11 Years Ago: Zach Braff Makes a Perfect Mixtape With the Soundtrack to ‘Garden State’
I can't remember the first time I listened to the Shins' "New Slang," but I can remember being completely enamored with it and the rest of their album O, Inverted World shortly after it came out. I hadn't heard anything like it before, and I couldn't hear those songs enough.
So the first time I heard Natalie Portman deliver the now-famous line, "You gotta hear this one song. It'll change your life, I swear," I was like, "Yeah! It will!" It was an exciting moment for me.
Director Zach Braff was already a star when he set out to make the vaguely autobiographical Garden State. He was the central character of the hit TV show, Scrubs, so he had a little leverage for making his movie the way he wanted. And one aspect of the film that he was steadfast about was its soundtrack, which came out 11 years ago today.
For the movie's music, Braff said he basically made a mix CD of the music he was listening to while he was writing the script. Given that this CD contained songs from some pretty big acts, and that the movie's budget was relatively small, getting the licensing rights for everything he wanted proved to be difficult.
Braff, however, was convinced of his movie's quality and was ardent about the music in it. He appealed to each artist (or artist's estate, in some cases) directly, sending along a script for the movie along with the request. He explained to them exactly how their songs would fit into the movie. His doggedness paid off, and he eventually got permission to use all the music he wanted.
His hard work paid off, as Garden State is known today just as much for the music within it as it is known for being an angsty coming-of-age drama. Braff (who also wrote and starred in the movie) won an Oscar for the soundtrack. I've made some mixtapes and CDs in my time, and I was pretty proud of a few of them. But I don't know that any of them would win me any awards at all, much less an Oscar.
The Shins' "New Slang" is probably the track most immediately associated with this soundtrack, thanks to the scene where Portman's character insists Braff listen to it. It's a beautifully understated, melancholy pop song.
Their prominence in Garden State changed life for the Shins. They had released two albums by the time the film came out, which performed well enough for an indie band. But sales of their albums skyrocketed after Garden State, and turned the band into indie rock mainstays.
The Shins, however, weren't the only band on the soundtrack. Coldplay's "Don't Panic" opens up the soundtrack and fits right in with the ennui of the album as a whole.
Then there's the Nick Drake song, "One of These Things First." I'd love to write 100 words on how great this particular song is, but I think the song speaks for itself pretty well.
Simon and Garfunkel's "The Only Living Boy in New York" might be considered the feather in the cap of the soundtrack. Its inclusion helped fuel comparisons between Garden State and another movie about a 20-something dude coming home and falling in love – The Graduate.
Braff said in an interview, though, that he drew more inspiration from Harold and Maude. Both comparisons are kind of strange, given that both films involve the protagonist falling for a woman much older than they are. Natalie Portman's character didn't seem that old. Either way, the song is a great inclusion on this collection.
The soundtrack to Garden State likely changed a lot of lives, at least in small ways. If nothing else, it's a master class in making mixtapes, which seems to be going the way of the buffalo and flip phones.