Here’s a bit of trivia that leads to an unexpected pop-culture confluence: What moody Top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1983 was directly inspired by fictional super-spy Jason Bourne? I’ve already heard back a few interesting off-the-mark guesses, including Undercover of the Night by the Rolling Stones, Another One Bites the Dust by Queen, and two Duran Duran songs, a View to a Kill and The Reflex.
Here’s a hint: There’s no cloak-and-dagger imagery in the title of the Bourne-inspired song. Surprisingly, the title is instead taken from a legendary 1960s television series beloved by many science fiction fans.
That’s one of those hints that either helps a lot or simply makes the question twice as hard. Either way, you’ll find the answer in the form of a 1983 music video in the video player down below in the newsletter. First, a bit more about the amnesiac assassin made famous on the big screen by Matt Damon.
BIRTH OF BOURNE
Jason Bourne, the wayward CIA assassin made his debut 42 years ago this month with the debut of Robert Ludlum’s geo-political thriller The Bourne Identity. The February 1980 release was a major commercial success, too, finishing the year No. 2 on the hardcover sales chart, trailing only James Michener’s The Covenant at No. 1 (and surpassing notable releases such as Stephen King’s Firestarter).
There were, of course, even bigger audiences awaiting the super-soldier from the mysterious Operation: Treadstone. The hardcover hero of the Reagan Era became a cinematic dynamo of the 21st Century with star Matt Damon bringing the taciturn Bourne to life on the big screen in four feature films: The Bourne Identity in 2002, The Bourne Supremacy in 2004, The Bourne Ultimatum in 2007, and Jason Bourne in 2016. Damon sat out a fifth entry, The Bourne Legacy in 2012, which instead deployed Jeremy Renner as a second-generation black-ops renegade.
The five films have a collective haul of $1.7 billion at worldwide box office and also spawned a 2008 tie-in video game from Vivendi and a short-lived USA Network prequel series called Treadstone.
Bourne can be an unstoppable force, but his creator wasn’t far behind him with his runaway success in the publishing marketplace of the 1970s. Ludlum, a former Marine, had spent his 30s pursuing theater production and stage acting before reinventing himself in his 40s as a novelist.
The New York City native’s second-act career proved to be a smash success. The Bourne Identity’s release in 1980 gave him his 12th novel in under a decade (1971-1980), all of them bestsellers, and a few destined for the screen (The Osterman Weekend and The Holcroft Covenant). Book reviewers weren’t always kind regarding the prose, but Ludlum’s espionage page-turners did reflect the author’s stage-sharpened sense of drama and a deft sense of pacing. Ludlum’s fans clearly loved the espionage thrillers. Ludlum’s novels been published in 33 languages across 40 countries with more than 300 million copies in print.
Ludlum died March 2001 in Naples, Florida, at age 73. Only three of Ludlum’s 27 published novels were Jason Bourne adventures (The Bourne Supremacy in 1986 and The Bourne Ultimatum in 1990 closed-out the bookshelf trilogy started by the 1980 original) but the haunted spy remains the writer’s most enduring legacy. Bourne didn’t die when his creator did, however. Ludlum’s estate quickly cranked-up the Bourne content machine with new writers. Thirteen novels have been added to the Bourne saga to date, starting with The Bourne Legacy by Eric Van Lustbader in 2004 up through last year’s The Bourne Treachery by Brian Freeman. There’s more on the way, too. The Ludlum estate brought author Joshua Hood to write a Treadstone book series that began in 2020 and has its fourth installment, The Treadstone Transgression, due in stores next year.
One more thought on the amnesiac assassin: Ludlum, interestingly, told interviewers he was inspired partly by personal experience when he concocted Bourne’s blank-memory origin story. Ludlum explained that he himself had a bout of amnesia not long after his first book was published in 1971. There’s an old saying that writers should write what they know but I’m not sure that applies in Ludlum’s case. It may be fair, though, to say that the late Ludlum forgot more about amnesia than the rest of us will ever know.
Now, about that Top 10 hit from 1983 that was inspired by Ludlum’s first Jason Bourne novel.
Twilight Zone by the Dutch band Golden Earring was propelled up the Billboard Hot 100 in 1983 by MTV’s strong support for the tie-in music video, which one of the few videos of that era that was scripted with a narrative storyline format. Golden Earring, by the way, is the same band that caught the ear of classic rock radio programmers with their hot-and-bothered 1973 record Radar Love.
Golden Earring guitarist George Kooymans wrote Twilight Zone after reading Ludlum’s The Bourne Identity. So why name the song after Rod Serling’s legendary anthology television series?
The Twilight Zone, which specialized in sci-fi parables, supernatural tales, and karmic comeuppance, had a 156-episode run on CBS between October 1959 and June 1964. But none of the show’s familiar visuals (which include Serling himself) are anywhere to be seen in the music video.
That’s because, by the 1980s, Serling’s franchise was so ingrained in the public imagination that creators like Kooymans routinely used it as recognizable shorthand for any surreal situation. A black-ops killer with a muddled mind and faceless enemies conspiring against him certainly qualifies for the imagery by that standard.
The sinister and atmospheric music video clearly boosted the Golden Earring record on the charts. It’s unlikely the single from Polygram would have reached No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 without the heavy MTV rotation. The result was a clear message to the music industry that making a creative statement with a video could catapult a veteran band from the European rock scene’s periphery right to the top tier of the American pop charts.
A FAMILIAR FACE
There’s a second unexpected confluence between the pop charts of the 1980s and classic sci-fi television of the 1960s. I only recently became aware of this vintage Bangles music video for their 1984 cover version of Going Down to Liverpool, an evocative song written by Kimberley Rew, the Katrina & the Waves guitarist who also penned the Top 10 hit Walking on Sunshine.
For the tie-in music video, the Bangles turned to Red Roses and Petrol filmmaker Tamar Simon Hoffs (who also happens to be the mother of Bangles cofounder Susanna Hoffs).
The elder Hoffs signed up for the gig and agreed to also recruit a famous friend to make a cameo in the video as the band’s driver. (It might have made sense to ask the world’s most famous Liverpudlian, Paul McCartney, to take the wheel but Tracey Ulman beat the Bangles to the punch on that idea a year earlier with the video for They Don’t Know.)
Instead, filmmaker Hoffs sought out an old family friend who had encouraged her first foray into the industry back in 1966 when she worked on the set of a film called Deathwatch. That dear friend was none other than Star Trek legend Leonard Nimoy, the cerebral actor who starred in Deathwatch the same year he introduced television’s most iconic extraterrestrial, Mr. Spock. Nimoy liked the logic of a reunion. Here’s the eyebrow-raising results from 38 tears ago.
Nimoy died seven years ago this month. The actor, author, filmmaker, photographer and avid patron of the arts is greatly missed by those of us who knew him either in person or through his body of work. A few days before his death in 2015, the Starfleet icon tweeted out his final message to the fans who would soon be grieving his passing: “A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. Live long and prosper.”
ONE MORE VOYAGE
One final musical interlude today, this one is a s bit silly but it also captures the peculiar charisma and eccentric arrogance of William Shatner, who was the most famous fake spaceman in history until his recent space excursion qualified him as a real-deal spaceman. This music video takes Shatner footage from a behind-the-scenes feature from a home-video release of Star Trek V: The Voyage Home but with some clever edits and a new bed of music the result is more fun than a truckload of Tribbles.