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Shine Your Light
A Final Ode to the Firefighter's Heroism When Jay Russell reached the end of his film, he knew he needed a musical counterpoint to LADDER 49's climactic scene — a scene that becomes both shocking and emotionally resonant as it explores the costs of a firefighter's commitment to the community. Unable to find a popular song in existence that could capture all the hues of that moment, Russell reached out to a musician he and the producers had always admired: Robbie Robertson, a man widely considered to be one of the preeminent songwriters of the rock and roll generation. "He takes a soulful, human approach to writing music that we knew would be in sync with what we were hoping to achieve with the film,” says Russell.

Although Robertson's songs have been heard in countless feature films, this was the first time he had been asked to write a song specifically for one powerful scene. "I was interested right away in the challenge of it,” Robertson says, "and then I met Jay Russell, who is from Little Rock, where I lived for a time while I was with Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks — and I thought: this is meant to be.”

Still, Robertson waited until he saw the movie to make up his mind. "I was worried that the film wouldn't be what I hoped,” Robertson admits, "but instead I was just incredibly moved by it. It took me right inside the very private club of firefighters and gave me a view of a world that I've never quite experienced before. I also thought it was extraordinary that someone had finally done a real, honest movie about everyday firefighters without making it about over-the-top heroics or cornball sentiment. That's what makes it so moving.”

He continues: "The biggest thing for me is that I felt the film was such a beautiful tribute to these guys who we usually forget about. I thought, my goodness, this is a worthy project.”

After seeing the film, Robertson began writing. Unable to screen the movie in his studio, he worked entirely from memory, creating a rhythm and structure for the song that later, almost eerily, would keep perfect time with the scene. As he wrote, he had in mind an abstract, but clear, concept of what he hoped to create. "I wanted to find the right vibe,” he explains.

"I wanted something that would be strong but not too obvious and that would underline the finale of the film in a meaningful way. I didn't want it to be too on the nose — or in any way corny. What came to me was something with an edgy street feel yet also a subtle gospel tinge to it — a soulful, almost spiritual, sound that I hope shows deep respect to the people it's about.”

Robertson brought the song in a bare-bones version — just him singing at the piano — to Jay Russell and Russell immediately fell in love. Skipping the usual stage of making a demo, they went straight to the recording process. "They had confidence that I was going to nail it,” says Robertson. The result was "Shine Your Light.”

Later, Robertson continued his work on the song, transforming it into an adagio that runs over the end credits. "I'd never done anything like this before, so it was a very interesting process,” he says. Working with arranger David Campbell (father of the rock star Beck), Robertson created an orchestral piece woven from the rich themes of his rock tune. "The idea was to create something with a haunting quality that would also bring back memories of the final scene,” he explains. "David Campbell was wonderful to work with because we really understood each other. I told him I had a simple phrase for what I wanted from the piece — ‘bent hymn' — and he just got it right away.”

In the end, Robertson was thrilled by the experience of working on LADDER 49. "I learned a lot,” he says. "And it was something I really wanted to do — because this is for all those guys who ever


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