Saturday, October 11, 2014

CD Review: Gallagher: I Am Who I Pretend to Be

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

Gallagher: I Am Who I Pretend to Be
Produced by David Drozen
Uproar Entertainment
70 minutes, 2014

In case you are wondering who (Leo) Gallagher is, I don’t think it would be an understatement to say he was as influential in the stand-up world as Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, and Robin Williams. Arguably, you could even add George Carlin. Was he as funny as them? Well, that’s a matter of the style of humor you enjoy, but it was Gallagher that almost single-handedly brought the stand-up series of specials to cable television, 14 shows over the years that had millions of viewers each. Some say the existence of the Comedy Channel in some part was created due to Gallagher’s on-air popularity.

I have to say, I found him extremely funny. I viewed probably about 5 of those specials, and saw him a number of times on the likes of Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show. He was outrageous without being overly shocking (profanity is in his cable shows, but not his mainstream presentations). He had a unique style, using his own creative props that were inventive on the level of engineering, and unlike some other prop comics like, say, Carrot Top, Gallagher was not manic (though he screamed a lot) and was actually enjoyable.

From North Carolina, he had a bit of a twang and a unique way of phrasing things, often using some colloquialisms, such as saying “them people.” Considering how much of the use of language a key part of his act is, I’m not sure if this was an in-bred way of patter, or was part of his stage persona. I don’t ever remember seeing him talk off the stage.

The reason I use past tense in this piece is because this show is part of Gallagher’s retirement tour. After serious health issues, he has decided to professionally call it quits.

When the CD starts, honestly, it doesn’t sound like him. He has a particular way to talking and it takes a while before I can “recognize” his voice. But that’s okay. I also wondered about a vocal-only recording, because he usually is quite visual, including using a sledge hammer on a watermelon (yeah, that’s the guy). That is probably why he has all these television shows and only one other vocal recording from the beginning of his career.

One of the things that appeals to me about Gallagher is the way he has a slight twisted way of looking at life that seems to make sense until you really think about it. For example, he often posits (including here) that they ought to give deaf people houses by the airport. Or that that they should make Jehovah Witnesses mail carriers because they’re going to come to your door anyway (not included). Illogical logic?

In the hour-plus of this CD, I did notice something that I had not realized before, but has been a consistent theme of his act, and that is he promotes cultural gender-normative stereotypes. Sort of a “You know what you guys do?” “You know what you ‘girls’ do?” Then comes out the controlling image of women who love to go shopping, and men who are slackers around the house who don’t do much tidying, and how both drive each other crazy. He’s been focusing in on these for thirty years now, and honestly, the timer is up on it. It’s a dated notion that is okay to acknowledge that times have changed. More men work around the house, and more women are in the workforce. That being said, I thought the line about a version of Playboy for married men that has the same centerfold model in each issue was pretty funny. Okay, I’m done with that cultural rant.

Gallagher has always been a bit of an American jingoist, but tends not to be overly obnoxious about it, like Ted Nugent, for example. He loves “Amurrka” (as he pronounces it) and hates to see foreign interests changing the landscape, as it were. Is his material racist? Well, there is definitely singling out some cultures, such as Mexicanos, but it’s not nasty any more than his pointing out gender norms. I did cringe, however, the one time when he used the expression “that is so gay.”

Once you get beyond those, and he finally gets fired up, as he does here, his two strong suits come out. The first one is pointing out the sheer ridiculousness of our culture, and how we look at things. He would make a powerful General Semanticist. It could be how we may be viewed by aliens (stating how from space telescopes we have to look up to the stars find any kind of intelligence, rather than back at Earth), weirdness about how people view the Bible, and how crazy is our justice system. His analysis using a spork (spoon-fork a la KFC) as a springboard is quite smart.

Then his second strong point comes out that is my favorite, which is Carlin-esque in how he points out the randomness of grammar and language. In this particular case he looks at the “enemy” of the English language, the French, and how their mother tongue has influenced us in nearly a poetic rant.

The bonus track, “Words of Wisdom,” is a bit I’ve heard before, and in fact there is a smattering of repeating here and there (this is true of many comics, including Robin Williams, with his Mr. Happy bits).

Yeah, he’s still sharp and witty, and considering his heart situation, he’s definitely still Gallagher. That’s something that’s worth a listen.
Bonus video from the ‘80s (unrelated to this CD):

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Hoyt Axton: Half Folkie, Half Hippie, Half Okie (Guest Article)

For the more than a decade that I’ve known Brian Dickson, his fandom of the multi-talented Hoyt Axton has been evident. If Hoyt had been younger, it’s possible he could have been called country punk, along with the likes of Rank & File, but he was more of the generation of Townes van Zandt and the hyper-realistic country that was both harsh and beautiful. This, in part, is why I asked Brian to write something about Hoyt, since little is known about him these days, and he deserves the credit he can get. Besides, feeding a musical obsession is something I will usually stand behind, especially if the subject is as worthwhile as Axton. – Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2014

By Brian Dickson, 2014
Images from the Internet

I was pleasantly surprised when Robert dropped me a line and asked if I would like to write a piece on Hoyt Axton for this blog, but I had to ask him: “Are you sure Axton fits the bill for ‘Rock n’ Roll Attitude with Integrity’?” Robert's reply: “Hoyt was as punk as Johnny Cash or Townes Van Zandt, as far as I’m concerned.” Which I believe is true in several ways. Hoyt enjoyed a long, colorful career that included not only music composition and performance, but acting, record production and commercial voice-over work. But part of my fascination with the man, I think, is that his musical approach always eluded definition. He could never be bracketed into one genre or another.

Hoyt Wayne Axton. If you don’t know the name, chances are you’d recognize him from films and TV. “Bonanza.“ Smoky (1966). The Black Stallion (1979). “WKRP in Cincinnati.” Heart Like A Wheel (1983). Gremlins (1984) [He played the dad who gave his son the Gremlin – RBF]. We’re No Angels (1989). A slew of others. But if you can’t place the face, chances are you know the voice. Extoller of the Big Mac, Pizza Hut, and Busch beer. And of course, writer and singer of some truly great songs.

Born in Duncan, Oklahoma, in 1938, and raised in Comanche; the eldest son of John T. Axton and Mae Boren (Mae, later known as ”The Queen Mother of Nashville,“ co-wrote “Heartbreak Hotel” for Elvis). He served a brief stint in the U.S. Navy after attending Oklahoma State University on a football scholarship. His career in music began in West Coast coffee houses and folk clubs in the early sixties.

I’ll admit I’m showing up at the party pretty late here. I was born in ’73; by that year Axton had recorded ten albums for six different labels. Nineteen sixty-nine saw the release of My Griffin Is Gone on Columbia Records, followed by two on Capitol Records in 1971 (Joy to the World, and the lesser known Country Anthem). In ’73 came Less Than the Song on A&M, the first of four albums on that label, which is widely recognized as Hoyt’s creative peak: Song in ’73, Life Machine (1974), Southbound (1975) and Fearless (1976).

But being an ‘80’s kid, I became aware of Hoyt not through his music, but by seeing him in movies - Gremlins, primarily - and on television, namely, “WKRP in Cincinnati” and “Diff’rent Strokes.” In tenth grade it became a daily routine after walking home from school to catch a re-run of “WKRP” at 4. I fondly recall that classic first-season episode entitled, “I Do, I Do…For Now.” Hoyt, playing the imposing “T.J. Watson from Rockthrow, West Virginia,” arrives at the station to reclaim his childhood sweetheart, Jennifer Marlowe (Loni Anderson), who hastily pretends to be married to Dr. Johnny Fever (Howard Hesseman). Hoyt sings “Jealous Man” to a captive and terrified Fever in the station lobby (“You got the knife, I got the gun / c’mon boy, we’re gonna have a little fun…”). He proceeds to tell a story about his dear ol’ pappy. And how the woman his pappy loved – his mama – was already married to another man by the name of Jenkins. But Jenkins didn’t wanna give his mama up. So his pappy - bein’ the man he was - went down to see Jenkins…and called him out. “Called him out?” Fever replies nervously. That’s right, T.J. says – called…him…out. Fever (hope diminishing): “To talk.” Hoyt: Uh-huh. Then he shot him.” This is one of my favorite scenes in all of TV history.

It wasn’t until a road trip in the first car I ever owned – an ‘85 Plymouth Turismo, paid $650 cash – that I found Hoyt on a purely musical level. This was a solo run from Ottawa to my home province of New Brunswick, Canada, in 1999. I had been browsing CDs in a music store a couple of days prior, and stumbled across the two-disc A&M Years package, which contains Axton’s four albums released on A&M Records from 1973-76. I remember thinking, “Well, looky here. Hoyt Axton.” On that trip I cranked up songs on that old Duster’s player like “Peacemaker,” “Life Machine,” “Idol of the Band,” “Geronimo’s Cadillac,” and “No No Song.” I discovered Hoyt’s music with road tunes from Southbound and Fearless on the highway outside of Montreal that morning, which made me realize what an underrated figure the man was and is, to this day.

Hoyt is generally considered a country artist, particularly from his musical bend in the mid-to-late ‘70s and on. But let’s go back to the beginning: 1963. Consider his first folk recordings on Horizon Records: Greenback Dollar, Thunder’n Lightnin,’ Saturday’s Child. Bob Dylan broke down the door, and Axton moseyed through – not with the same lyrical prowess as Dylan, but with attitude, groove, and a voice like no other.

The following year saw Hoyt “explode”! Released by Vee-Jay in ’64, Hoyt Axton Explodes! is a mid-‘60s curio that might be loosely described as “garage folk-rock.” If Axton has a blues record, it would be Sings Bessie Smith (1965). My Griffin Is Gone (1969) is a lesser inclusion among the pantheon of classic albums of the period, but an atmospheric gem of that era, nonetheless. And Joy to the World is a rock album. A rock album with folky ballads making up half of each side, though. Folk n’ roll? Listen to the title track and “Never Been to Spain” (big hits for Three Dog Night). Regard others like “The Pusher” (big hit for Steppenwolf), “California Women,” or that classic party song, “Lightning Bar Blues.” Also a tune called “Captain America” from 1973. These are rock songs. His aforementioned albums on A&M from 1973-76 started with a somewhat experimental, progressive folk/blues oddity (Less Than the Song), but which somehow…wasn’t. The albums Life Machine, Southbound and Fearless were “country-rock,” but…weren’t. Hoyt’s other albums for MCA and the ones on his own Jeremiah label appeared to be country, but also quietly defied categorization. For the most part, his music encompassed folk, blues, rock ‘n’ roll and country simultaneously. Michael Curtis, co-writer of the Crosby, Stills & Nash hit “Southern Cross,” said of Axton: “Hoyt had his own way of writing. He didn't exactly break the rules of songwriting, but he would often ignore them. He taught me a lot.” [Quote from HERE]

Hoyt: I'm one of those fringe dudes -- Half folkie, half hippie, half Okie. My input has been very eclectic. I was always surrounded by all kinds of music as my family moved around the country: jazz, classical, gospel, whatever. The influences enter from a lot of directions. [Quote from HERE]

Hoyt died of heart failure in Victor, Montana, in October of 1999, at the age of 61. I never had the opportunity to meet him, or see him in concert. But from what I’ve read in recent years (and learned from members of my Facebook tribute group Fans of Hoyt [HERE] who actually knew him or met him), he was a genuinely nice fella. In a People magazine article published shortly after his death, his third wife, Donna Axton, said, “He used to throw twenty-dollar bills out the car window and say, 'That will make someone happy.’” Look at almost anything autographed by him and he will have written, “Joy to you, Hoyt.” “Joy” was his watchword.

I realize my observations here may be a bit biased because I am such a devotee. After unearthing The A&M Years on that trip down home in ‘99, I have since sought out every Axton album, and I am continually trying to catch his movie and television appearances; my research is ongoing. Hoyt’s daughter, April, is a member of Fans of Hoyt, and last year thanked me and the members of the group on his birthday for “keeping his spirit soaring” (it’s a pleasure, April!). But c’mon – have you ever met anyone who doesn’t like Axton’s music (if they’ve heard anything beyond “Boney Fingers” or “Della and the Dealer,” that is), or the likable characters he’s played in movies and on TV? As with Cash or TVZ, the old cliché applies: A man for all seasons. But what I also dig about him is this: Hoyt did his own thing. You could never button-hole the guy.

Monday, September 15, 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:


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

DVD Review: I’m Now: The Story of Mudhoney

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

I’m Now: The Story of Mudhoney
Produced and directed by Ryan Short & Adam Paase
King of Hearts Productions
102 minutes, 2012

Let me say it now, and get the shock over with. Grunge. There. Grunge. Oops, again.

Are Mudhoney grunge? Well, depends on who you talk to, of course. For example, Mudhoney vocalist Mark Arm was in a Seattle band in the late ‘80s called Green River (still have my copy, with the insert and press release, I may add). They arguably started the sound. In Seattle, anyway. Like punk in New York, everyone was denying they were punk left and right during the time, but love to be included in that scene now.

In my opinion, grunge is actually older than that, dating back to a bunch of SST-era bands. I mean, Dinosaur Jr. was grunge, along with a bunch of other longhair groups that tend to get clustered into the hardcore genus due to the time and the label, but those longhair bands were into experimental and heavy guitar sounds that many previous punk groups had turned its back upon.

No, grunge did not begin and end with neither Seattle nor Nirvana. I still get bugged when I hear that Nevermind caused the “year that punk broke.” I like the band, but they were not punk, any more than the Beatles were rock’n’roll on Sgt. Pepper’s. It was something else. But before Nirvana, who absorbed so much of the Seattle energy and press, followed by Pearl Jam, there was and is Mudhoney. This is not fair.

I don’t know if it’s accurate to say there would be no Nirvana (the movement, not just the band) if Mudhoney weren’t who and what they were, but they were a definite force that shaped and honed for what Seattle would become known.

This documentary tells their story with the full participation of all members of the band, past and present, which is hardly surprising since they produced the thing. But this is not just a fluff, vanity piece. There is actually some depth to the thing. Sure, with the rare exception about a brief mention about drug abuse, they seem to just get along like fleas on a dog, the doc does show some of their downs and bad choices, as well as how they have lucked out on more than one occasion.

Perhaps it is because they were the ones who made the thing that they were able to get some heavy hitters to talk about the group, such as (in part) Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth), Kim Thayil (fellow grungites Soundgarden), Tad Doyle (TAD), and Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament (Pearl Jam; Eddie Vedder only appears in a live clip of an MC5 cover of “Kick Out the Jams”). No one from the Foo Fighters, however, I noticed. Is this a case of what is not said is saying something? There is also a clip of Nirvana, and there is a definite slam against Courtney Love’s causing them to get kicked off Reprise, but none of the women-led Seattle bands are represented. In fact, the only adult females you see are Kim Gordon and Megan Jasper, of the Sub Pop label.

As much as this is Mudhoney’s history, it is also, in part, a story of their label, Sub Pop. The label’s creators, Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Peneman, are also heard from here, I should add. Sub Pop, whose first single-band release was by Green River, came close to folding before Mudhoney took them on the road to some success. Of course, Nirvana helped, but it was Mudhoney that put them on the map. There were other important Sub Pop releases, such as by Babes in Toyland and Elliot Smith, but the focus here is of course and rightfully so on Mudhoney.

There is a bit of unspoken irony in the story of Sub Pop in that many bands they introduced didn’t fit into their Indie World (Mary Lou Lord reference there), and went on to major labels – including Mudhoney – and had a hard time reconciling their indie independence with the big boys’ “formulas for success.” With the knighthood of Nirvana, Sub Pop, too, joined with Warner Music Group, where they were hard pressed by the new management.

The documentary presents the present and past members of Mudhoney as engaging, relaxed, independent in band direction (showing chutzpah to the big studios by doing it on their own and pocketing large sums of recording funds), and being relatively sober of mind if not body (there is an awful lot of booze consumption shown).

But hey, this is their party and they can present any frontage they want, and this one is quite a fun and funny face. Even as a band I don’t follow, the way Mudhoney are represented here shows quite a bit of honesty, including calling some of their own albums as not up to snuff, and blaming mostly themselves (and Courtney) for their occasionally sloppy work; they also justly take credit for their rightful place in grungeworld.

Mixed in with the band and guests interviews, there are also film clips from third-party sources such as old b-films (including the Russ Meyer one from which the band takes its name), live performances and interviews (MTV, for example). The film covers much from the beginning, through their rise, signing with the majors, a slump leaving the majors, and re-signing with Sub Pop (where Mark Arm now works in the distribution area), then back to touring when they want(/need).

The two extras are a music video for the song “I’m Now,” and a 13-minute short called “Fresh Socks,” which features behind-the-scene clips of interviews, travelogue, backstage and onstage antics from a recent tour in Europe, Japan and Brazil. One stop in Belgium is especially telling, as they mock a stoic and distracting Kurt-wannabe in the audience.

If you’re into the whole Seattle scene – well, the male end of it as there is no mention of the riot grrrl aspect at all – I can wholeheartedly recommend this. If you’re more like me and are casual at best, it’s still a well-crafted document/press release that is enjoyable all the way through.

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.