As someone who grew up in the ’60s and early ’70s, I can remember a time when pop music served as a kind of national soundtrack, rather than the background noise it’s so often reduced to today. There were entire summers, in fact, when it seemed like the only songs on the radio were Paul Revere & the Raiders’ ”Indian Reservation,” the Beatles’ ”Hey Jude,” or Don McLean’s ”American Pie.” Even today, these catchy-yet-meaningless tunes have the capacity to evoke instant nostalgia among baby boomers—a fact not lost on the producers of Forrest Gump: Music, Artists and Times (GTE Entertainment, CD-ROM for PC and Mac, $39.95) and two new Rhino compilations, Rock Expedition: The 1960s; Soul Expedition: The 1960s (Compton’s NewMedia, CD-ROM for PC and Mac, $29.95 each), which recycle the deeply ingrained standards of that era for today’s techno-savvy consumers.
These CD-ROMs may not be quite as revolutionary a musical development as when Bob Dylan went electric, but they’re remarkable in their own way. Just take a look at the three-disc Gump set, which does for the soundtrack genre, well, what the success of Forrest Gump did for author Winston Grooms’ career. This Gump CD-ROM doesn’t content itself merely with focusing on the original score (by Alan Silvestri); rather, it singles out 21 of the 32 songs scattered throughout the film for atmosphere — from Elvis Presley’s ”Hound Dog” to Jefferson Airplane’s ”Volunteers” to Jackson Browne’s ”Running on Empty” — and gives them the royal multimedia treatment, expanding on their significance with video clips, hypertext links, and historical trivia.
For instance, take one of my favorite songs from the movie, the Beach Boys’ ”Sloop John B.” The discs give you, in no particular order: a wide-screen replay of the scene in which the song is used (when Forrest first meets Lieutenant Dan in Vietnam); a clip of the band performing ”John B” on Dutch TV in 1968; and links to the Forrest Gump script (the full text of which is also accessible). What’s truly remarkable, though, is the accompanying print interview and snippet of video, in which Brian Wilson — in wraparound sunglasses looking like a portly Roy Orbison — evinces Gumpish befuddlement as his brother Carl explains the song’s use of ostinato. These in-depth text and video Q&As — with the likes of Joan Baez, Bob Seger, Ray Manzarek, Stephen Stills, Duane Eddy, Roger McGuinn, David Crosby, Pete Seeger, and Michelle Phillips reflecting on their craft and on life in the ’60s — are the most appealing thing about Gump. Still, everyone interviewed has a suspiciously high opinion of the film (cynic that I am, I’d like to hear, rather than just read about, Neil Young describing Gump as ”the best movie I’d seen since Star Wars”).
I do have a couple of quibbles with Forrest Gump the CD-ROM—though fewer than I have with Forrest Gump the movie. First, some of the songs selected for the disc seem overly safe: It’s telling that GTE chose to focus on Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ”Sweet Home Alabama” (which accompanies Forrest and Jenny’s idyllic interlude toward the end) rather than ”Free Bird” (the song that’s playing when Jenny contemplates jumping off a ledge, and possibly the only selection in the entire movie that works on anything other than the most obvious level). And like the movie, the discs fall flat when they aspire to political significance: The time line of events in the ’60s and ’70s is more decorative than thought provoking, even as it alludes to such national traumas as the 1965 Watts riots. Finally, Gump has the most lugubrious manual I’ve ever read. It actually instructs you to ”pause to reflect” as the ”images begin to evoke memories of a time when we were younger, perhaps more naive, full of dreams, expectations and hope.”
If you prefer your musical nostalgia un-Gumpified, I heartily recommend taking a spin with Rhino Rock Expedition: The 1960s and Rhino Soul Expedition: The 1960s. Reverent when they have to be (there are solid essays about long-lost soul acts like the Capitols and Archie Bell & the Drells) and even more irreverent when circumstances demand (the Monkees’ Micky Dolenz actually describes ”Last Train to Clarksville” in an audio interview as ”an antiwar song.[but] I’m not much of a political animal”), these compilation discs offer slightly better sound quality than Gump and nearly as much added value (essays about the bands, discographies, etc.). I just hope Rhino isn’t tempted by any Gump sequels, because I can imagine the resulting scene. Otis Redding: ”Hey, what’re you doing over there?” Forrest Gump: ”Oh, I’m just sitting on the dock of the bay.” Gump: B+ Both Rhino discs: A-