Thursday, April 17, 2014

Dive! Dive!

My apologies for the delay in new reviews, etc. My hard drive crashed and I am in the process of getting the recovered.  And, may I say sincerely, siiiiiiigh.

I'll get back to ya!

Monday, March 10, 2014

DVD Review: Lou Reed Tribute: The DVD Collection * 3 Disc Set

Text © Robert Barry Francos/FFanzeen, 2010-2014
Images from the Internet

Lou Reed Tribute: The DVD Collection * 3 Disc Set
Chrome Dreams
279 minutes, 2014

To those who are unaware, if there is anyone left, Lou Reed passed away on October 27, 2013. The good British folks who bring numerous and well-done independent documentaries about musicians and groups in the rock era, Chrome Dreams, have compiled three of their Lou Reed-related releases and put them into a three-disc box set. Cashing in? Perhaps, but the topic is important enough and of interest enough for me to say “thanks.” I had previously reviewed the final one in the set, so I am reprinting it here at the bottom.

The Velvet Underground: Under Review – An Independent Critical Analysis
Directed, produced and narrated by Tom Barbor-Might                       
Sexy Intellectual
85 minutes, 2006

Wow, this is definitely the Cole Notes (Classics Illustrated?) version of the story of the Velvet Underground (VU). Three minutes in Nico is being introduced to the band, as explained in an interview with Factory photographer and archivist, Billy Name, who was easily as influential on the scene as Warhol, though not as present in the public cultural zeitgeist. By seven minutes in, the first album is being recorded and drummer Maureen Tucker is describing the experience.

Mind you, I am not complaining about any of this. I mean, it’s easy enough to find a multitude of histories of every member of the VU. I probably have 5 or 6 on my bookshelf (I highly recommend Richie Unterberger’s 2009 White Light/White Heat). What makes this particular one special, to me is hearing from the people who were there, like Name and Tucker, so early on in this telling.

Besides, this isn’t a history of the Velvets, it’s a “critical analysis,” so unlike most of the amazing Chrome Dream catalog, it makes sense that a majority of those discussing the band are writers and critics who tell their opinions rather than second-hand anecdotes. The DVD starts going into depth, in fact, upon discussion of The Velvet Underground & Nico recording. The place is proper for Clinton Heyln, who wrote the book From the Velvets to the Voidoids (2005) to opinionate that “Venus in Furs” is the most important rock song since “Heartbreak Hotel.”

It gets especially interesting when they discuss the centerpiece of the album, “Heroin.” Norman Dolph, line producer of the album, discusses what the atmosphere was like being in the studio during the taping, and then Joe Harvard, who wrote the 33-1/3 Series book on the record, does a really nice analysis of not only what the song is saying lyrically, but musically. Tucker also tells a great story about her essential drumming/pounding on the song. Included is a live clip of the band playing it live.

Each song is dissected without being hypercritical and academically analytical, thankfully, placed in a context of fandom, so “Waiting for My Man” is explained in its Dylan influence, the subway sound of its rhythm (Robert Christgau here gives Mo her props), and the differences between the earlier “Ludlow Tapes” and the final product.

Sadly, the only Nico song discussed is “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” and I would have loved to have heard them discuss “European Son,” which needs to be broken down.

After the departure of Nico, there is a segment about them playing at the Boston Tea Party in, well, Boston, discussed by the manager who booked them, Steve Nelson. This makes a nice separation between discussing their first release and their White Light/White Heat.

This second LP, according to some of the critics here, is what influenced the punk scene more than the first, as they flash images of the Stooges (who were actually contemporaries of the VU, not followers), the New York Dolls, Suicide, Patti Smith, Richard Hell, the Ramones, Talking Heads, and Blondie over the title song. Personally, I don’t believe it was any one album that led to the punk movement, but it was definitely part of the brick in the CB’s/Max’s wall.

Of course, they focus mainly on “Sister Ray,” described as the “centerpiece” of the album. There is definitely not as detailed an analysis as the firs release, which is a shame, since I know the first so much better than the second. I was interested, and it wasn’t there.

To me, though, the one real flaw is the mostly unidirectional discussion of influence during the recordings. What I mean by that is that they talk a lot about how other musicians were influenced by the VU, but other than a brief mention of Reed’s Dylan fixation on “Waiting For My Man” and Cale’s non-traditional jazz origin, there is no explanation of why the second VU album is so markedly different than the first, or who they were listening to at the time. I believe that VU were made of the exact same influences as the Stooges and the MC5, but used the filter of different loci scenes. It isn’t until the third album that we see a discussion of where the foundations lay.

Little over half a year after the album’s release, Cale left (or as Mo smilingly describes him, the “lunatic”), which changed the direction, minus the drone and screech. They became “melodic,” especially with the addition of Doug Yule. It’s great that Yule is interviewed about his tenure here, which included their self-titled LP from 1969 (aka “The Grey Album”).

Discussed from it is the quality and origin of the guitar solo from “What Goes On.” I like the photo of Yue putting the bass under his chin like Cale’s violin. Another song discussed is how Doug sang “Candy Says” (the song, of course, is about Candy Darling), and how he didn’t know Candy’s back story. Mo talks about recording her vocals on “After Hours,” with Doug adding his thoughts. By this time, the discussion is more about the recording process than about the content.

They do finally get around to Sterling Morrison (d. 1995) and how underrated he was as a guitarist, after an hour in to the whole she-bang. Sadly, we don’t’ get to hear Mo talk about him much, which is strange since they were the rhythm section for the entire tenure of the VU (not counting Yules solo release using the VU name, which is summarily and rightfully dismissed here). There is some talk of the mysterious “missing” LP (eventually released decades later) and Live at Max’s Kansas City, with Doug’s brother Billy replacing a pregnant Mo on drums, but the analysis has just about disappeared and it’s become less of a critical discussion as a “what happened,” documentary, which in itself is interesting, but not what was promised.

The last real VU album was Loaded, again which Mo could not play on, and Doug goes on record saying that they should have waited for her; Mo says unwaveringly that she wishes she could have done the song “Ocean.” Rightfully noted on the DVD, however, that even although the band was in the process of falling apart, it did impact two of the band’s well known songs, “Sweet Jane” and “Rock & Roll.” Christgau here posits that they are the most important songs the VU ever recorded.

There is a brief discussion by Mo and Doug about their initial reactions at the time to Lou leaving, and little further after that, but they are right in saying that music today would not be the same without the Velvets. There is no doubt that the Velvet Underground was a turning point in music, and I certainly enjoy their output, but I must add that while they changed the face of culture, so did many others.

Extras are “The Hardest Velvet’s Quiz in the World Ever” (I stopped after No. 5, having gotten them all correct), contributor bios, and a 15-minute short called “Velvet Reflections” (aka additional interviews not used in the DVD).

While I think the box is a bit over the top with its descriptor “…it is the finest film on the band ever to emerge,” it definitely kept my interest throughout, and I would recommend it both for the fan and also those who are interested in music history.

Punk Revolution NYC: The Velvet Underground, The New York Dolls & the CBGBs Set – Part One 1966-1974
Directed by Unknown
Pride DVD
87 minutes, 2011

Of the three films, this is the one I was most looking forward to seeing, so I saw it last, of course… punk rawk! Most of the others were before my musical time (which for me began on June 20, 1975, my first time at CBGBs, seeing Talking Heads (their first show) opening for the Ramones. While I know of some of the people in the others, in this documentary, I have been in a room and shared conversations with most, and have physically seen the rest, including on stage.

The film posits that after the arrival of the Beatles, most of the new music in the US was from California, with the Byrds being the touchstone. That would change when John Cale met Lou Reed and they formed the Velvet Underground. A good point made here is that even though Reed was the central figure, without Cale’s avant-garde influence and Warhol’s push toward art, the VU probably would never have been so powerful a cultural force.

One important piece that they more dance around in the large VU history segment is that the band did not create a scene, but were part of the art collective. It was actually their legacy (i.e., recordings) that were picked up later in the cut-off bins for a buck or less after the band no longer existed that truly was influential to help create that scene half a decade later, when that was added to the likes of the Stooges, and MC5. But the New York CBGB’s scene as they’re calling it here – why was Max’s not included in the title, I wonder, as it features prominently here – was also an anti-movement, exploding as much against corporate/classic rock as for its influences. The black hole was as important as the primordial soup in this case, for the growth of punk rock. But I get ahead of myself…

However, there was a progression from Warhol to the scene, as they explain, as many of the “superstars” or near-super were from the indie theater (e.g., The Theater of the Ridiculous), including those who would foster the nascent scene, such as Jayne County, Elda Gentile (aka Elda Stiletto) – both interviewed here – Patti Smith, Cherry Vanilla, David Johansen, Debbie Harry, and Eric Emerson.

The doc veers a bit into how the Warhol crowd influenced Bowie (after all, this is a British film) before veering back to Emerson and his band the Magic Tramps being a catalyst to the opening of the Mercer Arts Center in New York to bands. This was what opened up a space for the true link between the Velvets and what was to come in 1974 with CBGBs, and the New York Dolls (who are still not in the corporatized Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum because they never made enough money for the record companies; don’t get me started). Stunningly, and rightfully so, this film also gives almost equal credit as the Dolls to the duo of Suicide (who, they point out, were arguably the first to use the term punk music in the very early ‘70s). Jayne County refers to them perfectly: “Suicide were so genius they went over everyone’s head.”

From there, of course, they jump to Richard Hell and Tom Verlaine, joining musically as well as poetic frienemies, with Richard Lloyd to form Television. The story is infamous now about how they approached Hilly Kristal to open up CBGBs to new music, as is related here by Hell and Lloyd (though not together, of course). Television brought their own opening act, the Stilettos, which would implode and, with a shake-up, become Blondie.

With the rise of CBGBs (and apparently the disappearance of Max’s since the showcase, which became even more amazing after the Warhol crowd abandoned it, is unfairly barely mentioned again), came the overshadowing of the Dolls, and thus ends Part I. No mention of the Ramones or the Heartbreakers, dammit.

It amuses me how they keep bringing Britain into the whole shebang (Warhol crowd goes to London! Bowie calls Television original!), yet they never once mention how Malcolm McLaren was hanging around and getting / borrowing ideas for his own British store and scene.

There are a couple of oversimplifications and a bit over crediting, but generally this is a nicely handled overview of the sex leading up to the birth of the New York Scene. What is really remarkable is some of the talent they get to speak up for it. Usually there’s an overabundance of writers who comment on the scene (though it’s right that Robert Christgau be represented, though he would eventually turn his back on the NY scene and focus on the British end of it in his columns), but here, the partial list of interviewees include Jayne County (who tends to be undercredited for her role), photographer Roberta Baley, the ever-great storyteller and photographer Leee Black Childers, Danny Fields, Elda Gentile, David Johansen (for a sec), Alan Vega, and Richard Lloyd.

Along with the contributor bios, the main extra is an 8-minute featurette called “Anarchy in the UK – The New Yorkers Cross the Atlantic.” There has always been the chicken-and-egg argument of who got to where first. Here, Richard Hell states that they got it from us. British author Tony Fletcher states that we got it from them when we crossed the ocean and saw what they were doing. I think Jayne County, once again, gets it closer, where she states that outside NYC, bands didn’t do well, but in much smaller and densely populated England, where there is numerous weekly music newspapers, the NY bands were treated like royalty and gained a reputation. What no one else is mentioning is that when the relatively popular British bands came here, they entered a vacuum. I remember Eddie & the Hot Rods playing Max’s to a half filled, non-dancing crowd (which upset them). Even the Troggs played Max’s in ’77 to a well received, but not packed audience. When I saw the Police and the Vapors (“Turning Japanese”) play, it was in the basement of a Hotel on 43 St, and it was hardly crowded, and this was after “Roxanne” had been out.

Now I really want to see Part II…

The Sacred Triangle: Bowie, Iggy & Lou, 1971-1973
Directed by Alec Lindsell
Narrated by Thomas Arnold                      
Sexy Intellectual
107 minutes, 2010
[Reprinted from the FFanzeen blog, October 31, 2010]

Let’s get right down to it:

This is a British documentary, so you know which one of the three is getting the main focus. Okay, picture two pyramids next to each other. The one on the left is Lou Reed and the one on the right is Iggy. Balancing between them is a line connecting the two (that is Marc Bolan, mentioned often but not in detail). And finally there is the third pyramid of the “sacred” triangle, David Bowie, on top of it all. That is the vision presented here. Okay, I’m done. Naw, not really, as this is still an interesting – albeit somewhat skewed – vision of the three.

Let me quickly add here that I am totally impressed by the choice of interviews that have been selected for this doc, which is so much better than the Pearl Jam one in this series. But more on the talking heads later.

There’s no doubt that Bowie was influenced by Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, but that’s nothing new. Just listen to David Jones’ singing style around the Ziggy Stardust period, and it’s easy to see the progression from his earlier works. Personally, I’d rather listen to Reed’s take, but that’s just me walkin’ on the wild side on a Sunday morning when comes the dawning.

There’s plenty of clips here of the Velvets; well, as much as there really is, which is limited, and taken by the Warhol crowd “artfully” (i.e., in fast speed) while in Exploding Plastic Inevitable mode (Gerard and his whip dance is often present). Bowie was still in folkie / cutsie mode when he first heard “Waitin’ for My Man,” and (rightfully) became a huge VU fan. An example given here is his “Toy Soldier,” which is such a – er – homage to “Venus in Furs,” it even quotes it in a few place, such as the line “bleed for me.” The video for the song has someone dancing with whips. And on “Black County Rock,” as explained in this doc, Bowie even imitates Bolan. MainMan publicist and photographer Leee Black Childers, who would later manage Iggy and then the Heartbreakers, states here that Bowie’s true talent is to know what to steal. In fact he said this and many of other the other bon mots he posits in a FFanzeen interview conducted by our own Nancy Foster (aka Nancy Neon) back in 1982. [HERE]

Andy Warhol is shown as possibly as big an influence as the VU, and to talk about the theatrics of the Factory and its influence on Bowie are the likes of the very wound up VU biographer Victor Bockris, the fabulous aforementioned Childers (who used to have one of the coolest motorcycle jackets ever, with an image of Gene Vincent painted on its back), the equally extraordinary Jayne County, smartly dressed in bright red Little Red Riding Hood mode (she even matches the couch!), 16 Magazine publisher (early on) and Ramones manager Danny Fields, and the Psychotic Frog himself, Jimi LaLumia. They paint a vivid picture of Lou and Andy’s influence on not only Bowie, but music in general. But Bowie is the main focus here, and in this case almost rightfully so, as Lee, Jayne, and Jimi were all hired by the Bow-ster to work with Tony DeFries and help run his production company, MainMan. One person seriously missing from the interview call list, though, is Cherry Vanilla, which is a serious deficit.

But the person of interest for me here, interview wise, is definitely Angela Bowie. A while back I found her kind of abrasive, but I must say that my opinion has totally changed, and I now see her as incredibly refreshing. She holds nothing back, and will tell the most intimate details at top volume. My apologies to you, for any negative thoughts I may have had in the past. But I digress…

Other interviewees include writers Paul Tryoka and Dave Thompson, and musician John Harlsen, who was a drummer on the Bowie-produced Lou Reed first popular solo effort, Transformer (as well as being Barry Womble, of the Rutles), which included his hits “Satellite of Love” and “Walk on the Wild Side.” They all paint a very detailed portrait of Bowie, and what effect Reed and Iggy had on him, and how Bowie had affected them. Also included are some short interviews (more likely called clips) with the key artists involved, such as Bowie (from 2001 and 2007), Lou Reed (1986), Iggy (1988), and just as importantly, Mick Ronson (looking extremely frail shortly before his death in 1993). There would arguably be no Bowie to the scale he achieved without Ronson as a musical driving force (rather than an influence, like Reed and Pop), I’m convinced.

Possibly one of Warhol’s biggest influences (and he really is as big as either Lou or Iggy in the David Jones pantheon) is the idea that “You’re a Star!” and if you act like it, people will come to believe and expect it. Even before the money, there was the wardrobe, the limos, the expense accounts, and all the trappings. LaLumia states it quite well when he relates that Bowie claimed that “I’m an actor. I’m not a musician. I’m portraying a rock star.” I can’t argue with that, as I’ve always found that Lou Reed was true to what he believed, as was Iggy totally committed to what he was doing, but Bowie was posing, rather than being. Perhaps that’s why I’ve never found him to be someone I’ve looked up to musically, especially in the reality of the punk days of the Ramones and the ilk.

While Iggy’s role in the Bowie history (and vice-versa) is more commonly known, there is much less about Iggy here than either Reed or especially Warhol. Bowie famously helped Pop both get off drugs and revive his career. For me, Bowie major force was in the studio as a producer, more than a vocalist, or especially as an innovator, as he was a series of influences creatively recast. Angela probably had as much to do with Bowie’s success as did David or Ronson – or even DeFries. And I won’t even detail Cherry Vanilla’s outreach program.

The added feature to the DVD is a seven-minute documentary called “The Nico Connection,” which shows how she had touched the lives of all three musicians that are the focus of the main feature. There is a bio for each of the contributors, and it put a smile on my face to see my pals the She Wolves given a shout out by Jayne County, as they’ve worked together over the past few years.

As a last note, I would like to add that after viewing this DVD, check out The Velvet Goldmine, which will then make so much more sense.

Friday, March 7, 2014

DVD Review: DEVO: The Complete Truth About De-Evolution

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

DEVO: The Complete Truth About De-Evolution
MVD Visual
70 minutes, 1993 / 2014

Looking back, the Dada-inspired band Devo represents everything I would come to hate about the ‘80s onward, i.e., electronica and arty theatrical music. And yet, they hold a bit of a special place in my musical history, even though I never saw them live.

I remember buying the original “Jocko Homo” single on Booji Boy Records (their own imprint) on 8th Street at Disc-O-File when it was first released; yes I still have it. It definitely sounds stronger than the album version that was turned into a hit song/video on MTV not much later. Singer/creator Mark Mothersbaugh’s voice was sharp as a razor on the catch phrase “Are we not MEN!?” But then again, there was no sideways dancing as he would do on the video that attracted so many other fans. I remember seeing people dancing like that when they played the song on the PA at the Peppermint Lounge.

 The basic premise of this DVD is a collection of 20 of the band’s videos over the years (listed below). I’ll comment on some of them, as the odds are you’ve seen them at some point or another if you – er – wanted your MTV.

 While not as disturbing as the Resident’s version of the Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” the Devo cover is probably among the best well known. The spastic British second wave punk dancer flipping himself over in the occasional shot has become iconic of the early 1980s video days. As for the song, well, they certainly made it their own and it truly is an ear worm that is enjoyable.

If you’re like me, there are three things you remember about the “Come Back Jonee” video/song is (a) the cowboy outfits, (b) the repetitive rhythm (a Devo hallmark), and (c) the girl dancing by the keyboard. ‘Nuff said.

By the time they reached the “Whip It” stage, Devo sort of said everything they were going to say musically, but this is a band that wasn’t just oral, they were also optical. Their work in early digital video technology pushed its limits, using the medium as a palate of art, through color, effects, animation and experimentation. To me, that is one of the more important legacies of the band. Also, as far as I remember, they were among the pioneers of having videos that went beyond the song, and often had prologs and / or epilogs, making the songs into mini-movies, especially in the earlier ones, a wave that Michael Jackson would successfully jump on for Thriller.

Speaking of “Whip It,” watching it in retrospect, as this is the uncut version, it really does go into the whole promotion of rape culture. One woman’s clothes are violently and literally “whipped” off, while a cross-eyed woman is sexually assaulted by a rancher while his girlfriend yells (via caption scrawl) “Ride ‘em cowboy.” And, of course, the victim in this case is shown as willing (where is Tex Antoine when you need him). But at least the song is catchy, right? They do address it in the commentary, explaining, in part, that the cowboys represent the Reagan Republicans. Still…

An interesting aspect about watching these videos in a row is that you can notice themes, such as many of the songs are about individuality (e.g., “Freedom of Choice.” “Through Being Cool,’ and “Peek-A-Boo”), but the images promote getting it by being like everyone else. Reminds me of when Culture Club was first popular, in New York they had a Boy George lookalike contest (teenage girls showed up), and when questioned why they were dressing that way, one girl said, “Boy George is unique, and I want to be unique just like him” (shades of the crowd scene in Life of Brian). Uniformity is not unique; even within subcultures (e.g., hardcore and suspenders, grunge and plaid). Even when one is trying to be an individual, to fit into an ostracized group you must be recognizable to that collective. Devo seem to promote that. I’m not saying it’s good or bad, as it’s natural, I’m just pointing it out.

There is also a surprisingly large amount of images of violence, “Whip It” is the easy choice, but people are shooting others with ray-gun (usually to transform them into uni-bots), stabbings, electrocutions, and the like. Yes, it’s also used as social commentary in “Beautiful World,” but just check out “Love Without Anger.” Even in the later “Post-Post Modern Man” someone shoots the band’s name into a wall with a machine gun.

Sadly, by the end of these videos, they had gone from New Wave to jumping on the post-disco wave (much like the Clash). Meh.

To call this merely a collection of videos, though, is a major understatement because it extras are clearly as numerous and as historically important. In part, as there are too many to mention here, there is a collection of live footage from throughout the band’s tenure, including some crude b&w video from their very first performance at Kent State in – are you ready for this? – 1972. Even then, you can see what was coming, though they weren’t there yet. Humorously, there are a lot of empty seats in the theater. There are also commercials, shorts, a brief interview with the director their first video (“Secret Agent Man”), Chuck Statler, and the obligatory yet consistently interesting commentary track by band co-founders Mark Mothersbaugh and Gerald V. Casale.

The only thing missing was the spoof, "Dare to Be Stupid" by Weird Al Yankovic.

Song List:
Devo Corporate Anthem
Secret Agent Man
Jocko Homo
(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction
Come Back Jonee
The Day My Baby Gave Me a Surprise
Worried Man
Whip It
Girl U Want
Freedom of Choice
Through Being Cool
Love Without Anger
Beautiful World
Time Out For Fun
That’s Good
Theme from Dr. Detroit
Disco Dancer
Post-Post Modern Man
Post-Post Modern Man (Remix)
 Jocko Homo (LP version):


Weird Al’s “Dare to be Stupid”


Saturday, February 8, 2014

Memphis, 1998-2014

Text and images (c) Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen

Today is the day we scheduled to put our beloved cat to sleep. She will be missed by her adopted father, her adopted mother, and her sister, Ming. She was a joy to be around, always at your feet waiting for a pet, or a chance to lick your thumb so you could clean her head.

More of their story HERE.

Monday, January 6, 2014

It’s a Euro-peeen Co-ink-y-dink

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2014
Images from the Internet
A while back, in 2008, I wrote a blog about bizarre coincidences in my life that would never be believed if they were fiction, linked HERE. Well, here is another couple that I could have added:
During the summer of 1997, my partner, M_____, had the opportunity to teach for a semester through Europe, bringing a bunch of middle and upper class Midwestern students to Amsterdam/Utrecht, Berlin/Petzow, Krakow/Warsaw, and London/Bloomsbury. As these classes needed to be set up, she went for a month during the summer, and the school associated with the program let me go along, if I would pay for most of the transportation, my own food, and the difference between single and double accommodations. Seeing that much of Europe for a month for about $2000? Count me in, even if it took me two years to pay it off (not counting for the 80+ rolls of 35mm film used that needed developing).
The plan was simple: during the day, M_____ would be working an organizing her classes, and I would scout around, learning the way around, checking out some highlights that she could use for the students, and generally play tourist. There were major tours we would take together, such as the astounding Wieliczka salt mines and Auschwitz (I and II) near Krakow, the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam, and Queen Victoria’s Royal Pavilion in Brighton, but mostly I was on my own most days. We would meet up at dinner, and spend the evenings together.
During this month, there were two separate incidents which fall into this category of whodahthunk coincidence.
Having grown up near New Utrecht Avenue (pronounced “yoo-tr’k”), walking the streets of the town it was named after in the Netherlands, Utrecht (pronounced “Oo-treCHt”) gave me some kind of vicarious thrill. Traveling along one of the many canals that run through the absolutely lovely city about 20 miles outside Amsterdam, I was heading back to our hotel in the city’s center where we were going to leave for Amsterdam by train the next day. There was something about the Da Capo used and new record store at Oudegracht 10 3511 AM that caught my eye (whatever that was), and I went inside.
The store was empty other than someone behind the counter, who was busy working away.  Over the store’s PA, a Herman’s Hermit’s (yes, Mike, with Peter Noone) album was playing. I’m a fan, so it was nice. Looking around, I noticed a “garage” section, which pulled me to it, of course. There were some Get Hip label vinyl LPs by the Cynics, the Brood, and yes, both albums by the Mystic Eyes, led by one of my besties, Bernie Kugel. This definitely brought a smile to my face, because it’s rare to find any Get Hip records in the States, and to find it in Utrecht was just delightful.
Just around that time, the Herman’s Hermits LP closed out, so I held up the record, and said to the guy at the counter, not knowing if he even spoke English, “Why don’t you play this next?” The guy’s face lit up, and in a Dutch accent, he said, with a surprised lilt, “Oh! Yah! Bernie Koogl. Great record, man!” I’m not sure why I didn’t just say hello and introduce myself; perhaps shyness in a different country, or if my memory serves me well, he really did look quite busy, so I waved and said  goodbye, and walked the rest of the way back.
When I got back to USA, I called Bernie and told him the story. He knew of the place, which apparently is well known among the American garage affectionati and bands, and the guy (Michael) has even hosted the Cynics and the A-Bones. It’s a small world, indeed, and Walt Disney would probably be smiling if he weren’t in anti-Semite hell.
The second story is even more out there. On the flight over to Holland, M_____ and I were talking about our plans. She commented that when we got to Berlin, she was hoping look up a New Brunswick born lesbian poet who was now living in the city, but only knew her name (which I quickly forgot). Wow, looking up a person in a foreign city the size of Berlin with only a name. So much for that.
Through the days, I went to the bombed out Keiser Wilhelm Memorial Church downtown, to the old part of East Berlin and the Neue Synagogue, had a beer under the television tower, and went to Museumsinsel (Museum Island). I also took a couple of the Berlin Walks that are given throughout the city, usually starting at the main train station, in the central district. Most of them are run by students originally from other countries to pay for their education (e.g., someone from France studying in Berlin would take a group from France or Quebec). While my week in the city, I took two of them, one focusing on the Reichstag, Berlin Wall and Brandenburg Gate area, where we saw the abandoned Checkpoint Charlie. We also saw the largest part of the wall that remained, locked from the public behind a fence owned by a multi-national corporation (the irony was not lost on me).    
The second tour was of “Jewish Berlin,” looking at some of what used to be the Jewish neighborhoods of Berlin before, well, you know. There were cemeteries, statues to those deported, and even one to a group of non-Jewish women who managed to protect their husbands during the midst of the war. I was also impressed by the sign for Rosenstra├če, being that Rosen is my mother’s family name (it was quite common, and that branch of the family actually came from Prussia).
The person who led the tour seemed quite knowledgeable, and then mentioned Fredericton. Later in the tour she also brought up a particular Canadian poet. Jeez, I thought, could this be the person Marie was looking for, and what were the odds it actually was her? After the tour, I approached her and said, “Hi, my name is Robert, and I think my partner is looking for you.” She looked at me quizzedly, and honestly, suspiciously. And rightfully so; after all, who was this strange man from a tour asking her personal questions? I told her about M_____ and how she was trying to find her, and asked her for her phone number to pass along. She was obviously hesitant, but she did it.
When I met up with M_____ around suppertime, I told her the story of the tour guide and gave her the phone number. She immediately and excitedly jumped into the first phone booth we passed (remember phone booths?) and called the number. Yes, astonishingly so, it was Carolyn Gannon, who had written a book of poetry called Lesbians Ignited that was causing great stirs in the lesbian literary circles.
Carolyn Gammon
M_____ met with her, and hired Carolyn as a guest lecturer for her forthcoming class. While Marie did this just the one year, Carolyn has been working with the same program since. Apparently, we led her to an ongoing paycheck. This makes me very happy.
The following year, Carolyn and her partner, writer / scholar / activist Katharina Oguntoye, came to Brooklyn to stay with us for a couple of weeks, and just this past December, Carolyn stayed in our house in Saskatoon as a Visiting Writer for the University of Saskatchewan. Her recent books include two Holocaust survivor narratives (Johanna Krause Twice Persecuted: Surviving in Nazi Germany and Communist East Germany and The Unwritten Diary of Israel Unger).  In fact, she read me a few of her poems from her upcoming book that she is working on, and I’ve shown her around town (including a night at the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra, and the quaint City Perks Coffee Shop. After Berlin, it was my turn to be the tour guide. All this from a coincidental meeting that was certainly meant to occur.  

Monday, December 2, 2013

DVD Review: Tribute to Ron Asheton, Featuring Iggy Pop & the Stooges + Special Guests

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2013
Images from the Internet                                  
Tribute to Ron Asheton, Featuring Iggy Pop & the Stooges + Special Guests
MVD Visual                                      
114 minutes, 2011 / 2013  
I constructed a theory as I was watching this, which I believe is both true and false: please feel free to add your thoughts: The Stooges fall somewhere between the MC5 and the Velvet Underground. They were sloppier than the MC5, but were less noise than the VUs.
While Iggy Pop was and is the obvious front face of the Stooges, by voice and action on stage, Ron Asheton was the electricity that flowed through it, charging him up. Even after Ron moved to bass following the second Stooges album, with James Williamson taking over, he played the bass much like a second lead guitar. Soon he left the band, but rejoined it for a much later reunion tour. Sadly, he passed away in 2009.
Ron was a son of Ann Arbor, Michigan, where the band formed, and it only seemed fitting that a memorial concert would be held there at the Michigan Theater, on April 19, 2011, headlined by the Stooges, the band he helped form. And yet, all these years later with only two of the four original members (Iggy, and the other being the drummer, Ron’s brother Scott Asheton), Iggy rightly states during the show, “We are still the Stooges.”
Everyone in the band is gray now except Iggy, and they have all put on a bit of weight except Iggy. After all these years, Iggy has simply remained Iggy. With leather skin and more wrinkles than a Shar-Pei, Iggy’s energy and enthusiasm can rival most bands out there today. All his signature moves are still present, like the sideways bend and twist, the mic stand one-arm lean, jumping around the stage like a manic marionette, the stage diving, and that wicked smile. His voice is as strong as ever, as well.
Produced in part by Ron and Scott’s sister, Kathleen (“Kathy,” who is mentioned often on this DVD, but never identified in person), this show is definitely a love letter to the city’s son.
Introducing the Stooges and to remind everyone why they are there, is emcee Henry Rollins. He uses language like a spoken word artist (which he is, actually) and explains how, in a 30-minute verse that feels so much shorter, how members of his once band Black Flag turned him onto the Stooges, why Ron was so important to that, how the new Stooges respect Ron’s legacy while bringing in something of their own, and then brings it back around to how he is introducing the Stooges to new fans around the world. Somewhere in there, the verbally uncomfortable Scott comes out and gives a quick nod to both Ron and Kathy. When Rollins finishes, the band (sans Iggy) comes out and he leads them, with his classic wide side stance and mic cord wrapped around his hand, in a solid version of “I Got a Right.” Normally his shirt would be off, but in Michigan, that’s Iggy’s job.
When the Stooges reformed in recent decades, it was the second line-up, where Ron was bassist rather than guitarist, and when he passed, those shoes fell to ex-Minutemen Mike Watt. Surely, Watt is not only an elder statesman of the punk scene, but a rock solid and respected bassist. He’s also an interesting character if you have ever seen an interview with him. But he is especially fun to watch on stage. He stands there in a hockey’s goalie stance with legs spread and body bent forward. His eyes follow Iggy around the stage with fascination, and with a big smile that makes it obvious he is enjoying himself. In fact, it’s almost like he’s watching the show, and his body is playing independently; yet, he never misses a beat.
James Williamson is a force unto himself, but has a slightly different cutting edge to his sound. I went back and watched a 2003 show of the Stooges from Detroit, and Ron had a very distinctive chainsaw sound that is a bit different than James, though both deserve to be recognized. Listen to the opening of “Search and Destroy,” probably my favorite Stooges tune, and you can feel the difference. Both great, just not the same feel. Speaking of which, after about an hour into the show, James disappears, and is replaced by fellow Michigan native and ex-frontman for the Aussie punk band Radio Birdman, Deniz Tek. Again, he is more clinical than either Ron or James, but he can sure wail.
For some reason, the camera does not rest much on Scott. He’s always been a consistent element for the band, keeping everything moving along smoothly. It also made me very happy that they were united with Stooges saxman Steve Mackay, who seems to get the least attention when you hear about the band. His shrill bark is definitely part of the band’s sound to me.
Along the way, at “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” the band is joined by an orchestra, who I’m not sure helps the sound or gets a bit lost in it, but it is an interesting concept.
I mean, do I really have to tell you about the Stooges? If you don’t know them, seek them out. There are so many of their classic hits here. Actually, if you wanted a greatest hits collection, you’d probably have to just create a box set of all their songs, but I digress…
While there are a couple of “special guests” on stage, I’m glad this didn’t turn into a stream of musicians like so many of these things, showing a pseudo “look how cool I am.” That being said, I must admit I was hoping Niagara would be there to perform “Bored,” the song she did with Ron in their post-Stooges band, Destroy All Monsters.
Stooges shows are always worth seeing, and I have no problem watching this again, or recommending that someone else does likewise.

There are a few extras here, including a quarter-hour opening set by the Space Age Toasters, who mention twice that they were named by Asheton. They dress like a surf band, but are obviously punk. Lead singer moves really well, and the songs are actually quite decent.
There are also interview segments lasting 5-to-10 minutes apiece with Henry Rollins (who mostly says the same things as he does in his onstage band introduction – which I have no problem with), filmmaker and hipster god Jim Jarmusch (not sure why he’s here, nor what has he done in the last few years that matters), Ken Haas of Reverend Guitars that has a signature Ron Asheton model, and with Deniz. Most of these are really interesting.
The fact that it’s a live Stooges show alone makes this DVD worth getting, duh, but that it is increasingly so because of its purpose, and that all proceeds go to the Ron Asheton Foundation, a worldwide charity concerned with animal rescue (find information HERE).
Iggy Pop: vox
James Williamson: guitar
Mike Watt: bass
Scott Asheton: drum
Steve Mackay: sax
Deniz Tek: guitar
Song list:
I Got a Right (sung by Henry Rollins)
Raw Power
Search and Destroy
Shake Appeal
L.A. Blues
Night Theme
Beyond the Line
Fun House
Open Up and Bleed
Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell
I Wanna Be Your Dog
TV Eye
Real Cool Time
Iggy’s Speech
Ron’s time
No Fun

Monday, November 25, 2013

DVD Review: ’83 US Festival: Days 1-3

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2013
Images from the Internet


’83 US Festival: Days 1-3
Directed by Glenn Aveni
MVD Visual
Unuson Corporation / Icon 
135 minutes, 1983 / 2009 / 2013

Before there was Steve Jobs standing on a stage telling us we needed to buy cell phones and tablets, Apple was run by Steve Wozniak. He wanted to take his profits and, much like Sir Richard Branson of Virgin, do everything, Woz, as he was sometimes known, had the idea to spend his money on some tax shelters that he could use to spread the Apple name to the populace. I actually don’t mean it as cynical as it sounds, but you know what I’m sayin’.

The US Festival was a huge music event that drew an average of over 300,000 people per day, and had some of the world’s top musicians at the time, as well as those who were on the way up.

By the early ‘80s, hardcore had a shaky start and was totally not financially viable in any kind of way. Black Flag? Cro-Mags? GG Allin? No one heard of them on a national level, other than something like “…a riot at club so-and-so last night with so-and-so band was playing…”

Also, many bands I was interested in had turned a corner of popularity and had lost my attention. I mean, after the London Calling double set, did the Clash really do much that was innovative? U2 had become super-obnoxious superstars, Missing Persons had been a cutesy New Wave band who for some reason had a couple of major hits and had lost any club credibility, and I still remember standing on line waiting to see the premiere of Rock and Roll High School where a person behind me was wearing a t-shirt that read “Sit on my face, Stevie Nicks.”

But like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, the US Festival as not just about the music, but about the corporate sponsorship, which is well represented here.

Day 1 (Saturday, May 28; “New Wave Day”):

The first band up is the Aussie rockers, the Divinyls. This performance was around the time of their breakthrough album, and the one I still consider their best, Desperate. They usually ended their set in the early days with this, their first hit, “Boys in Town” (years later it would become their opener). Singer Christine “Chrissy” Amphlett (d. 2013; RIP) would later become better known for her sexually tinged soft rock “I Touch Myself” and “Pleasure and Pain,” which is the equivalent of Slade being criminally remembered for “My Oh My” and “Run Runaway.”  In these nascent days, the Divinyls were a powerhouse, and Christine was like a caged lioness in a schoolgirl uniform. Of course, this is a great version of the song, but at the time, they all were. It is obvious by the red streaks up and down her arms that she had already finished the “Elsie,” another of my favorites, where she writes all over her face, arms and legs with a red lipstick. I would have liked to have seen their whole set, but who knows, maybe someday. The Divinyls are worth checking out.

Do you remember where you were when you heard that Michael Hutchence, lead vocalist of (also) Aussie group INXS, had accidentally(?) offed himself in a hotel room in 1997, made all the more newspaper fodder and culture fixation by his baby-mama’s claim that he was involved in autoerotic asphyxiation? Me neither. I was sorry to hear about him as much as I was about Amy Winehouse or any other overpampered and excessing rock star, but I do have to admit that INXS never meant a whit to me, and I don’t think I would know one of their songs if I fell over it. The one here, “The One Thing,” sounds pretty much like every other ‘80s song of the period with that same rhythm and hollow sounding drums. Hutchence, himself, moves well along the stage and is startlingly handsome, but it almost looks like he’s trying to channel Jim Morrison.

The English Beat was a fun band with their white ska, much like the more famous Madness. The multi-racial Brit boys are constantly moving around the huuuuuuge stage during their song, “Jeanette.” But I wonder why they put interviewee Mark Goodman, one of the very first MTV VJs, talking over them; unfortunately, this is only the start.

The Stray Cats were a decent post-rockabilly band (and acted like assholes to me, but that’s another story), though nowhere near as exciting as their New York rivals, the Rockats. “Rock This Town,” however, has rightfully become a classic, as they do it here. Actually, it’s kind of strange that this Americana music is sandwiched in among a bunch of British and Australian groups.

Men at Work pretty much were  a two-hit wonder in the States, and it’s interesting that they only do one of them, “Who Can It Be Now,” with a recent interview with lead singer Colin Hay talking over some of the instrumental parts. Frustrating; while I’m not a big fan, I do respect them for some reason, and I just think it’s insulting to the bands to overwhelm the music with talk, whatever I think of them. They also do their lesser known “It’s a Mistake.

Of course, the band I was looking forward to on this first day was the headliners, the Clash. My question (yes, there is always a question) is, since everyone knows that the heart and soul of the Clash was Joe Strummer (do you believe there would be a Mick Jones wall in the East Village if it has been Jones instead of Strummer to pass in 2002?), so why pick a Mick Jones song, even a decent one like “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” I would have gone with “London Calling” at the very least. Perhaps the producers were as stoned as Jones, whose stories rival even Willie Nelson? This was, by the way, the last show with Mick in the band.

The original line-up for the first day was as follows: Divinyls, INXS, Wall of Voodoo, Oingo Boingo, the English Beat, A Flock of Seagulls, Stray Cats, Men at Work, and the Clash.

Day 2 (Sunday, May 29; “Heavy Metal Day”):

Even at the time this event was happening, and in fact with many of the fests that the Ramones skewered so well in their “Something to Believe In” video, such as Live AID, when there are shots of the audience, a large amount of them are going to be of either braless women wearing tight clothes, women in bikinis, women sitting on the shoulders of their guys, and women with big…tracks of land, and Monty Python so famously put it. Sexist? Oh, yeah. To be fair, there are a few shots of buff shirtless men, but most males you see are drunk, screaming, or being macho morons.  And to think that these people are now in their early 50s with kids around the same age somehow makes me smile.

Everything that made Judas Priest was in place that day, including Rob Halford’s riding his ‘cycle and leathers onto the stage, his fey manner, and his four octave range. Canadian Hall of Famers, Triumph, for some reason gets the largest number of songs on this collection and is seen on this after JP, though they actually played before. Germany’s Scorpions, post-Michael Schenker (wow, I remembered how to spell it!), are also solid, of course, though they don’t do their metal classic “Rock Me Like a Hurricane.” Oh, well. I noticed that the band incorporated quite a few moves from the Who, such as the mic fling and the windmill.

All three have overlapping themes (hence belonging to the same genre), such as sung verses and screamed/screeched choruses, multiple guitar assaults, loyal fans, and the ability to make me wonder what’s for supper. Yes, I did sit all the way through the DVD of the day.

The original line-up for Day 2 was as follows: Quiet Riot, Motley Crue, Triumph, Ozzy Osbourne, Judas Priest, Scorpions, and Van Halen.

Day 3 (Monday, May 30; Rock Day):

Okay, I realize this collection is a three-part special that was released in 2009, but whoever did it, well, I would like to have a conversation. For example, the first band up on the third day, which is more New Wavy than the official “New Wave Day,” is Berlin. Sure, lots of synth and ‘80s aesthetic, but I like singer Terri Nunn’s voice somewhat (that waiver was very popular then with the likes of Chrissy Hynde, who also played this day, though unseen here). Berlin is given very short shrift thanks to cutting the song to about a minute, and most of that having Goodman talking over it. I agree with what he says, but the producer could have put it between the songs, not over it. Plus, even when you can hear the music, they show the same damn clips of people in the audience (again, mostly women dressed provocatively for the time) that appear on the other two days. C’mon…

Quarterflash never even raised a blip to my peer group, to be honest. I think this is the first time I can remember actually hearing them. And I don’t think I missed anything. With Missing Persons, I can imagine people looking back and thinking, WTF? How did they get any serious attention, really?

It’s interesting to see U2 so early in their career before Bono and the Edge became prisoners of their personas (wraparound sunglasses, and the like), to paraphrase the wonderful Christine Lavin. And as big as U2 became, there is still talking over them, actually having the balls to compare them to Elvis and the Beatles. No wonder their egos became such monstrosities.

Wait, What? They put a Triumph song from Day 2 in the middle of a collection of Day 3? Certainly they didn’t run out of music for the day. They clipped Berlin down to nuthin’, and even talked over U2. What were they thinking, and is the producer secretly Canadian? Surely the band didn’t return and wear the exact same clothes.

Last up is Stevie Nicks (though Bowie closed the night). I have none of her music in my collection, but I can certainly see why she was so prominent on the bill. Diminutive in size, with Mick Fleetwood pounding the drums behind her, she barrels her way through her two songs, making it look easy. She definitely has one of the most distinct voices in rock, even when she’s doing a disco-style version of her solo hit, “Stand Back.”

The original mainstage line-up for Day 3 was as follows: Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul, Berlin, Quarterflash, U2, Missing Persons, the Pretenders, Joe Walsh, Stevie Nicks, David Bowie.

In conclusion, there is a strong woman starting the festival and a strong woman ending it, and lots of shots of audience bimbos inbetween. The success of the three-day collection (the fourth “Country Day” is not shown) is getting so see some acts that were soon to be gone, most of whom have vanished and others in their nascentcy on their way to superstardom. The failure is due to the lack of respect for the artists by narrating over them, or editing their work. Obviously, what is needed is a box set of the entire festival. In the meanwhile, this will have to do, but note that many of the clips here are quite available on YouTube, but you didn’t get that from me.

Song List:
Divinyls: Boys in Town
The English Beat: Jeanette
INXS: The One Thing
Stray Cats: Rock This Town
Stray Cats: Double Talkin’ Baby
Men at Work: Who Can It Be Now
Men at Work: It’s a Mistake
The Clash: Should I Stay or Should I Go
Judas Priest: Breakin’ the Law
Judas Priest: You Got Another Thing Comin’
Triumph: Lay It on the Line
Triumph: Fight the Good Fight
Triumph: A World of Fantasy
Scorpions: The Zoo
Scorpions: Can’t Get Enough
Berlin: Sex I’m A
Quarterflash: Find Another Fool
U2: Sunday, Bloody, Sunday
U2: Electric Co.
Missing Persons: Words
Triumph: Magic Power
Stevie Nicks: Outside the Rain
Stevie Nicks: Stand Back