The Queer Sound of Tim Burton and Danny Elfman

While all you other queers were out at the Big Haunted House on Ponce or dancing your little ripe peach cheeks off at SHALLOWEEN, I was seated with a gin and tonic in my hand at the Atlanta Symphony Hall with BeetleJuice to my right and Dracula to my left. Yea, I know you “don’t like classical music,” but this was indeed no classical concert. The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra partnered with the Georgia Boy Choir and all the fabulous LGBT people at OurSong to bring to life Danny Elfman’s music from the films of Tim Burton. I assure you it was a musical extravaganza that plucked at my tiny queer heartstrings.

The concert was everything that I had expected and more. From the BeetleJuice theme song to the comical tunes of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, this concert touched all of the essential Elfman-Burton collaborations. During the Sleepy Hollow set, the wave of violin bows in unison made me recall the weeds blowing in the dark forest of Sleepy Hollow. The loud trombones during “Making Christmas” made me reminisce about my teenage days watching The Nightmare Before Christmas over and over and over again. When the Edward Scissorhands segment came around, the magical “Ice Dance” moment was played out. You know what song I’m talking about, the one where Kim Boggs (young Winona) walks out to her backyard to see Edward sculpting an ice angel, then realizes she’s fallen in love with a man with scissors for hands. Overall, the two biggest highlights of the concert were without a doubt when young Alok John from the Georgia Boy Choir hit the high notes during his solo performances of two songs from the music of Sleepy Hollow and Alice in Wonderland. Special props to John for sounding like a little cherub singing for his life.

Positioned above the symphony orchestra was a large screen that was showing Burton’s original sketches and clips from his films. This was a great addition to the concert, especially since the music is so pivotal to specific scenes and characters during the films. However, critically speaking, the positioning of the screen should have been higher or divided into two smaller screens at the sides of the stage. While I know the high-rollers in the orchestra seating probably saw all of our friends from OurSong, the less fortunate concert-goers in the high seats were blocked from seeing all of the performers due to the screen.

Yes, I know what you’re thinking right now, “What the f*#@ does this review have anything at all to do with us queers?” Well, let me remind you if you’ve forgotten. All queers have faced a moment in their life when they were confronted with the realization that they were and are different from most. We try to live our lives outside of the hetero-normative lifestyles that are shoved in our faces, and yes, at times we contradict the radical notion of queer life by giving into our inalienable rights as US citizens (e.g., getting married). But we all have had a time were we have come to terms with our differences. Burton’s films are chock full of issues of identity and how a larger population perceives the main character. Practically all of the main characters in Burton’s films face ridicule from others. In most of his films, those main characters are seen as despicable, disgusting, and morally degenerate. Jack Skellington is trying so hard to make Xmas something it is not, Ichabod Crane is enamored with weird devices and just too femme, and Edward Scissorhands has… well, I mean that one is a no brainer. 

Tim Burton (United States, b. 1958), Untitled (Edward Scissorhands), 1990, pen and ink, and pencil on paper, 14¼ x 9 in., Private collection, Edward Scissorhands © Twentieth Century Fox, © 2011 Tim Burton

Tim Burton (United States, b. 1958), Untitled (Edward Scissorhands), 1990, pen and ink, and pencil on paper, 14¼ x 9 in., Private collection, Edward Scissorhands © Twentieth Century Fox, © 2011 Tim Burton

 What I’m getting at here is that at one point in our lives, we’ve realized that some people view our lives differently and do not fully understand who we are. Growing up as a young gay boy in the Bible Belt I was faced with these obstacles, as I’m sure all of you have been at one point in your own life. Tim Burton’s films gained popularity with my friends and me because, yes, they were darker than your typical PG/PG-13 films, but more so because they painted a picture of individuals who were going through some of the same things we were going through. Of course, we were all wearing JNCOs, in all black, with multiple piercings, several bracelets and necklaces, fluorescent hair dye, and causing trouble in whatever public place we could afford to be at, but we were still kids lost in the expectations of societal norms just as were Burton’s fictional characters.  

Nick Seth Hemenway is an NC born queer living in the dirty dirty. Nick is primarily interested in queer art, feminist art, and contemporary art. Researching art censorship during his college years, Nick is also focused on bringing attention to certain inequalities within the art world.