So how did a Nick Cave song end up in 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows -- Part 1'?
Terms such as "Quidditch" and "Muggles" have essentially become part of everyday lexicon due to the "Harry Potter" series. Yet the weirdest and most unexpected addition to the world-o-Potter, one with magic schools, talking photos and violent trees, may very well be something as simple as a song.
Midway through "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows -- Part 1," the characters Harry Potter and Hermione Granger share a dance. The music for the movement comes from an artist whose work has been steeped in lechery, sin and redemption, characteristics not necessarily associated with a holiday-season family blockbuster. Yet there was "O Children," from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, playing a dominant role, with Cave's baritone of heartache at the fore.
How and why music supervisor Matt Biffa came to Cave's "O Children" is relatively simple, and no doubt similar to how many have discovered Cave's fire-and-brimstone rock and darkly haunting ballads: A breakup.
"I was separating from my wife at the time," Biffa said Tuesday from his London home. "I came across ‘O Children’ in 2004 and I hoarded it. I knew it would be a great song for something, but I didn’t know what. I had forgotten all about it and started listening to it because I was splitting up from my wife. I was really terrified that we were going to hurt our little boys, who were 1 and 3 at the time. So it was like a love letter to my kids."
Lyrically, "O Children," which is featured on the 2004 album "Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus," largely plays out like a song of atonement. The moment it comes in "Deathly Hallows" is one in which Harry and Hermione are struggling to carry on with the quest, looking for some sort of strength to emerge from their friendship. Cave's songs have an ability to walk a line between numerous emotions, and cuts such as "Into My Arms" could work equally well at a wedding or a funeral.
"Exactly," said Biffa. "There was something really uplifting about that 'O Children,' with lyrics like 'rejoice / lift up your voice,’ and all that stuff. I was thinking of my kids. The lyrics are saying, ‘Forgive us for what we’ve done.’ It started out as a bit of fun, but then there’s weeping. It was horribly on the nose for me. At the same time, it was giving me hope. It’s not the same as writing a song for my children, but this is the closest I can get."
Selling it to director David Yates wasn't much of challenge, although the filmmaker still had his music supervisor jump through numerous hoops. Remembered Biffa, "David called and said, ‘I think this song is just right, but is there anything better?’"
Biffa delivered Yates about seven CDs full of music. The director's initial suggestion to Biffa was to find an old soul song, and artists ranging from Radiohead to Queens of the Stone Age to Spirtualized were all in the mix.
"We talked a lot about some of the great old soul songs, songs from James Carr and Otis Redding," Biffa said. "That was initially what David was after. But they’re too much of the Muggle world, if you like. It’s too human, such as bands like Oasis, and Radiohead, to a certain degree. As much as I love Radiohead, I think it would have been too obvious."
Immediately stricken from the list was any song that had appeared anywhere in any film or TV program. The dance scene is not in the book that the film is modeled after, and Biffa knew that fans would be analyzing any song used in the movie.
"The way that the script read, if you read it on the page, it seemed like it was upbeat," Biffa said. "It read like two teenagers going for it. But once David explained the nuances, I realized it had to be quite uplifting, but not too pointedly romantic."
Biffa knew he had it right when he was on set to watch the filming of the dance between actors Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson. "After they did the first couple takes, I looked over and a couple of the makeup girls were crying," Biffa said. "Then I felt all right. We nailed it."
Getting permission for the song wasn't all that difficult. In fact, Biffa said it was relayed to him that Cave was pleased that a lesser-known song had been requested for the film.
Still, it may take some real magic to turn even a fraction of the millions who saw the first chapter of "Deathly Hallows" into Cave fans. Those curious, however, may not want to start with Cave's side-project Grinderman, an aggressive, sexually charged rock 'n' roll assault.
"I love the fact that a whole generation of people, like kids, who weren’t aware of Nick Cave will discover him through the film," Biffa said. "It will be hilarious if they start with Grinderman, or something so different from ‘O Children.’ I’m sure there are songs on the Grinderman albums that are illegal in a few states."
-- Todd Martens
Photo: Nick Cave. Credit: Getty Images