Comedy writer/director/producer Judd Apatow had good reason to appear at the Oct. 25 Billboard/Hollywood Reporter Film & TV Music Conference on a panel hosted by The Hollywood Reporter’s music editor Shirley Halperin. A huge music fan, Apatow powers his movies and shows with canny music cues, including his latest, This Is 40, starring Paul Rudd as a guy running a struggling independent music label. Rock legend Graham Parker costars as a Rudd client, along with his real-life band the Rumour, winners of the 1979 Village Voice critics’ poll, now reunited (really) after 30 years.
For Apatow, music is a family business. His grandfather Bob Shad’s label Mainstream Records produced Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie’s "Salt Peanuts," Janis Joplin's first album, Sarah Vaughan, Ted Nugent and the Amboy Dukes -- “Dig it!, said Apatow -- Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, and, with Quincy Jones, Dinah Washington. “And all of this music is available for licensing, people, under Mainstream Records," said Apatow. "My sister Mia is right there for all your needs.”
Joining Apatow onstage were Parker, composer Mike Andrews, who scored his TV series Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared and some of his films, music supervisor Manish Raval, and Michael Penn, who scores the Apatow-produced HBO hit Girls (of which Apatow marveled, "I've never had a season two before!").
Parker got the gig when Apatow visited the singer-songwriter's website. “I knew I needed somebody who would be comfortable being in a movie playing someone who was having a lot of problems selling records,” said Apatow. “I needed to find someone whose music I loved and then find someone who had a great sense of humor and also I thought could act. I was thinking, ‘How about the guys from XTC? Those guys are kinda cool. What about Joe Jackson?’ And then one day my [high school] friend Josh Rosenthal, who has a label, said, “Go look at Graham [Parker’s] website.’” Parker’s site announced his wish to sell music to movies. “He wrote this funny blog about it, and in the middle he said, ‘Are you listening, Judd Apatow?’ Yeah! And I took it as a sign from the music gods,” said Apatow.
"It worked," Parker injected with a wry smile.
“I didn’t tell him I wanted him to be in the movie,” said Apatow. “I just said I’d like to maybe use some of your music in the movie. Then I started slowly dancing around what the subject matter was to see if he was amused or disgusted, and he was laughing. He said, ‘Yeah, that’s my life, it sucks out there!’”
"Judd's use of music follows his instincts," Parker observed. "A lot of movie music follows what I call trend and commerce -- either using trendy, obscure bands whose album was recorded in a gynecologist's office, or the Who and Sting. But Judd's using me in his movie -- that doesn't happen. That's admirable to me."
Andrews said his collaboration with Apatow is pretty straightforward.
"We don't talk much about music -- we just listen to my music and say is it right or is it wrong. If it's wrong, I go come up with other stuff. He responds to that - he knows the difference between something made out of necessity and something made out of inspiration. I wrote 175 pieces of music for Funny People and he used 15."
"Sorry," Apatow deadpanned.
He also expressed another regret: Back when he was working on Freaks and Geeks, he learned that Neil Young liked the show and gave permission for the production to use his song "Only Love Can Break Your Heart," a rarity for Young.
"Then NBC pulled it from the air, and we were still finishing up the episode. I didn't want to pay $30,000 for a song for an episode that might never be seen. I switched it out with a Dean Martin song. There's never been a moment I haven't regretted that."
The session began with Apatow explaining that he's converted his music collection to digital, with the exception of "80 vinyl records from my childhood."
What did he listen to back then?
“Yes, Chicago 9! David Sanborn. There was some Linda Ronstadt happening, and some Kansas in there. Boston. And then 27 Who albums."