Michael Calia, The Wall Street Journal – July 6, 2015
Warning: This article contains spoilers for the third episode of “True Detective” season two.
“True Detective” is capable of getting weird, but this week’s episode opened with the series’ weirdest scene yet.
The first thing we see is a spectral Conway Twitty (musician and actor Jake La Botz) bathed in blue light and singing his hit “The Rose,” a 1983 country cover of the smash Bette Midler ballad from the 1979 movie of the same name. Twitty, who died in 1993, recorded the song for his album “Dream Maker.”
The song underscores a cryptic conversation between Detective Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell), who was blasted twice with a shotgun and apparently left for dead at the end of the previous episode, and his father (Fred Ward). While the talk takes place at Ray’s favorite dive bar, which often features live music, it is clearly a dream sequence. The song plays in full, too, and we even get to see La Botz perform some Twitty-style vamping on stage just before we come crashing back into reality. “The Rose” was playing on the radio, and it had simply crept into the very-much-alive Ray’s dream as songs often do when we’re asleep.
Songwriter and performer Amanda McBroom, who wrote “The Rose” in the late 1970s, was ecstatic to find out that the show would be using her song, a timeless pop standard whose success has helped fuel her creative lifestyle. She just wrapped up a play in Los Angeles and will soon head to Chicago to perform a concert. In late September and early October, she is scheduled to perform at New York cabaret club 54 Below.
“Talk about the gift that keeps on giving,” McBroom told Speakeasy in a telephone interview last week. “I have the opportunity to do whatever I damn well please, thank you very much.”
An edited transcript of the interview follows.
So you had no idea …
No! They never tell me anything. Warner Chappell just says, “Sure you can use it,” and much after the fact I find out much to my delight. I am so happy to know about this before it airs. Woo hoo!
Have you watched “True Detective” before?
Oh God, yes, I’m addicted to it.
Have you seen this season so far?
Yes, I can’t believe they killed Colin Farrell! Oh my … or, maybe he’s not dead, but he looked pretty dead to me!
I won’t spoil anything for you, but “The Rose” does play a prominent role in the first scene of the third episode, and it’s the Conway Twitty version.
God bless him!
Are you a fan of the Conway Twitty version?
Absolutely. Honey, I bless all the versions that make it into national attention, and I thought he did a beautiful job. It was such a hard right turn from the movie, and it was the first cut aside from Bette’s to come out. I love country, and I’ve always loved Conway. I had heard that, when he was looking to put together that particular album, his kids told him that he had to record that song, and he said OK. I thought to have a male voice to it, first, yay, and a man with so much gravitas, it was a thrill. It was a total thrill.
Did you ever talk to Conway about it?
I never did. I’m really sorry about that. It’s funny, maybe … I’m an established songwriter of a certain genre, and maybe if I was a big pop writer, you know a Billy Joel or James Taylor, people would call and talk to me. Usually what they do, they just record it and I get a royalty statement.
So you do still get royalties from “The Rose”?
Oh honey, yeah. (laughs) Thank you, Lord! It’s called the gift that keeps on giving and giving, and I’m so grateful.
It’s a staple of karaoke and talent shows …
And funerals and graduations and everybody’s grandma’s favorite song. Yes, I’m beyond thrilled.
What does the song mean to you, specifically, especially after all these years?
It started out — I heard a song I really liked by a wonderful writer named Danny O’Keefe. It was called “Magdalena,” and Leo Sayer cut it. There’s a line in there that says, “Your love is like a razor, my heart is just a scar.” I loved the line, and I kept thinking I don’t think love is like a razor, what do I think it is? And it was automatic writing. The song was automatic writing. It is my philosophy. It’s one of those songs that came out in about 15 minutes, and how we pray we have more of them, which never happens. But I think the older I get it, what it means to me now is that — I’ve always wanted to offer some kind of a gift of healing to the world, and this song seems to do that. Now I am just eternally grateful that it seems to bring comfort to people all over the place. I could never ask for anything more than that.
I think what happens in the scene ties into those themes you talked about.
Oh okay! Now you’ve got me really curious!
There’s even a guy who looks like Conway Twitty lip-syncing it.
I love it!
Is there any one artist you would love to hear do it that that you haven’t heard do it before?
Oh boy, sure. Aretha. Uh huh. Before he passed, my dream was Ray Charles. But I think if Aretha did it I would fall over in a dead faint, maybe.
You said before you kind of wrote the song quickly, automatic writing. The first-ever recording was for the movie, right?
When Bette did it, did you talk to her?
No. Not at all. I learned that she wanted to do it from the people at 20th Century Fox, and that they had submitted several songs to her, I think one of the other ones they were thinking about was “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” [also on “The Rose” soundtrack], and this is the one she and her music director liked the most. She does know how to deliver an anthem. You think about her biggest radio hits, they’re all anthems. This was her first anthem. I never really got to speak to her. They did let me sing backup for the recording, and they at one point were debating whether to have her sing it or me sing it because it was supposed to be after she died, and I’m so glad they gave it to her. It would not have been the hit had I sung it. She is just so astounding. And I got to sing harmony, so that was great.
How would you compare Bette’s version to Conway’s version?
Conway’s is so, so masculine. In the film — that film is still probably the best rock ‘n’ roll movie ever made, and her performance is extraordinary — the song comes from a place of exhaustion. With him, it seems to me like it’s a spiritual joy, a sense of peace.
It’s almost like a song of resurrection.