Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Review: Anti-Nowhere League – We Are the League: How Deep Do You Want It? (Special Edition DVD and Soundtrack CD)

Text © Robert Barry Francos / Indie Horror Films, 2019
Images from the Internet

Anti-Nowhere League: We Are the League – How Deep Do You Want It?
Directed by George Hencken
Cleopatra Entertainment / MVD Entertainment
103 minutes, 2019

Wikipedia lists the band as “hardcore,” but in my opinion, The Anti-Nowhere League (ANL, as they are commonly referred) were a cross between the hard-hitting pub band The Stranglers and the solid outrageousness of the Sex Pistols. But there’s no getting around the power of one of their anthems, “So What,” that is so filled with profanities and outlandish sex acts that it was not played in the States at all. They never really made it on this side of the Pond, and that is not surprising for that reason. People here were already nervous about bands like the Pistols, and the wilder the non-American group, the less chance they had of being played or booked.

Around 1983, I worked on a taping of New York-based cable access show “Videowave,” and one of their guests was the Anti-Nowhere League. Now, it’s been multiple decades and my memory may be shaky, but I remember it being sort of like when the fictional punk band The Scum of the Earth appeared on “WKRP in Cincinnati,” where they were somewhat polite until the camera came on, and then they went extreme. No, ANL didn’t destroy the set, but they were more aggressive until the cameras turned off.

After seeing this film, I understand the dichotomy a bit more: they come from the mostly lovely Royal Tunbridge Wells, a suburban metropolis about 30 miles southeast of London (Jeff Beck and Sid Vicious are also from there). Like most towns, it has its dark side, and that’s where the four core founding members of ANL began and mostly wound up. They include Nick “Animal” Culmer (vox), Chris “Magoo” Exall (guitar), Clive “Winston” Blake (bass), and PJ (drums).

The juxtaposition of seeing the idyllic town centre and these rough and burly guys is a head scratcher, in a good way. The band started, essentially, on bravado and chutzpah, and that worked for them. At first a biker “gang,” they decided to try out as musicians after seeing the Damned. Animal’s description of this is quite amusing, going from “greaser” to “teddy” overnight (though would anyone argue that their look was still the former?).

Through persistence and a communication with Damned drummer Rat Scabies, they finagled an opening spot on a Damned tour as their first gigs. Quite brazen, but it worked. They couldn’t play very well yet, but it got them noticed. Scabies is also interviewed often on this documentary, and he has come out as sort of a punk guru master. When I saw the Damned a number of times in the 1970s at CBGBs, he was definitely a wild card, which is saying something since they were sharing a bill with the Dead Boys. But I digress…

ANL managed to hook up with a manager, John Curd of WXYZ Records, who released their single with the flipside of “So What.” After much controversy and censure by the government (not to mention the seizure of thousands of copies), they released their album, We Are the League, which is arguably one of the strongest grunge punk albums of the time, and certainly a precursor to hardcore (as were the Damned and the Dead Boys).

This is partially expressed in the behavior of the bassist, Winston, who would do things (described in disgusting detail here) that was certainly a foundation for the stage show that would become the oeuvre of GG Allin. Outrageous actions were hardly his alone though, as they debauched and “went off the rails” as Animal describes it.

One thing the documentary brings forward that was completely new to me is that they were the stars of an unreleased tour documentary called So What!, directed by The Police drummer (again with the drummers), Stewart Copeland for his first release as a filmmaker. Supporting ANL on the tour were Chron Gen and Chelsea. Copeland describes the experience, but despite his accomplishments, he comes across as preening and condescending here. This film is so obscure, it’s not even mentioned in the IMDB, though you can see some limited clips on YouTube.

Just as the Damned had successfully morphed into Goth (i.e., when they lost me), the ANL tried to change with the times (they refer to it themselves as “selling out”) with much less success. And at the two-thirds point of this film, as they morph into a more mainstream sound and personnel changes start to fly starting with the removal of PJ in the mid-to-late 1980s, the documentary starts to fall apart as well. As brilliant as the first two-thirds is, the last act becomes a bit tedious in their wallowing.

The Kent accents are thick as fleas and captions would have been a help for those of us non-Brits, so there are parts I had to play over to make sure what I heard was correct, but overall it’s not too bad (I find volume control helps), but overall the film was worth the watch. I personally wish ANL were less obscure here in the States, as they were a fun band. Also, I wish I could have seen them play live (they did limited tours of the States).

As for the extras there are a number of extended interviews, lasting from 1 to 11 minutes. During the PJ interview, I wanted to hear more about the trouble he had with prejudice going through customs and small townships, as an Iranian; this was discussed in part during the film, but by other bandmates. To me, this was a failing by the filmmaker, even if it ended up in the extras. For the rest, I understand why they were excised from the main release, but I’m also glad to have seen them. Also included is a slideshow of posters, live shots, etc., and the film’s trailer, along with a bunch of the Cleopatra Entertainment label film coming attractions.

Of course, the big extra is the 19-track CD of previously unreleased live performance material from 1982, which will show why they were so important at the time.

This is definitely a cock-heavy film, with almost no female presence, so amusingly at the end credits, there is a declaration that “This film refused the Bechdel test.” This made me laugh.

CD track list includes:
We Are the League
Can’t Stand Rock N’ Roll
For You
Streets of London
World War III
Wreck a Nowhere
Nowhere Man
I’m No Hero
I Hate…People
So What
Let’s Break the Law

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Fun with THE JONESES [1988]

Text by Julia Masi / FFanzeen, 1988
Introduction © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2019
Live photo © Robert Barry Francos, 2019
Other image and videos from the Internet

This interview was originally published in FFanzeen 15, dated 1988, and written by Julia Masi.

What was especially wrong with the Joneses, in my opinion, is that they were pointed in the wrong direction to make it a success. While Julia somewhat correctly lines them up with the energy of the bands from the late ‘70s, their style was more hair metal with a pop flair, and that’s the wave they should have jumped on. Their locus in Hollywood was the center of that scene, so they could easily have been lumped in with Mötley Crüe or Guns N’ Roses, but I believe their marketing was looking backwards rather than forwards.

Are their songs sexist? Yeah, but there was a lot of that kind of stuff going on back then (note that I'm not excusing any of it). Even now, I get music from metal acts that put out material with lyrics that makes me cringe. Musically, their album Keeping Up with the Joneses is really a lot of fun, but I also understand their musical immaturity worked against them more than promoting them. Also thwarting their climb, they don’t sound like they take themselves too seriously, and that may be a factor why the members of the band kept changing, other than Jeff Drake. Of course, it also doesn’t help that some time after this interview, Jeff spent a few years incarcerated thanks to trying to rob a bank. Yep, you read that right. After he got out, the band reformed, as it were (i.e., Jeff and a new back-up), and took another stab at it. Considering how many of you reading this know of them shows their level of non-success.

I met Jeff and Steve at a taping of cable access show “Videowave” (as did Julia), and yeah, they were a bunch of smartasses. The trio of videos they talk about, as far as I can tell, never came to be. Listening to their music now (see links below), I still think they are a “fun” band, but even after all these years, it’s still hard to take them seriously. And there’s the rub. – RBF, 2019
Steve Olson and Jeff Drake on the set of "Videowave"
(photo by Robert Barry Francos)
The Joneses are just average, all-American boys who “rage for fun,” party in cemeteries, write double-entendre songs and aspire to become “The Geraldo Rivera of rock’n’roll.”

Occasionally, the boys are given to clichés, but not always in a negative way. For example, their album, Keeping Up with the Joneses, on Doctor Dream Records, is a rowdy, raunchy collection of material including “She’s So Filthy,” “Look So Bad, Feel So Good,” and “Ms. 714” that fails to find anything serious in the banality of the basic boy/girl relationship.

Fun is the band’s favorite pastime and the only adjective they use to describe their music. Fans agree, but sometimes the people they love most – women – attack them for their tongue-in-cheek lyrics.

Hiding their eyes under black, opaque aviator glasses and wrapped in tight, somewhat shredded jeans, the boys – Jeff Drake (vocals) and Steve (I don’t know his last name; he didn’t’ tell me his last name, but I didn’t’ tell him mine [Steve Olson, who was also a professional skateboarder at the time – RBF, 2019]) – try to look menacing. But smiles to supresses their laughter gives them away.

Jeff is the quiet one (as compared to Steve, that is). He’s a Lakers fan given to saying things like, “A drug-free America comes first in our book!” He could easily be mistaken for a Disney World prototype of a rock’n’roll robot if he didn’t declare, “Women are my favorite sex object” whenever he’s forced to say anything profound.

Steve emerged from the womb searching for the spotlight. He works at throwing female interviewers off-track by asking personal questions. Although you can ask him anything, all of his answers related back to the topic of sex. But so does their music.

“I wanted to put a liner sheet in there,” Jeff explains as a certain reporter throws the album cover as if it were a Frisbee. “But the record company wouldn’t do it. They thought that some of the lyrics might be offensive. I don’t think any of it is offensive. The songs are actually very upbeat, so if you use a little vernacular, it’s okay.”

It seems strange that feminists take their music seriously, or even listen to it in the first place. Of course, that might relate to the title of “Look So Bad, Feel So Good,” but it seems ridiculous that they actually write to the Joneses and give them a hard time. They wrongly accuse the boys of being sexists! (Female readers, please gasp.)

“It really doesn’t bother us,” Jeff continues. “Our songs are written pretty much in the language that we speak, so there’s words in there that might be taken out of context and thought of as that. But if you’re gonna take them apart… I write them I about five minutes and it would take them more than that to pick them apart.”

The bulk of their reviews are favorable. And it did take a considerable amount of digging through clippings to find that one obscure article that labeled them “moronically misogynist.” When asked to defend themselves, they confessed they had no idea what it meant. A quick explanation rendered them speechless and pale. It seemed like a good time to call in the paramedics, until Steve interjected, “I don’t know where they got this information. I am the opposite!” (Female readers: please sigh.)

We are about to take a turn for the worse as the Joneses try to convince me that in addition to sex and romance, Chekov is among their major influences. (Come on, boys! How dumb do I look? No wonder the feminists pick on you.)

“I think they just misinterpret us,” interjects Steve. “We’re just about having fun. Life is fun. Boy meets girl. Boy equals F. Girl equals F. Life is fun. It’s sexist fun.”

And for more sexist fun, the band can dabble in video. They have a trilogy written for “She’s So Filthy,” “Look So Bad, Feel So Good,’ and “Ms. 714” that they were trying to put together in New York at the time of (but not during) this interview.

“We’ve been doing some casting out here,” says Jeff, “getting some models up to the crib for auditions and tryouts. Since it’s “She’s So Filthy,” we want to get some really filthy girls to lend some honesty to the whole thing. It’s gonna be trashy.” And exactly how do the Joneses conduct their little star search? “We say, ‘Show us. Here’s the song. Act it out’,” explains Jeff.

“We want to make it real-to-life. Why cover it up?” asks Steve. They carry out a little repartee about making two versions, one for commercial consumption and the other a home version for limited release.

Trying to get them back to the subject of their music, at this point, is nearly impossible. And it takes the slightly drastic measure of kicking off a spiked-heel shoe in pseudo-feminist mock anger for the boys to get the point. (By the way boys, real feminists wear sensible shoes.)

Quickly changing the subject, Jeff describe the record as “a party album” and winces at comments (no matter how complementary) that it’s a throwback to the good old days of 1977-79, when live bands had raw energy. “If you can overlook the trap they got caught in, then I think they’re really great,” said Steve, referring to the chemical and financial problems that hovered like a black cloud over that scene.

“It comes from the roots of rock’n’roll,” Steve muses. His love of old rock’n’roll is so deep, he used to visit the grave of one of his heroes, Eddie Cochran so frequently that he has dozens of stories of partying on his grave.

When an analogy is made to the way Jeff sometimes mumbles his lyrics and the fact that other bands of their genre frequently condemn commercial success, Steve chides, “That’s because Jeff is afraid of success. He’s really a great singer and he tries to mix it down.” Steve, of course, is fearless in the face of fame. “When I was 17 or 16, I would go up to Hollywood and there was just a very small amount of people into this New Wave thing.

“People like X, and even people who are big now; these people were dressed up and having fun. And it was like everyone was in this little clique. There was one in San Francisco, there was one in L.A., and there was that London scene, with all the prima donnas from England that ripped off America anyway.

“I was having a great time. And I was a very successful kid at a young age. It’s ridiculous to be so narrow-minded.

“Success is what? Just being happy. It isn’t just how much money you have or – If you’re content with yourself, it depends on how you hold success in your eyes.”

As Jeff puts it, “We just want everyone to have a good time and we’ll be the conductors.”