Bacon works his Magic
By BRUCE KIRKLAND
Buried in the credits for the new film Telling Lies In America, which just made its debut at the Toronto film fest, is a musical credit for Kevin Bacon.
He is already on the cast list as the biggest name in the ensemble. Bacon stars in the early '60s-era film as a sleazy yet charming disc jockey named Billy Magic, who is mired in the payola scandals that mutated the development of rock 'n' roll in America.
Bacon's name also shows up as the musical composer and lyricist for a major song, called Medium Rare, which is featured in the movie as the work of an eager young R&B band from the black ghetto of Cleveland. Bacon, 39, is as proud of his musical side as he is of his acting ability. He and his older brother Michael have recorded an album together as The Bacon Brothers for release later this year.
"Music is very, very important to me," Bacon said yesterday. "It always has been. I started writing songs before I started acting. My heroes were all guys with guitars. I listened to the radio (in Philadelphia, where he grew up) when I was a very little boy. It was a very musical town."
One of the DJs Bacon grew up listening to -- whose nicknames include The Boss With the Hot Sauce -- is still on air in Phillie spinning 45s on old turntables.
Bacon used him and other role models to shape Billy Magic for the movie, which is screenwriter Joe Eszterhas' personalized account of growing up as a Hungarian immigrant in Cleveland. The Bacon character befriends the immigrant boy, who unwittingly helps Magic in his payola schemes.
Like many of Bacon's best characters, Billy Magic is neither all good nor all bad. He is both repugnant and appealing.
"I think it was there in the character and it was there in the writing," Bacon says. "Luckily, it's the kind of stuff that I like to do because I have a lot of yin and yang in my approach to characters.
"As soon as I get the nice guy or the hero, it's important to find that thing underneath that is tragic or dark or vulnerable about that character. The flip side of that is, if someone is truly dark or sleazy or dangerous or violent or whatever, I like to find either the charming side of him or the sad side.
"That's what the human condition is. It's never straight down the middle, because straight-down-the-middle good or bad guys are just caricatures to me, and I'm not really interested in playing them, unless it's a cartoon thing like Batman."
The same philosophy haunts his music. No one will be able to easily pigeonhole The Bacon Brothers' album, which will be called FoRoSoCo.
"I was getting a little frustrated with the idea that all music had to be classifed. So FoRoSoCo is what we classify our own music as -- it's folk, rock, soul and country."