Tuesday, September 16, 2014

DVD Review: East End Babylon: The Story of the Cockney Rejects

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2014
Images from the Internet


East End Babylon: The Story of the Cockney Rejects
Produced and directed by Richard England
Cadiz Music / Custom House
101 minutes, 2013

The Cockney Rejects were not one of the British bands that excited me in the way that others did in those early days, as with the Adverts or even John Otway and Wild Willy Barrett. They were more of the football hooligan types like the Hammersmith Gorillas that were just a bit too idiosyncratic and locally topical for me. This film gives me the chance to explore what was going on about them, and see if I was missing out on anything.

One way to judge a “foreign language” film like this, whose focus is a band I don’t know anything about, is will it keep my attention. Early verdict is in, and yes, it did a bang-up job straight through. Oh sure, the very thick East Ham (London’s poor East End shipyards neighborhood) kept my ears peeled as it were, and there were the occasional parts I had to replay to figure out the hell they were talking about, but it was worth the watch.

Part of what makes this successful is the mixture of not only period live footage of the band and current interviews, but the splicing of newsreels from World War II while the neighborhood was devastated by German bombings and home movies of band members. What I especially appreciated is how a topic is introduced and then a clip of the band playing the song about it is shown.

This kind of British punk, which members of the Rejects claim they invented in a backyard shed, is different than, say, the Pistols, the Clash, and the Damned. It is more driven, being closer to what would become SoCal hardcore than just anarchy.  It’s beer – a lot of it – and football, rowdiness and history (more than politics), and totally East Ham working class loci perspectives.

As is described early on, the area was a breeding ground for bank robbers and the rolling of drunk sailors. A dangerous part of town where it was safer to know everybody than to not know anyone, even if you were just walking about, this is the breeding ground for their particular form of anger. They would right soon start a fight with you as buy you a pint or seven.

They are sort of like the Brit versions of the Tony Maneros that I was used to dealing with every day growing up in Bensonhurst. Oh, speaking of Otway (whose name briefly appears on a marquee in a film clip), he did a song about this sort, called “Headbutt.” But again, if you get on the good side, you had a better chance of not getting beaten up again. Their shows were, at times, outrageous and contentious.

As much as this film is about the band, it seems to be a history lesson of East Ham, from its longshoreman days through the closing of the docks in the 1970s (if I understood correctly, they blame it on the unions). As one of them posits, “There were only three ways out of the East End: football, boxing and rock’n’roll.” He apparently didn’t mention the fourth and fifth, which is prison or death, but I digress…   

This early chapter is also about the Greggus family in the middle of all that history. This is hardly surprising as it is produced by the guitarist, Micky Greggus. Not as much an ego trip, however, as you may imagine, it shows how they were part of the East End, and uses the East End to explain its effect on the family, rather than the other way around. It’s actually a good vision for the film, and it works.

The boxing part introduces Jeff Turner, the strapping singer of the band. He started out as a pugilist, and then helped co-found the Rejects. He brought his boxer moves to the stage, which he rightfully justifies as his stage style, much as other singers have their own, identifiable flair.

An aspect I also found interesting is how they conned their way into their first recording studio. You could call that punk, but I see it as year of being desperation-taught survival skills, even though they were around 15 years old at the time. With the help of Jimmy Pursey (Sham 69) in the studio as producer, they released a song, and used that to get their way into their first gig. Again, to me, this is more than just a punk story, but a sociological behavior that made that forlorn environment work for them. A little bit of luck, a smattering of chicanery and fast talk, and they’re at their first gig after recording at Polydor Records. Backtracking a bit, they even wrote their first songs after they found out they would be in the studio.

All this led to a signing with EMI (did I mention they were 15?) and a couple of hits that got them on Top of the Pops more than once. A drunken appearance, however, led to “phase two” of the band. Going full steam into the football realm (of West Ham, natch), the band’s music became more anthemic, raising them to a core leader of oi. This leads to epic fights, a gig in Manchester that is infamous, and a battle with Brit Nazi punks that is legendary, all of which is explained in detail, for which I’m grateful.  After that… aw, mate, stitch that, I’m not gonna give away the whole documentary. Besides, I’m on page three in this Word doc already.

Most documentaries I’ve seen recently regarding music has people talking with a stack of books and records behind them, as they yammer on.  Here, we see the Rejects in various places around the Ham, such as their mum’s house (she’s interviewed as well), along the Thames, in pubs, gymnasiums (boxing, remember?), and various places, keeping it fluid and moving. By not focusing only on the band, but on the times both past and, well, further past, as well as the present, the story doesn’t get claustrophobic. It’s always moving, always interesting. Perhaps it could have been a little shorter, but it still kept my attention. They are natural storytellers.

Which brings me to the one thing I would like to change: there are various language captions available, but the one I needed, English, was sorely lacking. The accents are so thick, sometimes things got lost in the translation (e.g., one I knew was claret = blood).  An English caption choice would have been welcome. But, hey, if that’s the worst I could find, that’s pretty damn good.

The extras are definitely worth the view: eleven shorts lasting between ten and fifteen minutes apiece that vary greatly from a live acoustic set, Jeff giving an inspirational talk, some of their recordings, their love for reggae, and stuff that didn’t make it into the film (enjoyable, but rightfully so).  There is also a very nice glossy multi-page booklet with photos and some text.

The most important thing this doc does is give you the opportunity to like these guys, both on a musical and personal level. Do yerseff a favor, mate, and give a peek.



Bonus video:


Monday, September 1, 2014

DVD Review: Clockwork Orange County: The Rise of West Coast Punk Rock

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2014
Images from the Internet

Clockwork Orange County: The Rise of West Coast Punk Rock
Directed by Jonathan W.C. Mills
Endurance Pictures
92 minutes, 2011       

In Costa Mesa, located in Orange County, California, the hardcore scene could be narrowed down to a single club, the Cuckoo’s Nest. Opened in 1979, from this very wellhead sprung the movement that some might say transformed punk into hardcore, setting in motion the third wave of punk rock.

Of course, every scene can claim that, from Washington, D.C.’s 9:30 Club, to the Masque in L.A., to A7 in New York, and so on. But there is no doubt that the Cuckoo’s Nest was a touchstone moment in the movement.

What is most impressive is the heavy hitters willing to talk to the camera (in 2011) here, including various members of bands like Social Distortion, T.S.O.L., the Circle Jerks, the Adolescents, Agent Orange, Black Flag (including Rollins, of course), Dead Kennedys (Biafra, of course), and so many of the others that took a scene and brought it to that whole new level which became a standard / uniform for the rest of the world, and in many ways is still in play now, over 30 years later.

Rather than just yammering heads, there is a wise choice in showing both music and talking clips from the period, mixed in with the “present” (again, 2011), so you can see how the musicians and fans have changed over the years. The music clips, all shot at the Nest, are not complete, but many of them are lengthy enough to actually get a feel for the appeal.

Each topic / chapter is introduced with a title card, and is discussed pretty well in detail, again mixing the past and present. It makes for an interesting oral history, most of which are of memory, but this lets the memory mix with the moment.

Some of the subjects discussed include:
·         the both figurative and literal fights with the rednecks in the C&W bar next door, who were constantly antagonizing and threatening the punks (naturally you don’t hear their side, which I think could be amusing).
·         the love / hate relationship between the bands / fans and the club’s owner, Jerry Roach, who Rollins calls “a tightwad son of a bitch.”
·         how important the parking lot scene outside the club was to the denizens of the Nest
·         when Pat Brown, one of the regular fans, allegedly tried to kill a cop by dragging him in his car (resulting in three shots by said cop hitting his car as he drove away; this film is dedicated to him)
·         and even how (possibly) Jim Decker, the lead singer of the Crowd, started Slam Dancing as a trend.

[Side note: the first time I ever saw slam dancing was by Harley Flanagan when he was the drummer for the Stimulators, who opened for Sousxie & the Banshees at Irving Plaza around 1982.]

The topic of slamming brings up the subject of excess violence that followed as part of the natural order. Joe Escalante of the Vandals refers to the aggression of the pit and the audience as the bands merely being “the soundtrack to beating the crap out of each other.” I often felt like many people at hardcore shows are not there to hear the music, but to strike out at anyone they can through fists and kicks in the pit. At the Nest, this resulted in the choking off of the punks via legislation and harassment (1000 tickets in 3 days) resulting in the closing of the Cuckoo’s Nest more than anything else (as announced on their local television by a very young Connie Chung).

The thing is, just about every hardcore scene on the West side of the country (not just OC) seemed to have followed the exact same pattern, if not timeline. It starts with some kids who liked bands like the Ramones and Sex Pistols, and they find a dive to drive it. The kids start forming their own bands and put some originality into it, only to get harassed by law enforcement (remember, right-wing Ronnie’s the Prez in 1980 and the “moral majority” nuts are starting to show their teeth). The violence perpetrated on the kids starts to show up in the scene when the jocks who used to beat them up for being punks find that by being punks themselves, they can join that mosh pit and continue to beat on the brats. The violence level increases by within and without, the media starts paying attention, this turns the fans away, and the source - in this case the Cuckoo’s Nest - closes down and effectively turns the tide by abating the access.

Another aspect of this film that is interesting is when they don’t just get stuck in the past and take it to the modern punk bands that were influenced by that scene, such as the Diffs and Death Punch. The original bands seem split on how their legacy has been picked up, whether that’s good or bad, and whether the modern punks are, well, really punk rock.

The only extra is the trailer and chapter selection.

Is this a good film? Well, yeah. They’ve taken what could have been a boring talking head film and made it interesting by grouping topics together, and mashing up historical film documents, including live performances, interviews, and newscasts, and also throwing in some of the newer area bands. It keeps the pace moving and the interest high. And if you’re like me, and you have the music of all those bands (didn’t see many of the West Coast bands live), it’s great to see the then-now differential.

Plus, it’s always great to hear the Circle Jerks’ Keith Morris’ strange and enjoyable vocal patter, Henry Rollins’ near poetic talking style, and Jello Biafra’s sibilant “s” and humor, for example.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

DVD Review: The Redding Experience: Interview with the Late Noel Redding, Bass Player with the Jimi Hendrix Experience

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2014
Images from the Internet


The Redding Experience: Interview with the Late Noel Redding, Bass Player with the Jimi Hendrix Experience
Produced by Will Scally
MNV Discs International
40 minutes, 1988 / 2010

British guitarist and bassist Noel Redding had a storied career in some heavy hitting bands in the early 1960s and mid- to late-1970s, such as Fat Mattress and the Noel Redding Band. That being said, what he will be immortalized for, fairly or not, is the three years (1966-69) that he was the bassist of a trio known simply as The Jimi Hendrix Experience.

Noel Redding and Jimi Hendrix
For nearly all of the 40 minutes of this interview, he discusses his role playing besides Hendrix, and how he was bought out and then denied any royalties from his three albums with the Experience when Jimi died without a will.
The interview is a one camera deal with it nearly unmoving other than the rare fade in to close-up and fade out to long shot. He sits on a couch and is questioned by an unseen Brit (Will Scally, I am assuming). Where this is taped (seems like VHS quality) and for what purpose / show is not mentioned. It just starts with Noel and ends with Noel, though the occasional stock footage of black and white London scenes from the ‘60s is sometimes interspersed.

It takes a while for the monotone-ish Noel to get past his pre-Experience – er – experience, as he talks about earlier bands and how he put down the guitar to pick up the bass for this group just before meeting Hendrix. By 20 minutes in (the half-way point), it actually starts to get more interesting as he discusses the exhaustion of touring, the drug use around him, his own role in the band as beat-keeper, and Hendrix’s way of playing the guitar upside-down.

Amazingly, he wasn’t fond of most of the band’s most popular releases (e.g., “Purple Haze”), and goes on to list songs he thought were good and the ones he didn’t care about.

This isn’t a deep conversation. And while Noel is stoic, sitting on the couch, he is also apparently a bit fidgety, almost like he just does not want to be there (the watch checks are a good indication). However, as a historical document about one of the most discussed and written about musicians in the modern era (including by Redding, who wrote an autobiography called Are You Experienced?) from someone who was actually there rather than second hand stories alone makes this important.

I would say you probably need to be a hardcore Hendrix fan or music historian to get sufficient amounts out of this, but if you are, you should.

Noel Redding died in 2003 at the age of 57 of cirrhosis of the liver. Foreshadowing this, it is noteworthy that as the interview ends, and you can see him checking his watch often. Towards the end of it, he mentions, “Time for a pint” as the camera is turned off.

Friday, August 15, 2014

A Stream of Consciousness Review of CBGBs: The Movie

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2014
Images from the Internet

Watching CBGB’s: The Movie (yeah, I’m just getting’ to it now, you wanna make somethin’ of it?), and here are some comments that I’m sure most of which have already been logged elsewhere before, but I’m just riffing.
While I believe they should have used Please Kill Me as a reference, as it is the source of information of the period. Using the Punk mag framework is interesting. The ‘zine came out, however, after the scene had already started, so… how can they posit that they originated the music revolution after the Ramones were already playing over a year?
Johnny Galecki does a decent Terry Ork, but I remember Ork being a lot more twitchy, quirky and effervescent. We (I and Bernie Kugel) used to stop by Cinemabilia, the film memorabilia store he worked, and buy his singles directly from him.
The stage is on the wrong side of the club, as it wasn’t moved to the right side until a couple of years later (the first band I saw play on the new stage was Blondie). Early on, the pool table was on the right, where the stage ended up.
The sound system started out as crap, until Hilly infamously bought a way-expensive and incredibly sounding one later in the ‘70s. It was top of the line for it’s time considering how the club looked so run down.
When we meet Television, the focus seems to be on Tom Verlaine, and they definitely undercut Richard Hell’s personality, which was equally as strong. And I remember Hell being twitchier on stage, jerking around and weaving back and fourth, rather than leaning forward aggressively.
The soundtrack is the best thing so far, but they’re too ambitious, just playing the opening notes of Lou Reed’s “Heroin” and the Flamin’ Groovies’ “Slow Death,” for example. As much as I love the song, the placement of the Count IV’s “Psychotic Reaction” confused me. Much of the music in the film is, of course, out of sequence chronologically, but I’ve heard that complaint before…anyway back to it.
Oh, and Jonathan, the dog, was way-way uglier. He was a friendly pooch who mostly left you alone, though he really did shit all over the place. I always kept away from the pinball machine near the door because underneath was a favorite place of his to release the hounds of bowels.
Talking Heads first show as in June 1975, opening for the Ramones (first show I saw there). Blondie opened for the Ramones a few weeks after that. There were maybe twelve people in the audience. I never saw a full house until a couple of years after that. The first time I needed to make a reservation was early ’77 when the Dead Boys were opening for the Damned. The actor who plays Debbie Harry is mangling her New Jersey (not New York) accent. When Talking Heads played, bassist Tina Weymouth was focused on Byrne with big, staring eyes, not unfocused off in the opposite direction. Byrne waved his head back and forth when he sang, though in the first show I saw he moved the front of his head instead of the back, so his voice had a Doppler effect.
I never ever saw Patti Smith booed for doing poetry on stage. She usually read until the band was plugged in, tuned, and ready to play. Of course, “Because the Night” wasn’t performed until much, much later, as it was co-written with Springsteen, and she would not have ad access to that large an A-list talent at the beginning. By 1975, when Patti played the Bottom Line (the first time I saw her play, but hardly the last), she rarely was at CBs anymore, though infamously – and it’s mentioned at the end of the film – she was the last to play on its stage.
The best part of the Punk interview with Lou Reed was when they mentioned how Handsome Dick Manitoba of the Dictators called him a creep in the song "Two Tub Man," though  the line was actually written by Adny/Andy Shernoff, and they never mentioned that it was a lyric), and he became irate. I never saw Johnny Ramone rush off the stage in anger, but did see DeeDee do it a couple of times after getting electrical shocks.
Much as I love Wayne/Jayne County, and give her props for helping the scene in its most nascent stages, I think of her more as a Max`s person, probably because she wrote (and performed) the definitive theme song for the other club, and DJ'd there often.
The Dead Boys' portrayal seems pretty decent to how I remember, though it would have been cool to show how Stiv climbed inside the bass drum, as he did sometimes. However, this scene is definitely based on a 1977 film clip of the band that is available on YouTube. Ron Weasley's Cheetah Chrome is quite good, though; it was the first thing that made me smile in the film. Check out Cheetah`s version of the events in his autobiography (reviewed HERE).
As for song-time being accurate, it is correct that they had Blondie doing "X-Offender" in that period. While I know Debbie and Iggy had a bond through both being ex-users, and were friendly, I never heard of them playing together on stage at CBs; in fact, I don`t remember Iggy ever on stage there at all, although I could be wrong about this. I wasn`t there every night, after all.
Joey Ramone reading a contract? He was way smarter than most people gave him credit for, but he also had incredibly bad eyesight, and received most of his news from television (as opposed to Television).
I`m an Alan Rickman fan (been so especially since Kevin Smith`s Dogma in 1999, though his stance on being anti-Israel is weighing heavily on me), but even he can't help the dragging second and third acts. Hell, even Johnny Blitz getting stabbed seems…whatever. And what about the Blitz Benefits? They were amazing; went to two of the three, and saw Belushi fill in on the drums with the Dead Boys.
Oh, and Teenage Jesus and the Jerks were also mostly a Max`' band (though they may have played CBs, too). They were one of the worst interviews I ever did; total assholes.
And what about the Live at CBGB's double LPs No mention of that at all. I have a distinct memory of driving there on my way to somewhere else in the rain, just to pick up the copies directly from the club. Yes, I still have them.
The Police were as boring live in real life as they were in this film. Saw them play the Diplomat Hotel basement for about 100 people around the time of "Roxanne" and thought they were absolutely terrible (The Vapors, who I also saw there, were so much better). My good friend`s future ex-wife never forgave me for hating them and wanted me banned from being Best Man at their wedding. Nice.
It was nice to see Genya Ravan portrayed. Her rightful distaste of the Dead Boys' use of Nazi imagery is well documented, and the actor playing her, Stana Katic, did a decent job, despite the poor New York accent, but where was Castle? Check out Genya's excellent autobio, Lollipop Lounge (2004).
The Dictators' music is represented and there is a little Dictators sticker at the beginning, but they were the first CBGBs band singed, despite the nada physical depiction on film. Johnny Thunders and Walter Lure, while being mostly (again) related to Max`s, rarely played CBGBs in their various forms, such as the Heartbreakers, the Heroes, the Waldos, etc.
Thee were also many strange acts to play there, that one would not normally thing of, such as Peter Tork and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (I had some words with him about that name: HERE).
Overall, yes, it was important for me to watch this, but mostly, yeah, it was a bad film.
Postscript by Phyllis Stein:
I don`t remember Iggy ever playing with Blondie at CBGBs. Although Iggy did hang out one night in the summer of 1977 with Thunders, Sable [Starr], and me. The Blitz stabbing was fiction in the film. The rest of the Dead Boys were not even with Johnny Blitz when he was stabbed. Blitz was with his girlfriend, Michael Sticca, and Marcia Leone, Billy Rath`s girlfriend. The soundtrack is a joke. The New York Dolls never played there ever! And the Talking Heads song they included was much later from 1978. Jonathan was a Saluki. In the film, they cast Jonathan as an Afghan hound. I could go on and on, but I`m sure you get my point.
RBF: Please feel free to add your own corrections below in the comment section. Note that what you write will not show up until I approve it, to fight SPAM.

DVD Review: The Sex Pistols on TV: The TV Interviews (Un)Censored

Text by Robert Francos / FFanzeen, 2014
Images from the Internet
The Sex Pistols on TV: The TV Interviews (Un)Censored
Directed by Mark Sloper
Odeon Entertainment
A2B Media / ITN Source
120 minutes, 2010

Before I start the review, first some wavy lines of a flashback: when VHS first started to be mass marketed, there were a series of tapes of popular groups like the Beatles and Elvis that just showed press conferences and news pieces, without any music by the artists they covered. The reason was simple in that music meant royalty fees. Fast forward to this release.

I need to cover this review in two pieces, first the content and then a bit deeper. Perhaps not on a Greil Marcus level, but here we go. Wheeeee.

There is no real flow here, just a semi-chronological order as we follow the boys through their careers. Smartly, it starts with just a brief clip from the infamous Bill Grundy interview that everyone who is interested in this has probably seen soooooo many times EV-rywhere. Thank you for that, director Sloper.

Separated by title cards displaying year(s) and focus of a particular set of clips, we are shown television shows and interviews with the group, some band members, or those associated with them. Clips run from pretty short at a couple of minutes to extended pieces, resulting in 2 hours of all-Pistols-and-Pistols-related-all-the-time. Which has its good and bad points.

The good is that there are many clips here I’ve never seen from British shows, including those culled from music news programs, something the US did not really have during the Pistols’ tenure (unless you want to count the ridiculous segments on the likes of Tom Snyder’s Tomorrow Show, or Phil Donohue). There’s a couple of Janet Street Porter, a tall woman with big teeth and a thick north U.K. accent, for example, trying to get a decent answer out of Lydon (I admired when Johnny then-Rotten gives an bemused, off-hand side comment on how her obviously dyed red hair is the same color as rhubarb; see video below). Mostly they’re met with derision while being accused of being devious. It’s a joy watching Lydon take the piss out of them, never storming off the set, but just sauntering off after acknowledging the bias against the band. Then again, he walks around with a joyful metaphorical target on his vest.

The bad part is that all of the news stories are somewhat taken out of context. Captions stating the names of the programs or interviewers would certainly have been most helpful. I’m sure the audience in England will know the program(me)s, but we Yanks may not. I found that really annoying. Also, all music is taken off, even if set in the background, and replaced with a generic piece that has sort of a Pistols feel to it, albeit with all the life sucked out of it. It is also repeated throughout the whole collection. By the end of the two hours, it made me question whether I will ever watch this again.

Of course, there are some news clips that were used in some previous documentaries about the Pistols, especially on the US tour (let’s see the redneck jocks makin’ fun of the punkers, before they would realize that they could inflict some serious body damage in a mosh pit if they joined in). And there are the New York City news reports of Sid’s death, especially my favorite one of Roger Grimsby (ABC News) pronouncing that it all happened at the “Chel-sah” Hotel. See, I knew that one because it was local for me. Anyone outside of NYC would not have a clue; even then I wanted some caption so everyone can know.

The quality of the pieces ranges from sharp to obviously taken from old home-recorded off the television VHS grainy. Yes, there is a lot of information in this, and it is especially interesting to watch Rotten stay the same and yet evolve at the same time as far as using the media as much as it used him. With the exception of Sid and Johnny, nearly all the others (Jones, Cook, and Matlock) get very brief vocal time. There are also no clips talking about Rotten getting slashed with a knife on the street (perhaps it was before Grundy? No, I’m not going to look it up).

As far as face time goes, more is given to Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood than to the rest of the band. Sure, Rotten gives some snide comments about them here and there, but he and Sid are the focus of this. Gotta say, though, I did see Matlock’s Rich Kids - which is never mentioned here, though Lydon’s post-Pistol’s PiL is - a couple of times, once opening for Sylvan Sylvan’s 14th Street Band at Hurrah’s, and they weren’t all that interesting. I remember Jones being on a “stay away from drugs kids” commercial and a couple of mentions in a book by the lovely Miss Pamela DesBarres, but the rest of the band didn’t really have much other than the Pistols.

Some of the news segments include the aforementioned PiL, a couple of the Pistols reunions, brief pieces on the US tour (mostly the southern end rather than California), and a pretty interesting section from the early 1990s on how they affected Manchester by playing there, leading to the formation of bands like the Buzzocks. There are interviews with Howard Devoto, Steve Diggle, Pete Shelley, and members of other bands as well. There is even a news story on the making of Sid and Nancy.

What I found most interesting, however, is a 20-plus minute interview in a bar near the end with a jetlagged Lydon-Rotten where he is actually answers questions (the next interviewer – or previous one, it’s not clear – was not so lucky). He happily and intelligently talks – and often talks over – without giving in to the usual “ask an intelligent question” mode he tends to fall into. He seems to be having fun, and is quite informative. This piece alone is worth the watch, though as a whole it’s an important piece of collected history; this one, however, is the keeper.

One last thing before I become more of an academic: why does Sloper call himself the director? He should, more likely, be called the curator or producer, as he does not really have anything to do with the content, other than grouping them into sections with titles, and digitally replacing decent music with a terrible one. I’m sure it’s a lot of work, but calling it “directing” is a misnomer. He does more actual directorial work on his next film, Sid!, of which a really nice 20-minute preview is given on this DVD.

Switching gears a bit (okay, a lot), I was paying attention to what Lydon was saying through the years, and came to realize that he was a Media Ecologist. Whether he’s read it or not, he aligns well with the likes of Neil Postman, Harold Innis and Daniel Boorstein, discussing how mass media such as news organizations are interested in a pre-set bias and agenda, and focus on made up, or non-events (Boorstein calls them “pseudo-events). He constantly posits about how the media is rubbish, the focus of their stories are more on sensationalism than reality, and that the questions they ask are meaningless other than to be “shocking” (or what he calls boring). Of course, I’ve always seen him being grumpy at reporters, especially when he’s heard the same question over and over (e.g., “how are you guys getting along?”), but I really listened to what he was saying. Much like Bobcat Goldthwait, there is more beneath the demeanour that just acting out. He’s actually saying something important; something that is becoming more so all the time as the Tea Party tries to steal the United States and set up a theocracy through lies and distraction.

Now, Lydon keeps saying that the rest of the band is into the reunions for the money, but not him. Honestly, I don’t know how true that is, but it really is irrelevant, isn’t it? I mean, the whole group kind of took the wind out of that sail by calling their rejoining “The Filthy Lucre Tour.” But that doesn’t stop the questions. This only feeds Lydon’s fervor and avering about the true focus and bias of mass media.

A quick couple of comments and then we’re outta here. First, it drives me crazy when news reports state that the Pistols “started punk rock.” Well, they don’t call it the British scene “second wave punk” for nothing. By the time the Pistols formed, the New York scene had been going on for two years, with hundreds of bands. Yes, however, they did transform it into something else, as did the “third wave,” hardcore, shortly after the Pistols broke up. Second, the bias against the Pistols is shown clearly by the often reference of “Sid killed his girlfriend Nancy,” especially in the British press. This has never been proven, and there are enough contradictory stories to this line of thought to put forward serious doubt. Personally, I believe she was stabbed by a drug dealer that she refused sex while Sid was passed out from “sampling.” My theory is no less credible than theirs, and is actually based more on people who knew them than the press or police reports.

On a positive note, one of the most touching moments is Lydon discussing the death of Joe Strummer. Through the years there has been the hint of animosity between them, but Lydon clearly sets that straight.

As a collective historical document, this is an interesting-to-say-the-least release, and possibly an important one to have all of this info at hand in one place. That being said, there are substantial problems with it, and I have avered above. If you’re a Pistols fan, it’s good to have all these clips in one spot.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

DVD Review: Suzanne Vega Live – Solitude Standing

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2014
Images from the Internet


Suzanne Vega Live: Solitude Standing
Wienerworld / Windrose / Minimum Fax Media
62 minutes, 2014       

Sandwiched between the Phillip Glass and Rosy Parker period in the early-mid ‘80s and Zooey Dashenall of the modern era, singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega was known as what would probably be called today “Williamsburg cool.”

She definitely had “a look” that was as immediately identifiable as Patti Smith’s white shirt and half-opened tie. For Vega it was a long-tail jacket over a plain uncollared-shirt, straight shoulder length hair (sometimes tied in a mini-ponytail) and bangs, pokey ears that held the hair out of her eyes, and those cheekbones and killer dimples. She also has a voice that is idiosyncratic and immediately identifiable. She is everything that Liz Phair was hyped to be that never materialized.

Back in the day, she would perform often around New York City, in hipper, intimate showcases, as well as some of the mid-sized venues, like actors who play in mainstream films to pay for their theater projects. Everything about Vega said cool. If she was born in another era, she probably would have been the darling of the Beat poetry set or the flappers.

Thanks to MTV, she rose above the “in-the-know” crowd and had some major hits on her hands, such as “Luka” and “Tom’s Diner.” That gave her the leverage to do what she wanted.

As someone who tours often, she played at the Rome Auditorium in 2003, sharing the stage with electric bassist Mike Visceglia and Italian singer-songwriter Valerio Piccolo.  The gig, presented in its entirety, shows Vega playing her acoustic, and between some songs, she reads short poems that Piccolo translates into Italian.

He also translates Vega’s song descriptions before she sings, and boy, she has not lost a thing over time. She sounds as sharp as ever, and her pieces retain all their punch. One of the themes of Vega’s output is minutitude. Okay, that isn’t really a word, but it’s time it was coined. They are slices of life, but looking at a small moment that effects a lifetime. It could be an event, and emotion, a dream (of caramel and cinnamon), a computer game, almost anything. I would posit it’s sort of a version of chaos theory, but done in a beautiful form. She even describes her own life in this way, in her poem “Anti-Hero,” saying that her voice (i.e., poetry) is a small one but deserves to be heard.

I don’t know how fair this is, and is not meant as a negative but as a descriptor, but I always thought of Vega as the “anti-Laurie Anderson,” or to put it another way, where Anderson is digital, Vega is analog, her voice like a warm blanket, or honey that coats her words as she projects them out to her audience. As you wade through her songs, be it about first love or a battlefield – or, yes, child abuse – she makes you feel like you have wind in your hair and you are floating just a little bit above your seat. Sometimes the contrast between this and the song subjects are more counterpoint than with the grain, which makes them stand out all the more.  “Left of Center” probably says this about her life better than I could, being it’s in her own words, as she puts down her guitar and is backed strongly by the bass.

Along with new songs, such as “Solitaire,” she also does “Gypsy” and, after an audience request, “The Queen and the Soldier.” She seems very comfortable on stage as she goes though the numbers, acknowledging both Piccolo and Visceglia, sometimes checking to see if they are keeping up. Yes, she does her two biggest hits at the end, and while they sound great, I’m sure there will be those who just want to hear them due to familiarity, but I strongly recommend sitting down, and paying attention, as it will be worth your while. Here, I actually prefer this version of “Tom’s Diner,” which is a cappella, with handclaps and whistles as accompaniment. I always though her voice and message became lost in all the stuff going on behind her on the record, for which she deserves better.

There is an interesting 12-minute interview of her by Piccolo in the extras, basically stating she would probably not be comfortable with the beginning of this review, as she does not like people discussing the way she looks. That being said, her appearance is so iconic, one is hard pressed to do otherwise. There are a number of topics covered, and the interview flies by as she talks about her music, her poetry, and her perspective. There is also a repetitive slideshow that lasts less than 4 minutes over the “Tom’s Diner” hit rather than the live one here.

Whether you prefer to describe her as folk, modern folk, singer-songwriter, or hipster goddess, it’s all good. Her messages are worth hearing, and she presents them in a manner that is pleasing to the ear (and, sorry Suzanne, the eye). Get your “doo-do-do-do” on and give a listen.

Song list:
Marlene on a High
How to Make a Poem (poem)
Small Blue Thing
Italy in Spring (poem)
Some Journey
When Heroes Go Down
Anti-Hero (poem)
Left of Center
The Queen and the Soldier
In Liverpool (poem)
In Liverpool
Tom’s Diner



Friday, May 30, 2014

DVD Review: All Access Edition of Hard Core Logo; Hard Core Logo 2

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2014
Images from the Internet

For this “All Access Edition,” the Hard Core Logo film has been joined with its sequel onto a single blu-ray disk. Not having a blu-ray player, it took me a while to get to these, but thanks to my friend Wilf, as they say in the Canadian prairies, I was able to “get ‘er done.”

Hard Core Logo
Directed by Bruce McDonald  
Video Services Corp.                            
92 minutes, 1996 / 2012

It’s been well over 10 years since I’ve seen this film, and I had forgotten how brilliant it is. Yeah, I’m showing my hand at the beginning.

For those who have not seen it, and you really must without seeing too many clips and ruin it, I guarantee you will be impressed on so many levels. This is a fake documentary (not a “mockumentary” because it does not make fun of these characters, it explores them) about a Vancouver hardcore band called, well, Hard Core Logo. They’re on tour heading through the Rockies to play Calgary, Regina, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, and finally Edmonton. Like Henry Rollins’ book Get in the Van: On the Road with Black Flag (1994), or Joey “Shithead” Keithley’s  I, Shithead: A Life in Punk (2003), the film explores their lives playing and traveling on the tour.

There is a lot of tension within this group, who had broken up and have reformed just for this tour of duty. They all have their own issues (anger, hope, drugs and schizophrenia [aka lack of drugs]), and we get to know each one intimately, and even with their fucked up personality tics, we care about them, as they are framed in director Bruce McDonald’s vision, who plays himself as the director of this meta feature.

The acting is simply superb from beginning to end. There is no wondering if this band is real, like in Josie and the Pussycats, these guys bring it. The main focus of the story is on the lead singer/guitarist Joe Dick, a rough and tumble punker with a Mohawk, played by Hugh Dilon, nearly unrecognizable in his later and award winning role as the bald cop on the television series, Flashpoint.  It’s not surprising he brings such reality to the role as he actually fronted a hardcore band called the Headstones, who released six albums. Making Dick fearsome and also adding some pathos is worth applauding.

Dick started the band with lead guitarist Billy Tallent, engagingly played by Callum Keith Rennie, who would go on to many, many credits, including regular stints in Battlestar Gallactica and Californication. The love and tension felt between these two is palpable, and they keep dancing between keeping the band going and disbanding again.

John Pyper-Furgeson is soulful as the twitchy and poet bassist, John Oxenberger (the only one without a nom de band), and Bernie Coulson plays Pipefitter, a drummer so in Keith Moon territory that he no longer remembers his real name. Both of these characters are on the edge in different ways for opposite reasons, but they are given life by these two actors so that they are not support roles, but rather presented equally by McDonald.

One of my favorite characters is Dick’s mentor, Bucky Haight (get it?), chilling presented by Julian Richings. With all the strong characters in this film, Richings’ unusual looks and sheer strength makes him stand out even among a cast of this caliber.

How good is everyone in this film? All one needs to do is check out the sheer girth of the actor’s credits, which in itself speaks in volumes. Sure it’s a nearly all boys film (other than a groupie with a possible secret past and a couple of girlfriends who barely last a scene), but… punk rawk!! Sorry, I panicked.

McDonald doesn’t use stereotypical and cliché shots of the band, he lets his imagination go wild and has four frames with the band members talking at once, he sneaks around, and he even breaks documentary protocol and becomes a key part of the narrative at once point, sort of like the “crew” of the fake Belgian documentary Man Bites Dog (Belgian; also worth seeing, FYI), as he gets swept up in the band’s personae.

I didn’t get a chance to see the extras, unfortunately, but they include a commentary track by McDonald, music video and an obscure trailer. I couldn’t really tell the difference between blu-ray and – er – regular ray, but that should not stop you for a second from choosing to see this.

From beginning to shocking end, this is a beautiful film, easily one of the best rock’n’roll fiction films to date (though there are some real musicians, such as Joey Ramone, and bands, such as D.O.A., in the film as themselves). Even if you’re not into hardcore, this is a fascinating study of a band of, well, not exactly brothers. And yes, that is a cover of the Dead Boys' "Sonic Reducer" at the end of the trailer.

Hard Core Logo 2
Directed by Bruce McDonald  
Video Services Corp.                            
100 minutes, 2010 / 2012

Whatever wonders director Bruce McDonald picked up from making Hard Core Logo, apparently somewhere in the 15 years between that and this sequel, he apparently has if not lost it, then certainly had it misplaced.

Actually, it might have been traded for his ego. You see, even though this supposed documentary is about an actual band from Toronto called Die Mannequin, fronted by Caroline “Care Failure” Kawa, who play themselves within the framework of the film, they don’t seem to be in it much. The fiction part is that Failure believes herself to be possessed by the spirit of Joe Dick.

For the film, McDonald joins up with fictional filmmaker and Wiccan nut Liz Moore (Shannon Jardine) and heads out to film Die Mannequin as they record an album at Manitou Beach, Saskatchewan (at a town called Watrous), a place I’ve been to a few times. We see the hot springs (a truly wonderful, if sulfuric smelling and tasting place), and the infamous Dancehall, where most of the “action” takes place.

The key problem is that whereas with the previous release, we get to know and care about each of the four members of the band Hard Core Logo, now the key character of the film is McDonald himself, and personally, I couldn’t care less about him.  This premise was handled better in the true documentary, It’s About You (2010), where filmmaker Kurt Marcus becomes the locus of his following a super rock star, thankfully making it more interesting than its subject, the overrated John Mellencamp.  I was more interested in Die Mannequin than the person behind – and too often in front of – the camera in this case.

Even though the members of Die Mannequin are its actual musicians, we learn almost nothing about them, including its supposed center and front person, Care Bea…I mean Failure. As the (lack of) action happens, we hear McDonald’s narrative and it ignores what the film is supposed to be about. There was a level of excitement and danger in the first film, but here we get to see the drummer get annoyed because he has to go get Care out of her rented cabin. Ooooooo. More attention is paid to Anthony “Useless” Bleed, the (real) bassist who, in the story here, has left the band, than to the other “current” members. There is a shot of him in a kitchen of what is hinted to be Saskatoon’s infamous Amigos Cantina (where I saw D.O.A. play a couple of years ago), though none of the film is actually shot in that city. None of this is the fault of Die Mannequin, but rests squarely on the shoulders of the ego-burdened director.
Oh, as a sidebar, why would the band fly into Regina and drive two-and-a-half hours up to Watrous, when they could have flown into Saskatoon, which is only 45 minutes away, especially in the dead of winter?

Another annoying element of the film is its heightened religious undertone, though not for or against. You have the aforementioned Wiccans, a Christian television show that McDonald directs (with a nod to Gary Glitter), Bleed wearing a tee-shirt for a non-defunct Canadian Christian-based puppet show, and Failure is always wearing numerous crosses (which she apparently does in real life, as well). This all was a major distraction to the story, what ridiculously little there was of it.

There was little of the amazing camerawork and editing of the first film, no tension whatsoever, and such a total misdirection, that even the only resurrection from the previous release, other than McDonald and interspersed clips, Julian Richings as Bucky Haight, is lost and wasted. As we watched it, we kept waiting for something-anything to happen. To give you an example of the lack of imagination present, the last shot of Failure and Bleed is of them leaning against a large dumpster that is almost identical to the iconic shot from the film Sid and Nancy (1986). The entire ending of this film is a groaner and cop-out.

At the end of the credits for the film, there is a notice about how the film was funded by the province of Saskatchewan film board. The current premier of the province has cancelled this, coarsely constricting any future large-scale film industry. Reminding me of that got me more agitated than the entire rest of the 100 minutes that had just passed..

After watching the original Hard Core Logo, I can understand why someone would want to see the supposed sequel, but I have to say, it won’t be worth it. Also, I will not put up the trailer for this film because it has too many spoilers in it for both films. Even that was a failure. Instead, I will put up a clip of Die Mannequin, which is not related this film at all.


Bonus Clip: