Sometimes Joel Schumacher Decides If You Succeed or Fail
A few thoughts on random chance and success.
Vacations don’t come often in my life but I recently realized I had a 6-day window where I had no podcasting commitments — a true rarity. As a result, this past weekend my wife and I drove to California to visit Sonoma and dine at some of its fine restaurants.
The trip was a delight but it required us to drive over 1400 miles. To keep entertained, I made sure to load my iPhone up with a bunch of podcasts I wanted to listen to. In particular, this episode of Song Exploder, in which Seal and his producer discuss the creation of the hit 1994 song “Kiss from a Rose,” really helped me through the homestretch as I was driving up I-5 towards Seattle around midnight.
As is characteristic of Song Exploder, the episode was insightful about how Seal put the song together. With no autotune, Seal had to record every one of his harmonies dozens of times to make sure he nailed the intonation for this vocal-heavy song. He also had an arrangement where he could go into the studio at virtually any time of day so he could lay down vocal tracks whenever inspiration struck.
“Kiss From a Rose” was a huge part of my teenage years, playing endlessly on the radio. But it’s a weird song! It opens with a wordless acappella rendition of the melody. It uses a string orchestra and occasionally has an Elizabethan feel. Its lyrics are basically impenetrable. It was not a surprise to be reminded that the song did not do well initially. According to Seal in the podcast, “It went in the charts around 60, dropped to 80-something the next week, and it was out. DJs barely played it. No one really understood it, I guess. And no one heard it.”
A Second Chance
That could’ve been the ending for “Kiss From a Rose”…except for the fact that Seal’s manager happened to be friends with Joel Schumacher, who’d just directed Batman Forever. Seal describes what happened next:
Joel Schumacher, God bless him, it didn't fit in the love scene that he was trying to put the song in, but he loved the song so much, he just stuck it on the end credits. And so, when people went to go and see the movie, the last thing they heard when they were leaving a theater was [me singing] "Baby!"
And then Joel got me down to the studio lot where they'd shot a lot of the movie, and stuck me in front of the bat light. And he intercut it with scenes from the movie. And so once we got our foot in the door with this juggernaut of a movie, and this great video on MTV, then it had the legs, then it had the staying power.
[Note: This also indirectly explains why a song whose lyrics had pretty much nothing to do with the events of Batman Forever made it onto the soundtrack.]
Of course, the rest is history. “Kiss From a Rose” would eventually go quadruple platinum and win Song of the Year, Record of the Year, and Best Male Pop Vocal Performance at the 1996 Grammys. While Seal would go on to make other hit songs, “Kiss From a Rose” was a career-defining hit.
And it all happened because Joel Schumacher happened to be friends with Seal’s manager and happened to be directing a Batman movie and happened to have only a single slot for the song over the end credits. If any one of those things hadn’t been true, “Kiss From a Rose” likely would’ve languished in obscurity, listened to only by hardcore Seal completists.
It’s the magnitude of the difference that strikes me. The difference between a globe-spanning hit and literally nothing can sometimes be so delicate as to be laughable. But it’s always great to see how dependent on luck we all are to survive and succeed. It’s a reminder that if the work itself is great — truly great — sometimes all it takes is for the right person at the right time to see the work and decide to give it a platform. And sometimes, that person can be Joel Schumacher.
Other Stuff David Chen Has Made
On Decoding TV, Sarah Marrs and I discussed some of the listener reactions to a rather polarizing season of Justified: City Primeval.