If the soundtrack to the movie Kids isn’t my favorite film score, it’s certainly close. I listened to the cassette I had over and over on long drives to and from college my sophomore year after my recovery from lymphoma. I had incredibly mixed feelings about the movie itself, owing to the overwhelming nihilism it depicted, which was only enhanced by both Larry Clark and Harmony Korine’s congenital knack for taking things to the extreme. The opening monologue about virgins, courtesy of the film’s main character, an unlikable deadbeat teenager named Telly, was enough to put you off the whole affair. If you made it past that, the rest of the movie offered a bleak look at urban kids and what they got themselves into during their daily lives. The existential specter of the still-misunderstood AIDS epidemic permeated the atmosphere throughout the film, playing almost an invisible villain in a world where the notion of right and wrong simply didn’t exist.
As offensive as Kids was, the soundtrack, while adhering close to the tone and plot of the film, also provided a revelatory experience. I don’t mean that in the sense that it brought outsiders like Daniel Johnston and Slint closer to the mainstream (many of us were already listening to those bands) — although it did that. What made it so revealing, though, was the way it brought an infusion of hip-hop into indie rock. Sure, there were other experiments in the space — like the soundtrack for Judgment Night — that would have also claimed to have made that fusion. That collection of rap/rock collaborators was done in such a contrived, corporate way that managed to be simultaneously self-conscious and overly brash. The Judgment Night soundtrack was made by people who grew up thinking Aerosmith and Run DMC had obtained the perfect elixir of hip-hop and classic rock alchemy. Lou Barlow and John Davis had a different vision when they composed and compiled the Kids soundtrack.
Davis and Barlow had started off as an experimental folk outfit whose name played on the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, a band whose popularity was rising at the time. Incidentally, Spencer’s band combined a faux-bluesy posture with a phoned-in (literally) rap from new indie breakout superstar Beck Hanson. It wasn’t until the soundtrack work that listeners heard how influences from R&B and hip-hop powered the Folk Implosion duo. It was anything but the folk that was to be expected from the Folk Implosion or the solo work of Davis and Barlow. The soundtrack scored a genuine hit with the song “Natural One” that even brought a major-label record deal.
As surprising and influential as the sounds of the Folk Implosion were in 1995, they still sound different from anything that has come since, even almost 30 years later. The New York Times reports that, after a rancorous split in 1999, the duo of Davis and Barlow are back together again and planning on releasing new music (as well as rereleasing their songs from the soundtrack that boosted them into the popular conscience). Time will tell whether they can recreate the magic that started with a letter from an unknown filmmaker.
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