What ‘The Simpsons’ Lost by Firing Alf Clausen
Earlier this week, it was announced that Simpsons composer Alf Clausen—the man who put the Spring in Springfield, who reminded us that we needed the Kwik-E-Mart, and who understood us when our wives did not—had been fired after 27 years of service. Simpsons producers have stated that Clausen will “continue to have an ongoing role in the show,” but didn’t elaborate on what that role was. Variety cited budget cuts as the likely reason for the canning. Clausen utilized a 35-piece orchestra on every episode of The Simpsons, which cost millions of dollars a year. Clausen tweeted that the orchestra had also been “let go.” Season 29 will presumably be scored only by the resignation in Harry Shearer’s voice as he waits patiently for death.
This is objectively bullshit. Alf Clausen’s music was the heart of The Simpsons. His music not only supported the stories being told, they are certified bangers. And nobody can make a soundalike that sounds so alike-yet-legally-distinct. Here’s Elmer Bernstein’s theme to the 1991 version of Cape Fear:
And here’s Clausen’s theme to “Cape Feare”:
“What I try to do is to get the original source material to listen to, and once I have that, I dissect it. [What] I try to do is figure out what’s unusual about that particular song. Once I get my adrenaline pumping, I have to figure out something that’s actually my own,” Clausen told Vulture for their oral history of The Simpsons’ Planet of the Apes musical. “They think they’re listening to you-know-what, but they’re not.”
Before DVDs and streaming apps, a budding Simpsons obsessive such as myself was at the mercy of syndication. If I didn’t catch an episode during the block of Simpsons every weekday from 6-7, I didn’t see it. What I did have at my fingertips were the two Simpsons soundtrack albums: Songs in the Key of Springfield and Go Simpsonic with The Simpsons. There were many episodes I had listened to hundreds of times before ever seeing. I choreographed a dance routine to Kickin’ It long before seeing the semi-banned “The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson.” Listening to these albums over and over, the parodies have replaced the originals in my head. I know every word to “See My Vest” but can only tell you that there’s a line about grey stuff being delicious in “Be Our Guest.”
Numbers like “See My Vest” are spectacular, and really show off the full orchestra. But beyond these splashier moments, Clausen demonstrated his value in smaller and subtler ways. His score for emotional scenes gave a cartoon about yellow, four-fingered people a lush and cinematic resonance. Would you cry as much every time Lisa reads the “You Are Lisa Simpson” note if it was orchestrated with a Casio keyboard? Clausen gave 2D characters 3D feelings, and that is irreplaceable.