the VICE subsidiary NOISEY which produces content on its YOUTUBE channel dedicated to largely underground aspects of global MUSICAL CULTURE did a deep dive a few years ago with their seven-part series NOLA: LIFE DEATH & HEAVY BLUES FROM THE BAYOU (NOISEY, 2014) into the origins and legacy of SLUDGE METAL and its LOUISIANA origins.
in essence this series investigated specifically that music of DOWN members and proud LOUISIANANS JIMMY BOWER (EYEHATEGOD), KIRK WINDSTEIN (CROWBAR), PEPPER KEENAN (CORROSION OF CONFORMITY), and PHIL ANSELMO (PANTERA, SUPERJOINT RITUAL) as well as members of ACID BATH and GOATWHORE among others. in essence these musicians were heavily influenced by their surroundings. rural living and laid back southern vocal affectations manifested in rhythm tempos that were decidedly relaxed and slower in cadence. this tempo shift is in direct opposition to the concurrent strains of THRASH METAL and DEATH METAL that took place in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s. in case you find this a little jarring, its important to consider that JAZZ, another LOUSIANA contribution to the AMERICAN musical tradition, was rooted in the STORYVILLE red light district of NEW ORLEANS where musicians would shift their tempos to the rhythms of a brothel's occupants in lieu of securing a tip.
SLUDGE METAL is a thick, brutal METAL sub-genre which traces its roots to bands like THE MELVINS (from rural WASHINGTON state) and particular BLACK SABBATH (famously from the industrial wasteland of the MIDLANDS in ENGLAND), but it is hard to argue that it found a true home in LOUISIANA. again, interesting to see how landscape, location and even linguistics impact art and music. when you consider that SLUDGE METAL has influenced the likes of the even more extreme and sonically stretched-out explorations of modern DRONE METAL and POST METAL which revel in the nuances and textures of space and distortion, it is intriguing to consider what spices have been added to that gumbo. who knows where its all heading next which is pretty exciting.
in summation, this documentary is well-constructed and worthy of further investigation if you are so inclined.
any discussion of MILES DAVIS is bound to be complicated as the man is an icon of 20th century western culture on par with ANDY WARHOL, IGOR STRAVINSKY ERNEST HEMINGWAY, JOHN LENNON or PABLO PICASSO. at the height of his powers, his music was just that transcendent and untouchable, yet ironically accessible and meaningful to the layperson.
the STANLEY NELSON JR-directed documentary MILES DAVIS: BIRTH OF THE COOL (FIRELIGHT, 2020) is a capable attempt at presenting his story, which itself is the story of AMERICA and all its enduring idealistic optimism and gut-wrenching failings. in DAVIS you have a supremely gifted musician who could hold his own with the best of the BEBOP era (i.e. CHARLIE PARKER and DIZZY GILLESPIE) yet made his mark as a composer and bandleader that reached his heights via creating space for collaborators to shine (GIL EVANS, JOHN COLTRANE, WAYNE SHORTER, HERBIE HANCOCK, etc). at the same time he was domineering and abusively violent to the women in his life. he forced his wife FRANCIS TAYLOR DAVIS to withdraw during rehearsals from the broadway debut of WEST SIDE STORY. think about that. he forced her because he thought her role was as a housewife and couldn't stand that others could appreciate her and give her attention. at the same time he celebrated her beauty by forcing COLUMBIA RECORDS to place a picture of his wife FRANCIS on various album covers (instead of white models). very interesting and totally contradictory. he was a deeply damaged person who utilized music, as the film argues, to relay a sense of vulnerability he couldnt present in real life.
and that is where race comes into the picture as a major theme. for me the most compelling point of examination was how race intersected with his career. two particularly poignant moments are 1) his return from FRANCE after touring there in the mid 1940s and 2) getting bludgeoned by racist cops in NYC outside a venue bearing his name shortly after the release of KIND OF BLUE (COLUMBIA, 1959).
with the former he experienced a level of respect and mutual admiration never received stateside. in PARIS he found himself speaking with the likes of JULIETTE GRECO, PABLO PICASSE, JEAN-PAUL SARTRE and others as equals. returning stateside left him depressed and ultimately into the warm embrace of heroin addiction.
the idea that even after gaining the critical recognition and mass-audience admiration for his seminal record work, that he would be beat up in NYC for being black is just so depressing. it seems in the UNITED STATES that whatever your talents, in the end you are still judged by your skin tone. nothing has changed in the intervening years, seems with the advance of TRUMP that level of bigotry is only more out in the moment now.
MILES DAVIS was flawed. severely so. but his music is renowned for its singular soothing voice which relays a way of being that seems possible yet just out of reach. it is the music of possibilities. he was an innovator that will be remembered as such, though by the likes of this film, it would seem if he were among us now he'd not be concerned with past accomplishments and accolades and be fully investigating and seeking out new challenges.
with today's technology its interesting to think of what he could have achieved moving forward.
the no frills documentary MY CAREER AS A JERK (WE GOT POWER FILMS, 2012) is very much a basic run through of the career of HARDCORE legends THE CIRCLE JERKS with a focus on their wild, kinetic frontman KEITH MORRIS. included are grainy live performance footage from nearly every incarnation of the band as well as interviews with MORRIS and past CIRCLE JERKS bandmates GREG HETSON, LUCKY LEHRER, EARL LIBERTY and ZANDER SCHLOSS as well as contemporaries of the 80s HARDCORE scene like HENRY ROLLINS (BLACK FLAG), J MASCIS (DEEP WOUND, DINOSAUR JR), BRIAN BAKER (MINOR THREAT, DAG NASTY) and GREG GRAFFIN (BAD RELIGION).
i dont want to say that this film was a cash grab, but in terms of its editing and overall narrative cohesion it is a bit uneven. at no point did i get a sense of what made them special relative to their peers or their contributions to the 80s HARDCORE scene other than that they existed. instead we are given a behind the scenes at tensions within the band and the immense risk involved in maintaining a HARDCORE band longterm. that was my big takeaway at least. in a fluid musical scene in which its members prided themselves on being spontaneous and in the moment, any type of longevity in such a combustible environment with their credibility still intact is an accomplishment in and of itself. maybe the point of this film was to answer fans why a CIRCLE JERKS reunion in the 2010s was not in the cards as MORRIS was very much pursuing his work in OFF!, which very much stands up to his catalogue with gusto.
if you are completist than this film is worth your time, otherwise i would implore you to consider reading MORRIS' stellar MY DAMAGE: THE STORY OF A PUNK ROCK SURVIVOR (DA CAPO, 2016) memoir instead (review linked HERE).
TRICKY DICK AND THE MAN IN BLACK (ALL RISE FILMS, 2018) follows the path of COUNTRY MUSIC icon JOHNNY CASH and "pun intended" the line he walked between the political fracas that defined the VIETNAM WAR era.
i think CASH's place in the pantheon of AMERICAN CULTURE is fully secure in part due to his sharing of the spotlight in the late 1960s on his namesake television show where he introduced MIDDLE AMERICA to songwriters and voices they may not have been familiar with or had negative opinions about: artists like JONI MITCHELL, BOB DYLAN, NEIL YOUNG, RAY CHARLES, LINDA RONSTADT and PETE SEEGER. the generosity that showed endeared him to the growing counterculture and FOLK movements that were then emerging, but make no mistake, the man himself was the very embodiment of the heartland and all that entails.
the main narrative of this documentary follows RICHARD NIXON's troubled presidency as he continues the unpopular war he inherited and expands it into CAMBODIA as a way of taking the fight to the NORTH VIETNAMESE ARMY and the VIETCONG. famously, NIXON rose to power through the notorious SOUTHERN STRATEGY that saw him adopt the politics of grievance and adeptly exploited racial divisions. this strategy is still very much a part of REPUBLICAN sloganeering to this day. what NIXON saw with his rise was a cultural chasm between the unbridled optimism of the newly politically and economically empowered youth culture of the BABY BOOMERS (now a voting bloc) who listened to BRITISH INVASION rock bands from the UNITED KINGDOM as well as homegrown acolytes alike.
he saw this as a threat. famously he harassed JOHN LENNON through deportation threats and others he saw as agitators that could potential galvanize the youth against him. enter CASH whom he invited to the WHITE HOUSE to play a concert in support. CASH at this point was in the uncomfortable position of not wanting to appear to support NIXON explicitly while also feeling a patriotic obligation to appear when you are called by your country, in this case the commander-in-chief himself.
the climax of this respectful interaction as his playing of his song "WHAT IS TRUTH" which addressed in its lyrics war, drug addiction, intergenerational differences and the use of politics as a tool for the institutional mistreatment of minorities. all this with NIXON in attendance. a few weeks later WATERGATE happened and NIXON was later removed from office, but that moment became a a part of the CASH legacy and gained him credence with AMERICANS of every stripe.
watching this film, you can see the beginnings of bifurcated cultural divide that separates RED from BLUE, RURAL from SUBURBAN. for a moment CASH was able to walk that line with grace. something we are missing at this political moment indeed.
i spent a year in JAPAN teaching secondary ENGLISH at a BRITISH curriculum international school. it was an intense experience, partly because i was being schooled on the IB SYSTEM as i was teaching it. i had been abroad for years at that point, but JAPAN was the first time i truly felt isolated. not isolated out of want or need for something material, but socially it was pretty brutal. when i left a year later for MYANMAR it wasn't a difficult departure.
when decompressing after my work day in my apartment at night i would often sit idly and meditate, sometimes listening to JAZZ. for me COLTRANE, as well as THELONIOUS MONK, were my preferred co-conspirators. you just put it on and you were elevated to a plane above consciousness. it helped me because being alone in a foreign country you are cognizant of being watched and judged and especially being a teacher, you are hyper-aware of how you communicate. that thinking part of my brain was hard to shut off. from my personal experience, COLTRANE is intertwined with my experiences experiencing JAPAN.
until i watched the recent documentary CHASING TRANE (CREW NECK, 2016), i was wholly unaware of his reverence for JAPAN and their suffering, as well as the fact that his final tour was there as well. for me that seems fitting just because his music transmits a deep well of experience and emotion underneath a cool exterior that is inviting yet alien. you feel as if he is a shaman transporting you to a new level of consciousness. very similar to my exploration of zen meditation at the time.
the documentary itself is a fairly dry, yet faithful and loving ode to the JAZZ musician by his immediate family, friends and colleagues including SONNY ROLLINS, JIMMY HEATH, REGGIE WORKMAN, BENNY GOLSON and admirers like CARLOS SANTANA, CORNELL WEST, BILL CLINTON. his voice is played by celebrated actor DENZEL WASHINGTON.
a big theme is the spiritual nature of his music which is rooted in his formative experiences in NORTH CAROLINA where he was the grandson of two ministers. despite the fact that by age 12 most of the older generation (including his father) had all unexpectedly and tragically passed over a 2 year period, he carried on with an inner strength and resilience that followed him his whole life. helped him kick heroin and keep his focus on music and being a good father and husband. an incredible observation made in the film was his ability to utilize vocal phrasing patterns in his soloing, most notably in ALABAMA released after the BIRMINGHAM bombings in the late 60s which were partly based on MARTIN LUTHER KING's rhetorical stylings. traveling to NAGASAKI for a concert he was similarly glued to his flute in an attempt to transpose the rhythm of JAPAN for his later composition "PEACE ON EARTH."
it is always a pleasant surprise when life and art dovetail. now the connection between COLTRANE and JAPAN is set in my mind.
listen to the man's music. that's all i can advocate. it transcends speech, thought and hits to the core of life itself.
THE STOOGES were a primal, feral outfit out of DETROIT that by all accounts imploded and failed. except they didnt. calling them arguably the greatest ROCK AND ROLL is not hyperbole, they are the truth. luckily i got to see them back in the early 2000s at JONES BEACH when IGGY POP reunited with the ASHETON BROTHERS (and MIKE WATT filled in for the deceased DAVE ALEXANDER). they sounded ferocious and i still consider that night a gift.
the JIM JARMUSCH-directed documentary GIMME DANGER (MAGNOLIA PICURES, 2016) attempts to harness and present what made this lightning-in-a-bottle group of misfits so special, complete with rare footage and interviews with various members, both living and deceased (RIP RON & SCOTT ASHTON, STEVE MACKAY & DAVE ALEXANDER). what is so interesting about their career is that their three albums were all commercial failures and by the time RAW POWER (COLUMBIA, 1973) was released the members had largely fallen back into obscurity, exception obviously being IGGY.
what JARMUSCH does a great job through his editing is present a narrative that is largely focused on the main members and not just IGGY. there are several clever animations that drive home their humble MICHIGAN roots and the lengths at which they foot to exist.
watching this i cant help but think back to discussions we had at DEER GOD when our recording studio was up and running about the nature of great records. my feeling was that it was all about the listener, how they completed a cycle initiated by the artist. that feel, intention and some weird alchemy has to happen that transcends sound quality and production values. THE STOOGES are prime examples of such. RAW POWER is famous for its horrible mix but the songs transcend because they make you feel something.
i'm happy to report that this documentary provides some contest on the members but ultimately showcases their ability to produce music live that connects and elevates their audience to a higher plane. and i can't put my finger on how, it just is. if it was a formula with a checklist, believe me some studio rat wouldve figured it out by now. would've been a plugin for that by now.
the stooges are the real deal and i couldn't recommend this documentary even more strongly.
its funny with JOE STRUMMER and THE CLASH i have kept at arms length. i am familiar with their catalogue and enjoy it but i always considered them a bit of an anomaly in terms of early PUNK ROCK. to my ears they were a bit slick and rather contrived. they sang about "LONDON'S BURNING" but the music seemed contained and under control, unlike say "ANARCHY IN THE UK" by the SEX PISTOLS which i can easily see as the soundtrack to LONDON burning to the ground. i also never knew what to make of their global ambitions, infusing their sound with rhythms and lyrics dedicated to rebel groups and liberation struggles in faraway lands. all seemed very colonialist to me. maybe its the fact that my grandmother is ENGLISH and is convinced they gave the world "culture." maybe THE CLASH and STRUMMER in particular hit that blindspot of mine and just didn't come off convincing.
how pleasantly shocking it was when viewing JULIEN TEMPLE's crafty documentary JOE STRUMMER: THE FUTURE IS UNWRITTEN (FILMFOUR, 2007) to learn that this iconic frontman was, in fact, the son of a left-leaning BRITISH diplomat and grew up the world over. he was born in TURKEY and lived in places like MEXICO, IRAN, ZIMBABWE, INDIA throughout his childhood. this coupled with surviving ENGLAND's notoriously draconian boarding school culture makes me question my assumptions about the man. probably because they mirror my own experiences growing up abroad and surviving boarding school (ha!). seems maybe he was genuine in his affinity for world culture after all.
also the man knew about suffering. the isolation of boarding school didnt come without consequences and his brother's suicide makes quick note of such. i think before i knew his backstory, i always saw STRUMMER as a culture opportunist. someone who fiddled with folk and hippiedom only to find PUNK ROCK as a vehicle for his ambitions that maybe didn't align perfectly with their dictum for nihilism and and anarchy. what this documentary show me was that in fact PUNK ROCK served as a key to unlocking his ability to take his expansive knowledge of how the world actually functioned and hold a mirror up to it in a way none of his contemporaries could. he wasn't interested in destruction but rather the deconstruction of the forces and systems that manipulate human behavior en masse. that same process can also be said to his own persona, having to strip everything back clear his identity by discarding his past associates and previous community of supporters, including THE 101ers. this new order was extremist and fanatical in nature.
for these reasons PUNK ROCK for him was that ideal vehicle, its direct messaging and fiercely confrontational, often polemical stance in relation to BRITAIN's strained relationship with the world and itself. "england's dreaming" as JOHNNY ROTTEN put it.
on a purely cinematic level, i think the way TEMPLE constructed this film was particularly ingenious. the film is essentially a campfire vigil/gathering of sorts along the banks of the RIVER THEMES across from downtown LONDON with fans, colleagues and peers relating their experiences with the man as they listen to him over the radio airwaves on the BBC WORLD SERVICE. in essence it is is a representation of how his music is what continues to bind them all. his message and his music is his legacy. its a very eloquent conceit rooted in his later life ritual of embracing campfires as a means of connecting with others. to use that as an organizing principle in a film is a novel approach which i havent seen utilized before. all talking participants were also unaccredited, another ingenious choice by TEMPLE meant to draw focus on their words. these include family members, musicians such as STEVE JONES (SEX PISTOLS), MICK JONES (THE CLASH), PAUL SIMONON (THE CLASH), BOBBY GILLESPIE (PRIMAL SCREAM), FLEA (RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS), ANTHONY KEIDIS (RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS), and BONO (U2), actors STEVE BUSCEMI, JOHNNY DEPP, MATT DILLON, JOHN CUSACK, artists BOB GRUEN and DAMIEN HIRST as well as directors JIM JARMUSCH, MARTIN SCORSESE and DON LETTS.
as much as i hate giving BONO any credit, he probably has the quote of the film when he states, and im paraphrasing here, that the legacy of JOE STRUMMER and THE CLASH was that at a moment in the late 1970s ideas trumped guitar solos in rock and roll, which provided an entry point for musicians across the world to pick up an instrument. virtuosity was not a requirement to become a viable band, just three chords and the truth as they say. not a bad legacy in the least and id argue THE CLASH more than held up their end of the bargain on providing "the truth."
well executed, cutting documentary on a PUNK ROCK icon that be should of interest to anyone interested in the subject.
the story of MUSCLE SHOALS (EAR GOGGLES, 2013) is the kind of thing that only happens in AMERICA. its a total anomaly. deep in the heart of JIM CROW south during the very period of national transformation surrounding the civil rights movement you have a small unassuming recording studio that punched far above its weight. in fact, the music it produced has for many defined 1960s R&B with hit singles for CHESS RECORDS and ATLANTIC RECORDS from seminal black artists like ARETHA FRANKLIN, PERCY SLEDGE, WILSON PICKETT, ETTA JAMES among others.
all music is bigger than the sum of its parts, and there is a certain alchemy when all those parts work in tandem mysteriously to produce gold. that was the case with producer RICK HALL and his studio musicians "THE SWAMPERS," all unassuming locals from humble beginnings in rural ALABAMA. that chemistry between these white players is what set them apart as a unit and in league with other studio collectives such as THE WRECKING CREW and THE FUNK BROTHERS.
the documentary largely kept its focus on the individual stories of RICK HALL and THE SWAMPERS, but it would have been interesting to get their opinion about what it meant to have such transgressive music produced in a state that rejected the very humanity of the black artists that created it. i mean, they lived through the reign of terror of GEORGE WALLACE, the vocal segregationist governor of ALABAMA in the 1960s. it is such an interesting situation that seems should have been explored further. a huge letdown and missed opportunity if you ask me.
instead we learn that RICK HALL and THE SWAMPERS split over money, basically having two rival studios (FAME STUDIOS & MUSCLE SHOALS SOUND) in the same town, producing countless famous records in the process by the likes of THE ROLLING STONES, TRAFFIC, BOB DYLAN, LYNYRD SKYNYRD, SIMON & GARFUNKEL, etc.
for me this documentary works best when it speaks about the nature of creativity and the art of listening. as musicians, THE SWAMPERS and RICK HALL had a gift for listening to their artist and determining what sound would work well for them. they were not imposing anything, in fact they were trying to be as transparently and authentically behind the artist as possible.
MUSCLE SHOALS is definitely worth checking out if you have any interest in AMERICAN music or recording studios in general. a must watch.
i was back stateside a few months after this documentary came out. i can't remember if it was the summer after i finished teaching in VENEZUELA or JAPAN, but anyway i was in NYC when a relative of mine called. i'll spare mentioning this relative's name, only to state that she works in the film industry and has overseen various famous soundtracks. she called and asked if i was available later that day to attend an NPR interview at LINCOLN CENTER where they were interviewing members of THE SWAMPERS for a new unreleased documentary on MUSCLE SHOALS. she also asked if i was familiar with MUSCLE SHOALS to which i replied that they were like the equivalent of THE FUNK BROTHERS and THE WRECKING CREW, all being famous studio musician collectives. she didn't respond to those names.
i get to the NPR thing which was being recorded for a later national broadcast and within 10 minutes one of the musicians was talking about THE FUNK BROTHERS and THE WRECKING CREW and their mutual respect for one another. points to me i guess.
one is asked about a recording session and the guy was unsure of the third song he recorded with THE ROLLING STONES, my relative asked me what it was and i said "wild horses" to which she immediately yelled in front of 500+ people "WILD HORSES!" and the guy was like "oh yeah, that's right, WILD HORSES."
i almost died. couldn't believe she did that. she turned to me and something along the lines of "i knew i brought you here for a reason." its funny, i only had a passing knowledge of what MUSCLE SHOALS was and i have no idea how i knew about that song since i am not a huge STONES fan. but anyway, now that i watched the film in earnest, i had to mention this related experience with the film.
its funny, i was always under the impression i was anti-third wave SKA. i saw LESS THAN JAKE and REEL BIG FISH at WARPED TOUR years ago with the crowd skanking in unison and thought it was all beyond corny and lame. both bands were like awful, parody versions of THE SPECIALS or MADNESS, bands i liked, respected and grew up listening to. also seemed that the political roots of the genre were replaced by silliness.
just running through in my mind all of the bands i like that i now realize were part of the wave included quite a variety of bands like OPERATION IVY, THE SLACKERS, DANCE HALL CRASHERS, THE AGGROLITES, THE SUICIDE MACHINES, FISHBONE, THE AQUABATS, SAVE FERRIS, THE INTERRUPTERS, GOLDFINGER and, of course, SUBLIME and NO DOUBT. guess i have to thank the recent documentary PICK IT UP! - SKA IN THE 90s (POPMOTION PICTURES, 2019) for setting me straight on that. so maybe i was a fan all along and didnt know it.
the documentary not only chronicles the history of SKA from its JAMAICAN roots, but also conveys how its adoption by the PUNK ROCK community created a hybrid genre that bridged two communities who both had similar pre-existing self-sufficient, DIY ethos. many of the SKA bands refused to play shows that weren't all ages, over time changing how book agencies dealt with PUNK bands in general. most venues and promotes make their profits on alcohol and the fact that all these SKA bands had 8-10 players didn't make for a financially rewarding touring situation, especially with the decision to play all ages shows. just indicative of how inclusive the scene was initially and the ethos to nurture a supportive community. when it blew up in popularity everything changed (as expected).
i found it interesting that some bands saw the rise of NO DOUBT and SUBLIME as an answer to the psychological heaviness of GRUNGE and a reaction of sorts by the public to the death of KURT COBAIN. it's a similar rationale to the rise of bands like OASIS and BLUR in ENGLAND during the concurrent BRITPOP movement. i just never associated NIRVANA with paving the way for the rise of SKA bands, but now i have that connection.
like any bubble, it had its peak and then the market got saturated and the bottom fell out in the early 2000s. its the same old record industry story. the scene had effectively cannibalized itself as the fad grew in popularity. the public was SKA'd out. the documentary does a great job of showcasing global bands that have risen in the interim years in places like MEXICO, JAPAN and VENEZUELA among other places.
part of accepting this music is being open to it and its message of positive mindset and self-empowerment. at WARPED TOUR i obviously failed in that regard. but whats funny is that in college at RUTGERS i knew lots of classmates who were obsessed with this local band called STREETLIGHT MANIFESTO who werent silly or outrageous, but wrote upbeat songs about real-life. and what is not to like about that. all the bands i listed before, especially ones like THE AGGROLITES and THE SLACKERS, use the form as a means of expressing a wide range of emotions rooted in personal narratives and social realities. there is a core message there that is accessible. it also helps that their musicianship and song-craft are all top notch, but my feeling is that they are tapping into what SKA music historically was all about: messages of self-empowerment and community. for me that is the future of the genre, as much as i love the extreme cartoonish-ness of THE AQUABATS and their DEVO-inspired visuals.
HANK: FIVE YEARS FROM THE BRINK (RADICAL MEDIA, 2013) is a JOE BERLINGER (SOME KIND OF MONSTER, PARADISE LOST TRILOGY) directed documentary that allows former TREASURY SECRETARY HANK PAULSON, third under the GEORGE W. BUSH administration, to explain his response and process with regards to the 2008 financial crisis that defined his stewardship of the UNITED STATES' economy.
the format of this documentary is very much interview-based in the tradition of ERROL MORRIS, who famously is an off-camera interlocutor asking questions of his subject and challenging them. all we get is the subject's, here being PAULSON, reactions which serves as a light interrogation. this is intercut with archival footage. i appreciate this format because it very much leaves the focus of the narrative on that of the subject, not distracting side recreated events or first-person narrations. it forces the viewer to listen.
anyway, PAULSON very much says what you would expect: that the focus of TARP and propping up the banks and FANNIE MAE/FREDDIE MAC in the wake of the crisis was aimed at helping common people. he was direly afraid of a second depression, with bread lines and high unemployment. his wife gives testimony throughout about the physical tole these decisions had on him physically and mentally. i do not doubt it. i remember back then people called him "KING HANK" because he was given the power by congress to financially buttress the market however he saw fit, resulting ultimately in TARP.
he mentions the fact that all the money was made back and answered, ineffectively, longstanding critiques that the bailouts never matriculated down to the street level and that the banks merely profited off the kindness of the government's bailout. AMERICAN people always talk about "no risk-it, no biscuit" but what happens when you fail? average people loose homes. the wall street bankers got bonuses.
two points i found interesting.
i dont understand the reason for this film.
i do understand that since his untimely death in 1994 (when i was in elementary school) there has been a demand for material and content related to KURT COBAIN and NIRVANA as their enduring legacy continues to be that they are the last ROCK AND ROLL band of consequence of the last 30 years. the impetus for this immersive documentary, MONTAGE OF HECK (HBO FILMS, 2015) came about when COBAIN's daughter FRANCES BEAN became executor of his estate and commissioned BRETT MORGEN to direct it based on an inherited treasure trove of unreleased recordings and artwork left in the family's privately held archives.
that is not to say that the film is not visually arresting. as a constructed project, it is cleverly edited utilizing various art and nonart pieces from notebook scribblings and paintings to sculpture of his to create animations that draw home the point of his intense alienation throughout his life. it really makes the narrative come alive as his very words come alive.
but with all that being said, what was the point? what statement was this film attempting to make about COBAIN? watching this film felt uncomfortable since any NIRVANA fan knows the lengths to which COBAIN went to secure his privacy from the unforgiving, glaring eye of the media. especially post-VANITY FAIR article. this film is effectively a worst-case scenario for an artist that jealously controlled his band's public image. it doesn't seem a stretch that he would be rightly horrified by the publication of his tapes that were his sanctuary to experiment and hone his craft. as a fan, i don't need to hear it.
there was also numerous claims in the film that seemingly don't hold up to scrutiny by those who knew him at the time in Aberdeen (i.e. BUZZ OSBOURNE of THE MELVINS). key of which is the proposed sexual conquest of a mentally disabled girl by COBAIN in his late teens. the fact that such made it to print is reckless and wholly irresponsible as there is no way to corroborate such.
in my opinion, this film is an equal mistake to that of the publication of COBAIN's JOURNALS (RIVERHEAD BOOKS, 2003) which was heralded for its "transparency" with fans but in reality was just another cash grab 12 years earlier.
finally, after watching this i didn't feel like i new COBAIN any better. yest the home footage of him and COURTNEY LOVE with their infant daughter showcased their undeniable affection for one another and may be the only worthwhile inclusion in this well-produced yet innately hollow film.
i honestly wish i could unsee it. ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND this from my memory. it desecrates the memory of COBAIN and feels like an uncomfortable intrusion and needless debasement of his legacy. the fact that such a project originated with his immediate family just compounds the mistake. i dont question their right to pursue such, just the rationale.
leave the man alone. let him and his memory rest in peace.
as its pragmatic title entails, SALAD DAYS (NEW ROSE FILMS, 2014) is a comprehensive look back at the evolution and enduring cultural legacy of the WASHINGTON D.C. HARDCORE scene of the 1980s. utilizing interviews from both from members of countless participating bands as well as (interesting choice) scenesters of the period, you really get the sense about how an idea sparks a scene which sparks a movement and the implications of such. what blows my mind is that everything discussed was accomplished for the most part by a bunch of kids in their teens and early 20s. makes me wonder what ive accomplished.
at the essence of this whole scene is a strong DIY ethic. in the aftermath of the PUNK explosion of the late 1970s, there was a small group of like-minded teenagers in D.C. who listened to THE CRAMPS, IGGY POP and THE RAMONES and fought off redneck suburban kids attempting to beat them to a pulp for dressing different. this confrontational day-to-day existence manifested itself in a small scene of kids who picked up instruments and started bands. these bands developed to the point that a local record shop, in a very HIGH FIDELITY (TOUCHSTONE PICTURES, 2000) moment, helped them learn to record at a nearby studio with a producer and manufacture vinyl records. enter DISCHORD RECORDS.
at the hear to the scene is DISCHORD, which was essentially an excuse for IAN MCKAYE and JEFF NELSON to self-release and EP by their band THE TEEN IDLES. eventually the also released records by their friends and D.C. bands they thought people should hear. DISCHORD through MCKAYE's next band MINOR THREAT become well known and helps draw attention to the label's roster, which some complain sucks the oxygen out of non-DISCHORD affiliated INDIE and PUNK groups from the area. some of those bands even start their own labels like TEEN BEAT RECORDS and SIMPLE MACHINES.
as the scene gets bigger in the mid-80s through the increasing notoriety of the DISCHORD roster of bands (GOVERNMENT ISSUE, VOID, FAITH, S.O.A., etc), things begin to change. kids show up from the suburbs and shows become decidedly more violent. original bands grapple with the fact that these newcomers do not share their values. things get increasingly desperate as racist SKINHEADS and destitute DRUNK PUNK show up and reek havoc. all this while, again, most of the bands involved are barely in their 20s.
the scene begins to change as bands mature and get more introspective lyrically and experimental sonically. a new generation "emotional hardcore" bands become prominent like EMBRACE and RITES OF SPRING and which result in effectively challenging their audiences expectations. things also get more splintered as some bands get political as exemplified by the local outreach group POSITIVE FORCE who put on numerous shows as well as musical protests of the SOUTH AFRICAN embassy for its then-APARTHEID government. this came to be known as REVOLUTION SUMMER.
for some this new explicitly political focus through benefit shows and protests was pedantic at best and HIPPIE-ish at worst. it splintered the bands much as the STRAIGHT EDGE movement had done years before. STRAIGHT EDGE was a MINOR THREAT song about not needing intoxicants to have a good time, in fact not doing so gave them the "straight edge." people took MCKAYE's personal affirmation as dogma, as followers tend to do, and it created confusion amongst the scene about how people could act at shows. was drinking now bad?
through all the variations and misinterpretations of this scene, it seems the biggest impact was their intense DIY ethic and sense of community. in the end the idea of creating a scene from nothing showcases how empowering an idea such as PUNK ROCK can be. the democratizing of instruments to all levels of musician's most have been exhilarating when PUNK ROCK first came about.
my only grief is that the empowerment of the still relative dearth of prominent modern PUNK or INDIE bands that express the perspectives of minorities and those of the LGBTQIA community. watching this documentary cognizant of what came in its wake, it still feels like PUNK ROCK is a white boys club pissing on one another. the industry has changed but the players have not, no matter how woke they.
hopefully this next generation will take the cue from PUNK ROCK and empower themselves to advocate structural change moving forward. they'll have to do it themselves.
edited and directed by famed director CAMERON CROWE from a career's worth of footage culled from the archives of countless videographers and filmmakers, PJ20 (VINYL FIILMS, 2011) is the story of PEARL JAM a in essence a celebration of their then 20-year career.
in essence the story of PEARL JAM is the story of the independent music scene in SEATTLE, which grew from a small, intimate community of like-minded supportive musicians to absolute world dominance and probably the last major ROCK AND ROLL scene ever as well as the last cultural movement of the pre-internet age.
commentary from the likes of CHRIS CORNELL really brings into perspective the uncompetitive nature of the scene, as he gained much from sharing a place with ANDY WOOD, lead singer of MOTHER LOVE BONE. his death from a heroin overdose was a turning point in the scene as he was a vibrant source of energy and projected his enthusiasm for music and art on all those that came in his path. years later speaking about his passing still evokes sorrow and empathy from his former bandmates and friends.
it was his passing and the sudden demise of MOTHER LOVE BONE that marked the beginning of PEARL JAM as its members STONE GOSSARD and JEFF AMENT, also formerly of GREEN RIVER, created a demo that ultimately landed in the hands of EDDIE VEDDER.
much of this film gets into the challenge of maintaining an identity when the world around you changes their perception of you, as happened with VEDDER when PEARL JAM, along with other members of the SEATTLE scene (NIRVANA, SOUNDGARDEN, ALICE IN CHAINS, etc) became famous. dealing with stalkers as well as "punk rock guilt" for having success definitely affected the band up until they toured with NEIL YOUNG around the time of VITALOGY (EPIC, 1994).
in what i consider the most poignant part of the film, there is a taped message from YOUNG stating that when he read KURT COBAIN in a magazine state that he was having difficulty maintaining his authenticity and "keeping it real" in this circus-like environment, he wanted to tell COBAIN that he owed nothing to anybody and should cancel shows. after touring with YOUNG, PEARL JAM were affected by his mentorship and especially his opinions on fame. essentially YOUNG stays true to his muse and enjoys the ride, which sometimes finds him playing arenas and sometimes mid-sized or small theaters. but his integrity is intact.
there is also mention of the influence of COBAIN on PEARL JAM, which was essentially consider your choices (political, business, artistic) and own them. they took such in earnest moving forward after his passing and you can definitely see this influence in their stance against TICKETMASTER as well as VEDDER stating during the telecast that the GRAMMY his band just won had no meaning. they definitely kept it real. it also helped them in the wake of the ROSKILDE disaster, when they learned to say no. i can't imagine how heartbreaking that tragedy was for them, just horrific to think about.
like any retelling of an event or scene pre-internet and pre-SOCIAL MEDIA, many of these concepts related to "punk rock guilt" seem both antiquated and highly relevant in our digital age. antiquated because there is no more record industry, no more corporate ogre to sell out to anymore. yet absolutely relevant because the eye of digital media never sleeps and has probably only become more intense to musicians and pop stars in the age of TMZ and the modern security state. i would not wish to be famous these days, as the invasion of privacy quotient has gone up exponentially. fans are ever more obsessed and everyone is a self-appointed expert and has a blog(!) spouting their opinion into the ether.
PJ20 came out in 2011 but was filmed up until the touring behind the 2009 release of the BACKSPACER (MONKEYWRENCH, 2009) LP, which included jabs in concert at the outgoing BUSH ADMINISTRATION. i can't wait to see if they make PJ30 and what that portends about our current fall from grace. if anything, the past 10 years of AMERICAN history has dwarfed the corruption and lawlessness of the previous 200. interested in seeing how their past informs their longstanding advocacy of ENVIRONMENTAL concerns and REPRODUCTIVE rights, especially now in our collective doomed era of TRUMP.
can't wait for that sequel.
THE FALL was always the least approachable of what i consider, and i trust i am not alone here, the three great MANCUNIAN bands that arose in the wake of the PUNK movement (the others being JOY DIVISION and THE SMITHS). part of the reason for such was that i could never get my head around MARK E. SMITH, the leader and sole permanent member of THE FALL. JOY DIVISION and THE SMITHS arrived seemingly fully developed and benefited from sonically adventurous yet classically tuneful music that had a definite perspective courtesy of their legendary frontmen, IAN CURTIS and MORRISSEY respectfully.
SMITH is lyrically another beast entirely. his music is less structured and more chaotic (partly due to the constant shuffling of lineups) and his lyrics are highly obtuse. in fact i wouldnt even call the music made by THE FALL songs, they are more diatribes. makes perfect sense to me that bands like AT THE DRIVE-IN worship this group; both share a manic need to juxtapose impenetrable yet evocative poetry with intense sonic experiments that broaden the vocabulary of ROCK AND ROLL. even makes sense that THE FALL during their career wrote music and performed with a ballet company.
the documentary THE WONDERFUL AND FRIGHTENING WORLD OF MARK E. SMITH (BBC, 2005) attempts to explain this paradox of a frontman. he is highly literate, yet in essence he is most effective when communicating an aggressive attitude and swath of base emotions behind visceral yet obtuse music. a commentator in the film puts him in the company of CAPTAIN BEEFHEART and CAN. i tend to agree. his is an example of someone that makes complex music made to be pored over, analyzed and argued over, much like that of CURTIS and MORRISSEY. but his music is often in your face and hard to pin down as it is often a flurry of dissonance whizzing by you.
essentially it is music for thinking people. in other words: music nerds.
notable participants include that of FACTORY RECORDS label owner TONY WILSON, legendary radio presenter JOHN PEEL and MARK E. SMITH himself. all three have since passed on in the years since so this documentary is an invaluable resource.
this film is definitely worth checking out if you have any interest in PUNK ROCK, POST PUNK, INDIE ROCK or experimental music in general.
the cultural roots of the SKINHEAD subculture are rather fascinating. the fact that in our modern nomenclature the term has a dark, far right-wing, xenophobic connotation ironically belies its origins in a cultural moment that brought a diverse confluence of cultures and styles together. its a term with many embedded identities that is at war with itself. its a subculture that is complicated and serves as the perfect metaphor for the UNITED KINGDOM's complicated relationship with its former commonwealth and itself.
DON LETTS' film THE STORY OF SKINHEAD (BBC, 2016) explores the SKINHEAD subculture and its inherent contradictions. the story begins with the UNITED KINGDOM's policy in the wake of WORLD WAR II of allowing inhabitants of its greater commonwealth entry and work visas to work in the island's borders. this set off shortly thereafter beginning in the 1940s what is now known as the WINDRUSH GENERATION, former inhabitants of the CARIBBEAN (JAMAICA, TRINIDAD & TOBAGO, etc) that begin working in ENGLISH factories and living in council estates. DON LETTS hones this narrative squarely with his own, as he was raised in SOUTH LONDON on a council estate by JAMAICAN-immingrant parents from this generation. what happened was that despite their parents closeted racism, white kids on these council estates in LONDON began to adopt the style and music of their JAMAICAN counterparts. poor white urban identity in some circles became intwined with CARIBBEAN immigrant culture.
eventually this movement, which didnt have a name, but later got deemed SKINHEAD by outsiders, was largely innocuous as it was mainly a subculture based around white appropriation of black culture. the fact that eyes were raised by an older white generation didn't stop these kids, and its debatable whether or not they shared in their parents XENOPHOBIC-leaning views. it must be said that racial jokes about PAKISTANI immigrants were common on the radio at the time and the education system was far from progressive, with educators often being explicitly derogatory towards the dress, speech, mannerisms and culture of immigrant children. racism was in the air and open on some level during this time in BRITAIN.
eventually shops emerged to cater to this subculture and it spread north. by the 1970s haircuts and fashions changed as the original SKINHEAD culture merged with northern football culture. this new identity helped solidify a new uniform for the emerging football hooligan and their street gangs of fellow team supporters. violence and gang-mentality entered the picture as these squads with face off against rival supporters, but the ethos was still tentatively not explicitly race driven. again, its complicated. definitely some cognitive dissonance going on here. it may be that some elements that had far right-wing sympathies based on those that preexisted in the northern white working class population itself, but none that were rooted in the SKINHEAD subculture per se.
enter the NATIONAL FRONT. this WHITE NATIONALIST political party used football (as well as youth events, dancehall parties, self-published newspapers, etc) as a means of attempting to convert young men to their side in the late 1970s and early 1980s. those that embraced their XENOPHOBIC, RACIST views forever altered the meaning of the SKINHEAD subculture. it been infiltrated a segment of poor northern white kids.
but culture shifted again. this time to PUNK ROCK which largely embraced REGGAE and its bedrock political messages wholeheartedly. but it wasn't a good fit for the SKINHEAD kids that went to their shows. too artsy. too posh. SHAM 69 bridged that gap. but unfortunately their gigs were infiltrated by NATIONAL FRONT SKINHEADS that caused SHAM 69 frontman JIM PURSEY to abandon the band and move on.
the 2 TONE SKA and OI PUNK movements of the early 1980s that came next didnt fair much better. famously they couldnt find gigs because of the fear around their following, which absurdly included NATIONAL FRONT SKINHEADS. this was much to their chagrin, since they named the movement 2 TONE as a means of delineating that they were on the side of multiculturalism and racial equality. OI PUNK was just a newer, more aggressive form of PUNK ROCK that placated to a generation of militaristic SKINHEADS looking for a community. again the NATIONAL FRONT infiltrated both to the point that it rendered them dysfunctional. this was especially the case after the SOUTHALL RIOTS OF 1979, in which SKINHEAD youth burned a pub in SOUTH LONDON in a largely asian community. OI was banned by MARGARET THATCHER and most of the bigger (non-racist) bands folded up, leaving only those funded by the NATIONAL FRONT in their wake. it was a coup for the ultra right-wing.
this in turn led to the SHARP SKINHEAD bands who were a reaction to these NATIONAL FRONT funded racist SKINHEAD bands. the SHARPS were explicitly anti-racist and that movement continues to this day.
its super interesting how this youth culture got hijacked and its "uniform" which was based on JAMAICAN style from the 1950s is now synonymous with WHITE NATIONALIST and NEO-FASCIST movements from POLAND, GERMANY, the UNITED STATES and even MALAYSIA. i even saw this in THAILAND where they sold NAZI paraphernalia in common markets with "SKINHEAD" gear. its truely bizarre and endlessly fascinating.
i have one other thing to add.
this contradiction of "loving" the music but "hating" the people is something that is not unique to the NATIONAL FRONT infiltration of certain segments of SKINHEAD culture. i've heard that contradiction by white AMERICANS my whole life. its a form of cognitive dissonance rooted in a potent cocktail of hubris and ignorance. the idea that you understand a people and a culture better than they do. its very AMERICAN and it deprives minority populations of controlling their own identity, which was probably the point in the first place. but what do i know, im only a former teacher. i saw this shit firsthand.
great documentary that brilliantly raises some unnerving issues about cultural appropriation and how hate can be used to subvert and infiltrate youth culture. endlessly fascinating.
if you are fan of music then you already know about NILE RODGERS. he is arguably one of the great composers, arrangers and musicians of the 20th century with a list of musical collaborations that spans from DAVID BOWIE, SISTER SLEDGE, DEBORAH HARRY, MADONNA and BRYAN FERRY to AVICII, DURAN DURAN, DAFT PUNK, GRACE JONES, THE B-52s and even his legendary 70s outfit CHIC. he is very much a musician's musician and no less a guitar-playing connoisseur than JOHNNY MARR named his son after him. just let that one sink in for a moment.
but until recently his public profile was behind the scenes in production.
the documentary NILE RODGERS: THE HITMAKER (BBC, 2013) is attempt to change all that. filmed during a break from rehearsing for a worldwide CHIC tour at time he was fighting prostate cancer, this film very much feels like an opportunity for the man and his admirers to give their props should the worst happen (thankfully he survived and continues to work to present day).
and survive the dude has. raised by heroin-addicted, bohemian parents in MANHATTAN, he grew up intimately aware of street life and drug culture along with the lexicon of music by devouring his parents JAZZ and CLASSICAL vinyl records. their is an aspirational quality to the uplifting, kinetic rhythms of CHIC and their escapist messaging to the audience of the emerging DISCO scene all over NYC. their is an almost symbiotic relationship between his guitar work and the pulsing, driving FUNK rhythms of bassist and collaborator BERNARD EDWARDS. They rode that initial wave in the late 1970s until the xenophobic, anti-BLACK and anti-LGBT DISCO SUX wave effectively stopped them in the their tracks. this led to his production career which was jumpstarted by DAVID BOWIE with the "LET'S DANCE" record basically has sustained him since as an in-demand writer, arranger, composer, guest musician and producer.
what i appreciated most about this film was how past collaborators spoke of his uncanny ear to see space in a mix where he could contribute a guitar line or texture. these small contributions are the details that make a record pop and although maybe unnoticed by your average listener, these are the sonic details that musicians strive to achieve in the studio. they notice. participants included that of BRYAN FERRY, JOHNNY MARR, DEBBIE HARRY and CHRIS STEIN of BLONDIE, JOHN TAYLOR of DURAN DURAN, STEVE WINWOOD, LA ROUX, NORMA JEAN WRIGHT of CHIC and NILE RODGERS himself.
I think it is touching that this documentary was showcased before his biggest hit in decades, "GET LUCKY" by FRENCH electronic duo DAFT PUNK, was released to worldwide admiration. just proves the dude always has something up his sleeve.
i was born within a few months of AMY WINEHOUSE, so revisiting her music is always compelling because it makes me consider the distance of where my life is now and where hers ended. and it will probably always be that way, but man what a talent she was back in the 2000s. the second coming of BESSIE SMITH who paved he wave for countless "unconventional" female singers, most famously ADELE.
AMY (ON THE CORNER FILMS, 2015) is a documentary created in the wake of her untimely demise from succumbing to the effects of alcohol poising after a much publicized struggle with chronic alcoholism. but the film goes out of its way not to amp up her victimhood, instead presenting a driven, multi-faceted artist that had varied interests and a unique, charismatic presence that drove people towards her. i remember when encountering her music while i was working at a book store immediately after college jus thinking how much of a force of nature she came across as. she seemed like someone who was in control of her art and her image. she was a artist in ever sense of the word. she seemed to own her identity. several former confidantes even elucidate on how she manipulated those around her with her affection and brute sex appeal. i wasnt prepared for that going into the film but it was interesting nonetheless. i never saw her as a sex symbol, but in retrospect maybe now i can. again she was in control, that is, until she wasnt.
her contemporaries included other artists like THE LIBERTINES and LILY ALLEN (with histories themselves with substance abuse) among many others, but her los of control has long been pinpointed to her time in the ultra-chic CAMDEN TOWN scene in northwest LONDON with its private clubs, trendy pubs and celebrity culture. she jumped in head first and never came out basically.
interestingly, JAMES HETFIELD composed the METALLICA song "MOTH INTO FLAME" after watching this documentary and it very much delves into the depths of depravity and loss of self when people get too drawn into celebrity culure. that loss of self, loss of identity. that inability to suss out who are your actual friends and those with an agenda. hangers-on. moochers. parasites. including her boyfriend whom i dont even want to mention by name. he had his moment in the sun, hopefully now he'll just keep on living in her shadow the rest of his life.
in the end with WINEHOUSE we all lost. we lost a generational talent. her parents lost a daughter. those who supported and believed in her behind the scenes lost a friend and partner.
its the same story repeated. talented person becomes a star. they are sensitive, empathetic people by nature. they get exploited by those around them they can't say no to. they develop coping mechanisms, some healthy, some not. those that dont sometimes succumb to those unhealthy coping mechanisms and their phony friends flee like rats off a sinking ship. PRINCE, LIL PEEP, CHRIS CORNELL, WHITNEY HOUSTON, MARILYN MONROE, BON SCOTT, DINAH WASHINGTON, CHRIS FARLEY, PHIL LYNOTT, MAC MILLER, LAYNE STALEY, FRANKIE LYMON, ANDREW WOOD, JOHN BONHAM, SHANNON HOON, PAUL GRAY, JOHN BELUSHI, WAYNE STATIC, BRADLEY NOWELL, OL' DIRTY BASTARD, KURT COBAIN, THE REV, TOM PETTY, HILLEL SLOVAK, MIKE BLOOMFIELD, SCOTT WEILAND, JAY REATARD, DOLORES O'RIORDAN, KEITH MOON and the sad list goes on.
and on and on.
PUNK: ATTITUDE (3DD PRODUCTIONS, 2005) by legendary DJ / MUSICIAN / DIRECTOR and original PUNK ROCK scenester DON LETTS is probably the most comprehensive documentary about the beginnings and evolution of PUNK ROCK, both stateside and in ENGLAND. it includes an exhaustive yet entirely impressive cast of participants, many now deceased, whose insights provide an appreciation for the wide array of interests and backgrounds that led to the formation of the genre. this includes, but not limited to, musicians such as JOHN CALE (THE VELVET UNDERGROUND), JELLO BIAFRA (THE DEAD KENNEDYS), MARTIN REV (SUICIDE), CHRISSIE HYNDE (THE PRETENDERS), DAVID JOHANSEN, SYLVAIN SYLVAIN & ARTHUR KANE (THE NEW YORK DOLLS), MICK JONES & PAUL SIMON (THE CLASH), DARYL JENIFER (BAD BRAINS), POLY STYRENE (X-RAY SPEX), HENRY ROLLINS (BLACK FLAG), WAYNE KRAMER (MC5), PAT SMEAR (THE GERMS), SIOUXSIE SIOUX (SIOUXSIE SIOUX & THE BANSHEES), TOMMY RAMONE (THE RAMONES), CAPTAIN SENSIBLE (THE DAMNED), ARI UP (THE SLITS), STEVE JONES & GLEN MATLOCK (THE SEX PISTOLS), THURSTON MOORE (SONIC YOUTH), K.K. BARRETT (THE SCREAMERS), RAY CAPO (YOUTH OF TODAY), GLENN BRANCA (THEORETICAL GIRLS), KEITH MORRIS (BLACK FLAG / CIRCLE JERKS), ROGER MIRET (AGNOSTIC FRONT), PETE SHELLEY & HOWARD DEVOTO (THE BUZZCOCKS), DEE POP (THE BUSH TETRAS), ALICE BAG (THE BAGS), RICHARD MANITOBA (THE DICTATORS), JAMES CHANCE (JAMES CHANCE & THE CONTORTIONS) and film director JIM JARMUSCH, CBGBs owner HILLY KRISTAL and various managers, writers, artists and photographers.
i think one strong suit of this documentary is its ability to elucidate the long line of influence that followed one band to another over time. how bands like THE DOORS influenced THE STOOGES who influenced THE SEX PISTOLS and BLACK FLAG and NIRVANA and so on. in essence you see how bands such as THE VELVET UNDERGROUND, SUICIDE, THE DEAD KENNEDYS, PATTI SMITH, THE DAMNED and THE RAMONES (among many others) are all linked and part of a greater movement towards challenging, complicating, questioning and, in turn, revitalizing the form of ROCK AND ROLL.
examples provided included the concurrent POST PUNK and NO WAVE that came about after the first wave of PUNK ROCK. both took the ethos of originality and freedom and applied such to the music, creating new takes on song structures and experimented with expanded palette of instruments.
the HARDCORE scene of the 1980s was the opposite of such in that songs got condensed and sped up even faster. scenes that began with first wave PUNK adherents more interested in art and originality were taken over by HARDCORE bands that were largely aggressive and violent. part of that anger was political at the REAGAN administration as well as a feeling that their lives were set to be disrupted by economic uncertainty. that scene begat the ALTERNATIVE ROCK scene of the 1990s, or as JELLO BIAFRA puts it "punk inspired rock bands." as the 1990s dragged on you get bands like KORN and LIMP BIZKIT with their dumbed down break down sections and shocking lack of social consciousness.
there was nothing revelatory about this documentary, but it serves as a welcome definitive statement about a genre for anyone new or interested in the place of PUNK ROCK in music history. it really gets at the core idea of the genre in spite of its many permutations: that being the value being an individual. finding your voice, whatever that may be, and speaking your truth vociferously with an almost disregard for the opposition. thats a healthy sentiment for anyone to learn.
my only gripe with this film is that they spends way too much time talking about THE CLASH and JOE STRUMMER, but that is my own personal bias making itself apparent. i still find that band, despite their influence, to be full of themselves. just my opinion.
in the obtuse documentary BURROUGHS: THE MOVIE (CITIFILMWORKS, 1983) by director HOWARD BROOKNER we are provided a rare glimpse into the mind and writings of the influential BEAT writer WILLIAM S. BURROUGHS through not only his narration, but interview footage with peers and acolytes such as ALLEN GINSBERG, TERRY SOUTHERN, LUCIEN CARR, HERBERT HUNCKE, BRION GYSIN, PATTI SMITH, FRANCIS BACON and JON GIORNO as well as his only son WILLIAM BURROUGHS JR (who passed on during the time of filming).
we follow BURROUGHS as he guides us through his past including his time spent as a child in ST. LOUIS as well as his time at HARVARD, medical school in VIENNA, his failed attempt to enlist with the OSS (now the CIA) during WWII and subsequent fall into HEROIN addiction in NYC which was around the time he made the acquaintance of JACK KEROUAC and ALLEN GINSBERG. this continues through his marriage to JOAN VOLLMER and brith of his son through her accidental shooting in MEXICO and his son's eventual death in his 30s due to the chronic effects of alcoholism. littered throughout this personal narrative we find BURROUGHS reading excerpts from JUNKIE, NOVA EXPRESS, NAKED LUNCH, THE WILD BOYS and EXTERMINATOR! among other publications. we learn that NAKED LUNCH was written during his time in TANGIERS in the early 1950s when he was able to make use of the lax customs of local pharmacies to indulge in narcotics.
as a documentary this film was exceedingly dry. this is partly due to BURROUGHS prodding vocal affectations that seem to drone on ad infinitum. its funny, if i wasnt a fan of his work than i would find this film impossible to stomach, but he is a figure that pretty much brought POSTMODERNISM to literature in the 20th century and is a preeminent literary figure among his peers. his work is almost like a collage in art terms or montage in film terms as his cutouts served to provide jagged juxtapositions of concepts, words and phrases that seemingly spawned new visualizations and ideas out of multiple perspectives connected over space and time.
to verbalize his influence on modern culture, which has only bent more towards his worldview in the digital age of fractured realities where truth isnt relative, its irrelevant. seemingly we are in a post-truth and post-morality world where everyone is a JUNKIE for information. brutal low-grade gossip or refined, well-articulated and researched essays all fill the same fix and are mainlined and discarded the same, onwards looking for the next hit.
so this all makes me think that to experience this film expecting a straightforward presentation of a coherent narrative is wholly missing the point. if anything this film is a snapshot that is out of focus and out of context. a brief window into his late life mindset after a long fruitful yet painful career. it is up to his to draw our own conclusions on the worth of his perspective and words. on us to provide the context for this disjointed documentary of a man whose trade was navigating moral and temporal ambiguity.
seductively filmed by noted fashion photographer BRUCE WEBER in stark black and white, LET'S GET LOST (ZEITGEIST FILMS, 1988) lulls the viewer into an ephemeral world of romance and sophistication much like the music of its subject, WEST COAST JAZZ musician CHET BAKER. both the cinematography and the music make it easy to interpret the magnetic power of such musician, who seemed tailored-made for his era, having JAMES DEAN looks and a smooth, effortless prowess on his instrument that has made him an icon of 1950s AMERICA ever since.
but it is a lie. BAKER is a conman.
the beauty of this film is that much like his three wives and countless girlfriends before, we the audience are being wooed. you would think the man would have regrets about wandering astray from his responsibilities as a father, husband and son, but he seems entirely focused on his pursuits, even in his 60s when this film was made. what is presented is a man for whom everything came easy. a natural musician with a smooth croon of a voice, he didnt labor hard at his craft or all that came with it. women gravitated to BAKER, but he was only faithful to his own whims which eventually included narcotics.
we are presented with an unreliable narrator and those that he took advantage of. most tragic is the admission by his own mother that he was a bad son and that he disappointed her. in interviews his own children speak of him with a sense of frustrated mockery, which you assume has been years in the making. its almost DORIAN GRAY-like how this talented, handsome man with the smooth, intoxicating touch on the trumpet left such a wake of carnage in his personal life. this documentary is his final attempt at convincing us otherwise.
it seems the highly stylized cinematography succeeds in demonstrating this gulf between the facade and the reality which is uncomfortable and seemingly tragic.
its a life wasted.
LET'S GET LOST is a unique, smart documentary on a flawed icon. definitely recommend seeking out and watching this challenging gem of a documentary if you can locate a copy.
note: FLEA has a forgettable role asking questions about MILES DAVIS to BAKER when he is holding court with random photogenic young people. didn't get why that made the cut, but there you have it. maybe its because FLEA plays trumpet.