Friday, December 21, 2012

The War on "Happy Holidays"

Text © Robert Barry Francos, 2012
Images from the Internet, which can be made larger by clicking on them 

As with many places in the Western Hemisphere, here in Saskatoon there is currently a debate on flashing bus signs, which alternate every couple of seconds between the destination and “Merry Christmas.” Someone is currently bringing the City to the Human Rights Commission, stating that this is discriminatory, and exclusive. He is being lambasted in much of the media and has even had threats to his life. Some are saying he is part of the War on Christmas.

This, of course, is ludicrous. There is no war on Christmas. No one is trying to stop Christmas, but rather also include their own beliefs and holidays into the equation. But the cultural hegemony, as it has been for over a thousand years, is that “my belief is more important than your belief.” Recently, my city counsellor (equivalent to an assemblyperson) stated to me, “Merry Christmas is no longer exclusive to Christianity. The Christmas Season and the greeting ‘Merry Christmas’ have come to mean different things to different people. The celebration/season is as diverse as the cultural composition of our community.” His response to the debate was to say, in a public sphere, “Merry Christmas Everybody.”

Really? Christmas is no longer exclusive to Jesus? Well, let’s look at the word. Christmas = Christ + Mas, or celebration. A celebration of Christ. I found his remark highly insulting. Just what did he mean by everybody? It certainly does not include me, or at least three others I know of his constituency (one Jewish, one semi-Buddhist, one atheist). When I questioned him about this (on Facebook), part of his response was “The Christmas Season and the greeting ‘Merry Christmas’ have come to mean different things to different people. The celebration/season is as diverse as the cultural composition of our community.” Yes, he is correct, to the Christians it means “woo-hoo” but for most of us who are not of the belief, it can also mean oppression. However, for the way he meant it, Bzzzzzz wrong. Just because Christianity is the majority does not make it right.

The year-end season is filled with holidays of a legion of faiths. Those who are not Christian (i.e., not "of Christ"), be it Jewish (Hanukah), Muslim (Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr, Malkh), African/African-American/-Canadian (Kwanzaa), Buddhist (Diwali), Sikh (Gurpurab) Hindi (Diwali, Festival of Lights, Holi, Festival of Colors, and Janmaashtmi), Wiccan or other goddess-based faiths (Yule, solstice), followers of Zarathustra (Zoroastria) and others (and I'm not even going into the beliefs of agnostics or atheists), Christmas can be an assault rather than a pleasure. It is telling us (and yes, I'm aware I am speaking for others) that we are not part of the Saskatoon culture, or wherever else this situation is occurring.

Currently, I work for an organization that helps new arrivals look for jobs and prepare for their new life. Most of those I meet are either non-Christian Asian, or Muslim. With the new flood of immigrants coming to the West, the conservative officials currently in office are feeling the pressure of some older constituents who fear the change, or the narrow minds of the “me-or-them” younger voters, and use their own beliefs to shore up the current condition. But that status quo is shifting, and changing fast. Alienating the new arrivals (something conservatives seem to thrive on, using that fear of change) was done to the Irish in the 1880, the Jews in the early 20th Century, the Italians after that, and so on. Now it’s anyone who does not fit into the paradigm set up by the majority in charge.

I’ve heard it said, “Canada [or the United States] is based on Christianity” or “the teachings of Jesus Christ.” Uh, no, it’s not. For example, let’s look at the last 500 years or so: Jews have been around since the beginning of the New World, and essentially made up most of Columbus’ crew (who were taken from the prisons, during the Spanish Inquisition). Most of the American Revolution was funded by Jews in New York and Boston. Much of the infrastructure of the west was built by non-Christian Chinese laborers. Multi-cultures built North America. But if you want to look back, it was First Nations, Inuit, Aztecs and Mayans (among other indigenous groups) that were here way before any Christian settlers found their way to the New World, each with their own beliefs that were just as valid to them as those who settled on their land.

I have no problem with a citizen wishing me a "Merry Christmas.” It’s a nice sentiment, no doubt. However, when it is stated by a elected government representative in an official capacity, or is on government or common land, I cringe at it. It no longer feels like a government representing me when the insistence is on something that does not include me. I become the "other," which is the first step toward persecution. Underrated comic Bobcat Goldthwait once became upset with an audience member who gave him the Arsenio Hall “woop-woop,” stating it is only one short step between “woop-woop” and “sieg heil.” While this may be a stretch, I understand what he meant, and to me in is echoed in the “Merry Christmas” chant by a governing body.

The solution to this is a simple Happy Holidays or Season's Greetings. Keep Christmas in your heart. Just don't use it as a stake into mine, and others that are not of Christian belief. Saying Happy Holidays is not a War on Christmas, it is a cry asking for equality, for inclusion into the cultural milieu. Besides, it’s not like there aren’t many other reminders of Christmas. For example, people have nativity scenes and both beautiful and occasionally garish lights (and many ugly large blow-up thingies) on their property, stores are filled with Christmas music and signs, the light poles lining the street are filled with Christmas icons (Santa, angels, and the like), and the Salvation Army’s presence is overwhelming. Having a State-stated “Happy Holiday” is not going to change people’s beliefs, nor make a dent in the nearly omnipresence of Christmas ambiance. Season’s Greetings is more of a way of saying “Welcome one and all.” I will remember this intolerance come election time, and I am going to assume so will many of the new large numbers of immigrates.

Merry Christmas is just part of the majority’s colonialism at the forefront. “You Shall Have No Other Gods Before Me” is taken from a non-Christian book, the Old Testament, and yet has been coopted to proselytize and dominate others. So, how is changing the signs on city property to Happy Holidays from Merry Christmas a War on Christmas, when it is all-pervading nearly everywhere else?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

DVD Review: The Jesus Lizard: Club

Text © Robert Barry Francos/FFanzeen, 2013
Images from the Internet
The Jesus Lizard: Club
Directed by Matthew Robison
74 minutes, 2009 / 2011

Let’s get the technical stuff outta the way first: this show was taped on the first stop of the Jesus Lizard’s reunion tour on Bastille Day, 2009, at the large and packed Exit/In Club, in Nashville, TN. The circuit was the first time the band had played together in a decade.  Now, let’s tawk.

If they had formed ten years earlier than 1987, they may have been labeled as No Wave, but because they got to share a split 7” with Nirvana, and recorded with Steve Albini in Chicago, they were more known as “Alternative.” Their sound is full of dissonant notes, repetition, and singer David Yow’s yowling (please tell me I’m not the first one to do that combination of words). After their song was included in the film cult film Clerks (1994), they signed briefly with Capitol Records.

The Jesus Lizard was known for being bellicose in the post-punk days, when bands were becoming more sedate after the rush of hardcore aggression. While they would never reach the levels of, say, GG Allin for assaulting their audience, they were still the real deal. One might compare them in intensity to, oh, possibly down-under’s Rose Tattoo, though their sounds are incredibly different.

The audience for this show is definitely up on JL, as they applaud as soon as the first notes of the song are played. Always good for when recording a show for posterity. For me, I never had the opportunity to see them live, so this gives a front row center view. Strangely, I don’t see much slamming, even with Yow’s occasional stagediving and crowd surfing (with his being chubby, sweaty and shirtless, I wouldn’t want to be the one hoisting him).  Bouncers keep the stage clear for anyone joining in on the diving.

Watching the band hammer away, it is clear to see that they know their chops, with the sounds coming out actually being quite complex, just being overlaid together to clashing and crashing.  As for the vocals, well Yow is musically rambunctious, occasionally reminding me of outsider singer the Legendary Stardust Cowboy. Don’t expect to make out too many of the lyrics. Or hardly any. And perhaps I shouldn’t mention his passing resemblance to Peter Tork…

The sound is quite crisp, and probably giving a better picture of the band’s true flavor. In fact, probably better than the Albini sessions where Yow was barely heard over the din. This puts him where he belongs, front and center.

If you were a fan of the band in their heyday, this will certainly not disappoint, and in fact, bring some relatively clarity to what you were imagining in your head about the group.

Track Listing
Destroy Before Reading
Blue Shot
Killer McHann
One Evening
Then Comes Dudley
Monkey Trick
7 vs. 8
Fly on the Wall
My Own Urine
Dancing Naked Ladies
Bloody Mary
Wheelchair Epidemic


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Demise of Social Media: A Rant

Text by Robert Barry Francos
Images from the Internet

Social critic (do not call him a social scientist!) Neil Postman famously stated that “New technology is a kind of Faustian bargain. It always gives us something, but it always takes away something important.” This is markedly true when it comes to Social Media.

The obvious direction I could delve into is the dichotomy of Social Media’s tendency towards helping us connect with many more people, while keeping us isolated on the computer. That, however, is not the objective for this discussion… okay, rant.

Social Media is used by the multitudes that rely on it to connect through text and / or images in two directions: we learn what others are thinking and doing by reading their input, and we inform our own impressions by what we decide to contribute to the zeitgeist. And yet, the companies who run these media want to think they know what we want. Rather than asking the clients what they need, however, these companies insist their wills upon those who do not want it. But, as Patti Smith once said, “People have the power,” and in some instances, the people win.

A good example of this is MySpace. At one time, this early Social Media was the 800 pound gorilla, being used widely and mentioned in sit-coms and news channels. It started as being a place for musicians to offer their music and escape the financial pressure of putting their sounds to CD, or finding a “legitimate” outlet through a third party, such as iTunes, which would keep a sizeable part of the money taken without promotion. If an artist sold millions of digi-songs, sure the profit was worth it, but the odds are slim for that even today, so it actually made sense to find a place to put the music for free to hear (such as record stores having listening booths back in the early days of rock’n’roll), and then the listener could choose to purchase there or elsewhere.

Before long, non-musicians were utilizing MySpace as a way to connect with others, share images, music, and even bond whose that impart similar tastes. As time went on, the site itself became a bit bloated, and with people using large wallpapers, attachments, and music inserts, resulting in pages taking ever longer to load. In a smart move, MySpace gave an option for a stripped down version to see others’ pages, which again made viewing enjoyable and easy to fly from one page to the next and making it possible to ignore unwanted digital baggage..

MySpace soared and seemed to become self-important to those behind the scene. They decided to change the way images were viewed, one at a time, and smaller than had been previously. Also, photo albums became more fluid, and it was hard to tell when you were in one collection or another. This was frustrating to the users. Then MySpace made the fatal “tough nuggies” error of taking away the choice of how the page loads. It became slower than ever, which drove its participants away. Despite protests, they kept the format, and the viewers started to give up, and indirectly led them to the newly emergent Facebook. If the timing had been different, Facebook may not exist anymore; Facebook was not as much a magnet as MySpace drove its audience away. Oh, MySpace still exists – go on and check, even though you probably haven’t been there in years now – but it is back to being a center for musicians; it is the only reason I still have an account, which I go to about three times per year. It used to be every day.

The story of the origin and rise of Facebook is well-known, especially with the hit film based on the events, Social Network (2010). It came at just the right time as MySpace was sinking under its own misguidance. Now, ironically, Facebook faces the same fate (say that three times fast) for the same reasons.

Facebook used to be fun, going down the list to see notices from others. It was addicting, though other media such as Twitter interfered with the zeitgeist and turned it from an events and interest driven channel into a brief “I’m standing on line at the bank” style of messaging. But this was a user-end issue, rather than management. But that changed after a few “tweaks” from the Facebook administrators. First they separated what they judged was important and not as essential information. There were protests, but it just meant taking more time to go through two sets of listings that were stacked. Life went on. Then Facebook quietly announced that all the photos on the site were their property to do as they liked, including using them in advertisements, without needing to ask permission. People balked, and now it’s a choice, if you know the selection is even there. Following this, they started making addresses and phone numbers easily available to any participant in the site. Again, after some rumbling, they made it harder to do so, but only if the subscriber knew to go to a specific place and then change the default.

But then, they did something so egregious, that it raised a bigger cry, which they call the Timeline. This was not an option, but a systemic change to the very basic viewing medium that a huge majority of Facebookers did not like. Like callous and thoughtless cads, they shot their own foot, as it were, by doing this just before the IPO went public. The dislike of this new format was so wide, the stock crashed almost as soon as it was offered, and has never recovered. Odds are it never will, because Facebook’s attitude is “Fuck you, get used to it.”

Why is the Timeline so bad? There are a number of reasons. One example is the Timeline is split into two columns, so to read them you must roll up and down the page. And if you tell it to go back further in time, the columns change so you have to go back up and down. It would much easier to be able to go unidirectional rather than rolling back and forth, which is hard on the hand, wrist and eyes. Another is that the columns are too narrow for the content, especially if images are involved. The edges get cut off on either side, so unless you click into it, it is usually unreadable. This takes unnecessary time, and again, is that much more pressure to click-click-click. These two alone make the use of Facebook from an easy and enjoyable experience, to a confusing mess of work.

Then there is the “Map of where you’ve been” that can’t be turned off, and privacy settings that are confusing if you don’t know where to look. Fortunately for Facebook, there is no other outlet on which to jump, as people did after MySpace. Google+ tried, but failed due to the same top-heavy interference leading to indifference. But Mark Zuckerburg (I now call him either Zukerputz or Schmuckerburg) is indifferent to the hew and cry of the crowd, I believe because of either a) he has his money and just does not care, or b) he is no longer in control of the company since it has gone public (initially $38.00 per share on May 2012, which crashed and is now up to only $26.12 as of closing on Nov 27, 2012, after averaging for a long time around $18.00). The reason for this drop, I believe, is lack of confidence due to the Timeline. Also doing damage is that there is once again a push by management to tell the reader what is important by putting posts from others indiscriminately into another area, without input from those either sending or receiving the text. While doing this, the ads have become bigger, taking up more space on the page. Ugh.

People are leaving Facebook faster every day, begin given more reasons to do so. About once a month I go through my Friends list, and more and more of them are no longer there. I used to go every day, and now it is more occasional. Perhaps it’s better, because I’ve been more productive as a result of it, such as this article.

Even emails, the once-great equalizer, are being affected by the visions of those who are focused on a supposedly larger picture (i.e., bottom line), rather than on the individual. Take Google for example. Google owns many of the common softwares that are used, such as Blogger/Blogspot, YouTube, Gmail, and Google+, the latter an unsuccessful attempt to delve into Facebook’s demise. However, if a new user tries to create an account, it is now more difficult than ever, especially for those who are new to the technology milieu. It used to be that when you joined Google, you had a choice of a backup by either having a second email account for them to send a notification to as proof of your being a human (rather than a computer-generated account for the purposes of stopping spam), or you could give them a question that you could answer on the spot to retrieve a forgotten password.

Recently the secret question part has been abandoned for a mobile phone number, so that the password or start-up information can be texted. However, if you are like me or a novice and do not have a cell, well, you are screwed. Google insists on your having two accounts: you must have a previous email and a cell phone. If this is a first time account and you have no cell, then you can no longer join Google or any of their multitudes of subsidiary companies. The computer classes I teach are filled with elderly or newly arrived immigrants who can either not afford a cell bill or lack the need for one, and it is getting harder to connect them online. This has recently also come true for MSN’s Hotmail. Yet, the email companies still make you do the Captcha, the squiggly letters that were created for the same reason of stopping spammers. Even in my own Hotmail account, I occasionally get a pesky pop-up window asking for a mobile phone. I already have an account with them, so why do they need to know it, if I had one? All the networks of information stop becoming interconnecting and start to turn into a trapping web for which there is no realistic escape, if you want to live in a modern world.

The latest top-down change to affect me directly is what is happening to the Webshots photo storage site. They had been owned by American Greetings, and worked wonderfully for my needs. I have a premium account with them where I pay $30 per year, and I can group the pictures into folders with descriptive titles, use keywords for use on search engines (e.g., on Google, Bing), and most importantly, they tallied the amount of views of each picture. While a little cumbersome, I found Webshots easier to load pictures and manoeuvre than, say, Flickr or Photobucket. As of this date, my 71 albums have 378,426 views since 2006, with 2273 just this week alone.

Recently, Webshots was purchased by Threefold Photos, who have decided to turn it into something called Smile by Webshots. They, in turn, have decided to completely change the way photos stored on the site are viewed. There will be no more tallies of hits, no context of folders meaning the viewer cannot tell when or where the pictures were taken, or even of who is the subject, and no tag words for finding on search engines. I wrote to the company to question this, and the response I received said that there are no organizational tools available at this time. My reply was that there will be no money coming from me at any time, as the reasons for my wanting to be connected were being disconnected. My site, is to be razed and will disappear on December 1, 2012, as I was informed the second week of November, a mere two weeks before buh-bye, tough nuggies. There simply is no accountability by anyone at Threefold, and no asking if this is what we want.

So, Neil Postman was partly right: Social Media is a Faustian Bargain; however, there is another layer of the Powers That Be giveth and the Powers That Be taketh it away through change. Or in this case, unwanted updates. It’s not as much as “fix it” if it ain’t broke, it’s a matter of disrespect to those who use the services.

Perhaps it is going to take the coming of a Howard Beale character to tell these companies that we are mad as hell, and we aren’t going to take it any more.

Friday, November 9, 2012

James Keelaghan Trio, The Bassment, Nov 7, 2012

Text and photos © Robert Barry Francos, 2012
Video from the Internet

James Keelaghan

Every once in a while, you hear someone with a pure voice and it takes you by surprise, be it a Roy Orbison, kd lang, or James Keelaghan.

I first became aware of Calgary-native Keelaghan in the very early 1990s, while attending the Calgary Folk Festival. Initially, I was there to see the likes of Dave Alvin (ex- the Blasters), Odetta (RIP, 2008), and the underrated Proclaimers (“[I Would Walk] 500 Miles”), who put on a terrific live show. It was there that I also learned of Anne Lorre, Bob Wiseman, and Keelaghan’s amazing tenor voice. His release at the time, Small Rebellions, was an instant classic in the Canadian canon of singer-songwriters (I bought it on cassette at that show); to illustrate its strength, one song on it, “Red River Rising” (about the Métis Rebellion of 1885), was covered by no less than three other artists during the weekend. I can easily avow that there is not a filler song on the entire collection.

But that second release was early on in his now-25-year career, and I had not seen him play since. Sure, I’ve heard the recordings, and I had been waiting for him to play New York City for a number of years, but of course, he finally did after I moved to Saskatoon. It was with great joy that I saw that he was coming to one of my favorite clubs, the Bassment (yes, that is how it is spelled), where I had seen so many other great artists like Don Griffith (jazz), the Oral Fuentes Band (reggae) and Absofunkenutely (well, funk…duh). It’s a nice sized room, and yet still remains intimate. It was a perfect setting for enjoying the James Keelaghan Trio that cold night, on Wednesday, November 7, 2012.

My pal in Saskatoon, Dave Hiebert, is not only a JK fan, but sings a couple of his songs when he’s busking, usually downtown, at Flowers By Fred or at the Farmer’s Market, so who better to share the experience. We arrived early and scored some seats by the stage. A clear shot for both my eye and my camera. I decided not to use flash until the last song due to how close we were, and the nature of the show.

David Woodhead
It’s clear from the moment the trio hit the stage, they were not just fellow musicians, but compadres, from the vibe given from the performance. While JK took the lead with guitar and vocals, the other two switched off on multiple instruments. David Woodhouse was on a beautiful fretless bass, and a warm and worn acoustic guitar. Not only an accompanist, he is also a solo act (just not this night) and a studio musician / producer who has appeared on over 200 recordings since 1975, for the likes of Lorenna McKennit, Valdy, Gil Scott-Heron, and both Garnet and Stan Rogers. Oh, did I mention his sons were the foundation of Spiral Beach? On lead 10-string mandolin and bass was Hugh McMillan, more famously known as part of the classic Canadian band, Spirit of the West.

The older audience (i.e., around my age and above) was revved and hyped, and well versed in – er – Keelahania. And JK responded in kind with kindness. While there was a set list that covered his entire career, he also accepted requests that were occasionally shouted out from the audience (such as “Woodsmoke and Oranges”). While occasionally covering songs and having collaborated with some of the other top Canadian songwriters such as Rose Cousins, his own pieces play strongly with language, such as the opening lines of the sing-along-response “Hillcrest Mines”: “Down in the mines of the Crowsnest Pass / It’s the men who die in labor / Sweating coal from the womb of the pit / It’s the smell of life they savor.”

Hugh McMillan
 JK’s songs lean towards (but are not inclusive to) a reflection of life, a cultural sensitivity, a piece of historical narrative, or all of the above. Whether he’s discussing a particular bar he visited in Ireland (“McConvilles”), Canadian Japanese interment camps (“Kiri’s Piano”), waiting to take a ferry (“Departure Bay”: “The fog is rolling in / It’s gonna be a bad one / It’s as thick as soup / Gee I sure wish I had some”) or the everyday life of the working class (too many to mention), he uses his prose pen to make the point, but never to the position of getting lost in the poetic opaque. Not all these songs were played that night, but hey, I’m making a point here. And speaking of which:

This tour is to continue to promote JK’s 11th full release, 2009’s House of Cards, (available HERE), so naturally many of the songs were from there, including the title cut and as the encore, “Safe Home.” But there were also quite a few from over the course of his career during the two 50-minute sets, including “Fires of Calais,” “My Skies,” and “Hillcrest Mines”.

Between most songs, as JK tuned his guitar to a particular setting, he told the back-story to many of the songs with lightness and ease that never bogged down the time. Usually I’m not a fan of commentary between numbers because they tend to be facile, but JK was just the opposite, drawing us in and making the songs all the more poignant. Hey, even David Woodhouse got to tell what he claims is his only joke: “Why are there no banjos on Star Trek?” Well, to get the answer, you’ll have to ask him (I am not going to steal the man’s one joke!).

The story I’ve heard is that JK once worked in the construction biz, and that he’d write poetry inside ducts while the buildings were being erected, and they remain hidden until some day in the future. This gives some insight to the wit behind JK. With no disrespect meant, he looks as imposing as a man who works high steel, but there is a gentleness about him when he sings and talks that is in a joyful contradiction.
The James Keelaghan Trio are approaching the end of their tour (and just in time, too, considering the weather), as they drive east across western Canada, ending in Winnipeg, but you’d never know it from the energy level coming from the stage. They all seem as musically tight as the journeymen (journeypersons?) musicians they are, and yet made every song sound like it was as much a joy to play as it was to hear them perform it.

The only negative thing about the show for me was that there was just so much more I wanted to hear, cuts like “Somewhere Ahead” or one of my personal faves, “Misty Mountain.” What I am saying is that the nearly two hours just wasn’t enough. I was greedy and wanted more than was reasonable.

Let me sum it all up by putting it this way: you know a good time is happening when the 15-minute intermission feels longer than the two sets.
This blog is dedicated in thanks to JK and Joelle.

Bonus video:
(note: not from this night, nor filmed by me; that is David Woodhead playing bass behind him)

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Bernie Kugel: A Photo Essay

Text (c) Robert Barry Francos, 2012
Photos as indicated

Yeah, sure, we hated each other the first time we met across the aisle in a classroom at Lafayette High School, in Brooklyn back in the early 1970s. Then one day we realized we were both reading comics while waiting for the teacher, and have been pals since.

I still remember the day when Bernie Kugel commented that he was thinking about picking up the guitar, some time before he went off to Buffalo to attend college. We formed a group together, called Les Beins, which was renamed The Good after he moved. After a few 45 releases on BCMK Records (i.e., Buffalo College of Musical Knowledge), he form garage punk cult legends Mystic Eyes, releases a few singles and two LPs on Get Hip Records out of the Pittsburgh area. After the death of their lead guitarist, he gathered the short-lived The Bernie Kugel Experience. Recently, gathering his Buffalo brethren around him, he has reformed the Good.

Now he's been inducted into the Buffalo Musicians Hall of Fame.  Sure, I could tell Kugel and Francos stories for hours, but here is a photo collage instead. Enjoy.
RBF and Bernie in the Kugel living room during high school, taken by his mom (pic: Goldie Kugel)

Bernie (wearing a FFanzeen t-shirt) and RBF goofing in an EJ Korvettes photo booth after signing fake names at a credit card table to get a free 2-liter Pepsi each.

Late '70s, we shared a table at a Rock Ages convention, where they put us in the middle of nowhere and we made no money, next to the Time Barrier Express table (pic by Suzanne Newman).

At a Burger King across the street from Madison Square Garden during one of his trips to New York after moving to Buffalo (pic: Dennis Concepcion).

The weekend Bernie married Dawn "Tink" Martin in Buffalo (pic: RBF).
Sitting at the kitchen table on Vermont Street, Buffalo, in one of his many horizontal striped tees (pic: RBF).

After a Videowave party in Brooklyn, late 1980s; l-r: FFanzeen Managing Editor Julia Masi, BK, Lynn Beggs. We were about to head over to White Castle (pic on 110 instamatic: RBF).

Mystic Eyes rehearsal in Craig's basement; l-r: Scott Davison (drums), Eric Lubstorff (back; lead guitar), Craig Davison (bass), BK (vox/guitar) (pic: RBF)

Mystic Eyes rehearsal in Craig's basement; l-r: Eric Lubstorff, Craig Davison, Scott Davison, BK (pic: RBF)

Mystic Eyes rehearsal in Craig's basement; BK wearing an ironic John Denver tee (pic: RBF)

Back stage before a Mystic Eyes gig in Buffalo, the band plays Jeopardy with RBF being a category (note: I was not there) (pic: Dawn Kugel)

Bernie picks up Eric Lubstoff (RIP) from LaGuardia Airport for a visit after BK moved back to Brooklyn for a period (pic: RBF)

The Bernie Kugel Experience open for Roy Loney of the Flamin' Groovies at Under Acme, NYC (pic: RBF)

Visiting Bernie in Cheektowaga while on a road trip to see the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame and Museum around 2005 (pic: RBF)

Monday, September 17, 2012

JOAN JETT is a Nice Girl!

Text by Julia Masi, intro by Robert Barry Francos
Interview © 1981; RBF intro © 2012 by FFanzeen
Live photo at CBGBs in 1977 © RBF; other Images from the Internet

The following article and interview with rockin’ Joan Jett was originally published in FFanzeen magazine, issue #7, in 1981. It was conducted written by Julia Masi.

It was pretty fortunate that I got to see Joan Jett perform in the Runaways three times in New York. The first time they played in the city at CBGBs in 1976, right after the freshman album came out, the minute stage was still on the left side. The club was filled with horny record company people who were there to check out the young chicks and for the free drinks (for them, not us). Of the fan like me and Bernie Kugel who went to hear the music, only about a dozen got in, including us. We had to sit at one of the tables way in the back against the wall, while the rest of the suits didn’t really bother with the music, they just pointed and laughed. Their loss, because it was a great show.

The second and third were in 1977, and are a bit confused for me, chronologically, but if I remember correctly. I saw them next at the Palladium opening for the Ramones. Then there was CBGBs once again, with Joan Jett as solo lead singer, with the new bass player after Jackie Fox was gone. The B-Girls did a rousing opening set.

For this interview, Julia had a bit of a tussle with a management person, who did not know she was scheduled to interview her. That aside, Julia and JJ (as she’s known to her friends) got along pretty well, and Julia has some fond memories of their talk. – RBF, 2012

The press has been unkind to Joan Jett. Stereotyped as a raunchy rock’n’roll tough-girl, she’s spent most of her career as a singer, guitarist, and songwriter in combat with vicious rock writers. As the driving force behind the Runaways, she was never taken serious. And now that her solo endeavors are earning her the respect she deserves, the press is sharpening their pencils and searching for new ways to rip her to shreds.

At the Peppermint Lounge in New York City, on January 23, 1981, Joan strutted to the center of the stage. In a black spandex outfit and baseball sneakers, her white guitar obscuring her gyrating hips, she sang out in rebellion:

”I don’t give a damn about my bad reputation
You’re living in the past, it’s a new generation
I don’t care what people say I ain’t gonna change
And I don’t give a damn about my bad reputation.”

“Bad Reputation,” the title song from her solo album on Boardwalk Records, seems like a half-truth. Why should she care about a bad reputation when it has helped to make her what she is today? Posing as a “bad girl” on stage is proving to be a viable part of Joan’s appeal. Ever since she was 15 years old and took off with her first band, the Runaways, she’s known that tough girls sell records and rake teenage boys into the concert halls.

Dedicated to their music, the Runaways penned almost all of their own music, with help from their producer, Kim Fowley. Their liberated lyrics and songs, performed in raunchily style, helped them captivate Europe. In Japan, their live import album was a best seller at one time. Their Japanese success was astounding. They received three gold records and were hailed as symbols of Western women’s liberation.

But in America, their following was limited mostly to teenage boys and nasty reviewers. “The press hated the Runaways, except the ones that were fans. It’s hard to explain. They used what we said against us. They’d have their articles all written before they came to the interview.” She remembers a reviewer who “totally destroyed a Runaways album for no good reason. I’ll still beat him up if I see him,” she laughs, goofing on her tough girl façade. “Or maybe I won’t beat him up. Maybe I’ll just do something to embarrass him. Wait ‘till I’m at a party or something with a lot of people and do something to embarrass him. It all depends on what you think a tough girl is.

“People think that if you swear and drink you’re a tough girl. But that’s the way most girls are. I think the way I dress – ‘cause I have black hair, wear black leather, black eye makeup – has a lot to do with people thinking I’m a tough girl.” Although she’d rather not be photographed without the heavy make-up she dons in concerts, she is naturally quite striking. Her translucent, white skin is contrasted by dark brown eyes and straight, shaggy raven hair that falls to her shoulders. Offstage, she still prefers to wear basic black, but there is a gentleness to her manner. Her voice is softer than you’d expect and she smiles frequently. Obviously, she does care what people say because she’s gracious to her interviewer, chooses her words carefully and tries to keep the record straight.

“Oh, God! Why did they print that?” She refers to a photo layout in a popular Manhattan weekly featuring a shot of Joan and her drummer, erroneously announcing that they are newlyweds. “It’s ruining my love life. It’s a pain in the ass. And print that in big letters! I’m never getting married, man. I don’t want no paper binding me to anybody. Hopefully, I’ll fall in love, make a million dollars and run around the world with someone I love.”

Her life has been hectic ever since the Runaways disbanded in San Francisco, New Year’s Eve, 1979. Joan entered the ‘80s kicking off a variety of solo careers. She produced the debut album of a Los Angeles punk band, the Germs [the lead singer of the Germs, Darby Crash, killed himself with a drug overdose on December 9, 1981 – ed., 1981], and proved that she knew what she was doing on both sides of the studio controls. The Los Angeles Times lauded the Germs album as one of the best of the year. But Joan “can’t stand to be off the stage,” and went to Europe to record an album of her own. The album, original titled Joan Jett, is a “transition from the Runaways to building my own band.” It sports more covers than we’re used to hearing from Ms. Jett, but her voice is getting stronger and seems to fit material, like Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me” and Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs’ “Woolley Bully” very well.

Of course, Joan did write “Don’t Abuse Me” and co-wrote a few of the other songs on the album. And she does have a very impressive cast of characters acting as a surrogate band, such as the Sex Pistol’s Steve Jones and Paul Cook, and Blondie’s Frank Infante and Clem Burke.

Distributed solely in Europe, the album quickly caught on as one of the hottest selling imports in America. Joan was distressed to learn how much American kids were paying for the record (in some cases up to three times what it should sell for). And so in an effort to kill the import, she and her producers created Blackheart Records and brought the album to America. The Blackheart version was no sooner in the stores when the major record companies became interested in it, and now the album is available on Boardwalk Records. According to Joan, there are only minor changes on the import and the American version.

After the album was released in Central America, Joan was expected to tour. She came back to the States and recruited the Blackhearts, four Los Angeles musicians. She decided against forming another all-girl band, “Because, first of all, I could never do that. The Runaways is such a part of me that I thought it would be sacrilegious, or something like that, and we’d never get taken seriously.” The Blackhearts are being received well. “When the album came out, we did a tour of Europe, all the places where the Runaways were famous. We didn’t get the reaction we thought we would. Then we came back to America and we were getting all this radio play. It was totally the opposite of what we expected.”

Oddly enough, now that the Runaways are kaput, they seem to be attracting more of a following. “It’s amazing. I’m still trying to figure it out myself. We’re doing gigs all the time. I‘ve been seeing so many people in the last few weeks, all ex-Runaway fans who come up to me and say, ‘I’ve been a fan of the Runaways since the first album.’ And that was when, like ’76? And they’re like about 18, so I guess they were 14 years old when the album came out.” She doesn’t deny the impact her old fans have on her new career, but she doesn’t see them as the bulk of her audience. “We’re acquiring new fans. There’s such a range of people in the audience, from the very young people to middle-aged men, like in their 30s or 40s. It’s pretty weird when you see married couples in their 40s walk in. It intrigues me.” She asks, her voice almost in a whisper, “Why would they want to come see a loud rock’n’roll band?” She stops to think about it. “I hope I’m not like that.” Joan plans to still be “up on stage singing with all I’ve got.”

Bonus videos:

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

DVD Review: Alice Donut: Freaks in Love

Text © Robert Barry Francos/FFanzeen, 2012
Images from the Internet

Freaks in Love: A Quarter Century in Underground Rock with Alice Donut
Written and directed by David Koslowski and Skizz Cyzyk
1200B Films / Duotone Films
98 minutes, 2011

When you think of influential bands from the 1980s, the first name to come to mind may not be Alice Donut. That’s irrelevant, because there is so much music you listen to – especially Generation X and Y – that have a bit of them in there. It’s the same way you need not know Johnny Thunders to have heard those who have.

Originally from New York, Alice Donut (a play on the name Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore) is an extension of the artistic side of hardcore, much as was Pulsallama. They were a fine mix of hard bash-and-crash sounds, harmonies, and experimental bizarrities (yeah, I made that word up, whadovit?)

How good were they? Well, I don’t remember what I thought of them when their albums came out (yeah, I got ‘em), but “Egg” has become a new fave, especially for the off-beat, sweet sounding chorus and the mess in-between.

The filmmakers David Koslowski and Skizz Cyzyk do a splendid job following the band around as they ready and perform a reunion show, while presenting us the history of the band in an oral history manner (also with clips), managing to work in just about every living member of the band; while the core stayed the same, there were some who came, went, returned, repeat.

If musicians and accomplices were associated with the band, then they tracked ‘em down. Some who show up include Mindy Weisberger, who shot all the song videos over their 25-year career, and Jello Biafra, who signed them to his Alternative Tentacles label (and, of course, was once lead singer of a little band called the Dead Kennedys…). Even Curt Kirkwood (Meat Puppets) comes around to explain why they were so important. KUSF’s DJ, Germ, appears to illuminate how he became the first to ever play AD on-air. Their long-time producer, Martin Bisi chimes in about working with them. However, the one I wanted to hear from especially was Chet Mazur, the man who the band consistently dressed in frumpy women’s clothes and curlers (he’s on the DVD box), and happily he explains how the whole drag thing came about, even though it seems he’s not sure exactly of the why, either.

One thing that is totally admirable about the band is that even though some members have played musical chairs, they’ve all remained friends over the years, even after annoying each other after long tours; enough that they come back, continue to collaborate, and have nice things to say here, while still being honest enough to admit that not everything was always honky-dory.

.As good as their early material was, as a unit Alice Donut really came together when Viennese classically-trained musician Sissi Shulmeister (translated as schoolmaster?) came to the New World and joined. When the band finally did disburse, she and lead singer Tomas Antona moved to North Carolina and are raising two kids who probably cannot fathom that they probably have the coolest parents in Durham.

Alice Donut songs tend to be about the hardships and absolute absurdities of life, from dealing with loneliness, living an unfulfilled life (such as the song, “The Son of a Disgruntled X-Postal Worker Reflects on His Life While Getting Stones in the Parking Lot of a Winn-Dixie Listening to Metallica”), and general angst and ennui. Their first song, though, was the controversial “Lisa’s Father,” whose subject matter includes alcoholism, child abuse, and false religious beliefs.

Part of the band’s charm, and how they got away with all they did, I believe is in part due to Antona’s high-pitched meandering wail of a voice, which distracts from what he’s actually singing about. This is a good thing, in my mind.

Alice Donut may occasionally show up for a reunion show, but make no mistake about it, their legacy is strong, and held close by their fans. And someday, Antona’s hand-painted raincoats are gonna fetch quite the price.

As if the documentary isn’t enough, there are plenty of extras that last over 40 minutes, most notably a wide variety of live material and interviews from other sources.

Freaks in Love is well crafted from beginning to end. It’s hard not to fall for these people, as they are as entertaining off the stage as they are on.

Bonus video:

Friday, September 7, 2012

DVD Review: Unauthorized and Proud of It: The Story of Rock ‘n’ Roll Comics

Text © Robert Barry Francos/FFanzeen, 2012
Images from the Internet

Unauthorized and Proud of It: The Story of Rock ‘n’ Roll Comics - Special Edition
Directed by Ilko Davidov
Wild Eye Releasing
84 minutes, 2005 / 2012

Revolutionary Comics, the company that put out Rock’n’Roll Comics, was sadly short-lived, as was its creator, John Cusack-lookalike Todd Lauren (nee Stuart Loren Shapiro). With a mixture of r’n’r attitude and capitalist entrepreneurialism, Todd took his dream as far as he could go before his murder in 1992 at the age of 32.

Some people loved Todd for what he was doing, some hated him for how he did it, and others felt a mixture of the two for the same reasons. This documentary features all of these opinions, taking a less-than sentimental look at Todd, his products, and those directly or indirectly affected by him.

Essentially, what Revolutionary Comics started doing was publishing “unauthorized” band histories in comic form. Sometimes the artwork was crude (reminiscent of the Chick religious tracts), oft the information was wrong, and much of it in black-and-white. As the owner of a bunch of them, however, I can tell you they were interesting and fun to read, even about the bands I wasn’t into.

The first issue focused on Gun n’ Roses, and in typical fashion, Axl Rose threatened to sue, which brought on a media fire that shot the sales of the book up astronomically. Some musicians not only didn’t mind being featured, but were happy about it, such as AC/DC (in fact, some pages of their comic form are published in The Illustrated History of AC/DC by Phil Sutcliffe, published earlier this year). KISS also reportedly was happy with the output.

Two of the artists that go on video record here that endorse their lives in print are Alice Cooper and Mojo Nixon. In fact, Nixon rather gushes about Loren. However, Todd was sued by New Kids on the Block, who had just had an “authorized” comic done by Harvey Comics; Loren won the case.

Those who were often not big fans of Todd, however, were apparently the stable of writers and artists (many are interviewed here), of whom were allegedly often taken advantage. One example given a few times is that when Loren gave the talent a check for their work, the back had a stamp on it saying that Todd owned the rights of the work into perpetuity. Essentially, to endorse (and thereby cash) the check, one had to agree to the terms. If you ask me, this is what capitalism in its purist form is all about: taking advantage.

Possibly his biggest critic was fellow comics publisher, Denis Kitchen, who produced Kitchen Sink Press (including The Crow, Death Rattle [one of my faves], Melody, Snarf, and Omaha the Cat Dancer) until 1999. In direct competition, Kitchen riles against Loren’s business practices with a mixture of righteous indignation and possible resentfulness of his success.

Music wasn’t the only topic of Revolutionary Comics, though. Loren also released Conspiracy Comics (the JFK assassination, etc), sports, porn (as did Kitchen Sink Press), and an arguably infamous horror short story series called Tipper Gore Stories. This was a (rightly) slap in the face to the politican’s wife who was intent on censoring records with her PMRC (Parent’s Music Resource Center) group. It is here we find a meta-story about Revolutionary Comics, as the DVD delves into First Amendment rights, which Loren was supposedly championing (how much was true indignation and how much good publicity, is up for debate).

Where Revolutionary Comics (et al.) would have ended up, who knows, had not Todd been murdered (supposedly by someone he picked up; I worked with a person to whom that this happened). In a supposition of theories which is quite interesting, the documentary presumes that it may have been done by serial killer Andrew Cunanan, who also killed Gianni Versace, among others. By some of the home movies, interviews and other information presented via people around him, big possibilities loomed; of course, according to his dad, a key figure here, he would have become a multi-millionaire.

There are also some nifty extras tacked on, including video producer Duane Dimoch giving anecdotes about Todd’s personality, writer Robert Gates describing how he got assigned the KISS comic and met the band, and of special interest to me, Cynthia Plaster Caster discusses in detail how she obtained the genital casts of both Jimi Hendrix (which we see) and his bassist Noel Redding.

A fascinating release on so many different levels, its scope covers many areas of interest for both music and comics fans, as well as freedom of speech issues and gay lifestyles.

Monday, September 3, 2012

DVD Review: The Grateful Dead: Dawn of the Dead

Text © Robert Barry Francos/FFanzeen, 2012
Images from the Internet

Dawn of the Dead: The Grateful Dead & the Rise of the San Francisco Underground
Executive Producer: Rob Johnstone
Narrated by: Thomas Arnold
Sexy Intellectual
138 minutes, 2012

It is not often that Chrome Dreams (CD) takes on a single American band to be the subject of one of their long and detailed documentaries, but it is hardly surprising that they picked arguably the most iconic rock group of ‘60s, The Grateful Dead. For nearly two-and-a-half hours, the viewer gets not only filled in on their history, including prior to the Dead’s formation, but there are tons of clips of songs, music videos and concert footage throughout their career. As usual, CD spares no expense of royalties to give as complete a picture as is reasonable.

As sources for information, there are some of the standard CD cadre of historians and biographers of the San Fran scene, such as David Gans, Richie Unterberger, Robert Christgau, and especially the CD omnipresent Anthony DeCurtis (not meant as a dis). But as I have said in earlier reviews by the company, they have become so much better at getting some of the people who were actually there, rather than only second-hand knowledge writers. Some include Peter Albin (Big Brother and the Holding Company), Mike Wilhelm (the Charlatans, who were the pre-Grateful Dead band), Kenn Babbs (one of the few remaining original Merry Pranksters, who included Ken Kesey, Tom Wolfe, Neal Cassidy, and the rest of the dosing gang), Rock Scully (the Dead’s Manager, 1965-85), and even GD member Tom “TC” Constanten (keyboardist, 1968-70).

Of course, the story of the Grateful Dead is not just about the Dead, but rather the scene they help initiate in San Francisco (as the title states), which included the likes of Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Jefferson Airplane, and even Jimi Hendrix (though he was originally from Seattle, he was considered part of the SF scene). Many of these musicians are represented by clips, such as Hendrix’s “Wild Thing” at the infamous Monterey Pop Festival, and Quicksilver’s “All I Ever Wanted to Do (Was Love You),” but this is mostly about the Dead.

There is a wealth of material in the world about the Grateful Dead (GD), one of the most recorded and analyzed bands in the history of modern music (possibly matching even Dylan or the Beatles). This leaves lots of juicy material for CD to choose from, and they pick quite a number of sources, which, of course, is great. Sure, no clip is more than, say, a minute in length (kind of ironic considering the GD are known for songs that could literally go on for hours), but considering the sheer amount they cover, and that they choose a lot of rare live clips, makes this a getter, whether you’re a fan of the band or of the scene (I’m more of the latter).

Along with the music, films and historical narration, there are also bits of interviews from over the years. For example, Jerry Garcia discussed dancing and acid in 1993, one from Phil Lesh that same year describing major labels as “robber barons,” and Bob Weir in 2009 describes how he is just interested in music, not politics.

Whether one is a fan of the band or not is kind of irrelevant, because they were at some many of the important touchstones of the era, including the Acid Tests, the Trips Festival, Bill Graham’s concert reign (they show my fave clip of Graham, which is a fight between him and the Charlatan’s Mike Wilhelm, who describes the incident in the present on this DVD), Haight-Ashbury, the Monterey Pop Festival, and so on. Their presence was key to what we know as the pharmaceutically induced Love Generation.

Again, I would love to see more women interviewed on these histories, perhaps people on the scene, groupies or ex-wives? There is also very little about the many deaths surrounding the band, such as Ron “Pigpen” McKernan and Keith Godcheux. As this delves into the pre-GD period, what is also missing, in my opinion, is about the post-GD. For example, there is Garcia’s teaming with bluegrass musician David Grisman. Then again, perhaps I’m asking for too much considering how much history this actually does cover well.

The bonus is called “Ken Babbs and Walker T. Ryan: Fell in the Crack,” in which Babbs (on trombone) and Ryan (guitar) do a talking blues about Ken Kesey. Interesting and a bit bizarre, yet still fun.

Bonus Video:

Friday, August 31, 2012

DVD Reviews: The Beatles: Their Golden Age; Ali: The Man, the Moves, the Mouth

DVD Reviews: The Beatles – Their Golden Age

Text © Robert Barry Francos/FFanzeen, 2012
Images from the Internet

The Beatles – Their Golden Age
Written, narrated and directed by Les Krantz
Facts That Matter Inc. / Wildwood Films
60 minutes, 2012 [VOD HERE]

Both of the DVDs reviewed here are from the late 2000s, produced by Les Krantz, and made to look like television programs, though more likely they are direct to – yes – video. I asked my usual Beatle expert if he had heard of Krantz, but the answer came back negative.

Apparently his specialty is mostly generalized books about sports, the arts, and timeframes (Rose Colored Fifties, Their First Time in the Movies, The World’s Worst: A Compendium of the Most Ridiculous Feats, Facts & Fools of All Time, etc.). Why am I bringing this up? For two simple reasons.

First of all, the multitude of work released by Krantz is generalized. Apparently he look through a huge amount of information and uses a media sieve to bring the highlights, in the least expensive way possible (i.e., rather than pay royalties). I remember when VHS first started becoming popular in the early 1980s, there were a series of tapes like this that glossed over a history of cars and / or music, covering a specific timeframe (e.g., the ‘60), or was about, say, the Beatles or Elvis that just contained an hour of interview material with no music. Philosophically, that is very similar to the way this Beatles history feels. There really isn’t much here that is going to be new to anyone who is a rabid (or even somewhat knowledgeable) fan. Still, it is quite amusing to watch what touchstones in the Fabsters’ complex history Krantz touches on; New York / Sullivan and subsequent world tours, Maharishi Yogi (no mention of Transcendental the Mia Farrow scandal, though), “bigger than Jesus,” and so on.

So, is this worth getting? Well, for Beatles completists, duh. For those with busy lives who enjoy capsulizations, most likely. For Beatles historians? Well, again, technically there is nothing new here, though the ride is certainly fun at times.

Which brings us, in a roundabout way, to the second reason: since Krantz has a looooong history skipping stones on many subjects, he has acquired access to some interesting footage along the way. So, while there isn’t a lick of Beatles music on the tape (though the terrible incidental soundtrack is nearly Rutles-level close, on a elevator music quantity), there is a lot of footage of the band being interviewed, arriving at airports, on a set for their films, and clips of their movies as well that I haven’t seen in a documentary. Then again, I am not a Beatles expert.

Of course, I need to say that my two favorite period clips are not here, and any Beatles fan knows the two I mean by this description: they are both of angry and/or tearful fans outside the Plaza Hotel in New York; the first is a girl complaining to the reporter she and her friend waited since early morning and didn’t get to see them, and the other is of a toothsome, hefty young fellow who, well, basically says the same thing; both blame the police, and also answer their own questions of why they were not allowed in the area. All very humorous.

Krantz does a somewhat admirable job narrating and writing, and whether this is worth getting or not is certainly not up to me, but up to your own taste in – and level of – Beatlemania.

Ali: The Man, the Moves, the Mouth
Executive Producer: Les Krantz
Hosted by Bert Sugar
Facts That Matter, Inc/ Wildwood Films
60 minutes, 2008 / 2012

I suppose it is because I know so much less about boxing than the Beatles that I found this hour-long summation of Ali’s career more interesting (and I enjoyed the previous one).

Narrated by boxing expert Bert Sugar (listed as “show host” though he’s never seen; d. 2012), We see a very young Cassius Clay state why he wanted to box (has to do with a stolen bike, apparently), and follows his career though his many, many matches, on becoming a Muslim, his place in the Civil Rights movement, the war against him by the government during the Viet Nam war (yes, war), and those spectacular boxing moments with clever names like “Thrilla in Manila” and the “Rumble in the Jungle.”

Ali the man / legend is certainly more entertaining than Will Smith as Ali (and the Fresh Prince did an amazing job, FYI). Early on, Ali could put the fear into both his fists and his rhymes.

Sure, by his 30s, he was not the man he was when he began (rope-a-dope, my ass, he was tired), which was still the best in the world. Was he the quickest ever? Was he the strongest ever? Was he the prettiest ever? Well, it’s hard to argue with the last one, but I think it’s not the strength or the speed that made him the legend he is, but a combination of both, mixed with intelligence and instinct. The latter two is especially what put him above the likes of George Foreman and Joe Frazier. They were punching machines, but machines don’t think. Hey, that’s what brought town Skynet’s T-800, ain’t it?

Throughout the documentary, there are lots of shots of the key (and even some lesser) fights in Ali’s career, including the “phantom punch” against Sonny Liston. Of course, with this being only an hour, the clips are many, so they are naturally short. Besides, Ali was interesting enough out of the ring to support showing more of this footage.

My only two real gripes are that there is no mention (though seen a couple of times) of the man who probably did more for Ali’s career after his trainer, a snarky and rumpled man by the name of Howard Cosell (nee Cohen; d. 1995). Cosell kept him in the limelight in so many ways, championing him when few others would. Heck, his picture is even on the back cover! My other sticking point is the glossing over of Ali’s surprising defeat by Leon Spinks, an excellent but far lesser boxer; it’s pointed out that Ali won it back, but it is more a footnote here than the shock it was at the time. Much more time is spent on the bigger named Frazier and Foreman.

Ali / Clay is a fascinating person who has led an amazing life. His current lack of ability to move and talk fluidly due to a muscular degenerative disease reminds me of how talker Marshall McLuhan was reduced to one word the last year of his life after a stroke. And yet, Ali remains a charismatic figure who draws in all ages, occupations and class status. Even Patti Smith mentioned him in the song “Birdland,” on her first album, Horses.

This documentary gives a solid foundation of why that has happened. Nod to the man from me, too.