The Jerry Goldsmith Scoring Session Story: L.A. Confidential
Okay folks, today’s “a good one”! Another one of my encounters with the greats (a la the John Williams story) that’s full of embarrassment and regret—for ME!
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Here is the story of when Jerry Goldsmith almost—but didn’t—kick me out of a scoring session, at Todd-AO Studios for L.A. Confidential in 1997…25 years ago, wow!
Longtime Film Score Monthly readers know that Goldsmith did not like our magazine. I never found out exactly why, except that I gather he thought we were a bunch of idiots. (I can’t say he was necessarily wrong—speaking solely about myself! I was very young, green and brash.)
This is sort of a long and emotionally fraught story. But here goes:
To start, please understand that I love Goldsmith’s music. I think he’s a genius, an absolute master, he’s written so many of my all-time favorite scores (too numerous to mention)…this is by no means an outlier opinion I have!
However, by the time I started FSM in the early 1990s, there was some griping in fan circles that “his old stuff was better.” And I was one of the ones griping.
Jerry’s stock-in-trade through the early 1980s had been—well, pretty much everything, and all of it brilliant: Americana, modernism, “mod” flavors, action, thrillers, and then a masterful run doing huge sci-fi symphonic masterworks (Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Poltergeist).
But it tended towards a certain modernist aggression and complexity. Or, to drastically oversimplify—a lot of soundtrack collectors are guys with a taste for a certain kind of macho orchestral action music, and Jerry was the ultimate master (think Capricorn One and the snarling trombones).
Starting with Under Fire in 1983, Goldsmith seemed to get interested in keyboards—and as he integrated synthesizers into his orchestra, some of the synths got a little…well, annoying.
It’s just a fact: we, the “guy fans,” liked stuff that sounded like Ravel and Stravinsky’s hot and dirty love child, and when there were these goofy synthesized whistles and boops (especially in scores that had a comedy flavor)—well, we tended to find it lame.
Not all of us—and not to say that we’re right and anybody else is wrong, but we’re all entitled to our opinions. “There’s no accounting for taste,” as they say.
As budgets declined for orchestral scoring in the 1980s, Goldsmith had to use Eastern European orchestras on a number of projects (Lionheart comes to mind). Those players couldn’t handle his complicated writing as easily, so he started to “thin out” his compositions.
Also, movies changed. They became full of VFX and dense sound design—it was a different time, with different aesthetics, and the days of the fully realized, traditional symphonic score were coming to an end with the rise of Tangerine Dream, Harold Faltermeyer, Hans Zimmer, et al.
And—Jerry changed! He always liked to experiment from film to film: he’d tinker with something (an orchestration, a keyboard), nail it, and then be loathe to repeat it. This was one of the things that made him so great.
In his personal life—well, he was getting older, being a father again, and, I have to imagine, discovering how truly beloved and esteemed he was.
Maybe he simply got tired of writing all those notes in the crazy 1970s action scores? Maybe he was, as he often said, truly drawn to intimate “people pictures.” Maybe he wished he won more Oscars like John Barry?
I personally always thought he had a bit of a sentimental streak that worked fine in the 1960s and ’70s, when pop record arrangements and movie love themes had similar styles, but started to stick out as times changed. Jerry couldn’t do the “easy listening” versions of his love themes (those high unison violins) anymore and have them blend with the times—but he persisted in writing them.
The director of Powder pretty much said the same thing: he was surprised how sweet that score was. And it was why Goldsmith left Babe—the filmmakers found his demos just didn’t get the nuance and tone they wanted.
Whatever the case, his music changed. That’s his prerogative as an artist and a human being.
And it’s our prerogative as fans to like what we like (or not like).
I CANNOT EMPHASIZE THIS ENOUGH: WE ARE JUST FANS HAVING OPINIONS. IT'S NOT PERSONAL! IT’S NOT “DIRTY”! IT’S OKAY!!!
Around 1992–93, in the early days of the FSM newsletter (as it was in that time), I started to get in contact with actual professionals in L.A. I got my grubby hands on the addresses of various composers and I sent them a free sample of FSM—with an invitation, if they wanted, to put them on a “comp list.” (FYI: our entire print archive of pdfs is FREE.)
I think I sent the April 1993 issue to a bunch of composers. I called them afterwards to see if they’d want to get it every month(ish). Most of them did!
I remember calling Lalo Schifrin’s office, and his assistant (Nicki?) saying, “Sure.” Like, “Hey, why not? Nice gift, thanks.”
But when I called Goldsmith’s office, and spoke to Lois Carruth, who we affectionally called “the dragon at the gate” (I think she started that nickname, not us), she sort of broke the bad news to me…that no, he didn’t want it.
Jerry didn’t like the newsletter. I didn’t get an exact answer as to why. And I forget Lois’ exact words.
But it sounded to me that Jerry took a glance at it, saw something he didn’t like—and decided he’d prefer not to see it again.
Thus began an 11-year stretch (until he passed) of us being “on the outs” with our absolute hero.
And I say “our” because sadly I dragged down everybody associated with the magazine—namely Jeff Bond, who absolutely worshipped Jerry’s music long before I was even born.
It was especially frustrating because we kept in close touch with Jerry’s agent, Richard Kraft. Richard was and is a huge film music fan, enjoyed our magazine and kept us updated as to his clients’ activities.
But no matter what kind of back-channel we tried, we were told—no, he doesn’t like you guys.
Now during this time I did one dick move. I admit it. It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time, but here’s what I did: Jeff Bond wanted to write a book about the music of Star Trek—and eventually did. He wanted to interview Jerry, of course.
I knew that if Jeff called Lois and said he was with me, it would be poison. (Jeff was already writing reviews for FSM regularly.) So I told him to call Lois and just...not mention that.
I honestly can’t remember what I advised or what he said. Maybe I said to use somebody else’s auspices? But yeah...it was deceptive. A white lie, at best.
Anyway, she bought it, and Jeff interviewed Jerry, and the interview was included in Jeff’s book. (Not the best interview; maybe he smelled a rat?)
I learned some time later that when Jerry found out he’d been snookered (to a point), he was even more pissed at us—and especially because he was so protective of Lois.
And for that, I don’t blame him.
Please keep in mind that during this time, I’m like 21, 22 years old. Okay?
I was an adult, true, but very young and very green. Am I any better today? I don’t know. You’re welcome to judge.
Fast-forward a couple of years when I became acquainted with the brilliant percussion and film music legend—I don’t like that word (it’s overused), but here it’s true: Emil Richards.
Emil played percussion on hundreds of film score recordings, and his unique collection of exotic instruments formed the sonic backbone of Planet of the Apes and tons of other projects. He was a sweet, extremely talented, Italian-American vibes player who was warm and lovely—and so cool, he was an old jazzer. Circa 1997, he was already in his sixties—he died in 2019, at 87—but hadn’t lost a step.
We either interviewed him, or were about to, and one day he asked me (I think by phone) if I’d like to be a guest at a Lalo Schifrin session. “They want him for his old style,” Emil said. Would I?!?
I loved Bullitt, Dirty Harry, et al.—so I jumped at the chance.
I went to Warner Bros. where I met Lalo Schifrin, his wife Donna, son Ryan and soon-to-be daughter-in-law Theresa, and the rest of Lalo’s “entourage.” (I don’t mean that in a derogatory way, but Lalo had people who had been working with him for many years, musicians and recording engineers, etc.)
I also noticed there was this fat kid at the session who was filming everything with a 1990s camcorder.
It turned out the “fat kid” was the director, Brett Ratner—and the film was Money Talks, starring Chris Tucker for New Line Cinema, which was a moderate success and led to Brett hitting the big time with the Rush Hourfilms shortly thereafter.
Brett has since been sidelined in his career by a long list of very serious harassment allegations. Long before that, he became a punchline for fans who didn’t like his movies.
Brett was always super hospitable to me—he treated Film Score Monthly like we were Vanity Fair, the way he wanted to be on our cover. So I won’t kick a guy when he’s down...but yeah, he is accused of some very egregious behavior. And while I didn’t see anything personally—I was never around him that much—he could be pretty lewd.
Money Talks was a fun session to attend, the score was a throwback good time, and I was grateful to Emil for the invitation.
So when Emil called me asking if I’d like to go to L.A. Confidential to see Jerry work—wow, did I?!? More than anything.
And yet, I felt honor-bound to warn Emil that Jerry didn’t like me or my magazine. I really tried to make that clear (evidently I failed)—but Emil just blew off my concerns, “Aw, Jerry’s a sweetheart.”
So I drove to Todd-AO Recording Studios on the CBS Redford lot, in Studio City, found the stage, found Emil, and sat with Emil in the percussion section in back—and what I distinctly remember is what an absolute master Emil was at his craft. They were doing a cue that I think involved one of the characters sneaking around a crime scene—it starts with a gong scrape, and Emil went from casually chatting with me to performing the gong scrape, perfectly, as soon as Jerry raised his arms for a rehearsal.
L.A. musicians are truly amazing to watch!
They took a “ten” in the session (union-required ten-minute break) and Emil said, “Okay, I’ll go let him know you’re here.”
I swallowed my heart and sat there as I watched him slowly walk to the control booth. Gulp!
A few minutes later, Emil came out of the booth and walked out to me, his head down and all serious. I mean, a pall on his face.
Emil said, “I’m sorry, but I gotta tell ya…I told him you were here…and he said, ‘Get that little shit outta here, I don’t want him here.’”
Eeeeeeek. Horror! Exile! Humiliation!
But Emil wasn’t done:
“But I said, ‘Aw, Jerry, he loves you.’”
You know—Emil really pleaded my case, what a mensch.
And Emil told me, “Then he said, ‘Okay, he can stay.’”
So that was it—my stay of execution!
Didn’t I say Emil was a sweet man? What a guy.
The session continued—and I remember they did the cue with the riot in the jail cell in the police building. They might have started with that? Very cool, very amazing to watch it performed in front of you.
I noticed that the main theme seemed to be awfully close to Leonard Bernstein’s from On the Waterfront. Certainly intentional—but I kept my mouth shut, of course.
Lunch came and I got the nerve to go up and try to see the Great Man himself.
I remember I turned the corner, into the hallway leading into the booth (it was pretty snug at Todd-AO), saw Jerry himself—he turned to see me—and he SNAPS at me:
“You’ve written a lot of shit about me, Lukas!”
I just stammered something to the effect of, “I’m sorry.”
Then, like a switch was thrown, he softened and just muttered, “Okay”—and grumbled something slightly forgiving to the effect that I could stick around.
Emil had said Jerry was a sweetheart…and he was. No matter how annoyed he might have been by this idiot kid with the fanzine saying the score to Powder was lame, or whatever the hell we did—in that moment, I was just some young man who loved his music, and it wasn’t a big deal.
He was, after all, a father of five—and I guess used to the naivété and immaturity you deal with when it comes to being around young people.
Speaking of Jerry’s children…Joel was there.
Now Joel, I later learned, was an instigator. He could be a volatile guy. Apparently he would delight in cherry-picking the most inflammatory reviews and comments we made in FSM and FAXING them to his dad, just to piss him off—“Look what they’re saying about you now!”
Not that he ever admitted this to me—I learned about it later.
Joel was morbidly obese and I’m sure he had a difficult life, living in the shadow of a great artist. Many years later, he screamed at me in the aftermath of the aborted Carrie Goldsmith book about her dad—and I know that some people haven’t forgiven me over that one.
You know what? This is depressing. Jerry and Joel are both gone.
What have I done with my life where all I have to do is tell stories based on these people far more accomplished and talented than I am?
Not much, I guess. Sigh.
I remember during the lunch break, being outside by the cars, where Jerry smoked and Joel smoked—boy did they smoke. They both drove black luxury sedans of some kind, which were parked in the choice “artist” spots.
I seem to remember Joel trying to trick me into leaning back onto Jerry’s car, and I was wise enough not to do that.
I was not wise enough, however, to avoid spouting an opinion I had that the Star Trek: First Contact theme was pretty conventional, compared to Jerry’s more ambitious themes from the earlier Star Trek movies.
Which is true: it’s a very pretty melody, but it seemed to be part of his 1990s strain of maybe choosing to be a little too simple and sentimental…in my opinion.
Jerry overheard and mocked me by saying, “Yes, it goes from the tonic, to the subdominant, to the dominant” (which is basic tonal music theory).
This was also the time (which I wrote about earlier) where I told him Poltergeist was like his Rite of Spring—meaning it as a compliment—and he just looked at me like I was an absolute idiot.
And that’s it. That’s my memory of the session. It finished that day, I went home, I thanked Emil (who didn’t invite me to any more sessions, and I don’t blame him!).
I only remember two other times after this when I was in Jerry’s presence…
The first was not long thereafter, at a Pasadena Pops concert devoted to Goldsmith’s music at Descanso Gardens (August 2, 1997, I looked it up).
I seem to remember it was a big deal for Jerry, because it was the first time he had conducted a concert of his music in his hometown. I was there as a guest of Nick Redman’s (or maybe vice versa?), and we spotted Jerry and his wife Carol at the reception afterwards.
By that time, whatever détente had emerged from the L.A. Confidential session had worn off—we had already published some other snotty review that I had heard had pissed him off, probably thanks to Joel faxing it to him.
However, there had also been a weird turn of events, thanks to…Brett Ratner!
Brett had recently directed a music video for the super-hot rap group, Wu-Tang Clan, “Triumph,” and invited me to his set in South L.A.
He told me it was about killer bees (one of Wu-Tang’s things, I guess). Naturally, I asked Brett if he had ever heard Jerry’s score for The Swarm.
Brett hadn’t, but was enthusiastic about learning more—so I bought a copy of the LP at the old Disc-Connection store (across from the Virgin Megastore) and gave it to Brett. (This was well before The Swarm was on CD.) I told him if he needed any orchestral bee music for his video—listen to this cut and that cut.
Well, he used it!
This happened shortly before the Pasadena concert—and at the reception, I was hoping to keep my distance from Jerry…and I don’t know how I remember these things, but it’s like there was a table of snacks or cold cuts against a wall, and I was going to get a bite to eat, but Jerry was also going to get a bite, so what do I do?
I thought, I really don’t want to get in his face if he’s mad at me again, but to hell with it—I’m also not going to alter my eating for the great Jerry Goldsmith.
So we were all standing there, at the snacks table, and Jerry just mumbles, “So, I hear you’re making me famous, Lukas.”
Nick was there, and said, in his charming English accent, “Well, somebody’s got to.” He meant it as a joke.
But Jerry just glared at both of us, as if—as Nick later recounted—“I’m already famous, idiots.” (He did not actually say that!)
And that was that!
I saw Jerry one final time at some event at the DGA building. All I remember is that a lifetime of chain-smoking had made him look old and kind of reddish.
At one point after that, Richard Kraft told me of showing Jerry the CD we released of Wild Rovers, and Jerry being reasonably pleased it existed. Jerry heard a few bars of the film version main title—as opposed to the LP version, which is also on the CD—and immediately knew what it was.
By the way—Jerry had phenomenal recall. I was told by more than one person that you could ask him about a movie, maybe from 30 years ago, and he could instantly rattle off: where he wrote the score, where he recorded it, who he liked on the movie, who he disliked on the movie, what he got paid, etc. Like, everything.
But the problem was, if you asked, “Why’d you write that theme that way?” he would just say, “It’s what I heard.” He was loathe to explain himself creatively.
That plus a certain shyness made him seem inarticulate in interviews—but the truth was anything but.
We released the Wild Rovers CD in 2003, so Jerry was already ill, and I remember wondering if I could or should try to contact him...but it just didn’t seem like a good idea.
And, not long after that...he was gone.
As usual for this blog, I don’t really have an ending. After Jerry died in 2004—I seem to remember we got the news while we were all at Comic Con—I wrote a piece for our “Goldsmith eulogy issue” where I tried to sum up what it was like loving his music so much, but having such a problematic non-relationship with the man himself.
And all I could come up with was that line from Adaptation, “You are what you love. Not what loves you.”
See you tomorrow, folks!