Wednesday, August 20, 2014

DVD Review: The Redding Experience: Interview with the Late Noel Redding, Bass Player with the Jimi Hendrix Experience

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


The Redding Experience: Interview with the Late Noel Redding, Bass Player with the Jimi Hendrix Experience
Produced by Will Scally
MNV Discs International
40 minutes, 1988 / 2010

British guitarist and bassist Noel Redding had a storied career in some heavy hitting bands in the early 1960s and mid- to late-1970s, such as Fat Mattress and the Noel Redding Band. That being said, what he will be immortalized for, fairly or not, is the three years (1966-69) that he was the bassist of a trio known simply as The Jimi Hendrix Experience.

Noel Redding and Jimi Hendrix
For nearly all of the 40 minutes of this interview, he discusses his role playing besides Hendrix, and how he was bought out and then denied any royalties from his three albums with the Experience when Jimi died without a will.
The interview is a one camera deal with it nearly unmoving other than the rare fade in to close-up and fade out to long shot. He sits on a couch and is questioned by an unseen Brit (Will Scally, I am assuming). Where this is taped (seems like VHS quality) and for what purpose / show is not mentioned. It just starts with Noel and ends with Noel, though the occasional stock footage of black and white London scenes from the ‘60s is sometimes interspersed.

It takes a while for the monotone-ish Noel to get past his pre-Experience – er – experience, as he talks about earlier bands and how he put down the guitar to pick up the bass for this group just before meeting Hendrix. By 20 minutes in (the half-way point), it actually starts to get more interesting as he discusses the exhaustion of touring, the drug use around him, his own role in the band as beat-keeper, and Hendrix’s way of playing the guitar upside-down.

Amazingly, he wasn’t fond of most of the band’s most popular releases (e.g., “Purple Haze”), and goes on to list songs he thought were good and the ones he didn’t care about.

This isn’t a deep conversation. And while Noel is stoic, sitting on the couch, he is also apparently a bit fidgety, almost like he just does not want to be there (the watch checks are a good indication). However, as a historical document about one of the most discussed and written about musicians in the modern era (including by Redding, who wrote an autobiography called Are You Experienced?) from someone who was actually there rather than second hand stories alone makes this important.

I would say you probably need to be a hardcore Hendrix fan or music historian to get sufficient amounts out of this, but if you are, you should.

Noel Redding died in 2003 at the age of 57 of cirrhosis of the liver. Foreshadowing this, it is noteworthy that as the interview ends, and you can see him checking his watch often. Towards the end of it, he mentions, “Time for a pint” as the camera is turned off.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

A Stream of Consciousness Review of CBGBs: The Movie

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

Watching CBGB’s: The Movie (yeah, I’m just getting’ to it now, you wanna make somethin’ of it?), and here are some comments that I’m sure most of which have already been logged elsewhere before, but I’m just riffing.
While I believe they should have used Please Kill Me as a reference, as it is the source of information of the period. Using the Punk mag framework is interesting. The ‘zine came out, however, after the scene had already started, so… how can they posit that they originated the music revolution after the Ramones were already playing over a year?
Johnny Galecki does a decent Terry Ork, but I remember Ork being a lot more twitchy, quirky and effervescent. We (I and Bernie Kugel) used to stop by Cinemabilia, the film memorabilia store he worked, and buy his singles directly from him.
The stage is on the wrong side of the club, as it wasn’t moved to the right side until a couple of years later (the first band I saw play on the new stage was Blondie). Early on, the pool table was on the right, where the stage ended up.
The sound system started out as crap, until Hilly infamously bought a way-expensive and incredibly sounding one later in the ‘70s. It was top of the line for it’s time considering how the club looked so run down.
When we meet Television, the focus seems to be on Tom Verlaine, and they definitely undercut Richard Hell’s personality, which was equally as strong. And I remember Hell being twitchier on stage, jerking around and weaving back and fourth, rather than leaning forward aggressively.
The soundtrack is the best thing so far, but they’re too ambitious, just playing the opening notes of Lou Reed’s “Heroin” and the Flamin’ Groovies’ “Slow Death,” for example. As much as I love the song, the placement of the Count IV’s “Psychotic Reaction” confused me. Much of the music in the film is, of course, out of sequence chronologically, but I’ve heard that complaint before…anyway back to it.
Oh, and Jonathan, the dog, was way-way uglier. He was a friendly pooch who mostly left you alone, though he really did shit all over the place. I always kept away from the pinball machine near the door because underneath was a favorite place of his to release the hounds of bowels.
Talking Heads first show as in June 1975, opening for the Ramones (first show I saw there). Blondie opened for the Ramones a few weeks after that. There were maybe twelve people in the audience. I never saw a full house until a couple of years after that. The first time I needed to make a reservation was early ’77 when the Dead Boys were opening for the Damned. The actor who plays Debbie Harry is mangling her New Jersey (not New York) accent. When Talking Heads played, bassist Tina Weymouth was focused on Byrne with big, staring eyes, not unfocused off in the opposite direction. Byrne waved his head back and forth when he sang, though in the first show I saw he moved the front of his head instead of the back, so his voice had a Doppler effect.
I never ever saw Patti Smith booed for doing poetry on stage. She usually read until the band was plugged in, tuned, and ready to play. Of course, “Because the Night” wasn’t performed until much, much later, as it was co-written with Springsteen, and she would not have ad access to that large an A-list talent at the beginning. By 1975, when Patti played the Bottom Line (the first time I saw her play, but hardly the last), she rarely was at CBs anymore, though infamously – and it’s mentioned at the end of the film – she was the last to play on its stage.
The best part of the Punk interview with Lou Reed was when they mentioned how Handsome Dick Manitoba of the Dictators called him a creep in the song "Two Tub Man," though  the line was actually written by Adny/Andy Shernoff, and they never mentioned that it was a lyric), and he became irate. I never saw Johnny Ramone rush off the stage in anger, but did see DeeDee do it a couple of times after getting electrical shocks.
Much as I love Wayne/Jayne County, and give her props for helping the scene in its most nascent stages, I think of her more as a Max`s person, probably because she wrote (and performed) the definitive theme song for the other club, and DJ'd there often.
The Dead Boys' portrayal seems pretty decent to how I remember, though it would have been cool to show how Stiv climbed inside the bass drum, as he did sometimes. However, this scene is definitely based on a 1977 film clip of the band that is available on YouTube. Ron Weasley's Cheetah Chrome is quite good, though; it was the first thing that made me smile in the film. Check out Cheetah`s version of the events in his autobiography (reviewed HERE).
As for song-time being accurate, it is correct that they had Blondie doing "X-Offender" in that period. While I know Debbie and Iggy had a bond through both being ex-users, and were friendly, I never heard of them playing together on stage at CBs; in fact, I don`t remember Iggy ever on stage there at all, although I could be wrong about this. I wasn`t there every night, after all.
Joey Ramone reading a contract? He was way smarter than most people gave him credit for, but he also had incredibly bad eyesight, and received most of his news from television (as opposed to Television).
I`m an Alan Rickman fan (been so especially since Kevin Smith`s Dogma in 1999, though his stance on being anti-Israel is weighing heavily on me), but even he can't help the dragging second and third acts. Hell, even Johnny Blitz getting stabbed seems…whatever. And what about the Blitz Benefits? They were amazing; went to two of the three, and saw Belushi fill in on the drums with the Dead Boys.
Oh, and Teenage Jesus and the Jerks were also mostly a Max`' band (though they may have played CBs, too). They were one of the worst interviews I ever did; total assholes.
And what about the Live at CBGB's double LPs No mention of that at all. I have a distinct memory of driving there on my way to somewhere else in the rain, just to pick up the copies directly from the club. Yes, I still have them.
The Police were as boring live in real life as they were in this film. Saw them play the Diplomat Hotel basement for about 100 people around the time of "Roxanne" and thought they were absolutely terrible (The Vapors, who I also saw there, were so much better). My good friend`s future ex-wife never forgave me for hating them and wanted me banned from being Best Man at their wedding. Nice.
It was nice to see Genya Ravan portrayed. Her rightful distaste of the Dead Boys' use of Nazi imagery is well documented, and the actor playing her, Stana Katic, did a decent job, despite the poor New York accent, but where was Castle? Check out Genya's excellent autobio, Lollipop Lounge (2004).
The Dictators' music is represented and there is a little Dictators sticker at the beginning, but they were the first CBGBs band singed, despite the nada physical depiction on film. Johnny Thunders and Walter Lure, while being mostly (again) related to Max`s, rarely played CBGBs in their various forms, such as the Heartbreakers, the Heroes, the Waldos, etc.
Thee were also many strange acts to play there, that one would not normally thing of, such as Peter Tork and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (I had some words with him about that name: HERE).
Overall, yes, it was important for me to watch this, but mostly, yeah, it was a bad film.
Postscript by Phyllis Stein:
I don`t remember Iggy ever playing with Blondie at CBGBs. Although Iggy did hang out one night in the summer of 1977 with Thunders, Sable [Starr], and me. The Blitz stabbing was fiction in the film. The rest of the Dead Boys were not even with Johnny Blitz when he was stabbed. Blitz was with his girlfriend, Michael Sticca, and Marcia Leone, Billy Rath`s girlfriend. The soundtrack is a joke. The New York Dolls never played there ever! And the Talking Heads song they included was much later from 1978. Jonathan was a Saluki. In the film, they cast Jonathan as an Afghan hound. I could go on and on, but I`m sure you get my point.
RBF: Please feel free to add your own corrections below in the comment section. Note that what you write will not show up until I approve it, to fight SPAM.

Friday, August 15, 2014

DVD Review: The Sex Pistols on TV: The TV Interviews (Un)Censored

Text by Robert Francos / FFanzeen, 2014
Images from the Internet
The Sex Pistols on TV: The TV Interviews (Un)Censored
Directed by Mark Sloper
Odeon Entertainment
A2B Media / ITN Source
120 minutes, 2010

Before I start the review, first some wavy lines of a flashback: when VHS first started to be mass marketed, there were a series of tapes of popular groups like the Beatles and Elvis that just showed press conferences and news pieces, without any music by the artists they covered. The reason was simple in that music meant royalty fees. Fast forward to this release.

I need to cover this review in two pieces, first the content and then a bit deeper. Perhaps not on a Greil Marcus level, but here we go. Wheeeee.

There is no real flow here, just a semi-chronological order as we follow the boys through their careers. Smartly, it starts with just a brief clip from the infamous Bill Grundy interview that everyone who is interested in this has probably seen soooooo many times EV-rywhere. Thank you for that, director Sloper.

Separated by title cards displaying year(s) and focus of a particular set of clips, we are shown television shows and interviews with the group, some band members, or those associated with them. Clips run from pretty short at a couple of minutes to extended pieces, resulting in 2 hours of all-Pistols-and-Pistols-related-all-the-time. Which has its good and bad points.

The good is that there are many clips here I’ve never seen from British shows, including those culled from music news programs, something the US did not really have during the Pistols’ tenure (unless you want to count the ridiculous segments on the likes of Tom Snyder’s Tomorrow Show, or Phil Donohue). There’s a couple of Janet Street Porter, a tall woman with big teeth and a thick north U.K. accent, for example, trying to get a decent answer out of Lydon (I admired when Johnny then-Rotten gives an bemused, off-hand side comment on how her obviously dyed red hair is the same color as rhubarb; see video below). Mostly they’re met with derision while being accused of being devious. It’s a joy watching Lydon take the piss out of them, never storming off the set, but just sauntering off after acknowledging the bias against the band. Then again, he walks around with a joyful metaphorical target on his vest.

The bad part is that all of the news stories are somewhat taken out of context. Captions stating the names of the programs or interviewers would certainly have been most helpful. I’m sure the audience in England will know the program(me)s, but we Yanks may not. I found that really annoying. Also, all music is taken off, even if set in the background, and replaced with a generic piece that has sort of a Pistols feel to it, albeit with all the life sucked out of it. It is also repeated throughout the whole collection. By the end of the two hours, it made me question whether I will ever watch this again.

Of course, there are some news clips that were used in some previous documentaries about the Pistols, especially on the US tour (let’s see the redneck jocks makin’ fun of the punkers, before they would realize that they could inflict some serious body damage in a mosh pit if they joined in). And there are the New York City news reports of Sid’s death, especially my favorite one of Roger Grimsby (ABC News) pronouncing that it all happened at the “Chel-sah” Hotel. See, I knew that one because it was local for me. Anyone outside of NYC would not have a clue; even then I wanted some caption so everyone can know.

The quality of the pieces ranges from sharp to obviously taken from old home-recorded off the television VHS grainy. Yes, there is a lot of information in this, and it is especially interesting to watch Rotten stay the same and yet evolve at the same time as far as using the media as much as it used him. With the exception of Sid and Johnny, nearly all the others (Jones, Cook, and Matlock) get very brief vocal time. There are also no clips talking about Rotten getting slashed with a knife on the street (perhaps it was before Grundy? No, I’m not going to look it up).

As far as face time goes, more is given to Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood than to the rest of the band. Sure, Rotten gives some snide comments about them here and there, but he and Sid are the focus of this. Gotta say, though, I did see Matlock’s Rich Kids - which is never mentioned here, though Lydon’s post-Pistol’s PiL is - a couple of times, once opening for Sylvan Sylvan’s 14th Street Band at Hurrah’s, and they weren’t all that interesting. I remember Jones being on a “stay away from drugs kids” commercial and a couple of mentions in a book by the lovely Miss Pamela DesBarres, but the rest of the band didn’t really have much other than the Pistols.

Some of the news segments include the aforementioned PiL, a couple of the Pistols reunions, brief pieces on the US tour (mostly the southern end rather than California), and a pretty interesting section from the early 1990s on how they affected Manchester by playing there, leading to the formation of bands like the Buzzocks. There are interviews with Howard Devoto, Steve Diggle, Pete Shelley, and members of other bands as well. There is even a news story on the making of Sid and Nancy.

What I found most interesting, however, is a 20-plus minute interview in a bar near the end with a jetlagged Lydon-Rotten where he is actually answers questions (the next interviewer – or previous one, it’s not clear – was not so lucky). He happily and intelligently talks – and often talks over – without giving in to the usual “ask an intelligent question” mode he tends to fall into. He seems to be having fun, and is quite informative. This piece alone is worth the watch, though as a whole it’s an important piece of collected history; this one, however, is the keeper.

One last thing before I become more of an academic: why does Sloper call himself the director? He should, more likely, be called the curator or producer, as he does not really have anything to do with the content, other than grouping them into sections with titles, and digitally replacing decent music with a terrible one. I’m sure it’s a lot of work, but calling it “directing” is a misnomer. He does more actual directorial work on his next film, Sid!, of which a really nice 20-minute preview is given on this DVD.

Switching gears a bit (okay, a lot), I was paying attention to what Lydon was saying through the years, and came to realize that he was a Media Ecologist. Whether he’s read it or not, he aligns well with the likes of Neil Postman, Harold Innis and Daniel Boorstein, discussing how mass media such as news organizations are interested in a pre-set bias and agenda, and focus on made up, or non-events (Boorstein calls them “pseudo-events). He constantly posits about how the media is rubbish, the focus of their stories are more on sensationalism than reality, and that the questions they ask are meaningless other than to be “shocking” (or what he calls boring). Of course, I’ve always seen him being grumpy at reporters, especially when he’s heard the same question over and over (e.g., “how are you guys getting along?”), but I really listened to what he was saying. Much like Bobcat Goldthwait, there is more beneath the demeanour that just acting out. He’s actually saying something important; something that is becoming more so all the time as the Tea Party tries to steal the United States and set up a theocracy through lies and distraction.

Now, Lydon keeps saying that the rest of the band is into the reunions for the money, but not him. Honestly, I don’t know how true that is, but it really is irrelevant, isn’t it? I mean, the whole group kind of took the wind out of that sail by calling their rejoining “The Filthy Lucre Tour.” But that doesn’t stop the questions. This only feeds Lydon’s fervor and avering about the true focus and bias of mass media.

A quick couple of comments and then we’re outta here. First, it drives me crazy when news reports state that the Pistols “started punk rock.” Well, they don’t call it the British scene “second wave punk” for nothing. By the time the Pistols formed, the New York scene had been going on for two years, with hundreds of bands. Yes, however, they did transform it into something else, as did the “third wave,” hardcore, shortly after the Pistols broke up. Second, the bias against the Pistols is shown clearly by the often reference of “Sid killed his girlfriend Nancy,” especially in the British press. This has never been proven, and there are enough contradictory stories to this line of thought to put forward serious doubt. Personally, I believe she was stabbed by a drug dealer that she refused sex while Sid was passed out from “sampling.” My theory is no less credible than theirs, and is actually based more on people who knew them than the press or police reports.

On a positive note, one of the most touching moments is Lydon discussing the death of Joe Strummer. Through the years there has been the hint of animosity between them, but Lydon clearly sets that straight.

As a collective historical document, this is an interesting-to-say-the-least release, and possibly an important one to have all of this info at hand in one place. That being said, there are substantial problems with it, and I have avered above. If you’re a Pistols fan, it’s good to have all these clips in one spot.