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SoundTRAX: "Reality Bites"

Ben Stiller, Winona Ryder and Ethan Hawke appear on the cover of the "Reality Bites" soundtrack.
Universal Pictures

SoundTRAX is a dive into notable music from iconic films and TV shows every Monday-Thursday at 8:10.

Actor Steve Zahn is celebrating a birthday today and not only does he and his family have a horse farm just outside Lexington, Kentucky, he is one of my favorite scene-stealing character actors.

That Thing You Do!, You've Got Mail, Out of Sight, Happy, Texas, Saving Silverman, TV shows like Treme and a very funny multi-episode arc on Modern Family, just to name a few.

But I am using Zahn's birthday as an excuse to highlight one of my favorite soundtracks, and movies, for that matter: Reality Bites.

Clearly released in the 90s (1994 to be exact) Ben Stiller made his directorial debut with this tale of Gen X'ers (played by Winona Ryder, Ethan Hawke, Janeane Garofalo, and Zahn) facing some harsh realities of post-college life. Stiller himself also appears as part of a love triangle along with Ryder's and Hawke's characters.

Hawke and Zahn are longtime friends, even starting a theatre company with some other actor buddies in 1991. Hawke not only recommended Zahn to Stiller for the role of "Lenny" in Reality Bites, when Hawke played Hamlet in 2000, Zahn played Rosencrantz. That same year when Hawke made his directorial debut with the film Chelsea Walls, Zahn made a small appearance. It was the same situation when Hawke directed the Blaze Foley biopic Blaze in 2018, with Zahn playing a small role once again.

(Sidenote: all those Ethan Hawke sightings in Louisville earlier this year? That was because Hawke's next project, Wildcats, was primarily filmed here. And who else is part of the cast? You guessed it: Steve Zahn.)

But back to Reality Bites.

A before-she-was-famous Renée Zellweger has a small part as a conquest of Hawke's character, Troy, but it's the musical cameos that I like best.

Evan Dando of the Lemonheads has a brief moment, as does Soul Asylum frontman Dave Pirner (who was conveniently dating Winona Ryder at the time.)

The soundtrack is still an all-time favorite of mine, which includes tunes from Dinosaur Jr, Squeeze, Juliana Hatfield Three, The Posies, World Party, Crowded House, U2, Social Distortion, Lenny Kravitz, Hawke himself, who contributes a song his character sings in the film, plus one that may seem odd, The Knack. But if you've seen the movie, "My Sharona" is responsible for a memorable and funny moment.

But there is simply no way of highlighting music from this film without talking about the complete unknown who became the breakout star.

Someone who was, as luck would have it, a neighbor of Ethan Hawke's, who would also go on to direct the music video. Someone who would become the first artist to have a #1 song without being signed to a record label.

For today's SoundTRAX selection it's Lisa Loeb from Reality Bites, with "Stay (I Missed You)".

Mel is the WFPK morning host. Email Mel at mfisher@lpm.org.

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