Saturday, February 10, 2024

Being in the Room to Witness Creativity


Scott D. Parker

I love to know how things are made. It’s one of the main reasons why I buy the DVDs of my favorite movies—other than, you know, ownership—because there are behind-the-scenes featurettes and interviews with the creators. 

I think this started back in the Star Wars days of the 1970s when I would read all about how George Lucas and company created the movie that changed the trajectory of so many lives. I loved how they raided model shops to create the Death Star and used miniatures, models, and matte paintings to create the galaxy far, far away. How many of us picked up our own cameras to make our own movies? I see a lot of hands out there.


The written word is an odd thing. It’s all in the writer’s head. You can read excerpts and deleted drafts if you want, but it’s all rather frustrating not to be able to have, say, a video with writers giving you a running commentary of their thought process. Granted, I do talk to myself sometimes. Hey, I know I’m not alone. Another show of hands. Hmm, fewer. 


Music, on the other hand, is chock full of behind-the-scenes content. It can range from filmed snippets that showed up on VHS tapes back in the day to feature-length examples like the Beatles film Peter Jackson put out a few years ago. I love seeing how all the music and songs we know by heart and sing at the top of our lungs in the shower came to be 

And I’ve got a new one for you.

The Greatest Night in Pop: A We Are the World Documentary

I first heard about this on The Ralph Report, a daily podcast hosted by Ralph Garman. Curious, I brought it up to my wife on Thursday night and she was game.

The title of the documentary tells you everything you need to know. Director Bao Nguyen follows Lionel Richie, Michael Jackson, and Quincey Jones as they took a suggestion from Harry Belefonte to write an American answer to the Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas.” That song was released in early December 1984 and about seven weeks later, the new song was complete.

But not before a long, long night of recording.

You know the tune. You can probably sing it right now without a single note as a cue. I’m right there with you. But did you know Stevie Wonder suggested an additional element? Or how Richie and Jackson came up with the melody and lyrics? How about all those individual solo parts that became so famous? Who would sing what? For how many words? Or the doubt some of the singers had for their certain sections. Or the role Stevie Wonder played in the Bob Dylan section. Or the fact that Bob Geldof, the man behind Band Aid and later in 1985, Live Aid, was in the room before the recording began to set the stage for the evening.

It is fascinating. 

There is a mix of current interviews with Richie, Bruce Springsteen, Dionne Warwick, Huey Lewis, and others where they reflect on the experience. For those artists no longer with us, Nguyen drops in some older interviews to fill in the blanks.

There was a moment—specifically the segment with Steve Perry and Daryl Hall—when I heard those familiar voices and heard those sung lines and tears welled up in my eyes. I looked over to my wife who was also wiping away tears. We both laughed yet we couldn’t quite put our finger on why we both became emotional. Perhaps it was the specialness of the once-in-a-lifetime event. Perhaps it was the fact that the recording is now 39 years in the past and we are all 39 years older and yet we can’t wrap our heads around that fact.

I don’t know, but I highly recommend this documentary on Netflix if not for the time-machine quality of it, but to witness creativity in action.

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