Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Rock(abilly)-Out with the Rockats

Text by Nancy Foster
Article © 1980; introduction © 2010 by FFanzeen
Images from the Internet

The following article about roots rockers The Rockats was originally published in FFanzeen magazine, issue #6, in 1980. It was written by Nancy Foster.

The day that the Clash performed at Bonds in Times Square, the Rockats played the Ritz, recording their live album. Nancy and I sold our Clash tickets to go down and watch the taping, for which we were both happy. The Rockats’ finale was a rousing version of Chuck Berry’s (the
true king of rock’n’roll) “Round and Around.” A mic was handed down from the stage to Nancy, as we were standing near the front as always, who joined in the singing. Though it never made it to the album, this was a highlight of the evening. – RBF, 2010

The October 7 and 8 Rock Lounge gigs were the hottest Rockats shows I’ve seen so far. I never saw them when they were Levi and the Rockats, except on television. My first time experiencing the Rockats’ rockabilly fever in the flesh was at The Other End, August 1. I walked into their first set late and was stunned by their devastating color flashing like neon, their hot-to-trot drive-in back-seat sexuality, and their good-time rock’n’roll dynamics.

The energy transmitted in their interplay is overtly sexual: Dibbs’ mussing up Smutty’s hair or pinching his nipples – and all that erotic hair combing. It is no wonder the Rockats have made screaming females an integral part of rock’n’roll again. (Excitable girls should always have Sucrets on hand for when Smutty and Tim take off their shirts!)

In August, Smitty and his then-pink stand-up bass (coordinated with [then-Rockat] Jerry Nolan’s pink drums) were a major focal point, and the whirling nucleus for the group’s hyperactive hijinx. Though Smutty is, for many, the main attraction, each member has a definite personality.

There’s Barry Ryan – the moody, melancholic, strawberry blond that the girls want to cuddle and console. There’s Dibbs Preston – the long, lean, blond, stray Briton alley cat with evocative / provocative dance steps, pointed humor and a big, beautiful voice that fills a room with that ‘50s ambience and gut-wrenching emotion. There’s Tim Scott – the more mystical member.

As I admired a photo of Tim, I said to an acquaintance, “He looks like a warlock or vampire!” The answer came back, “He is! He has such cynical eyes!” Perhaps Tim could star in the rockabilly version of A Clockwork Orange. His perfectly chiseled features, his crazed shrieks, the tight set of his almost cruel yet sensual mouth, and his dangerous laser-blue eyes make him perhaps the group’s most intriguing member – and the perfect foil to the swoon-inspiring, sweet nineteen, baby faced, angelic, “Tattooed Love Boy,” Smutty Smith.

Although Jerry Nolan did look a bit like the overseeing (debauching?) uncle amongst the Rockats boys, at least he fit in. The new drummer looks like he should be in an Italian hard-rock band (Ozone, maybe?). Whoever said that looks do not matter has never seen the Rockats. Outside of the visual incongruity of the new guy, everything is tightly unified and all elements – looks, clothes, moves, and sound – reinforce and enhance each other.

Smutty is the acrobat of the group, skittering all about the stage, balancing high atop his bass, and even hovering precariously over the fans like a precipice threatening to tumble down at any moment. Avalanche!

And yet, Tim is getting in a few acrobatic riffs of his own. At the Rock Lounge gigs, Tim jumped down amongst the crowd, slashing at his gorgeous blue guitar in violent frenzy. Then he jumped back, seating himself on the edge of the stage, continuing to wring the neck of his instrument. Then came the back-flip, executed with finesse, leaving both guitarist and guitar intact. Once returned to his original stance, his arresting manner of balancing on his toes and rolling his eyes like planets enhanced the wacky charisma of the Rockats.

From the opening number, the tone is established immediately. Rock’n’roll, drive-ins, late-night fun, love/lust – what else is there? The Rockats’ rock’n’roll utopia is uncluttered by adult problems and preoccupations. It is the realm where dementia praecox reigns supreme and everyone is sixteen forever.

Merde on the old or young fogeys who cannot get it up for the Rockats, because they are not old, southern, or ugly. As much as I adore Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, early Elvis, Carl Perkins, Buddy Holley, et al., and even the new rockabillies like Tex Rabinowitz or Billy Hancock, it is still more fun to hear and see this raw, sexually hyperactive music from boys who look young enough to still have wet dreams. Besides, Carl Perkins never was a convincing teenager.

Moreover, it does not seem wrong to me that the two original members – Dibbs and Smutty – are British. In fact, the British always appreciated Vincent, Cochran, and other rockabilly songs more than their own countrymen. Yes, leave it to the British to play great rockabilly while the true decedents of The Killer and The King sit down in the bayou and numb their brains with too much pot and Molly Hatchet.

The Rockats have a mastery of musical dynamics that would be admirable even in veteran rock’n’roll. They execute with appropriate fervor both slow, poignant Blues-flavored numbers like “You Ought to Be with Me,” “I Miss Your Lovin’,” and “Start All Over Again,” and the fast, super-upbeat numbers like “Be My Rockabilly Doll,” “Love This Kat,” “Tanya Jean,” “Room to Rock,” and their other danceable, impassioned rock’n’roll numbers.

Another one of the fabo things about the Rockats is that it is not a dictatorship. None of this So-And-So-And-the-Blanks stuff. They are all Rockats – a real tight group. Tim Scott takes the vocal spot on one smoldering, manic-paced number as Dibbs landing in, playing Tim’s guitar.

The Rockats are signed to Island, so our rockabilly babies will be down in the grooves soon. By the time of this printing, the Jerry Lee Lewis and Rockats gig at the Ritz has probably taken place and proved to be one of the best rock’n’roll events of the year.

Monday, August 30, 2010

DVD Review: “Lights Camera Dead”

Text © Robert Barry Francos/FFanzeen
Images from the Internet

Lights Camera Dead
Directed by Tim Reaper
Sub Rosa Studios, 2007
80 minutes, USD $9.95

Independent cinema can be quite inconsistent. Sometimes you find utter trash, and other times you end up with classics like Re-Animator or Evil Dead. Well, Tim Reaper (aka Tim Moehring) hasn’t quite given us an equal to those two, but I will say that this sets a pretty damn high bar.

What better way to formulate a horror flick than to make one about the making of one? Lights Camera Dead [LCD] starts off with auditions for actors and crew for a below low budget film (to be shot on VHS!), called “The Music Box.” The audition scenes are hilarious as even the real director gets to have his cameo as a southern mumbler. Some of this footage is in the trailer, attached below.

The premise, written by Tim and his wife, who is also one of the key characters in the film, Monica Moehring, is quite simple and explained on the box: Halfway through filming, a fed up cast and crew quit, thus shutting down production. But not for long…the fast, efficient filmmakers devise a plan to “finish” off their flick…and there will be blood.

While this is actually a decent sized cast, the main core stands at five:

Amy Lollo is the female lead, and the core of the troupe, keeping the meta-production together, though thoroughly underappreciated by the director and writer characters. Lollo is strong in her role, and plays various emotions well. She has a strong Sarah Michelle Gellar vibe and look going on. When she confronts her boyfriend, I actually backed up on the couch and cringed. That’s effective.

The other female lead is Monica Moehring, another alpha woman whose chest is referred to often (remember, she is one of the writers), but never seen bare because as she explains in one of the commentary tracks, and I found this quite amusing, when she is not filmmaking, she is a school teacher. Her facial expressions as she tries to explain what is going on to a drunken redneck (their word), played by director Tim’s actual dad, who apparently really was drunk, is easily one of the most amusing scenes in the flick. Kudos, dad! Monica has a couple of other acting credits, in films associated with this same production group.

Coldon Martin seems to act by widening his eyes until there is all white around the pupil, but he is also a decent comic relief, especially thanks to a good sense of timing. I have to say he looks quite a bit like a rockabilly version of Casey Affleck. He plays a crew member (and also does the same in the real production, apparently) who is good bad, but he’s not evil. Well, maybe… This is his only official acting credit.

J.C. Lira plays Steven Dydimus, the writer of the doomed production, as well as the “monster” in the rubber mask that is supposed to be a demon from hell. A frustrated horn dog, his level of violence – not expected for his milquetoast character – escalates throughout the making of the meta film. Again, this is his only official acting credit.

Last is Wes Reid, who plays the desperate and borderline – and then over-the-line – psychotic director of the picture, Ryan Black, who will do anything to get it completed. As the horror film is being created, he turns more and more dictatorial, and blames everyone else for his own short sidedness and lack of ability. Wes is becoming sort of a touchstone for Jonathan Straiton’s productions, with a half-dozen of them under his belt; the trailers for most can be seen in the special features section of this DVD. Wes’s weight changes dramatically throughout the film, up and down, as he was also acting in other roles while LCD was being filmed down in Virginia.

While some of the film has that shoestring feel, the cast and crew make the most of it, and seem to actually be enjoying their working together. There is also some interesting writing and filming involved, such as when Lollo’s character is trying to decide whether to open an envelope from her ex-, while he comes to her in her mind in both loving and abusive modes (you can tell which by what he is wearing); this moment also produced the best fright, but I won’t give too much of it away.

I guess I should mention that Richard Christy, of the Howard Stern Show, makes a manic cameo as a music soundtrack writer (this is the only scene shot in Brooklyn, NY), which is amusing, but gotta say I don’t listen to Howard Stern, so I have no idea who Christy is, but his brief commentary on the special features shows that his character in the film is pretty damn close to the real guy. Five minutes long, and he was having trouble figuring what to say.

Anyway, I liked LCD, and from the one indie film I worked on, there is some level of truth to the goings on in this type of production, sans the gore and killing, of course (even though our shoot stayed friendly).

It should be emphasized that this is also a pretty humorous film coming from a very dark, dark place. Fairly put, this film is more purposefully funny than unintentional, much in the way as are the other two films I mentioned in the first paragraph. So go grab a beer, sit back, and enjoy.

Speaking of beer, the full-length commentary on the film is quite fun in most parts, but somewhat annoying in spots. There are four or five people there, including the core of the production staff and some actors, which makes it a bit confusing, though the conversation is usually lively even as they tend to talk over each other (ironically, the video editor of “The Music Box” within the film makes that very complaint stating that it’s hard to edit because of it). People walk in and out of the range of the microphones, there is occasional talking in the background so it’s hard to make out what people are saying near or away from the mics, and at one point, Tim says to Monica, who has left the mic, “Hey, bring me a beer.” You can often hear the tabs being pulled on the beers throughout the commentary. While it’s a bit of a mess, there is still a lot of good information about the writing and making of the picture, so I still recommend it.

So other than the full length commentary, the short Christy comments, and the trailers, there is also an earlier shot short film (2005) by Tim Reaper Moehring called… The Music Box, which is actually not related to the main feature, except the same box appears in both. It is pretty bad and amateurish, shot on video, and shows just how much Tim learned between the two, because the main feature is so much better. It’s more interesting as a historical document in comparison than as a stand-alone short.

I’m grateful films like this get made, because as fun as mainstream horror films can be, it is the indie films like this one that tend to be made by fans, and so there is usually quite a bit of heart. And in this particular one, a bit of intestine, as well.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

City Perk, Saskatoon: Nicole and Friends show, Aug 26, 2010

Text and photos (c) Robert Barry Francos, 2010

Not every show is a big one. Sometimes its fun to watch those just starting out. Heck, as I've said, the first time I saw the Ramones and Talking Heads was to an audience of 12 at CBGB's in June of 1975, and the Heads were awful - it was their first show (they got better, though). But I digress, as usual...

City Perk, in the City Park area of Saskatoon, is a lively and lovely coffee restaurant on 7th Ave and Princess St, where I often go to get a cuppa java (though they also have sandwiches, smoothies, etc.). I noticed the sign above a few weeks ago and did as it said and asked the barista about it. Seems she was Nicole, and she told me more about the show.

August 26 was a hot Thursday, near 30C / 90F, and even hotter indoors with a small crowd of people who seem to be made up of the performers' friends. I was easily the oldest one there, but what the heck.

Nicole came up first, and she had sort of a Jewel vibe to her voice, performing originals like "Peter Pan Complex," "Piano vs. Guitar," "Cartoon Heart" (which he states was one of her favorites), and "Stormwatcher." While she fumbled in a few spots here and there, the songs were lovely, and personally I believe mostly what she needs is to play out more to get comfortable performing. For one song early on in her set, she was joined on violin by Adrian, who added a nice touch.

Rachelle Lucyk was up next. She looked and sounded more like a rocker, with a tattoo on her chest that reads "Don't Lose Hope." She sang singer-songwriter style, and yet I kept thinking this would be a great rock song. She had tendinitis and had trouble with the guitar, but mustered through with a few missteps on her playing (and remembering lyrics occasionally). My opinion is that she needs someone to play guitar for her, a la Patti Smith, which would solve her pain dilemma. She did a mix of originals like "What a Mess" (which had the same chord structure as "Rock Lobster" in parts), "You Probably Can't Relate," and an excellent one I believe is called "Lately," about a woman married to a substance abuser. Her covers included L. Cohen's "Hallelujah" and Patsy Cline's "Crazy" (written by Willie Nelson, FYI).

Both played for about 45 in the sweltering heat. They should be playing more. Well, definitely more than Dustin & Dylan Williamson, who did not play at all, though they were listed on the poster. Good work setting up the show, Nicole.

Nicole [plus Adrian]

Rachelle Lucyk

Friday, August 27, 2010

Road Trip to Yellowknife, Day 5: Day in Yellowknife, NWT

ext and photos (c) Robert Barry Francos, 2010
Photos can be made larger by clicking on them

Day 5 of our roadtrip was spent exploring some of the newer areas of Yellowknife (YK), the capital seat of the Northwest Territories (NWT). Yesterday went entered the city the "long way" along Old Airport Road, so today we took the more direct route around Jackfish Lake onto Highway 4, which turns into a road called Nivens Gate. We wanted to check out the Capital area of the city, which includes some striking architecture in some new buildings.

Our first stop was at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre, which is basically the area's keystone museum; however, we got there a half hour before it opened, so we decided to do some exploring in the area while we waited.

We set off on the path towards downtown that runs along Frame Lake, which borders the north side of YK's town center/centre. At the intersection of the Heritage Centre and the path is this North of 60 Degree Mining Memorial, dedicated to "the men and women who lost their lives in the mining industry in the Northwest Territories." Perhaps it should have said "the Christian men and women..." as it seems other religions are not represented.

Across Frame Lake was this lovely "United in Celebration" sculpture, representing the First Nations. We walked toward the new waterfront Somba K'e Park, where this was located.

The flowers were lovely all along the path, and the light shining through them made a glow.
Right off the lake was this piece of metal equipment within a tipi frame. Most likely it is some kind of mining equipment, but it sure looks like some of the deep sea fishing seats into which the fisher(wo)man locks their rod.
Though establish in 2003, the Loraine Minish-Cooper Garden of Hope was in the process of being planted (re-planted?). It is multi-tiered with walkways, and when done will be quite a nice place to spend a lunch break, or see a concert.
The area of the garden is sponsored by the Department of Defense, leading to an AEA-approved oxymoron photo, below.

Here is an overview of the waterfront part of the park. Those benches, by the way, are the same ones used in downtown Saskatoon, from what I've been told.
Directly across from the Garden of Hope is YK's City Hall. There are two sets of stairs leading up to the main door, the one on the left is still being built (or being replaced). We did not go inside, but it looks like a very modern office. There is some big money in this town, despite it's remote locale, thanks to mining, oil, and other industries. YK has one of the highest per capita average salaries in all of Canada.
Directly in front of City Hall, on Veterans Memorial Drive, is this Nootka Totem Pole. It was built in 1971 by the Nitinaht Nation celebrating the 100 years of the formation of... British Columbia? While I don't understand why it is celebrating BC in the NWT, it is still a fine piece of work.
Along the pathway near the park is this fire hydrant, with an amusing image of a dog doing its business.

The Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre was open by this time, so we meandered back. The museum is free, with a request for donations, so I put in a Twoney ($2 coin). Prince Charles dedicated this building in person, so there is a huge painting of him by a horse near the entranceway.
The back of the museum from the Frame Lake path.
The first floor is a gradual ramp with different rooms housing maps, a full airplane (albeit a small one), mining logs and information, stuffed animals, videos, interactive exhibits, and many other interesting bits. I finished going through it in about an hour. My traveling companions, John and Ian, took twice as long.
The left wall of the upper floor (image below) was a series of maps that stretched the entire Mackenzie River, which is enormously long. It is known also as Big River, or Deh Cho to the Dene Nation. John was particularly fascinated by this.
One of my favorite pieces was this wooden carving known as Quiet Recollection, from 2001, carved from a single block of wood.
While I waited for John and Ian to catch up, I leaned over the balcony and watched the museum's guard doing his thing. Seems like a good guy.
Looking straight down from the balcony, I was able to see part of a stuffed Canada Goose, suspended by a wire.
The cafe in the museum is quite popular among the locals, and we stopped off for a cuppa coffee (my second of the day, their third and fourth). Across the cafe is a huge window with a string of lights to symbolize the Northern Lights. They were not lit up during the day, but still looked intriguing.
At this point, the battery in my camera was mort. Actually, both batteries were expended. The only way to charge them was in the car, and I had not had the chance to do that. So, I took out my partner's camera, a pocket model. It has a high rez (mine is 7.1, this is a 10.1), but the lens is not that great. You may notice the quality of the pictures change from this point for the rest of the day.

Our next stop was at the Legislative Assembly. Opened in 1993, it is a beautiful glass building that is identifiable from miles away. From the angle we came, it was hard to see through the foliage, so I took some pictures on the way out instead.

In the open-feeling lobby, are two maces, symbols of the Crown. The first one, below, has been in use since 2000. According to the official pamphlet, "The Mace reflects the Northwest Territories and is the symbol of the authority of the Legislature and its Speaker."

Beside it is the retired Mace, which was used from 1959 until replaced by the one above. This one is actually a replica of the original used because that one is made of whalebone, and was cracking.

The Great Hall where one enters the building has a glass wall that gives a feeling of openness and air, and when the sun streams through, this visitor felt the desire to take deep breaths.
The center of the building is the Chamber, where the legislature meets. Behind the seats around the hall are interpreters for many of the local First Nations languages, who are represented by by 19 members. Note the polar bear rug in the center of the room. While visitors are not allowed on the main floor, there is a visitor's gallery where you can see the entire room.
The big chair in the back is for the Speaker of the Assembly. When in session, the Mace is placed on the platform in front of the chair.

In the antechamber to the Chamber was this roped off chair. This is the original Speaker's Chair, used from 1975 to 1993, a gift from the House of Commons and Senate of Canada. Again, note the place in front to house the Mace.
Leaving the Legislative Building, you can see a hint of the domed roof over the Chamber.
Walking along the trail to the next site, we again passed the 60 Degree Mining Memorial, as Ian reads the plaque.
Our next stop was the YK Visitor's Centre, which is also a museum. When we entered, the person behind the counter gave each of us a Yellowknife label pin, which was a pleasant surprise. We glanced around the gift shop for a while but we didn't purchase anything (we were all on a budget); however, there was a computer there with some online info. I opened up a new window and checked my emails quickly, as I had not done that in five days. Also, I let my partner know where we were, and that we were safe. After that I logged out and closed the window.
Inside the small museum part was an elevator to the second floor which took three minutes, because they showed a video about flying a plane in the NWT. The three of us were in there, and it was freakin' sweltering. We were happy it was no longer, and we could leave it before we passed out. Elsewhere in the museum were replicas of large diamonds that were found in the area, and a bunch of stuffed animals, including ptarmigans, a snow fox, a grizzly, and a Hugh Jack... I mean a wolverine.

As we left, in the distance you could see the Legislative Building's dome.

As we approached the back of the Hertiage Centre to get to our car, we saw this duck swimming around.
By this time, we were hungry. We drove to the heart of downtown. This welcome sign is a major entranceway to the area.
As we drove along in the downtown area, along many walls were beautiful murals of different styles. Downtown is full of modern buildings. Looking to the east towards Old Town, Great Slave Lake is visible in the distance.

The person who gave us the pins at the Visitor's Center had recommended the Black Knight Pub as a place for lunch. We walked in and I noticed that there was a lot of material about the New York Rangers hockey team. I asked the waiter, and he explained that the last owner, who had recently passed away, was a huge Rangers fan, and in his memory, they kept all of the memorabilia where it was.
One place we knew we had to see and do the mantatory tourist thing, was to go to the western edge of Old Town, and see Ragged Ass Road. This beautiful house is located there, with the street sign attached to the balcony.

Here is another house with the sign. They kept getting stolen, so now anyone can buy an official city version of the sign at gift shops. We took pictures of each other in front of this one. Being a tourist can be fun.
This house was one of my favorites on the street. Note the back porch, which had a wonderful view of Yellowknife Bay, on Great Slave Lake. Some of the houses in this area reminded me of those in the Hamptons on Long Island (NY), but without the rich pretentions; yards were filled with old cars and sheds, which would never be seen out in the Hamptons. People actually live here, not just for the summer.
I liked both the angular blue house, and the greenhouses connected to the brown house next to it. These were on the far east end of Ragged Ass Rd, on the north side of the street.
As one turns north after RAR ends, there are some Dene Nation houses, which are marked in contrast with those on the popular street.

Reaching the main East-West road, a huge Dene symbol and a tipi frame mark the side of a hill. Just to the east of this was the Rock / Pilot's Monument. We had approached it from the North side yesterday, and today we were viewing from the south.

We were out of the (white Coleman) gas that was needed for making morning coffee, so we traveled up to Old Airport Road, and made a few stops until we found some. Along the road, downtown was visible over the west arm of Frame Lake.
We stopped into a few chain stores, and in one was a huge section dedicated to weaponry.

After gettng some groceries for supper and breakfast, we headed back to camp for our last night in YK. I insisted we stop here so I can take this picture.
That evening, we had some sad news that John's dog, Arlo, had passed away suddenly. John, Arlo and I had gone on a two-day drive in southern Saskatchewan to see ghost towns, Eastend, the Cypress Hills, and the Grasslands. He was a great dog.

After supper, I walked down to the beach again, by myself, and came back in time for bed.

Bonus pic: RIP Arlo.