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Headline: Aimee Mann's Voice carried "Magnolia"
Byline: Steve Morse, Globe Staff
Aimee Mann's voice carried 'Magnolia'
By Steve Morse, Globe Staff
An ''artist-driven soundtrack project'': That's what it's being called in Hollywood, where musicians are usually just hired guns and have little say in how their songs appear in a film. While soundtrack albums may sell in the millions, the actual songs may not even get into the film, instead being relegated to the cutting-room floor or used for 10 to 20 seconds as filler.
So, it's rare to see an artist like Aimee Mann - a former Bostonian who fronted the hit group 'Til Tuesday - have three of her songs used in their entirety (and six others partially) in the upcoming ''Magnolia,'' an urban drama directed by Paul Thomas Anderson and starring Tom Cruise.
Anderson, who directed ''Boogie Nights'' and lives with singer Fiona Apple, is a music lover who took a shine to Mann's work and even fashioned his ideas and dialogue around her poetically etched, adult-pop songs. The soundtrack comes out today, though the movie won't screen locally until next month.
In Anderson's liner notes, he confesses that he ripped off a verse from Mann's ''Deathly'' (''Now that I've met you, would you object to never seeing me again?'') for the character Claudia, played by Laura Wilson. He writes: ''All stories for the movie were written branching off of Claudia, so one could do the math and realize that all stories come from Aimee's brain, not mine. ... You can look at the movie as the perfect memento to remember the songs that Aimee has made.''
Whew. That's high praise.
''Oh, you mean the liner notes where he worships at the hem of my garment?'' Mann says with a laugh from her home in Los Angeles, where she settled after leaving Boston six years ago. ''I don't even know how to react to them. They're hilarious.''
Mann's spotlight music in ''Magnolia'' (one song, ''Wise Up,'' is sung by the entire cast, voicing different lyrics in a montage) is expected to jump-start her career, which has been in limbo for most of the '90s. Mann endured record-label hassles that meant distribution woes for her solo discs, ''Whatever'' (1993) and ''I'm With Stupid'' (1996), but she's found a patron in Anderson.
She first met the director three years ago when he asked her husband, Michael Penn, to write songs for Anderson's first film, ''Hard Eight.'' That inspired a friendship that's now a mutual admiration society.
''Paul is very enthusiastic. When he likes something, he really, really likes it,'' says Mann, who has another solo album, ''Bachelor Number 2,'' due out in February. (Three songs from ''Magnolia'' will be carried over to that disc.)
''I've had songs here and there on soundtracks, but I've never had my songs utilized in such an integral way,'' Mann says of her ''Magnolia'' experience. ''I don't think a lot of directors do that anyway. Mostly, there's pressure on directors to make a deal with the record company and use whatever acts the record company is trying to push in the movie and on the soundtrack.''
Working with Anderson was quite different.
''I'd give Paul rough mixes of songs,'' says Mann. ''And I'd write songs without thinking they'd be in a movie. But we were kind of talking about the same kinds of things. The same kind of characters he writes about are the same sort of characters I write about.''
Mann can relate to Anderson's characters, including Claudia, a cocaine addict and a pivotal figure in ''Magnolia.'' ''I've been that character, minus the cocaine. She's someone who is very defended against other people. And I've gone out with that kind of character too.''
Thus, the soundtrack really plays like a Mann solo album, rich in vocal and lyrical nuances that probe aspects of the psyche that aren't normally probed in a pop record.
''For some reason, there are people who think my music is not real radio-ready,'' says Mann. ''But I don't think movies have those same restrictions. They generally have a wider emotional range and can take music that's a little more complex or more emotionally intricate.''
Mann, who will tour on a double bill with Penn early next year, hopes to do more soundtrack work. ''But as I said before, I don't think a lot of directors are interested in having music be that interwoven with their movies. Music is usually just tossed on top.''
This story ran on page E04 of the Boston Globe on 12/07/99.