Two days ago, Dan Marfisi, a longtime musician and songwriter in the L.A. area, received a text from a composer friend. “He wrote, ‘Did you write this song on The X-Files?’” Marfisi says. “He said, ‘You should go to Twitter and check out these threads. You’ll be a hero.’”
Marfisi had no idea what his friend was talking about, but when he went online, he learned that more than a few people have been trying to unearth information about a piece of music he co-wrote 25 years ago — and had barely thought about since.
Over the last few years, music detectives have spent countless hours online in search of any information whatsoever about enigmatic songs with no known titles or artist names. One sounds like an Eighties synth pop hit, another of similar vintage. Both remain mysteries, at least as of this moment.
Nearly five years ago, fans of The X-Files joined the hunt, passing around a clip from “Dreamland II,” a lighthearted episode from the series’ sixth season, in 1998. In it, Fox Mulder (David Duchovy) and government agent Morris Fletcher (Michael McKean) mysteriously exchange personalities. During a scene set in a bar, featuring both actors, a woeful honky-tonk weeper wafts in the background: “Waiting what seems like a light year/Just to see your face once again, my dear … Now I’m staring at the stars, wondering where you are,” went some of the lyrics.
Since it isn’t listed in the show’s closing credits, nor was it included on an X-Files-theme album from the Nineties, the song was truly a mystery. Early this week, it became the topic of an all-new thread on X (the site formerly known as Twitter).
X-Files creator Chris Carter himself didn’t remember the song at all (and didn’t find out about the online search until Rolling Stone contacted him). “It’s amazing to me that people are still carefully watching what could be considered a comedic episode,” Carter tells RS. “It always amazes me the things people pick up on and the questions I get from episodes that are so obscure.” Also, he adds, “We didn’t use that much music besides score music on The X-Files. We rarely used actual songs.”
Thanks to Marfisi’s friend, though, we now know the song and the artists. “Staring at the Stars” was written and recorded by Marfisi and Glenn Jordan, a film-score veteran whose credits include music supervisor for Pee Wee’s Playhouse and playing in the Fifties nostalgia band Sha Na Na. Through a connection to Mark Snow, who wrote the spooky X-Files theme, they were asked to write a country-style song for a bar setting. “I remember someone saying, ‘It would be so great if you could write a love song from an alien abductee to the alien who disappeared,” Jordan says.
The duo were already dabbling in country music — they were trying to pitch songs to Nashville — so the transition proved easy. “We were probably halfway through something musically and said, ‘Let’s go with the alien abduction idea,’” says Jordan. Besides, he says, “Back then, this wasn’t the kind of song people were looking for in Nashville. That was the time of Tim McGraw and Faith Hill. This was more of a Gram Parsons type of song.”
Since the show needed the song immediately, the songwriters had little time to kick around ideas. “We brainstormed for about seven and a half minutes,” Marfisi says, “and said, ‘OK, aliens. They’re up in the sky. What else is up in the sky? Oh, stars!’” By the next day, they’d recorded it in Jordan’s home studio in L.A., with Jordan singing and both of them playing the instruments.
In that short amount of time, Jordan and Marfisi nailed the honky-tonk vibe. “I was telling Glenn today, ‘You should have been in the Eagles,’” Marfisi says. “He has that kind of Don Henley harmony voice.” For an added country touch, they recruited JayDee Maness, the pedal-steel guitarist revered in rock circles for his work on the Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo.
Along with two more of their songs, “Staring at the Stars” was included in the episode, after which both men pretty much forgot about it and moved on to other projects. Jordan has continued to work in film and TV. When the music business more or less crashed nearly 20 years ago, Marfisi transitioned into real estate sales with his wife, although he still writes and records retro-pop with his band, JonesHouse.
The earliest posts about that elusive X-Files country song appeared, it seems, on Reddit. But until this week, neither Marfisi nor Jordan was aware of how long fans have been investigating the tune. Marfisi didn’t even own a copy of it in any format. “Friends and some people in my family said, ‘I knew about this song and the search for years,’” he says. “I was like, ‘Really? Am I the only one who didn’t know?’”
The unexpected revival of “Staring at the Stars” has both men pondering what to do next. Since they own it outright, they’re now figuring out a way to monetize the discovery. “I’d love to put it online,” Jordan says. “You can’t spend clicks at the grocery store.”
In the meantime, Marfisi finds the situation amusing and gratifying, especially for a song that wasn’t deemed worthy of commercial release a quarter century ago. “It’s like when you get out of high school and go back for a reunion,” he says, “and the girls say, ‘Yeah, I really wanted to date you.’”