Lovedolls Superstar to The Shield Around The K
Lovedolls Superstar (video review) (SST/We Got Power Films):
5/3/2007 Update: I wrote this review maybe eight years ago, and David Markey finally got around to finding it and writing me an e-mail. As you can see he wasn’t pleased with me. His e-mail follows. I wrote back without anger and now we’ve agreed to disagree on what I think of his old films. Reviewing is fun but it isn’t pleasant when the subject of your negative review writes to lower your self-esteem. Dave has a cool website and the man sure does keep busy. No matter what I think of his early films I wish him no ill will and hope he makes a decent living in the punk and music film biz. Here’s his e-mail to me:
If you thought Desperate Teenage Love Dolls was a load of warm poo, this sequel is a load of cold poo without the corn bits for color and texture. What can I say about a follow-up to a film that never should have been released in the first place? Not much, but I can make fun of it. This has all the production values of a Mexican snuff film. A sequel was about as needed as a third penis.
The minute I put this on I wished I was someplace else, maybe the burning pits-o-hell. During this time I could have: 1) counted my nose hairs, 2) sorted my penny barrel by date, or 3) worked on a cure for my Chapstick addiction. No, I had to watch this so I can tell you how much it stunk. I give and I give and what do I get in return? Not even a call on Mother's Day. You bastards!
This isn't even fascinating like a car wreck. My face froze for long periods of time out of boredom and bewilderment. Didn't somebody tell these people after the first one there wasn't an ounce of talent on display in that whole movie? The copy I rented was stopped twenty minutes in. How did they last that long? Was it shown to a spy as torture to extract government secrets? I think it cost more to print up the video boxes than it did to film this celluloid fart.
Here's a typical yuk line from the film, a comedy in spite of itself. One of the Love Dolls throws a woman off a roof and then says - now get this - are you sitting down? - "Have a pleasant trip. See you next fall." Get it? Got it? Good.
The McDonald twins of Redd Kross appear once again, and they make room for Jello Biafra, who plays the President of the United States. His lisp makes him sound like Cindy from the Brady Bunch. The film is dedicated to The Minutemen's D. Boon. That's all, folks. If you see this in the video store, scream in fear. If you don't see this, scream in terror anyway because you actually know it exists. The horror.
Lydia Lunch: Video Hysterie: 1978-2006 (dvd review): I’ve seen and either enjoyed or tolerated a few video things from Lydia Lunch, and this once scrapes the bottom of the vault so hard it’s now the thickness of a wafer-thin mint. It opens and closes with interesting video collages for “Orphans” and “Empty Signals”, the first an actual song that might remind one (if “one” is me, and possibly you) of “Sleeping Snakes” by Translator. The other twelve parts are live clips from posterity, with early clips featuring a young Lydia with No Wave anti-music legends Teenage Jesus and the Jerks. I’m amazed anti-music bands know when to stop and start playing, so in that regard I think they’re geniuses, but otherwise it’s hard to listen to on any level besides hipster dementia.
If I was ½ of 1 percent as impressed with Lydia Lunch as she is of herself on her worst day of low self-esteem I’d still be getting a daily tattoo of her name planted somewhere dear and personal. Has she even gotten sick of hearing herself spout self-centered nonsense about philosophy, sexuality and poetry? Humorlessness and self-involvement are not art, and if they are then art sucks. I wish people would talk pretentiously about pudding pops the way they do about art.
If you forward through the concert clips you can literally see Lydia getting older and larger. Cheer up Lydia, you went from sandwich getter and junkie protein receptacle to world-famous singer, poet, writer, and spokesperson for how messed up everything is. You should be farting rainbows at this point in your life. Video Hysterie is a dreary affair unless you want to see Lydia scream and contort herself on stage from, oh, let’s say 1978 through 2006.
Made In Sheffield (DVD review): This 51 minute documentary was produced by Sheffield music archivists Sheffield Vision. I e-mailed them because I suspected the running time was imposed, and director Eve Wood was nice enough to take time out from Sheffielding to respond: “Yes it was made for a TV slot although it could have been made longer with hindsight! That is why on the DVD there are plenty of extras to look through. After completing the film we also felt there was unfinished business. A further story to tell. So we have just completed the first part of The Beat Is The Law which continues the story from 83 to 97 following the second generation of Sheffield musicians. Check out www.thebeatisthelaw.com for more info. glad you enjoyed Made In Sheffield. Regards Eve” I’m glad she pointed out the shortcomings of this otherwise nice little show because I don’t want to point them out and feel like I’m pissing in nice stranger’s cornflakes. The one review = one new enemy routine grows old.
I’m halfway through Rip It Up And Start Again, which goes into great depth on Sheffield bands like Cabaret Volatire, 2.3, Vice Versa and The Human League. A problem I’m having with the book is that it’s marinated in the same masturbatory intellectual and political nonsense as the band’s worst crimes of pretentiousness. With Made In Sheffield I expected the same vibe, but instead was met by honest assessments and pleasant personalities. The Human League’s Phil Oakey is the only assertive one in the lot. It starts a little heavy with setting up Sheffield as a dying steel town aspiring to be the set of an Eraserhead sequel. I expected a local Johnny Rotten voiceover of “I mean, literally, No Future.”
Made In Sheffield features Phil Oakey , Joanne Catherall & Susan Sully (Human League), Martyn Ware & Ian Craig Marsh (Human League & Heaven 17), Jarvis Cocker (Pulp), Chris Watson (Cabaret Voltaire), Stephen Singleton (Vice Versa/ABC), Paul Bower (2.3) and John Peel , the patron saint of alternative UK radio. Bower looks too much like Rob Schneider, and Phil Oakey of The Human League goes from a Veronica Lake comb-job to looking today like a fey Henry Rollins. Along for the ride are two members of local legends The Extras, a R&B band that went to London at the peak of their local fame only to find a whole lot of nothing waiting for them. Def Leppard are referenced as a local band that made it huge in hair metal. Made In Sheffield focuses mainly on the post-punk bands, but I wonder if these others were included to satisfy the mission statement of their original funding.
This is a low-budget TV production, but they make decent use of old footage and shoot new scenes to accentuate whatever points are being made. It helps that the post-punk bands filmed themselves often as part of their act. It seems the filmmakers had already settled on the narrative of the history, and asked questions accordingly. Sometimes interviews create the storyline, but not in this case. It’s incomplete and restricted by time, money and willing participants, but for what it is, it’s ok, and I suspect they’ll hit the next one out of the park. I’ve never seen a documentary end so abruptly. Local bands score hit records in 1982 and move out of Sheffield. Therefore they don’t exist anymore and…the end.
Man Or Astroman? – Time Bomb (dvd review): The time – September 2, 1994, 11:00 PM-ish. The place – the Cas Rock club in Edinburgh, Scotland. The band – Man or Astroman? The running length – 55 minutes. The format – VHS.
Man or Astroman? play mostly instrumental surf garage and have done so since 1992. Their last album was released in 2000, so besides playing around they must have day jobs. I saw them 16-ish years ago in San Diego and liked them for about six minutes at a time since that seems to be my limit for surf instrumentals, or any kind of instrumentals for that matter. This pro-am VHS tape shows them in costume backed by sci-fi film snippets that frame each song. They wear costumes and jump around a lot, sometimes singing but always playing garage surf. The film quality is bad but it’s a lot of fun for six minutes at a time. I recognized the MST3K Theme song, so I sang along with that. Then I walked around a while before coming back for my next six minute shift.
Manufacturing Consent: Gnome Crapsky And The Media (video review) (Zeitgeist): I've always thought of MIT Linguistics professor Gnome Crapsky as an intellectual coward and hypocrite of the highest order. What I didn't know was that he's also a pathological geek! Watching this I couldn't avoid comparing him to the subject of Errol Morris' documentary, Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr., a sad tale of an oblivious, eccentric basement engineer who wound up a player on the international stage in a twisted variation on Jerzy Kozinski's Being There. Leuchter was a nobody puppet with a nutty obsession with Rube Goldberg devices, while Crapsky is an inbred intellectual who set out in 1964 to create a world stage for himself and his anarchist theories on history and the media manipulation thereof. He's been moderately successful in no small part because of his ceaseless effort to make himself heard. He's the Ralph Nader of thesis-level leftist dogma. He's influential on college campuses and modern punk politics, but I won’t get started on my thoughts on political pedophilia.
This documentary runs 167 minutes long - the same time Crapsky feels he should be allowed to speak on any subject, be it on stage, television or falling down a cliff. I don't care how much he has to say or how urgently you feel his words must be heard - this could have been covered in ninety minutes. Crapsky dwells on the evils of media propaganda, but 167 minutes is much like the Orwellian indoctrination tactics he accuses the media of perpetrating on the behalf of big government and the military. Gnome finds it a crime against humanity that American news programs pack in only twelve minutes between commercials, barely enough time for windbags like him to clear their throats. I abhor crafted sound bites (as opposed to great quotes) and the theatrics of The McLaughlin Group, but commercial TV is exactly that, paid for by commercials. To expect otherwise is childish.
The film replays negative comments about Crapsky made by Nightline producer Jeff Greenfield as if they were the Watergate Tapes. Greenfield states that Crapsky doesn't get asked on the show because he's a kook who can't perform within the time guidelines of a network news program. Those are the facts, jack. Crapsky is best suited for public access cable, TV and radio. That he doesn't have a top-10 TV show on every station is somehow indicative of a conspiracy to the thesaurus-humping lemmings who idolize The Mr. Rogers Of Hate.
Gnome Crapsky's problems break down to two areas. He's a cloistered academic geek and an anarchist, the latter a genocidal and utopian fantasy one debater beautifully sums up as "A boy's dream." The only examples he can offer of successful anarchism are Israel's kibbutz collective farms. Nonsense. Individuals volunteer of their own free will to work on kibbutzim, and they exist, like American food co-ops, in a capitalist country. Kibbutzim are also the only examples of successful pure socialism anyone can point to, but once again they operate in conjunction with capitalism, so the point is moot when applied on national scales.
As a younger man Gnome looked a lot like comic actor Eugene Levy. As he grows older he looks and moves his hands like Woody Allen. A chimp used in a primate language cognition experiment was given the name "Nim Chimpsky". The comedy part of the review is now over.
To dissect Crapsky's theories in this film would take for-fugging-ever. He asserts the media uses propaganda to control and suppress the masses. The levels of conspiracy theory hysteria he reaches matches The John Birch Society. The New York Times, and especially their slogan of "All The News That's Fit To Print" (snicker if you catch the delicious irony), are paraded back and forth on the screen as America's main clearing house for The Elite’s propaganda. The Right hates The NY Times, a leftist paper that gave the world scumbag journalist Walter Duranty. The film dramatically shows that 60% of the newspaper is ads while 40% is content - as if that proves something! Salaries and operating expenses don’t pay themselves, Gnome.
Crapsky should get a real job and hop off his soapbox. He analyzes hypocrisies and criminal acts on the part of capitalist countries but gives short shrift to similar crimes of the Left. His points are the rantings of a blind fanatic. He defends himself by pointing out that he has written about the crimes of the other side, but when only 1% of what you write and say takes on the form of balance, you're standing on very thin ice. He’s a hypocrite and intellectual coward of the highest order.
Like Fred Leuchter, Crapsky found himself embroiled on the wrong end of a Holocaust denial law case. He defended a French professors' right to teach that the Nazi Holocaust never happened. A piece he wrote on free speech was used as the intro to a book of the professor's writings (at the request of the publishers). Gnome says he didn't know what the article was to be used for (bulls--t), defends the right of free speech above all, and then is heard in a lecture proclaiming he wrote that "Even to enter into the arena of debate on the question of whether the nazis carried out such atrocities is already to lose one's humanity." How many ways do you want it, Mr. Crapsky?
I say to Gnome, look, you're Jewish, your parents taught Hebrew School for a living, you lost many relatives in The Final Solution. You are the worlds' so-called greatest teller of unpopular truths. If a man like you can't come out and say nazi propaganda deserves only to be pissed on by civil society, you are worthless. You talk about common sense. What qualifies you, a cowardly gadfly, to tell anyone anything? You can't hoist a pencil so you say sports are "a way of building up irrational attitudes of submission of authority"? If you, Gnome Crapsky, are not the epitome of the Left's "elite", who is? If you had power you’d work to death the 80% of the population you define as thoughtless drones. How evil and condescending you are. Did you stop to consider that 100% of the population that bathes regularly don't give a rat's ass about you? That you only get on regular TV when they need a dogma spouting loon? That your rhetoric is horribly clichéd and sound-bite driven because you sense your own failure to attract anyone's attention outside of the same pool of old hippies and college kids who look back at you years later as a bankrupt intellectual phase?
I shouldn't hate this man as much as I do, but I do. Here's a quote from an LA Times review of a book on right wing politics. It defines Gnome Crapsky's mindset perfectly (he tries so desperately to come across like Mr. Rogers, but then again, Pat Buchanan is always smiling): "An ideology is a closed system; there is nothing an ideology cannot explain. A closed system removes all doubts. It confers the armor of righteousness on those who believe, and shoves into outer darkness those who do not. The result is war."
The Mayor Of The
Sunset Strip (DVD review):
If I wrote this review twenty times it would come out twenty different ways.
Let's see what happens.
KROQ disc jockey and scene maker Rodney Bingenheimer gets no respect. He's done so much for modern music, has asked for so little, and has little to show for it except memories and an apartment crammed with memorabilia. Framed on his wall is Elvis' driving permit, given to him by the man himself. Director George Hickenlooper shows nothing but contempt for Rodney. The Mayor Of The Sunset Strip is a hit job from start to finish. So Rodney doesn't have a great radio voice, and he’s not forthcoming with information. He's had the same haircut since the ‘60s when he doubled for Davy Jones on The Monkees. He's a celebrity junkie with oddball friends. His mother and father were schmucks. He wants to be loved, but the object of his affection isn't interested. Big deal. Big effin’ deal.
Rodney was the John Peel of the United States. He played the original UK and NY punk records before anyone. His Rodney On The ROQ records were fantastic samplers of the original L.A. punk scene. He boosts bands he loves with the fanaticism of a pure fan with no agenda except to share his favorites with others. Still, Hickenlooper chooses to mock Rodney for his Zelig, Andy Warhol and Forrest Gump qualities. Worse, his attempt to reveal uncomfortable truths a la Crumb comes across as cruel and unusual punishment for a man whose only crime seems to be he's the ultimate outsider who somehow made himself the center of attention in the insider's world. Good for Rodney.
Special cruelty is saved for Ronald Vaughan, a.k.a. Isadore Ivy, an obviously mentally challenged man who yearns for fame with a passion you might find touching (and also delusional). The camera stays on his cheap, worn shoes for a few seconds and the only point I see is that the director finds this relevant. I was going to write he seemed harmless, but his infatuation with Jennifer Love Hewitt led to stalking and a restraining order. This was two years after the film. [2007 update: Another local source wrote me to say Ivy is an unstoppable creep undeserving of even pity]
Kim Fowley litters the film and I was constantly fantasizing him getting bonked with a lead pipe. What a prick. Nancy Sinatra and Cher sing his praises endlessly, while David Bowie seems too aware of the camera to do anything more than act polite.
The Mayor Of Sunset Strip, for all its malice, is still well put together and an interesting history. Rodney deserves better.
Matter Of Degrees (video review) (Prism): This is a standard coming-of-age film whose only distinctions are the soundtrack and video marketing scheme. The box makes it seem like a new wave/punk movie, with its large font listings of the bands on the soundtrack, including Yo La Tengo, Alex Chilton, Nova Mob, The Lemonheads, fIREHOSE, and The Minutemen. The filmmakers have a chronic infatuation with The Minutemen. The film is dedicated to the memory of D. Boone, and in the opening credits you see a Minutemen album spinning, the center changing to a live concert shot of the boys in concert. The box also screams out the guest appearances by John Doe of X and Fred and Kate from the B-52s.
The plot of this comedy revolves around Arye Gross (the poor man's John Cusack) and his lack of direction in life. Should he go to law school or reject corporate life for a beatnik existence of higher meaning? He attends college in Providence, Rhode Island, and puts in time at the local public-supported alternative rock radio station, WXOX. A DJ says he's putting on Minor Threat's "Out Of Step" but you don't hear a note of it. A Matter Of Degrees may flirt with punk but it's execution is new wave, as in less threatening. Teenage angst films have long used rock music as soundtracks, but films using punks to denote dangerous youth have more often than not used lite metal or new wave when soundtrack push comes to shove. Punk has a common and powerful image, but the music itself is less popular and considered a negative in popular entertainment.
If you want to see a great coming-of-age movie, see John Cusack in Say Anything. If you want to see a hilariously goofy film aboutcollege, rent How I Got Into College. A Matter Of Degrees is harmless but looks dated by at least eight years.
MC5*: A True Testimonial
(DVD review): So, you see,
The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers started a
Surprisingly this 2002 documentary isn't on DVD yet. MC5*: A True Testimonial is a band-friendly history that tells a one-sided story fairly well. With a movie about a band few people remember you can't have a rise without a fall, so the last third details the implosion of the MC5 and the self-destruction of its members. Behind The Music made it ok for Wayne Kramer to choke up at what went wrong and could have been, but there's so much more negative craziness to the story it would have obliterated the happy nostalgic message. Rest assured whatever is hinted at was worse in reality.
Kramer hosts the film, taking us on a scenic tour of the MC5's Dee-Troit. He's well spoken and the best preserved of the remaining band members. It's beyond strange when he refers to the MC5 wanting to "kick out the jams" 35 years ago, as if Gene Simmons would remember a time they couldn't play and all KISS wanted to do was "rock and roll all night and party every day".
Early on the MC5 played psychedelic hard rock driven by the heavy use of LSD and pot. In the studio they could sound like the Grateful Dead. Some of it is really good and the MC5 were immensely inspirational to bands more directly related to punk rock as it's done today. Has their sound aged well.....?
MC5*: A True Testimonial is also a slice of the hippie-revolutionary ‘60s, and what Kramer and the rest don't seem to get is that the revolution was a crock of crap. Nihilistic Marxism and LSD truly are a deadly cocktail, and between the gun-loving White Panther Party and John Sinclair's Trans Love Energies hippie commune the lessons of this film can only be to learned from other's mistakes. Why it's revisited as if it were a great thing is a mystery, at least to me. That's where Kramer butters his bread, but at some level, under the dogma and ego, he has to know the MC5 never had a chance and had only themselves to blame.
Drummer Dennis Thompson is as bitter and angry a person can be without their head exploding. He sits, surrounded by MC5 memorabilia and an unloaded rifle, raging against the machine that stopped the MC5 from becoming the most popular band in history. When asked why anyone should care about the MC5 story since it's only rock and roll, he verbally stumbles, gasps for words and then aims his unloaded rifle at the director and pulls the trigger. That's telling 'em, Dennis.
In music, history is not always written by the winners.
Mic And The Claw (video review) (Zero): "Two rock stars fight record companies, rednecks, gun-toting teens and especially each other while trying to salvage their careers in a boozy song writing weekend." That's the best one sentence encapsulation of a bad movie you’ll ever read. It's all true but little comes together to create worthwhile entertainment. If not for a few actors with at least the potential to not suck royally, this first feature by Kevin Hynes would have been spit from my VCR faster than a vegetable from Al Bundy's mouth. Hollywood Video sponsors a series of indie films under the label First Rites. It's nice in theory to get indie films into national chains like Hollywood, but with product like this, it's not a mistake anyone would want to make twice.
Jon Jacobs (The Claw) plays the Aging Glam Rocker, Michael K. Scott (Mic) a Fading New Waver, and Arroyn Lloyd a Gen X unisex alt. punk woman with a cool stage name. In a short intro to his film, Kevin Hynes says he had only four days to write the script and a month of total production time. Instead of "that's impressive" all I can say is "I'm sorry". I can play Script Doctor with this film all week, but for this to have been a coherent story, Mic and The Claw should have been secondary players. Based on her better acting skills, and being the driving force behind the film's drama, this should have been about Lloyd's character. Jacobs and Scott spend most of the film providing dumb comic relief. Scott can't act and his character has the least personality. Jacobs is funny in a scenery chewing, Benny Hill meets Spinal Tap way, but the role of joke/joker is self-limiting. I loved the line reading of it being his "Firty-Fird Birfday", if only because it's like the NY'er who lives on "Toity Toid and Toid". When he puked a very clear liquid in a comic fashion I was waiting for the 'ol trumpet blurt of "Wap, wap, wap, waaaaaaaaaaaap!"
Duran Duran gets two mentions in the film, once as an insulting punch line and once as what Mic and The Claw's glory day's band was supposed to be like. I did learn from this film that old glam rockers become death rockers, which makes sense and fits into what I know from all the death rockers I've met. Adult goths are also called death rockers.
I forwarded through scenes where the guys write two hit songs (penned by Hynes), since they reeked from the first note, and I feel embarrassed for actors who have to pretend what they're doing is great when it isn't. Lloyd, the guy who played her dad, and the huge Bob Mould lookin' redneck were good actors, or at least gave natural readings. A better director might have done more with them. Camera setups are often too close or at odd angles. The sound quality is uneven. Two obvious goofs I found were: 1) Mic exercises by running up a mountain like Rocky Balboa, but later, while being chased by rednecks, he's more winded than the chain smoking, alcoholic Claw. 2) Mic's on the phone with his wife and he's acting like she's screaming and panicked, yet when they switch to her she's so quiet and relaxed her eyes are barely open.
A record company guy ends a phone conversation with Mic by saying "Love ya like a porn star. Bye!" Was that worth the $2.99 rental on this pleasantly mild waste of time? Yyyeeee...no.
Minor Threat Live (video review) (Dischord): If you've seen one live Minor Threat video you've seen all 47, but this one is official product from the band's label and the quality is decent. This is as relative a statement as can be made. Recorded on cassettes from the 99 cent Only store, edited with child-safety scissors and copied from one $99 VCR to a really old one belonging to the MacKaye clan for generations, this document of an era makes its point in four seconds and continues from there. Don't get me wrong - I love Minor Threat. It's just that as a live band they thrashed around while sweaty, skinny rich kids from good homes jumped on stage and did something goofy before throwing themselves back into the sea of other sweaty, skinny rich kids.
Like it or not, Minor Threat was better as a studio band. Without the minimal production values of the studio recordings their sound would have been the fuzzy drone of the live shows, and the world would have barely noticed. The Ramones, famous for their live shows, also would have ended up a vague memory if not for their studio albums. The point I make is that live shows for thrash bands are usually overrated. The band's there in the flesh, the place is packed with crazed fans, you get to jump up and down for an hour - that's a concert. But how about the crappy sound system and songs sped up so fast they lose all shape and structure. Be honest, how many shows have you been to where you know the band's songs but it still takes you a while to figure out what the hell they're playing? People fondly remember live shows but the studio work make or breaks a band and is the lasting record of their worth. (Yeah, yeah, The New York Doll's were the exception. Yadda).
Minor Threat was the first and best straight edge band, and within that context of loud & fast they packed more riffs into their music than all the other teenage baldies combined. The D.I.Y., we're not in it for the money ethic, the kids will have their say - a lot of that comes directly from Dischord and Minor Threat. Straight Edge gets its fair share of well deserved abuse, but at the time it was a refreshing change from peer pressure bulls--t. Belief leads to fanaticism and eventually SXE turned into hard stance, followed by scene fascism. Ian's rules for better living grew into a monster and Ian spent a lot of words explaining his original ideas while distancing himself from what it had become. Sorta kinda but I try not to give him too much grief.
This 42 minute, 18 song tape is mainly from a June 23, 1983 show at DC's legendary 9:30 club, whose metal support beam in the middle of the floor made slamming a high risk venture. Minor Threat broke up five months later. The first song, "Minor Threat", is from their second show ever in 1980. The tape quality here is crap but it's a piece of harDCore history, man! The later show is in color and a few video cameras are used. The sound quality is average.
Is it just me or does Brian Baker look like that kid in "A Christmas Story"? And if SXE considers drinking and sex to be so bad, why is cursing so darn good?
Monochrome Set – Destiny Always Calls Twice (dvd review): Britain’s Monochrome Set were an interesting art band who mostly failed to keep my interest, the same I can also say for Fad Gadget. The coolest thing about them is that both Adam Ant and the UK Sub’s Charlie Harper were early members. They colluded with experimental filmmaker Tony Potts, who shaped their visuals and lighting into a cryptic mess on this collection of videos from 1978-80. “Experimental” is a euphemism and the cousin of “challenging”, both usually meaning it’ll turn off most people by being the manifestation of the creator’s unique personal problems referred to as “vision”.
The songs on Destiny Always Calls Twice range from garage to psychedelic to pop, and, oh, let’s just say I’m not a fan of most of what’s here. Visually it goes from silly to self-serious and back to silly again, but this time unintentionally. They seem to see themselves as a cult phenomena but the output doesn't justified it. I’m talking out of my ass on this one but seriously, who references The Monochrome Set besides to say they like the song of the same name? Do you? Cereal? Otherwise, the universe is with me and I win - again.
(DVD review): “It’s not just a movie, it’s
a movement!”- Beth Horne/Dale Posner, San Francisco Examiner
It's not the heir to Street Trash or Troma, but for a few bucks you can do a lot worse than Monsturd, shot with camcorders by non-actors for $3,000 plus production costs. It's not as good as it could have been, but it’s decent enough to suppress the urge to want it remade by others on a bigger budget.
Read reviews if you want plot. All you need to know is that a 7 foot tall rubber turd monster is killing the citizens of Butte County, CA and the diaper-armored police's last line of defense are a million flies and super soakers filled with Pepto Bismol.
There's poop jokes but no poop puns. They drop the "S" bomb too often, and it would have been more clever if they used every euphemism in the book instead. My favorite bit is when the police cruise around town with a megaphone telling citizens not to use their bathrooms. After listing alternatives like crap in a bucket and throw it out the window like in the olds days, he says "The world's your oyster on this one, people!" It's a Brian Regan kind of line.
The commentary is great because you find out how they lucked into locations, filmed at work and enlisted co-workers and family members to speak lines. In some scenes actors are looking at and holding their scripts! Monsturd isn't Plan 9 even though there’s no acting going on. The project looks like a hoot though, and you have to give them credit for making it happen.
While not a major motion picture, Monsturd is a major camcorder event not to be missed by b-movie kooks and coprophiliacs of all ages.
Moogfest 2006: Live (video review): There's a few kinds of music I simply don't understand. I neither like nor dislike them, but I do feel as if my time is not only being wasted, future time is also destroyed. Millions of people like free form jazz and jazz rock, but to me it's a foreign musical language with a logic system beyond my solar system. I know what a Moog is generically but had no idea what to expect from this nearly 2 1/2 hour concert marathon. Damn was I bored. I didn't know it was possible to wank and noodle around at the same time, and it's like sitting in detention with sounds that distort time and space. No crapping you - I descended into a pit of ennui.
Moog is pronounced "Moeg", as in "Hey Moe!". I went to summer camp in the 70s with someone nicknamed Moog, as in the cow goes "moo". He had no sense of rhythm and when music played people would clap along so they could see Moog fail to do the same in time. He was always game for it. A Moog can either replicate an entire orchestra or be just a fancy electronic keyboard. Keith Emerson thankfully appears at the end to supply a few ELP songs I know ("Living Sin" and "Lucky Man"), and he owns an old Moog with patch cords like in old movies where telephone operators put through calls. My understanding of Moogs is that when you bought one you had little understanding of what it could do or how to make it do things. They're like Cray computers and Model-Ts all in one. It takes a lot of money, skill and patience to excel on a Moog, and gosh bless all the musicians who've made the effort. Still, Moogfest is not for the drug-free or easily bored.
Most of these songs have infinity for a middle and a beginning and end that might not even exist. It's like one-sided paper that way. I didn't watch the video that often but did listen to it while I accomplished a whole lotta nothing around the apartment. If you can both watch AND listen to this at the same time you must be some kind of alien stoner god I'm glad I watched it so I know what goes on at Moogfest, but that's about it.
Morrissey: Who Put The M In Manchester (video review): I’m indifferent to mildly interested in Morrissey and The Smiths but I’m fascinated by his cult-following amongst Latinos, so I’ve queued up Is It Really So Strange? Who Put The M In Manchester is an hour length 2004 concert in Manchester at the cavernous Earle’s Court. Backed by a professional band and towering lighted letters spelling out his name a la Elvis, Steven Patrick croons his way through a set that delighted his fans and mostly made my eyes float away. I like his voice and have a soft spot for crooning but it seemed most songs took off from where the last one ended. Familiarity might have breeded acceptance since I enjoy Smiths songs like “Shoplifters Of The World” and “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out”.
Morrissey’s interesting to look at since he’s a 50/50 split of macho and effeminate. I picture him as a gangster in a future Guy Ritchie film. He looks sharp in a blue sharkskin jacket, black pants and slicked back hair streaked with gray hair. It seemed he had mistletoe hanging over his zipper. Merry Christmas?
The sound quality and video editing are both excellent. Thinking over why I didn’t enjoy most of this I’m thinking I may not be a fan of crooning after all except for a crooner’s ability to control his voice in short melodies. I love Bowie and Bing crooning “Little Drummer Boy” but that lasts less than five minutes. After a while I found Morrissey’s singing as interesting as haiku. I can see his appeal but it wasn’t for me en masse. If you’re a Morrissey fan you should be all over this like stink on rice, and if you're not a fan Mr. Morrissey's accountant would like to have a word with you in the back alley.
Bob Mould - Circle Of Friends (DVD Review): The minutia of Bob Mould's life is chronicled in his blog. He's a legend and also a working musician, so if you enjoy the process you should check it out. 2005's Body Of Song was a great record, with Bob coming to terms with his legacy and his love of electronic music and manipulations. Bob Mould: Circle Of Friends is a beautifully recorded document of a show he put on only a few months after the release of Body Of Song. It came out in October of last year to set up the release of his latest CD, District Line. Samples are here.
I saw this tour in Los Angeles, and Circle Of Friends is an exact rendering of what I saw that night. The DVD itself is technically perfect and the sound-sync is flawless. The set list of 23 tracks yielded only 4 fillers, and at the crazy low retail price of $19.99 you can't go wrong. Still, Bob and his band aren't tight and the show could have been better. The disc includes a video short on how Bob put his band together, and all agree that Bob was once a scary character but is now generally happy. Can a content Bob Mould still write great Bob Mould music? Why, yes, he can.
D.C. legend Brendan Canty played on Body Of Song, and he works the drums in a fashion not dissimilar to Grant Hart, which works well enough on the Husker Du songs but not the Sugar ones, where Malcolm Travis' playing is compact and powerful. Electronica/Alternative/House musician Richard Morel hits a lot of keys but half the time it's hard to make out any sounds coming from his seat on stage. He comes to the foreground on Body Of Song tracks but is a third wheel on others. Then again, when it came to Mission Of Burma everyone made a stink about Martin Swope's tape manipulations, yet I wasn't hearing much from him either. Jason Narducy is decent on bass and is younger than the rest by a generation. Bob's in decent form but I wish his guitar was amped clearer.
For the first time Bob resurrected some of his best Husker Du work, and it's always a thrill to hear "I Apologize", "Chartered Trips" and "Celebrated Summer". If I had a nickel for every time I've screamed along with the screamy parts of "Chartered Trips" I'd have $1.65 in my pocket. I'm compelled to point out a great line in "Paralyzed" that always gets my attention, and it goes exactly like this: "I wish for things that sadly have come true." I also have to say that Bob sometimes looks a whole lot like the older Pete Townsend.
It's a missed opportunity that little if anything is added to or improved on, and the playing should have been tighter. There's a few times when random notes fly into the ether for no reason. Still, it's a good enough show by a personal hero and guitar god, so if you have any inclination to buy this I suggest you do.
Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr. (video review) (Universal): This excellent Errol Morris documentary just came out on video and I recommend it highly. Since many reviews of the film are on-line (the Internet Movie Database is phenomenal for research), I’ll add my two cents. I'm writing assuming you've already seen it.
Fred Leuchter is a geek engineer, the typical kooky, mundane obsessive personality that populates Morris' work. What the film doesn't reveal is that his formal education went no further than a BA in History. That he wound up re-designing an electric chair, gallows and gas chamber is a tale of institutional idiocy. Leuchter was a weekend basement tinkerer who fancied himself an expert on "humane execution". His designs were simple, and it didn't take a genius to rig a better hinge system on a gallows' trap door. The origins of his obsession go no further than saying his father worked at a Massachusetts prison. Fred talks about electrocution cooking human flesh like chicken off the bone in the same manner you or I might discuss last night's episode of The X-Files. I doubt he made a good living at this since the need for these services is limited, and he charged what he considers a fair 20% markup. He's the ill-dressed Fix-It Shop owner charging a fair day's pay for a fair day's work.
I don't think Fred is evil in the same sense his neo-nazi puppet masters Ernst Zundel and David Irving are. Fred was the perfect stooge, a useful idiot to the cause of Holocaust Revisionism. He fancied himself an expert on matters left untouched by thousands of qualified others with better things to do than design cheap murder machines. When he says he doesn't consider himself an ideologue or anti-semite, I believe him to the extent that Fred is a narrowly focused simpleton with delusions of scientific infallibility. A guy like Fred sees himself beyond such human considerations. He's like the atheist who thinks The Big Bang Theory in itself disproves the possibility of a higher being. Fred dislikes the Jewish groups who rightly campaign against him having anything to do with taxpayer money, but it's more a response to him losing work than a personal, ideological animosity.
His scientific methods used to determine if Nazi gas chambers worked are laughable, yet his findings are heralded as proof the Holocaust never happened (right up there with The Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion and The Turner Diaries). Zundel's cronies had to know this and probably steered Fred's limited sense of inquiry to their advantage. After Zundel's trial for printing lies (the scumbag lost), Fred travels the world as a speaker on his “research” to various nazi front groups. He's a favorite at meetings of the Institute for Historical Review, a comical attempt to disprove history through pseudo academia. It's a hoot because the leaders of the Holocaust Denial movement know damn well the Holocaust happened. By denying it they think they can bring it about again. At a 1983 IHR conference, British neo-Nazi Keith Thompson's declaration that "if, in the end, the Holocaust did take place, then so much the better!" was met with thunderous applause.
I sense from the film that Fred's just happy to be there and acknowledged as an expert. He’s a cog, not a wheel. A useful idiot in a cause his small, regimented brain has no capacity to understand. Fred's not a savant, he's not an idiot, but he's not too bright. Mostly, he's oblivious, lost in his little world of efficiencies and schematics. He consumes forty cups of coffee and six packs of cigarettes a day. What that means I don't know, but fugg that's a lot of stimulants!
On the subject of neo-nazis, I despise them and wish they were accorded the same rights they espouse for others. The world should treat them as the mad dogs they are. I suggest you read the book Blood in the Face : The Ku Klux Klan, Aryan Nations, Nazi Skinheads, and the Rise of a New White Culture, or watch the film. It's a crime they've been able to tap into the distrustfulness of youth culture that worships slogans like "Question Authority". They play on the leftist conspiracy that everything you learn in school is a lie, and that the bigger the lie, the more fake the "evidence" and far reaching the conspiracy. They use the tools of the Left to try to bring about the most horrific fantasies of the Right.
The seeds of this nonsense in the punk community come from slow-roasting dead f--ck Tim Yohanan's leadership of MaximumRocknRoll. He promoted Holocaust Revisionism in as an attack on Israel, Capitalist America's friend in the Middle East. It's easy for neo-nazis to exploit this hypocritical, self-destructive facet of what passes for punk intellectual thought. MRR claims to hate nazis but they play the scapegoating game by nazi rules.
On the nature of evil and the mindset behind such dementias as Holocaust Revisionism, read Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us. It's a beautifully written work on practical Psychopathology, which can explain the behavior of everyone from the heads of huge charities to mafia chiefs and serial killers. The book includes a psychopathy checklist that includes emotional/interpersonal traits such as glibness, grandiosity, lack of guilt and shallow emotions, as well as social deviance traits like impulsiveness, lack of responsibility and antisocial behavior. That's Fred Leuchter to the letter, in what I'd say is relatively harmless unless led down the wrong path by more dangerous sociopaths. This was the case here.
Fred Leuchter's story is in a sense a twisted variation on the great Peter Sellers film Being There. A simpleton becomes a big shot though the willingness of others to see whatever they choose to believe is there. Chauncy Gardner is a pure, innocent, good soul. Fred is no more than a geek with weird hobbies and really creepy friends. I doubt he has a good soul. The poor schmuck got everything he deserved and has no capacity to understand why.
Murder City Devils: The End: Final Halloween Show 2001 (video review): Seattle’s Murder City Devils were too all-over-the-map for me, but I enjoy some of their songs and recognize their appeal. Taking from six varieties of punk revival, they’re a little rock, a little grunge, a little blues, and a whole lotta Dead Boys and Johnny Thunders, helped along by strong songwriting and intricate instrumentation. The keyboardist made me think of another band I like even more, and whattayaknow, their bass player formed Pretty Girls Make Graves, who specialized in building and releasing sonic tension outside any hard rock context.
I mostly listened to this show because the multi-camera editing skips frequently enough to trigger an epileptic seizure. Singer Spencer Moody looks all of fourteen, like a high school friend’s chubby younger brother everyone called Skippy just to piss him off. He spends the entire show pushing his ¼ inch think glasses back up his nose. At first I thought he sang like Steve Albini, but his normal singing is more of a bluesy yell.
I lost interest halfway through the hour show but it was consistent throughout, so my attention span for them is about thirty minutes. I enjoyed the line “She was the prettiest girl in Ugly Town.” The sound quality is great and the video editing annoying. The DVD has additional live bootleg videos and a commentary track with Moody and Merchbot 2000, who sold their stuff at shows.
The Mutants: The Forensic Report (dvd review): The Pope Of Punk (Dirk Dirksen) sat down circa 2006 with SF art-punks The Mutants for thirty minutes of reminiscing about Dirksen’s days booking The Mabuhay Gardens, while also trolling for anecdotes of wacky band hi-jinx. I’m no spring chicken but even I felt I was watching AARP cardholders talking about Woodstock or something similar, not the raging SF punk scene! Well, The Mutants weren’t punks but performance artists playing campy rock while dressing as wacky as thrift stores allowed and generally having nutty fun on stage. They fell by the wayside when hardcore killed the art-punk scenes and replaced them with skinny white kid suburban fight club tomfoolery. The dvd contains a few reunion shows from the middle-ish 80s offering nothing interesting to me musically as I felt a little embarrassed watching The Mutants try to recreate the spontaneous fun of the olde days with forced enthusiasm. It’s probably not as bad as I write it out to be, but not by much. I’m glad they had a hoot but wow did I find their catalog average and their shtick dated and tiresome. I somehow feel I should also add a Rodney Dangerfield-inspired “No offense!”
The Amazon product description has the technical skinny on The Forensic Report:
Dirk Dirksen Presents The Mutants: Forensic Report features: The Mutants "Interview Segment" The Mutants' performances from the DNA lounge in 1989, and "The On Broadway" in 1984. Songs: Insect Lounge, War Against Girls, True Story, A Light, Think, Think, Think, The Color of Imagination, Lesson in Time, Opposite World, Twisted Thing, Give and Take, Love Song, Tribute to Russ Meyers, Furniture."The late 70's provided a giant stage for American underground bands trying to create a new rock and roll. In San Francisco, The Mutants emerged as one of the great art school punk bands of the era with their unique seven member strong high octane, alcohol fueled melodic punk assault. Each performance was treated as a special event, which the band packed with truly memorable tunes from their enormous catalog."-Mel Cheplowitz , Publisher of Shredding Paper magazine and DJ at KALX "Seeing the Mutants live was like being invited to a secret John Waters movie about punk colorfully and melodically crashing into New Wave, with a dysfunctional locomotive designed by Johnnie Cash on angel dust. Why couldn't the Sex Pistols or the Doors be this much fun? Because the Mutants could be so flamboyant and conceptual, it's easy to forget the musical power of their songs. This is partially connected to how the vocals of sweet toughies Sally (Webster) and Sue (White) harmoniously combine with those of Fritz (Fox). Frank Zappa denied ever using LSD but the Mutants did. Something to Think, Think, Think about - Look out for the furniture."-Dave (Dog) Swan, the host of cult cable program Doghouse
The stories mosey along amicably but you might think here and there “Well, I guess you had to be there”, especially the night when tubs of rotting fish were thrown at the audience and then back on stage. Someone says of the band that they were an “art rendition of a punk band”, which might confuse people as most don’t think of wacky girls-boys chorus singing while wearing costumes as punk. They’d fit better under the new wave banner except for a short time it was arty to be punk so that’s how they remember it. Listen to the 1976 comp Live At CBGB’s and tell me how punk that was. Yeah, yeah, semantics... I fart in your general direction.
Dirksen tosses in a few old pieces of film shot at the Mabuhay plus numerous still pics, so parts of the opening interviews are at least visually interesting. Did I like the performances or the songs? No. Would I recommend this to anyone under 45 who doesn’t like off-Broadway musicals? No. Would I try to convince anyone who loves this that it’s not the greatest thing ever? No. It’s not my thing but I didn’t form an opinion beyond that. It’s nice when senior citizens tell their stories. Oral tradition is important.
My Degeneration (video review): This no-budget, seventy minute film by Andy Warhol devotee (my estimation) Jon Moritsugu runs way too long, but for a while it’s funny and highly inventive. With music by Vomit Launch, Government Issue, Halo Of Flies, Bongwater, Poison 13, and Fizzbomb, My Degeneration is a bit like Desperate Teenage Love Dolls in that it centers around the rise and fall of an all-girl rock band in Los Angeles. Moritsugu the more talented director, so this is a more bearable.
From 1989, My Degeneration was an official selection at Sundance. Other films by the same director have gonzo titles like Fame Whore, Mod F--k Explosion, and Sleazy Rider. About as pure as example of underground filmmaking as you can find, only Moritsugu's silly and bizarre sense of humor saves this from being a total waste of time. There's little plot, the actors are not actors, and the production must have cost about thirteen cents. For what they have to work with, they do put on quite the fourth grade finger puppet show. Edited down to twenty minutes this would have been a classic short film. Fleshing it out to feature length diluted the impact of the film's creativity and engaging weirdness to the point where it just repeats itself and causes drowsiness. Short films are not taken seriously by the film industry so you'll often see works like this that don't know when to stop for their own good.
The red herring of a plot is the rise and fall of an all-girl rock band. The subplot, what the film is really about, is about how the media and corporate America create and control fame. The American Beef Institute gets their claws into our three heroines of the band Bunny Love, changes their name to Fetish and indoctrinates them into meat worshipping fame whores to be unleashed on the world as a propaganda tool for meat consumption. What could be heavy handed commentary is instead absurd silliness that's pretty funny. The band is told "Fetish is meat, Fetish is Sex. You are Fetish. Ladies, gone are the days when you just eat, sleep and s--t. We must now gyrate, pump, pout, prance, primp, pose, bump, grind, shimmy, shake, and practice, Practice, PRACTICE!"
A severed horse head sings "Glorious beef, glorious meat, I am the ticket to fame." Livingston, a bloody pig's head that lives in the lead singer's fridge next to a sign that reads "Home Sweet Home", is also her boyfriend and mentor. Everyone talks about the glory of meat, and snippets of industrial films on meat and meat cutting are thrown in to reinforce the meat motif. Whatever deeper meaning this might have is obliterated by a campy spirit that can't stop laughing at itself. The film opens with a Japanese TV reporter talking about something in Japanese. Then it switches to scenes of the English speaking film with Japanese subtitles, as if the copy I rented was subtitled for sale in Japan. This only lasts for a minute. At the end of the film a metal toy resembling Godzilla turns Livingston into mush with bolts of lightning cut from paper. Scenes where the band are interviewed are so obviously improvised the actors sometimes turn to the hidden director and ask if the scene is finished.
Visually, My Degeneration is too arty for its own good. Much of it is filmed from a TV monitor, so you have those wide bands of light and dark lines moving up and down. Many scenes are lit dark and the film stock is intentionally scratched to create freaky visual static. This works better in short form, not feature length films (Pi is an exception). All in all, My Degeneration is a nice piece of work from the no-budget school of underground filmmaking. At half its length it would have been a classic.
Negative Approach – Fair Warning Vol. 2 (dvd review): Hot on the heels of the cultural milestone Fair Warning Vol. 1 comes the game-changing Fair Warning Vol. 2, knocking conformity on its collective ass while giving a more than fair warning to naysayers they should step aside when Negative Approach wants to use the men’s room or something even more punk rock related. No wait, actually this is a collection of five concerts from 82-83 using a single-camera VHS only made decent by the quality of the songwriting and the execution of such by these youngsters out of Deeeeeeee –troit Michigan.
Negative Approach were by their own admission influenced by DC HarDCore, its cousin scene in Boston, and by fellow Detroiters The Necros, who put the Hard in Hardcore, to say the least. In the opening interview singer John Brannon repeatedly insists he was influenced by the 4 Skins but their sound is too bludgeoningly fast for that to be true. At first he says he was most influenced by Alice Cooper, which is why you should never ask a band who they’re trying to sound like. By fault of location Negative Approach didn’t achieve the same success as a Minor Threat but they did shore up their local scene and left behind a respectable catalog and legacy.
You get a lot of tunage at 120 minutes, taken from five shows, one in Philly and the rest in Detroit. The best is the opener from a cable access show called “Why Be Something You’re Not”, hosted by a kid looking no more than seventeen and weighing no more than 120 lbs. There’s not much else to add except they’re loud, fast and hard, and their fans do the best they can to kill each other in the dance we call slam.
Thankfully good songwriting peeks out from all that racket, otherwise this would stink big time.
Negativland - No Other Possibility (video review) (UMN): It's bad enough when you watch a video production like this and think "I can do better!" It's worse when your next thought is "This stinks so much it wouldn't be worth my time." Negativland can be clever on record, but their cut & paste commentaries on consumerism, advertising and politics come up shockingly short on this sixty minute tape, as stunted by their limited access to TV and film footage as a lack of anything you could remotely call funny or insightful.
It's always a bad sign when a film opens with an apology for what is about to be follow. These words crawl down the screen: "When wishful thinking oversteps the reluctance of inexperience and joins forces with the restrictions of poverty, the results are often VERY STUPID. If you've ever sweated while laughing you'll know what I mean. Eyes are more sensitive than ear and NEGATIVLAND might well stick to records where thoughtlessness is only noise." Nothing here points to thoughtlessness per say, just an extreme lack of discernible talent. This surprised me because on record they've always impressed me with their technical skills and offbeat perspectives.
Cut & Paste (also known as Collage) is a staple of the DaDa school of art. It takes the images that society imposes on its citizens and manipulates them to comment on the actual state of affairs. It's dissecting propaganda by presenting it in ways the makers of propaganda would never allow their images to be shown. In a collage, each image adds a layer of commentary or proof for the larger statement the piece is making. Winston Smith is the most well-known Cut & Paste artist in punk circles. His talent comes not from a brilliance of concept, but access to tons of old magazines, sharp Exacto knives and a quality brand of glue stick. Irony seems to be the end-all of Cut & Paste art. Most of it is highly pretentious but sometimes nuggets of corn appear amongst all the poop.
Half the problem with No Other Possibility is Negativland's lack of ability in video production. The other half is a dearth of material to cut and paste from. In a perfect creative environment you would concretely outline your points, themes and commentaries, and then find all the materials needed to visually express these ideas. Here, Negativland probably started backwards with whatever they were able to lie, cheat and steal for their uses.
This mishmash contains live concert footage, horribly dull sketch comedy, pointless home movies and enough stolen snippets of TV news, commercials, cop shows, movies and random stock footage to flesh it out to sixty minutes. I can't say if the tape is sixty minutes like the box claims because the last ??? minutes are a grainy, white noise steal of regular MTV programming, commercials and all. There's a built-in irony factor with old TV commercials where everyone is too damn happy smoking Lucky Strikes, or the housewife looking like she snorted a fistful of lithium before scrubbing her kitchen floor with the latest cleanser. This material is presented "as is" because there's irony in the images. The only problem is that once you get the irony of advertising the joke gets old fast. To have it shoved in your face again and again then makes it surrealism - which doesn't work well with cut & paste because the ideas are too obvious.
The only redeeming parts of this tape are in the live concert pieces. Negativland put on a nice low budget stage show, complete with cute little girls in bread slice costumes who yell out their favorite foods during "The Last Supper 1986". A vintage Lincoln Mercury Monarch with the band members inside is driven into the hall and up to the stage. Negativland specialize in tape loops, but when they write songs they fall into the categories of demented acoustic folk and Throbbing Gristle weirdness. Both are presented well, and it drives home the point even more that these guys are lost when it comes to video. That’s too bad because if their visual skills matched their musical skills this would have been fuggin' amazing.
Never Mind Aerobics… Here’s Punk Rope (dvd review): I rented this for yuks and because I’ll review anything not made for tweens with the word “punk” in it, but I was pleasantly surprised by the low-rent hi-jinx of Never mind Aerobics… Here’s Punk Rope. It’s both an instructional video and a visual calling card for a legitimate and growing business enthusiastically promoted by Tim Haft, Shana Brady and the other folks at NY’s punkrope.com, who I suspect have to explain to school administrators and community centers that the “punk” in their name doesn’t mean anarchy and random violence. Boston had their own Punk Rock Aerobics, who put out a book and are now at best in hibernation.
Pleasant and soft-spoken Tim Haft has the Punk Rope logo inked on his left shoulder, but besides that he’s your average middle-age guy who doesn’t look like a fitness instructor. Shana Brady is thin, wiry and has the endurance of a marine. Their program has core components but they throw in whatever props and games they can think that’s affordable and easy to transport. It’s quaint seeing friends and neighborhood people participate in the many sections of the DVD, with titles like “V8 Nightmare”, “No More Noodle Abs”, “It’s a Dog’s Life”, “Chaos Jump”, “The Philosophical Jump” and the hard-stance scented “Jump For Your Dreams”. There’s a strong emphasis on play and fun, which would account for their success at schools and community centers for participants of all ages and abilities. As far as exercise goes, Punk Rope doesn’t seem to care if you go PX90 with it or dance the hula to the beat.
I’ve exercised non-stop since I was seventeen and have done crazy things like hack-squatting 1,300 lbs (a gimmick with no real-world application) and walking five miles with 25 lbs. of leg weights secured on each ankle. Now I lift three days a week doing fifty sets to failure in less than ninety minutes and run for forty minutes three times a week. I’ve never taken aerobics because I detest disco and don’t like following random orders. Long ago there were times I wished there was such a thing as punk rock aerobics but considering my age and injuries it’s too late for me. Go on without me…I’ll be fine.
What first impressed me about Punk Rope was the emphasis on safety and correct form. Sight unseen I thought this dvd would be mostly a joke where street corner losers act like dopes with ropes while the latest Thrasher compilation blasts in the background on a set covered in day-glo graffiti. It’s not. There’s no assumption of knowledge, coordination and endurance, and you’re constantly reminded not to overdo it. There’s advice on shoes, surfaces and rope sizing. Drink plenty of water, take breaks, go at your own pace and never exercise through pain. All good advice I’ve rarely followed since I’m Hard… (cross your forearms in front of you in an “X”) To The CORE!!!!! ©
Punk rope is divided into sections on stretching, warm-ups, regular aerobics and that other thing involving ropes and jumping over ropes. This isn’t a dvd where you plop it in and work out for its entire fifty minutes. It’s basics on each element of their program, so you either join a class or make one up for yourself. It is what it is, and what it is is pretty good.
The credits thank the Gotham Girls Roller Derby Jeerleaders, whose roster includes Fisti Cuffs, Raggedy Animal, Surly Temple, Abraham Drinkin’, Casey Strangle, Cruel Hand Luke, Leif Sentence, Lemony Kickit, Margaret Thrasher, Professor Shovecraft, B.O. Hazard, Hewlett Smackard, Wanda Seymore Beaver, Intern L. Bleeding, Ace Bondage, Andy Biotic, Miss American Thighs, Hyper Lynx, Evilicious, Dinah Party, Donna Matrix, Dainty Inferno, Carmen Monoxide, Care Bear Scare, Ana Bollocks and Bitch Cassidy. If there’s anything I love more than a bad play on words it’s 26 of them.
The following bands provide soundtrack music played at a reasonable volume so you can hear Tim’s instructions: 10 Belows, The Bouncing Souls, The Ducky Boys, Electric Eel Shock, The Fleshtones, Gitogito Hustler, The Koffin Kats, The Kung Fu Monkeys, The Peacocks, The Queers, Sport Doen, and Stiff Little Fingers. The DVD also comes with a twenty song cd.
Newtown Neurotics: The Long Goodbye (dvd review): The Newtown Neurotics, since the 80s known as The Neurotics even though the old name is much better, might still be around. Here’s their site and Jack Rabid wrote a nice summary here. They’re a true odd duck of the second wave of UK punk that mostly split between oi and street punk. Their sound was mostly influenced by The Jam, and there’s also a serious love of The Ramones. The Clash is also credited as an influence but musically I mostly catch The Jam. Maybe the Undertones seminality (sorry, had to use that word) I read about also applies. This translates into every song having a distinctive power and serious attention to melody and structure. Even the filler tracks are interesting, and this shines through on this pro-am taping of the last gig of their original run, October 29, 1988.
Collaborator Attila The Stockbroker drops by to sing a tune and a good time is had by most. The Long Goodbye is archive quality but the songwriting breaks through the limitations of the production values, which usually drags even really good bands into the gutter of crap. Here’s a swell greatest hits you can buy. I make no money if you do. I know nothing about technology but I’d love to cash in on those internet millions I read about on pop-up ads and hear about from people who have no f--king idea what they're talking about.
New Wave Theatre, Vol 1 (video review): I wish I knew more about this series from 1983 (?) starring Peter Ivers, who looks and dresses like David Letterman's Paul Shaffer. Ivers is funny. I guess the show was on L.A. television or cable (or something). This tape is a compilation of a number of episodes of New Wave Theatre. Filmed in a closed studio with no audience except the crew and bands waiting to perform, it mixed sketch comedy, quick-cut archival film footage of conceptual images, live bands, and short interviews. Everyone's having a good time and Ivers is such a great host that even when he asks a cute little boy "Do you think life has no meaning?" it’s all harmless goofing. The bands on this tape include 45 Grave (with what looks like Kelly Bundy singing), The Unknowns (great Cramps meet Surf with Danny Elfman-type singing), The Suburban Lawns (B-52s meet Pere Ubu), The Blasters, Fear ("F--k Christmas"), The Plugz, The Surf Punks, Vitamin Pink, and a few other bands whose names I wasn't sure of. Each band does only one song.
The first twenty minutes of this was great but I tired of it soon after. This is one odd little video if there ever was one. It might be L.A.'s answer to New Jersey’s The Uncle Floyd Show. There was a second volume, put out by the fine folks at Rhino Records.
New York Doll (dvd review): Excuse me a moment while I bask in the glory of a professional music documentary... oh, that was lovely. Next week, another incoherent digital video love note to a band beloved by tens if not hundreds of people.
I could write this review three times and each could be completely different. There's much to consider and a number of ways to consider them. I chose this one because I see New York Doll as a film about the human spirit, and as an agnostic I'm open to both secular and spiritual considerations.
2005's New York Doll is a story that will be interpreted differently by large groups of viewers, and first time director Greg Whiteley deserves credit for accomplishing the Herculean task of not coercing his film into an adversarial narrative with lessons and incriminations flashing across the screen in large block letters. A fellow Mormon, Whiteley knew Arthur "Killer" Kane for a few years and formulated the idea of making a film about an old, damaged, and simple man of little note except for once being a member of what's commonly accepted as one of the most influential rock bands of all time. Morrissey's intention of reforming the remnants of the Dolls for his 2004 Meltdown Festival kick-started the film's production, and it's not until the (surprise to those who don't know) end that you realize this is a story just as easily coming from the imagination of a hack Hollywood screenwriter. It doesn't trail off after Kane's triumphant wish fulfillment, it kicks you in the groin and forces you to consider the meaning of faith, need, and a sustaining power that can be found even in the weathered husk of a thoroughly defeated soul.
As the film warms up there's a few easy comparisons to Crumb and American Splendor. It opens with Kane riding the bus from his sparse apartment to his three day a week job at the LDS Genealogy Library, where his co-workers include two sweet old ladies who gamely say they didn't know they worked with a real live rock star. Kane's elderly, withered and mentally disheveled. The details of his time with the NY Dolls and his incremental fall into bitterness and alcoholism are laid out in short yet effective detail, and his conversion to Mormonism appears to be no more than a safety net that keeps him barely alive at the bottom. Time tells a mostly different story of confidence, determination and hope that belies what you see on the screen.
Being an artful documentary in a field that leans heavily left there's also the sense Mormons will be portrayed as, at best, brainwashed. If you don't know Whiteley is himself a Mormon you might walk away thinking there's an anti-Mormon slant in showing Mormons as dogmatically unhip, oblivious, not immediately blown away by Kane's past, speaking of Kane and his venture in simple and supportive terms, and simply by being unapologetically religious. All scenes with Mormons and Mormonism are organic, matter of fact and ultimately minimal. It's pro-Mormon by being neutral and having the church be, by default, responsible for Kane being able to achieve his dream after thirty very long years. He would have been dead long ago if not for the church, and in no way did they keep him down. Kane's original run in music rose and fell in a natural progression of his talent and opportunities. He was at the bottom all on his own.
Kane's inner demons are his own lack of success and the success of the other members of The NY Dolls, especially David Johansen, with whom he'd last been seen having another of their usual screaming matches. Johansen's simple and effortless kindness makes him Kane's earthly redeemer, a benevolent force whose hugs and warm smiles you can almost literally see remove the yoke of regret and fear Kane wore on his hunched shoulders every day for decades.
While in some ways still a dithering old man, Arthur Kane also maintains a fearless confidence and a fierce will to succeed. His bass guitars were in hock for years (a weird story) and nobody but possibly Kane knows if he's capable of pulling this off. At the big gig the band succeeds beyond anyone's wildest expectations, and while he's stiff as a board and you're never sure if Kane's capable of destroying their six-string guitar driven sound, it's a triumph for Arthur, and in the scenes where he's posing for publicity stills in stylish and brightly colored clothing you know either God or luck has granted him this one last wish, and it's beautiful to see.
The film's first and ultimately false ending has Arthur once again on the bus in his simple black pants and white shirt. Everything's come full circle, and though he's back to his small routines he's gone off on his quest, banished his demons and came back victorious. 22 days later he was diagnosed with leukemia and died two days after that. Johnny Ramone died a few months after Kane in 2004, two days after the Ramones tribute concert he helped plan but could not attend. They say he willed himself to live until the job was done. Arthur Kane lived only long enough to get his rewards on earth. As an agnostic I'll leave it at that.
New York Dolls: All Dolled Up (video review): Filtered from a treasure trove of forty hours of early 70's video footage from famed photographer Bob Gruen and his wife Nadya, All Dolled Up is an archivist's dream. It's not fancy but it's put together well and is as gritty and raw as you're going to find, filled with concert footage, casual interviews and promotional toomfoolery. It's not a documentary but it tells you most of what you need to know about the NY Dolls at the time it was shot in grainy, single camera black and white, with mono sound. The Dolls are young and hungry, and not just for heroin.
Does it drag and repeat itself? Boy Howdy it does, but these are opportunities to microwave a burrito or check your fantasy NASCAR standings. You can stop and start it at any time because there's no plot. It's raw footage of groupies bitching they're on the guest list, the boys getting dressing in thrift store drag, backstage meets and greets, interviews sitting on the sides of highways, and of course playing at clubs like Kenny's Castaways, The Whisky, The Matrix, and Max's Kansas City. If your eyes drift from the screen, don't fight it. It's your body's natural defense mechanism. My favorite parts were the band winding themselves up and down for simple band photos, and the local NY CBS news report on a new and potentially dangerous trend coming out of lower Manhattan. Why, Iggy Pop needed sixteen stitches after a recent show!
David Johansen is the charismatic center of the band, and you can tell he's the only NY Doll with an IQ above junkie. I loved it when he stares into the camera and deadpans in all honesty "I can't wait to get home and get out of this ridiculous costume." Everything he says is worth hearing. If he ever gets around to writing a book about The Dolls it'll be the final word.
I turned off All Dolled Up after an hour because the film makes its points within twenty minutes. There’s enough hurry-up-and-wait parts to make you feel like a voyeuristic ghost doomed to eternity. The concert segments find them in top form, so at least there’s that, and also the anthropological thrill of a time when men and women looked alike. Especially the hair. A Trash & Vaudeville Rolling Stones from start to finish, The NY Dolls spend their days as straight drag queens stoned out of their minds and nights on stage as the KISS of glam.
In San Francisco at The Matrix, Rodney Bingenheimer introduces the band and has nothing to say. Did he suffer from stage fright? Jeez, Rodney, you traveled 400 miles to do this, so at least say something interesting. Pretty much for fans only, All Dolled Up might be worth seeing for its organic cinema verite. The shocked reactions of bystanders are priceless, and you’ll learn a lot about the Dolls and the 70s if you can stay awake long enough. The early and mid 70s were an ugly time to be alive. Androgyny, no muscle tone and acres of Brillo Pad pubic hair. You do the visual math.
New York Dolls - Live In A Doll's House (video review) (T.H.R.): A rare glimpse of the Doll's playing live, taken from a mid ‘70s TV appearance on Don Kirshner's Rock Concert, a weekly event hosted by the famous wooden faced, monotone promoter. Rock Concert wasn't afraid to put on smaller acts creating a buzz in the underground press. Kirshner's intro to the Doll's appearance accurately lays down the band's position at the time. I've added extra commas to give you a feel for Don's cadence: "One of the most controversial groups on the scene today, are the New York Dolls. It takes a lot to cause a sensation, in New York City, and the Dolls did just that. Recently, in Los Angeles, they did the same thing. Critics across the country have called them, outrageous, bizarre, and a lot of the critics have called them, incredibly talented. We'd like you to determine for yourself tonight on Rock Concert, the true talents, of the New York Dolls."
The Dolls were more Trash & Vaudeville than what the kids call punk these decades, but along with Iggy Pop, the MC5 and The Velvet Underground they inspired many bands that followed. David Johansen taught the Ramones that technical proficiency wasn't needed to get on stage. The Ramones passed on this same advice to others. The Dolls dressed in drag and played Rolling Stones-inspired glam R&B boogie with enough reckless abandon to cause a stir in NY circles. Drugs destroyed them just when fate started to smile in their direction. Malcolm McLaren managed the band just before the end, choosing to dress them in red patent leather and draping the stage with Communist-inspired red bunting. W T F.
Six songs are on the tape, ending with their show-stopper "Personality Crisis". In the procesds you learn a lot about the band. Jerry Nolan pounds out a strong backbeat on the drums, Sylvain Sylvain owns a massive white guy afro, Johnny Thunders looks like Horshack from Welcome Back Kotter with some variety of mutant dead animal on his head, each guitarist pulls out every trick from the Cock Rock School Of Glam Overkill, and Johansen proves himself to be the bastard son of Mick Jagger and Tim Curry. The L.A. crowd goes friggin' nuts. A poor tape transfer, but a vital document indeedy do.
N.Y.H.C. (dvd review): Welcome to Thirty Minutes Too Long Theatre, this week featuring N.Y.H.C., a whimsical stroll down one litter filled alley of New York’s underground hardcore scene circa 1995, smack in the middle of punk’s lost decade. Thugcore meets Jersey Shore as a parade of multi-ethnic ne’er-do-wells take off their shirts to perform intricate dances of violence in generally empty circles of hate while bands of equally shirtless hooligans bang out heavy metal riffs without cock-rock solos – basically rap rock that calls itself hardcore punk. It’s well made but bogs down in exploring every frickin’ angle of a scene that’s a slice of a microcosm, but it either intentionally or unintentionally exposes its subjects to ridicule, so as a plus it kept me guessing as to its intentions.
New York’s hardcore scene is cretinous like no other, descended from The Gangs Of New York, Low Life and Angels With Dirty Faces. Is it any more “real” than other hardcore scenes? Only if you think bad is good, a brand of nihilism promoted by pretentious intellectuals. The lead city band was Agnostic Front while the Cro-Mags ruled Long Island. Agnostic Front had a similar nazi problem as Sham 69, but generally the scene was a focal point for the shared feelings of a multi-cultural group of kids looking for a soundtrack for their lives – Hatecore. N.Y.H.C. was shot in three weeks and focuses on a subset of bands – 25 ta Life, District 9, No Redeeming Social Value, Krishna band 108, Crown Of Thornz, and Madball, all of whom were actively playing and willing to be interviewed at length. Murphy’s Law singer James Drescher, Agnostic Front’s Roger Miret and the Cro-Mag’s John Joseph are interviewed to give their perspective on the larger scene and history, so there is a balance of big and small, and the film doesn’t deserve the flak it’s gotten. Joseph was pushing his life story for cash even then, finally releasing an autobiography in 2007.
Rick Healey of 25 ta Life is the focal point of N.Y.H.C., looking like Jesus with dirty dreds and his body a canvas of tattoos and piercings. There’s a balance of normal and freak about him that makes him the most interesting of the bunch, most of whom come off as street-wise illiterates. Healey sings like the cookie monster vomiting, which I enjoy at the comical level of why even bother of having actual lyrics when it’s phonetically impossible to understand them? Even funnier would be having Healey slowly repeat lyrics with each word being an incoherent garbled retch of a sound. There’s the usual parade of stories about broken homes, death, drunks and alcohol that make up the understanding portion of any documentary about weirdos. Boo Hoo. The only thing I’d find interesting is how they chose Hardcore 4 Life over anything else. How full-bore Krishnas got into that scene is a doozy of a tale. Damn you, ghost of Ray Cappo!
A few funny scenes were: someone in VOD’s pants fall down while mowing the lawn on Long Island, one stoner in a band can’t count backwards a few numbers, and the singer in District 9 tells a story about how his kool punk rock vest wound up on a neighborhood bum. You may find these people fascinating but they’re proudly violent and I suspect 99% of them have no moral code beyond what they make up as they go along. N.Y.H.C. is as much a cautionary tale as it is a promotional piece.
You can watch the whole thing on YouTube. 33 seconds in you hear the first threat against your safety if you don’t like it. At 4:30 you see a great example of the Hatecore Kata on display throughout N.Y.H.C. It’s like break dancing except it’s all about hate. Here’s the only dance of hate I approve of:
Can’t you just smell the seething lust? N.Y.H.C. is worth seeing for as long as you can handle it. The production values are decent and they mix it up well. I lasted my usual 60 minutes and skimmed the rest. It was different yet more of the same. Forty hours of film was shot and they were going for feature length (86 minutes) prestige, so they had the will and the footage. There’s a full-length commentary from the filmmakers that’s not worth sitting through as they’re not commenting but constantly reminding each other of what they did that day in their personal lives. A second disc has a lot more footage. I don’t find anything particularly punk about grindcore, but since everything is punk, I guess it is. Yup.
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds: The Road To God Knows Where (video review) (Atavistic):
Upon the road to God knows where,
The object is not getting there.
The object is the journeying;
The process of meandering.
“One thing was clear to me from the beginning. I did not want to make one of those music films with quick rhythmic cuts from one slick scene to another, shots of monumental concerts or musicians as exaggerated mythical figures.”
Director Uli M. Schuppel
Art putzes can dazzle each other with concepts like Cinema Verite and The Process until their anuses bleed, but if the finished work is void of content or meaning it’s a diaper full of pretension. The irony of Seinfeld was that it was a complicated show supposedly about nothing. The problem with The Road To God Knows Where is that by design it’s about nothing, and there’s nothing there beneath all that nothingness. It’s a test of how long you can watch it before you stick a fork in your ear from endlessly waiting for something -- anything, to happen.
The point of Cinema Verite is to film truths that only show themselves when nobody is acting. For this documentary Schuppel shot endless rolls of nothing: scenes of the band on the tour bus, waiting to go on stage, meeting with fans, walking out of hotels – the whole point seemingly to show nothing happening for as long as possible. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds seem like polite and personable guys – but MAN are they bland. They’re waiting patiently for Godot, and the only truth I learned was there are no truths to learn. But ah, maybe that’s the point, and that's why the film ultimately fails. The Road To God Knows Where is an art film, and in the self-serving circle-jerk of the arts community it’s only The Artist who decides what is Art. Sorry Uli, but your art is fart. If you’re a rabid Nick Cave fan you may enjoy watching him walk down hallways and sing spirituals on the tour bus, but your interest would be solely idol-based. I, as someone whose opinions on Nick Cave are a clean slate, am happy for his success, but this film made about him is a void on celluloid.
Dollars to donuts Schuppel was hoping to capture a series of Fellini-esque episodes of humanity as grotesque. This might work if Nick Cave fans were freaks, but they are not. The folks who get backstage are, like the band, quiet and polite. One man gushes to Nick how much he loves the band, but he’s just a nerd, and Nick's wide-eyed look of "who is this freak?" is still polite. I watched only two thirds of the film because I got tired of waiting for something to happen. I felt like I was on an existential Bataan Death March.
The Road To God Knows Where is filmed in dark, grainy black & white, and it's often hard to make out what people are saying. The concert clips are often cut short, which is how Schuppel proves time and again this isn't a music film. As a bonus, or maybe compensation, the tape includes video clips for the following tracks: "In The Ghetto", "Tupelo", "The Singer", "The Mercy Seat" and "Deanna". The film was shot during a US tour in 1989. That Nick Cave's talent and personality comes through at all is a credit to Nick Cave alone. The filmmaker, by the failure of his film theory, tried hard not to have this happen.
Nico Icon (video review) (Fox Lorber): In the big picture, is Nico more famous for singing with The Velvet Underground or for being a member of Andy Warhol's troupe of beautiful losers? That's hard to say. I do know I couldn’t care less about Nico because she was an empty shell who loved drugs too much and was at best amoral. She dumped her child off with a relative and continued her life unhindered by responsibility. I've met a few people into Nico and her attraction seems to be her stunning early beauty mangled both by age and constant drug use. After Andy Warhol and her looks left this world she continued an undistinguished career touring smelly clubs and scoring dope. Eventually she died. Big deal. She was a walking ghost for years anyway. Now she's an icon for those who find romance in failure. Nico Icon is a well made film that builds on her legend as it tears her down. It all depends on if you find Nico a tragic victim of her own beauty or a nobody packaged in fancy skin. I vote nobody.
"She was famous for being Nico" - it's said in the film and that's the consensus on her place in the world in general. She was cold, pretty, addicted, disloyal, emotionless, violent, mysterious, bored, boring - all traits that in a less attractive person would lead to a life of poverty and solitude. Nico was gorgeous so she won on a superficial level Maybe she's the Marlene Dietrich of the Warhol generation. It's also said "she had a desire for her own destruction". Big deal, her lifestyle was self-destructive. Because she was beautiful and hung out in The Factory, does that make her any different than trailer park trash who hate themselves? If she wasn't "Nico", would anyone give a s--t about her? Would her life then still be a tragedy?
Friends, associates and relatives appear on screen and talk about a person as shallow as a drop of water. They recall her beauty, her sadness and her emptiness, but nobody, and I mean nobody, has anything honestly nice to say. She was a user of people and hard drugs with neither conscience nor emotion. Some friends reminisce about the glamour of the past, a swell joke because it's obvious these people now live a life of squalor and anonymity. They're has-beens with only the past to hold on to. And what a past it was! Leeching off Andy Warhol's fame - a man who lived the existence of a specter. He watched, detached, as the freak show he assembled acted out their personal problems. The Factory crowd were either beautiful losers from good homes or extremely odd nobodies with skills that made them worth having around. Nico was pretty. That was her contribution to Warhol's gang. Nico slept around the rock world like a groupie with one month to live. Dylan, Lou Reed, Jim Morrison, Iggy Pop, Lenin's corpse - yup, Nico spent her best years flat on her back.
Nico Icon might give you the false impression she wrote the words she sang with the Velvet Underground. She was forced on the band by Warhol because Lou Reed couldn't sing and had the stage presence of a pissed off Long Island geek, which he was. You'll often hear that the Velvets resented Nico's involvement, but in retrospect she may have been what they needed - an angle to draw people's attention. Before hooking up with Warhol their prospects seemedd dim. Andy gave them a pretty singer and sent them out to play in his multi-media Plastic Exploding Inevitable roadshow.
If you suffer from low self-esteem I imagine Nico is as good a roll model as any, but an Icon? The filmmakers deserve a good clubbing by the Dictionary Police for making that assertion. I'm The Pope of Punk. Did you know that? Here, I wrote this here pamphlet on the subject. Please read it.
Night Of The Living Dead,
With Mike Nelson Commentary (DVD review):
Sorry to say, but
this DVD, the 473rd edition of Night Of The
Living Dead to hit the market, isn't worth the money. Maybe it is for the
restored film and enhanced sound, but the commentary is weak. I enjoyed
this one much better for its informative
commentary by director George Romero and cast.
Mystery Science Theater 3000 host
Mike Nelson talks over this new color
version, and while he is clever, intellectual and a swell guy, he's grasping for
things to say, and what he does say is at best mildly whimsical.
As for the film itself, ther’s a certain War Of The Worlds feel, as a solid hour deals with little besides radio and television news coverage of the unfolding horror. The tension in this is much higher, and the horror gore pretty rough for 1968. In the early to mid ‘70s Night Of The Living Dead would play on television in New York and I remember being around twelve or so, flipping back and forth between the movie and professional wrestling, both of which made me run around and scream scared poopless and excited beyond all measure. Even then I couldn't believe they were showing it on tv.
Contrary to the claim on the box this isn't the first colorized version, a process they might as well call Pastel-A-Vision. The B&W version is of course better but a lot of people won't watch B&W just like they prefer full screen over wide screen. I'm so superior to anyone who likes colorized full screen versions of films. That’s a given.
1991: The Year Punk Broke - Sonic Youth (video review) (Geffen): This title has always annoyed me. What does it mean for a style to break? Are we talking about top-40 radio embracing Nirvana as the-next-big-thing-folks-so-hop-on-the-bandwagon-before-the-fad-dies? Who's to say when a band is successful? Is it a matter of units sold or the feverish interest of media and fashion bigwigs? And don't you hate it when a band's third album becomes popular and the media refers to it as their first? As if the five years prior didn't count for poop because they weren't featured on the cover of Rolling Stone until last week? You can say punk broke with the Sex Pistols. Power Pop Punk broke with Green Day. But who in punk really gives a crapola about this? If you're into punk like I am there is always punk. Some albums and bands are better than others, but I couldn’t care less if anything I listen to makes it in the world of popular culture. The big question used to be "Is Punk Dead?" I wished it would die so the trendies would leave punk and get back into heavy metal or (c)rap. Punk is here to stay, with or without the option of breaking. You know who talks about breaking? Flabby record company executives with their remaining hairs tied into a ponytail.
All in all this is a dull movie. The concert footage is average and only of interest to fans. The between song segments are a waste of time, being improvised bits of unfunny business by the bands, led by humor-challenged Thurston Moore, who begins or ends each appearance by screaming. There's not one natural scene where you learn about the bands or the tour. Like I said, a waste of time if you're not into the bands, which are: Sonic Youth, Nirvana, Dinosaur Jr., Babes in Toyland, Gumball, and the Ramones (muddy sound and Joey's vocals are too low).
924 Gilman Street (dvd review): This
2008 zero-budget video documentary wasn’t available for a long time on Netflix,
and when it popped up again the copy I received was beat up like a tushy on
2-for-1 spanking night. Makes no sense at all. The promo page for this
radiating glowing mash note is
here. I’ll meander a review the same way the film goes about its business.
Example 147a of a project that should have maxed out at sixty minutes but
aspired to be something more
924 Gilman Street opens with an attempt at structure by driving the highways
and streets leading to the club, with voiceovers circling the raison d’etre for
the space. Then there’s bits about how the club came to be, but soon it falls
into the cycle of foggy live clips and interview snippets that say a lot of
words but don’t add to much beyond how great and cool and necessary and
fortunate and enriching and whatever else Gilman Street represents to all its
I read and reviewed the book 924 Gilman Street so even if it isn’t I viewed this as a companion piece. The book is more honest (even if by accident) about the ugly truths hidden behind the utopian rhetoric of the project, but at least they allow Jesse Michaels of Operation Ivy to comment on the sometimes unwanted influence of hardline socialists and their demands for physical labor and political purity. The dvd is a fundraiser for the club, distributed by Alternative Tentacles (Virus 381) with the pre-emptive strike of stating “So have some class and pay for it”.
It’s best to dedicate 60 minutes tops to this dvd, so after the first ten minutes forward to anywhere and see how long you can last. Go back randomly and do the same. Pick another point and… you get the point. If you’re really into the importance of really important things maybe you’ll want to watch all of it AND the extras, more of the same but where else do you have to be anyway.
Maybe my problem is that I don’t yearn to belong or to build, or to destroy the system and replace it with whatever it is I learned in kindergarten about sharing, respect, and responsibility. If someone made a film about my fondest musical years (78-82) I surely wouldn’t want it sugarcoated with BS like this one does fairly harmlessly. I don’t want the ass of my nostalgia kissed. A much more honest film would be about how the club has survived in spite of all that’s gone wrong or doesn’t come close to being true in terms of stated goals vs. reality.
The Nomi Song
(DVD review): When I saw this documentary
on the shelf I literally thought "Now they can make one about Jim Skafish!"
Seriously, Jim was the
Klaus Nomi of Chicago. He couldn't sing
soprano falsetto but they both put on a campy and self-limiting theatrical stage
show, and, my god, that nose must have come from Mars too!
The Nomi Song passes the ninety-minute test and in doing so elevates the status of Nomi's career from minor cultural event to minor cultural event with grander implications. Ninety minutes is a feature length film's normal running time and not all subjects yield ninety minutes of viable content. The Nomi Song moves along nicely, and it helps that Klaus (born Klaus Sperber in Germany) and friends obsessively taped shows, rehearsals and behind-the-scenes numbnuttery like their idol Andy Warhol.
Nomi is known for three things: his appearance with Bowie on SNL in 1979, performing "Total Eclipse" in Urgh! A Music War in 1981, and dying from AIDS in 1983. He was a talented performer but stuck in his iconic persona and a stage act that came from and was stuck in the genre-swamp of verboten vaudeville (see 1972's Cabaret and the unsung godfather of punk, Joel Grey, for more).
The Nomi character was great but offered the longevity of a sketch. Near the end he sings a beautiful aria like Maria Callas with a massive orchestra behind him, and only then does a lasting career present itself. IF he had lived long enough and maybe IF he could stop being an otherworldly character so unapproachable people were only half joking when they wondered if he really was from outer space.
The Nomi Song, as expected, tells a rise and fall story. Klaus was a minor act so the impact was limited. It's still a good story. Thankfully the film doesn't pretend Klaus Nomi was bigger than he was. Klaus had a real (though constricted and eccentric) talent. He's presented as sweet and determined so it's sad he died alone, or so the film implies.
Northwest Passage: The Birth Of Portland D.I.Y. Culture (dvd review): If I had an ounce of filmmaking ability I’d have a parody of this film in the can within a week. Northwest Passage isn’t all that unwatchable but it’s as high concept and rudderless as an edutainment video can be. Take every NO FUTURE and ROCK DINOSAUR 70’s punk documentary ever made, collate every haggard cliché, then apply them liberally to an isolated Northwest city with a 1980 population of 193,831. That’s Northwest Passage: The Birth Of Portland D.I.Y. culture.
This was directed by Mike Lastra, he of the anti-music noise band Smegma and Portland’s Smegma Studios, and it’s mainly a bunch of his friends talking about back in the day, backed by gig clips and snippets of local news and talk shows from the ironical Quincy school of reactionary shock and bewilderment. The bulk of its focus is on the arty proto-punk bands of the later 70s. Full-length songs turn a sixty minute access TV segment into an eighty-eight minute real-live-gosh-darn film. Normally I’d consider that a negative but generally the songs were worthwhile and it whisked me away from interviews with old people who haven’t aged gracefully. Eric Stewart from Smegma looked like Paul Simon as a crack addict. The Neo Boys were a pleasant surprise and the Dead Kennedys clips like totally shredded! Jelly Belly Biafra appears throughout even though his association with the City of Roses is seemingly limited to having performed there a few times. There’s also a concert clip of The Bags, another band of out-of-towners. Tom “Pig” Roberts of Poison Idea is at least from Portland and he both reminisces and contributes an old clip from 1983. The Wipers are the most important and influential Portland punk band but as I recall they got their first mention an hour and six minutes in. Which was very strange indeed.
So, Portland had two clubs (Earth Tavern and the Long Good-Bye), a handful or two of bands, and an unspecified amount of clubbers, which, based on the concert clips, may have been more than ten but less than thirty. Northwest Passage is a locals-only documentary as there’s little context or bigger-picturing, and it’s anchored down by clichés that makes Portland look like the least original city in the world. Here’s the themes: disaffected youth, bloated commercial rock and disco suck, nobody knew how to play their instruments, D.I.Y., people had to stick together, booked our own shows, rebellion, music at its most basic level, returning to rock’s roots, nobody didn’t need no major labels (who didn’t want them either), and the non-cliché (because it’s a universal truth) that the scene’s catalyst was a 92 cent Ramones show.
Tiny city, smaller scene, weird looking old people and every UK 77 punk cliché applied to a quaint American port city. That’s my movie parody idea. Thank you (I say as I curtsey then bow).
Not A Photograph: The Mission Of Burma Story (video review): Not A Photograph is a bit of a letdown. It drags itself across the finish line at seventy minutes and is the straw that broke the camel’s back in how music films beat the theme of the importance of the band at hand into the ground with muted desperation. Guitarist Roger Miller speaks of a 2002 resurgence of Mission Of Burma brought about by a big reunion gig at NY’s Irvng Plaza, the band documentary film of which we speak, and the “book”, a chapter in Our Band Could Be Your Life, whose author appears to say MOB tastes great and is less filling. In the end it's a trip down memory lane for middle-aged hipsters excited to have a reason to leave the house, and a valid excuse for rock critics to flex their rhetorical muscles.
Mission Of Burma is a great and important band in American punk and post-punk history, but they weren’t bigger than what they were, and today they’re not as big as they were back then. They played their fair share of ill-attended gigs. I have to compare this to the Naked Raygun DVD What Poor Gods We Do Make, which also tries too hard to make the case a band is legendary. Mission of Burma was America’s Wire and Naked Raygun was Chicago’s Mission Of Burma. A film on Wire can easily argue their importance on a relatively large scale. The Naked Raygun film is a nice treat for fans in an era when technology allows people to do this on their desktop computer. The Mission Of Burma film tries to be more than it is and it shows.
The problem with Not A Photograph is that it reaches for gravitas when all it deserves is fond remembrance. The MOB story is one of a local Boston punk band who recorded a few great records, broke up, and along the way influenced other punk bands. As is, the footage would work better as a section of a film based on Our Band Could Be Your Life. Not A Photograph should have been a concert film of the Irving Plaza gig, spaced out and elaborated on with the other footage that populates the finished product. I knew the project was doomed when they showed a camcorder interview with bass player Clint Conley’s mom. I felt like a fly on the wall for slow-paced memories of boring randomness.
The film also trips up over issues of fame and relative fame. MOB were a noisy yet melodic punk band who rose as far up the ladder of punk rock success as their talent and the punk consuming public allowed. That they influenced other bands, like Nirvana, who went on to sell many more records, is almost irrelevant to the place of MOB in the music hierarchy. There’s two realities – the one preached to you by music critics and the empirical one you see in records sold and concert attendance. This could be a false memory, but even in their prime MOB were more important than they were popular. Their context is not within popular music and widespread fame, and you can see in the pained look on band member’s faces as they fight the need to honestly say fame in the punk rock ghetto is a teeny tiny thing.
Trivia of note: Roger Miller wears large noise-reducing headphones and drummer Peter Prescott plays behind a plexiglass shield. Someone describes their music as “Anti-pop in a pop way”. The “one album short of fame” balloon is both set free and shot down. The warm-up shows find the band rough and unready. Prescott owns a record store in Boston called Smash City Records. Their albums since the reunion have been less MOB than a side project using the original name to draw attention and move units.
Nothin’ But Trash: Garage/Punk/60’s Sounds (dvd review): Cherry Red collections of archive dumpster leftovers makes me pine for the cinematic masterpieces of 1970’s 42nd Street porn loops. It’s junk like this that makes the fast-forward button my best if not only friend. There are 32 bands/songs in 90 minutes and I can recommend only eight. The rest are filler both benign and foul.
Here’s the good: The Pooptones open the dvd with a fun video using stop motion, a monster puppet, and dancing girls. The song sounds something liked “Greased Lightning”. Thee Milkshakes sports a young Billy Childish playing a sweet instrumental. Everything he touches is worth hearing. Les Terribles were pretty good, along with Lightning Beatmen, Thee Headcoats, Sexton Ming, The Kaisers, and Thee Headcoatees.
The rest, in height order, are Wau Y Los Arrrghs, Boz and the Bozmen, The Prisoners, The Diabolics, Tikitiki Bamboos, Thee Phantom Creeps, Bad Karma Beckons, The Gun Club, The Squares, The Primevals, Ulcep, Les Dragvuers, The Wigs, The Tall Boys, The Monsters, The Stingrays, Empress Of Fur, Not Of This Earth + The Boo Boos, The Valiants, Stewed, Link Wray, Outl4w, Honey and the Hucksters, and Saturn V with Orbit.
If garage simply means being only good enough to play in your garage, most of these bands are garage bands. Nuff' said, true believers!
Jonathan Ross Presents: 1-2 FU
Punk Rock Music & Culture (video review):
At 10:50PM on December 15th, 2004, BBC 3 presented a landmark one-hour event in
music journalism history. Well, not really, but
1-2 FU is a funny, fast paced and even
informative look at the first and second wave British punk scenes. Steeped in
Jonathan Ross' fond personal memories and
feelings of middle-aged inadequacy, it presents serious material in the context
it deserves - a healthy dose of indirect mockery. Fans of
24 Hour Party People will recognize and love
this brand of fictionalized non-fiction.
The show's central focus is on Ross himself, so if you don't find him appealing you'll probably want to skip this. I thought he was perfect. 1-2 FU is a series of sketch comedy pieces, stream of consciousness ramblings on what it all means, and interviews with old-timers like Vivienne Westwood, Don Letts, Morrissey, Captain Sensible, Dave Vanian, Vic Godard, Ari Up (who seems insane), Mark Perry (Sniffin' Glue fanzine), Marco Pirroni and Jordan (employee at SEX and sometimes model). Years back I realized punks were old enough to be middle-aged parents. Looking at Westwood and Jordan it just hit me that punks can now be your great -great grandmother. It looks like the Life Bus ran over Jordan on the freeway and then backed up just to make sure.
1-2 FU opens with a grandmotherly type warning about objectionable language in the show. Then she says a load of them, even the dreaded "C" word. I don't want to listen to a 70-ish old lady curse like a whore. Do you? Later they show old film of Jordan's saggy glad-bags being zipped into bondage gear. Which reminds me of a joke: two flies are eating on a pile of poop. One fly farts and the other looks over and yells "Hey, I'm eatin’ here!"
1-2 FU at first operates on the (sadly common) assumption the first wave lasted eighteen months (roughly the rein of the Sex Pistols) and then went downhill. Later that changes, which leads me to believe this was written as they went along, depending on who said what. There's the standard angles of art vs. youth culture vs. the media vs. commerce. As with most if not all punk documentaries, everyone has an axe to grind or an ego to stroke. It's a Rashomon where everyone's too stoned, dumb, angry and/or deluded to be taken seriously. "What is punk about?" is a trick question. Punk isn't "about" anything. The effort of defining it disqualifies any explanation that follows.
Near the end The Fat Punks go on stage and sing for the kids. The singer opens by saying "All of us are over 40. Most of us have a waist over 40". Then they do a new song called "Punk Daddy", which goes something like this:
"He can't stay out late/'cos the kids need their school/He think's he's done their lunchbox/But he still thinks it's cool/He's a Punk Daddy//He fell asleep , back in '78/But when he woke up he had a swollen prostate/He's a Punk Daddy//He can't pogo for too long/He don't like the modern songs/He can't believe that it all went wrong/Inflate-Deflate-It's over/Punk Daddy"
Then there's a bit at the end of their cover of "No Future" where the singer sings "No Future, No Future...", then he adds, as a revelation of factual truth, "Except, there is, really". THAT'S funny!
Oi! Oi! Oi!: The DVD (dvd review): In my experience Cherry Red Records releases crappy DVDs but I haven’t even dented their extensive catalog so I’ll just say they’re not afraid to release anything and everything. The blurb on their site for Oi! Oi! Oi! offers an excellent quick overview of Oi music, so here ‘tis:
By the end of the 1970s, punk in Britain was splintering into several distinct strains, most of them quite "arty". Oi! music was an attempt to keep punk a populist, street-level phenomenon, and most of it came from the working class of South London and the cockney East End. Taking its name from the Cockney Rejects song Oi! Oi! Oi! (before which it was simply known as street-punk), Oi! was loud, brutal, and extremely simple. In essence, it was punk rock that was most at home in a rowdy pub (similar to hardcore but not quite as extreme). The Oi! movement was marked by strenuously collectivist politics and chanted, football-cheer choruses. The mid-'90s punk revival led to a renewal of interest in Oi! and many favourite early albums were reissued, with a number of new bands popping up both in the UK and overseas. The scene continues in popularity amongst its hardcore fans. The first ever DVD to spotlight the Oi genre, “Oi Oi Oi” is a celebration of the Oi scene, featuring both live performance and interview footage from some of the main players in the genre including Peter And The Test Tube Babies, Sham 69, The Toy Dolls and The Exploited.
Less a history than a collection of interview snippets, videos and live songs, Oi! Oi! Oi! is a mix of the good, the bad, and the fugly. It looks and sounds cheap, but it doesn’t put out, so what good is it? It’s good the footage exists because it’s better to have more documentation than less, but it’s still reeks of low quality footage with a few breaks of decency. Is it enough? Not for me, partly because I’ve never enjoyed films about old bands I like that sprinkle in new ones I don’t know about and who aspire to be a generic stereotype. There’s also that quality was Job #1,912(b).
Oi! Oi! Oi! starts strong by having Mickey Fitz of The Business talk of the bad old days of 1st wave UK punk bands that led to the street punk of the 2nd wave. It then cuts to Sham 69 playing “Tell Us The Truth”, a lesser song from their 1978 debut. Then two members of The Last Resort sit in the yard and tell it like it may or not have been, followed by The Blood performing their non-descript “Stark Raving Normal” live in mono and 6th generation VHS quality video. Then an interview snippet, followed by a live song, and repeat for a total of seventy minutes. I once wrote of The Last Resort, “they have to be the worst oi band to have a greatest hits collection”, which still makes me chuckle.
On the plus side there’s interviews with drummer Steve Bruce of Cock Sparrer and Garry Bushell (the Dick Clark of Oi), Blitz’s video for “New Age”, The Toy Doll’s video for “Nellie The Elephant”, Peter and the Test Tube Babies performing “Transvestite”, Red Alert doing “In Britain”, and Splodgenessabounds singing “2 Pints of Lager & A Packet Of Chips”, which is noted as the Oi song that charted higher than any other. Subtitles provide info on some bands and that’s a nice feature.
The live version of The Exploited’s “Dead Cities” and most of the concert footage for that matter, runs dismal to fair. The new bands don’t stand out for any particular reason, and more than one sound like original DC hardcore. Oi is not hardcore – it’s melodic mid-paced punk with working class themes. The answer for aspiring Oi bands isn’t loud fast rules but memorable chords and melodic guitar solos. I think two of the new bands were called The Hastily Put Together and A Friend Of A Friend’s Band.
The interviews have running themes of what birthed Oi and a desire by oldsters for a new band to come along and dominate the scene like Tiger Wood did to golf before he was caught banging that transvestite looking chick and a parade of waitresses and porn stars. They hope a rising tide will also lift their own boats, and who can blame them? Not I.
Oingo Boingo: Farewell - Live From The Universal Ampitheatre (video review) (A&M): When all is said and done, Oingo Boingo will be remembered as movie soundtrack composer Danny Elfman's quaintly eccentric early rock and roll project, begun in 1971 and ending with this Halloween concert from 1999. Boingo started as a large musical-theatrical troupe of performers known as "The Mystic Knights Of The Oingo Boingo", downsized and bandwagon-jumped the new wave train in the early ‘80s, and then meandered along as a mainly mainstream rock band with mixed results, during which time Elfman discovered, much to his own surprise, he was the best major motion picture soundtrack artist around. There's not much evidence in the recordings of Oingo Boingo to suggest he was capable of writing what is in essence modern classical music, but Tim Burton must have heard something magical when he signed Elfman to score Pee Wee's Big Adventure.
This two-tape concert video is LONG at 199 minutes, the first 23 minutes a documentary on the band's history. The snippets of early Mystic Knights performances are great. There's lots of drum-circle hypnotic rhythms, multiple xylophones and snazzy jazz/verboten cabaret riffs out of the golden age of Betty Boop. As visual artists they worked the same twisted fields as The Residents. You can see The Mystic Knights and the mindset behind them in all their cult glory in the 1980 film The Forbidden Zone, an Elfman family affair that's slightly easier to follow than Eraserhead. Around this time Oingo Boingo became a new wave band in the mold of XTC, Devo and Split Enz. Their 4-song EP was great and they performed "Ain't This The Life" in the IRS film Urgh! A Music War. I lost track after that besides knowing "Weird Science" was a hit.
The 31 songs on this video are competent and interesting, but they run into each other after a while. Oingo Boingo was a very good eccentric yet mainstream rock band, and the show they put on for their multiple-orgasmic fans is 110%. They seem like the ultimate good-time party band, like Jimmy Buffet on a weirder level. The concert looks filmed, as opposed to taped, and the sound synchronization is off at times, which makes this seem less like a truly live show.
Oingo Boingo was an interesting band limited too often by averageness. Looks though like they knew how to put on a great show.
Once And Future Queen (video review): Once you get over the inherent crapitude of this, or most micro-indie features for that matter, Once And Future Queen is a decent little production. The plot as detailed on the site 52 letters ago is concretely accurate but the film itself is a jumble of script, improv and random artiness in all its masturbatory glory. Correctly edited this ninety minute film would make a stunning 45 minute character study where plot is less important than attitude and style.
Directed by the prolific Todd Verow and starring Philly, the love child of Divine and Edith Massey, Once And Future Queen is at its core John Waters’ early work without the camp. Sex and nudity are filmed the same way, and Philly is Divine Massey, clueless and pompous, weighed down by a parasitic and nihilistic personality. If Philly isn’t like her character, Anti-Matter, and I doubt she is, she’s amazingly fearless. The answer’s probably somewhere in the middle.
Shot on digital video, it’s often unclear what’s scripted, outlined or made up on the spot, or who’s acting or simply hanging around when the camera’s rolling. Only one actor was “bad bad”, the rest amateurish but natural and sometimes more real than a lot of professional acting, which seems to be as much about projection as anything else. Philly’s acting is out there for sure but such people do exist. I’ve seen some and am amazed they live past 25 or don’t sleep under bridges.
Philly provides voiceover throughout the film on her philosophy on life, and while half of her deep thoughts miss there’s a bunch of quotable material too:
“I think, underneath it all, it’s just being alive, or being dead or whatever that counts. And it doesn’t really matter which one it is, it’s just whatever comes first, if you know what I’m talking about. Because I sure as hell don’t”
“I’ve lived on the street, and the street has lived on me on occasion. It’s one of those give and take situations.”
“An amusing person can always find an interesting place to stay, for a short period of time, at least. The thing is you have to keep moving.”
“The last time I was on stage was the best, the last time is always the best, or the next time. Anything but now. I don’t think I know what now is.”
Not a voiceover - “Don’t confuse me with my own ideas.”
A real band was put together for the film, named Eager Meat. Some of their material is decent, like Destroy All Monsters. Philly can’t sing but she doesn’t let that stop her. Once and Future Queen is a long ninety minutes because of the feature-length filler, but it ages well once the rest is forgotten. Edited down to a consistent tone and pacing it would be a great short feature.
One Punk Under God: The Prodigal Son Of Jim And Tammy Faye (dvd review): Punk is never brought up once in The Sundance Channel’s 2006, six-part reality show/documentary on Jay Bakker, son of Jim and Tammy Faye. For the record Jay’s a Social Distortion, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams III variety punk. Until the age of ten he was a spoiled brat of the rulers of Hertitage USA, in its day America’s third most visited theme park. Dad went to prison for five years, and life for Jay took a drug and alcohol turn for the worse. He rehabbed and set forth on a new life as a minister to heavily tattooed and pierced youth. One Punk Under God is a slice of his life at an interesting juncture. It’s a slow and long story but ultimately fascinating as hell (excuse the salty language), with enough layers of consideration to keep your mind peeling for weeks.
I was heavily distracted by how much Jay looks like David Cross, and also how Jim Bakker reminds me of Rick Moranis. An easy Tammy Faye joke could go here but I find her shockingly sympathetic and annoyingly endearing. I first fell under her spell watching The Eyes Of Tammy Faye, and her display of physical and mental defiance in One Punk Under God is herculean. Jim Bakker also becomes more human in the series, and his acknowledgement of being trapped in the persona of Jim Bakker is not what I expected.
The series introduces Jay, his back story and those around him, and then sets off to see what happens when he decides to fully come out (excuse the salty pun) in support of gay rights in his ministry. Will he lose the support of his unseen benefactors who keep the Revolution Church going? Will his conservative father figure/mentor Stu Damron pop his top? Will he lose a large portion of the followers he does have? This is the dramatic arc that greenlighted the series, but what makes it really good is the willing involvement of Tammy Faye at a time when cancer was beating her senseless, and the reluctant involvement of Jim Bakker, whom Jay hasn’t seen in two years and is getting the run-around every time he calls.
Jay is quiet, has no physical presence and doesn’t radiate charisma, but he’s driven in his own way, likeable to a fault and sincere in his beliefs, as liberal as ever seen in the Southern Baptist faith. His wife Amanda, sporting a huge Christ tattoo on her arm while seemingly secular, supports him while also wishing he did something else (I’m guessing) with a steadier income stream. Her desire to move to New York and pursue an advanced degree in psychology is another engaging aspect of the series. Unforeseen events make One Punk Under God better and more engrossing. The gay rights angle only sets up potential conflicts with church backers and whichever congregants are against it. Jay’s personal life is the real meat and spuds, and if the makers of this were hoping to film three hours of ridicule of ignorant southerners they didn’t get their money’s worth. The Revolution Church members are alt.culture lifers, Jim and Tammy Faye are larger than life but also sympathetic, and Stu, conservative to a fault, stands by Jay and is so dedicated to this church for society’s freaks he becomes its pastor when Jay moves north to be with Amanda (they’re now separated or divorced).
The welcome mat that adorns the church, borrowed space in an Atlanta concert hall, reads “Destroying Religion Since 1994”. The logo is a parachuting skull and wings. The stickers Jay slaps on every available space reads “As Christians, WE’RE SORRY for being self-righteous bastards. REVOLUTION. An online church for people who have given up on church.” It’s an odd way to proselytize but there’s endless varieties of faiths and he’s trying to scratch the niche he sees himself a part of. I went to a Huntingtons show years back and the place was packed with believers tattooed from head to toe. I had no idea these people even existed, forget about how many there were in the area.
For personal reasons my heart broke when Tammy Faye was interviewed late in the series. She’s been bedridden for days with Stage III lung cancer but she gamely paints her face, wraps herself in a robe and does her best Tammy Faye Bakker. She’s breathing with the aid of an oxygen tank and in mid sentence she closes her eyes and prays “Please Lord, touch my body. I pray that you’ll take my aches and pains away. Help me to be able to breathe so that I can get through this Lord.” I’m a secular Jew and was an atheist for a while when my father forced me to attend services as a teenager. I like religious people as long as they’re not hateful proselytizers. I didn’t take on a spiritual component until something bad happened to someone I loved more than my own life. Tammy’s pain and the strength she's trying to draw from her faith are laid out raw, and damn those invisible onions for messing with my eyes again. As long as they’re not hateful proselytizers I don’t mind atheists either.
Jim Bakker is a harder nut to crack and it’s difficult to tell if he’s ultimately sincere or a diamond-hard psychopath putting on a show for the cameras. He's said to have moved on with a new family and ministry and hasn’t spoken to his son for two years. Jay keeps calling and is finally allowed to see his father in Branson, MO, the South’s theater district. Their first meeting is tense and Jay storms out of the room when Jim cuts him off from his prepared speech about gay rights to say he shouldn’t call himself liberal (or conservative for that matter), but to say he loves everyone. That’s the safe road and Jay doesn’t want to hear it. Jay is real and Jim is fake, or at least whatever it takes to be successful as a televangelist. Once in the door though, Jim takes an interest and opens up enough to admit his feelings of culpability and admiration. He admits “If I did what Jamie’s doing nobody would support me. I know that”, and that “Jamie is what I should be but cannot be”. He later flies to NY to visit his son’s new church taking place in a Brooklyn bar. He speaks of his shame and says of Jay “He’s doing what I wish I could do. He is loving everybody.” It’s nice to see but I’m 50/50 on Jim Bakker.
Reality is subjective in these things because everyone knows the cameras are rolling, so what you see is how people behave because of and in spite of every word and image being recorded by strangers for the entertainment of other strangers. In One Punk Under God you get the best behavior from extraordinary people dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Even just on that level there’s a lot to learn, appreciate and think about. I’ll be mulling over this one for a while. If you have time and patience I highly recommend this. Bless you, even if you didn't just sneeze.
Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark - Live at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane (video review) (Virgin): There's so much to love about this band, and also much to lament. After three albums and little in the bank to show for it, OMD admittedly sold out to the demands of their record label and the lowest common denominator of electronic new wave. Each album after 1981's great Architecture & Morality sunk deeper and deeper into limp-wristed electro-pop. 1983's Dazzle Ships gets better with age but at the time it did seem they were losing direction, then Junk Culture had them singing the horrid "Locomotion" to the delight of top 40 radio, who could care less that the makers of this pabulum had a noble start.
This filmed concert was in support of Architecture & Morality, and after seeing them live in DC on that tour I vowed never to forget how great this band was. I wish this was readily available so you too can see what the big deal was about OMD before they gave in and gave up. OMD were different and separate from the other synth bands of the late ‘70s/early ‘80s. Founding members Paul Humphreys and Andy McClusky never pretended to be anything more than art school students with a healthy fascination with Krafkwerk, the romanticism of Roxy Music and the sounds of industry, from heavy machinery to steam pipes. They dressed in nicely tailored pleated pants, business work shirts and thin ties - as if they just finished putting in a full day at an ad agency before stepping on stage. They were the least inclined to strike a pose or foster an air of alienated contempt. Their live shows were simple affairs with little or no talking between songs. Where Joy Division was as into marketing their own mystique as they were their music, OMD simply wrote consistently engaging and interesting music and played live when asked.
Before the term Industrial was co-opted by grating disco bands like NIN, it was applied to any group who taped or re-created sounds of factories and industry. The Eraserhead soundtrack is a perfect example of pre-dance industrial. OMD saw the beauty in these sounds and added them to their basic synth pop to create sweeping works of beauty and pop intensity. In their prime, OMD, while rarely abrasive, were also rarely cute or pretentious. They walked a line between lushness and minimalism. They began as a two man synth band backed by a reel to reel tape player, but soon enough brought on a live drummer. This tape shows them at full strength with Andy on bass guitar, Paul on synth, plus a drummer and a second synth player. With the drummer playing intricate rhythms and Andy working the bass guitar as one might a lead guitar, the synth pop label grossly sells the band short. Andy switches to six-string for "The New Stone Age" (as close to thrash as the band ever got) and the second keyboard player molests the saxophone for "Mystereality".
The set mixes early hits "Enola Gay" and "Electricity" (every single person in the audience dances) with the richness of the waltz "Joan of Arc (Maid Of Orleans)" and melancholy of "She's Leaving". Andy sings all but one song and he's quite the crooner. He's great to watch because he can't stop dancing that spastic, wiggly new wave two-step of his. When he's not hindered by the bass he's dancing like a whirling dervish with his legs flailing and arms intertwining. He's not dancing to put on a show and he's not dancing in any preset fashion – he’s just going. THAT was hardcore new wave dance culture at its best: the idea being to freestyle until you keeled over. It didn't matter if you danced with a partner, it didn't matter if anyone was looking at you, and it definitely wasn't an excuse to look at yourself in the mirror (goth nitwits take note). Maybe that was their problem. They weren't full of their own publicity and didn't have an attitude to sell their fans as a way of recreating themselves into something more cool and less ordinary.
Buy anything from OMD that dates back before 1982. You won't be sorry. I mean, I'm sure you have a lot to be sorry for, but you won't be disappointed.
OMD – Live Architecture And Morality & More (DVD review): I wasn’t able to see this for years, and now that I have I wish I hadn’t. I was living under the delusion OMD had acknowledged that what they recorded after 1983’s Dazzle Ships was a limp sell-out to new romance electro pop sausage making. I read articles to that effect and I imagined this tour would be solidly rooted in their best album, 1981’s Architecture & Morality (I once owned a promotional pillowcase!), and what came before it – all good stuff and never getting the credit it was due from Factory Records hipsters. This concert moves from great to poop with an apology in the middle that left me as cold as a witch’s ice machine.
The set list is:
I was impressed when they opened with an atmospheric instrumental and then followed with the fine slow crooning of Andy McClusky on “Sealand”. It set up anticipation well and paid it off nicely with a noisy rendition of “The New Stone Age”, synth-pop’s answer to hardcore. The set ended with the album’s last track and then Andy said something to the effect that he was glad to get that out of the way so, and this is pretty much a direct quote, “We’ll play about twelve of our hit singles in a row”. Seriously, he referred to his own songs as “Hit Singles”? There’s something off, wrong, and possibly creepy about that.
I liked “Messages”, “Enola Gay”, “Electricity” and “The Romance Of The Telescope” well enough but the rest was an electro-limp pop fest for fans I think of as casual afterthoughts. Gosh love ‘ya for your crap taste in music but there’s two OMD periods – the early one that mattered and the later sell-out skid to oblivion. I don’t see how they mix. It’s one or the other. If you like both you probably like all music and have a musical palette equated with the pigs from Hannibal.
The production values on the DVD are top shelf, with camera cranes and a multi-level stage. Musically everyone is professional and on-time but I wished drummer Malcolm Holmes, who drummed on the original album, wasn’t so tentative. Synth bands with live drummers rely on them going an extra mile energy-wise to raise everything else up beyond the synthetic. On the studio version of “Joan Of Arc (Maid Of Orleans)” Holmes is like The Incredible Hulk as Buddy Rich. On this dvd he’s hitting the drums like it’s a rental he can’t afford to replace.
The interview section of the DVD was odd because the band made it sound like they feared nobody would come see them if they performed again. Maybe the issue was selling out a large enough venue from the get-go, which shouldn’t be the point of the endeavor in the first place. It’s about doing something right and doing it well. Devo should have come back playing club dates performing Hardcore Devo sets. Instead they opened for Metallica at Irvine Meadows. And on that note of a bear farting sadness – The End.
Peter & The Test Tube Babies – Cattle And Bum (dvd review): Cherry Red released this but the credits say it’s in association with Martin Sorearsey. Until I read this page I didn’t know Garry Bushell coined the term Punk Pathetique to describe funny Oi bands like P&TTB (official site here) and The Toy Dolls, the latter’s popularity something I’ve never understood. Would Bad Manners then be Ska Pathetique?
Cattle And Bum is a collection of eight random live (two are pretend live) and eight or so tunes from a 1983 Manchester show. The Netflix dvd crapped out after the first program and I wasn’t able to view much of the second. As Peter & Co. were a great first wave Oi band and this is well filmed and decent sounding dvd I’d say Cattle And Bum kicks arse. The first set is “Moped Lads”, “S—t British Tour” (simulated live), “Banned From The Pubs”, “The Jinx”, “Alcohol”, “Transvestite”, “Elvis Is Dead” (fast version), “Blown Out Again” (simulated live). What little of the second set I heard had a solid professional Oi sound even if I didn’t recognize the songs. Considering all the original Oi bands I’d say Peter & Co. had one of the highest ratios of hits to filler, enshrining them in whatever Hall Of Fame there is or should be for street punk.
The band now consists of original members Peter and Del along with two others. Check out Peter’s business site as a ESL teacher. Hey, where’s skinny bespeckled Trapper – the UK’s version of Minor Threat’s Brian Baker?
The Phenomenauts – Beyond Warped (dvd review): This is one of several promo dvds put out as consolation prizes (I guess) to bands who played the side stage at the Warped Tour of 2004. Clocking in a 25 minutes it contains a handful of live songs and an equal amount of interviews with San Francisco’s The Phenomenauts, who released their first disc in 2003 but didn’t hit their stride until 2008’s For All Mankind, which ditched the slightly pompous grandstanding of their earlier songs for a more melody and power driven attack no doubt inspired by their tour with The Epoxies, the best synth-wave band of their generation. Keyboardist Fritz M. Static of the Epoxies jumped bands in 2008.
The Phenomenauts play psychobilly new wave surf with a heavy dose of Devo shtick injected thusly in the posterior. Fans of Servotron wouldn’t be disappointed. On this dvd I liked “Year 2000” but the others didn’t do much for me beyond being decent enough. Their stage gear is fun to look at for however long that lasts. Video and sound quality are excellent. The interviews wore out their welcome after the first one because the band, all in character, made up shtick as they went along. I did like the line that they were “A local band from right here on Earth”. Buy For All Mankind and then pick up a few Epoxies cds. This dvd is a memento and should have come free with a magazine of some kind.
Pink Flamingos (video review) (New Line): This is the 25th anniversary edition that played theaters a short while back. In various forms I've seen this at least six times, and the good looking print and enhanced stereo soundtrack on this tape really makes a difference. Director John Waters appears at the end to cue up newly found footage that didn't make the final cut (nothing too special), and the original promotional trailer closes the show. It quotes Interview magazine's review of Pink Flamingos as "The sickest movie ever made, and one of the funniest". That's still true today 25 years later.
Self-described as "an exercise in bad taste", Pink Flamingos is a freak show of campy depravity. What don't you see in this? Cannibalism, an incestuous gay blowjob, toe sucking, white slavery, rape, the mutilation of a live chicken during a sex act, transsexuals, a dancing sphincter, and the zenith of film depravity as Divine literally eats dog poop fresh out of the original container whilst "How Much Is That Doggie In That Window" serenades the scene. Oh lord do I love this film.
Forget about the plot. It's a battle to determine the filthiest person alive. Let's talk about what makes this film so great. John Waters shot it on a budget of nothing using a group of actors he pulled together from the legion of weirdos that can only come from Baltimore, Maryland - America's last refuge of the beehive hairstyle. He often filmed without permits by quickly unloading actors and cameras from cars, shooting quick takes, and then driving away before getting caught. One long shot (Waters filmed in long uninterrupted sequences to save time, money and editing) has Divine in full drag strutting through a rundown part of Baltimore. Through the window of the car transporting the camera you can see people stop dead in their tracks as this THING storms by like Jayne Mansfield on Hollywood Boulevard. Heads whip around and jaws drop like dominos.
John Water's dialogues are a marvel of soap opera/tabloid/camp exploitation, a modern Shakespeare if he was a psychopath from Baltimore. As a gift-wrapped turd is opened, Divine says "No, it's no birthday present, Cotton. I smell deep, dark trouble!" Another great line, "He's been castrated! His penis is gone!" The best lines are given to Edith Massey as The Egg Lady. Any time you see Edith in a Water's film must realize she's reading lines but not acting. A sweet lady with a life story that would make a neat little film (Roseanne would be perfect), Edith was loony yet endearing.
Read John Water's great book Shock Value if you want to learn everything you want to know about Pink Flamingos. Oh, Mr. Eggman, I loves you, almost as much as I loves my little eggies.
The Police: Everyone Stares – The Police In And Out (dvd review): Police drummer extraordinaire Stewart Copeland bought a Super-8 video camera in 1978 and set about recording events like he was a one man, self-imposed Truman Show. Digesting the manual he shot in stop motion, altered the frame rate and experimented with different films and lenses, yielding many hundreds of hours of documentation on The Police’s rise from obscurity to superstardom. Artfully blended images are narrated by Copeland in a Garrison Keillor meets the strange present tense vernacular of Damon Runyon to create a rare authentic look into life as a famous musician. It’s an unusual film that may not interest thosewho aren’t Police fans, but it’s an accomplishment well worth your time.
The full-length commentary with Copeland and guitarist Andy Summers is where you’ll find background information on what’s shown in the film, and while it’s even more For Fans Only it’s important to note Copeland and Summers are fond of their time in The Police, remembered as not a big deal but what happened a long time ago. Copeland’s first words in the commentary are “What this film really is is a home movie”, and as such it’s not a hit piece. Once you get past the opening, an amusing visual account for how the band formed, it’s not a story but a mostly chronological recounting of pertinent events, be they photo shoots, backstage fun, in-store events, radio station visits, fan encounters, hotel room boredom or playing live on stage. At one point Copeland entertains himself by setting up his camera next to his drum kit, and he then provides a microphone-fed running commentary on the gig at hand. This was in the early 80s for yuks, not for this film. He’s also big on walking around with the camera looking through its lens, and he greets people by extending a hand camera right to the bemusement of those he meets. Andy Warhol would be proud.
On the surface of these home movies you see a band of affable lads enjoying the ride to the top. The dark underbelly of whatever was the beast within is not seen, and for all I know the total amount of band drama was less than industry standard. I know Stewart wasn’t happy having a token song or two allowed on each album, where they stuck out like the enjoyable yet semi-related Klark Kent tomfoolery they were. Here all he has to say is that “When you get to where you’re going, the ride’s over.” Another worthy comment from the original film is “It’s been years since I bought groceries or drove my own car. Aren’t I missing something?” Sometimes his camera is held by crew members, and there’s outside footage used to supplement his, so Stewart’s by no means missing from his own film.
Unexplained unless you listen to the commentary is the amazing scene of garbage bags full of money being dumped and counted on the band’s private plane. This was from concert t-shirt sales, which they kept for themselves on top of their normal fees.
I liked this a lot, and Stewart Copeland did a great job putting it together. Regardless of how it’s edited or what was left out, it’s literally how Copeland saw these events.
The Police - Every Breath You Take (video review): Admittedly a punk band for twelve minutes, The Police were by far the most successful group to come out of new wave. While never a ska band in any real sense, this three-piece turned reggae, jazz and new wave pop into a non-stop hit machine. The Police remind me of The Cars - by the bushel they produced catchy, clever, danceable songs that are in the long run forgettable. The talent is high and the songs perfectly constructed, yet there's a hollowness to it that's the keystone of all top-40 music. Guitarist Andy Summers was an old pro. Drummer Stewart Copeland beat the hell out of every inch of the largest drum kit this side of ELP. Sting kept his elephant-sized ego out of his bass playing and could write a hit in two minutes while falling down a mountain. To the band's credit they kept the music relatively simple and learned well reggae/dub's lesson of less is more. They surely paid their dues on the road, touring the US in a van (I think twice) and playing any club that would have them. The Police won over their initial fans through sweat and talent, not record company hype.
I rented this video collection for one reason - to figure out when Sting first fell in love with himself with a burning passion. It's the sixth video, "Don't Stand So Close To Me", when Sting as the teacher takes off his shirt to expose the bod the widdle girls just wuv. He looks into the camera like it's a mirror and he really likes what he sees. It’s a short scene but the 1986 re-make loops this shot for everything it’s worth. In the other videos Sting manages not to masturbate for the camera, but by then his reputation as the Bono of his generation was set in concrete. I don't hate Sting, but doesn't he own a castle, dress in antique clothing, star in bad movies and hasn't had a hit in a while - or something? Long live Klark Kent!
Like many of the videos of the pre- and early days of MTV, the police prefer to splice together live footage with improvised shots of the band bouncing around a room (usually a recording studio) pretending to play found objects as instruments. Videos were no big deal back then - a novelty and possibly an effective ad for the record. Nowadays expensive videos are mandatory and the music itself takes a back seat to visual style and physical attractiveness. Once thriving local music scenes have been decimated by MTV's narcotic influence. Why spend time and money on romance when porno videos get the job done in a few minutes? Why participate in your local music scene when MTV mesmerizes you into complacency? Bile forms in my throat - I need a lozenge.
The usual progression of a band's videos is that they get more expensive and elaborate as years pass. Surprisingly this didn't happen with The Police, whom you'd suspect would have staged massive production numbers to keep pace with Sting's rising self-image. "Wrapped Around Your Finger" takes place on a dark set with hundreds of tall candles, but besides that they don’t go much beyond the three of them either standing around pretending to play or dancing like cartoon characters. I give them credit for not giving in to major record label marketing bulls--t. They concentrated on THE MUSIC. Are you listening kids? THE MUSIC. In a few years The Police will get big again. You'll see (you'll all see! Moo-ha-ha!! ).
Pansy Division: Life In A Gay Rock Band (dvd review): (flapping arms) "I just flew in from San Francisco, and boy does my ass hurt... I'm not gay, but my friend Tom is. He's so gay he craps diamonds… Good night!" I kid, I kid, because I love. 2009's Life In A Gay Rock Band is a straightforward (always forward, never straight) and engaging 84 minutes of edutainment that leaves nothing unfilmed and pondered, what I suspect is standard from a subculture that fully documents itself. It's so complete you might think director Michael Carmona starting putting it together the day Pansy Division founder Jon Ginoli set off on a journey of self-discovery and musical passion as detailed in the concise product description from Ginoli's book:
"We're the buttf---ers of rock-and-roll, We want to sock it to your hole!" With these words written in a notebook, Jon Ginoli sets off on a journey of self-discovery and musical passion to become the founding member of Pansy Division, the first out and proud queercore punk rock band to hit the semi-big time. Set against the changing decades of music, we follow the band from their inception in San Francisco, to their search for a music label and a permanent drummer to their current status as indie rock icons. We see the highs-touring with Green Day-and the lows-homophobic fans-of striving for acceptance and success in the world of rock. Replete with the requisite tales of sex, drugs, groupies, band fights and label battles, this rollicking memoir is also an impassioned account of staying true to the artistic vision of queer rock'n'roll."
The film opens with the George Bernard Shaw quote "The secret to success is to offend the greatest number of people." Did they offend people? I don't see how you can't if you serenade thousands of dimwit Green Day fans with in-your-face gayness. At the small punk venues Pansy Division usually play most people will keep it to themselves if they have an issue with lyrics that occupy a space between parody and pride. Did they make people confront their own fears and hatreds, and make them think in new ways? Who the hell knows? It probably worked better in theory than in practice. If you enjoy the music and aren't turned off by slash -fiction lyrics like "Bill & Ted's Homosexual Adventure, then I'd wager not:
California valley boys / The very best of friends / They used to go on dates
with girls / But now they don't pretend / After trying to deny it / They went
ahead and tried it
Couldn't believe how excellent it felt / It's no bogus journey / It's their hearts' true yearning / It's time for Bill & Ted's Homosexual adventure to begin / In the garage / They're practicing their guitar solos / But in the bedroom / They're practicing on one another / School was such a pain / What a way to waste your brain / ' Cause you know what's on their minds / Hey dude, 69! / They might seem kind of dumb / But they're not rubes / They got each other by the pubes / Squeezing on one another & acute's tubes One's dark, one is blond / Day an night they get it on / They got condoms in their pockets Plug into each other's sockets / They learned from Socrates / And other ancient Greeks The art of homo love / And sexual techniques / They may not be too bright / But they know what they like / A love affair most triumphant / It's no bogus journey / It's a boner journey / It's time for Bill & Ted's / Homosexual adventure to begin."
These kids today. I fondly recall the simple love sonnets of Wayne County. Musically they sound like The Mr. T. Experience so I like them on that level, but the lyrics are near the bottom of the list of things I personally listen to as a hopelessly heterosexual man who doesn't have an opinion on what most people do as long as they're consenting adults. I'm all for it as I don't have to watch a slide show presentation. It does get to the point sometimes where I want to say "That's great. What do you want, a parade?" (zing!) Pansy Division lyrics are the gay equivalent of what made me roll with laughter on Night Stand with Dick Dietrick, so I give Jon endless clever credits for his writing skill.
When Jon mentions, twice, that he wasn't into the established gay music culture of disco and show tunes my mind immediately flashed to Husker Du's Bob Mould, who went from recording the supersonic sludge of Land Speed Record to spinning rave music at bear bars. Coming from that era I never thought hardcore punks could ever devolve to the lowest forms of disco, but I was wrong, and to lose Bob to the dark side of musical crap was like Catholicism losing the Pope to the Hare Krishnas. A Native American (actually Italian) cries while looking at a bag of trash thrown from a car window.
I've never seen Larry Livermore so it was nice he was interviewed. Rob Halford appears on stage with the band in San Diego to sing a song of his they covered, and Rob gets off a funny line about being in the "Rock N' Roll Hall Of Flame". I worked security for a DC Judas Priest show in the early 80s and watched Bob kiss his effeminate boyfriend before bounding onto the stage to entertain a crowd ofmacho metalheads, an ironic contradiction for the ages and one of my fondest memories.
Life In A Gay Rock Band runs longish but it's an interesting story told in the form of a detailed chronology, so you're invested in knowing what happens next. It's a film about a gay band that just so happens to be punk, not the other way around, but there's enough of a straight music angle to make it worthwhile just on that level.
Poison Idea: Mating Walruses (dvd review): I like the idea of Poison Idea more than I do their music. The “Kings Of Punk” tag was a nice gimmick. I heard 1983’s Pick Your King after D.R.I.’s 1982, 22-song 7” titled the Dirty Rotten EP, and the latter was and still is more entertaining and memorable. I find Poison Idea's early songs interchangeable and a point gotten after only a few tracks, and their later stuff was speed metal so I had no intention of following them down that alley. I appreciate the sonic bludgeoning of their early songs but as far as melody goes it was like writing soundtracks to rioting and then speeding it up by a factor of twelve.
Mating Walruses is a fifth-generation VHS-quality mix of concert footage from 1982 onward, home movies on the road, and added footage of race rioting, police actions, and a snippet from an old crime movie. As a timeline you see various band members fatten up nicely, especially the appropriately and oddly self-named Pig Champion, who crushed the scales at 450 lbs. Their sound inches towards thrash metal with wanky guitar bits and actual fire breathing. As examples of live thrash it’s a fine piece of angry youth cultural anthropology, but as entertainment it’s endearing like watching someone you don’t like being stomped into paste.
I did like the one scene in a restaurant where they film someone’s beater motorcycle burning at the stop light outside. The rider throws a bucket of water on it and eventually someone finds a fire extinguisher to put out the flames. Pig Champion says “I don’t think that bike’s gonna run right for a while.” Ya think? Then Piggy is filmed eating a plate of food, and all I could think is that this must be like one wafer thin mint to a guy like him. Here’s an old joke: a really fat guy sits down at a restaurant, looks over the menu, then gazes up at the waiter and says “Yes Please.”
Mating Walruses ends with the words ‘Abortions Cool”, which is either bad punctuation for “Abortion Is Cool” or a new type of cool, as in “How cool am I? Abortions cool!”
Iggy Pop - Kiss My Blood (video review) (Polygram): This is a decent live show from 1991 filmed in Paris at the Olympia. Iggy's shows are only as good as his backing band, and here we have Whitey Kirst, Craig Pike and Larry Mullins, all of whom I swear graduated from the Molly Hatchet School of Southern Rock. I'll take southern rock's guitar ethic of "play as many solid notes as fast as you can" any day over the cock rock guitar god approach of heavy metal, but either way it's still too showy.
Iggy was the first punk. Punk began with Iggy and the Stooges, who elevated the pro-punk of their mentors The MC5. Iggy couldn't play (actually, he was a good drummer but it makes for good punk lore to say he can't). Iggy couldn't sing, or so they said, but his crooning style launched goth and death rock.. Iggy brought a sense of real danger to rock music. Iggy cut himself. He threw himself on the stage. Iggy was a true madman in a field of wannabees. GG Allin? Too little too late. Jim Morrison? Puh-leeze. Here Iggy is in old form. Whatever flavor of meth he's on is working for him, because from start to finish Ig is on fire. By the end of the show his jeans are around his calves and Lil' Iggy is keeping time to the music. The crowd, while into it, go bonkers for only two songs, "Real Wild Child (Wild One)" and "I Wanna Be Your Dog", where Iggy opens with "I'd rather be a real dog than a fugging scumbag rock star". There’s a crate of hits here, including "Search and Destroy", "The Passenger", "No Fun", "China Girl", "Raw Power” and "Five Foot One", which would have benefited from a cleaner sound. He closes with "Louie Louie" and Hendrix's "Foxy Lady".
Iggy Pop is a commodity only sometimes packaged correctly. His work with Bowie was a mixed bag,but some songs from that era are great. If not for Bowie's help Iggy might be dead and forgotten now. Bowie kept Iggy working after the Stooges. 1979's New Values saw Stooge guitarist James Williamson back on board, and it was one of the first and best new wave albums. Each subsequent release saw fewer hits and Iggy become more of a hard rock guy. He's had recent successes but I think he's now more legend than anything else. Long live Iggy freakin’ Pop!
Iggy Pop Live: San Francisco 1981 (video review): It reads “© Joe Rees/Target Video 1986” across the bottom of the entire fifty minute set from Iggy and the Pun Crock super-group behind him. “© Joe Rees/Target Video 1986” is burned into my retinas.
Iggy Pop Live: San Francisco 1981 is not much to look at but I liked this show a lot, from my favorite period of his career. I found The Stooges to be Detroit’s industrial city answer to The Doors, raucous and influential but filled with album tracks that bleed into each other. His first two solo records from 1977 were an excellent start but also emotionally detached as a byproduct of collaborator David Bowie’s Berlin phase. 1979’s New Values was happy, peppy and a cornerstone of the great original new wave scene, so nostalgia makes it my favorite. Soldier and Party had a few good songs and then Zombie Birdhouse yielded the great “Run Like A Villain” and twelve other sonic packing peanuts. What came after was either corporate Iggy, metal Iggy, or time for another Iggy Pop album. By cosmic law you have to love and respect Iggy Pop, but in the long run all that matters is that Iggy Pop is still alive and kicking. Like Abe Vigoda and Ernest Borgnine.
Iggy’s band this night consists of Bowie guitarist Carlos Alomar, Rob Duprey of The Mumps, Mike Page, and Blondie’s Gary Valentine and Clem Burke. Clem’s strong and steady drum beats go the extra yard in keeping the songs tight (Clem was my favorite Ramone), while the two guitarists and one bass player keep it loose enough to fit both Stooge’s classics and newer material. I loved the great rendering of the underrated running guitar riffs of “Bang Bang”.
For most of the show Iggy’s dressed Cabaret Verboten in black bikini underwear, black mini-skirt, black garter belt and stockings, black leather jacket and hat, and pointy shoes. The stage lighting is dark and often only either green, magenta, purple or blue. You can barely make out Clem in the back. A few cameras are in play and the general overall quality is cheap VHS. I wouldn’t doubt the DVD was a direct transfer of an old VHS tape.
The set list is “Some Weird Sin”, “Houston Is Hot Tonight”, “TV Eye”, “1969”, Rock And Roll Party”, “Bang Bang”, Dumb Dumb Boys”, “Eggs On Plate”, “I’m A Conservative”, “I Need More”, “Lust For Life” and “Pumpin’ For Jill”.
Population: 1 (video review): Netflix giveth disc one but does not offereth the bonus disc which includes rare concert footage of The Screamers at The Whiskey. Population: 1 is a collage of filmed sequences which together create a surreal rock opera that alternately succeeds and fails, leading to a long road of watching that may or may not feel uphill most of the way. It’s best to think of it not as a movie musical but as experimental filmmaking.
The campy Americana monologues are cleaver but become annoyingly so once the initial statements on jingoism are made. I get it – America is a horrible country filled with dumb people. How European of the Dutch-born director to point this out. American hipsters love nothing more than when their foreign-born betters come over to tell them how they suck – I mean how everyone sucks who’s not hip to knowing how much America sucks. Vampira appears late in her life as the archetypal dustbowl babooshka in photo stills of her holding a torch and looking off into the horizon to where the tornado finally dropped her barn and husband (or something like that). A twelve year old Beck is in it, along with Penelope Houston, members of Los Lobos, and booze mooch El Duce. The year of this film is generally stated as 1986 but the copyright info on the film says it’s from 1981 -1986. It’s cobbled together from filming done over a period of years, and the film quality shifts are noticeable. The production values are decent, all things considered, and not a speck of creativity was left on the cutting room floor. There’s no lack of ambition and vision. My only problem is that some scenes are unwatchable while some of the disco music is unlistenable.
Pretenders - The Singles (video review) (Warner): The Pretenders recorded a great first album and a decent second one, but the rest tends to be product that barely squeeks by on the strength of Chrissie Hynde's personality. She went from new waver to rocking pop-er to legendary status in a few short years. Still, you can't take away Hynde's street cred. In the mid ‘70s she moved from Ohio to the UK and served as groupie and helpful rock journalist to the emerging scene there. She was part of Malcolm McLaren's social circle and tried to teach Sid Vicious how to play guitar. Thanks for nothing! Malcolm threw her into bad bands, but eventually, and without Malcolm's direct help, she put together her band. Her rough-tough-yet-hurt-chick image served her well. This collection of twelve quickie videos is product with little content beyond endless shots of Chrissie walking, playing live and lip-synching. It's a Chrissie-fest via poorly made videos made with little thought or creativity. Talk about your afterthoughts....
The videos themselves aren't worth discussing, but hearing them as a greatest-hits package confirms The Pretenders were famous for a number of slow, uninventive radio fodder whose only virtue was Hynde's beautifully rough crooning. Most of the decent old new wave bands showed surprising inventiveness in subtle instrumentation. Heck, even The Cars had more going on than what was on the surface. The Pretenders, after the first two albums especially, had nothing below a razor thin foundation of drums, guitars and bass. It's like Chrissie said, "OK, I'm just gonna sing. You guys play something behind me and your checks will be in your accounts by the time we finish." People talk about the original Pretenders lineup like they were tight as a duck's ass, but that's a load of poop. Graham Parker's The Rumour, Elvis Costello's The Attractions, Joe Jackson's band - now those were backup bands that beat themselves up in the process.
Guitarist James Honeyman-Scott died in 1982 from heart failure brought on by heavy drink and drug use. Bass player Pete Farndon died in ‘83 from a drug overdose. He had been asked to leave the year before because of his addictions. Eventually drummer Martin Chambers exited, and by ‘87 it seems The Pretenders were Hynde plus others. Isn't this a little dishonest? Calling herself The Pretenders? Chambers rejoined in 1994.
I have nothing against The Pretenders. That first album is amazing and I'm happy for Chrissie Hynde's success. I was just amazed watching these videos how wimpy and uninventive her hits have been. That either says very little about her band's talents or the expectations of the radio audience. As is usually the case, it's probably both.
Psychobilly & Rockabilly Madness (dvd review): UK genre label Western Star released a 85 minute compilation of videos from associated bands in 2008. On the whole it’s entertaining, low-grade fun so I have no idea why Netflix reviewers hate it so much. Maybe it wasn’t adequately rockabilly, psychobilly, maimabilly or deathabilly. Lighten up pardners, it’s only a rental. Sent it back and in two days you’ll get something else. Jeez.
Psychobilly & Rockabilly Mayhem is a promo reel so it shouldn’t be selling for $25. Whatever the price it has better value playing on a bar’s TV screen than on your living room widescreen. They’re music videos made for the goofy hell of it so unless you’re in one of the bands it’s not something to focus on like a laser. It’s proof the videos exist – not Woodstock, so once again Netflix fux – calm down. My favorites were “B Movie Scientist” by Bad Detective and the clips from The Ugly Dog Skiffle Combo, who are to old timey music what zits are to puberty.
The bands are: Jack Rabbit Slim, The Bad Detectives, Chuck & The Crack Pipes, The Sharks, The Ugly Dog Skiffle Combo, The Valentine Villains, The Bonnevilel Barons, The Frantic Flintstones, Pretty Grim, Luna Vegas, Henry & The Bleeders, and Frenzy. Psychobilly & Rockabilly Mayhem is light on mayhem but it’s fine lite entertainment if you likes the rockabilly, psychobilly, and even the country music. Berzerkabilly and mangleabilly fans should stay away for the sake of all.
Punk and Disorderly (dvd review): If you’ve seen one cheap UK punk video you’ve seen all 37. Cherry Red, the Ocean Shores Video of low-grade archival punk, breaks all the rules and takes it to The Man with Punk And Disorderly, sixty minutes of second wave oi and rooster-head punk that goes by in a flash, especially if you hit the fast forward button. Cherry Red doesn’t do much with their warehouse of original footage as far as presentation, but at least by not trying the final product doesn’t stall for time and pretend it’s a documentary of some sort. Logically the only market for this is video store rentals and Christmas gifts from worried yet indulgent parents to their (oh god please let it be a phase) rebellious teenagers. In a one hour clip reel you get 22 songs, one Cockney oi poem and six “punk is all things good and decent” interview snippets, so strap in and punk out!
Most tracks are live. Vice Squad is fake live and maybe so is Chaos UK. The promo video for the Toy Dolls once again makes me shake my head and wonder if all their fans are fifteen years old either chronologically or in maturity. VHS quality visuals and bad stereo sounds abound. I didn’t watch one song all the way through and never intended to. I know what punk bands look and sound like, and if I don’t see another living caricature teenage snot rock punter act his rage while thinking he’s funny a merry old soul will be me.
Business: “Suburban Rebels”
Petter and the Test Tube Babies: “Moped Lads”
Vice Squad: “Stand Strong, Stand Proud”
UK Subs: “Crash Course”
Major Accident: “Middle Class Entertainment”
Mensi: “Heath’s Lament” (poem)
Sham 69: “Tell Us The Truth”
Buzzcocks: “Ever Fallen In Love”
The Exploited: “Dogs Of War” and “Punk’s Not Dead”
Chaos UK: “No Security”
English Dogs: “Left me For Dead”
The Varukers: “Soldier Boy”
Attila The Stockbroker: “Blood For Oil”
Abrasive Wheels: “Burn ‘Em Down”
The Lurkers: “I’m On Heat”
The Destructors: “Forces Of Law”
The Toy Dolls: “PC Stokes”
One Way System: “Stab The Judge”
The Adicts: “You’ll Never Walk Alone”
Chelsea: “The Right To Work”
- A Film By Don Letts (video review):
Don Letts is a fairly historic figure in
punk history for single-handedly introducing reggae and dub to the nascent UK
punk scene. In 1978 he put together
The Punk Rock Movie, boasting the production
values of a Mexican snuff film. In 1995 he released
Punk:Attitude, a beautifully assembled and
expansive overview of punk history. It's as objective as you can get for a genre
that loathes objectivity. It leaves out some things, relies on unreliable
sources, and was at times led by the nose by available sources and footage, but
all-in-all it's worthwhile and not a bad interpretation of history.
Punk is the most subjective of all genres. It insists it's about something, anything can be punk as long as a self-proclaimed punk says it's punk, and the people involved are often the least mentally equipped to give honest assessments. Punk: Attitude repeatedly turns to Henry Rollins and Jello Biafra as authoritative sources. Jello is functionally insane and Henry is as bitter as raw horseradish. Having strong opinions doesn't make you an expert, especially when you have axes to grind. Jim Jarmusch is the most level-headed of the bunch, and when he appears the film feels like a documentary and not a profile of talented kooks. The hook of the film is that punk is all about having an F.U. attitude, as if the music it grew out of didn't. Right.
The film's website claims "PUNK: ATTITUDE takes a highly original look at this movement. Actually it's very much like Volumes 8, 9 and 10 of Warners' History Of Rock and Roll, a truly great series from 1995. I wish the film dealt less with horrid clichés such as punk was a rebellion against the twenty minute guitar/keyboard solo, and everybody at an early Sex Pistols/Ramones show started a band. While these may be true to some extent the ideas were beaten to death in the last ten punk documentaries I've seen. I also quickly tired of everyone saying this and that was punk rock. My favorite was "The Internet is a punk idea".
Punk:Attitude could have been new and innovative in a field of study stuck in the same old groove, but it's not possible when everyone has an agenda. I'm convinced only a true outsider can make the definitive punk documentary. Up till now they've mostly been alike and about as objective as the Manson Girls on Charlie. It has to be somebody outside the scene who can sort through the lies, propaganda and self-promotion.
Siouxsie Sioux is aging into Al Lewis. John Cale looks like he could hoist a truck. John Cooper Clarke appears to have the same clothes, glasses and hair he did almost thirty years ago. It's like a Batman villain aimed a prune ray at him. Put a mullet wig on poor Mick Jones and he could play Riff-Raff in Rocky Horror. David Johansen looks like an old transvestite ape (no offense). I want to rub Howard Devoto's massive, shiny and perfectly round head for luck. Captain Sensible looks healthy. So does Steve Jones. Ari Up is nuts but she has the Jewish Rasta Hippie thing down to a science.
Punk Love (video review): 2006’s Punk Love is to punk rock what The Harder They Come is to porn. That would be in name only. Shot in pouring rain at night with blue lights that make everyone look ugly, Punk Love is the worst-case scenario story of two losers circling the drain as pathetically as they can. Life’s screwed them early and often, but heroin addiction and petty larceny do not make for sympathetic characters, so it’s easy not to care, if not hope they meet their doom now please so you can stop watching this expanded music video expanded with every known dysfunction cliché. Punk Love is stylized but not substantive so ultimately it’s pretentious, boring and predictable.
Starring Emma Bing and Chad Lindberg, the poor man’s Giovanni Ribisi, internet fans of Punk Love call it realistic and sadly true, appealing to people convinced the worst of humanity is all there is, and it’s the “truth” society fails to sweep under the rug. For many that might be true, but that’s not all there is, and many choose to be the worst they can be. My pity meter barely moved for these characters because even if they were victims of others as they were dead inside and the light at the end of their tunnel was a speeding freight train. What happens in White Trashville should stay in White Trashville.
The soundtrack is mostly provided by a gloomy bass cello, but there’s a few seconds of live “punk” music when Chad’s character, groaningly named “Spike”, auditions his bass guitar with a Portland punk band. Punk Love was hard to watch, and I barely did.
Rock (DVD Review): Probably the first
“punk rock” movie with a plot, it’s also a 1976 XXX
tear-jerker expanded a year later
into R-rated softcore grindhouse fare about runaways, drugs, sex and murder in
the seedy underworld of the NYC punk rock scene. Shot in and around clubs and
stores from that era, it’s a quaint stroll down memory lane for me, having lived
near there and making the trek into the belly of the beast many times myself.
It’s better than it should have been, which isn’t saying much, but unless you
have a lot of patience with semi-professional acting and pubic hair by the yard,
it’s best to watch this with the director's commentary on, a treat beyond belief
for fans of 1970s Times Square debauchery.
Packaged with another film, Punk Rock is a well-designed DVD from 42nd Street Pete, the Joe Bob Briggs of vintage NY sleaze. The print is a tad bleached-out but not bad considering, and the interview/commentary with happy go lucky director/actor Carter Stevens is light, informative and highly entertaining. The punk band from the original shoot was The Stilettos, led by Elda Stiletto. Debbie Harry was scheduled to be the band lead but she left to form Blondie a few months before filming started. The expanded film contained scenes shot at Max’s Kansas City featuring The Fast, Spicy Bits and The Squirrels. Carter picked The Squirrels because they wore platform sneakers. Band fashion in general is random at best.
Cater, who never liked punk (“No one ever accused the punk bands of being good at music.”), made a movie called Punk Rock because he was dating porn actress Honey Stevens, who he describes as a hardcore punk from the earliest days of Max’s Kansas City. After the film came out punk became a small big deal, and a distributor (probably mafia) asked if he could make an R-rated film about the punk rock. Carter removed the hardcore from the original film, shot sexless for five more days in 1977, put it all together, and there you have it. The lead acting isn’t bad per say, and neither is the direction, equal to standard exploitation films from that time. Still, sets are porno-cheap and the female actors are not actors. The plot has nothing to do with punk music beyond it being a central theme in the seedy underworld the detective crawls through to solve the case. Besides full scenes in Max’s, you see shots of Bleecker Bobs, Trash and Vaudeville, and Revenge. Besides Elda there’s no punks acting like punks.
Lead actor Wade Nichols, the poor man’s Harry Reems, went on to legitimate acting but died of AIDS before it had that name. Carter says in adult films Nichols was “straight for pay”. Recalling his glory days, Carter says of NYC “Before AIDS, when sex was clean and the air was dirty.” He claims the mob didn’t get involved in filming but owned the theatres to facilitate money laundering. The New York street scenes are exactly as I remember them, with piles of garbage frozen into icy black snow piles and a stroll down 42nd Street an experience like no other. An artifact for sure, Punk Rock is something to watch if you want to see in retrospect how unsexy the 70s really were.
Punk Rock Film School (video review): 2006’s Punk Rock Film School is an interesting introductory D.I.Y. guide to filming single-camera music videos. Put together by experienced video and film director Darren Doane, it’s an hour of basic instruction from finding a filming location to making color corrections on a computer. The curriculum is limited to filming a band playing faux live on a set, so you’ll have to look elsewhere for advice on car crashes and the release of doves in slow motion while a clown cries in the rain.
Darren has local San Diego band Operatic set up and perform one of their melodic lite-screamo songs six times to get the shots he needs, and while it may be repetitious to watch it’s necessary for anyone interested in shooting videos to see everything that goes into the final product. The song’s not bad, which helps. Sadly the band didn’t end up with a usable video since it was filmed in a suburban garage with shelves filled with tool boxes and junk deemed not good enough for a closet.
Punk Rock Film School is filled with practical advice and interesting things you need to know if you don’t want to spend an entire evening failing at every turn. The director should bring a carpet for the drum set, and also be ready to provide duct tape to deaden the drum kit. He warns the band to pace themselves because it’s physically harder to fake playing than it is to actually play. As a good director you'll also need to know when a band should take breaks. None of it is rocket science, but if you don’t know what to look for or expect, disaster looms.
The tape is divided into steps with insider tips added with a twinkling sound to let you know when to wake up and pay attention. Here they are now!
Step 1: Finding A
Location. Doane says everybody’s got a garage, which isn’t true at all.
Step2: Finding A Band. The band needs to already have a recorded song to work with.
Insider Tip: Rug for the drums
Insider Tip: Blowing fuses
Insider Tip: Lip-syncing timing issues
Step 3: Getting Audio Playback. PA or boombox so the band can lip-sync.
Step 4: Making A CD With A Click Track. Click tracks seem like they would mess up a band, but apparently not.
Insider Tip: Set-up time. Plan ahead.
Step 5: Kill The Drums. Rubber mats and duct tape.
Step 6: Audio Test Level
Insider Tip: Save the vocal chords
Insider Tip: Choosing a video format
Take 1: Wide Master Shot
Insider Tip: Bring water
Insider Tip: Powerful angles
Take 2: Tight Fishing. Moving around randomly
Insider Tip: Techniques
Take 3: Left Side Angle
Take 4: Right Side Angle
Insider Tip: Tight shots
Insider tip: Drum compositions
Take 5: Individual Drum Take
Insider Tip: Zooming in and out
Take 6: Close-Up of Vocals
Insider Tip: Shooting vocal take
Insider Tip: Walkthrough vocal take
Editing On Computer: Post-Production. Import footage into computer. Multi-layer editing software. Color correction. Stuff like that.
Punk Rock Film School is neat to watch even if you have no interest in filming bands. It details a lot of obvious things that really aren’t that obvious. It reminds me that I love the HBO show How It’s Made, which makes even the simplest product look like the work of rocket scientists.
The Punk Rock Movie (Video review) (1979): This eighty minute film was the first punk documentary. Shot on Super 8mm film by Don Letts, the DJ at The Roxy, London's first punk club, it features The Sex Pistols, The Clash, Slaughter and The Dogs, Subway Sect, Generation X (Billy Idol is the Vanilla Ice of punk), The Slits (great drumming), Siouxsie & The Banshees (before they discovered Eastern mysticism), Alternative TV (trying to play Reggae), Wayne County (Wayne is Granpda Munster), Eater (looking all of thirteen), The Heartbreakers, and X-Ray Spex.
There’s miles of good, basic concert footage, but the film performs a disservice by equating drug use and self-mutilation with a British punk scene founded mostly out of boredom and healthy youth rebellion. You see kids dressed to shock with their crazy colored haircuts while they flip the bird and dance their crazy dances - a ‘70s version of the ‘50s when rock music birthed itself. Here Letts shows two idjits shooting heroin in a graffiti covered bathroom stall, and then later a cretin cuts his stomach repeatedly with a razor. The Clash tried o use music to make things better. They found it hard to compete against idiots who saw punk as a way to glorify their self-destructive pathologies.
Early punk fashion and face painting also star in The Punk Rock Movie. Punk fashion was not always randomly thrown together. Hours of work and every last penny went into it. Anti-fashion didn't mean no-fashion, it was as deliberate as anything you'd see on the runways of Paris.
The police are shown taking down an “indecent" window display at a London punk clothing store. The display featured a severed finger and ear. On one level it's funny but on another it's not. I'm nostalgic for a time in my own life when people were more polite, when fights were settled with fists instead of guns, and when kids didn't have to grow up so fast. Now the worst is expected and paranoia is considered a sign of intelligence. Angst is packaged like dish soap and sold to kids as Attitude. I think it was Mark Twain who said that stolen apples tasted the best, but when every apple in the world is stolen, everything falls to s--t. And when calling something "The S--t" is a good thing, the power of language is neutralized and no longer a threat. This is not good. The profane is the corruption of the sacred. You need this balance in order to have society and creative freedom.
Punk’s Not Dead (dvd review): Under the name of the movie on film and in print it reads “A Susan Dynner Film” - nice for the director but she’s not famous. Still, good for her. 2007’s Punk’s Not Dead ran long at 97 minutes not just because I have no interest in learning how My Chemical Romance and Sum 41 are keeping alive the spirit of The Ramones and The Clash, but also after an hour or so I’d lost interest in how what started as inspired, dizzying, and pleasantly confusing filmmaking had settled into rigid sections that proved their points immediately and then rehashed them over and over again.
It is about how punk’s not dead, so the title’s not just a generic slogan and it succeeds at that task. Dynner interviews everybody for her film, the usual suspects and then some, so if you glory in the company of the punk rock elite and the Warped Tour is your yearly Woodstock, Punk’s Not Dead is the best punk film in the world and I won’t stop you from believing so (foolishly -- oops!).
The opening section introduces the major themes of punk rock as musical, political and sociological phenomena in a new and interesting way. Punk, hardcore, pop punk and the even more commercial radio punk are mixed together as if they occurred (and still occur) at the same basic place and time. There’s no timeline or order so various points, all valid, come at you from all sides from big names like Mike Ness, Jake Burns and the usual tag-team of Henry Rollins and Ian MacKaye. Mixed in are tv clips from “The Gilmore Girls”, “Quincy”, CHiPs”, “The O.C.” and Phil Donohue, concert footage, pics, flyers, and enough visual stimulation to make your left eye twitch. It’s fast moving but not annoying, and if it kept this up for 97 minutes I might have felt I’d taken in an encyclopedia’s worth of information but wouldn’t be able to recall much of it. That would have been sweet.
Section 1 was great. At exactly 1:14 you hear the phrase “No Future”, punk’s equivalent to the horror gene’s “There’s nothing to be afraid of”. Section 2 addresses the sell-out issues of the punk revival as seen in the Warped Tour and Hot Topic. It’s a non-issue unless The True Meaning Of Punk is all you have to ponder. I laughed when they showed Anti-Flag keepin’ it anarchisticly real while playing inside the corporate punk circus tent. Section 3 covers bands from the early 80s and earlier who’ve either never broken up or are back on the road again doing what they do best – drinking beer and selling t-shirts to middle-class American crusty teens. If they’re happy I’m happy. It beats working. Section 4 says there’s all kinds of punk bands and it’s all punk and all good. I took their word for it and pressed the fast forward button. There’s another section I skimmed, which might have involved punk rock ringtones and their larger meaning in the construct of the proletariat taking back the means of production and steering their own destinies in cooperative agreements with nature.
The extras section is worth exploring. It’s sections left on the cutting room floor, addressing where a bunch of the LA punks lived, punk hair, the annual Punk Rock Bowling event in Las Vegas, Fat Mike’s House Tour, Rodney On The ROQ, The Inland Invasion show, and an interesting foil hat theory that Jimmy Carter promised record labels tax breaks if they didn’t sign punk bands. Geza X and Jello Biafra explain this one. Whitey’s always keepin’ the punk man (and woman) down.
The only thing the film got wrong, due to the first part’s borderless structure, was to say major record labels never had an interest in punk bands. That was for hardcore bands, not the original CBGB-centric scene. Punk’s Not Dead is worth seeing but the ability to watch the whole thing will depend on your age and what you think punk is and especially what punk isn’t.
Punk Special (video review) (Sony): Most punk documentaries are a labor of love, but this one is no more than product from Sony Video. I have no idea what bandwagon they’re hopping on, because in ‘86 there wasn't enough going on in punk to warrant Sony's interest. It's as if the idea came about years earlier but fell behind a filing cabinet and wasn’t found until someone's lucky comb also fell behind it. It's not a bad tape, but little thought and effort went into it.
The tape opens with an annoying narrator saying, "The dictionary definition of a punk is: Punk a./n. inferior, rotten, worthless (person or thing), petty hoodlum, style of rock music." They failed to mention a punk is also a prison wife. When you're assigned to write about something you know nothing about, the first thing you do is look it up in the dictionary. When you quote the dictionary it's a sure sign you have no grasp of the concept. Also, when the first punk you show is Bob Geldof of the Boomtown Rats, it's another sign that you don't know punk from funk from gunk. Nothing against Bob, but he ain't punk. The bands that follow are King Kurt, Lords Of The New Church, Husker Du, UK Subs, and Flesh For Lulu. I think all the live songs are from a London-based TV program called "Live From London". Nicky Horn interviews Bob Mould and Charlie Harper to no harm and little effect. Bob completely distances Husker Du from punk and instead describes it as "A regular rock & roll band that tries to address personal problems in our lyrics." Could you be any more generic, Bob? If you can't proudly call yourself punk then you shouldn't play in that style.
The bands live are King Kurt, Lords Of The New Church, Husker Du, UK Subs, and Flesh For Lulu. King Kurt are a funny U.K. band who sound like rockabilly meets The Vapors. With song titles like "Bo Diddley Goes East" and "Destination Zululand" you should know what to expect. They’re Britain's answer to the Surf Punks, but much better. The Lords Of The New Church do their goth thing, mostly through Stiv Bators, who as usual looks more dead than alive, singing like Joey Ramone impersonating Iggy Pop. Husker Du rip through "I Apologize", "If I Told You" and "Books About UFOs" while touring to support New Day Rising, their last good tour before giving up on hardcore. The British crowd doesn't know what to make of Husker Du - some slam, some pogo, but mostly they stand there wondering how Bob Mould's guitar makes so much sound. The UK Subs play "Endangered Species", "Fear Of Girls" and "In The Wild". It’s not too impressive but it’s still the UK Subs. Flesh For Lulu are here too, probably as a nod to what might be the next big thing, or something. I have little use for androgynous glam/goth singers, and so should you.
Not a total waste of time, but poorly conceived and laughingly written. As a part of the documentary segments, the narrator talks about how Bob Geldof puts on charity concerts. In a lame attempt to segue into the Husker Du segment, he says, "..and, in 10 years time (they might be) raising money for worthy causes." Hoo-boy!
Punk Vacation (video review) (1987): Did I watch this movie because it has the word "Punk" in the title? Why...yes I did! I’m glad you asked. Before watching Punk Vacation I made three predictions: 1) The punks listen to heavy metal music, 2) The guys wear a lot of makeup, and 3) They wear ripped punk t-shirts. I was right on 2 & 3. The one song I did hear was actually kind of punk. The rest of the soundtrack is a cheap take on Tangerine Dream. This film scored an 8 on the Stupe-O-Meter. It was at the video store in the Cult section, but just because a movie is crappy doesn't make it a cult classic.
The story is about a small town terrorized by a pack of wild punk hoods riding into town on 350cc Japanese motorcycles. The good guy leads are a lawman and his reluctant girlfriend, who are brought closer by these ruffians. The punks themselves are stereotype L.A. rock/punk/new wave types from around 1980. There's a George Michael clone, a little Road Warrior guy, an Adam Ant fan, a baldie Billy Corgan clone, an artist and a few big-hair new wave chicks. Their leader is Ramrod, a slightly psycho gal who keeps everyone in line by making forceful speeches. The trouble starts when one of the punks loses forty cents in a soda machine and starts up some mayhem. The store owner comes out with a rifle aimed at the guy's head. The punk comes back with his pals and they kill the old man. But just as you start to think this is a punk version of "The Wild Ones", the horrible plot and cheap budget kick in for real. From then on the punks are shown as simply middle-class posers on vacation from LaLaLand. The town Sheriff and his gun-crazy pals are idiots too. I guess this achieves fung-shue.
Punk Vacation is filmed like a ‘70s Italian horror movie. There are pauses aplenty and shots of people looking off into the distance for no apparent reason. Ramrod was in a punk band called Choral Aggression, and one of them says to another, "We're just misguided as hell." In the beginning there's some ominous foreshadowing when an old geezer says, "Nothing ever changes here". Oh, are you wrong, old timer, so wrong! I was hoping to pick up a few punk rituals from this film, but the only one was that punks burn their dead comrades instead of burying them. I kept rooting for the punks to get shot by the rednecks. My favorite scene was when the punks are getting psyched up to take on the town. One guy swings nunchucks over his shoulder and down past his hip over and over again with his face contorted in a scream like a crab just crawled up his butt. It's the only move he can do! I'm dying just remembering it! Punk Vacation was filmed in Santa Monica, in front of a live studio audience.
The Queers Are Here (DVD review): I found this 2007 DVD used for $2.99 and for the first minute I thought I knew why - it started with an amateur video recording of The Queers playing "I Spent The Rent" on a small, over-lit stage. Then something strange happened. The band stopped playing and singer Joe King (also Joe Queer) started a surreal cycle of yelling at someone to stop messing with their roadie. No real violence was implied, he just kept on repeating that their roadie shouldn't be messed with. As with most music DVDs there's no reason to see The Queers Are Here twice, but on the whole this is a lot better than its parts, due to professional editing that turns snippets of snuff-film quality tapes and a few music videos into something pretty decent (for a change).
I saw the Queers a few times in the 90s and they were always good for 45 minutes of whatever it is the world expects from them - sloppy power-pop punk and Joe cursing. Live they're stuck in the A Day Late And A Dollar Short era of snotty garage Angry Samoan-influenced punk, which works best because the sound quality of live shows blows on a fairly universal level. In the studio Joe's been able to satisfy his obsession with Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys, peaking around 95-96 with the Surf Goddess 7" and the CD Don't Back Down. 1998's Punk Rock Confidential was their last decent and cohesive album. Since then they've toured a lot and put out some product here and there. I remember hearing Joe was hooked on heroin, but the internet only yields an advice column where he's probably being funny about heroin as a cure for hangovers.
The DVD is an hour mix of various live shows, backstage banter, videos for "Don't Back Down", "Tamara Is A Punk" and "Punk Rock Girls", and a cute and colorful stick-figure animation for "I Can't Get Over You", sporting great harmonies provided by Lisa Marr, the best female singer/songwriter of her time and place. What keeps the live songs interesting in spite of the limitations are flawless editing and sound sync of the same song sometimes performed visually at different venues, where it's insanely obvious Joe changes band members as frequently as I do rolls of toilet paper. The sound quality of the live songs are horrible and they're filmed with a Close 'N Play video camera (no such thing), but the flawless editing and sound sync alone make this worth seeing that one time but not twice.
The interviews with Joe find him to be overly opinionated about punk rock and his place in it. Joe's knocking at middle age's door, and obsessing on the trivial nature of what really "punk" seems a waste of one's life. He puts down Rancid and NOFX but respects Green Day as a band with hardcore integrity. That's right, WTF.
The Queers Are Here was worth the $2.99 of trade-in value I had at the store. Your results may vary.
Rage: 20 Years Of Punk Rock West Coast Style (dvd review): 2001’s Rage is an hour’s worth of interviews and dizzying layers of graphics that don’t add up to much only because it doesn’t distinguish itself from the fifty punk documentaries that came before and after it. It doesn’t tell you why the original California hardcore and punk scenes were different than other scenes, and the interviewees serve more as personality studies than on-the-scene historians.
Those interviewed are Jack Grisham, Keith Morris, Duane Peters, Gitame Demone, Don Bolles, Jello Biafra, Harold Bronson (of Rhino Records) and Geza X. You can hear questions of co-writers and directors Michael Bishop and Scott Jacoby, so it’s clear they have a plan for each interview, but they settle for soundbytes instead of pushing for introspective analysis. Maybe pushing wouldn't work in some cases. Gitane Demone gives good interview and both Harold Bronson and Geza X give short and direct accounts of their scene involvement. Bronson traveled to the UK and bought the first lot of Stiff Records singles for sale in the US. Geza X DIY’d the production for some of the first California bands, included the Dead Kennedys, The Germs, Black Flag, The Avengers, and The Weirdos. The rest have loads of personality, some of that personality being a tad off.
TSOL’s Jack Grisham is a textbook example of a smiling sociopath. Stories of his cretinism are legion, and I’m amazed he’s not either dead or in jail for eternity. Keith Morris appears wearing a long gray wig over his dreads, a black cowboy hat and novelty glasses with slanted Asian eyes. He talks at the camera, not to it, giving standard answers to generic questions he’s been responding to since 1979. Is he eccentric or just nuts? Duane Peters has led a few lives so far and it shows on his face. He’s all about the anger, hate and violence, and he's not squeamish about it. Don Bolles has Charlie Chan facial hair and weird eyeliner painted on thick. The Germs movie What We Do Is Secret made him out as a loser, and he was involved in the film, so I find anything he says to be suspect. Jello is Jello, a twitchy bundle of tangential conspiracies, intelligence and jaw-dropping stupidity. Jello's interviews are usually interesting until they crash and burn in his court jestering. Jello’s a modern day Yippie (a hippy who thinks his cleverness is over the head of his enemies) I don't take too seriously. His beautiful mind diminishes his accomplishments. His shirt reads “D.A.R.E. To Keep Kids Out Of Church”. Atheism is a religion too, capable of the same blind, simple hatreds.
I didn’t mind the flashy graphics but other reviewers found it cliché MTV-style production. I like the opening quote: “In The beginning…. the Pistols called collect, and the West Coast paid the bill.” At this point in time a punk movie shouldn’t include any comment that involves how the kid’s punk rock of today sucks compared to the classics. It’s old people complaining and it has no effect on what kids like or buy. It may even turn them off completely. Every generation has their own bands they call their own, and when you’re fourteen the first punk bands you like make up your future “good ‘ol days”, which will one day be laughed at future generations.
Seeing how all the interviews are with California punks I don’t see how this can be called “West Coast Style”. I’ve lived in SoCal for thirteen years, DC for fourteen, grew up in New York and spent some years in Tampa and Las Vegas, so I have a sense of how California's scene differs from others. The NY scene was predominantly, in everything but name, a violent indigenous skinhead movement, with crusty punks filling out the rest. DC’s scene was young, skinny, often prep schooled, and operated as an underground movement. California breeds its own brand of douchebag, steeped in the usual angry and violent contradictions of hippie and surf cultures. The laid-back Californian is as rare as a dodo bird. My theory on causation revolves around bad parenting, popular culture and great year round weather. I’ll save that thesis paper for another day.
Rage: 20 Years Of West Coast Style should have been called Interviews We Managed To Arrange. It’s not all that bad, but it’s not that good either. A stronger narrative would have helped, but I don’t see it considering how most of the interviewees were basically doing imitations of how they pictured themselves being interviewed. Gitame Demone obviously listened to the questions and thought through her answers, while Grisham, Morris, Peters, Bolles and Biafra gave caricatured responses like they were improving in a film about punk rockers. The filmmakers should have beaten the film and the interviewees into a better history and story. Instead, they asked a bunch of key players, “If you were a punk tree, what kind of punk tree would you be?”
The Ramen Days: Bay Area Hardcore Documented (dvd review): This 2005 release documented the scene at Burnt Ramen, an unlicensed all-ages club in Richmond, CA, north of Berkeley. Shot on video by Melissa Elbirt, it’s edited well but the cycle of interview band, watch band play live, repeat, interview random kids and passersby, interview band, watch band play live, repeat, grows old. Night scenes are shot in a way that gives people reflective cat eyes. As a record of that time and place I think it’s fantastic. At the same time it’s the seventh generation of the same DIY thrash and metal hardcore scene, so there’s nothing you haven’t seen or heard before and before that.
For those involved it was ground zero, so it’s great their thing’s been archived and declared special. No matter how many trips around the track their type of scene has taken I’d never take that away from them. One site raves: “We feel this is one of the most important punk rock films in 20 years, surpassing past punk films like "Decline Of The Western Civilization" and "Another State Of Mind" in both heart and artistic vision. Using both humor and fierce honesty, Ms. Elbirt has created a film of utmost importance to the hardcore/punk community (local and international) and shows us all what can be achieved when our hearts and minds are captivated and dedicated to the DIY ethics of punk rock.” Surpassing Decline and Another State Of Mind? Maybe so, if you also think the Ramones sound too much like Green Day. The humor is of the Young, Dumb And Full Of Fun variety, so results may vary.
The Ramen Days is a rest stop on a voyage through time on the punk rock superhighway. The bands are fairly nondescript but they play high and tight. They are Scurvy Dogs, Strung Up, Brainoil, Deadfall, Case Of Emergency (I’d like three cases of emergency please), Born Dead, Exit Wound, Desolation, Voetsek, Blown To Bits, and STFU. Being in the Bay Area the politics haven’t changed since the 60s, so Enemy #1 this time around is George W. Bush, who gets the full Ronald Reagan treatment, but even betterer because it’s version 7.0 of hearts and minds being held captive by the DIY ethics of punk rock, where the greatest lament is why not all potential victim groups believe in the benevolence of rich, white condescension.
Ramones: The True Story clocks in at 76 minutes and alternates between live footage, an old tv interview, bits from Rock N Roll High School, and more recent interviews with Tommy Erdelyi, Arturo Vega, Hilly Kristal and Monte Melnick. As a piece it works better to have only these few because the storytelling flows well and simply. It leaves out a lot but that’s not the point – it’s a timeline easily understood and appreciated, so if you had a friend who wants to learn more about the Ramones this dvd is a great place to start.
The concert footage comes from Danny Field’s home movies of their early gigs, appearances on Tomorrow, Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert, and Rockpalast. The production’s major fault is having video snippets segregated to a tilted box to the left of a cartoon logo of the band, along with copyright credits splayed on the screen. A reviewer at Amazon points out “This is a scam that skirts UK copyright law. Because it's a "educational documentary" the ‘producers’ pay no royalties as long as the performance clips are very short”. I wasn’t bothered by shorter songs because I didn’t rent this expecting or wanting a concert.
Here’s some highlights: Tommy says between 1975 and 1980 they were the best band for punk rock played originally. Joey wrote songs with a two-string guitar. Hilly remembers the first gigs as a “comedy of errors”. They originated not having breaks between songs. Johnny wanted everything now and his line was “What’s the holdup?” Johnny took his downward strumming from watching Led Zepplin perform “Communication Breakdown”. Arturo and Tommy say the band peaked with Rocket To Russia. In Johnny’s world, when something went wrong “someone had to pay”. Arturo says End Of The Century was overproduced by Phil Spector, and subsequent albums cycled between commercial and roots albums. During this time Johnny gave up on the studio and focused on touring. Arturo says The Ramones were first “great artists” and then also good musicians. Arturo remembers a critic writing “Punk existed because of the false assumption that The Ramones could be imitated.” I love that last line.
Ramones: The True Story is not the entire story but it’s basically true, and it moves quickly and efficiently, so once my memories of it fade I’d definitely consider watching it again.
Ramones Around The World (video review) (Rhino): Consumer Alert: For fans only because this is home-video quality. Even if you're a fan you'll only watch this once because you get the point right away. It's not bad, and worth watching to divine what it's like on the road and backstage. The Ramones never stopped touring and saw the world as often as a FedEx cargo plane.
Maybe what annoys me about this video is Marky Ramone as Producer. Of all the Ramones he’s the only one milking the name. Marky's the one with the Ramones leather jacket and 47 varieties of Ramones t-shirts. I imagine he filmed this or had someone else hold the camera to film shows and road hijinx, all with an eye to his financial future. Johnny, Joey, even C.J. - they're all laid-back while Marky is endlessly impressed he's in the Ramones. He's the only drummer they had who never spontaneously combusted or choked on someone else's vomit, and all of a sudden he's Soul Brudder #1. When I saw Marky Ramone and The Intruders play at a tiny bar a year ago he refused to leave the van until show time - because he's a STAR. I'm still laughing since he's only marginally in his own band.
Between concert excerpts, The Ramones meet their fans, talk to the press, collect gold records for sales of 100,000 units, ride go-carts and get mobbed in Brazil by insane zombie fans. It’s like The Night of the Living Dead on crack. Through it all the Ramones are surprisingly gracious and patient. They seem to prefer the road over hanging out in Forest Hills with nothin' to do. As an added bonus there's scenes with Dee Dee, the pretty Ramone. They even say howdy to Lemmy, Debbie and Lars. What I like most about this tape, in comparison to others of the behind-the-scenes genre, is that the band doesn't act like assholes every time they know they're in the frame. Sonic Youth came across like pricks in 1991: The Year Punk Broke. The Ramones are cool, baby, cool. Skeep Bop Boop. The sound and quality aren't great but there's seventeen songs on here, filmed from ‘91 to ‘96. It’s less than twenty bucks from our mutual friends at Rhino.
Raw Energy (video review) (Rock Biz Pix): You can also find this under the title Punk: The Early Years. Most punk documentaries stink. This one doesn't. Raw Energy, released in 1978, was seemingly made for an educated audience who might want to learn more about the culture, business, style and music of punk from insiders. Fans, writers, musicians and record company reps are given equal time, and they mostly present themselves with intelligence, clarity and a lack of hyperbole, otherwise known as self-serving bulls--t. The only ones who are full of it are Siouxie of The Banshees and original McLaren/Westwood store clerk Jordan, who seemingly wants to take credit for creating punk rock. They prove correct every accusation that the Bromley Contingent, the Sex Pistols' core followers, were fashion and trend junkies without a shred of real personality amongst them.
Virginia Boston, who conducted the interviews, researched the film and provided voice-over commentary, does an excellent job. She makes valid points about punk and then backs them up with solid interviews. She gets everyone she speaks with, even punk kids in full uniform and face paint, to drop their attitudes and provide insightful answers. Too many other movies encourage their subjects to be as cartoonishly extreme as possible. Raw Energy gets the kids to drop the act and the record company execs to avoid PR speeches and media jargon. The results are refreshing and informative.
Punk is a business and an extension of (and reaction too) the music that came before it, with ramifications for what followed in its wake. It's nice to watch a film that starts from that reality, and not the lie that punk created itself, is reliant only on itself, and is the future and/or end of the future. Reps from CBS, Virgin, UA and EMI are candid about their views on the potential of punk in the marketplace. They've seen too many trends and fads come and go to blindly hop on the bandwagon of someone else's enthusiasm. Just as record labels sell hype, bands sell their own hype to record companies.
Also interviewed are The Adverts, Generation X, the Slits, Marc Bolan, The Banshees, Poly Styrene, and the creators of UK punk's first fanzine, Sniffin' Glue. Most of the bands are also shown playing live. You'd be surprised how honest and intelligent most of these people are. Poly can't get out of her rut of continually explaining her politics in defensive, long-winded answers, while Siouxie acts bemused that people would call her fascist because of her swastika fetish. She always was an asshole.
The film starts with the Sex Pistols then moves to issues like media frenzy, the shock value of fashion and the social forces behind the music. Marc Bolan draws a line from what he was doing to the new punk movement by saying it's all about "violence in the mind, not in the body." Gen X succinctly sum up their reason for being by evoking the long-faded performance energy of the Who and the Rolling Stones. While not downplaying the violence associated with punk, the film proves that what the media played up as the end of civilization was in reality just the latest in a progression of socio-political trends. Raw Energy is based on the assumption that punks are for the most part intelligent and sincere. I've seen more than a few punk documentaries made by punks that make all punks look like dangerous cretins. In other words, punks actively contribute to their own bad self-image, and then whine about it. Fair and intelligent, Raw Energy is a rare find.
The Real McKenzies: Pissed Tae Th’ Gills – A Drunken Tribute To Robbie Burns (dvd review): I was sadly disappointed with 2002’s Pissed Tae Th’ Gills because The Real McKenzies catalog is deeper and richer than their live shows, and their guitar grandstanding on the dvd comes off somewhere between wanking and stalling for time, and I’m not sure if they’re going for parody when it’s in everyone’s best interest to keep things moving.
Proudly Scottish by way of Vancouver, and with only original members Paul McKenzie and Mark Boland in a nine-person lineup, The Real McKenzies have recorded eight albums and tour as a full-time endeavor. I caught them in 1998 and wrote: “If the Sex Pistols were from Scotland they would be The Real McKenzies. If The Dickies were from Scotland they'd be The Real McKenzies. The Real McKenzies are from Canada but I think they're all Scottish. They're at least all Canadian, and all foreign countries with English speaking white people in them are the same to me. Around fifty people managed to gather for their set and the band played their asses off for nothing more than showmanship. They were so much bigger than their audience - you know what I mean? I felt like apologizing to them for the city of San Diego. A punk band with a bagpipe player and they're all wearing kilts? If that doesn't make them the coolest thing since chunky spam I don't know what to think. If they were around in ‘77 the press would have crapped their pants.
Since then they’ve recorded handfuls of songs that rival The Pogues, and if they decided to go in that direction they could stage concerts that successfully bridge the gap between rock and traditional Scottish music, but seeing how most sound systems stink and that drunks like to play loud and fast for audiences of drunks who demand loud and fast, it’s almost impossible to pull that off anyway. It doesn’t help that their set is weighed towards their punk side. I don’t know firsthand but I imagine The Dropkick Murphys deal with similar considerations.
The set list this night is: “The Real McKenzies Stompin’ Intro”, “My Bonnie”, “Scots Wha’ Ha’e”, “Tae The Battle”, “Will Ye Be Proud”, “King O’ Glasgow”, “Sawney Beane Clan”, “Bastards”, “Stone Of Kings”, “Scottish And Proud”, “Haggises”, “Another Round”, “Auld Mrs. Hunt”, “Thistle Boy”, “Auld Lang Syne” and “Loch Lomond”.
The show opens strong with only the bagpipe player and drummer on stage. The intro goes on too long and then Paul and his massive, bulging neck veins settles in for “My Bonnie”, a parody even of the most stereotyped Scottish song ever. To go along with this. They could have gone with “Scot’s Wha’ Ha’e”, and that they didn’t play “Mainland” is a crime against zumanity. The set repeats itself with guitars and bagpipes competing for dominance, and if they mixed up the tempos it would’ve been a lot more interesting and professional. The DVD is from 2002, so I don’t know what their set list is now. I hope it’s better than this from a better than this band.
Rebel Beat: The Story Of L.A. Rockabilly (video review): Rebel Beat is a loosely structured combination of the fascinating and mundane, lingering too long on what should have been extras footage of Los Angeles and Las Vegas locals talking about themselves and their interests. Just when you think the filmmakers have a firm grip on the story they want to tell they allow those they interview to steer it into other areas, which they then follow as tangents which repeat what's brought up in later, larger parts of the film. As with most music docs, shorter and tighter would have made this great. I liked it until I decided I didn’t like it much anymore.
I recently watched two great documentaries, The King Of Kong and A League Of Ordinary Gentlemen, and you’d be amazed how self-evidently nerdifying it is to rave to co-workers about films on Donkey Kong and professional bowling. My half-defeated follow-up statement was “Documentaries are just as much about people as they are about ideas and events”, which elicited nods of I have no idea what that means but it sounds thought out. Rebel Beat starts off strong by defining rockabilly and having scene founders and fanatics say flat out what they think about it. The first half of this ninety minute film is fun, fast moving and edumafacational. The second half runs low on script and falls back on letting scenesters relate their personal stories. What starts out as a history of rockabilly ends as amateur video diaries.
The history of rockabilly isn’t about these scene followers on a casual, personal level, so my profound dictum on documentaries doesn’t apply to Rebel Beat and pretty much all semi-professional music docs. The standard should be sixty minutes of informative, interesting, entertaining and consistent filmmaking. The “feature length” mindset diminishes most music films, if it doesn’t ruin them first. Rebel Beat and others like it are edited well in both video and sound. What they lack is coherence. As labors of love, indie films are made with passion and perseverance, but they desperately need outside story editing, done after the filmmakers give it their best shot. Post-production is like the 10th month of a pregnancy – you just want it to be over. Structure and editing always start off strong, but the grind depletes the ability to do both, and even with the best intentions I see in these films a creative energy arc that resembles an arrows’ flight. Just like with writing it’s difficult to edit your own film. Unconscious blind spots prevent obvious mistakes from being caught.
In the case of Rebel Beat, they say rockabilly means this, but it also means that, and half of that is actually almost something else completely, and in the end it means almost nothing at all besides some variable aesthetic that evolves as quickly as viruses. Hardcore retro-rockabilly gets equivalenced into a mush of swing, Tex-Mex, Ricky Ricardo suits, Betty Page, hair grease, custom cars, pin-striping, tattoos and multi-generational family picnics. I accept these make up a large portion of the rockabilly scene, but I thought to myself a few times during all this “Hey, isn’t this a film about rockabilly?” The eyes drift from the prize, and outside story editing could have worked wonders.
Here’s something odd: At various points the film is thematically divided into sections labeled “PART ONE. California Cowboy Rock”, “PART TWO: Bringing Back The Beat”, “PART THREE: You Gotta Have Grease”, etc. The thing is, the film zigs and zags so much these delineations are fairly meaningless.
My complaints about Rebel Beat are mostly structural. Legends like Glen Glenn, Janice Martin, Ray Campi and the amazing Ronny Weiser jabber at length, telling it like they’d like to remember it. Weiser, born in Italy in 1947, idolized American music but didn’t make it over until the late 60s. He single-handedly revived rockabilly with his Rollin’ Rock zine and label, where he championed “Real rock. No more of this hippie scum s—t!” The Stray Cats are denigrated for their 80s hair, but Brian Setzer isn’t a trend-humper. He’s done a lot for that scene. He recently played Long Beach and the town was crawling with rockabilly fans in full battle gear. I suspect their success pissed off some of the entrenched rockabilly underground, who didn’t appreciate their culture being appropriated by trendoids. I’m 50-50 on these things, depending on how close they are to my heart.
Rebel Beat: The Story Of L.A. Rockabilly contains sixty minutes of win, diluted by thirty minutes of meh. Better than the average, but still the standard. :-) :-| =D :-o :_ (
American Masters: Lou Reed - Rock & Roll Heart (video review) (WinStar): This PBS documentary is a love letter to Lou Reed, and all things considered he deserves one. From the late ‘70s to the mid ‘80s I was a huge Lou Reed fan. The whole time I knew he filled his albums with a load of bad songs. I can also say the same thing about The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, and Bowie (during the ‘80s). How you view Lou Reed depends on the angle - Albums vs. History vs. Importance. Stories I've read about Lou Reed have turned me off in recent years. The film addresses the issue, in a way, by brushing aside criticism of his personality with the "NY attitude" explanation. I grew up in New York and I know the attitude in question. That's still not a good enough excuse for what many people in the scene thought about him. He went out of his way to be a schmuck and a creep. Today he might be the nicest guy in the world. Who the hell knows.
Rock & Roll Heart covers all the bases like an official selection of the Sundance & Berlin Film Festivals should, with archival footage and interviews with John Cale, Maureen Tucker, a gaggle of the Warhol crew, and Penn Jillette, Thurston Moore, David Byrne, Bowie, Patti Smith, Philip Glass, Suzanne Vega and Jim Carrol. Smith, Carrol and Reed represent NY's modern beat poetry mafia, and Lou gets his ego stroked by the other two like their own careers depended on it. Maybe with Lou it helps to be a beat poetry junkie. I find many of his songs to be too literal and wordy.
They cover Lou's fascination with Delmore Schwartz, Beat Poetry, Lou’s gig as a hack songwriter for Pickwick International, The Velvets, Andy Warhol, his solo career (thanks to Bowie) and his place in popular culture. Everything about the production is top notch, and if you know nothing about Lou Reed this is a great place to start. I was especially happy to see live footage from Lou's "Rock and Roll Animal" tour. One day they'll make a film about his life and it'll be as sleazy and nuts as Lou himself. My favorite line from this film is when Lou's reminiscing about an old band of his and he says "We were so bad we had to change our name every week."
Lou Reed is a survivor, and that counts for a lot in music criticism. He's punk's answer to Bob Dylan and will always be revered for his talent, or lack of it, beating the odds. It also helps that he’s not dead yet. His face is a living roadmap of his hard life, and as such he's an interesting photography subject. Joe Piscopo is Lou's doppleganger, by the way.
R.E.M. - Parallel (video review) (Warner Reprise): I recently gave a R.E.M. concert video a crapola review, but recently, with the release of movie Man On The Moon and a $2 purchase of a Green cassette I play all the time now, I figured I'd rent this and see if they're any better in the promo video format. I’m not big on music videos. They started as throwaway gimmicks, progressed to cool new marketing tools, moved into pandering poser pomposity, and are now the major reason why most popular music is an update on The Monkees, this time with a major slant towards teen sex and gay themes.
I scribbled this first paragraph while watching the beginning of Parallel. As "Nightswimming" unfolded, I couldn't believe they were showing a group of naked teenagers doing whatever the fugg they were doing. Why? Why show this? Is this a music video or a NAMBLA fantasy sequence? No wonder there's a parental warning label on the video. Assholes.
I've heard Michael Stipe is hugely pretentious. I never took notice since I don't watch MTV or listen to the radio. Stipe comes across in this collection as both a self-hugging ennui junkie and spastic mental patient. The "Drive" video was decent enough, with its simple scheme and sea of upraised arms. Then "Man On The Moon" has the band doing something simple outdoors while Andy Kaufman snippets float like ghosts. The roadhouse scene where locals mouth the words as if they were speaking them in their personal conversations struck me as slightly genius. Then, in the third video, "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight", Stipe's stares at the camera with a Gen X smirk on his face, posing shirtless in twelve positions in a chair, and generally tossing Sting's ego-jerk performance in "Don't Stand So Close To Me" into the dustbin of love-of-self-as-religion. In "Everybody Hurts" Stipe hugs himself, and all of a sudden the pretentiousness of goth poetry evaporates into sincere statements on The Human Condition. Then it went on to the kiddie porn loop and I turned the tape off.
Maybe it's just me, but as far as sex on film goes, either present it as harmless PG fare or keep the kids out and let loose the kind of XXX smut that’ll make a sailor puke in disgust. This halfway stuff is just wrong.
Have you noticed that Stipe looks like a cross between John Malkovich and Ian MacKaye? I want to get more into R.E.M. as a group. These videos and live shows are sadly too arty and self-important. I'll stick with the occasional cheap cassette I find at Goodwill.
R.E.M. Tourfilm (video review) (Warner Reprise): So.....anyway, as I was saying, I don't intentionally listen to the radio. I have no interest in most alternative bands because when I ask myself what these bands are an alternative to, the answer is usually other bands I'm not interested in either. When new wave and punk first came around I thought they were new and different. Maybe I was wrong. R.E.M. reminds me of a mix of Boy - era U2 and most everything by Neil Young. If I were in a good mood I’d throw in The Feelies. I’ve heard R.E.M.’s hits on the radio, in passing, and they’re good at what they do. If the world was truly alternative The Feelies would have made it big, but that's spilt milk.
I thought this was a concert film, but it's more like a series of music videos possibly or possibly not shot in front of a live audience. It's hard to tell. The only shot of the audience's faces comes twenty minutes in, and that's it except for blurry backs of heads. At times I felt the band was lip-synching a studio concert on a sound stage in front of an audience. Like the show wasn't a concert at all but a filming of a live rock video. As if applause was added in later like canned laughter. I can't express how detached I felt from this thing There's no sense of time or place. It's shot in both 16mm and Super 8, and every music video trick in the book is beaten to death: color and b&w film, hand-held cameras, quick cuts, grainy film, running around the stage with a camera, odd camera angles. The only thing they didn't do was throw a camcorder at Stipe’s smug face.
I liked the songs, but I can’t help but dwell on the fact that MTV has changed people's expectations of live performance. Now you can't just play music, you have to provide multi-media extravaganzas that reduce musicians to stage props in the larger struggle of keeping the interest of an audience with the combined attention span of a toddler.
Repo Man (1983) (video review): In 1983, three punk movies hit theaters. Suburbia, Liquid Sky, and Repo Man. Repo Man is by far the best. It reminds me of Pulp Fiction, Slacker and the writing style of John Waters. The episodic story telling, surf music and soapbox philosophizing of the characters pre-date Pulp Fiction by eleven years. Quentin Tarantino, former video store clerk supreme, probably watched Repo Man a few hundred times in his day. Slacker is little more than Repo Man characters being passed off to each other one by one. Otto (Emilio Estevez) and his punk pals were the slackers of the early ‘80s. Slackers replaced grunge kids for punks, but it's all the same - alienated, agitated youth with plenty of attitude and nothing to do. Alex Cox, who also directed Sid and Nancy, fills the movie with grand speeches and overblown tabloid monologues favored by John Waters: "The lights are growing dim. I know a life of crime led me to this sorry fate. And yet… I blame Society. Society made me what I am". "That's bulls--t! You're a white suburban punk, just like me"." But it still... hurts..."
Repo Man has a plot, a few plots actually, but it's really about personal philosophy and its importance in giving life meaning and purpose. Otto is an iconic punk, which means he has no direction and no future in the mainstream. He’s conned into helping a repo man steal back a car and with nothing else going on he falls into that life. His "F—k You" attitude is not only accepted by the repo men, it's the only way he'd ever be trusted and accepted by them. Bud's (Harry Dean Stanton) code is phrased like an ancient law: "I shall not cause harm to any vehicle or the personal contents thereof, nor through inaction let the vehicle or the personal contents thereof come to harm". The repo yard's seemingly idiotic mechanic believes life is a series of coincidences and unconnected incidences. The sub-plot of a radioactive alien in the back of a 1964 Chevy Malibu is what Alfred Hitchcock termed The McGuffin - a plot element that propels action but means nothing in itself.
If you read the script you might think this has to be a crappy film, but somehow it all comes together, and it's easy to accept the weirdness and incongruous plot lines. Harry Dean Stanton is great. As usual he comes across as a sweaty, skinny, hung-over Willy Loman. Emilio is good too, alternating between his teenager’s bad attitude and a kid's wide-eyed disbelief. "I mean you can't just shoot into people's houses. I mean what if you shot the guy?" "What If I did?" "Well, I don't know, I mean... that's pretty severe." The crazed scientist driving the Chevy looks and acts like Dennis Hopper, but he’s not.
There's good satire here too. Food is labeled generically and Otto's parents are pot smoking hippies who slavishly watch religious broadcasters: "Now my friends, occasionally we get a letter from a viewer that says the only reason Reverend Larry comes on your television set is because he wants your money. And you know what? They're right! I do want your money. Because God wants your money. So I want you to go out, and mortgage that home, and sell that car, and send me your money. You don't need that car.." Pot smoking hippies usually aren’t fundamentalist Christians, but hey.
Repo Man has aged well after fourteen years. The soundtrack features the Circle Jerks (who also appear as a lounge act), the Plugz, Fear, and Iggy Pop, singing the theme song. Otto yells "TV Party!". Kids, go down to your local video store and rent this puppy today.
The Residents - The Eyes Scream (1990) (Video review): Beginning in 1972, the story of The Residents is one of lies, ground-breaking experimentation, great success and miserable failure. To quote Hardy Fox of The Cryptic Corporation, "It's not that they're necessarily skilled at anything, but they have lots of ideas, so the problem is the realization of their ideas". Here you'll find brilliant concepts and plain weirdness that goes nowhere. Other artists may be at times stranger than The Residents, but nobody has produced as twisted and screwy a body of work. One of their early reel-to-reel tapes featured a photograph of a woman giving head to an infant. It was titled Baby Sex. Their version of "Satisfaction" is fairly unlistenable. God In Three Persons is a great story sent into a bizarre orbit at the end when Mr. X stabs the Siamese twin faith healers and then violently “makes love” to the bleeding wound. With each project you don't know whether The Residents are god (Cube-E) or foolish amateurs (the soundtrack for Bad Day On The Midway)
This tape came out in the same year as their Freak Show CD Rom and is a nice retrospective on their work and history. It contains pieces from earlier videos and new footage with Penn and Teller. Penn Jillette has been working with the Eyeballs since at least 1982. Teller is along just for the ride. There's about seven minutes worth of "Vileness Fats", which makes Eraserhead look like an episode of Cheers. There's also the One-Minute Movies, "Hello Skinny", "Don't Be Cruel" with its entry-level computer graphics, "Third Reich and Roll", live footage from the Mole Show and the 13th Anniversary Tour, TV news coverage and two great songs from Cube-E on the TV program Night Music.
Altogether The Eyes Scream is a good package, now dated by many other collections. If you want to know who the Residents really are, part of the answer is found on this tape.
- Wormwood (DVD review): Ah,
The Residents, the band I love and love to
beat around the head. The live
Wormwood DVD is the latest in their recent
effort to release everything and anything, blowing to bits their old
Theory Of Obscurity. They even preface the
show with the title card "The Residents Video du Jour".
It's my guess Big Rez (the singer and possibly only remaining original member even though I think there's one more) is semi-retired. On their most recent CD, Animal Lover, you can sense the reins being handed over to a vague group of others. Oh well, I only hope Big Rez unveils himself while he's still alive and writes a true book on The Residents.
Wormwood, released in 1998, saw them taking stories from the bible and presenting them as acts of violence and cruelty. Big Rez on the DVD (as the narrator Mr. Skull) makes a point that they're not insulting religion but only trying to shine a light into the dark corners of the bible. The CD can get away with this claim, but not the live show, where hatred of western religion oozes everywhere. Ok, fine, but the stage show is angry and bitter, which wouldn't be a deal breaker if it also wasn't often slow and boring.
Wormwood hasn't aged well. Demons Dance Alone was a little better musically and a whole lot better live. Animal Lover needs to be rebuilt from the ground up but there's much to be admired. By my count there are six good songs on the Wormwood CD, and only three were in the live show. The three they did include are intentionally slowed down and made ugly. The Residents consistently slow down songs live, unlike every other band I know. 'Splain me Lucy!
The show is filmed well and the sound is good, a surprise considering it was recorded for a webcast. This is from July 16, 1999 in Bonn, Germany. I saw the Los Angeles show on April 24, and I don't remember Mr. Skull being as snivelly and sarcastic. Molly Harvey is, of course, the poop, and her focus on character is amazing.
It's as obvious now as it was then that the staging of Wormwood left a lot to be desired. Each song involves a simple gimmick and endless repetitive movements. The stage is way too big. I love Big Rez but all he does is move about like a bull ape imitating Dracula.
The Residents - Icky Flix (DVD review) (Cryptic/East Side): Finally, an affordable collection of Residents audio-visuals. $25 list, $17.99 on the internet. These San Francisco deviants have been cranking out this stuff since the early ‘70s and are widely acknowledged as pioneers in the music video format. Always fascinated yet often not able to master new technologies, they've cobbled together an impressive array of material, from long (and ah do means long) format films to computer-animated videos.
For Icky Flix they recorded new audio tracks for each video, allowing the DVD user to finally use the audio button on their remotes. During a video you can switch back and forth from the old to new recording, which I do like a chimp. Missing from this collection is material from The Mole Show and "Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers", available elsewhere and of no great lose anyway. The new audio tracks are uniformly good, with what sounds like the musicians and style I loved so much on Our Finest Flowers. Let's go to the video ta.. I mean DVD disc!...
"The Third Reich And Roll" (1976): Enshrined in the New York Museum Of Art, it includes footage shot between 1972 and 1975, coinciding with and including sets used in "Vileness Fats". In it you can hear "Land Of A Thousand Dances" and "Wipeout". The piece was put together for a 1977 Australian TV show called "Flashez". The newspapermen scene (said to be klansmen, which may not have been true but The Residents like to shock), was originally shot in color. It works better in b&w as it appears here. The new music is some kind of techno, and when you switch audio tracks you can see the link from ‘70s primitive tribal drumming to today's alterna-disco music. I like when the cuts of meat trample the bone swastika.
"One Minute Movies" (1980): Also in the NY Museum Of Art's permanent collection, these four one minute films were financed for distribution in France and Germany. Molly Harvey sings in a Mae West voice in the new track for "Moisture", and I'm fairly sure the man playing guitar in the video is a real Resident. The best video is for "Perfect Love", which uses a snippet from "Vileness Fats" on the TV.
"Hello Skinny" (1980): The best thing they've ever filmed, period. It's haunting, made even more so by the presence of Brigit Terris, a then recently de-institutionalized man photographed and filmed for several days by director Graeme Whifler. Filming stopped abruptly when he hopped a bus to live with his mother back east. What was pasted together is a masterpiece.
"This Is A Man's Man's Man's World" (1984): Financed by Warner Brothers for promotional use in Western Europe (notice a pattern here?). With the cash they bought the new technology of a video computer. This was sometimes shown on MTV. Primitive but pretty dense and complex. The new Molly Harvey track is nice.
"Where Is She" (1992): A local television crew in Sydney, Australia filmed this rehearsal for "The 13th Anniversary Show", which was never filmed in its entirety. It's ok and you get to see the basics of light and movement used on that tour (which I saw in person, thank you very little).
"Harry The Head" (1990): The "Freak Show" CD-ROM was, at the time, possibly the best of its kind. The album never did much for me. The circus elements of the music could have been much nastier and extreme. The animation is dated to the time.
"Constantinople" (2000): A great track from Duck Stab, an album that luckily caught the ear of new wave freaks back in 1978. The nutty computer animation of a obese, naked man falling from the sky is compelling and disturbing, while the vivid color photography is spectacular.
"He Also Serves" (2000): The original audio is from 1992's excellent Our Finest Flowers, itself a redoing of pieces of 1988's equally great God In Three Persons. I rather would have heard the original version of "Hard And Tenderly".
"Burn Baby Burn" (2000): Recorded live in Berlin on the Wormwood Tour, which I found a bit dull visually. It’s a case of continually repeating the stuff you do with your hands and feet until it gets old.
"Kick A Picnic" (2000): The best new piece in the collection and the best song from Our Finest Flowers. Director and animator Bill Domonkos creates a masterpiece of design and motion. Molly's bored vocals on the new audio don't work (sadly. The original is more crisp all around.
"Songs For Swinging Larvae" (1981): This is supposedly a short film based on a "true" story. It’s astonishing that director Graeme Whifler was able to even comprehend Renaldo And The Loaf's original music. That he could visually interpret it is god-like. Hats off to the Residents for recording a new audio track. Songs For Swinging Larvae is a great album, and if you've never heard it you've never heard anything like it before. The theme of child abduction made this video verboten all over.
"Just For You" (Disfigured Night, part 7): Sometimes even the most die-hard Residents fan can only raise their shoulders and murmer "what the hell was that?!" Disfigured Night was one of those times. VIVA TV in Germany put together an hour long tribute to The Residents and requested a live piece from the group. What they got was a 31 minute work with costumes and a story line that defied explanation. This last part, a version of "We Are The World", is very good. Not the first time you see it, but damn does it grow on you like a cold sore on the lip. Molly and Big Rez play off each other expertly, like a Bizarro World Peaches And Herb. The limiting factor of this piece is the same problem I had with Wormwood: They repeat the same steps and motions over and over. I know this is a limitation imposed by the stage, but maybe they should stay still more instead of doing the same exaggerated motions ad nauseum.
"Jelly Jack, The Boneless Boy" (1993). Animation from the Freak Show CD-ROM that looks dated, adding visuals to a boring song.
"Stars And Stripes Forever" (1997): Artist Steve Cerio and Director Jim Ludkte created a stunningly colorful and clever summation of The Cold War as presented in a shooting gallery game. It’ inspired by but not from Bad Day On The Midway. The picture is so sharp I feel like I'm watching HDTV.
"Vileness Fats" (1972-1976): Fourteen hours of film shot over four years, and even then it was left half-finished. The Residents seemingly had no clue what they were doing. Vague ideas have always been their trademark, and execution has too often come down to keeping their collective Attention Deficit Disorder at bay. Vileness Fats makes no sense on any level -- and don't tell me that's the point. The Forbidden Zone, an Elfman Family production, has the same feel and look -- plus it has a plot! Well, sort of.
"The Gingerbread Man" (2000): The visuals on this are beautiful, a mixture of live shots and various art and animation elements. The CD-ROM failed as new technology but the songs themselves are great. I'd hoped they'd perform it on stage as a series of stories. With the tales so abbreviated and choppy, this video comes across more like a demo reel for prospective investors than a self-contained work. It’s nice to look at though, with great use of color.
"Bad Day On The Midway" (1996-2000): The game won awards but I was disappointed. Not enough went on, which I know was due to limitations of disc space. The videos you watch on the game might be worth the price though. The movements look too game-like but the artwork is great, with the antique toy look down perfectly.
The Residents – Eskimo (dvd review): I must have seen this many years ago, or was it a dream? A long, squirming, boring dream. As Penn Jillette once said in fake exasperation, “Tap your foot to wind.” Indeed.
The story of this 1979 release (recorded over a three year period by people with an infant’s attention span) by The Residents is nicely recounted here, even if much of it is fabricated. It was either this or The Tale Of Growing Grass Being Watched. Claims of Eskimo’s sales and critical success must be taken in the context of the art school pretentiousness of the 70s, when even Lou Reed’s contract breaking FU titled Metal Machine Music was given layered consideration. Eskimo is 39:21 of wind sounds, nonsense rhythms and inverted English grunting, all instrumental and intended to be accompanied by the listener reading Eskimo stories printed on the inner sleeve of the album. This was before the internet and cable, so people lived at a slower pace. Today it’s sensory overload and both seizures and teenage killing sprees are more common.
The Eskimo DVD is the album remastered, played behind a slide show of what I assume are public domain images of Eskimo either standing for pictures or doing Eskimo-like things, like smiling strangely, paddling kayaks or shoveling snow so they can get to their Vespas. The printed stories play out in typeface at a pace equaling the glacial speed of the images and music. In typical The-Residents-Find-A-Gimmick-And-Beat-It-Into-A-Coma fashion, the pictures undulate and pulsate like thousands of black and white ants fighting MMA. It’s weird, interesting and neat for a few minutes. Then it continues until the eventual finish, the thematic Residential twist the assimilation of an indigenous people into American consumer culture. Yes, we all suck.
I came away from this thinking the life of an Eskimo must be miserable, between the freezing and the hunting in the freezing and the houses made of the frozen and eating an assortment of blubbers – man, life must be a cabaret, old chum, and by chum I mean buckets of putrid fish innards. Hippies should give up their welfare and food stamps and live like this because it's so REAL. It’s a myth the Inuit have up to 400 different words for snow, but they should have at least a hundred ways of saying “F—k It’s F—king Cold! F—K!!!”
Eskimo, by The Residents, now an arts collective that at times doesn't even sound like The Residents. More product for the cult.
Return Of The Living Dead (video review) (Orion): A true classic of the horror-comedy genre, this 1984 film probably gets less attention than its peers because the sequels that came after it were formulaic exercises marketed to horny teens into horror. This isn't a punk rock movie per say - while a few of the main characters are various forms of Hollywood's version of punk rockers, punk plays no roll in the film itself. These kids could have all been heavy metal idiots and it wouldn't have changed anything, except I'd have cheered as each one dies.
The movie is a sequel and tribute to Night Of The Living Dead. Taking place in a medical supply warehouse, a funeral home and the decrepit cemetery between them, this hysterical, fast-paced gore-fest starts with the idea the classic George Romero zombie epic was based on a real incident involving chemicals created by the US Army. The always great Jim Karen, the real estate developer in Poltergeist who moved the tombstones but didn't move the bodies (he was also a Pathmark pitch-man for you old East Coasters), takes new employee Chuck to the basement to see the army storage tanks delivered by mistake, slaps the side of a tank to show how strong the army builds things, and "Foosh!", out comes the toxic gas that starts the zombie ball rolling for the next 85 minutes. Chuck's punk rock friends visit and hang out in the abandoned cemetery as the dead come to life. I won't get into what happens next, but fans of Evil Dead II and Dead Alive will know what to expect. The zombies talk, think, and act like any zombie-American would.
And does it deliver! The script is tight, the acting great, and the effects are flawless. When a rotten corpse with no lower body explains that the dead must eat brains because they feel the pain of their own rotting bodies, you almost feel sorry for them. The whole time the remainder of her spine is writhing like a snake. If you like horror-comedy you'll love this. Having seen it before I noted the deliberate set-ups of scenes and jokes, and if any film deserves its own script for audience participation, it's Return Of The Living Dead.
For those of you keeping punk score, most of the background songs aren't hardcore but they do have an early ‘80s SoCal punk feel. Two characters are preppy new wavers; a black guy is dressed for a Clash concert; a short guy with a mohawk wears a long black leather jacket; there's a guy named Suicide who gives the following speech, "I mean, I got something to say, you know. What do you think this is all about? You think this is a fugging costume? This is a way of life!", and scream-queen, soft-porn star Linnea Quigley gets nude as "Trash". She manages to look good even in a red straight-haired wig from the Ronald McDonald collection. I'm told Quigley recorded the longest scream in film history.
Of all the movies I've reviewed for this zine, Return Of The Living Dead is the best choice for a punk midnight movie. The situations and one-liners are priceless. The film was banned in Norway. I'm sure that means something. Also note there’s characters named Bert and Ernie. Director Dan O'Brien wrote the original Alien screenplay. "Brains, brains…send more cops…."
Reverend Horton Heat: Live & In Color (video review): I don’t always listen to country-fed punkabilly, but when I do, I prefer the Reverend Horton Heat (official site here). I’d probably never buy on of their cds because it’s simply not my thing, but after seeing this amazing live show from 2003 I can say that in the world of punk there are bands just as good but none are better than Horton Heat. Their skill, energy, melodicism and showmanship are off the charts, and The Rev. himself (real name Jim Heath) is an anachronism on par with Robert Gordon and Leon Redbone. His mastery of the guitar is something to see, mimicking if not rivaling the recently deceased Les Paul.
The set list is “Big Blue Car”, “Galaxy 500”, “Like A Rocket”, “The Party In Your Head”, “Big Sky”, “Baddest of the Bad”, “5.0 Ford”, “I Can't Surf”, “Wiggle Stick”, “400 Bucks”, “Loco Gringos Like A Party”, “Wildest Dreams”, “Marijuana”, “It's Martini Time”, “Jimbo Song”, “The Devil's Chasing Me”, “Psych-Billy Freakout”, and “Big Red Rocket Of Love”.
The show sounds and looks great, and Live & In Color is flawless all around. I laughed when the Rev. called slap-bassist Jimbo “The Michael Landon of the rockabilly world”, because it’s true! He wouldn't have said it if it wasn't. Dude, seriously, this is a great DVD.
Rhythm Thief (dvd review): Plot-wise 1994’s Rhythm Thief is missing a few layers of finish but its grainy black & white visuals makes it an arresting $12,000 film shot permit-free in lower Manhattan by real New Yorkers doing what they do best, being themselves. I immediately caught a Mean Streets/Down By Law vibe with maybe some Eraserhead as inspiration, and surprise surprise Martin Scorsese took a shine to director Matthew Harrison and helped him on his way to being a working features director. This film will challenge your belief in the ability to stay awake, but excellence is buried in places and sometimes it works its way up like a corpse at a state park.
The film comes with the summation:“A New York City music bootlegger rips off the wrong all-girl militant punk band who pursues him through NYC Lower East Side with violent consequence”, which while truth-ish gives the film more plot credit than it deserves. The solitary scenes with Simon, said live concert tape bootlegger, are studies in angry yet numb isolation, and his scenes with others are mainly actor’s workshop vignettes sometimes based on things the director overheard on the streets, showing more attitude than depth. Jason Andrews, now a drug counselor on Long Island, is good as the Jack Nance/ Saverio Guerra of the Lower East Side. Mark Alfred as Mr. Burch is a natural talent as an old guy nomming sunflower seeds and Eddie Daniels eventually figures out her character and is an attractive simpleton ingénue. Cynthia Sley from the Bush Tetras appears as a murderous musician, which leads me to that the reviews say Rhythm Thief has a punk rock element to it, which it doesn’t. Sley’s band sounds like sloppy hard rock and the soundtrack is devoid of the punk rock. I also don’t recall her band being all female, but why kibble about bits?
One of my favorite things in films and tv shows is when there's a band or singer that's supposed to be the greatest thing since [your favorite band here] and their fans go nuts for them in concert. The only problem is that the songs truly-uly suck and everyone involved in the production knows it. Rhythm Thief has that when Simon, who has his fingers on the pulse of the next big thing even though he only eats, sleeps and sells bootleg concert tapes on street corners, goes to a party and hipsters hit him up for the latest "fresh tunes". He finally gives up the goods and they all share a dancing orgasm while the most generic, mono reggae instrumental wheezes out of a boombox. Unintentional hilarity ensues.
The director commentary is worthwhile as a lesson in low-budget filmmaking. His locations were limited to five blocks from his offices and he filmed mainly master shots for one or two takes. The only downside is that Harrison talks like an over-educated taxi driver and refers to his other films in long sentences that repeat for no reason besides maybe self-promotion or even satire. The cinematography on Rhythm Thief is generally masterful and the only reason to watch this for as long as you feel so inclined. My favorite exchange is when Simon asks Mr. Burch “Why is everybody an asshole?” The answer, “It’s gene poisoning.” Long on attitude and grit, Rhythm Thief is worth seeing but don’t feel bad if you give up on it.
Show Business Is My Life (DVD review):
Show Business Is My Life is a great 26 song video and concert collection that
should exceed any fan’s expectations. It’s inexpensive but hard to find. Try
Stan once looked like a craggier John Cusak, but he’s aged into Johnny Cash. See here. Now John Cusak looks like the craggy young Stan Ridgway.
I loved Wall of Voodoo but followed Stan’s solo career only for a short time, as it was a game of diminishing returns. The Big Heat and Mosquitos were equally good, but “I Wanna Be A Boss”(Partyball) was as lyrically weak as “Camouflague”. I didn’t stop loving Stan Ridgway but I stopped buying his records. His solo work was bested by what he wrote for Call Of The West, notably “Lost Weekend” and “Factory”.
I met Stan when I worked security for a concert lineup of Minor Threat, Wall Of Voodoo and P.I.L. He asked me my name and said to tell him about myself. I walked away from that encounter thinking I’d met the nicest man in the world. I felt like a pale, 1/5th scale Ving Rhames as Duane in the film Dave:
Duane: [Dave shakes hands with Duane just before they part company] Dave?
Duane: I would have taken a bullet for you.
Dave Kovic: [smiling] Thanks,
I like the videos for “Mexican Radio” and “Rumblefish” for nostalgia’s sake, but generally I have no use for videos. Videos were a fun novelty that wore off once they eclipsed the music itself. I did get a kick out of the video for “Big Dumb Town” because they depict a Charlie McCarthy puppet as a scumbag Hollywood agent.
The live Wall Of Voodoo footage makes this priceless. Guitarist Marc Moreland goes insane on “Ring Of Fire”. Dark Continent is to me as good as Gang Of Four’s Entertainment! “Back In Flesh” doesn’t measure up to “Damaged Goods” but the album is in serious need of reevaluation upwards Call Of The West isn’t as cohesive but the storytelling is better and the sound more epic.
The concert footage of Stan’s solo work doesn’t come off as well because his work is written for small, intimate settings. The cover blurb reads, “Stan Ridgway is equal parts Raymond Chandler and John Huston, Johnny Cash and Rod Serling.” These qualities can’t come through in a stadium show presentation.
Visit Stan. Listen to Stan. Obey Stan. Stan’s the Man.
Rock'N'Roll High School (video review) (1979) - This is not a Ramones film. It's not a punk movie either. It's another in a line of classic Roger Corman cheapie productions. Corman pumped out quickie teen exploitation flicks starting in the ‘50s, peaking with Bucket of Blood (1959) and Little Shop of Horrors (1960). All Corman cared about was getting the shot, cutting corners to save money, and putting in enough T&A, car crashes and crazy rock music to get kids in the seats. Corman couldn't direct a porno loop, but he did give hip, talented actors and directors their first breaks (as long as they worked for nothing!). Ron Howard, Jack Nicholson, Joe Dante and Francis Ford Coppola worked for Corman. The Ramones and Rock'n'Roll High School wasn't even what Corman had in mind - he wanted naked gymnastic chicks in Girl's Gym, or to take advantage of the latest craze with Disco High. It took a while, but Alan Arkush persuaded the disinterested bean-counter Corman into making Rock’N’Roll High School, as the rest is b-movie history.
This movie is great, even if you’re not a Ramones fan. Again, it isn't about the Ramones - it's about crazy, wild, horny kids rebelling against authority by rocking and partying. Woo hoo!! P.J. Soles stars as Riff Randall ("Riff Randall, Rock'n'Roller"); #1 Ramones fan, free spirit and natural enemy of Vince Lombardi High's Uber-principal, Miss Togar. The plot is your standard rebellious kids vs. old, conservative authority figures as they clash over the right to rock!! The humor is childish and clever. The acting is over the top. The sets are cheap. What a great movie!
Clint Howard (nepotism in action), Paul Bartel, and the sublime Dick Miller show up to give the film b-movie class. Any film with Dick Miller in it has to be great. The two chubby Hall Monitors steal the show. I swear they were the inspiration for the two goofy bad guys in the Power Rangers TV series. The Ramones rip through a live concert set, fake a few pre-recorded songs, and even act a little (very little). Joey looks like the Creature from the Black Lagoon while the rest of the band looks clueless and goofy. God how I love these guys.
On every level this is a great movie. It teaches that custom vans with mirrored ceilings and shag carpets are guaranteed to make you score with the chicks. On the "Rock-o-Meter", Rock'n'Roll High School rates a 10. And lots of exploding mice.
Choice movie quotes:
(Ramone's Road Manager): "This is the Big Time, girlie, this is Rock and Roll!"
"Do your parents know you're Ramones?"
(Miss Togar): "Those Ramones are peculiar..." (Dick Miller as Cop): " They're ugly...ugly, ugly people."
Live Ramones songs:
"Blitzkrieg Bop", "Lobotomy" (with words on screen like subtitles), "California Sun", “Pinhead" and "She's The One".
Rockabilly Vampire (video review): Once I saw the "Troma Films Presents" opening I knew what to expect from this 1995 micro-indie film. A few laughs but not much else. I was hoping for prosthetics and gallons of Kayro syrup, but no such luck. I only made it half way through Rockabilly Vampire but that was plenty. The promo blurb says it all, and being able to write like this is either a blessing or a curse:
“The Troma Team is proud to present a movie where the tunes are hot, the chicks are sweet, and one hellcat cool-daddy bloodsucker is flashing his fangs, rocking the big city, and lovin' every minute of it! Rockabilly Vampire is a scary, sexy romp with rock-n-roll soul. Come on and shake a leg with the living dead! Luscious Iris M. Daugherty (Margaret Lancaster) is a 50's obsessed investigative author out to prove that Elvis Presley is still alive. While conducting research, she runs across a dead ringer for the King (Paul Stevenson) who'd like to make her his Queen of the Damned. Tarnation! Seems the pompadoured hunk was bitten by his vampire brother, played by Troma Superstar Stephen Blackehart (Tromeo & Juliet), on the way to the Elvis look-a-like contest back in 1956. Four decades later, he's loose in Manhattan and looking for a wild time. Will Iris succumb to this surly, swingin' Nosferatu? Only one way to find out. Sink your teeth into Rockabilly Vampire, the horror groove-party that just might live forever.”
Besides a few funny lines and one funny character there’s not much to enjoy. It’s about $3,000 worth of Five Boroughs high concept. Conversations run long to make this feature length, and there’s a whole lotta ‘nuthin goin’ on throughout. Acting is at the standard Troma level, but on the plus isde Rockabilly Vampire offers a character mix of various ages and types. The best character is someone named Beatle Boy, a Beatles fanatic in love with the female lead in love with Elvis’ memory. He speaks in a fake Liverpool accent and wears a black Beatle suit and mop-top wig. Threatening to see a witch doctor to make her fall in love with him, Beatle Boy says “He’ll make you love me do!”
Our reluctant vampire hero looks up to heaven before biting into a deserving victim and says “Forgive me for what I’m about to receive.” A lowlife says “Sest Levi” instead of “C'est la vie”, and in a regional piece of comedy the heroine’s perfume is called “Scent Of Bayonne”, another way of saying “Eau de New Jersey”.
As in old John Waters movies there’s no soundtrack but music plays constantly in the background. What I heard didn’t sound too rockabilly. Part is filmed at an East Village kitsch store called Atomic Passion, and there’s the quid pro quo of being allowed to film in the Miss Liberty Diner as long as their menu is held up in front of an actor’s face in close-up. Thank you. Thank you very much.
Rockers (video review): But first, a bad joke: "Reggae? I don't know, why don't you ask him?" Released in 1977, this low budget film was intended to cash in on the success of 1972's The Harder They Come, a better film with a superior soundtrack. This one's not bad, with Junior Martin's "Police and Thieves" and Peter Tosh's equally classic "Stepping Razor", but the only thing Rockers has going for it is the Rastafarian street English that requires subtitles. Trying to make sense of it is a linguists' dream and nightmare since each speaker seems to make up their own version of this slang code language.
Leroy "Horsemouth" Wallace, a famous Jamaican studio drummer, stars pretty much as himself. The plot is as thin as the gold they put on rich people's chocolate cake, and it goes like this: Leroy buys a motorcycle so he can sell records. The bike is stolen. He finds the bike and steals it back. The bad guys beat Leroy up. Leroy assembles his Rasta friends, steals everything the bad guys have (their stolen goods and even their household belongings) and distributes it to the shanty dwellers of his neighborhood - like Robin Hood if he had dreads and a big puffy hat.
Back to the Rasta dialect that required subtitles. Its origins are in the English language, but Rasta terms like "Jah" and "Rasta" are thrown in often and randomly. "I and I" means "Me/Myself”, "The-I" means "You"and "I-man" means "Me". "Wha'appen" is easy enough, but when in a scene the police arrive, everyone yells "Police - Babylon, Babylon!", and even though I can guess what that means I can't figure out if there's a real structure to this language or just loose terms that may have multiple meanings.
Each person in Rockers speaks their own level of slang, from verbal sludge to English requiring no subtitles. There's a scene I'd like to reshoot as a comedy sketch. It's where Leroy deals with the sleazy Central American club manager about a drumming gig. In the film they talk and the manager has no trouble understanding every mumble out of Leroy’s mouth. In my version, Leroy says something like "I and I bang bom boom drum irea, seen?" and the manager looks at him funny and says "I'm sorry, but I have no idea what you're talking about". Leroy comes back with "Rasta-I drum bam boom Jah man" and the manager replies "What the hell are you trying to say?!" This goes on until Leroy either just walks away mad or switches to the most proper British use of the English language you've ever heard. Well I think it'd be funny.
There's no real acting in the film but it works out ok. Half the population of the shanty towns of Jamaica appear either as extras or close friends of Leroy. He greets literally 100 people like they're best friends. Here's how most of the dialogue scenes are set up: Leroy walks into a room or area where a group he knows are gathered, he greets them, they treat him like a long lost brother, Leroy speaks some plot points, then the others react with improvised phrases of support or concern depending on how they've been asked to respond. It's easier than learning a script, and it's nice to see so many people enjoying the thrill of being in a movie. The poverty of these people is horrific, but at least on film they party a lot and make due.
This being a reggae film there's plenty of pot smoking. There's a Rasta with dreads so long they've formed a wide, ripped-up rug on his back that hangs down to his ass. Imagine the soup you could make from that bird's nest. There's one big speech in the film and it's a doozy of misogyny the Rastas are infamous for. Leroy's wife (& mother of his three children) pleads with him to be around more and help provide for his kids. He goes off on a long riff about how he doesn't have to worry about them because he's on a mission from Jah,, Jah will provide for "the youth", and he can't be bothered by such earthly concerns. Is he saying Jah approves of abandoning your family? Oh, Jah, think of the children…
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (DVD review): Hey kids! It doesn't get any more special edition than this. Two discs and every possible extra a cross-dressing, show tune loving nerd could ask for. I saw Rocky Horror a few times as a midnight movie in the ‘70s at the Mini Cinema on Long Island, and I'm amazed it's still popular today. The quaint silliness of it seems dated to that time.
Rocky Horror is the only movie where you'll find white people en masse yelling at the screen. In the mid ‘70s it transformed midnight movies from desperate art-house scheduling into the cash cow that kept many indie theaters in business. I imagine it takes less time to clean up after a mass murder than it does a showing of Rocky Horror. Rice is insidious.
So what's the appeal of this film? The songs are good glam rock and the plot is fun and fun to make fun of. Mostly it's a very "camp" movie. The film's initial midnight resurgence in NYC was fueled by the gay community, and Susan Sarandon, who never holds back, sums up the appeal of the film by saying it's a way for kids to come to terms with their sexual identity. She's not talking about women who dress up as Magenta, Columbia or Janet. It's the men who show up in full leather drag as Frank-N-Furter. You go girl and all that, but, come on. At the very least there's a cross dressing fetish at work. Normally I couldn’t care less, but I find denial to be comical. I really don't care what people do as long as they don't expect me to watch the slide show.
The commentary track with Richard O'Brien and Patricia Quinn is charming and eccentric. They're old friends who get along swimmingly, and they're mostly talking to each other, not the viewer watching the DVD. Often mumbling as old Brits do, Quinn throws in a number of comments along the lines of "She wrote me a wonderful letter when my husband died." Twice she compares herself to Lillian Gish (born in 1893). O'Brien provides insight into the production, especially how the film differs from the original stage production he scripted. Quinn claims Vivienne Westwood stole the ideas for her punk fashions from Rocky Horror, which might be a misleading rhetorical argument since influences often overlap. Many artists pull from a number of sources and experiences, and often influences are subtle and mostly forgotten.
There's an audience participation audio track that sadly didn't work on my player. Another track allows you to pause the film to watch fans act out the movie in front of a screen. It doesn't work well on DVD since it's like watching an amateur taping of a high school play. Yet another track uses visual prompts to tell you when to throw rice or cover your head with a newspaper. Do people actually do all this in their homes? The out-takes are nice because you see how scenes are shot from a number of angles (to be edited together later). Also sweet are takes where the party guests dance to imaginary music that's added in later. From all this you can understand how the filming of a single scene can take days. Parts of a VH1 special are included, and both Barry Bostwick and Patricia Quinn make a point of saying diehard Rocky fans (like Trekkies) should get a life. Richard O'Brien is very funny and he unabashedly milks his Rocky Horror notoriety. Hey, it beats working!
The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a small movie that developed a big enough cult following to make it a genre classic. It's worth seeing once just for the music, and there's something pleasantly communal about the little families of friends that exist wherever the film is shown. I'd see it again now but not at midnight. That would screw with my sleep schedule, and that's priority #1.
The Rolling Stones: Stones In Exile (video review): 2010’s Stones In Exile, an account of the recording of the Rolling Stones 1972 double album Exile On Main St., is fun to watch but fails as a documentary because you walk away realizing you not only haven’t learned much, you’re not sure if any of it is accurate. There’s also aspects that are senseless if not downright dumb. Thinking it over, Stones In Exile is a wonderful mess.
The Stones themselves commissioned this one hour film, for what purpose I’m not sure. It has the feel and pacing of a chunk of a much larger career overview, on the order of maybe twenty hours total. Pounding this home are opening and ending interview snippets with random famous folk including Benicio Del Toro, Cheryl Crow, Martin Scorsese, Jack White, Don Was, Will i Am, and Liz Phair. Some don’t even know the album well if at all, so why include them? And then why have them bookend the film? Novice Director Stephen Kijak had access to the Stones in person, hours of footage taken during the album’s recording in the South of France, piles of photographs and miles of general use archival footage. It’s edited together artfully and the source materials are all swell, but the story being told is no story at all. It gives you snippets and impressions but not solid facts as to why The Rolling Stones wound up in France to record a double album of blues and country-infused rock music that sounds like an homage to The Band.
The voice of Bill Wyman says UK taxes were as high as 93% and another voice from the ether talks of how their manager claimed to own most of their past and future catalog. Neither are explored or explained in detail, and they should since these are the reasons the band put themselves in exile, not on Main Street but Keith in a mansion and the rest in various parts of the South of France. If they were being ripped off on both ends how then could they afford all this? Anyhoo, the gist of Stones In Exile is that over a long period of months, how many they never really say, the Stones and a parade of friends, lovers, children, musicians and technicians drank, ingested drugs and jammed endlessly in the basement of Keith’s rented mansion, formulating ideas which were then taken to Los Angeles for finishing. I got the impression France was a laboratory of jam sessions while the songs were finalized in LA requiring a lot of studio time. Stones In Exile is equally about something and not about that thing. Maybe it’s just an exercise in celebrity and art. It tends to get worse the more you think about it.
Exile On Main St. was initially not well received but is now rightly considered a classic. Maybe there’s a direct line from this to The Mekons. It yielded as many hits as any Stones album before it but was a double album inspired by and filled out with blues and country rock, driven by keyboards and punched up with horn sections. Sometimes it’ll mosey on up to the finish line in what sounds like a jam session, but every song is a winner, especially “I Just Want To See His Face”, with its haunting line “You don’t want to walk and talk about Jesus, You just want to see his face.” The filler they left for Jamming With Edward. The only funny line when Casey Kasem is heard saying on American Bandstand “The green stuff they gather isn’t moss.”
Rollins - Talking From The Box (video review) (Imago): I've never read a Henry Rollins book or listened to one of his spoken word albums. Rollins and his fans seem to be filled with and overly-impressed by their own cosmic intensity. Henry Rollins is a spokesman for Generation X (at 37 [as of 2007 he’s 46] he's more of a Baby Boomer), partly based on the fact he is a small part of punk history, partly because he gets off his ass to put out books and records, but mostly because he's a handsome, tattooed, thick-necked macho yet sensitive man-person who both promotes Gap clothes and makes fun of The Gap for hiring him. Spoken Word in general also does nothing for me. It combines the pretentiousness of poetry with performance art's talentless delusion of deeper understanding. The whole is even less than its parts because words don't rhyme and performance is limited to bad voice imitations and even worse pantomime. The death knell for Spoken Word is that it often thinks it’s being funny when it’s horribly not.
Talking From The Box was taped in 1992. I've done plenty of stand-up myself and have suffered through enough open mike nights of both poetry and comedy have an idea of what works and what doesn't. Henry gets by on reputation alone. His stories lack structure, he repeatedly acts out jokes he's just told, and he curses inappropriately, which is what you do when you can't think of anything clever to say. He uses every "street" cliché in the book, from the then current "kick it" to the ultra-dated "the bees knees". Henry is the guy who's funny with his friends but is at a total loss on stage. Maybe he's a good writer, but his stage persona is confused between his tough guy act and his sensitive street poet charm. I'm sure Iggy Pop would be ten times better at this.
Henry opens with a story about the L.A. riots. His catch phrase for the piece is to call all media coverage "The S--t Is On Fire Show". Is this supposed to be clever? Maybe if you're fourteen. Henry makes many obvious observations, throws in a few curses, says he's cynical, and that's it. The closing story is about a close friend who was killed execution-style by gang bangers in L.A. In the right hands this could have been a horrifying tale of friendship and loss, but he insists on talking about himself and his friend in the third person. God is this annoying, and it’s not an interesting variation on perspective.
I advise everyone into spoken word to tune into Garrison Keiler's "Prairie Home Companion" on National Public Radio. Using only words Keiler can make you think, cry, laugh, or sing. He's the master. Henry Rollins and Jello Biafra are simply punk music celebrities who package sarcasm as wit and fame as credibility to an audience too easily dazzled by both.
[2007 update: I’ve seen some recent Rollins stuff on Youtube, and he hasn’t improved as a stage performer one bit.]
Romper Stomper (video review) (Academy): Look! Up on the screen! It's a message movie -- it's a tragic love triangle -- it's a amoral glorification of Violence, Sex, and Gritty Realism -- it's.. Romper Stomper! This 1992 Australian feature raised a stink when it came out for it's unblinking treatment of hatred and violence. It won awards in Australia for Russell Crowe, best sound and best score. Well made for a small film, my initial disgust over the brutality of the film turned to bewilderment half way through as the film shifts from "action" to "story" via a love-triangle involving the three lead characters. It starts like Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer and ends as a triple-hanky tear jerker with a few random art-house pretensions.
The model for Romper Stomper is A Clockwork Orange, the brutal 1971 satire that became a major inspiration to the first generation of British punks. Romper Stomper isn’t clever and it says nothing about Society beyond the fact that violent, mental defectives like these exist even if we choose not to pay attention. We should. Nazi skins are nazis who choose punk only as a vehicle to express their hatred of all life, even their own. There's a line in the film where one skin is asked, "Who the hell are you?" He replies in a deadpan, "We came to wreck everything and ruin your life... God sent us." What total bulls--t. Everyone's a victim of something. Many of us can think of an event or two that could have sent us on over the edge, but most of us don't, and that's the difference. Sure I'd like to have an expensive new car, but if I steal one that doesn't make me "just human" - it makes me a criminal. The Nazi skins in Romper Stomper are hateful defectives. They have no real community, only the same preference for violence, uniforms and music that expresses blind hatred.
The skinheads started in the UK as a working class expression of national pride and self-respect. The music itself came straight from Jamaica and American R&B. That's right kids, skins grew out of mod, which was Motown on amphetamines. Racism and nazism came later, turning what once was a unified black/white movement into the world's most visible example of Nazi extremism. There are anti-racist skins too, but you can't get anyone’s attention long enough to explain the difference when even the "good" skins love random violence themselves. I listen to a lot of oi music. Oi is great street punk but it will never overcome its reputation as theme music for the Hitler Youth. It’s time to call non-racist skinhead music something else entirely and leave "oi" to the s--tbox of history.
Romper Stomper isn’t a bad film but I can't say there's anything to be gained from renting it. See A Clockwork Orange and Suburbia instead. Suburbia is a much better film when it comes to explaining why punks form communities.
By the way, Cock Sparrer and The Business are the greatest skin bands of all time !!!!!!!!!!!!
Roxy Music - The High Road (video review) (Polygram): This one’s a 1982 live concert filmed in France. Bryan Ferry is looking suave as usual in his white tux jacket, bow tie and puffy white shirt, while the rest of the band looks and acts like Steely Dan. There's even a massive gong on stage. A lush, romantic glam band too cool for even the punks to hate, Roxy Music were great but by design they didn't create much energy on stage. Sometimes I think they're playing progressive new age music with words. Roxy's great to toss on when company's over, or when you hear a tune on the radio, but this 75 minute show gets dull fast. The songs are well crafted but most just linger in the air like lounge music. Extra points given for heavy use of the Sax. Talking Heads fans should watch this. Mr. Byrne owes Mr. Ferry a check.
Roxy Music - Total Recall 1972 - 1982 (VHS) (Video review) (Virgin): This is a great ninety minute history presented in documentary form with no narration. Running commentary could easily be added, but it succeeds in laying out a ten year chronology of Roxy Music with concert footage, a load of TV appearances, scans of posters, album covers and sales charts, and some neat graphics. The soundtrack is all music, interrupted by the occasional cheesy TV host intro. Total Recall is more than a clips reel and less than a true documentary since it makes no statements and hints at no conclusions. The exit of Brian Eno is dealt with simply by having his image disappear from a group photo, which is then replaced by a shot of Eddie Jobson. I've never seen anything quite like this, and with all the source material it presents, Roxy Music fans must love this more than Michael Moore loves lemon-flavored lard.
Many probably remember Roxy Music as the band who recorded "Avalon" and "More Than This", both from 1982. Others recognize "Love Is The Drug" but probably don't know Roxy Music recorded it in 1975. While Avalon is a great album and a comeback in many ways for Bryan Ferry, their most fertile period was from their formation in 1971 to 1973, when Eno left the band after an endless series of disagreements on where the band should be heading. Back then, they were an avant-garde glam boogie pop band with no-wave leanings, dressed like The Spiders From Mars and then some. Eno's outer space fashions made Bowie look like Elmer Fudd. I dare you to not stare at Eno's massive forehead. Andre the Giant could put his right hand on it and it would still be just an island on a sea of forehead.
The development of Roxy Music, as personified by Ferry, matched the arc of Bowie's creative cycle. They both covered the same ground, especially when it came time to wail on the sax. Bowie veered off into folk while Ferry favored romanticism. Roxy's "Both Ends Burning" came out in 1975, the same year and with the same sound as Bowie's Young Americans. Bowie peaked creatively in the late ‘70s, thanks to Eno (no irony there but a dose of sweet karmic revenge for the man who looked like a dodo bird while under Ferry's thumb). Bowie's creativity tapped off in 1980 with Scary Monsters while Ferry peaked in 1982 with Avalon. I'd like to say they're even except Bowie's the richest rock star in the world.
It's a close call to say who was more influential in UK music and fashion circles in the ‘70s. I vote Bowie since he marketed himself so masterfully. Bowie and Ferry recreated themselves a fairly equal number of times, but Bowie looked more comfortable and polished in his choices. It helped that he was androgynous and other-worldly. He has two different colored eyes for frickin' sake. Ferry's most famous look was his white tux, combined with his romantic approach to crooning that made him the Caucasian Barry White. Ferry is a fashion icon for many, but watching this video I thought he looked stupid in everything he wore. The most natural look for him was the tux, but even then he looked like the maitre d' of a swank restaurant who affects a French accent. The goucho and boy scout looks are both howlers. Don't even ask about his John Waters mustache. I also found myself bewildered by his use of fashion models who today look like transvestites. Maybe in the mid ‘70s this was purely feminine. Robert Palmer probably borrowed Ferry's model fetish while making his own videos.
I also found it disconcerting how Ferry plays to the cameras. Sometimes he's chewing the scenery in facial pantomime, which makes the work of look-alike David Byrne that much more sublime. Also, he's not looking at me per say but through me to a spot ten feet behind, which happens in real life and it's always unnerving.
Total Recall is great and well worth watching. It doesn't tell you what to think but it offers a lot to think about, and if you like Roxy’s music you'll hear part or all of forty songs. More band histories should be made like this.
Rude Boy (video review) (1980): Kung fu and porno movies are pretty much the same thing. The acting, direction, editing, dubbing - the same. The plot's filler to kill time between "action scenes" that end in massive amounts of… violence... or whatever. Martial arts--Marital arts. Anyway, Rude Boy is a porno/kung fu flick about The Clash. The thing is 133 minutes long but feels like 1,033. Ray Grange, looking too much like Adam Baldwin, stars as a drunken loser who aspires to be a Clash roadie. This should have been a ninety-minute Clash concert film. The concert footage is excellent. The Clash rip through "White Riot", "London's Burning", "Safe European Home" and several others. Joe Strummer, looking too much like Springsteen and a skinny Stallone with bad teeth, sings in a near trance, often changing the lyrics.
Meanwhile, Rude Boy tries to be about Socialism vs. The National Front, racist police, dead end jobs, bully bouncers and the British punk scene, but when the music stops the film becomes a crappy home movie with too many lingering shots of cars driving away and actors walking around doing nothing. I’m assuming the movie is about how Ray descends deeper and deeper into loserdom. Too drunk to be a good roadie, he pisses off the band with his right-wing politics and drunken stupidity. It’s amazing how many ‘70s British punks looked either like ‘60s American hippies or Rick Wakeman on a bad facial hair day. The concert footage is great. The rest of the film isn’t. Don't waste your time unless your VCR has a very powerful fast forward.
The Runnin' Kind (video review) (Fox): This small-budget 1989 film is, in spirit, a recollection of the 1980-era L.A./Hollywood punk scene. On the surface it's a standard coming-of-age comedy appealing to an audience who thinks punks are wild freaks ("Girl punkers, wild sex, weekend binges and run-ins with the law"), but it's written with an affection for the characters and is populated by real L.A. scenesters. Rodney Bingenheimer, the fifth Monkee, provides a cameo, and El Duce appears as a drunk after-hours club patron. Some stretch there! Here's his lines, shot as a tight close-up, "Whores! They're all whores! Evil little decadent little monsters. Ain't nuthin' I like better than finding me a piece of loose ass. Shakin' that booty I love a... (then an arm collars him and pulls him away)". Dollars to bourbon the Duce wrote his own lines.
Plot: Joey, a rich preppie from Shaker Heights, serendipitously visits a punk club and is intrigued by the free spirits he meets. He meets Thunder, a drummer, and she asks him to go with her to Los Angeles. Feeling bored in his life he runs off to Hollywood, finds Thunder, and becomes the friend and manager of an all-female country-punk band. PG-rated hi-jinx ensue, he meets the local characters, learns what life is about, and has a lot of fun.
There's no real antagonist to Joey's protagonist - this is just a pleasant story about nice people living their lives and dreaming their dreams. It doesn't add up to much - the script is obvious, the acting is sincere but average, and the production values are ‘70s television quality - but The Runnin' Kind is a fun little itsy bitsy love letter from Producer, Writer and Director Max Tash, who you know had to have been a member of L.A.'s punk club scene a decade earlier. It doesn't try to be more than it is, and that's good. The scene with El Duce takes place in the legendary Zero Club, where Duce was said to have swept up at night in exchange for his binge drinking. There's a scene at Raji's and enough show flyers, ripped punk t-shirts and foot-high mohawks for any punk to see this movie is their friend.
As far as the actors go, Steve Eckholdt, Joey's preppie friend, is now in the TV show "It's Like, You Know..."; Pleasant Gehman and Rosie Flores were in the Screaming Sirens and are still big in their scenes; Joe Wood had something to do with TSOL; Brie Howard is a major studio percussionist who’s toured with everyone (I swear she's in the Joe Jackson live video I recently reviewed); Juliette Lewis went on to be the major air-head she is today; James Cromwell used this role as a bridge between "Stretch" on "All In The Family" and The Babe movies; and legendary Susan Strasberg performs a huge favor for a friend by showing up.
If you're looking to be entertained by a good coming-of-age movie, I'd recommend any 1980's John Cusack movie over The Runnin’ Kind. Still, if you love punk movies like I do, this is worth looking for.
- All You Need Is Cash (video review): Punk
reference at the end, kids!
Predating This Is Spinal Tap by a quarter of twenty years, Eric Idle's The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash is a hoot even for non-fans like me. It's hard to escape The Beatles, lord knows I've tried, so even I knew which songs were being cleverly mixed-and-matched for a brilliant send-up of the Fab Four by the Pre-Fab Four.
At 76 minutes it doesn't drag and it features Idle, Michael Palin, Bill Murray, Gilda Radner, Dan Akroyd, John Belushi, Mick & Bianca Jagger, Ron Wood, Franken and Davis, and even George Harrison.
Fans and non-fans alike should appreciate this film. It's loving yet abusive. The John Lennon character marries Hitler's daughter and their animated film is called "Yellow Submarine Sandwich". The official site is here.
When the Rutles break up Dirk (Paul McCartney) forms Punk Floyd. He mocks Sid Vicious with an oversize safety pin through his nose. The camera then pulls back to reveal a huge safety pin through his head. He even walks and spits like Squidney. Duh-hurrrrr!
Update! "Squidney" refers to the old joke "What has eight arms and kills its girlfriend?”
The Screamers – live in San Francisco Sept 2nd 1978 (dvd review): I never really “got” The Screamers (Got Screamers?) until I watched this DVD transfer of a 1978 concert video from the legendary Target Video empire of Joe Rees. Never formally recorded, the circulated demos’ prominent feature is an annoying hum while the band is mushily represented in the background as loud, fast and noisy. Here, in seven live songs and five Target Studio performances you see the intersection of underground art and hardcore punk, and the results are mind-blowing. We’ll never know what they were capable of in a recording studio but this Screamers DVD is a substantive and exhilarating documentation of what they did and how well they did it.
Half of their appeal was their visual presentation, not theatrical per say but fun to watch and intrinsically bizarre. They were fronted by the charismatic and intensively focused Tomata Du Plenty (born David Harrigan so his stage name should have been Tomato O'Plenty), a young looking thirty back in 1978. He was an early member of The Cockettes and other aggressive theatrical troupes, and that gonzo energy is on display as he sings, dances, gesticulates and stares through the audience into the dark abyss. Main songwriter and co-synth player Tommy Gear looked mean and disinterested at the same time – the perfect look for a synth punk band. On drums was Hollywood Production Designer K.K. Barrett, and he deserves a solid half of the musical credit as he alternated drumming in both the post-punk style generally associated with Wire and the hardcore pounding of his Los Angeles contemporaries. The second synth changed hands and on this date it’s being steered by Paul Roessler as he dances in place.
On the surface there’s a debt to Suicide as the confrontational founders of the synth punk genre, but instead of Alan Vega’s physical aggressiveness you have Du Plenty’s insane focus on his character (if it is one). He also made Steve Albini look husky so that might have kept him honest. Just on the level of feel another debt might go to Danny Elfman’s Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo. The Screamers songs are art hardcore, changing shape but always staying loud, melodic, thrashing and interesting to follow to see where it leads. The seven live tracks are “122 Hours Of Fear”, “Vertigo”, “Last 4 Digits”, “Magazine Love”, “Beat Goes On”, “Punish Or Be Damned” and Better World”. The last two were my favorites, especially the happy spazz dance Du Plenty did throughout “Punish Or Be Damned”. The studio clips are for “!22 Hours Of Fear”, two versions of “Vertigo”, “Magazine Love” and “Punish Or Be Damned”, the latter filmed playing on an old B&W television.
The Screamers might be considered unrecorded but it’s great that The Screamers – live in San Francisco Sept 2nd 1978 exists. It’s the next best thing and it’s proof of how great they were both live and as songwriters and performers. This is beyond great to legendary.
Scumrock (movie review): Some reviews write themselves……………..ok, it’s been three hours and nothing’s happened, so it’s up to me to finish. Director Jon Moritsugu made a 1990 film I liked called My Degeneration, starring his wife Amy Davis, who co-wrote and held the camera for 2002’s Scum Rock. This one’s really bad. Not good bad but bad bad. It sucks bad, but is a bad suck better than no suck at all? Scumrock and I should have remained casual acquaintances. What’s the film about? 79 minutes too long. You can see it for free on YouTube. I dare you watch the whole thing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VBRVMQJ3wAM
There’s a conspiracy of hipster douchbaggery transpiring when you read these kinds of reviews. There’s nothing meta, subversive, counter-intuitive or post-dada situationist about Scumrock. It’s garbage. I could do better than this, and my movie would stink beyond repair. A toaster pastry could do better. Its only virtue is that the “actors” don’t try to act but read their lines as naturally as they picture themselves doing so in real life. Since they’re tentative the readings come out muted, but real life conversations are as often languid as not.
The 8mm digital camera does everything but get kicked into a dumpster. A broken clock is right twice a day, so every so often a decent angle or shot comes out, but if the camera is the viewer’s POV, it's on mushrooms and speed. The script was probably an outline at best, and I assume some actors were allowed to make up their own lines and scenes. There’s no master plan, no cohesiveness, and it took me a while to figure out there’s major plots, one involving a bitch and her band, the other about the lead singer from TV On The Radio making a no-budget art film that needs a scene with boobies to make it work. The never-seen boobies belong to the only natural talent in the production, Courtney Stephens. An image I’ll have to have electro-shocked from my brain is of the tall hipster guy wearing loose Daisy Duke denim shorts..
Amy Davis plays Roxxy, lead singer for The Puerto Ricans, a Scumrock band I guess, since I don’t think the word comes up in the film. She interacts once with Courtney’s character in the opening, asking for the time and complimenting her hair in that intimidating punk rock way punks have. Courtney is the producer of the art film, which never gets made because making films is a hassle. There’s a third plot about a few stoners and one of them has a lone nut, but it’s developed even less than the major plots and isn’t a sub-plot at all. Never mind. With all these characters and separate plot lines, Scumrock is like a Robert Altman film, in that they both fall into the category of “cinema”. When people with marginal talent are lead to believe everything they do falls under the protection of some awesome art theory, they’ll often produce crap like Scumrock. Crap which wins the 2003 New York Underground Film Festival because, hey, that must be some kinda crapfest going on in NYC. Just think what didn't make the final cut!
The film’s logrolling supporters extol its virtues like it’s a real film and not the lazy effort of people who stopped caring once they decided to make it in the first place. The fabricated user comment on IMDB opens with “Moritsugu and Amy Davis, in their fun-loving, intellectual hybrid continue to jab at normality while appealing to the alienated and outcast. They have been and continue to be one of the real counter cultural alternatives to any sort of traditional, Hollywood film-making style.” They say you can’t make this stuff up, but in this case a friend of theirs did.
Here’s a few songs from the soundtrack: "Students For Scarves And Charm (JQ version)" by Casiotone For The Painfully Alone, "Prizefighter" by The Molly Bolts, "I'm Bored A Lot" by Camelot, "Stars Are Exploding" by J Church and "Scumrock Theme" by Toni Ann. The songs get played when characters walk down the street or through fields, after hearing the director scream from a distance “Just walk around doing stuff and I’ll film you walking around doing stuff.” There’s a band referred to as “The Wastoids”, spoken as “Waste-Oids”. As it’s spelled it should be pronounced “Wast-oids”, you idiots! OK, I’ll stop now.
Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll (dvd review): 2010’s biopic on handi-capable singer Ian Dury is visually stunning and brilliantly acted, yet also bogged down in domestic drama and a run-time of 115 minutes. In a biography you expect the main character to be on screen pretty much all the time and the story to be basically his (or hers! I just took my annual two hour class on sexual harassment). Even more so in Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll where method actor Andy Serkis is given supernatural powers to bend time and reality in the service of telling his story. He’s like Joel Grey in Cabaret as the host for an evening of entertainment for damned souls, with a dash of Benny Hill and Ivor Biggun sprinkled in. The film suffers from too many scenes with other characters looking at and talking to each other. The son’s development is a nice sub-plot but there's too much other stuff going on.
Director Mat Whitecross integrates varying film stocks, color grading, animations and archived footage in a dizzying and masterful opening marathon lasting ten minutes. An entire film of psychedelic freakout wouldn’t work so he then alternates standard storytelling with art school numbnuttery – the former weighing down my eyelids and the latter lifting them up. A happy medium throughout might have kept my interest but the highs are way up there and I’ll remember them much longer than the down times.
For my taste the story wasn’t committed enough to Dury’s music career so I forwarded through as much of the blinking and talking scenes as I could. As such I wasn’t able to determine if they were presenting Ian as a right bastard or an angry muse of righteous aggression. My scorecard came up a tie.
The Shane MacGowan Story: If I Should Fall From Grace (dvd review): Sadly what starts as an substantial piece of anthropological journalism ends a messy and incomplete summation of Shane MacGowan’s life and career. The setup is impressive but I’m guessing a constantly drunk and mumbling lead subject and the necessity to focus on the details of his music career quickly depleted the fuel of what’s a fascinating story of a stranger in a strange land, in this case a rebellious Irishman growing up in England during the thick of The Troubles. He punked up traditional Irish folk music as an act of pride which blazed more than a few trails in the punk rock forest. It’s hard to say if The Shane MacGowan Story is a cautionary tale on the toll of decades of hardcore drinking and drug use. You’d think it would by default since Shane’s state is either brain damaged or drunk to that point, but the arts has a soft spot for creative geniuses who take active roles in their own degradation.
A co-production of the Irish TV channel TG4 and The Irish Film Board, The Shane McGowan Story has full access to Shane, his parents, his aunt, and his enabler/girlfriend Victoria Clarke, who should be played by Elisabeth Shue when they film this version of Leaving Las Vegas. She’s the arts version of the nutty women who fall in love with death row inmates. You don’t realize she’s satisfied with Shane’s walking corpse lifestyle until the end, and you wish you’d known sooner so you can spit every time she appears on screen. Their apartment is filthy. Shane’s father is disgusted his son is a degenerate alcoholic and his mom’s most likely just happy he’s still alive. The film doesn’t answer the question of if Shane is brain damaged or just an alcoholic. It should have.
The film initially approaches Shane MacGowan as not the sole focus but a person of interest to an Irish audience settling in for a night of television. He’s an Irish boy living in the despised England who celebrates his native culture and also shoves it in the face of the Brits. The opening scenes in either Ireland or the Irish sections of England are rich in context, and I’m thinking it’s going to be miles above the normal musician bio. That tone would have been fantastic for its entire 110 minutes, extended not by lesser interviews but complete videos and songs in concert. Maybe that storyline quickly became moot.
The film’s presentation of MacGowan’s music career is serviceable. Shane has a lot to say but it’s hard to understand his mumbling, and his brain is pickled. I still can’t get over the idea of being fired by your own band. A better film on Shane MacGowan needs to be made. This starts off well but ends with a toothless mumble.
The Shield Around The K: The Story Of K Records (video review): This 2000 documentary on Olympia, WA indie label K Records doesn’t stink as much as it’s not very good. A shame because the subject deserves better, and it could have worked if more thought and planning went into it. It evades the basic rules of journalism and documentary filmmaking to present an incomplete timeline of the career of Beat Happening, with sidebars added for flavor and context. Interviews are squandered on he said/she said and “oh yeah, I remember” trivia, and there’s no bigger picture than whatever is on the screen. Now there’s a chance a better film won’t ever be made because this is, as Bill McNeal hated admitting, adequate.
Maybe The Shield Around The K was meant to be no more than a walk down memory lane for Olympia indie scenesters, and as such it can’t fail because a goodly number of original participants are on screen in what’s definitely fancier than a home movie. It tries to be more, at least in the proto-K opening, but the absence of an outline and mission statement cripple its chances. A documentary has to do two things right: seamlessly answer the Five W’s of who, what, where, when, how, and why, and also present a winning argument there's a larger meaning and importance. Everything has to combine to say this is big and worthy of your time. Jean Smith of Mecca Normal is on screen throughout to be sarcastic, flighty and improvise unfunny comedy. Not knowing she’s a small “g” lo-fi inde goddess I wondered why this snarky person was given so much time. It would help greatly to be in lurve with K Records to make it through its 1:25 running time, bulked up with full performances when samples would have kept things moving. I like Beat Happening and Lo-Fi well enough, so I was looking forward to a good time. If The Cramps were 1950’s beatniks they’d be Beat Happening.
Writer/Director Heather Rose Dominic had access to soft-spoken Calvin Johnson yet didn’t make him the charismatic center of the film as he was the center of K Records and the local scene. She interviews Ira Robbins of The Trouser Press and zine kingpin Jack Rabid, yet Rabid says little while Robbins churns out vague memories and cursory opinions. Johnson should have been the tour guide of local lore with Robbins and Rabid providing the bigger picture. I wanted to know more about the “hipster punk rocker types” vs. the lo-fi college kids from Evergreen State College, where there are no grades, no tests, no required courses and no tenured professors. I pray one day my heart surgeon isn't an Evergreen grad. Shoulda coulda woulda, that’s all I have to say!
A fun story from the film is how K started as a DIY label with the motto of the “Cassette Revolution”. When the first Beat Happening single came out someone asked Calvin about the slogan, and his reply was “Didn’t you hear? We Won!” The woman who stood on her guitar and kicked and scraped the strings with her shoes is also noteworthy. They should have asked her what that was all about. Dominic had access to everything she needed, from participants to videos and concert footage – she just didn’t know what to do with them.
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