I am convinced that (in no particular order) Patti Smith, The Runaways, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Elvis Costello, Lou Reed, Mick Jagger and more saved me from inevitable suicide. Literally.
I was a miserable, confused, abused and bullied kid. Prior to knowing Jesus, rock and roll was my church and I was a faithful disciple. I attended concerts almost nightly, was never without a record (or record player) and a song was always on my lips.
When I became a Christian I would joke that I went from always carrying “Babel” to a Bible in reference to my dog-eared copy of Patti Smith’s book of poetry. But in the midst of the greatest time in musical history a small but mighty film was released…
“Phantom Of The Paradise”
While artistically my work is playfully called “The Rocky Horror Jesus Show”, it is more than likely that “Phantom” was more often my biggest influence. Paul Williams, one of our greatest songwriters, wrote some of the most intimate, gutsy and brilliant songs of his career to be brought to life by the likes of sweet Jessica Harper (now a genius songwriter herself) and an unlikely William Finley as The Phantom.
Mr. Finley embodied an innocence and beauty that only a movie made in the 70s could muster. Think of a “beast” counterpart to Robbie Benson’s “beauty” in “Jeremy.” (If you are unfamiliar with these films, please take the time to watch them). He brought Williams’ songs to life, made Jessica Harper appear even more lovely (if that were possible) and proved Brian DePalma’s created the greatest representation of struggling songwriter in film history.
This was done through soul, determination and a really weird physical/vocal performance style.
I know that fans often take the films they love and turn the actors into icons when in reality it was just a job to them. Well, to this cast and crew (including set designer Sissy Spacek) , I say, job well done! This movie inspired a generation of musicians, songwriters, singers, actors, dancers, screenwriters, directors, editors, and performance artists.
And I am convinced that it is only as good as its parts. Especially the anchor roles of Phantom and Muse.
William Finely passed away yesterday and I wanted to take a moment to simply say, thanks for being there for me. I saw “Phantom Of The Paradise” countless times in the theaters and many times by myself. But I knew from this experience that I was not alone, that my dreams and talents made sense and that there would ultimately be a place for me in this world.
I hope God gives you a big bear hug for me.