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Composer's song found in `Translation'.

Byline: Lewis Taylor The Register-Guard

Michael Brewer is used to his music turning up in unlikely places.

The Eugene composer sells royalty-free, instrumental theme songs that find their way into TV commercials, corporate training videos, hospital lobbies and other places and products that call for unobtrusive background music. But he was taken aback when he received a call from music producer Brian Reitzell in July 2002.

Reitzell wanted to license a decades-old psychedelic rock song for a Bill Murray film.

"In the music business, you just never know what's going to happen," Brewer says, speaking from his cramped office on Chambers Street. "It's really a pretty incredible story to think about how this happened."

Brewer's song, "Feeling I Get," features prominently in a party scene in the new Sofia Coppola-directed film "Lost in Translation," which opens today in Eugene and Springfield. Brewer's short-lived Los Angeles high school band, the Mary Butterworth Group, recorded the song on its 1969 album, "Mary Butterworth."

The album has been pirated and collected as a rarity. It has been reclaimed and copyrighted and remastered and rereleased.

Now, the record that refuses to die has been given yet another life, thanks to Coppola's film.

"My hope is that we might sell a few thousand more CDs," says an ever-optimistic Brewer. "Maybe get a new group of listeners."

A really hidden track

"That's me, 16 (years old)," Brewer says, gesturing toward a tiny boombox in his office blasting tracks from the "Mary Butterworth" album.

Brewer, now 50, sports a neatly trimmed, salt-and-pepper beard and wears Birkenstocks and a baseball hat. He reveals a bootleg copy of "Mary Butterworth," which he found in a New York City used record store.

The recording has been duplicated carefully, right down to the crude cover art, which looks like what it probably is: the doodlings of a teen-ager in the late 1960s who may or may not have been under the influence of psychotropic drugs.

The album still bears the record store sticker, which offers a description of the music and a hint as to why it's still in circulation.

"Rare repro of $500 + 1969 garage gem!" the blurb reads, "Great swirl organ, echo drums, fuzz guitar."

Brewer - who wrote the songs, handled lead vocals and played bass and flute on the album - has his own ideas about what gives the record its staying power.

"It's got big sound," Brewer says, "There was enough of that energy on the record that I think that's what carried this record for so many years. I think that's why '70s music is so popular today is because it was so real."

A skilled self-promoter, Brewer isn't the most objective critic when it comes to his own music. But you can believe him when he says a low-fi boombox doesn't do justice to the "The Mary Butterworth Album."

Even so, there is a rawness that comes through the songs on any speakers, especially on "Feeling I Get," which is driven by Brewer's pleading vocals and the chugga-chug-chug of a Hammond organ.

"I sang with all my heart and soul," says Brewer, who has given up singing. `(There's a point where) you become the voice, because you're not really singing; you're just doing it.

`You really can't think about it. You've done this so many times you just get in the groove and you go for it."

The rough, retro finish of Brewer's song sounds like something you might hear accompanying a torture scene in a Quentin Tarantino film. There's something cool and atmospheric about the music, and, even without seeing Coppola's film, you can imagine the song spinning on a turntable behind Bill Murray.

Reitzell, the soundtrack producer of the film and a musician who plays drums in the French pop band Air, first heard Brewer's song when an avid collector of psychedelic rock records played the track for him.

The rarity of the tune, combined with the "druggy" late 1960s and early 1970s aesthetic, persuaded him it was right for the film.

"The song just works," Reitzell says. `It's definitely psychedelic stoner rock, and that's what's going on in that scene. ... I also liked the fact that that record was never released.

`On an insane hipster level, there's maybe 10 or 15 people that will see the movie and go, `I know what that is.' ... I always like to use stuff that makes people go, `Hmmm, what is that?' '

Soundtrack misses Butterworth

Part of the charm of "Mary Butterworth" is the unlabored nature of the songs, which is probably an outgrowth of the hasty recording process.

The 33-minute album was tracked live in the studio with very few takes. The band spent a total of about 3 1/2 hours on the project, not including mastering, Brewer says.

"Pretty much, I made the words up as we went along," he admits. "There's no big content in the words, but I think the fact that the music was live, it was raw, it was really sincere and straight-ahead, that's what people picked up on."

The Mary Butterworth Group hoped to make a recording, land a record deal and go on to become famous rock stars like some of the band's idols: the Moody Blues, Deep Purple, Cream and the Doors. That didn't happen.

But the band did sell most of the 500 records it had printed.

"We really did think we were pretty good," Brewer said. "As I look back at these players, as a musician now 30 years later, these players at 16 years old were incredible."

Of the 30 or so pieces that appear in "Lost in Translation" only seven songs were chosen for the soundtrack album; "Feeling I Get" wasn't one of them. Reitzell says it didn't quite capture the "emotional flow" of the film.

Brewer thinks the exclusion of his song from the soundtrack album might actually help him. Assuming viewers go looking for his CD on the Web, where it sells for $12.95, he'll earn full payment for all his songs instead of royalties for one song.

Although he's sold some 45,000 CDs of background music worldwide, the one piece of music that seems most likely to outlive him is the one of which he has sold the fewest copies: "Mary Butterworth."

"I know how, with software, you can build tunes these days and they sound flawless," Brewer says. "They're really great. There's no noise, but they are kind of sterile. They are so manufactured that the rhythm's always perfect. In real life, musicians don't play that way. I think that's what makes people like live music, because they're there when it's happening and it's spontaneous for everybody. Whether you screw up or play it perfect, that energy is there.

`In the 1970s, that's what most people did. (For) most musicians, it was a one-shot deal. They'd put the microphones up and maybe they'd get a good recording."


On the Web: For more on the band, go to

GuardLine: To hear music by the Mary Butterworth Group, call the GuardLine at 485-2000 from a touch-tone phone and request category 7664


Michael Brewer's 1969 song "Feeling I Get" is prominently featured in "Lost in Translation."
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Title Annotation:Acclaimed movie uses a track a Eugene man recorded in high school; Entertainment
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Oct 3, 2003
Previous Article:Quick Pick.
Next Article:A traditionalist, with a gritty twist.

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