Bruce Springsteen recently talked for the first time about "I'll Stand By You," a rumored but largely uncirculated song he had written and offered for the first Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, in 2001. A few days ago, as we reported, Potter producer David Heyman told a bit more of the story. According to Heyman, Sorcerer's Stone director Chris Columbus is a "huge fan" of Bruce and wound up writing "a 12-page letter explaining and apologizing for not including" the unsolicited track.
We wondered what the director might possibly have to say over 12 pages to Springsteen — but we didn't have to wonder long, as we soon heard from Chris Columbus himself. After seeing the news on Backstreets.com he dropped us a line "to set the record straight" and fill us in: on the inspiration that Springsteen has been to his career, on trying to "will that song into the final credits," and on "I'll Stand By You" itself, which Columbus calls an "amazing, heartbreakingly beautiful song."
Fifteen years ago, on November 16, 2001, Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone was released. Being in a bit of a nostalgic mood, I checked into Backstreets (which I do every day, sometimes two or three times a day). I saw the interview with David Heyman and wanted to respond to it. David got most of the facts right, but there is a little more detail that I wanted to share with you guys.
As a kid who grew up in an Ohio factory town, my future looked pretty bleak. Both of my parents were factory workers, and it certainly looked like that might be my future as well. I developed a love of film in high school and was fortunate enough to get a scholarship to NYU film school. At first, I was out of my element at NYU. I didn't have a tremendous amount of confidence and felt intimidated by many of the other, more sophisticated students. There were several times I thought about leaving school and moving back to Ohio. Just didn't think I could cut it.
Then the summer of '78 happened. I picked up a copy of Darkness on the Edge of Town. I listened to it all night long. It spoke to me. The same way it spoke to millions of other listeners. But I took this music personally. It felt like a challenge.
That summer, during the night shift at Alcan Aluminum where I worked, I'd hide from my snoozing boss between gigantic racks of aluminum. And there, I wrote my first screenplay. I got back to NYU in the fall, showed the script to my professor who passed it on to his agent. The agent took me on as a client and, within three weeks, managed to sell the script to MGM. I suddenly had a career. I suddenly had a future. All because of one Bruce Springsteen record. All because of Darkness.
I never forgot that. As I spent the next decades working in the film industry, and seeing a hundred-plus Bruce shows, I wrote, directed, and produced countless films where I wanted to use Bruce's music. But we usually didn't have the budget, or we were turned down by the record company. Thankfully, I struck up a close friendship with Steve Van Zandt, who wrote many great songs for my films. And I was lucky enough to feature Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes in my first film, Adventures in Babysitting.
But I always dreamed that at some point, somewhere along the way, there would be a Bruce song in one of my films.
We were in post-production on Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone when I got a call from an executive at Warner Bros. He said, "You're not going to believe this. But someone... someone really huge... I mean, a big, big superstar, has written a song for your film." I asked, "Who?" thinking that because of the extremely British nature of the film, it was probably someone like Sting or Paul McCartney. The executive said, "Bruce Springsteen."
My fucking heart leaped into my throat. Here was my chance, my opportunity to finally have a Bruce song in one of my films. The next day, the Bruce CD arrived at Leavesdon studios. I tore open the Fed Ex envelope, ran into my office, and closed the door. I needed to hear this first, I needed to hear this alone. I looked at the title on the CD: "I'll Stand By You." Already, a classic title. I placed the CD into my boombox and hit play.
My first reaction was sheer joy. "I'll Stand By You" was one of the most beautiful songs I had ever heard, one the most elegant and emotional songs that Bruce had ever written. I played it over and over. I drove home and played it for my wife and kids. They all loved the song. I went to sleep that night thinking, "My dream has finally come true."
- image via springsteenlyrics.com, which explains that in addition to being sent to the Sorcerer's Stone producers, the track was "exclusively given out on an in-house promo CD-R to some very few top executives at Columbia Records" in 2001.
The next day, on the mixing stage, I asked the editors to put up the final reel of Sorcerer's Stone. This song deserved a great place in the film, and I was determined to play it over the end credits, as the Hogwarts Express takes Harry, Hermione, and Ron back to their families. Within a few minutes, the song was synched up with the final credits.
We played the reel. We played it again and again. I probably viewed that reel for the next four hours, creating a sense of anxiety and over-budgetary fears into the hearts of my producers. I wanted that song to work. I wanted to fucking will that song into the final credits. But there was one issue.
The first 130 minutes of the first Harry Potter film were intensely, deeply British. Every single actor who appeared in the film was British, their dialogue culled more from the British versions of the book than from the edited American versions (things like "jumper" were replaced by "sweater" in the American versions). The sets were historically British. And John Williams' roaring score was also, in its heart, extraordinarily British.
Bruce's amazing, heartbreakingly beautiful song slightly shifted the mood of the film from England to back across the pond. Back to America. It would be the first time in our film where we would not hear a British voice. Also, complicating matters... John Williams had already written a full eight minutes of an orchestral piece to end the film. I would have to face the Maestro and tell him that I was planning to cut his eight-minute symphony. This certainly would have sent John running for the hills, ending our working relationship forever. Had I done that, John would definitely not have scored the subsequent two Potter films.
I was fucking devastated. I'd waited over 25 years for a Bruce song. And finally, I received one of the best songs he'd ever written. And I couldn't use it.
I was lost, depressed, and truly, truly upset. I did the only thing I felt I could do. I decided to write to Bruce, to explain what had happened. So I started writing... and writing... and twelve pages later, I finished what was part apology, part explanation, part historical journey of my own personal relationship with Bruce and his music.
Bruce wrote back to me a few weeks later, saying he understood and may even take up my offer for him and the family to come visit the Harry Potter 2 set. That unfortunately never materialized. But as you would expect with Bruce, he was incredibly gracious and understanding and made me feel a whole lot better with one line: "You gotta do what's right for your movie." Of course Bruce would care about what's in the heart of the artist.
Over the years, I've had the great opportunity to meet Bruce several times. We never discuss the song. It never comes up. But deep in my heart, I feel I still owe him one. I still feel I owe him something, for setting me on a path that led to my beautiful career, and for giving me a future.
I hope that someday, someday soon, Bruce will release "I'll Stand By You." It deserves to be heard. It truly is a classic, timeless piece of music.
Chris Columbus may not have been able to use Bruce Springsteen's music in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone or his follow-up, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, but you'll hear Jersey Shore music in many of his films. His debut, Adventures in Babysitting, featured two Southside Johnny songs: "Future in Your Eyes" and a cover of "Expressway to Your Heart." Southside's version of "Please Come Home for Christmas" was in Home Alone, and Home Alone 2 had Steven Van Zandt's modern classic "All Alone on Christmas" with Darlene Love on vocals. Columbus also directed the music video for that song, including the entire E Street Band in the studio with Love and Macaulay Culkin. "Very touching to watch these days," Columbus adds. And Nine Months featured Stevie Van Zandt (accompanied by Bon Jovi) singing his "The Time of Your Life."