The Kamen Conundrum

1:46 pm People

While working on a new site today I had Michael Kamen‘s score from Band of Brothers playing in the background. Track 17 (Why We Fight- Discovery of the Camp) is the portion of the score that accompanies what is, to me, easily the most compelling and devastating scene in the entire series. If you’ve seen it then you know what I’m referring to. If you haven’t, then you should simply rent it, as any attempt I might make to describe it would pale to insignificance by comparison – especially if you watch that episode in context with the rest of the series. Anyway, the music triggered a distraction I had to follow up on.

A phrase in that track at about 10:22 reminded me of something I received via email from Michael long ago, which became all the more dear to me after his passing in 2003. I thought I’d lost it, but thankfully I had not. It was sitting alone on a 3-1/2” floppy disk (among several hundred I keep in boxes under the desk here).

About thirteen years ago – back around the time that the Mosaic Netscape browser became Netscape Navigator; long before every company on the planet had a ‘.com’ internet address – one of the very first web “sites” I created was something called The Kamen Conundrum. In fact, the entire 4-or-5-page ‘site’ was just a sub-section of my personal site at Connix back then. I’ve had no luck finding it via the Wayback Machine, although I imagine I have the pages and audio files archived away somewhere on one of my old IOmega ZIP disks, which are not readily accessible at the moment, as I’ve retired the system that contained the drive for those.

The Kamen Conundrum was a friendly jab at Michael’s apparent penchant for a particular musical phrase (do-re-me-re in solfege), which I dubbed “Doodle-Dee-Doo”. At the time I owned a number of Michael’s scores on CD, and one day I happened to notice that this phrase appeared somewhere on pretty much every one I had: The Three Musketeers, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Don Juan DeMarco, Lethal Weapon II, and several others I can’t recall at the moment. At the time, this ‘discovery’ seemed worthy of Internet publication (uhm… remember, this was back when The Spot was popular…), so I crafted a few pages with audio clips of the passages and put them up on my site.

After the site had been up for quite some months, I received a blank email with a single WAV file attachment. The From address was not recognizable to me and I actually almost just deleted it. Thankfully, I did not. As it began to play, at first I thought it was my cousin, who is named Michael, who’d been trotting the globe and who I understood to be in London at the time. His voice and speech patterns had a striking resemblance to MK’s. It wasn’t until I restarted it after getting halfway through, completely confused, that I heard “…this is Michael Kamen, in London…”. I think I stopped breathing for a moment just then. Here’s what he said:

…this is Michael Kamen in London, having finally accessed your… interesting message to the world. Uhm… you’re not entirely wrong. You’ve got one doodle-dee-doo. Uhm… there’s something you’re really missing, man, and you really have to go back over everything – I’m really sorry to tell you this. Ah, I’ll give you a hint in my own inimitable singing voice. It is possible to describe it as “doodle-dee-doo”, but you need an extra “doo-doo”. And it’s [singing] “doodle-dee-doo-doo-doo”, not just simply [singing] “doodle-dee-doo… vuh-vuh-vuh-voom”. And as, uh, John McClane would say, “Doodle-dee-doo, mutherfucker”.

Although I actually did go back over everything, I never did figure out what the reference was that Michael was trying to describe. We subsequently exchanged several emails on the subject, and I did get him to admit that “my” version appeared in many of the scores – he adding that it was simply a very ‘satisfying’ phrase. But both he and, later, Chris Brooks his (often) producer stated that there was indeed a musical phrase / homage running through almost all of Michael’s work, and that it was something different from the one I’d “discovered”.

To this day, it remains – to me – a happy mystery and welcome memory of a guy who left us far, far too early.

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