Graded on a Curve:
Mike Oldfield,
Tubular Bells

Early in the production process of 1973’s The Exorcist, director William Friedkin decided to bring a surprising consultant on board: Satan. “Details are everything,” Friedkin would later say. “I was aiming for total authenticity, and I wanted to get Linda’s dialogue right.”

A relaxed Satan would later tell Spin magazine, “Billy [Friedkin] asked me if I’d be interested in participating in the project. And I was really quite pleased. Nobody ever asks for my input. The Rolling Stones got their hands on a speech I made to the Dayton, Ohio Chamber of Congress, but did they show me any sympathy? Not with Jagger singing they didn’t. I’ve dealt with sewing circles more Satanic than him. Have you ever seen a macramé pentagram? Scary as hell.”

As a favor to Friedkin, Satan agreed to weigh in on the film’s score. The director ran a number of ideas past the Prince of Darkness, but he didn’t like any of them. Then one day Friedkin walked into Satan’s office with a copy of Mike Oldfield’s 1973 debut LP Tubular Bells. “Listen to the opening,” he said. “I think you’ll like it.” The Evil One took the LP back to his bungalow at the Chateau Marmont in Hollywood, and a week later burst into Friedkin’s office.

“We can’t use this!” he shouted. “It scared the shit out of me! I haven’t slept for a week! I haven’t been so frightened since I heard Blood, Sweat & Tears’ ‘Spinning Wheel’ and I still can’t get that damned song out of my head!”

“Isn’t that the idea?” asked Friedkin, inviting Satan to take a specially designed asbestos–covered sofa he’d had made after Satan had accidentally set his previous one on fire.

“Sure. But Tubular Bells is soul-sucking, crone-faced-succubus-fucking, over the top terrifying. Couldn’t we use something by Emerson, Lake & Palmer? I’m not afraid of possessing them. I’m afraid they’ll possess me.”

“Not available. They’re in London recording a 15-album adaptation of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen.

“How about the Doobie Brothers’ ‘Black Water’? Those wind chimes at the beginning are seriously witchy.”

“They passed. They don’t want to be associated with a horror movie.”

“The Doobies are a horror movie. Look, I’ve been doing my homework and I’ve got an idea. There’s a song on Tubular Bells II–which won’t come out until 1992 but I can see into the future–called “Altered States.” And Oldfield’s basically channeling me. It’s some real demonic possession shit. You should give it a listen.”

“It doesn’t exist yet.”

“I could hum it for you. And you won’t have to pay a penny for it. Twenty years down the line Oldfield will have this great idea for a song and somebody will say, “It’s great Mike, but it’s been done. In The Exorcist.

“I hate to nix your ideas because you could open a portal to hell right here in my office and toss me through it, but we’ve run Tubular Bells past a test audience and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Hair-raising was the word used most often. People are going to leave the theater thinking they’re were terrified by Linda Blair’s 360-degree head spin, when what really set them to fainting was Tubular Bells. By the way, what do you think of the album as a whole?”

“It’s the perfect progressive rock album–not maddeningly annoying and you have no memory of listening to it afterwards. And there’s this great part towards the end where Oldfield introduces each of the instruments in a stodgy English accent. ‘Two slightly distorted guitars,” he’ll say in a plummy voice. Or “Mand-o-lin!.’ It’s a total parody of the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band’s ‘The Intro & The Outro.’ Or at least I hope it is. Couldn’t we just use that part?”

“Sure. If we were making a comedy.”

“I feel you Billy, really. But I don’t think this our collab is going to work out. Tubular Bells is going to scare people, and contrary to public opinion I’m not in the people-scaring business. I prefer the subtle approach. Soft rock’s more my thing. You can catch more souls with Carole King than you can with Black Sabbath. I can show you the numbers.”

“In that case you might want to check out James Taylor.”

“Already on my roster. I have Laura Nyro too. They’re luring people to damnation like you wouldn’t believe. I wish you well with the project. Love the priest out the window part. I’m a big fan of cleric defenestration. But we have what I think you’ll agree are irreconcilable artistic differences.”

“Well, we gave it the old demonic try. Can I give you a ring if there’s another project I think you might be interested in?”

“Sure thing Billy baby. But I want to play the lead. And leave this Oldfield guy out of it. I can get you the Eagles no trouble.”

GRADED ON A CURVE:
C

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