Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Sean Paul Murphy, Writer
Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Friday, May 27, 2011

Nils Lofgren: Alone

Signed Cover Art for the album Damaged Goods
Although this blog is primarily devoted to my so-called career as a screenwriter, I have always intended to devote some space to my many experiences as a film editor.  Now I have the perfect excuse to start.  Earlier this week, writer/director Brian Keller found a copy of a video we did together for Nils Lofgren back in 1995.  It was one of my most pleasurable experiences as an editor.

I have always been blessed.  I managed to make my avocation, screenwriting, my vocation, but I have always loved my day job:  editing.  I still do.

I began editing in college, but really honed my skills while working as a producer in the broadcast department of the advertising agency Smith Burke & Azzam (now GKV ).  I went freelance in 1990.  By 1995, I was a very well-established as a freelance editor in the Mid-Atlantic area.  My speciality was television commercials.  Granted, they're not as romantic or as exciting as movies or television shows, but, on an hourly basis, they certainly pay better!  I was loving life.

Brian Keller was an instructor at Towson State University when I was a student.  I never took any of his classes, but we certainly crossed paths in the Film Lab and became friends after I graduated.  Brian soon left academia for the advertising business as well.  One day, I walked into work to find him as my new boss.  However, Brian soon left to form Keller Pictures.  When I left the agency, Brian was one of my first employers.

Brian and I both worked quite a bit out of Sheffield Audio Video Productions, a post-production facility located in the rolling countryside north of Baltimore.  I would sublet their brand spanking new Avid editing system for weeks at a time.  At some point, Sheffield hired a new producer/sales rep, whose name eludes me at the moment, who had a connection with Nils Lofgren.  He got the video.  They wanted an experienced director so they hired Brian, and, somehow I happily ended up with the offline edit.  (Sheffield's mighty Rick Larmore did the online edit.)

Nils Lofgren is best known today as a guitarist and back-up vocalist in Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, but he has had a long and varied career as a solo performer, songwriter and session musician.  He played with everybody: Neil Young, Crazy Horse, The Rolling Stones and even a Beatle.  You can't do much better than that.  He also grew up in the DC suburbs, and that was where he was recording his new album Damage.   However, he would be shooting and editing his video for the song Alone outside of Baltimore.

Frankly, I can't remember if I visited the set during the shoot.  Probably not.  I was extremely busy at the time, but I was very excited about working with Nils.  I was not, however, as excited as some of my friends and clients, John Noble and Jeff Millman, who were both gigantic Springsteen fans.  They literally gave me a list of about twenty questions to ask Nils about his experiences in the E Street Band, and, believe me, I asked them all before the week-long session was over!

The Sheffield sessions took place in the night.  Nils was rehearsing with his band for an upcoming tour during the day in the DC suburbs and would drive to Sheffield to work at night with us.  It must have been a pretty grueling schedule for him, especially when you considered the commute.

Quite out of character, I was a little nervous at first.  Especially since before the first session, the producer came in and firmly warned everyone about not mispronouncing Nils' name.  Now, Nils is a local boy.  A Marylander.  I knew who he was, and I knew how to pronounce his name.  However, after a ten minute lecture about his name and the wide variety of mispronunciations -- including one he really didn't like -- I simply had to many unacceptable words floating around in my brain.  Needless to say, I mispronounced his name the first time I addressed him.  Nils just laughed.  (Fortunately, I didn't use the really bad one!)

Why, you may ask, was this edit, which took place over five consecutive nights, so pleasurable?  Because of the boss:  Nils Lofgren.  He was an absolute dream to work with.  Despite his grueling schedule, Nils was relentlessly friendly and entertaining.  He focused on the task at hand*, but he loved to talk.  And the stories.  Oy Vey!   He knew all the greats in the music business and he had a great tale about all of them.   And do you want to know what's funny?  None of the stories were negative.  He only had positive things to say about the other people he met and worked with.

It was unbelievable.   Frustrated by his unmitigated optimism and cheerfulness, I picked up a Sting CD sitting nearby and said, "Admit it, he's an a**hole."  "I always heard that too," Nils replied, "But I went out with him and Bruce on the Amnesty International Tour and...."  Then Nils proceeded to tell an amusing story which revealed how Sting really was a nice guy.  Impressive.  I told Nils he had to write a book.  Nils just laughed.  He said if wrote a tell-all, he wouldn't get any new stories anymore.  To honor Nils' confidence, I will not repeat any of the stories he told us here.

That said, I did continue with my list of Springsteen questions from John and Jeff.  On the last night, I was down to one final question about an unreleased song Nils had recorded with Bruce.  I started asking about it, but stopped halfway through.  He asked why.  I said, "We're here doing your solo album, we shouldn't be talking about Springsteen."  Nils answered, "Hey, I'm as proud of the stuff I've done with Bruce as I am with anything I've done on my own.  If your friends have a question, just ask."  I did, and he answered.

As a guitarist myself, I did ask Nils one practical question.  I asked how he was able to sing one melody line while playing a different melody line on the guitar -- a skill way beyond my abilities.  His answer was the very model of simplicity:  "Practice."

Nils was not the first celebrity I met or worked with.  He was, however, the first one I made sure I got a picture with.  Here it is:

Nils Lofgren with America's favorite Fat Man.

After the sessions, we all went our own ways.  I received an invitation to one of his concerts, but I was too busy to attend.  A pity.  I would have liked to have stayed in contact with him.  John Noble later got a ticket to a warm-up show for the Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band reunion tour in Asbury Park.  He took me with him, and I was hoping to worm my way backstage to see Nils, but the security guard was unsympathetic.

Here's the video, which was nowhere to be found online, until now:

The band:
Nils Lofgren - vocals, guitars, keyboards, accordion, percusion
Andy Newmark - drums, percussion
Roger Greenawalt - bass guitar, percussion, samples

The song was written by Nils Lofgren.  It was produced, recorded and mixed by Roger Greenawalt at Omega Recording Studios in Rockville, Maryland.

*As an editor, I've noticed an interesting phenomenon over the years.  There are two kinds of performers.  The ones who refer to the character on the screen as themselves, i.e.., "I like that shot of me better."  And the ones who refer to the character on the screen in the third person, i.e., "I like that shot of him better."  I don't know which perspective would be considered more healthy psychologically, but Nils always referred to the person on the screen in the third person.

Some other fun videos I edited:
Face Dancer: Red Shoes
Greg Kihn: Horror Show
Crack The Sky: Mr. President

Be sure to check out my book "The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God."

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