Martin Scorsese On  Soundtracks in Movies and His Life

I design so many scenes, driving on the freeways, listening to music.

James Sullivan

Interview by

October 8, 1999. By phone
Microcassette recorder

Article appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle

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David Gerlach: We’ve added another lost interview to the archive. It’s a conversation with Martin Scorsese and it’s about all the soundtracks that play both in his films and in his life.

Martin Scorsese: It’s a little bit at the end of the day now, I’m a little tired, but I’ll try to do the best I can.

David Gerlach: Now Scorsese has made dozens of movies. “Taxi Driver.” “Goodfellas.” “Cape Fear.” So many classics where the music is just as important as what you see. Now James Sullivan interviewed Scorsese in the late 90s while writing for the San Francisco Chronicle.

James Sullivan: One of the interesting things about doing that interview with him was that it was for one of his less-well-remembered films. I mean “Bringing Out The Dead” does not come up in the Top Ten of Scorsese films. But it was drenched, big time, with scenes that were cut clearly to the rock ‘n’ roll soundtrack.

David Gerlach: Now the thing that I love about an interview are all the twists and unexpected musings, the things that come up. This part of the tape is great. Martin Scorsese flashes back to his childhood in New York City and what he heard on the streets.

Martin Scorsese: I grew up downtown. I was in the Italian-American area, but it was right off the Bowery. I never forget growing up with the alcoholics and homeless and everybody in the gutter. And hanging out with them, talking to them. It worked sometime when they were sober. And when they were drunk they were like maniacs. Scary. It was really something

David Gerlach: So the tape continues to roll and Scorsese moves onto source music he used in his films when he was just starting out. The teenage filmmaker. I looked this up and source music, it’s different than background music. The score. Something laid into a movie. Source music comes directly from something you see in a scene. Maybe it’s a band or a radio. Scorsese takes it from here.

Martin Scorsese: So I was always interested in using source music for movies. Even the little short films I made when I was a kid or something. 1961 I think it was. I didn’t have any synced track back then. In order to show the movie I had to, I borrowed a friend’s 8 mm camera and shot this little movie, very bad, juvenile. And I would present it to our friends. We would screen the picture, and I would do the dialogue with a friend literally by the side of the screen and I played records.

[MUSIC: Lonnie Donegan - “Lost John”]

Martin Scorsese: The music was everything from Prokofiev to Lonnie Donegan, if you remember.

James Sullivan: Didn’t the Beatles back up Lonnie Donegan?

Martin Scorsese: John Lennon used to have a skiffle band.

James Sullivan: Oh, he was his hero.

Martin Scorsese: Yeah, he loved Lonnie Donegan. So I had that in there, mixed with music from the 30s, the Prokofiev, Dunayevsky, all kinds of stuff.

[Sound of car starting]

Martin Scorsese: There were some times I would come back, let’s say I was taking a yellow cab from 86th street all the way down to Houston Street or something at three in the morning. And the guy would have Flamenco on or some jazz or some rock ‘n’ roll, I mean, it was like no cars on the street. Sliding down the avenue. It was fantastic.

[MUSIC:  Przemyslaw Haluszczak - “Tangos Rompeserones”]

Martin Scorsese:  The only other time I really had fun with that was really driving my own car in Los Angeles. I design so many scenes, listening to music, driving on the freeways.

James Sullivan: Isn’t it amazing how your mind works when you’re on the highway with loud music on?

Martin Scorsese: Yeah.

James Sullivan: It’s one of the most creative times when you’re awake. Isn’t it?

Martin Scorsese: It really is. One of the things I did if I had to go to a studio or some event, not an event, but an office or whatever, I memorized the route and never varied from the route. So I wouldn’t have to think. I won’t have to think about the driving, you know what I’m saying?

David Gerlach: That’s Martin Scorsese on the soundtracks that play in his life. I want to thank James Sullivan for bringing this conversation to the archive. This interview was produced by me and Dave McGuire. Great work on this one, Dave.  Jeffrey Alan Jones brought us our sound logo. And you can discover more lost interviews, interviews you can’t hear anywhere else, at I’m David Gerlach. Keep listening.

Music: Lonnie Donegan “Lost John” | Przemyslaw Haluszczak, “Tangos Rompeserones”
Photoaspen rock /