Sunday, March 27, 2011

DVD Review: Derailroaded: Inside the Mind of Larry “Wildman” Fischer

Text © Robert Barry Francos/FFanzeen, 2011
Images from the Internet

Derailroaded: Inside the Mind of Larry “Wildman” Fischer
Directed by Josh Rubin
Produced by Jeremy Lubin
UbinTwinz Productions, 2005
86 minutes, USD $16.95

It is nearly impossible to have any kind of real discussion about what is known as outsider music without bringing up Larry “Wildman” Fischer. He is a figurehead of a musical subgenre that is often ignored, dismissed, or just doesn’t make it to mainstream consciousness.

Outsider music is a separate subgenre than the more populist novelty song, though oft-times they get lumped in together. Some examples of novelty songs may be anything by Weird Al Yankovic and Allan Sherman (“Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah”), or Napoleon the XIV’s “They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Ha.” On the other hand, some of the Outsider artists are (or were) Jandek, the Legendary Stardust Cowboy, and the Shaggs. Arguably, among the biggest (including Tiny Tim) were Barnes and Barnes (Billy Mumy and Robert Haimer), the creators of “Fish Heads,” and Larry “Wildman” Fischer, who all collaborated in the 1980s.

Diagnosed as a manic depressive paranoid schizophrenic, Larry Fischer spent some time in psychiatric hospitals as a youth in the early 1960s and underwent numerous electroshock and pharmaceutical therapies, which may have done more damage than help. This happened after he, according to legend, attacked his mom with a kitchen knife. Ending up in Los Angeles, he became a street performer singing original songs for a dime apiece. This is where he probably developed his talent for songwriting, making up songs on the spot, with a minimalist, almost Gertrude Stein-style wordplay. He also remembered and could repeat them, a talent unto itself.

Somehow, he came to the attention of his first patron, Frank Zappa, who produced his first (and double) album in 1968. Not surprisingly, as is true with most Outsider releases, it did not sell well. This caused the rift between Fischer and Zappa; that, and Fischer throwing an object in a fit of anger, and it just missing infant Moon Unit, leading to a break-up of collaboration. His time with Frank would be come a fixation point to the Wildman, who believed Zappa was trying to keep all the money the record supposedly made (he even wrote an angry ditty about it called, well, “Frank”). Despite that, the song “Merry Go Round” from that release became a cult classic over the years - though I’d always preferred “Do the Taster” - and it lead to an appearance on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In.

From there he spent a few years roaming around living in Paranoiaville, and finally alit at Rhino Records, where he became not only their “mascot” (in his words), but also their first release (“Come to Rhino Records”), which was also used as an advert slogan. From there he wound up in the studio of Mumy and Haimer, who released the next batch of Fischer’s LPs, sometimes under quite trying circumstances. Still, for over two decades, Mumy became the closest thing to a friend he had; Fischer even guest appeared with Billy’s band, Seduction of the Innocent (made up of comic book artists and writers), on occasion. After that went the way of another dose of mental illness-inspired fury and delusion, Fischer’s life started a further downward spiral.

That’s when the team of Lubin and Rubin (hence, the wittily monikered Ubin Twinz) stepped in with their film crew. Through countless meltdowns, intense phone calls (many are shared in a commentary track), and looking for a lost dog, the UT have released a touching portrait of the man. While they never shy away from Fischer’s illness, they also don’t only focus on it. It’s more about what has happened to the man than a reflection on his problems (though many times they’re obviously related). Included are photos and home movies of his early and teen years, film clips of him on Laugh In that are jaw dropping (as much for his great performance as the way he is both mocked and promoted on it; mind you, Rowan & Martin did this with the likes of the Legendary Stardust Cowboy and Tiny Tim, as well).

One thing that is obvious through this film, and it’s probably very important to acknowledge, is that this is a document of admiration of the artistry and personage of Larry Fischer, despite all the mishegas the UT went through to get this down, including numerous daily phone calls, accusations by the man, and never really knowing if they would actually succeed in finishing it. That is dedication, and it shows. Fischer is never talked down to or belittled (though occasionally they have to bring him down from a manic state). This is a serious film about an artist has become lost in both his inner and outer worlds, though sometimes it’s hilarious in the sheer extremes.

There are a number of interviews here, including Fischer’s older brother David (who helps support him financially, but is derisive of his music), his aunt who houses him latter in life in her squalid house, a New Jersey psychiatrist who specializes in mental disorders and the arts, Devo-leader Mark Mothersbaugh (still wearing that stupid hat, only now dyed black), Gail Zappa to explain their side of the story in the present and some old footage of Frank (d. 1993) himself talking about the feud, Barret Hansen (aka Dr. Demento) who helped put him on the map of a larger public, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Solomon Burke (d. 2010), for some reason Weird Al Yankovic (I’m a fan, but as I stated before, he’s in the novelty sub-genre; I must add that he does a great impression of “Merry Go Round” in the deleted clips, though), and most telling, Mumy and Haimer, who are the hub of this film.

For me, this is as important a presentation as, say, The Mayor of the Sunset Strip, about DJ Rodney Bingenheimer, another case of a walk on the bizarre side that deserves the telling. I do have to wonder, though, if any of this would have happened if Zappa hadn’t decided to record him. I remember a guy with Down Syndrome who was loved and legendary named Vinny Bo Bo back in Bensonhurst, who would stand on the corner of 86th Street and Bay Parkway by the Chock full o’Nuts with his guitar of two strings, and shake back and forth and sing away for over 30 years (, who never had the chance that Wildman did. I fully recognize, though, that there was something special about Fischer, and I’m glad he got the attention he deserved, but I still gotta wonder on a higher abstractive level, why him, and how would his life had been different – better or worse – if he and Zappa never met. One of those great philosophical questions, I guess.

There are lots of great extras included here, including additional scenes, a very bizarre and overly long 20+ minute interview with Dolemite’s own Rudy Ray Moore (d. 2008), who tries to pinpoint in a rambling and condescending way just what he thinks about Fischer, and whether or not Larry’s music is the bluesc. Now, I’ve met and talked with RRM, and he was an absolute gentleman, but he comes across as a snob here.

The two commentary tracks are exceptional. On one, it’s just phone conversations with Larry and the Ubin Twinz which is occasionally scary, and often heartbreaking, yet also seeing-an-accident amusing. The other is both Jeremy and Josh talking about making of the film, and what they had to go through, how they lucked out with particular footage (such as the high school years and the only existing film of Frank and Larry together) and photos (for example, the front cover Frank and Larry contract image), how they financed it, and mostly how it was to deal with Larry.

While Larry’s story is not all butterflies and rainbows, it’s important to recognize his place in the spectrum of his time, and the Ubin Twinz did more than an admirable job.



Thursday, March 24, 2011

DVD Review: Jim Settee: The Way Home

Text and photos © Robert Barry Francos/FFanzeen, 2011
other images from the Internet

Jim Settee: The Way Home
Written, Produced and directed by Jeanne Corrigal
Inner Nature Productions
48 minutes, 2009

When examining a series of smaller communities in a somewhat remote area, one may be able to find a single person who can make a large difference and touch many lives. Such a man was the subject of this documentary, Jim Settee.

We are introduced to Settee indirectly at first, through the eyes of filmmaker Jeanne Corrigal, who I am happy to count among my acquaintances. She grew up at the Fish Lake Métis Settlement community in Central Saskatchewan in the Prince Albert area, which was created in the most part by Settee, technically a Métis, but self-identified as Cree.

During a dark period of Canadian / First Nations / Métis history, the federal government of Canada declared that those of mixed Aboriginal and white ancestry (Métis) were not permitted to live on the same reserves as “pure” First Nations, so Settee helped create the Fish Lake Settlement near the reserve where he was raised to help keep families at least close by.

This is just one legacy of a man whose presence reached through his command of oral history of the area, leadership, and tracking skills, just to name a couple of venues (which are lovely and fascinatingly described in this project). But due to his passing away before the film was finished, well into his 90s, much of his story is told by others. Fortunately, there is footage of him and lots of still pictures. Most of his life, however, is told in testimonials by those who loved him, including his immediate family who convey some touching tales, such as those involving tall towers and matchboxes.

[Filmmaker Jeanne Corrigal]

This film, however, is more than just about Jim Settee; its focus is, indeed, the way home for both Settee and filmmaker Corrigal. There is a parallel passage as both of them search for their own spiritual journey at different points in their lives. The two’s paths intersected at a time when Corrigal was feeling lost (in her words), and her reacquaintance with the elder Settee after he had found his own road helped her find hers. For Settee, it was being ordained in the Anglican Church at age 86 (this is not a spoiler, as this fact is stated on the film’s box). As for Corrigal, the way was in a totally different direction, as she now leads a Mindful Meditation group in Saskatoon (contact her at the email above for further information). How Settee’s Anglican background and Corrigal’s own passage were able to transcend each other to find a meeting place is a touching and central focus of the film.

Spirituality, in all forms rather than just Anglican, is key here, though that plays an important broken-rather-than-double line down the film’s center, permitting changing lanes for the viewers with which to identify.

When I saw this documentary, it was being sponsored by the University of Saskatchewan’s Aboriginal Student Centre and an on-campus multi-faith organization, represented at the screening by a Lutheran Reverend and a Conservative Rabbi, neither one of which embodied Settee’s Anglican leaning; however, there was a strong-yet-gentle spiritual guidance to the film, thanks to Corrigal’s tender touch and commentary (she appears in The Way Home as well).

There are many moments in the film that are moving, possibly transforming, for those who still feel lost, or perhaps needing reassurance. Thanks to Corrigal, Settee’s mentorship goes beyond his life, perhaps to the seventh generation.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Vanity Plate Volume 2

All other writers retain their own copyright.
Links to articles follow each piece

Here are some recent sightings of your FFanzeen publisher on the Web (marked in bold in the piece). Note that I have not edited the text of the pieces, so all materials are as they were in the originals.

First up is a blog by Walter Ocner, who has been a good friend for decades. A record collector for years, he only just started blogging recently. Hopefully, he’ll continue with some longer (i.e., more than a couple of paragraphs) pieces like this one. Hi, Sandra!

1. Why I Love Records Stores – Rockit Scientist and Rebel Rebel in NYC, by Walter Ocner
I always loved collecting. When I was a kid I really got into coins and used to read magazines about them and tried hard to collect V nickels and Morgan silver dollars. There was a precious metals store a few blocks away I used to go to after school and pick up indian head pennies and whatever else I could afford. I would buy magazines like Coins and Coin Collecting and salivate at the thought of one day owning a $20 gold piece. Unfortunately my meager savings couldn’t keep me in the hobby I was so passionate about and eventually I began to lose interest. You just can’t sustain a hobby on wishing alone.

As i got older, music became my passion. I guess you could say everything else fell by the wayside, like school. This was during the days of vinyl when You could go into any music store and flip through the bins of new and import LP’s. I used to go to a few neighborhood stores in Queens such as Numbers Records or The Record Room. I would pick up singles for 99 cents by The Beatles, Icicle Works, Rod Stewart or The Smiths. They usually came with cool picture sleeves which made you want to take a chance on hearing the music inside.

Manhattan was a goldmine for new and used records. For me, it wasn’t just about enjoying the music but the treasure hunt aspect of collecting. I used to dream of finding rare British pressings of Beatle albums or bootlegs with unreleased material. My collection grew, much to the ire of my parents who proclaimed it a waste of money. Every cent I had went to records. I can’t blame them for being so angry, they were struggling to support a family and here I was, blowing all my cash on vinyl.

I have a huge record collection now. My friend Robert Francos (Editor of FFanzeen) once told me when we were in his room, which looked like a record store, that one day I would have a collection like his. I thought he was nuts and now, I probably have more than he does. I still love the hunt, the search for the elusive gem. Two of my favorite places to shop are in Manhattan, Rockit Scientist Records at 33 St. Marks Place and Rebel Rebel on 319 Bleecker Street. Both John and Dave run amazing shops that are brimming with reasonably priced goodies.

The thing I love about going there is what I don’t get from buying online from Amazon or whatever. That is the personal touch and the sense of discovery. You walk in and something will catch your eye or ear. John at Rockit Scientist and Dave at Rebel will play you things based on your musical taste. They will engage you in discussion and help you discover groups and albums you never would have found on your own. I might find music cheaper online, but I would rather pay a bit more and keep the independent record store alive and give me a place to discover and learn about music. These are the best stores around and cannot be replaced by an impersonal online retailer. You will find things here you will never find at a WalMart, so in essence, you are also keeping independent labels and bands alive and thriving as well.

I urge all of you to visit these guys and the “mom and pop” stores in your neighborhoods. You will make new friends and discover a world of exciting culture that will enrich your life!

* * *

Next is AC/DC Machine, a Swedish metal webzine. The interview was run by Niclas Müller. Here he Q&A’s the publisher of a new book about the band which contains photos I took of AC/DC at CBGBs in 1977.

2. Intervju med Dennis Pernu
Detta är en komplettering till intervjun som Niclas Müller Hansen gjorde med Phil Sutcliffe. Här pratar de om arbetet bakom AC/DC boken, High Voltage Rock'n'Roll: The Ultimate Illustrated History.

Where did you get the idea for this kind of AC/DC book?
We had published Whole Lotta Led Zeppelin (2008) and Queen: The Ultimate Illustrated History (2009), both of which were well-received. Ever since, we’ve been constantly casting about for other bands and artists with long, engaging histories and rabid worldwide followings. AC/DC seemed to fit the bill, and so far that hunch has proven correct.

How long did it take to put together?
Just about a year, from the time I asked Phil if he was interested in writing the main narrative to the day we had finished books sitting in our warehouse! Ideally we’d have more time to put books like this together, but because our music publishing program was still relatively young at the time, we were still getting up to speed on getting books into the marketplace.

Did you know of Bill Voccia before this project or any of the other ones involved in the book?
I did not know Bill before beginning this project but was fortunate to find him and have him agree to get involved. You’ll notice a lot of the more interesting items depicted in the book come from his vast collection. A few of the other writers and photographers featured in the book had contributed to previous projects, notably Detroit-based photographer Rob Alford, Garth Cartwright (who penned the piece exploring AC/DC’s brief dalliance with the world of punk rock), Dave Hunter (who wrote the sidebar on Malcolm and Angus’s gear and who also wrote a stellar book for us last year called Star Guitars), Andrew Earles (who contributed to the Zep and Queen books but also wrote a full-length narrative history about Hüsker Dü, which we also published last year). Let’s see . . . Gary Graff has also written pieces for us in the past (he gathered all those great musician quotes on the endpapers), as has Sylvie Simmons. Other than that, I tried to target writers who I felt were considered some of the world’s top scribes in the realms of hard rock, heavy metal, and AC/DC—guys like Ian Christe, Daniel Bukszpan, Martin Popoff, Joe Bonomo, Anthony Bozza—and photographers like Robert Ellis, Philip Morris, and Bob King who had iconic images of the band. Happily, I was able to agree to terms with all of them.

How did you go about picking out the items featured in the book?
Believe it or not, aside from Voccia’s items, the bulk of the memorabilia was the result of 4 or 5 months of scouring eBay on a daily basis.
Tell us about the "spinning Angus cover"!
Whenever we decide to publish a book we have a preliminary meeting to discuss possible cover concepts. I had already seen Rob Alford’s photo of Angus spinning on the stage at the 1979 World Series of Rock and half-jokingly suggested we incorporate an actual spinner to assimilate Angus’s famous stage antics. At the time I got the impression that most of the room thought I was nuts. But the person who managed the book’s design process and the person who arranges for the manufacturing of our books took up the idea and ran with it. When everyone else saw that they were pursuing it and that it was actually possible, it just took on a life of its own. I think it really captures the manic energy of the music in a way a static photo can’t. The spinner is also a bit goofy, just like Angus’s stage performances. “Goofy” in a good way, of course. It’s interesting, my 6-year-old son and I just saw School of Rock and Jack Black’s character shows his students footage of Angus spinning on stage. My son thought it was hilarious. It really speaks to the band that they can appeal to rock fans from ages 6 to 60.

Was there a lot of cool stuff that didn’t end up in the book?
Arnaud Durieux has a mind-bending gigography that I wanted to license for the book, but he respectfully declined, citing his own future book project. Other than that, one of the main problems with assembling these books is that usually a day or two after it goes to press you stumble upon a killer piece of memorabilia or photo that you missed or that wasn’t available when you were gathering materials.

How did you get Phil Sutcliffe involved?
Phil penned the main narrative of our aforementioned Queen book. He was such a pro’s pro on that project, and I was aware of his old Sounds review of a 1976 AC/DC show at the Marquee in London, so I asked him if he wanted to write this one. I think the fact that all these people whom I badly wanted to be involved with the book agreed to it speaks to how much people really love this band.

Tell us about your first AC/DC show? How many times have you seen them live?
Unfortunately, I’ve never seen the band live! The thing I realized about AC/DC while putting this book together is that they were always pigeonholed in the States as a metal band, which of course they’re not . . . they’re just a loud, fast rock ’n’ roll band. But that categorization turned me off when I was younger, even though I’d heard a lot of their stuff. So as someone who came of age listening to bands like the Replacements in the ’80s and then going to tons of club shows in the ’90s (Soul Asylum, Mudhoney, Rev. Horton Heat, Run Westy Run, the Cows, Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth, the Jayhawks, Wilco, etc.), I was too doctrinaire to go back and explore AC/DC, because, well, the ’80s and even the early ’90s weren’t altogether kind to them and they were considered dinosaurs. I regret not getting to know them earlier. Despite the “indie rock” ethos that I bought into, AC/DC were clearly a band that paid their dues and that even influenced, to varying degrees, the bands I was listening to.

Favorite AC/DC item in the book and why?
That’s a tough one. The spread of silkscreened Black Ice tour posters is cool, but I would have to say that a handful of photos are my favorites, particularly Robert Francos's CBGB photos and Jenny Lens’s Whisky A Go Go shots (check out Jenny’s image showing Angus’s sweat-drenched SG). I mean, who doesn’t wish they saw AC/DC in a small rock club? Also, there are a couple of two-page spreads showing crowds at the Apollo Theater in Glasgow and at Monsters of Rock, which I love. And, the Rob Alford shot on page 88. You always read about the prodigious amounts of snot that would fly from Angus’s nose at shows. Here, you can actually see the boogers in his nose!

Favorite AC/DC record and why?
Ooh, another difficult one! I’d have to say the High Voltage (the Atlantic debut)—the LP that introduced the band to the rest of the world. It’s just tight, blues-based rock full of Bon’s trademark wit. Plus Rolling Stone called it an “all-time low” for hard rock, so the boys had to be doing something right. I wish they’d included their version of “Baby, Please Don’t Go.” Seems just about everyone’s covered the song, but I don’t think anyone’s surpassed AC/DC’s take. Budgie and Lightning Hopkins came close. . .

Any other projects going on?
Speaking of “Baby, Please Don’t Go,” we have a similar treatment of Aerosmith due in September (written by Guitar World executive editor Rich Bienstock), and Iron Maiden coming next spring (by UK-based metal journo Neil Daniels).

* * *

Wow, this was on the Huffington Report Blog page. It also appeared in a number of other sites, a couple of which I’ve listed at the bottom of the article. It, again, pertains to Phil Sutcliffe’s “High Voltage Rock'n'roll”

3. Mike Ragogna HuffPost Reviews ACDC

Written by bestsellerelectronic on Dec-19-10 9:00pm
So, you consider you know all things AC/DC? Really. Well, take a hit of the essays, chronological photos, memorabilia, and ubiquitous profusion contained in in between the over 225 pages of High Voltage Stone 'N' Roll: The Ultimate Illustrated History and you'll be intimidated indeed. Stone edition residence Phil Sutcliffe (with a small assistance in sidebar form from folks similar to Robert Ellis, Joe Bonomo, Philip Morris, and a expel of 17 others) reserve the biographical and chronological grit which takes us from Angus & Malcom Young's prophesy by the Brian Johnson and Chris Slade register adjustments and, of course, way beyond. Commentaries and reflections by Jimmy Page, Billy Gibbons, Joe Perry, Steve Vai, Ace Frehley, Meat Loaf, Jack Johnson (yes, Jack Johnson), and Joe Elliott spin out the over-the-top jubilee which is Illustrated History. A small of the early shots of the rope by Philip Morris and Bob King are value the cost of the book alone. But add bar cinema by Jenny Lens and Robert Francos and the behind-the-scenes images contributed by Robert Ellis and Robert Alford, and you have a visible story which is as current as any of the authors' contributions or researchers' timelines and discography. Who knew there was so many to know about this steel antecedent from Australia, one which many dont consider about contributed to the tough stone theatre in the U.S. some-more than many American bands did. Now you know, and the rest, as they say, is Illustrated History.
Also appeared on:

* * *

Thus Spoke the Spectacle is a multi-media performance focused on the
way mass media is used against it’s audiences, or at the very least, for their own purposes. Much of it is focused on the material of Marshall McLuhan, Neil Postman and Jacques Ellul. I had the pleasure to see it a few times, and took photos that they used on their Website.

4. Thanks to the MEA organizers who invited us to perform, including Sara van den Berg, Paul Soukup, Janet Sternberg, and Lance Strate. Special thanks to Abigail Lambke and Dan Frierdich for securing a great performance space and managing all the tech issues; Robert Francos for his many excellent photographs; and all of our MEA friends and supporters for making this performance of Thus Spoke The Spectacle truly one to remember.

* * *

The Echoes are a fun band whose CDs I had the pleasure to review for my Jersey Beat column, “The Quiet Corner.” The Echoes’ response was nice to read.

5. The Echoes Official Website

The 2007 Release Of "NOW HEAR THIS" Having Stimulated A New Interest In 2005's "LISTEN UP... IT'S THE ECHOES," Famed Music Critic ROBERT BARRY FRANCOS Wrote The Following REVIEW For The Spring 2008 Edition Of JERSEY BEAT:

"Kentucky-bred and New York based, THE ECHOES are a twosome who have released "LISTEN UP... IT'S THE ECHOES," which is available at They sing in a folk style reminiscent of Ian & Sylvia, and give us all original tunes written by Mark Alexander, though most of the lead singing is (wisely) handled by Teresa Starr. The songs are full of love and tenderness, with Starr's high voice and Alexander's supporting guitar and voice (he does sing a lead here and there). This is definitely an easy listen on many levels, including a joyful melody line and a to-the-point lyrics structure ("I met you just the other day/You made it in my dreams that night" are the CD's opening lines, from "IF I DO"). This is the folk equivalent of lite jazz, and I don't mean that as an insult; it's a style that is very listener friendly. Like cocoa and a blanket on a chilly evening." -- Robert Barry Francos, JERSEY BEAT, Quiet Corner


Friday, March 18, 2011

DVD Review: The Pisim Project

Text and live photo© Robert Barry Francos/FFanzeen, 2011
Other images from the Internet

The Pisim Project
Produced and directed by Marcel Petit and Angela Mae Edmunds
Office of Outreach & Transitions, College of Engineering, University of Saskatchewan
46 minutes, 2010

The Charlebois Community School is located in the remote northeast town of Cumberland House, Saskatchewan (known locally as Washahikanihk). With about 2000 residents and primarily populated by First Nations (Cree and Métis), it is located on an island that until recently was accessible only by ferry in the summer and an ice road in the winter (a bridge was completed in 1998). In 2008, the high school decided on a project that was quite ambitious, to put it lightly.

Pisim (the sun in the Cree language) was the key word when a bunch of 15 year olds decided that they would build an eco-friendly and solar-energized house as a class project.

What started out as and idea blossomed into a plan. Fortunately, filmmakers Marcel Petit and Angela Mae Edmunds decided to join in on the ride by taping the whole sequence of events, from beginning to end. Someone from the school wisely contacted the School of Engineering at the University of Saskatchewan (in Saskatoon) to help with the soundness of the house. They immediately recognized a good thing, and sponsored the event.

The audience is introduced to the ten young teens (including one with the appropriate name of Rayne Bo) as individuals who are shy, as they verbally stumble in front of the camera during their first soundbites. We watch as the kids (and some teachers, parents and locals who get swept up in the synergy) while they meet up with experts in building engineering and solar power from Prince Albert, Saskatoon and Regina. This gives the students an opportunity to open up their world substantially, as they travel to those cities to meet these mentors, most leaving Cumberland House for the first time.

Co-Director Marcel Petit; pic by RBF
During the first year of the Project, the kids assemble with their respective specialists, and from that they begin to design the house, a two-story bungalow made from local materials (and the use of some heavy equipment lent by their various advisers and local businesses).

At summer break in 2009, they actually began to build the energy-efficient dwelling, with the plan to sell it through a raffle. There are lots of challenges and drawbacks, as one would expect in such a huge venture for such a group of inexperienced youth, but they manage to stay together as a collective, and keep up the good fight. Do they succeed? Watching the documentary will answer that.

Along with the struggles of both successes and failures, not only is the process enjoyable to watch thanks to the guidance of the filmmakers who never dwell too long on any particular matter and help the viewer to be right there alongside the students, but we also get to see them in their other activities, such as sports, serving to make the students into fuller characters. We watch as the teens get older (for fun, when the DVD end, start it over again to see the difference in age and attitudes during the end and beginning interviews), and become more confident in their project and themselves as they figure ways around the problems that arise. While the adults are mentoring, they also do not interfere, so it is truly theirs, whatever the outcome.

This documentary was certainly a fun watch. The viewer gets to cheer on the kids, learn a bit about solar energy themselves through the osmosis of watching, and get a glimpse of a culture that one does not get the opportunity to view often. This release is being shown at film festivals throughout Canada, and perhaps in some areas of the States, but is worth seeking out even in the digital version.

More on Cumberland House:,_Saskatchewan
More about the school:

Saturday, March 12, 2011

DVD Review: Sister Smile (Suor Sorriso)

Text © Robert Barry Francos/FFanzeen, 2011
Images from the Internet

Sister Smile (Suor Sorriso)
Directed by Roger Deutsch
MVD Visual, 2000
90 minutes, USD $xx.95

Let me get this straight… This is an Italian language film made by an American director about a Belgian nun who spoke French.

Perhaps it’s appropriate that it is splintered that way, as it is reflected in the film, but more on that later. First a bit of background: the person we know as The Singing Nun (aka Soeur Souirre, French for Sister Smile, or Suor Sorriso in Italian, which is the original name of this film), was born as Jeanne-Paule Deckers in 1933. While in the Dominican order, she was at the Fischermont Convent in Waterloo, Belgium. Her new name was Sister Luc Gabriel. While there, she recorded an album to sell to visitors to help bring in some extra income to the convent. A song from it, “Dominique,” went viral (or, to the Top 10 in then-speak), which was a blessing for the church who kept the proceeds that were not taken by the record label (the latter of whom also owned the Soeur Souire name). After leaving the church to pursue a musical career that quickly failed under the name Luc Dominique, she became a pro-contraception activist and opened a school for autistic children. Following a lengthy legal battle with the Belgian government over taxes and a second failed career attempt (including a disco version of “Dominique”), At the age of 51, Jeanne and her lover of a decade, Anna Pécher, committed joint suicide in 1985 (they are buried together).

Now about the DVD. Broken into five parts (noted by chapter cards), the film is more of a pastiche of Jeanne-Paule’s (changed to Janine here) than a straight bio-pic. Lots of liberties are taken with details, though some are spot on, and it touches down on parts of her life in almost vignettes rather than a straightforward narrative. At times, it’s almost impressionistic in artistic licensing.

Note that for clarification, when I am discussing the real person, I will refer to her as Jeanne, and the fictional film version, Janine.

Ginerva Colonna plays Janine from beginning to end with long, dark hair (Jeanne had short-cropped hair, which was turning white by the ‘80s), and does an excellent job in presenting a nearly bi-polar, unreliable, and substance abuse-addled, Janine. As she sinks deeper and deeper into a life of hard drugs and promiscuous sex (of both genders), she still remains somewhat sympathetic, and that is all due to Ginerva’s textured performance, which ranges from sullen to manic and back, and finally to pathetic.

When we meet Janine, she is sneaking out of her father’s house by shimming down from a window by a sheet, on her way to join the convent and buying a guitar she christens Adele along the way. The abstract, artistic level of the film starts right off, with her having a poetic conversation with a rose in a park. In a voice-over, she queries, “’Who knows,’ she asked a lush red rose, twinkling in the morning dew, ‘who knows what you, Adele, my guitar, and I might do together.’”

The first scene shown in the abbey, she’s already discontent, and then, eight minutes into the film, she has the hit record. The film plays her life like a stone skipped on the water. When Ginerva starts to sing as Janine, well, it’s pretty bad, but after a couple of lines, the actual recording plays with her lip syncing over it. Other songs touched on in part are “Je Voudrais” and “Entre Les Etoiles.” In another scene, she is watching Debbie Reynolds playing her in the Hollywood rendition, The Singing Nun. Both the real and fictional nun in this newer version did not like the 1966 rendition of her life. I’ve occasionally wondered what Jeanne thought of The Flying Nun, which was more inspired than based on her, though it is not addressed here. Also invented is having a radio announcer state that she had never made a live appearance. This, of course, is untrue, as she famously played on the Ed Sullivan Show, as well as many concerts in her convent days, in full habit. For the film’s version, the first section ends with her voice-over saying, “I am only a voice.”

The start of the second act begins with her taking an action that is repeated often throughout the story: she runs away. Somehow (and unexplained here), she ends up at Hope House, a shelter for “wayward girls” run by another ex-nun who will become her lover, renamed Clara (a powerful and emotional performance by Simona Caprarrini) for the film. Janine becomes overly possessive of Clara, which causes people in their care to leave, leading to the eventual closing of the house as the government pulls their funding. Yet Janine blames Clara for being bored and suffering from writers block. This leads to running back to her dad’s house (who is remarried to someone who looks a lot like her, and is about the same age), by climbing up the same sheet, still hanging from the window after all these years (and still white)!

Her dad getting on with his life has her running back to Clara (a common theme is going to and leaving her). As the film progresses from this point, Janine decline through mental illness, attempted suicide and excessive behavior begin to take their toll, both spiritually and physically. One of the better lines she says is, “from angel dust we come, and to angel dust we go.”

By the film’s final fifth, her woes with the tax bureau are shown at a point when she’s trying to heal and stay sober. All the proceeds of her music went to the record label and the church, but because of the lack of paperwork; Jeanne was fined US$63,000. This sets her off on an attempt to be with Clara, and yet another binge after that. As the end of both the tale and their lives nears, Janine develops stigmata as she and Clara drift off together.

This is a very aesthetically beautiful piece of cinema. The writing, lighting, acting, and even the editing work well in a piece of pseudo-verities. While being far more map than territory, director Deutsch has made more a piece of art – albeit depressing as all get-out at parts – than a true bio-pic, but that’s okay. This is an art form that is closer to oral tradition than a book, and liberties taken are nothing new. In fact, there are probably more correct pieces here than in the 1966 saccharine telling. I just wonder what Sister Smile would make of a film of her life that has that smile turned upside down.

There are two very interesting documentary shorts included in the special features, both early works by Deutsch in Super 8mm black-and-white, and narrated by him in a calm, soothing voice. Dead People (finished 2005) bring us into the life of Tres Frank Butler, an elderly African-American man from the small town of Ellicott City (Maryland?). He is a hopeless alcoholic who spent the early years of his life being traded to various people outside the family. Shot mostly in 1974, we see and hear Frank hanging out and talking. Most of what he says is captioned, because even Deutsch admits it took years to understand what he was mumbling. Deutsch comes back to Ellicott City in 1985 to attend Frank’s funeral. It’s a lovely portrait of a life that has had unbelievably hard moments, and even though most of what he talks about is his past and death, there is something positive about the man that Deutsch obviously saw and captured.

The second feature is the 12-minute long Mario Makes a Movie (completed 2004), which was shot in 1987. Back then, Deutsch worked in a school for mentally challenged teens. One of the projects he gave his class was to hand out cameras and let them film whatever they wanted. After an introduction, we meet a troublesome student named Mario, who was perfectly normal until falling out a window as a toddler, and suffering brain damage. Much of what we see from that point on is the footage that Mario shot, with Deutsch describing what Mario was seeing, and stories about him. A lot of it is Brakhage-like (personally I couldn’t tell the difference between Mario’s and Stan’s work), with out of focus close-ups of, well, whatever, including train windows. It’s a sad but engaging snapshot of a life that was irrevocably changed in a moment.





Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Vanity Plate Volume 1

All other writers retain their own copyright.
Links to articles follow each piece

Here is a recent sightings of your FFanzeen publisher on the Web. Note that I have not edited the text of the pieces, so all materials are as they were in the originals.

Metal Shrine is a Swedish metal webzine published by überfan Niclas Müller, who also writes for the online AC/DC Machine. Here he Q&A’s me about my photos (and some text) regarding AC/DC playing CBGBs in 1977, that appear in a book by Phil Sutcliffe called AC/DC High Voltage Rock´n´Roll: The Ultimate Illustrated History. Niclas interviewed me through email. The original full piece also has interviews with Sutcliffe, and editor Dennis Pernu (who mentions me; it will be in Vanity Plate 2). To see the complete piece, please follow the link at the bottom of the article. The introduction is in Swedish, but the interview is in English.

Bokrecension och Q&A´s!
Phil Sutcliffe
"AC/DC High voltage rock n´roll: The ultimate illustrated history" (2010)

AC/DC tillhör de där riktigt stora banden som kan sälja ut gigantiska arenor världen över, utan att egentligen behöva göra någonting. De skulle inte behöva ge ut fler skivor, utan bara snickra ihop en turné och ändå dra mer publik och håva in mer pengar än de flesta band.

Senaste albumet ”Black ice” blev en försäljningsframgång utan dess like och den tillhörande turnén kom att bli en av deras största och längsta. Själv hade jag åter nöjet att se de gamla herrarna på Stadion i Stockholm och var fullkomligt lyrisk efter konserten. Sällan har väl ett gäng i den höga åldern utstrålat så mycket energi och glädje, som AC/DC gjorde den vackar sommarkvällen.

Muiskjournalisten Phil Sutcliffe har med hjälp av Voyageur press snickrat ihop en rejäl bok drygt 220 sidor, sprängfylld med allehanda godis från bandets långa karriär. Historien berättas kronologiskt och tar upp de viktigaste händelserna, men bygger i mångt och mycket mest på andra böckers och tidningars informationsflöde. Nej, det roliga med denna bok är allt det andra. Fantastiska foton från tidigt 70-tal, bl a från ett improviserat gig på legendariska och numera nedlagda CBGB´s i New York. Eller varför inte bilderna från Whisky A Go Go i LA 1977. Det är svettigt, hårt och rockande.

Till alla bilder förljer kommentarer och berättelser, ofta från fotograferna själva. Men det bjuds även på mängder av backstagepass, gamla biljetter, svåra skivor och roliga gamla konsertannonser från bl a brittisk press. Med andra ord ett riktigt himmelrike för AC/DC-fantasten!

Phil Sutcliffe står för den genomgående historieberättelsen, men mellan hans utdelade portioner bjuds det äeven på iakttagelser från andra mer eller mindre kända människor. Journalsiter som Martin Popoff, Sylvie Simmons och Anthony Bozza får även de berätta sina tankar och minnen kring bandet och gör det bra och i de flesta fall underhållande. I slutet av boken finns även en genomarbetad diskografi och varje album har en egen sektion i boken där allehanda folk får ge sin syn på respektive album. Klart läsvärt!

En kille vid namn Bill Voccia har en enorm samling med AC/DC-prylar och hans saker finns representerade genom hela boken. Dessutom ägnade sig folket bakom boken till månaders inköp från Ebay, för att få ihop ett så intressant och givande material till boken som möjligt.

Kanske är det inte några större eller nya sensationer som det bjuds på i boken, men det var nog inte heller tanken. Hur som haver är det en riktigt snygg bok där tyngden lagts på bildmaterial och samlingsmani. Dessutom är flertalet bilder sådana som aldrig tidigare sett dagens ljus. Bara det är värt summan du får lägga ut på detta verk. Köp. Läs, titta och njut samtidigt som du spelar ”Powerage” i bakgrunden och återigen slås över hur makalöst bra bandet är. Få har lyckats komponera ihop så tunga och slagkraftiga riff som bröderna Young!

Jag tänkte att det kunde vara kul att höra lite om bakgrunden till boken och hur man jobbat med att sätta ihop den. Sagt och gjort, jag mailade Phil Sutcliffe, Dennis Pernu (redaktör) och Robert Francos (fotograf) och fick omgående läsvärda svar tillbaka.

Robert Francos (Bidrog med bilder och berättelse):

Tell us about that show at CBGB´s!

Robert: (Edited from my blog at On August 24, 1977, I went to CBGB's to see one of my favorite powerpop bands, The Marbles. As their set was ending, suddenly there was a commotion at the back of the club. Then I noticed part of the crowd moving toward the stage, surrounding a cluster of people. That’s when they announced AC/DC as the next band to play over the speaker, though they were not scheduled. It seems AC/DC had been playing in town at the Academy of Music (which would be renamed as The Palladium) to support their High Voltage album, and wanted to check out the club. The band proceeded to play a full impromptu set, which actually lasted longer many other local bands’ turn at the mic. And this was after their playing a full concert uptown shortly before. The late singer Bonn Scott ran around the relatively small stage, ripping his shirt off along the way. Meanwhile, guitarist Angus Young also frenetically moved like a madman, brandishing his guitar like a weapon of noise, and playing their fun version of pop metal. At one point, Angus switched guitars that either had a remote or a really long cord (I can’t remember which). He then made his way through the crowd, while playing wild solo licks, and went outside. So, there was little Angus, while still playing thrashing chords, talking to the transient gents from the Palace Hotel milling outside CBGB.

What did you think of it? Were you impressed?

Robert: I'd never heard the band before, honestly, except for clips on television concert programs. They were fun, to be sure, and active on stage, that was obvious. I was more impressed with Angus's playing than Bon's vocals at the time. I couldn't make out what he was singing thanks to accoustics, volume, and Bon's growl, but that is pretty common at any club. If I would have known it was Bon's last tour, I may have been more observant of particulars and details, but I just enjoyed it for what it was. Though I'd been going to punk shows for a couple of years, metal was a bit out of my ken, so I had no base on which to compare it, so I just accepted it. It was also strange considering that AC/DC was a polar opposite of the powerpop Marlbles I had come to see (though the Marbles' guitarist, Howard Bowler, is a phenom in his own right). One of the things that impressed me was how well AC/DC all "moved" together. It was sort of like a jazz band that had been playing together long enough to know each other well enough to play off of them. And considering they just finished a who-knows-how-long show uptown, they went in full throttle. Yes, it was impressive.

How many photos did you snap all together of that show?

Robert: 11 in color, 18 in B&W. The band was moving around so fast, and I did not have a flash at that time, that all the pictures were blurry due to the movement. At first I was disappointed by the blur, but after some time I found that the effect was almost like echo from the guitar, giving a true feel to the motion of the moment. A few of the photos have appeared in two books so far: "33-1/3: AC/DC's 'Highway to Hell'" by Joe Bonomo (2010) and "AC/DC: High-Voltage Rock'n'Roll The Ultimate Illustrated History" by Phil Sutcliffe (2010). While both quote me, Sutcliffe's lists me as one of the many "Contributed By".

What was the crowd´s reaction to the band?

Robert: During their performance the audience was a 50/50 mix of people who had been there before and a crowd that had followed them from uptown. Just about everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. Some of the 50% who were there before were in shock that AC/DC was playing at the club and were so fortunate, yet there was a very small group who were just not impressed at all. Obviously the 50% that came with them were whooping it up quite a bit. CBGBs had tables throughout then (which would be removed during the hardcore days to come to make room for a mosh pit), so the entourage that came with them stayed toward the back of the dining area, near the bar.

Did they play an encore?

Robert: I don't remember. Now, mind you, I taped the show on an audio-cassette. I lent it to someone a years ago who wanted to hear the Marbles. Then, a couple of years later, I sold a pic I took that night of AC/DC to a collector from Europe, and as a thank you he sent a bootleg CD to me of the show. It was from my own tape! I know because it starts with someone making a comment about Angus's legs, and it was me... It's only about 20 minutes long because the tape ran out. However, just a couple of years ago, getting ready to move, I found the second part of the tape, only to misplace it again during the move (I have hundreds of tapes, being interviews, live shows, and demos of bands, many unlabeled). At some point, when I find it again, I'll make it available to collectors, but until then, oh, well, guess people will just have to drool in antici-----pation.

Did they stay and hang out after the show?

Robert: No, they stayed long enough for a drink, and then left with their entourage. By the time the Marbles came back for their second set, they were long gone.

Did you ever see them live again?

Robert: Never had the pleasure. I've seen some YouTube videos, but I don't think Brian Johnson has the stage presence Bon did.

What other cool shows did you attend in NY City? Did you take more photos?

Robert: Without exaggeration, I have attended thousands of great shows here in NYC over the years. For example, I saw Alice Cooper four times during the '70s ("Welcome to My Nightmare," "Billion Dollar Babies," etc.), saw Slade a few times (love them; first time in '74, I believe, the opening band was Aerosmith; the second time it was Brownsville Station, who I enjoyed more than Aerosmith), I've seen the Ramones dozens of times (first time, June 20, 1975, with Talking Heads opening...found out later it was the Heads very first show; there were 12 people in CBCBs that night), saw Tom Petty play CBGBs and the Bottom Line, Television, Patti Smith, Dictators, New York Dolls, Lene Lovich, and soooooo many others. I started taking pix of them in 1977, when I got my first real camera (first roll was of the Ramones), for two reasons: first, because I was seeing so many bands that I couldn't remember them all, and having pix helped, and especially for the second reason, as I was starting my fanzine FFanzeen (ran from 1977-88), and I needed photos for the interviews and articles. I have thousands of photos of bands from back then.

What are you up to these days?

Robert: Now I have my own blog at, where I write about music, culture and my life. I also have a CD/DVD review column at I moved out of New York in 2009, and am currently living in Saskatoon, in the middle of the Canadian plains. I am once again getting into local music. For example, just last night I saw a great reggae group (led by a Belizian native and now Canadian) the Oral Fuentes Band.
Oh, and if anyone wants me to go to review your release, write me at, and if you're playing in Saskatoon and want me to write about your show, just put me on the guest list....


Saturday, March 5, 2011

Oral Fuentes Band, Live at the Bassment, February 18, 2011

Text, photos, and video © Robert Barry Francos
Photos can be enlarged by clicking on them

When one thinks of reggae, the tendency is to imagine palm trees swaying, warm breezes blowing, and a possible hint of a green aroma in the air.* That being said…

February 18, 2011 was a cold and blustery evening, and it was also the opening night of the Bassment’s Mardi Gras Fest 2011, and the band they chose to be the lead-off was the Oral Fuentes Band. Some of us went down there to check out just the first of the two 1-hour sets, but we joyfully ended up staying for both.

The Bassment is one of the eminent jazz club of Saskatoon, unassuming from its side entranceway of the old post office building. Many great musicians play at the small club, whose stature has risen over the years. The last time there I was able to catch master pianist Don Griffith.

Oral Fuentes is probably the best known reggae musician in Saskatoon, who moved to the Saskatchewan city in the early 1990s, from his native Belize. He brought with him a rich culture of music and open-mindedness. Over the years, he has started and leads the Saskatoon Reggae and World Music Festival during the summer months, but for this show, he was there for his musicianship.

It would be completely filled, but when we got there, we grabbed a table up front, so we had a wide open view of the stage, and of the musicians, who all also play in various other groups, mostly jazz-oriented. From left to right, they were:

Originally from Ghana, percussionist Joseph Ashong was a total powerhouse, moving around the stage with his various drums, intermingling with the other musicians, and obviously having a grand time, which passed some energy to the audience. Everything about him was expressive, from his facial expressions to his bulging biceps. It was so obvious he was having fun.

On lead guitar was Randy Woods, who also fronts one of the town’s exceptional funk groups, Absofunkinlutely. A big man, he quietly stood in the back and let Oral be in full control. Randy and Oral have been playing together for years, and they both appear on each other’s albums. Randy is great at both keeping rhythm and tearing the atmosphere on his solos. While I’ve seen his group perform at the Pride Festival last year, and have enjoyed his two albums, this was the first time I had the opportunity to talk to him, albeit briefly.

Front and center is Oral, whose specialty is (according to the Bassment’s program) “reggae, soca, punta-rock, and brukdown.” They left off the most important one: fun. There are two Orals on stage housed in one body. The first is the person who gets into the music on an obviously spiritual level, flowing with the sound and singing from the heart. The other is the bandleader, who knows exactly how to work the band into a solid unit through subtle signals and signs. As this group has worked together in various forms over the years, they can “read” each other, permitting experimentation and solos without egos bashing. Oral does well in giving the others times to shine.

In a neat shirt and tie is drummer Kevin Pierce, well known in the jazz circles in town. He sets a rhythm going, and doesn’t let up. And not once did he loosen the tie, alone worth the marvel. Add the stick-work, and you have yourself a powerful juju.

Mike Kereiff plays a mean trombone, one with a South Park image on the end. He may not have killed Kenny, but his playing would do away with boredom, that’s certain. He wielded it like a sword and cut a swath through the sound.

Dave Nelson, on trumpet, was, as far as I knew, the only other Yank than me in the room. Up from Washington, he shone during his solos. After the sets, I went over and said hi from one American to another. Cool guy with a hot horn. His solos were something to wonder at in admiration.

Last is Zender Millar on electric bass. His long beard and even longer pony-tail (going well down below his belt line) belay a firm bottom that completes the rhythm section. He is a solid player, and while not moving around the stage much, his playing line gave everyone room to both move, and a rhythmic residence to for the others to come back home.

The dance floor of the Bassment was set up to the far side of stage left, and people were definitely swaying to the riddem. At some point, two of the dancers (Dave and Kirsten, an artist who works in leather hides) danced in front of the band during the last number of the first set, which was fun to watch.

By the time we went home, we were exhausted from the energy level in the room. We bundled up for the very snowy and cold evening, and hurried home, both shivering from the weather and warm from the echoes of the sounds left in our heads.

* Unless you’re a British punker, of course.
More photos can be found here: