
Although John Carney took substantial formal risks in what is essentially a neo-realist film, including the gorgeous scene where Marketa walks the night streets singing ‘The Hill’ on her headphones, and a bittersweet sequence in which Glen watches old handicam footage of his ex-girlfriend to the tune of ‘Lies’, most of the film draws heavily on cinema verité, with the principals basically playing themselves. The crucial scene in which Glen teaches ‘Falling Slowly’ to Marketa is a sublime evocation of the shared intimacy of musicians and lovers.
“I had been falling in love with her for a long time,” Glen told Entertainment Weekly last year, “but I kept telling myself she’s just a kid. There was definitely the feeling we were documenting, something precious and private.”
I ask Glen to what extent the story predicted their eventual romance.
“I think ultimately John cast the film 'cos I guess he saw something,” he considers. “He cast Mar before he cast me, and Cillian (Murphy) was still on board then. And when Cillian pulled out, John didn’t jump on me immediately, he thought about a few different options. What was his name, the guy from The Tudors? Jonathan Rhys Meyers. And I’d suggested Damien Rice to him. I hadn’t suggested myself, only because of my whole Commitments experience, the last thing I wanted to do was act again. I just didn’t feel the need. But eventually John came to me and said, ‘I’d really like you to do it'. And I kind of knew it was coming in some way, and my initial reaction, as Mar remembers well, was, ‘No way. I don’t wanna do it. It’s too close to me'.”
Was he afraid of putting his real life on the screen?
“Exactly. My first fear was that the film would be viewed as a vanity project, made by the ex-bass player of my band, about me. What was embarrassing about it was that I was a busker, and there were aspects of John’s scripts that were based on me telling John stories: the guy stealing the money, the bank manager singing me a song, me getting The Frames together from people I met on Grafton Street, all of these things have happened to me in real life. And I was nervous, because if the film is rubbish, then it becomes The Glen Hansard Story from 18 to whatever. And the other problem I said to him was, ‘I’m 35. I’m too old to play this guy.’ ’Cos John’s original idea was the guy be 21 and the girl be 35. And what he ended up with was a mirror image of it.”
So when did they become a couple?
“We basically graduated April last year, when we went to America. I guess it would be a lie to say there wasn’t some kind of… John kept on saying to us, ‘I’m watching the dailies, and there’s definitely something’ – 'cos he wouldn’t let us watch them. He said, ‘I guarantee you two, at some point, will have a relationship'. And I said, ‘Dude, fuck off!’ Even though I guess I probably knew the same. But he kept jokingly calling us his Bogart and Bacall, cos John’s a total cinephile, so all his references are based in classic cinema. And he was right. It took a little longer than he thought. And I think he, what’s the word, not exploited, but used whatever tension there was. Like you say, there wasn’t a lot of acting.”
John Carney’s original marketing strategy was to tour Ireland with a 35mm print of the film and fill cinemas with Frames fans. When Fox Searchlight picked up the distribution, they adopted that travelling sideshow idea, and Glen and Marketa spent a month last spring touring the US in a bus nicknamed Air Force Once. The two leads would arrive in a town at dawn, do two or three breakfast shows, then conduct interviews with local press in a hotel room all day. An intense way to begin any relationship.
“Well it was,” Glen admits. “Fox Searchlight became the company for this film because they were the only ones willing not to change a single frame. Everybody else wanted some kind of compromise made about the storyline, a kiss at the end being a big one for a couple of people. But Searchlight hired us a bus, and me, John and Mar basically made a pact that because this film was so small and fragile, such an outsider, we were going to give it everything: ‘If anyone asks us to give an interview on the back of a Rice Krispies box, we’re doing it'.
“But even at Sundance, which has a very indie-er than thou atmosphere, we were thinking, ‘Jesus, our film’s a fuckin’ comedy compared to all this stuff here that’s really intense'. And yet, at Sundance, you had all these hardcore filmakers coming to us and saying, ‘Shit man, your film’s really good, you’ve nailed something there, I don’t know exactly what'. The word ‘authentic’ kept on getting mentioned. And ‘believability’. Which I think at the end of the day is all any film has going for it, whether it’s an $800 million high-budget Phantom Menace or whether it’s Once or Garage, the idea being that, if you believe the character, then the film has a chance.”
One thing often forgotten when someone like Spielberg namechecks the film is that the ’60s and ’70s Hollywood brats adored Cassavetes and Ozu and French and Italian new wave/neo-realist films.
“And you still feel it in Spielberg’s films. You look at Close Encounters: it’s an indie film with a huge budget. I love that Spielberg’s films always have that dysfunctional family.”
But despite the rave reviews and general air of goodwill towards the film (“We kept meeting people who wished us good luck for the Oscars and had their fingers crossed,” Marketa says) it wasn’t all smooth going. Because ‘Falling Slowly’ had been previously released on the last Frames record The Cost and also Glen & Marketa’s Swell Season collaboration, questions were raised about its eligibility for the Oscar. In the end, the AMPAS music committee deemed that in the course of the film’s protracted production, the composers had “played the song in some venues that were deemed inconsequential enough to not change the song’s eligibility.”
While the nomination hung in the balance, Glen found an unexpected ally in the form of Bono, who met him for a pint or two, captured his contribution to the Ronnie Drew tribute single on his mobile phone, and counselled him that, if the worst came to the worst, he’d at least get a song out of the experience.
So it came to pass that on the night of February 24 in the Kodak Theater, more than halfway through the 80th Oscar ceremony, Colin Farrell introduced Glen and Marketa, who delivered a gorgeous, orchestra-embellished performance of ‘Falling Slowly’, and received a response that verged on an ovation.
“The performance was easy,” says Glen. “We were in a room with 3,000 people, forget the cameras, this is what we do. Whereas when I look back to the speech, I’m like, ‘Fuckin’ hell, I actually wasn’t in my skin at all.’”
Did he even hear John Travolta announce their names as the winners?
“I just heard, ‘Glen'. That’s all I heard, and I looked at my mother, and she did this (puts hand over mouth) and I did this (puts hands over eyes) and she grabbed me and wouldn’t let me go. And I actually had to say to her, ‘Ma, I have to go!’ Because there’s a Tom Hanks DVD you get called So You’ve Been Nominated. I’d love to show it to you. It’s basically him in a nice theatre explaining: ‘So – you’ve been nominated for an Oscar. Well done. If you happen to be one of the lucky people that get called up to the stage, there’s a few things you need to remember. You’ve got 60 seconds from the moment your name has been called to the end of your speech. That includes the walk. So be aware of this. Don’t bring up a piece of paper, it looks awful on camera. Try not to thank everybody, because if you do you’re gonna leave somebody out, and those people you do mention are going to be happy, but the other 600 million people watching aren’t gonna be that interested. Try to make that moment something that means something to you, blah, blah, blah. But you’ve only got 60 seconds'.
“So me and Mar had a brief talk saying, ‘What if we do end up on this stage?’ And I was really reluctant to prepare anything, 'cos I’m so used to thinking on my feet onstage anyway, I thought, if by some chance it happens, it’ll be fine. But the one thing that I’d planned to say was, ‘Everyone who’s helped us, you know who you are, the only person I want to thank is John Carney'. Which I totally left out!”
And, as has been widely reported, when Marketa stepped up to the mic to say thank you, the orchestra cut her off. However, during the ad-break the show’s producer Gil Cates asked host Jon Stewart to bring her back on to say a few words, an almost unprecedented move in a show as tightly sequenced as the Oscars.
Glen: “We arrived in to all these cameras and people shaking our hands, and next thing Mar was gone, taken off to the other side of the stage. She thought she was going back on during the ads just to say thank you to the room.”
Marketa: “Jon Stewart had said to me, ‘It looked like you were in the middle of a special moment, we didn’t mean to cut you off'. So I walked on totally confused as to what was happening. Luckily I managed to get something together that made sense.”
She’s being modest. What she delivered was an unscripted crie de coeur: “This is such a big deal, not only for us, but for all other independent musicians and artists that spend most of their time struggling, and this, the fact that we’re standing here tonight, the fact that we’re able to hold this, it’s just to prove no matter how far out your dreams are, it’s possible. And, you know, fair play to those who dare to dream and don’t give up. And this song was written from a perspective of hope, and hope at the end of the day connects us all, no matter how different we are. And so thank you so much, (those) who helped us along the way. Thank you.”
Glen: “You fucking nailed it. I got up and I was just a gibbering mess!”
The rest of the evening afforded some bizarre photo-ops. Marketa shaking hands with George Clooney. Glen with the Coens and Michael Moore. Glen’s mother Catherine with Ringo Starr. So who impressed them the most?
Glen: “There were a couple of people there where you look at them you just go, ‘There’s someone who’s absolutely radiating self, completely magnetic'. Viggo Mortensen had that sense of himself. Daniel Day Lewis, he’s a man who’s operating on his own level, he’s totally comfortable in his own skin. You look at someone like him and you say to yourself, ‘There’s a guy who makes a film every eight years and wins an Oscar for every one of them'.”
They didn’t, perchance, happen to meet Cormac McCarthy?
Glen: “I did, yeah. I met him on the way out with the Coen Brothers. To be honest with you, he came up and introduced himself, and whatever was going on in that moment, it didn’t hit me. It was about two, three seconds later I suddenly went: ‘Cormac McCarthy’, and he was already talking to someone else. It was a warm transaction, but the moment didn’t land.
“But we were lucky in that we met Frances McDormand, and she loves the film. And Frances is married to Joel (Coen), so we ended up hanging out with the Coen brothers, who are very shy. Frances is so different, she’s so warm, and she sort of pulled me and Mar into the group. I went up to them at the luncheon, and although Joel Coen had said, ‘I really liked you in Once’ which was a fucking amazing thing to hear, and John Carney freaked out when he heard that, they’re still very shy guys, there’s no real conversation. I’d loads of Lebowski questions I wanted to ask him, because there’s this theory among Lebowski-ites that Donnie doesn’t exist, that he’s a figment of Walter’s imagination. And every question I asked him, he’s like, ‘Nah'. It was kind of trying to pry open the paint tin; you have to come at them from a different level.”
Marketa: “Laura Linney was super nice to us. We met her at the lunch and everything, and she was a great support, she said she’d seen the movie and she and her husband were rooting for us, so when we walked onstage she was very happy for us.”
Glen: “Such a great woman. She made a comment at the party to me, which was like, ‘It’s so rare in this business where the one that everybody wants to win, does win'. It was so palpable in the room. When they showed the clip from ‘Falling Slowly’, the fuckin’ response, for me and Mar it was just amazing. But you get the sense with the Academy… It was their way of giving Once a nod, because they couldn’t give it best film. I mean, I think they could’ve but…”
There’s a hierarchy. They can’t snub the Coens on top form, or a film as epic aThere Will Be Blood.
“Yeah, exactly. Once was gonna go for Best Screenplay or Best Foreign Film or something like that. So it seems to me that the Academy really wanted to acknowledge Once somehow, and the best thing to do was put the song up. And I’m not belittling the song, I’m really happy that it got the nomination, but it seems that they wanted to give us some kind of recognition.”
Plus, to be honest, the competition wasn’t up to much.
“I have to say, as an artist, I don’t want to sound egotistical, but I kind of felt like we definitely stood a chance in terms of the fabric of what a song actually is, the distillation of some emotion that’s put into rhyme and music, a distilled moment. I thought the August Rush song was really good, but I have to say I thought the Disney songs felt like they were… there was definitely the sense of machinery off them, that sense of hit the right buttons.”
So now they’ve got a big stick, what are they going to do with it?
“Exactly nothing, I think, is the order of the day. A few people asked me, ‘Are you going to move out to Hollywood?’ ’Cos the night after, there was a bunch of scripts, offers to make music for this film and this film and this film, and I was like, ‘Fuckin’ hell, this is what happens!’”
Is it true Glen was thinking of studying film in New York?
“I’m still thinking of it, yeah. There’s a certain camera I want to learn, an Arie 60, which is an amazing old 1930s or ’40s camera, and so I’ll do that when the time is right, just because I’d love to make a film at some point myself. But it’s a bit like the Commitments thing where people are saying to me, ‘This is an amazing chance – what are you going to do with it?’ And I find myself saying the same thing I said back then, which is, ‘Well, it’s not my world'.”
“It’s almost like, because we have an Oscar now, we’ve nothing to prove. Whatever you do now, you’re off the hook or something. For me it’s freedom. (To Glen) Do you feel that way about it?”
Glen: “I kinda do and I don’t. I have this weird relationship with it, a very Irish thing. You get something like that and one half is made of gold, the other half is made of lead. It becomes a ball and chain as well as a victory. It’s a classic Irish attitude. I woke up the next morning totally anxious, do you remember?”
Marketa: “Yeah. ‘What does this mean?!!’”
Glen: “‘Do we deserve this?’ Just questions, questions, questions. And then at some point I was like, ‘Fuck off Glen! Just enjoy this. It’s an amazing thing'. It’s weird, because when we got famous for five minutes back in the days when The Commitments came out, I felt absolutely no connection to it, I rejected the whole experience because I felt there was no artistic input on my behalf, so therefore I didn’t deserve anything, I deserved none of the praise that the whole band was getting. And it wasn’t that I didn’t like the film: I love the film, I think the film’s fucking brilliant and people always get me wrong when I speak about it because I always appear bitter. Not at all. I just rejected the experience 'cos it wasn’t mine.
“I mean, the first thing I did was give the Oscar to my mother and said, ‘There you go, that’s yours'. And me ma has brought it to the bingo, all the kitchen staff of the Holiday Inn on Hollywood Boulevard have pictures of my Oscar! I don’t even have it now, my ma has it, she’s bringing it in tonight. Even on Tubridy, it’s like, ‘So where’s your Oscar?’ ‘Well, you’re gonna have to ask her!’”
God bless Mum. Later, Catherine Hansard hands over the statue long enough for Graham Keogh to take the cover shots. Glen and Marketa, holding an Oscar.
Bob was right. Things have changed.
“I think most of the things in our career that have been positive came from busking,” Glen told me in 2003.
He had no idea.

wow, he swears a lot.

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