Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Review: Rolling Stone: Life and Death of Brian Jones

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2020
Images from the Internet

Rolling Stone: Life and Death of Brian Jones
Directed by Danny Garcia
Dudeski; Chip Baker Films; MVD Entertainment
98 minutes, 2020

In General Semantics, a philosophy about language, there is something known as Time Binding. This is the human ability to pass information and knowledge from one generation to the next. Over the past few years, Danny Garcia has been an important time binder for the First and Second Wave of the punk movement, both in New York and England. Topics of his previous films include The Clash (The Rise and Fall of the Clash, 2012), Johnny Thunders (Looking for Johnny, 2014), Sid Vicious (Sad Vacation, 2016), and the Dead Boys’ Stiv Bators (Stiv, 2019). Most of these have been reviewed on this blog.

For his current release, he delves a decade further back into Rock and Roll history, to a biography of Brian Jones, the infamous co-founder and guitarist (among a multitude of other instruments) of the Rolling Stones during what is arguably its most revolutionary pop-and-blues period. This ground has been covered before many times, but Garcia often has an eye for something different.

I’ve read a book or two about the Stones’ and Jones’ wild life and questionable death, but I do not consider myself an expert by any stretch in the tale, other than Jones’ ostracization by the band he helped form, and that he drowned or was murdered in his swimming pool in 1969. Therefore, I will be approaching Garcia’s release as a standalone, and not compare it to the information found in the other multitude of books and videos on just Jones, never mind the rest of the band.

Beginning with a quote that I’m not sure I agree with 100 percent – “When you think of the Rolling Stones in the mid-‘60s, you think of Brian Jones. You don’t think of Mick Jagger; you certainly don’t think of Keith Richards” – the film starts off where it ends up, with the farm built by Winnie the Pooh creator AA Milne in Hartfield, Sussex, UK, bought by Jones to escape the insanity (and I am going to assume to get away from the drugs) of being a rock star from arguably the second biggest band in the world at the time.

After a brief prologue at Hartfield, like a rock skipping over a backyard pool, the first act is based on Brian’s childhood into being an adult in Cheltenham. There are numerous home films (8mm, I’m assuming) and photos of him as a young man who by the age of 19 had fathered three known illegitimate children (not covered but curious, I wonder if he was involved in any of their lives in any way, be it physically or financially). Wild and rambunctious with a mixture of shyness and acting out, he turned to jazz as he learned to play multiple instruments and eventually blues as he settled in on the guitar, even perfecting the slide.

Meeting Ian Stewart (d. 1985) started the formation of the Rolling Stones. Ironically, of course, that the two who originally created the beast were the ones who were kick out. Ian contributes to this by telling his side of the formation via archival vocals.

The story is oft told about the Stones, but for me, I enjoyed the rare footage and stills; but the documentary really picks up at about the halfway point starting Act 2 when discussing the 1967 drug busts of the band, with Jones being especially singled out. Archive news footage is interesting in this context. Of course, it is not long after this affair that Jones is excised from the band in the middle of 1969, being in a rough shape from whatever he was doing on his own, including heavy drinking and being over-prescribed pills (as with Elvis, it was a common practice in those days).

Of course, the significant third and final act revolves around Brian’s mysterious death. It’s here, especially, that the documentary shines in that it does not posit what happened that night as most Jones biographies tend to do; rather it presents multiple possibilities and leaves it up to the viewer. This is a smart tactic. It’s a tale told through time: was it the builder Frank Thorogood, who according to Jones’ shifty manager Tom Keylock, confessed on his deathbed (how convenient); this was the focus of the book I had read on the topic. And what was Keylock's and Stones’ manager Allen Klein's involvement? Was he drowned elsewhere and dumped in the pool? Was the coroner and the police in on a coverup as they refuse to reopen the case with new information (the case is sealed for 75 years)?

Throwing all these and additional theories in together make it clear that there is more to the horse than just the tail, but we may never know exactly what happened in the Pooh pool in our lifetime, if ever. Not taking a position one way or another was a smart move on Garcia’s part, since it is all speculation at this point.

Some of the information used in the documentary are dismissive, in my opinion, as they are second hand accounts, such as by authors Simon Wells (Butterfly on a Wheel: The Great Rolling Stones Drug Bust, 2011), Chris Salewicz (Dead Gods: The 27 Club, 2015), and filmmaker Stephen Woolley, director of the non-documentary film Stoned (2005), from which some deleted scenes are inserted into Garcia’s release.

For me what was more interesting were the first-hand accounts of Brian’s personality and events around him by the likes of artist and author Prince Stash Klossowski de Rola who was with Jones the night of his arrest in 1967, PR specialist Keith Altham, Sam Cutler, who was the Rolling Stones tour manager in 1969, photographers Gered Mankowitz and Terry O’Neill, and musicians Alexis Korner, “father of British Blues” who mentored Jones as a youth, vocalist of the underrated the Pretty Things Phil May, Dick Taylor of both the Stones and the Pretty Things, and relatively obscure singer (on this side of the pond) Chris Farlowe.

It was the more personal interviews that I found the most interesting and informative, such as singer and actress and ex-lover (pre-Anita Pallenberg, d. 2017) ZouZou, and friends throughout his life, Graham Ride, author of Foundation Stone (2005), childhood friend in Cheltenham Richard Hattrell, and Pamela Wynn. Especially noteworthy is Brian’s daughter, Barbara Anna Marion, and the voice of his father, Lewis Jones, Brian’s supposedly overbearing father, talking about Brian picking up music.

For the DVD extras, there are some Deleted Scenes lasting nearly an hour, which actually could have been named “Really Interesting Stories about Jones and the Boys.” While I was most intrigued by tales of Anita, and her and Jones’ touches with the occult, the anecdotal interviews are interwoven and remain fun and interesting the whole time through.

Next up are two featurettes. First is “Behind the Scenes: Return to Hartfield,” a 4-minute cobbling of interviews with people discussing Jones’ death, and some local footage, including at a once-pub-now-residence where Jones would occasionally hang out (and apparently died owing a bit of dinero). Next is the 9-minute “Muddy Waters: The Scott Jones Files,” a fascinating one-person interview on what the investigative journalist found not only about Brian’s death, but about the local police reaction to the information back in 1969 and in 2010.

The last two extras are the film’s trailer, and a nice sized physical hard-paper poster in the clamshell case.

An interesting side aspect for me is that there is not a single note of music by any of the Stones (I’m sure the costs were beyond the budget) – nor Jones himself – but there is appropriate music all the way through of Blues and bands that have written songs about Jones. Of note, for me, was hearing Greg “Stackhouse” Prevost, which is always a pleasure.

As a whole, on one hand this documentary is likely to get lost among the Stones and Jones canon, but it nicely sums up a lot of the current known information and posits intelligently on what is not yet known, which makes it worth the watch.

Coming up next for Garcia is another Vicious look at Sid: The Final Curtain, currently filming.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Review: Vote Motherfucker!

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2020 
Images from the Internet
Vote Motherfucker! 
Directed by Lenny Schwartz 
Daydream Films; IM Filmworks 
83 minutes, 2020 
Available free (for now) at link after the review. 

This year, 2020, has been nothing short of bedlam. Three events have arisen that has given those of us in the West a peek into a view of the world that is unprecedented. 

Chronologically, it started on a grand scale with the COVID-19 outbreak of course, for which writer and director Lenny Schwartz examined in his film, Far from Perfect: Life Inside a Global Pandemic (2020; reviewed HERE), via vignettes. With this release, he set the paradigm of a trilogy, shot by the actors themselves on Zoom, cell phones, etc., based on Lenny’s screenplay and a bit of ad libbing; then Lenny and oft collaborator Nathan Suher sewed them together into a cultural overview with some narrative form. 

Then came the rise of cancel culture, when cultural events and venues have been shut down, depriving fans of seeing their idols throughout the summer and apparently mostly into 2021, such as with music festivals and big film releases. Schwartz presented this through his own lens about the cessation of comic cons, in Comic Book Junkies (2020; reviewed HERE). This is actually appropriate if you follow the trajectory of Superhero releases that have been held in check until theaters reopen to full capacity some time next year or later. 

The third crush for attention of the year centers around the very contentious presidential election between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. This film is Lenny’s take on not just the candidates and some of what they stand for (or against), but a viewing of the political landscape to finish off this stunning social distanced 2020 trilogy.
As with the previous two, the cast here are both professionals and not. There are the actors, such as Sarah Reed, Michael Thurber, Jamie Lyn Bagley and Samantha Acampura (who does a stunningly powerful touch about what it’s like to be a Jew during the whole alt-right revival; I’m with ya, landsman), but also members of local film crews and other denizens mostly of the New England landscape. It’s interesting to see how they interpret and present Schwartz’s screenplay, which is part of what I liked about this experiment. In all, there are nearly sixty of these pieces, averaging under two minutes each, so it is never too much of one story. Despite the level of professional actors varying, the passion is there, and it comes across viscerally. 

 As might be asked, and how is this film different from all of the other trilogy films? For this release, while the “shell” looks the same as the previous ones, there are also some key different takes on the narrative formula in that each vignette is more individualized, and less directly connected. It is the performer(s) addressing the audience with opinions, while also occasionally giving a bit of a history lesson with spoonfuls of reality. Lenny, via his surrogate cast, breaks down how government works during election time, starting off with explaining the electoral college, what it is, and how it works.
One would think this would be some kind of boring history lesson, but the way it is presented is probably more… well, let’s say user friendly. It’s also spread out enough where it doesn’t feel like one is sitting in a classroom. It is way more conversational than one might expect. 

 Another difference from the previous two films, quite frankly, is the tone of desperation. Definitely coming from the perspective of the Left, it does come across as a bit preachy at times, but quite honestly, that is the place in history where we are living for the time being. Being from the Left myself, I could easily identify with most of the characters (not the Jill Stein-like third party voters which at one point included the “Bernie Bros,” though).
The reason – and I believe rightfully so – that this comes across as moralizing is because it is particularly one sided, meaning to the Left. But the form and the forum dictates this as necessary: because of the lack of narrative structure per se, and the times they are a-desperate, it’s the Left that is needed to vote to override the Right’s overwhelming media presence. For example, I recently attended a virtual panel discussion where the topic was Media and the Election. After about 20 minutes, one of the six Left-oriented scholars said, essentially, all that they had talked about until then was Trump and Republican strategies that have been used, and they needed to discuss the Democratic side, as well. All agreed, but within 5 or 10 minutes, it was back to whining about the Right. This is one of the reasons why this film is important, because the Left is not getting enough of its message through, being drowned out by “rigging,” “Hunter” and other news memes from the Right.
And within this film, despite all the discussions of the “lesser of two evils,” third-party candidates, attacks on LGBQT+ and women’s freedoms, the rise of the militia-minded, and feelings of disenchantment with the process and so forth, there is also an underlying tone of humor, such as the electoral college being referred to as electile disfunction. This was proven to be true, sadly, over the last few elections, with GW Bush managing to steal the Seat and Trump gaining his power in 2016 despite losing by over three million popular (legal) votes. That being said, this is not exactly a “feel good” film, but rather it is a document of its time, which is why it is important and worth the watch. I assure you, you will not be bored. 

The entire film available free for now HERE.

Monday, October 5, 2020

On Tour with 3-D [1980]

Text by Julia Masi / FFanzeen, 1980
Introduction by Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2020
Images from the Internet

This article / interview was originally published in FFanzeen, issue #5, dated August/September 1980. It was written by the Managing Editor of the magazine, Julia Masi.

The band 3-D had a couple of hits, two albums, and even played on “Saturday Night Live” (hosted by Steve Martin). Despite the protestations in the interview below, they were very New Wave, as we understand it in hindsight.

Since the break-up, lead singer Rick Zivic opened up his own recording studio in New York, and is fronting the Rockin’ Red White and Blues Band. For Ted Wender, he joined with Zivic in 1989 and created a production company that specializes in videos for commercials, television programs and industrial companies. Ted also formed the group Jazzmatik, and created MusiCan, a philanthropic organization to help kids with music programs in indigent neighborhood public schools. Keiv Ginsberg’s other claim to fame is that he played guitar for the Blues Brothers, including on their albums (which may explain how they got to play on "SNL"). Producer and bassist Nick Stevens has worked with many artists over the years, including Impulse Manslaughter. – RBF, 2020

“The basic premise of the group is that we’re songwriters and we’re evolving. We don’t write one type of song. We write about a lot of different things. We’re a band with a lot of visual ideas,” says Rick Zivic, winsome, brown-eyed lead singer and lyricist of 3-D. The group is best known for the songs “X-Ray Eyes,” “All Night Television” and “Telephone Number,” which reflect that philosophy.

3-D includes keyboard player Ted Wender, drummer Mike Find, guitarist Keiv Ginsberg, and Nick Stevens on bass, all native New Yorkers. Zivic hails from Pittsburgh. Recently, 3-D returned to New York City after completing a 40-date national tour with the J. Geils Band, to do a very successful spot on “Saturday Night Live,” and work on their second album for Polydor Records.

Zivic seemed relaxed and ambitious as he sat in a spacious white room of the band’s Greenwich Village loft and recounted stories from the road. Touring is nothing new for 3-D. They’ve been on the road before with the Fabulous Poodles, the Romantics, and Mitch Ryder. But this was the first time they experienced a backlash from the audience over the band’s visual image:

“Because of the way we looked, not necessarily because of the music, people immediately associated us as either being from England or being New Wave. In certain markets we found that there is still an on-going battle between the New Wave thing and the old wave thing, which is, to me, a little bit bullshit, because New Wave means nothing to me – old wave means nothing to me. It’s just that if you play rock’n’roll, there’s different variations of it. We got encores. It was unbelievable. Detroit was the same way. They’re the two roughest rock’n’roll markets in the world to hit, and they loved us.

“Initially, when we started the tour, we played Providence. This was our first experience hearing and seeing the Geils crowd. And it was 10,000 of them, and they were gonzo-Geils people. We came out to do our set and all of a sudden it was like a war zone. Nickels being thrown up (on stage). Quarters being heated with their lighters and thrown up. Bottles and every type of debris coming up. I did a jump and in mid-air saw a coin come up and hit me right below the eye. For 2-1/2-3 weeks, I had this incredible black eye.”

Despite the unfriendly welcome they received, 3-D was undaunted by the crowd. “I just finished the set and left the stage. I said, ‘Fuck you,’ which was really stupid. It was very new for us. At that point, I should have gotten the hell out of there.”

The band stuck it out and was well received on their next few gigs. Once they got to know the Geils crowd, they started to re-evaluate their set. Much of 3-D’s material borders on a new sound, “But to get a lot of the gonzo mentality you wanna power-drive them,” he smiled, “so we started trimming out some of the things that give people time enough to react and maybe obliterate us.”

Their precautions were in vain. In Tampa, someone threw a bottle of Jack Daniels on stage. It hit Nick Stevens in the face, but luckily bounced off him before it cracked on the floor. Zivic decided to fight back with his audience. “I started to get like a mad dog,” he recalled, but the more he answered back and singled out his hecklers, the better they liked it. Their record company even received fan mail about it, but Rick tends to be naturally nonchalant, and isn’t ready to reembrace a stage personality. “You’re here to play music and it’s like tripe. Out of 10,000 people, there are just 100 people who are rowdy about it.”

Most of the bands who have toured with J. Geils have left the tour early, but nothing could make 3-D throw in the towel. Not even the festival seating at a concert in Oakland. “There are no seats,” Zivic explained, “and the kids stood in front of the stage, all the way back. And they’re either belligerent, or they’re gone. At this point, you had to be a gladiator to go out there.”

The tour ended in Providence and the band was a little leery about going back there. They had gotten used to the favorable receptions they got in most of the South, Texas, the West Coast and especially by Geils’ hometown of Boston. “I had this incredible phobia about Providence the night we came back. It was such an accomplishment. We had started at the point we were totally na├»ve, to the point of just saying, ‘We’re gonna rock, and we’re here to rock, and if you wanna get into it, great. If not, go fuck yourselves and get outta here’.”

The band is already looking forward to their next tour when they hope to include some video work into their show. “We had a big plan on ‘X-Ray Eyes’ and ‘All Night Television’ to do two videos on the new material. But we’re definitely doing a 3-D film for the next tour.” He speculated, “I think 3-D’s a thing we have to do ‘cause it’s definitely a thing of the future. And I think we should be the first ones to get into it.”