After I completed the score to Blood Simple I spent a some time in Japan doing animation for Lensman. Back in New York I returned to my day job running the Digital Sound Lab at the New York Institute of Technology, and continued playing in bands with no particular plan to pursue film music. Around this time I also started singing with The Harmonic Choir, David Hykes' overtone singing project which was in residence at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City.
This was all exciting, but on the downside I'd recently bought a condo and, facing mortgage payments for the next 30 years, feared that I'd be doing computer work the rest of my life.
Sometime in 1985 I received a letter in a little-used post office box. It was from Burt Berman at Universal Pictures. He wanted to speak with me regarding a film project. The letter could have been months old. I called Burt and was told that Tony Perkins was going to
direct Psycho III and that he wanted to speak to me about the music. As it so happens I was (and am) a big fan of Tony's. I'd even been collecting film stills of him in preparation for doing an computer-animated "Temptation of St. Anthony." I was told Tony would be at the Plaza Hotel in New York in a few days and I should give him a call.
I called around noon on the appointed day and apparently woke him up as he didn't know where or when it was, but he slowly came to and we met at his suite later that day. He'd really liked Blood Simple,
felt that the musical direction of Psycho II had been too traditional, and wanted something different for his film. All this certainly sounded good to me. They wanted me to work in Los Angeles, which was fine too.
I had no agent, no experience of writing music on paper, of hiring musicians, of spotting music to picture. I really knew nothing about anything, but Tony made it clear that this was why he was hiring me. So I made out a list of equipment I'd need - in particular a workstation called a Synclavier - and moved to a furnished apartment in a complex called Oakwood which is famous for housing industry transients like myself. The cheapest Synclavier that Universal could book was in a industrial park in the San Fernando Valley - a very nondescript building whose few employees drove Ferrari's. They tried to hide the real purpose of the building from me, for fear that Universal would balk, but as I explored the occasional unlocked door I realized that they made and distributed porn videos. They'd bought the Synclavier for their in-house composer.
Tony had made Psycho III with a dark comedic eye, and Universal became concerned that a traditional horror-film audience wouldn't get it, so they asked him to "add more blood." The additional photography extended my stay in L.A. but gave me the chance to hang around the set and the Universal backlot. I would also loll about Burt Berman's bungalow picking up tips on how the business worked - agents, schedules, budgets, soundtrack albums, etc.
For me, Universal was living film history. Hilton Green, who was producing Psycho III, had been assistant director on the original Psycho and we spoke about Hitchcock and his imperial presence on the backlot. And speaking of imperial, Tony once introduced me to Lew Wasserman at the commisary.
It was all a New York film lover could ask for.
The final score to the picture was executed on Synclavier, percussion by Steve Forman, with
women's and boy's choirs. Norman Bates plays piano in one scene of the film, and I tried to get Tony to play the theme I'd written for him, but syncing his fingers to the picture was difficult and in the end I did it myself. We did get a chance to work together some more when the studio raised the question of "pop songs."
At that time - as happens sporadically in the industry - the studios were convinced that their films must contain pop songs for promotional reasons. MTV had just become a form of "free publicity" for the film business and Universal pushed Tony to find some pop artist who could get air play. Tony had been very independent about the use of source music in the film (As he pointed out to me many times, he was only willing to be in the film if the studio let him make it the way he wanted - and what did the studio care as long as it said "Psycho" on the marquee?).
There are several songs in the film that were written and/or performed by me and my friends Steve Bray and Stanton Miranda ("Dirty Street" and "Catherine Mary" are examples). The studio didn't consider us bankable, however.
One by one, bands were put in front of Tony and myself and we nixed them - typically because we didn't feel they had any "Norman" in them. At one point I got together with another young composer from a pop background. Danny Elfman had just scored Pee Wee's Big Adventure and we talked about how one might create a pop song for Psycho III. Danny's idea was to sample Bernard Herrmann's string stabs from the first Psycho and use them as a rhythm bed. This time Universal nixed the idea.
Finally Tony got what he wanted through sheer stubborness - Universal let us take a theme from the underscore and develop it into an instrumental with at least some pop vibe.
I worked on it with Steve Bray and David Sanborn and we called it "Scream of Love." It clearly had no potential for radio play, but it was the only solution Universal was going to get so they went with it. They had Arthur Baker do some dance remixes on 12" vinyl and we even made a music video featuring me, Tony and a Hitchcockian blonde. Eventually Tony presented the video on MTV as a guest VJ.
I spent three or four months in L.A. in all, and by the time it was done I felt I'd had a rich and complete experience. I've never felt compelled to live there again.