It’s becoming normalised for people to be famous in more than one medium. After all, the internet is making the methods for creativity more readily available. It used to happen by chance – people met other musicians or picked up a guitar and pursued it because there was nothing else to do.
Nowadays, people are overwhelmed with information regarding all the different possible modes of creativity, and there’s advice and tips on how to improve at them just a click a way. It’s surprising anybody gets anything done with the internet. However, there’s a select few individuals with the combination of drive, passion and creativity, able to excel in more than one medium.
This list is about people choosing music as either a backburner activity or who merely dabbled in it while they pursued goals more important to them, career or life wise. It also features people who were not able to reach the fame through music that they were in other areas.
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Crispin Glover – ‘The Big Problem ≠ The Solution. The Solution = Let It Be’
Crispin Glover is most famous as the weirdo father from Back To The Future (pictured, above) and is also known for his many goofball cameo roles. Yet he’s also a serious artist with work released as a writer and filmmaker. And at one point he experimented with music making, on the 1989 album ‘…Let It Be’.
By far the most streamlined track on the album is the lead single ‘Clownly Clown Clown’. The song is half-rapped in a child-like freestyle with some wonderfully eccentric lines: “Thinking back about those days with the clown / I get teary eyed, and really snide.” Whether he’s a performance artist or an earnest madman remains a point of contention even today.
Other album highlights include a cover of ‘These Boots Are Made For Walking’. Crispin holds nothing back in his vocal performance, which is halfway between crying and laughing, between a joke and a nervous breakdown. It’s hard to tell where the truth lies.
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Charles Manson – ‘Lie: The Love And Terror Cult’
One of the questions raised by this record is what is more important: the story of the artist or the actual music itself? To diminish this music on the grounds that nobody would listen to it if it were anybody other than Manson seems foolish. We’ve always cared about the story of the music, and it has always influenced the way it’s listened to. Classic albums have their status in part because of how they are storied. ‘Nevermind’ changed rock music. ‘Kid A’ was a band shying away and embracing its inner genius. In recent years Kanye West has self-storied himself successfully.
The problem with Charles Manson is that the music on this 1967 LP does not live up to the story – it’s too conventional and divorced tonally from the disturbing consequences of his cult. However, when Manson’s best songs are looked at in isolation they’re enjoyable, and even moving at times. There’s something dissonant about the fact he not only had a soulful voice, but sang so many innocent songs of love.
One of the best examples is ‘Home Is Where You’re Happy’, which features stirring lyrics of freedom: “So burn all your bridges, leave your old life behind / You can do what you want to do because you’re strong in your mind.”
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William Shatner – ‘The Transformed Man’
This 1968 album works as an introduction to spoken-word music, and even a way to enjoy Shakespearian soliloquies. The slices of pop such as ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’ are placed effectively in the sequencing, respites from the intensity of the Shakespearian passages chosen.
In ‘Theme from Cyrano’, Shatner states, “I prefer to work alone without any thought of reward,” in a fake British accent. The line works as a representation of his approach to music: it doesn’t seem like he’s trying to take over the industry here. ‘The Transformed Man’ is simply what he wants to make, and with his vocal choices (in particular his stirring rendition of ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’) it seems like he’s having fun doing it.
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Vincent Gallo – ‘When’
2001’s ‘When’ is the product of a busy mind, and film actor, writer and director Gallo (The Brown Bunny, Buffalo 66) takes a patchwork approach to putting together an album. There are cinematic instrumentals such as ‘My Beautiful White Dog’, for instance, where claustrophobic strings create a feeling of unease compounded by the stop-start rhythm section.
Elsewhere, the music is stripped down and contains lyrics akin to the content of a teenager’s diary, with repetitions of lines such as “Laura... come back”. But directness in lyrics can often hit harder than clever or poetic alternatives. We can dress our thoughts and emotions up in all kinds of ways, but the simplistic approach is sometimes closest to how we actually feel.
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Scarlett Johansson – ‘Anywhere I Lay My Head’
The idea of Johansson covering Tom Waits seemed strange at first. Waits is a hero for deadbeats and lowlifes, and Johansson is an actress – pictured above in the movie Lucy – whose main draw is her sex appeal. The idea of the two combining seems uncomfortable and inauthentic, like Zac Efron playing Charles Bukowski, and yet 2008’s ‘Anywhere I Lay My Head’ proved a pleasant surprise. Its laidback approach is different to the usual harsh edge of Waits’ music. Instead, Johansson chose an atmospheric approach with layered vocals, music boxes, guitar lines and keyboards all implemented throughout.
Her voice takes some getting used to, but it’s refreshing that rather than choose to hide her limitations with effects she allows her understated performance to contrast with the dramatic sounds swirling around it. Ultimately, this is an album of elegant music that takes musical risks while showing restraint.
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David Lynch – ‘Crazy Clown Time’
Kanye West and Cher taught the world the best thing to do if you have problems with your voice is to sing through a vocoder, and David Lynch seems to be following their lead on the highlight of this 2011 album, ‘Good Day Today’. His soft tones are mixed with stomping industrial noises, forming a contrast to the mantra-like repetition of the peaceful line, “I want to have a good day”.
‘These Are My Friends’ is a track I wish more of the album sounded like. It has a nostalgic atmosphere akin to the tone of the music used in Twin Peaks, and is reminiscent of the romanticism evoked by much of Julee Cruise’s soundtrack. Lynch appears to be going for a redneck voice as he depicts the daily creature comforts that give him peace in his life.
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Milla Jovovich – ‘The Divine Comedy’
Jovovich is most famous for her appearances in the Resident Evil film series. But at the age of just 18, in 1994, she put out a little-known album of symphonic pop music.
The album’s lead single, ‘Gentlemen Who Fell’, is driven by chiming Disney-like strings and relatable lyrics about social awkwardness, as she laments: “I don’t know how to speak to you / I don’t know how to trust you / I don’t know how to live for you / I don’t know how to know you.”
Other highlights include ‘You Did It All Before’, which sounds like it’d make a fitting backdrop to scenes from The Shire in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings movies; and ‘Clock’, which features wind instrumentation carrying the sense of longing in the lyrics. This album has a maturity in its themes and approach to music uncommon for artists of Jovovich’s age at the time of recording.
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Words: William Bradbury