photo manipulation by nacrowe
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.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
its funny, when my brother and i were both attending high school in KUWAIT roughly 20 years ago our middle eastern peers were largely naive about AMERICAN culture and pretty much anything that wasn't related to that isolated oil-rich hellhole. my brother had a binder that carried a printed out picture of JOHN TURTURRO's epic bowling nemesis from the THE BIG LEWBOWSKI (WORKING TITLE, 1998) and his KUWAITI classmates would ask him who that was. he'd cooly reply "that's Jesus" to which they'd inquire confusedly "THAT's JESUS?!"
THE COEN BROTHERS are masters of playing with genre expectations and THE BIG LEWBOWSKI is a great example of them experimenting with the cinematic form of NOIR films and their ROMAN NOIR literary antecedent. NOIR films were largely created in a post-WWII climate where the world order was being rebuilt and the role of men was being challenged and rethought along economic, cultural and social considerations. the literary analogue to this genre predates WWII. usually there is a single male who throughout the film is fighting a series of outside forces that include government agencies (of the secretive variety), the media and (of course) women. women in particular are depicted as agents of destruction, i.e. femme fatales, who use their sexuality to attempt to derail our hero from his goal. of course its bullshit, but its a construction that is dear to a genre that at its heart is questioning what identifies masculinity when their hegemonic influence is questioned in a patriarchal society.
what makes THE BIG LEWBOWSKI so interesting is that instead of a determined, idealized male protagonist that rises to the occasion to supersede these overwhelming forces, we are instead given JEFF "THE DUDE" LEBOWSKI, an aging inept stoner with no will to effect change on the world other than his commitments to his bowling league and listening to CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL. he is the personification of ineffective masculinity, yet he is the protagonist that meanders his way through a convoluted plot of outside forces that he inept to deal with any reasonable capacity. that is the core of its humor and humanity.
i think i identified with that character not for his slacker-ness but his being thrown into crazy situations, much like i had at that point survived NIGERIA and boarding school.
LEBOWSKI throughout the film is manipulated by more sophisticated and devious counterparts, including another high-achieving JEFFREY LEBOWSKI who is nonetheless crippled and cuckolded by his barely legal porn star wife. even his doppelgänger or mirrored-self is compromised. much like his inability to effect change, the film also just kind of ends where it begins, and endless loop of inadequacy and mediocrity.
a film that never really ends or begins. no character development. no lessons learned.
great film well worth watching on repeat. i have since i was a teenager.
photo by nacrowe
ACID FOR THE CHILDREN (GRAND CENTRAL, 2019) by legendary RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS bassist FLEA is a poetic, thoughtful memoir that looks back on an unconventional childhood and attempts to make sense of how such influenced his life path. structurally this book is connected by a series of brief vignettes which adroitly mimic the fractured manner in which we carry our memories and define our self perception. i think for an artist that is celebrated for both his musicianship and his sensitivity, this was a good choice in that it allowed him to express his life in brief impressionistic chunks that don't necessarily need to relate to one another, but in totality relate a unique perspective on the author.
one prominent theme is the idea of parenthood. his conception, particularly of fatherhood, is complicated in that his mother leaving a conservative but principled husband for a bohemian failed jazz musician presented to contradictory models for manhood, both of which informed his self-perception.
this push and pull of discipline versus expression is seemingly everywhere in this book. jazz versus punk rock. his sensitive nature versus acting out without consideration for others. in a previous review (linked HERE) of bandmate ANTHONY KIEDIS' memoir SCAR TISSUE (HYPERION, 2004) i railed against him being an arrogant egoist who essentially mooched off his supremely gifted rhythmic section. at the close of this book, FLEA puts his dear friend in proper perspective, explaining that his non-musicianship provided the proper context to showcase the lightning in a bottle nature of their creative spark. it were these very qualities that i seemingly misread that unlocked their potential in that it forced them to come up with their music from a new angle, a different perspective. and i respect that.
reading this memoir, which again only dealt with his childhood up to the first RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS gig, made me consider my own similar upbringing as a THIRD CULTURE KID. though the term is never uttered in this book, to me the whole thing screams it. his constant search for a surrogate family is a common experience for those who move all the time, as FLEA surely did in transferring from AUSTRALIA to upstate NEW YORK to LOS ANGELES. his need for connection through the arts, first as a listener and furious reader and then as a musician and thespian, in a sense shows the fruits of his pursuit to find an extended safe zone. THIRD CULTURE KIDS are famous for being able to make connections and despite his insecure trepidations initially in each new locale, he found connections through basketball, music, mischief and (unfortunately) drugs.
ultimately this memoir is artfully written in a way i had hoped for as a fan of his music. my hope is that he follows this up with another one that takes us through his experiences with the RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS and the 90s ALTERNATIVE ROCK explosion.
one can hope.
photo by nacrowe
in the 80 and 90s with maybe the exception of scene favorites JANE'S ADDICTION and FISHBONE, the RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS were the de facto definitive ALTERNATIVE band from LOS ANGELES. incorporating disparate elements of PUNK aggression with off-kilter FUNK feel and time signatures, their sound was unique in an era where originality was a virtue. their revolving door of guitarists (HILLEL SLOVAK, JOHN FRUSCIANTE, DAVE NAVARRO) and the foundational core of FLEA and CHAD SMITH provided one of the great rhythm sections of all-time.
but this is ANTHONY KIEDIS' memoir and i'm not gonna lie, he's the weak link in my opinion. i'll just say that up front. even on their best releases, his word-salad approach to lyrics and frat-boy demeanor and general public womanizing was something to be tolerated and not applauded (this is even more problematic given the later accusations that have come about in recent years way after the publication of this book).
getting my bias out of the way, SCAR TISSUE (HYPERION 2004) by ANTHONY KIEDIS and LARRY SLOMAN is mainly about the three major relationships of KIEDIS' life up until this point: his father BLACKIE DAMMETT, his best friend and bandmate FLEA and drugs, specifically heroin. for as much as this book is about his unconventional nomadic upbringing and later numerous trysts and relationships over the years, which all seemed pretty boring quite frankly, in the end I foung this book to be about an extroverts need for attention in a community only too willing to grant such.
i can only imagine what growing up with a failed-actor, drug-addled father would do to a young psyche. the messages spoken and unspoken about one's self-worth in a HOLLYWOOD community that trades on humans like they are commodities. not to mention how women were treated as arm candy in an ambitious arms race for fame and notoriety.
I found KEIDIS to be pretty shallow on most subjects in the book with the exceptions being his thoughts on those three relationships and how they informed him as a person. in some ways this book feels like a celebration of his friends and the LOS ANGELES artistic community that challenged and supported his band. for that I applaud him, but it doesn't alter the fact that on some level he's a LARS ULRICH-like impotent mouthpiece where his talk is supported by the actual talent and virtuosity of those around him.
or maybe i am too hard on him, this was written during a renaissance in his career after two successful reunion albums with legendary guitarist JOHN FRUSCIANTE. maybe he was coming to terms with the fact that he was a chauvinistic douche. i doubt it.
if you are fan of KIEDIS, definitely check out this book, if not do yourself a favor and listen to a FAITH NO MORE or MR. BUNGLE record. When is MIKE PATTON gonna put out a book, anyway?