Jonathan Demme on how he got Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young on the Philadelphia soundtrack
He wanted a "Southern Man" style anthem but got two of the most heartbreaking songs of the year
Jonathan Demme, the Oscar-award-winning director behind films such as Silence of the Lambs and Philadelphia, has passed away due to complications from esophageal cancer. He was 73.
Demme was also an acclaimed documentary director, filming the definitive Talking Heads concert doc, Stop Making Sense, as well several projects with Neil Young (2006's Heart of Gold, 2009's Neil Young Trunk Show and 2012's Neil Young Journeys). In 2016, Demme was at the Toronto Film Festival to promote his latest film, Justin Timberlake + the Tennessee Kids, and sat down with TIFF for a live event celebrating his career. Below, Demme recounts how he was able to include two of the biggest rock stars on the planet, Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen, on his acclaimed film Philadelphia. At the time, Demme had never met or worked with Young.
"We're cutting the movie together and I'm like, [snaps his fingers], I've got such a great idea. We're going to reach out to Neil Young to see if he would like to do a 'Southern Man'-type anthem to start this movie, 'cause that will send such a strong, reassuring message to testosterone-fuelled men, which is our target audience. It's like, 'Well if Neil's down with it,' you know?
"So we sent Neil a tape of the movie and his manager calls back right away and says Neil likes the film, he's wanted to make a statement — oh and by the way when I sent it to him, "Southern Man" was scoring the opening scene — so then, a week later, this audio cassette comes back and it's Neil's song for Philadelphia.
"I got in the car, which you always have to do to hear an important song in your life for the first time, so my wife and I popped it in and here's this heartbreaking 'Philadelphia' song by Neil, and yes, I'm crying by the end of it, but I'm also like, this will be great at the end, but we still need the up-front thing. "
The next step, of course, was to get the key song that would open the movie. Below, Demme recounts how he managed to get Springsteen to write "Streets of Philadelphia," which won the Oscar and Golden Globe for best original song, as well as four Grammys, including song of the year. Demme co-directed the video.
"I know Bruce Springsteen, I had worked with him on a video, so I got in touch with the Boss, I told him about the Neil Young thing and I was like, 'Would you consider maybe looking at the movie and seeing if you want to give us a rousing song to open the picture with?'
"His manager is like, 'Ya, send it over.' The film was still scored with 'Southern Man,' and we put the new Neil song at the end, which really transformed the end of that movie, it was unbelievable.… So then a new tape comes in, we get in the car, slap it in, and it's this amazing song, 'Streets of Philadelphia.' And I'm like, 'Wow, this is so beautiful, but honey, it's not the anthem.' She goes, 'You know, it seems like these people trust your film more than you do. Why don't you just shut up about 'Southern Man?'
"So that's what happened."
— Jesse Kinos-Goodin, q digital staff