[Interview - Michael Kamen]
First off, I wanted to talk to you about your latest CD, MICHAEL KAMEN'S OPUS. How did you go about picking your music?

The real request came from the record company to choose anything I liked from my own work, and anything I liked is the operative word. I really am, despite my seeming proclivity for action movies, I'm actually an in-action guy. I like melodic, evocative romantic music. My daughter once said,

"Dad, why do you write so much sad music? You're such a happy guy," There was a quote I read once that actually summarized it best. Which is that "melancholy can open a secret door to the sublime". So the music that I've chosen for my album is not melancholy, but it is stuff that means something to me. It's listenable music, and it's hopefully complete and evokes a movie in people's minds - it evokes an emotional message. And that's what the music is about.

Now this music is the first of a three CD deal...

Six CD deal. The first one is this soundtrack collection. The second one will be a guitar concerto with Eric Clapton. And we performed together for two years running in the Albert Hall in London.

It's become a very favorite piece of mine and I've performed it with the London Civic, performed it with Eric, and a Japanese guitarist named Tomoyasu Hotei, who is a dear friend and a great great player. So the second release will be the guitar concerto.

Will the CDs be original?

They will be original works. Whether they are compiled from my film scores, or brand new pieces written specifically for the record. In the case of the guitar concerto, it's an existing work. The next composition that will be recorded, is as of yet unwritten, but is a commissioned symphony by the National Symphony in Washington - and that's a Millenium Symphony. 1000 years worth of music, but hopefully enough to project it into the next 1000 years. And that symphony will be performed by Leonard Slatkin in January 2000.

Now you have a concert this Wednesday - what selections will you be performing?

Pretty much all the stuff from my album, but the entire suite from ROBIN HOOD, and a suite from BRAZIL, which is still my favorite bit of writing. I'm also performing for the first time, a piece that Eric Idle and I wrote for BARON MUNCHAUSEN, which is called "The Torturer's Apprentice".

How will that be performed?

It will be performed with an Orchestra and Eric Idle is the Sultan, and we have a choir from USC who will be chained together, and tortured upon.

And the proceeds from the concert will go to the Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation, right?

Yes. The Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation is a motivated goal for me to raise money to buy instruments and give them to kids so they can have the same taste of inspiration that I had when I went to school, and that sadly is missing from many of the school systems around the country.

Is that due to a lack of funding?

It is an insidious lack of funding. It is in some cases and in New York City, they don't actually fire music teachers; they don't actually remove music from the system, but let it die by attrition. They don't hire a new teacher if one retires, they reduce the amount of time each week - but worst of all there is nothing in their budget or in their bylaws that says that they have to provide instruments. As the instruments tend to get broken and worn out, they don't replace them, so there are no instruments for the kids to play.

What we do is provide instruments to schools that can communicate with us through our website (, and it's a non-profit organization that seeks to raise money and to empower schools to get help, to get a hold of a music retailer in their area that will repair instruments. Or a McDonalds in the neighborhood that will agree to sponsor instruments in the next year.

It's about one and a half years old, and it's been doing very well. We've helped about 40-50 schools get about $200,000 in instruments. It's wonderful to see the joy on the faces of the kids as you hand them instruments, and that really tickles me to no end.

With your recent work on Tom Hanks' "From the Earth to the Moon", you had the opportunity to score a 12 part series but only scored the main titles, end theme and a few episodes.

Each of those episodes was practically completely full of music - even I couldn't do 12 hours of music! What I did was provided the theme for the series, and then scored the 3 episodes that Hanks was most involved in.

Is it easier or harder to write a score when the director has a particular song in mind to be used as a theme?

Well, in the case of BRAZIL, I tried to talk Gilliam out of using the song. I didn't like the song. When he wound up insisting on it, I wound up using it and turning it around and around and around, until I felt I had written it and loved it very dearly. Then I discovered a haunting nature to that melody which I hadn't realized was there. I found out, only after I did the movie, that it's practically a religious experience in BRAZIL - it's an icon. They love that song.

Your next film, LETHAL WEAPON 4, comes out later this summer. Was it fun to collaborate again with Eric Clapton and David Sandborn?

What do you think? It's a dream come true! I've collaborated with David Sandborn since we were little kids, we've been playing together in bands for nearly 30 years. Eric and I are more recent friends, but we've been friends since 1985, but we've remained good friends and collaborators.

Do you have any new themes?

The women of LETHAL WEAPON 4 are major significance. There will be a Lorna's Theme, since she's a major character, and Chris Rock will have a major theme. Like Peter & Wolf, every character gets their theme. I'm using a lot of Chinese symbols and influences. I don't think we'll use Chinese melodies, but we will use Chinese textures.

How was it working with Richard Donner for the fourth time?

I love Richard Donner - and I love Joel Silver. I know that Joel has an undeserved reputation as a horror, and I adore him. LETHAL WEAPON is always a family reunion, and this is no exception. I'll be there for LETHAL WEAPON 125 if they want to.

Besides working with Donner on four films you also have a relationship with Terry Gilliam (for BRAZILand THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN). Are there any other planned collaborations in the near future?

And I did a little bit on FEAR & LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS. There's a lot of period music that would have been playing at the time, but there are a number of occasions where music needed to be composed. I worked with Ray Cooper. I don't think it will be available on the soundtrack - it's not very melodic.

LETHAL WEAPON, which was available on LP and cassette, has never been released on CD? Would you like it to be released?

I don't think that there's a genuine desire for the music from an action-adventure movie to fill your life in your hours of listening. However, the good news is, in late July there will be a "Best of Lethal Weapon" CD which will have music from LETHAL WEAPON 1, 2, 3, and 4. There is not going to be a LETHAL WEAPON 4 soundtrack, per-say, because we won't finish the score until about 10 minutes before the film comes out. So there is a lead-time you need. You can put a film out very quickly, but you can't put a CD out that fast.

So there is no hope of a score-only release just for LETHAL WEAPON 4?

No, all the good bits of LETHAL WEAPON 4 will be on the soundtrack compilation album.

What about a CD release of HIGHLANDER?

HIGHLANDER never made it to disc. If there is a genuine call for it I'm sure that there is a record company out there that will do it. I did include a bit of HIGHLANDER on my soundtrack album, "Michael Kamen's Opus", because I like that tune.


That's going to have to come from your website. If there's a real need for it - I know that there's a bootleg of it because people have sent it to me, which I find flattering. I am very proud of the score to DIE HARD. It wasn't considered at the time to be the type of movie one would release the soundtrack for. It never did make it to record. There was a score for DIE HARD 3 that did include several of the cues from DIE HARD, but not the really cool ones. If there's a website that is a collection of soundtrack enthusiasts, they can make themselves heard loud and clear to record companies. You'll find that the new classical music, the real relevant classical music, is being written for films.

It seems to be more common nowadays that people scoring films will go off and write original classical works. Why do you suppose that is?

A lot of us are original classical composers of one sort of another. I'm an unusual kind - an oboe player who plays rock & roll and writes film scores and songs. But I am first and foremost an oboist.

You were attached to THE AVENGERS, but I've heard that you are no longer on the project...

I've heard the same thing. I worked on the movie for eight and a half months, it still wasn't finished, and I had to do LETHAL WEAPON 4. After a while, you know, let the film be the film.

Will any of your music remain in the final film? Eight and a half months is a long time...

No. What can you do? I still have the music - you might hear it inLETHAL WEAPON 125.

We've heard a lot about Titanic recently and especially its soundtrack sales bolstered partially by its inclusion of the pop tune sung by Celine Dion. I was wondering given your previous success with collaborations with Bryan Adams (most notably on ROBIN HOOD and DON JUAN DEMARCO), what your opinion is on its success as a pop/score collaboration?

My opinion on success is that it's great. My opinion on motivations for people going out to buy a soundtrack record would seem to be common sense. The people who seeTITANIC 15-20 times are fervent admirers of Leonardo DiCaprio. They love the movie, but they love what Leo does in the movie. And if they can buy the poster, and save the stub and the used popcorn bin, and buy the soundtrack, they'll do that. The song, as always in the Hollywood movie, much like in ROBIN HOOD and DON JUAN, is something that enters the public conscience if it becomes a hit record. It helps a movie to have a hit record and it helps a record to have a hit movie. You don't always have a hit movie when you have a hit record. We did with ROBIN HOOD, but didn't with DON JUAN. What it says to me is that we're dealing with 2 different worlds. The world of Top 40 radio, that listens carefully to the street buzz that's all about the hit movie. But you won't see a hit record for LETHALWEAPON. What I love about "My Heart Will Go On" is that it's a James Horner and Celine Dion song. So that what I've always believed is that the song, in the old style of Hollywood movies, comes from the body of the score. I don't like it when the song is stuck onto a movie.


Well, Brazil became a substantial part of the movie. In MONA LISA, the song was driven all the way throughout the movie. It's driven through ROBIN HOOD, it's driven throughDON JUAN, and it's driven through TITANIC. But as I've said before, I pretended I wrote ["Brazil"]. It's a mindset. You approach the film with that melody in your mind, and you make variations on the melody, and that's what I do for all of my films. Some of them are clearly agreeable to a song. Robin Hood didn't exist, but we know about him from songs from the 13th or 14th Century. So I merely wrote a ballad for Robin Hood in his 20th Century incarnation. DON JUAN is an epic story about the Don Juan in all of us. And that led to a song that I really love, "Have You Ever Really Loved A Woman?" is something very close to me. They tried sticking songs on DIE HARD - it doesn't work. We made tunes for EVENT HORIZON, which was a silly thing to do.

It's clear, when you recognize it. Joel Silver has a wonderful expression: "Films are art as commerce." When you realize that's what we're dealing with, it's not surprising that the film companies want more profit and more money and more attention to the film. The song is used to advertise the film that advertises the record that advertises the artist, and back and forth.

I want to thank you for your time, and wish you luck on your concert! I look forward to hearing from you in the future!

Thanks for letting me be the first one interviewed for your website! They want me to say that this concert is the first of a series of semi-annual concerts. I love orchestras and performing, so the opportunity something I'm not about to let go of.