West of Memphis is a new documentary film produced by Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh (The Lord of the Rings trilogy), Amy Berg (Best Documentary Oscar nominee Deliver Us From Evil), with first-time producers Damien Wayne Echols (of the West Memphis Three) and Lorri Davis. Directed by Amy Berg, the film reveals the untold story behind an extraordinary and desperate fight to bring the truth to light; a fight to stop the State of Arkansas from killing an innocent man.
Starting with a searing examination of the police investigation into the 1993 murders of three eight-year-old boys in the small town of West Memphis, Arkansas, the film goes on to uncover new evidence surrounding the arrest and conviction of the other three victims of this shocking crime--Damien Wayne Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Miskelly. All three were teenagers when they became the target of the police investigation for crimes they did not commit. Each of the West Memphis Three spent more than 18 years in prison while outside the gates, mounting evidence and testimony pointing to their innocence led to an outpouring of support, particularly from the music community and artists featured on this album such as Eddie Vedder, Henry Rollins, Natalie Maines, Marilyn Manson, Dave Navarro, and Patti Smith. Here's what Damien Wayne Echols had to say about the importance of music in his life.
"Music has always played a huge role in my life. In my early years, it allowed me to escape the crushing poverty I was born into. Music took me out of myself and into a thousand other worlds. Then, when I was put on trial, it was music they used against me. My love of heavy metal was considered 'proof' that I was evil and a satanic murderer. And then, ultimately, it was music that helped to free me when friends and supporters came together to put on the Voices for Justice concert in Little Rock."
West of Memphis premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 21, 2012 and was an official selection at the Deauville American Film Festival 2012 and the Toronto International Film Festival 2012.
Much of the music heard in West of Memphis comes from an original score written and performed for the film by the Australian compositional team of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis (The Dirty Three, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds). Here's what Nick Cave had to say about his work on the documentary.
"It was an honor to have made a contribution to the film and to have played a part in raising awareness of the case of the West Memphis Three."
Strains of the Cave-Ellis film score may be heard in the Henry Rollins track, "Damien Death Row Letter (Year 9)" in which Rollins reads a letter Damien has written him in 2003. One of the WM3's most vocal proponents over the years, Rollins was the producer and prime creative force behind the 2002 compilation album Rise Above: 24 Black Flag Songs to Benefit the West Memphis Three.
Natalie Maines, a staunch backer of the West Memphis Three, performed the Pink Floyd song "Mother" live with Ben Harper in the summer of 2012 and decided to record it for West of Memphis: Voices For Justice. Maines and Harper produced this studio recording of the song, which features Ben on steel lap guitar.
Lucinda Williams re-recorded her 2006 song "Joy" exclusively for this soundtrack after playing it at Neil Young's "Bridge School Benefit.
The supergroup cover-band Camp Freddy--lead guitarist, Dave Navarro, is a friend and supporter of Damien Wayne Echols--recorded this version of "The Jean Genie," originally by David Bowie, one of Damien's favorite artists to listen to while on death row.
Tonto's Giant Nuts featuring Johnny Depp and Bruce Witkin recorded their version of "Little Lion Man," a Mumford & Sons cover, or this album. The song was an inspiration to Echols at the end of his prison term.
Marilyn Manson contributed his cover of Carly Simon's "You're So Vain," featuring Johnny Depp on guitar. Manson weighed in on the WM3 case on April 8, 2010 with the following statement.
"I wish that I had the strength that this guy (Damien Wayne Echols) had, because he's gone to trial and gone to prison for just looking and thinking the things he did, and that's pretty much what all of us as a music community believe in and what we need to finally get behind. So I'm standing up today to say let's all get behind the West Memphis Three and fix it."
Band of Horses contributed a spectacular live version of "Dumpster World," from their acclaimed album, Mirage Rock, to West of Memphis: Voices For Justice.
Clarence Greenwood, aka Citizen Cope, has been following the West Memphis Three case for years and volunteered his song, "DFW," for the film after seeing an early cut and being moved by the story of Lorri Davis and Damien Wayne Echols.
Eddie Vedder wrote the song "Satellite" for Lorri Davis as a gift in a collection of songs he recorded for Lorri and Damien around 2000. Director Amy Berg makes beautiful use of the track over the final scene in West of Memphis.
Bill Carter and his wife, Ruth Carter, wrote "Anything Made of Paper" to run as the end titles for West of Memphis. The song's origins come from when Carter asked Echols what he could bring to him on death row and Damien answered, "anything made of paper, that's all."
The White Buffalo, aka Jake Smith, covers Faster Pussycat's 1989 hit "House of Pain," one of the songs Damien listened to on death row.
Bob Dylan contributed his liberation anthem, "Ring Them Bells," from 1989's Oh Mercy.
Tonto's Giant Nuts featuring Johnny Depp recite "Damien Death Row Letter (Year 17)" along with the Nick Cave and Warren Ellis score.
Patti Smith was one of the key artists who volunteered to perform at the Voices For Freedom benefit concert in West Memphis, Arkansas in August 2010. Patti's recording of "Wing" on the West of Memphis: Voices For Justice album is her live performance from that event, which had a major impact in pressuring the state for the release of the WM3.
Digital versions of West of Memphis: Voices For Justice will include the bonus track "Road to Nowhere" an Ozzy Osbourne cover recorded by Bill Carter. Ozzy's original was one of Damien's favorite songs to pass the time on death row.
West of Memphis: Voices For Justice - track listing
- 1. Henry Rollins (feat. Nick Cave and Warren Ellis original score) - Damien Echols Death Row Letter Year 9
- 2. Natalie Maines - Mother
- 3. Lucinda Williams - Joy
- 4. Camp Freddy - The Jean Genie
- 5. Tonto's Giant Nuts feat. Johnny Depp & Bruce Witkin - Little Lion Man
- 6. Marilyn Manson - You're So Vain
- 7. Band of Horses - Dumpster World (Live)
- 8. Citizen Cope - DFW
- 9. Eddie Vedder - Satellite
- 10. Bill Carter - Anything Made of Paper
- 11. The White Buffalo - House of Pain
- 12. Bob Dylan - Ring Them Bells
- 13. Nick Cave and Warren Ellis - West of Memphis Score Suite
- 14. Tonto's Giant Nuts feat. Johnny Depp (feat. Nick Cave and Warren Ellis original score) - Damien Echols Death Row Letter Year 16
- 15. Patti Smith - Wing (Recorded Live at Voices For Justice Benefit Concert - August 28, 2010)
Digital only Bonus Track
- 16. Bill Carter - Road to Nowhere
West of Memphis: Voices For Justice was co-produced by the film's music supervisor and movie soundtrack veteran Jonathan McHugh, whose credits include Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, Rush Hour, The Wedding Singer, Morgan Spurlock's POM Wonderful Presents the Greatest Movie Ever Sold and many more.
West of Memphis was released December 25th, 2012 and stars Michael Baden, Jason Baldwin, Holly Ballard, Jamie Clark Ballard, Jennifer Bearden, Patrick Benca, Steve Braga, Karen Bruewer. The film is directed by Amy Berg.