Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Down: Way Down In The Hole

Tom Waits: Way Down In The Hole
[purchase The Wire soundtrack, with 4 of the 5 versions used in the credits]

This year, it seems like I’m writing more about television related music. I watch an enormous amount of television, and I do think that there is so much great stuff to watch these days. In fact, there’s a ton of shows out there now that I would like to check out, but there are just so many hours in the day. In addition, there are a bunch of older shows, often considered to be among the medium’s best, that I have never seen. Some, I’m not interested in, like Game of Thrones, but mostly it is because I didn’t start watching them during their initial run, such as The Sopranos (80 episodes), or Mad Men (92 episodes), or Breaking Bad (62 episodes, plus I’d have to watch Better Call Saul), and their multi-season runs make binge watching difficult.

A few years ago, when I started my own practice, there wasn’t much work right away. I decided to binge watch one of the shows that I had missed, and hit upon The Wire. It was only five seasons (and 60 episodes), it was supposed to be greatAlso, I was a big fan of Homicide: Life On The Streets, which shares significant creative DNA with The Wire.  And my wife wasn’t interested in it. Perfect. (I also watched the 24 episode British show The Thick of It, which was amazing, and easily the most profane program I have ever watched).

The Wire was, in fact, great, and harrowing, and depressing and brilliant. The way that it dissected the Baltimore of its era by focusing on the decay of its major institutions—the police, the unions, the government, the schools, the press, and even the street gangs—was remarkable. The narrative style was groundbreaking, and the performances, by actors who rarely, if ever, have reached the same level of quality since, were stunning. And there was Omar.

But, as I so often have to remind myself, this is a music blog. The credits for the first season ran over a cover of Tom Waits’ “Way Down In The Hole,” recorded by the Blind Boys of Alabama. At the time, I didn’t know that it was a cover, because I’m not that big a Waits fan. The second season, they used the original. For season three, it was a Neville Brothers cover, and in season 4, they commissioned a version, credited to DoMaJe, sung by Baltimore middle schoolers, which related to the season’s focus on the public schools. The final year, they used a cover by Steve Earle, who also acted in the show. Here are all of the credit sequences, conveniently edited into one video:

If you’d like to read more about the credits, go here.

David Simon, the creator of The Wire, followed up that show with a number of well-received television projects.  Generation Kill, which I haven't seen, was about the 2003 invasion of Iraq.  Tremé, which I loved, taught me an enormous amount about post-Katrina New Orleans, and that amazing city's culture, particularly its music. After that, he adapted my friend Lisa Belkin's book Show Me A Hero into a gripping miniseries about zoning (cheap joke--it was about race, and politics and ambition and much more).  A couple of weeks ago, his new show, The Deuce, focusing on the sex and pornography industry in New York in the 1970s, debuted to critical acclaim.  So far, I think it is good, but, and I bet Simon gets tired of hearing this phrase, it isn't The Wire (but is it more like that show than the other Simon projects?).

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