The title refers to a number (25-30) of studio musicians in 1960s Los Angeles, including Tedesco’s guitarist father Tommy, who played on hits for the Beach Boys, Frank Sinatra, Nancy Sinatra, Sonny and Cher, Jan & Dean, The Association, Mamas and Papas, Tijuana Brass, Ricky Nelson, Johnny Rivers, among others, and were the creators of Phil Spector's Wall of Sound.
What particularly appealed to me was the musicians’ attitude toward their work. They inspired some further reflections on translators and their relationships with authors, publishers, and reviewers (see post 19/11/2015).
The wrecking crew regarded themselves as much more than skilled executors of the music entrusted to them by songwriters. On the contrary, they were self-conscious interpreters of the music, who regularly modified what they were given, enriching it with their own contributions of guitar riffs, drum rolls, bass lines, and sax solos, suggested to them by the original music or by their own experience or intuition. One example of many: Carol Kaye’s bass line that she invented to open and sustain Sony and Cher’s hit “The Beat Goes On” – du du du dadu du dadu du. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BI09eh020hE)
The songs came into the studio sessions as the writer had imagined them, and they came out of it with the same overall form, structure, and thematic motifs, but with a sound that was much richer and more finely honed because of the interpretations of the musicians. Is it too much to claim that this process resembles what happens in literary translation? I don’t think so, and if that is the case then it is not too much to ask of reviewers of translated works that they pay some attention to the translator’s contribution to the new version of the original composition, whether that contribution is enriching or not.
There’s more to the movie for translators too. The wrecking crew musicians were well paid – Kaye comments that there were years when she made more money than the President. Even writers and producers with low budgets recognized the musicians’ right to fair compensation. Herb Alpert, for example, who couldn’t afford to pay union scale to the session musicians for “The Lonely Bull,” later owned up, paid the fines, and reimbursed the musicians when the song became a hit. On the down side, the musicians were not recognized on album covers or credits even when their recordings won gold records (drummer Hal Blain collected 107 of them) and in their interviews for the film they have no qualms about expressing their disappointment over the lack of recognition, for which the film offers only partial compensation.
So translators have a lot to learn from the wrecking crew musicians about how to approach our own craft, esthetically and professionally. For starters, the musicians know that insisting on fair pay and artistic recognition are nothing to be ashamed of. The obverse is also true: choices to accept low pay, to relinquish copyright, or to keep a stiff upper lip rather than complain about a reviewer’s inattention, though perhaps justifiable, are nothing to be proud of. Du du du dadu du dadu du. . . .