For all intents and purposes NWA single-handedly invented Gangsta Rap. Before them was Hip Hop. Sure, there were beats and some street knowledge being dropped, but the hardness wasn’t there. And those brightly colored outfits just didn’t convey ghetto authenticity. NWA’s look clearly said “hood nigga”. Black from head to toe, Raiders gear, wraparound shades and guns pointed right at you. They looked intimidating and their music followed suit. Being among the multitude of suburban white boys digging their rugged sound in the early ’90s, I understood the appeal. A culture so utterly brutal and alien at the same time was exciting to vicariously partake in. And there were lotsa cuss words.
I’m a sucker for autobiographies, especially by musicians. I used to be a bit of a snob and only read books by people I actually liked or knew about but slowly I caved in to any celebrity trash. After reading Kim Gordon’s wonderful Girl in a Band and Carrie Brownstein’s Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl I was left wanting something a bit more… rambunctious and depraved, and saw that Travis Barker had a book due out so recommended that my local library buy it and they did. Continue reading
I grew up in the 90s amid boy band fever. Every girl had magazines where they could get posters of their favourite groups and learn all about their favourite singer’s favourite flavour of ice-cream. I never had that luxury because I liked heavy metal and Dolly and TV Hits didn’t cover those bands. Apart from seeing the Misfits wrestle on TV, I knew nothing of them and when I started listening to them around 2002 I picked up that most people hate post-Danzig Misfits and that Jerry Only is to blame for the shitty merchandise.
So when my friend sent me a copy of This Music Leaves Stains I realised I was unaware of the band’s origins and what exactly caused the demise of the Danzig era Misfits. I was so out of the loop I didn’t even know that Doyle and Jerry were brothers.
James Greene Jr’s book is the place to go to if you need a refresher or are wanting to discover all the Misfits information you could dream of in one book. It is short, but it’s a fun and informative read and something that belongs in every Misfits fans collection.
The Naked Kiss: Can you tell our readers a little about your background and what lead you to writing a book about The Misfits?
James Greene Jr: I’ve been a freelance writer for around ten years, and I think the largest recurring theme for me has been music. That’s what I’m most passionate about, so I end up covering it. Mostly outsider stuff, though, like a lot of punk and novelty, anything weird, fringe. The more home recorded it sounds, the better. Over the years I’d tried to get a few books off the ground and they all fizzled out, for a variety of reasons. Probably lack of experience. I spent five years contributing to the version of Crawdaddy! they relaunched online. Toward the end of that, right before Crawdaddy! folded, in my off hours one day it just sort of hit me that no one had written a full book on the Misfits. That seemed a little insane based on their popularity and the popularity of everything Danzig did afterward. I wondered if I could write one. For me, the love and devotion was there, to the band and their music, their legacy, but it wasn’t a venture I took seriously until I was laid off. At that point, nothing else was going on, so I just went full bore. And through some miracle it became a reality.
In the acknowledgments you said some stories had to be excised, was this due to legal matters, potential shit stirring or another reason?
Huge chunks where I analyze lyrics, entire passages of songs, where I tear apart the structure and each word practically, had to go once it was made clear how expensive it is to reprint song lyrics that have been registered with the American Society of Composers, Authors And Publishers. The costs are outrageous, which I get, because artists need to protect their creations and their revenue. My publisher told me they weren’t going to foot the bill if I kept this stuff in, and I didn’t have the money. This was right before Kickstarter took off, I think. Maybe I should have done that. My thought at the time, my thought on it now, still, is that I can do it in the future, the lyrical dissection, on a blog, like what I set up for the pictures I also couldn’t afford for the book. On the other hand, maybe tearing the songs apart to that degree would have been too much of a tangent. Some stuff was cut out because I was very conscious of keeping the narrative moving and not writing too far up my own ass. It’s important for me for the book to appeal to readers who aren’t already deeply invested in the Misfits and their lore. I could have loaded the thing with hundreds of extra weird stories and asides. I feel like writing a book about the Misfits to begin with was enough shit stirring. I knew this book was going to ruffle feathers, and it did. Nothing too bonkers, though. No bonfires on my lawn or anything.
I am assuming Danzig and Jerry Only politely declined to be interviewed for the book, did you even get past management to talk to them?
That depends on how you define “politely.” Jerry never replied to any communication I sent, be it direct, through official channels, or via a person on the inside track. Radio silence with every attempt. And there were several. Glenn, on the other hand, he was considering it. Or so I was told. We spoke through one of his assistants. I mean, there’s a chance this person never mentioned it to him, but I have no reason not to believe I was hearing the truth. Glenn considered it, apparently, but after that, nothing. More silence. The rejections were polite in that nobody called me up and told me to fuck right off with my dipshit book.
Did you get a lot of support and information from Misfits websites/fans/collectors?
Absolutely. The hardcore fans, the one who set up the websites back when barely anyone knew how to define that term, the same people who’ve tracked down all these ultra rare pieces of band memorabilia—these folks were invaluable to my research. They’re historians and I feel so lucky a handful agreed to help me. I feel lucky the basic reaction was, “Thank god someone is finally writing a book about this band.” I mean, some were skeptical it would actually happen, but I was too. I was just as skeptical that this thing would make it to shelves. We’re all crazy for this band, though, and I think maybe we get a charge from talking and sharing and helping each other when we can. I just hope the people who aided me with Stains understand my gratitude. People really went out of their way to get on board with me, some no name writer. That meant everything.
Given that this is your first book did this in anyway put limits on the scope/promotion/budget/pressing of the book? And how did you sell yourself as the person to write this book?
Well, certainly…even though I’d been freelancing for years and had experience, per se, I’d never written for any household names. I still haven’t, really. I’ve had one thing in SPIN. Being a first timer with no audience—-even now I only have 300 Twitter followers. When Stains was coming out, maybe it was half that. The publisher was taking a chance releasing a book about the Misfits, a punk band with a strong foothold in our culture, but again, not a household name, certainly not to the extent of the Ramones or the Clash. Later I was told the cabal in charge at the publisher, the people who make all the final decisions, they weren’t convinced it was worth doing until someone showed them a Misfits Facebook that has a million followers. Or several hundred thousand. So, yeah, I had no delusions about them booking me on “Fresh Air” or getting reviewed in Pitchfork.
The only angle I could take in selling myself as the correct author for Stains was to try and wear my passion for the band on my sleeve, to try and articulate what they meant to me, along side whatever writing clips I was using at the time to display my talents. You know, I’m not Franché Coma’s son, I’m not Dr. Chud’s mechanic, I’m just a zealous member of this cult, some stan on the sidelines who has seen the different sides of the saga unfold and can look at it with what I think is a decent amount of objectivity. And maybe I can make a sentence sound interesting.
Your book reminded me a lot of Alex Ogg’s recent Dead Kennedy’s book (so much similar legal bullshit and band drama). It too was short but visually rich – I assume there were reasons due to rights or budget as to why there were only a few photos?
Yeah, I alluded to this earlier—-pictures are just as expensive as lyrics to reprint in a book, sometimes more. My original vision for Stains was something that looked similar to Monte Melnick’s book about the Ramones. The graphic design of that book is awesome, where it feels like you’re flipping through somebody’s scrapbook. It’s so inviting, so rich. Eerie Von’s book is like that, too. Again, photo licensing was something I’d have to pay for out of pocket, that’s just the way it was. There wasn’t any way I could put together what I imagined at first, so I defaulted to the few-pictures-in-the-middle thing every book in the universe does. Even that didn’t go the way I wanted—-an individual who had promised me a bunch of rare-ish shots covering various incarnations of the band evaporated, just ghosted me. It was a bummer. The pictures Kevin Salk gave me are fantastic, though, and capture much of the group’s essence. Eventually I set up the tumblr with all the photos, because my thought was, People will have their phones right next to the book while they’re reading, they’ll get online maybe to look me up and complain about the lack of photos but then they’ll find the tumblr. And that’s basically what’s always happened.
After writing the above question I came across the tumblr. Is there any development regarding a special edition of the book with more visual content?
At some point an updated edition will be released…it’s in my contract, I’m obligated to do it, which is a fine obligation to have, and I definitely foresee an increase in photographic material. Somehow, you know. We’ll figure something out, otherwise what’s the point? Currently there are no firm plans are on the table concerning any of that. No timetable, not even in the contract, I think. Just thoughts, fragments.
Was it easy to track down all of those old band members and get interviews out of them?
It was relatively easy tracking everyone down, but getting interviews…well, obviously several members refused to participate. I’m sure some saw me as dubious, just another dirt clod who says he’s gonna do a book. You know, these people can’t walk out of the house without getting fifty questions about the Misfits before the mailbox. A lot of them want to leave it in the past. Googy, Diane DiPiazza, Manny—-none of them have said word one to anybody. I get it. I respect that. I’m fortunate for the people who did agree to speak with me.
What is your favourite story, anecdote, or fact you uncovered while writing the book?
It was really cool to hear directly from Ian MacKaye about his fandom for the Misfits. I had no idea that he was a fan—-I just thought he’d be good to speak to as a contemporary, someone who was following the same path the Misfits were in the early ‘80s, but he’s really into the band and Glenn’s songwriting and it was just so much fun to hear his perspective on that stuff. Constantly his quote about “Horror Business” goes through my head. “‘My windows are black for you’—- what the fuck does that mean?” If Ian MacKaye doesn’t know I sure as hell don’t. The mystery of Danzig confounds us all.
How many hours of research did you spend on this thing?
Good question. That’s what interviewees say when they have no fucking clue for an answer. I started work on the book in August 2010 and turned in the finished manuscript October 2012. Every spare moment I had between freelance jobs and regular life demands I was researching. Even up to October 2012, as I was preparing to turn the manuscript in, there was still fact checking. I guess hundreds of hours. I don’t know, I’m atrocious with math. I’ll say enough hours that once I was done I didn’t want to think about looking anything up ever again. My intellectual curiosity and amateur detective skills were maxed out.
Have any of the band members reacted to the book?
Bobby Steele either posted on Facebook or messaged me on there to say he felt vindicated by what I’d written about him and his role in the band. We communicated for a while after that. He’s the only Misfit I’ve heard from directly. People tell me Michale Graves liked it. People tell me Jerry Only didn’t. That’s it. I’d love to know what they all think but it’s gauche for me to reach out and ask and perhaps just as gauche to assume everyone in the band’s read it.
Do you think a reunion will ever happen, and if it did that it would even satisfy fans? I want to see the Misfits as they were in 1978 and I can’t. If fans complained that another singer couldn’t live up to Danzig, wouldn’t people complain that Danzig can’t live up to his act from 37 years ago?
I think the main reason fans want a reunion is because they want to believe the music has the power to snuff out all the personal issues between the members. They want to believe Glenn and Jerry will put aside their differences because they cannot deny the impact and importance of their creations. I suppose stranger things have happened, but I’d be surprised if this became reality, if the separate parties decided to eat it cost-wise and do something special for their audience. From what I understand, that’s the issue, dividing up the percentages. Each guy thinks they deserve an amount the other guy isn’t on board with. Jerry and Glenn have had enough success without each other at this point…and I don’t think their personal bond was ever super strong. Otherwise the band would have stayed together. Or they would have reunited already. What you mention about expectations, that always plagues these kinds of things. Every reunion falls short to some degree.
Your book made me revist post-Danzig Misfits and I really liked some of the Graves’ era stuff. I think he got such a shit deal as he mentions the violence and hostility he had directed at him, the fact that he wrote most of the music and was not treated with respect. They tried to fine him $5,000 for breach of contact. Did he have any fond memories of his time in the band?
I talked to Michale for three hours for Stains. He couldn’t have been more generous or more personable toward me, which was very unexpected. Very appreciative of that. Seems to me like he has many fond memories, particularly that he was allowed to step into this coveted position, and that people like Doyle gave him so much validation and support. There was a span, he told me, where it felt like the Misfits were conquering the world. And they kinda were, circa Famous Monsters. Michale took oceans of abuse from all sorts of people, but he doesn’t seem bitter about it, and he cops to his own mistakes. He admits, or he admitted to me, that he could have handled certain situations better, that youth or inexperience was clouding his judgment. I walked away from that conversation with a newfound respect for the guy. I was a fan before but like anyone else I went in with my preconceived notions. He’s not deluded about any of the Misfits stuff.
Even though I think he milks it a bit too much I kind of have to admire Jerry’s tenacity for persisting with the band, he’s 56, surely he could retire and hang out in his sweat pants all day. They’re playing here in NZ in December, have you seen them lately?
You can’t accuse Jerry of sloth, that’s for sure. His Misfits have turned into road warriors. The Devil’s Rain left me a little cold so I haven’t caught them at any recent gigs. I think I’d be more interested to see what Jerry might do outside of the Misfits. I know the band probably won’t end until he dies, but I’m curious what he might embark upon without the fiend skull. Clearly I’m pining for a Kryst the Conqueror reunion. I don’t know, variety is the spice of life. At the same time, a sick part of me wants to see how far the Misfits can go. Will it eventually be Jerry Jr and Jerry III? Will the grandsons walk among us?
Doing your research did you come across any insane Misfits merchandise? I always ask Misfits fans what the most ridiculous Misfits item they’ve ever seen is. For me it was a duvet cover and shoelaces. Someone told me g-strings and ugg boots but I can’t believe that, surely that can not be true.
I have definitely seen the Misfits logo on women’s undergarments and lingerie. Not in person, just online, for sale, probably by bootleggers. The shoelaces are my go-to example for asinine merchandise. Who’s even going to notice that? Well, sneakerheads, I guess. But if you’re trying to display your fandom there are easier, more visible ways. Oh, I think I saw the Crimson Ghost on a Zippo lighter once. That’s a little…I don’t know. Vegas? It feels flashy.
Do you have plans for other books or are there any other bands that you would like to see have a book published about them?
I’m in the beginning stages of a book that will explore the development of punk rock in foreign countries. There were so many scenes around the world more or less concurrent to the British and U.S. explosions of the late ‘70s, I think it will be cool to write something that digs into all of them to some degree, so people can understand what life and art is like in other places, and how many amazing groups there are all over the place. It seems like a broad thing to do, a daunting proposition, maybe, covering all these places and cultures, but I find it as engaging an idea as the Misfits book, and I’m in the mood to do something general. Or more generalized. I’m not even sure, if you put a gun to my head and asked me to pick one band to write a book about right now, who I’d pick. I hope someone writes a book about the Gits some day. A super comprehensive book about Run-D.M.C. would be a godsend. Someone has to do the end-all GG Allin book. That’s one I feel qualified to write, reveling in all the trash culture I do.
Thanks for writing such a great book that educated me on The Misfits. I was stunned at how little of their story I knew and found your book both informative and entertaining. You also prompted me to revist post-Danzig Misfits and I’m really enjoying the two Graves records.
Hey, thanks for reading my book. It makes me really happy to hear feedback like this. These were my objectives, an entertaining and informative book that prompts people to the records.
If you’d like to say a few words or pimp anything here’s the space to do it:
In December I’m going to be releasing a PDF of essays about Star Wars and the culture that surrounds it. The title of the collection is Star Wars Ruined My Life and it’ll be a pay-what-you-want thing. To keep up with that and whatever else goes on in my world, dial me up on Twitter via @HoneyIShrunkJG2.
Lee Gambin is a Melbourne-based writer and film journalist, whose words have appeared regularly within the pages of the long-running horror film magazine Fangoria (for whom he has interviewed a wide range of genre personalities). Gambin has alsowritten liner notes for such prestige blu-ray releases as Squirm (Arrow Films), presents film lectures, and curates screenings for the Cinemaniacs film society in Melbourne. Lee’s first full-length book, Massacred by Mother Nature, was published by Midnight Marquee Press in 2012. For his second book, Gambin has chosen another of his most beloved music genres to talk about: the movie musicals of the seventies.
Published by Bear Manor Media, and at a whopping 812 pages, We Can Be Who We Are is certainly a comprehensive examination of its subject. Broken down by year, some of the diversity of titles which Gambin covers within the text include Russ Meyer’s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970), Frank Zappa’s bizarre 200 Motels (1971), Godspell (1973), Brian De Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise (1974), Grease (1978), Rock & Roll High School (1979), Times Square (1980) and the infamous KISS telemovie from 1978, Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park (released theatrically in Australia as Attack of the Phantom). Gambin leaves no stone unturned – even the notorious Star Wars Holiday Special (which aired on television in 1978 and has never been repeated or officially released) is covered in detail.
Along with his own critiques and insights into the films covered, Gambin has also sourced new interviews with many of the people who were involved in the productions, including John Carpenter, Norman Jewison, Mick Garris (who operated R2-D2 in the Star Wars Holiday Special!), Lesley Ann Warren and Didi Conn (Frenchie in Grease), who offer some fascinating insights and anecdotes regarding the projects they worked on. Heavily illustrated (in black & white) with an abundance of rare photographs, We Can Be Who We Are also includes a number of contributions from outside writers, including Robin Bougie, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, Richard W. Haines, Kier-La Janisse and myself, and is certainly recommended for anyone with a fondness for the cinematic musicals of that decade.
I had the chance to catch-up with the author to discuss his latest work.
John Harrison: What prompted you to decide to follow-up Massacred by Mother Nature with a book on movie musicals from the 1970’s?
Lee Gambin: I think the 70s are an interesting time in film history. And even though I’m most definitely a devotee to the ‘golden age’ of Hollywood, I find that once cinema entered the 70s there was a massive turning point in film culture and the way in which films were made, marketed and received.
The grit of 70s cinema is something that resonated with me, and as far as the two genres that you bring up in your question – that of the horror film and the musical – the decade proved to boast an incredible diversity in both arenas. And that is something that appeals to me. I’ve always loved the notion that horror is such a varied genre spawning so many sub-genres such as the eco-horror film, which is the point of discussion in my book Massacred by Mother Nature: Exploring the Natural Horror Film, which was becoming a massively prominent branch of horror with newfound issues concerning environmentalism and the like during the period. Classic gothic horror films (such as the Hammer offerings during the 50s) were starting to fade as films such as Psycho, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby came into the foreground, and then by the time the 70s approached, horror started to drastically change – films like The Exorcist and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre set new standards, and of course a massive hit like Jaws (the quintessential eco-horror movie) made a huge impact on the culture.
So it was the same for the movie musical. I mean, here is a decade where you have quirky sophisticated outings such as On A Clear Day You Can See Forever and then the profoundly bleak Fiddler On the Roof, then the subversive psychedelic Raggedy Ann and Andy: A Musical Adventure and then porno musicals such as Alice in Wonderland: An X-Rated Musical Fantasy. I also think the love for many of these films prompted me to write the book. I have always been obsessed with films such as Tommy, Phantom of the Paradise, The Muppet Movie, Jesus Christ Superstar, Cabaret, Nashville, The Rose and many more I discuss, so that was a very easy kick start.
JH: While the bulk of the writing is obviously yours, you also bring in a number of outsiders to We Can Be Who We Are, each contributing little pieces of critical analysis or personal recollections on some of their favourite films within the book’s genre. Is this something that you enjoy doing, to allow your book to have a few different voices, and some variety in the points-of-view on certain films?
LG: It’s the first time I’ve invited other people to contribute and I love it. I love everyone’s piece so much. It’s incredibly important to have varied opinions. What prompted me to do this was the fact that I was asked to contribute to other books and I thought that it would be a great idea to have film criticism writers also contribute. However, with this book on 70s movie musicals, I also got local musicians to contribute – so it was cool to have people like Adalita from seminal indie rock outfit Magic Dirt talk about her love and admiration (and also the influence of) Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, while Kat Spazzy of Melbourne punk band The Spazzys talks about the importance of The Ramones and Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, all the while combined with interviews with people such as John LaZar and P.J. Soles, who were involved in the films. And then of course with my analysis and insight into the film and the production etc. It was interesting to hear from the excellent writer Staci Layne Wilson, who talks about Ken Russell’s Listzomania (a film I don’t love, which is an absolute rarity in the case of Russell’s work which I normally adore!). To have conflicting attitudes about this shambolic film which is most certainly not the brilliant Tommy, The Boy Friend or The Music Lovers is humorous I think.
But yes, it is great to have varied voices. Xanadu is the film that gets two external voices discussing it’s madness, brilliance and plain insanity – Adam Devlin, a local radio programmer and music historian and life long Olivia Newton-John disciple, and Robin Bougie, who writes those wonderful Cinema Sewer books. So hearing both those guys talk about that crazy movie is stunning.
JH: The book is very comprehensive. In trying to cover as many films as you can, which would you say was the most joy to re-watch, investigate and write about? And conversely, which was the toughest?
LG: It was a joy to revisit most of the films. And the TV specials. And the documentaries. What made it super interesting for me was the fact that for most of them I would be interviewing various people who worked on them and therefore that would influence the ‘way I saw them’. So, for example, having grown up watching Milos Forman’s Hair over and over again and also being a massive fan of the original musical, which the film completely alters, modifies and changes to a filmic language, I would always be bewildered by the fact that the songs don’t necessarily fit in the integrated musical format – they stuck out like sore thumbs for me as a younger person; peppered throughout a very steady and streamlined narrative (which the original musical didn’t adhere to).
So when it came time to interview someone like Ann Roth, the costume designer for the film, these kind of questions came up, and although she was in charge of dressing the characters and not at all integral in the structure of the musical and the methods in which to adapt the stage show to screen, she still shed some amazing insight in the artistic battles that went on for a long period of time during the shoot, between choreographer Twyla Tharp and the film’s formidable director, Milos Forman. So after speaking to people like Ann Roth, going back and watching the film makes me see it in a totally different light and makes me love the movie even more. I have gone from thinking Forman’s Hair is a flawed film to absolutely embracing it as an exercise in brutal artistic differences that somehow function.
As far as the ‘toughest’ films to revisit, well, that would be the films I don’t/didn’t enjoy which are a pain – such as 1776.
JH: The 1970s seemed to be such a fertile decade for musicals. Do you think we will ever see another period like that, with so many diverse styles of musicals hitting our screens?
LG: Possibly. However, movies these days are just a drag. In all genres. I honestly can’t watch modern movies simply because of the aesthetic (or lack there of). Nothing looks as good as it did in the 70s. What a superb decade.
However, in saying that, there have been some contemporary movie musicals that I didn’t mind, such as the adaptation of Les Miserables which I thought did it’s job and wasn’t afraid to be as ugly as that musical truly is – it’s about people dying in the middle of the French revolution, so paint it up in ugly colors. But I was completely disappointed by the film adaptation of the brilliant Stephen Sondheim musical Into the Woods, which missed the point entirely – that is a bleak, angry, edgy, very dark musical and the film threw out all of the complexity and harrowing elements to make it ‘accessible’.
I think there is far too much ‘compromise’ in today’s film adaptations of musicals (when they get done). There are a lot of diverse musicals from Broadway and Off-Broadway and beyond that are without a film adaptation and some would easily make the transition (Ragtime, Sunset Boulevard) and ones that would be tricky such as the episodic Company, the revue-style Assassins and the ruthlessly anti-linear Sunday in the Park with George (all three Sondheim musicals – superb works may I add). But I don’t see studios running out to invest in a cluster of them in one go! Could you imagine a film of Chess? That would be fantastic if done right, but who would go and see a musical about the cold war? And could you imagine a film adaptation of The Me Nobody Knows or Runaways? But would there be an audience for child-centric therapy musicals dealing with grim issues like rape, heroin addiction and abortion? As far as original film musicals go (musical movies not based on stage musicals), I really, really doubt that these would be taken on. Which is really depressing. People are so scared of genre cinema, they really are.
LG: I love that you ask this!! One of the proudest achievements I have in writing this book is the fact that I get an opportunity to champion movies that I feel were unfairly maligned. I mean if you look at a film like Mame, there is a perfect example of a movie attacked by the critics, and honestly for no real reason at all. It is a charming film. One of the lesser depressing ‘whistling in the dark’ musicals, and one loaded with a sophisticated sensibility. It was panned primarily because it paid tribute to a bygone era (soft focus on Lucille Ball, Onna White’s stagy choreography that looked more like it belonged to Hello, Dolly! rather than a Depression-Era libertine musical and so forth) but that is fundamentally what makes it work. It’s a lovingly made movie. Gene Saks is a fantastic director, and the supporting cast that surround the brilliant Lucille Ball such as Bea Arthur, Bruce Davison, Joyce Van Patten and Robert Preston are terrific.
Also, if you look at a film like Lost Horizon (which yes, is a terrible film) you cannot deny the fact that the songs from bubble gum pop magician Burt Bacharach are wonderful! So I liked to have that platform to highlight this fact. Yes, yes, we all agree Lost Horizon is a mess, but the songs most certainly are not.
JH: What do you enjoy more, writing about films you love or introducing them at screenings?
LG: Writing about movies. Hands down.
JH: Tell us a little about your writing and research style. How do you plot and approach a big project like this, once you have decided on a theme?
LG: I make a list. A massive list. I try and include everything from memory and think in broad terms. For this project I began with writing down the core films – Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, The First Nudie Musical, etc – and then branch off to what I think deserves to be covered even though they might not completely easily fit in the traditional mould of ‘movie musical’ such as Myra Breckinridge, which does feature a number of diegetic numbers as sung by the imitable Mae West. Then I go through each film and watch them and while they’re playing I make notes.
What I did with this book is take each film from a specific angle – be it from a production stand point or an analysis view point. For example, when I write about Godspell there is a section in the criticism of this incredibly haunting film where I talk about it in relation to another movie about faith released the same year – The Exorcist. So hopefully, that makes the insight interesting and unique. And for say, my writing on The Wiz, I discuss the importance of that film in relation to the African-American experience. Then I add the interviews that I have collected – and I have many for this book. Then structure it and lay it all out so it reads smoothly – hopefully!
JH: Currently you are in the midst of writing a book on Joe Dante’s classic lycanthrope flick, The Howling (1981) for Centipede Press, as part of their ‘Studies in the Horror Film’ series. Tell us a little bit about this, and why you chose that particular film to cover.
LG: Because I love it. And I’ve been obsessed with it ever since I was a kid. One of the main reasons behind my obsession with it is the fact that I absolutely love that it is a movie with a multiple threat – that of a community of werewolves. We’ve always been so used to rogue, tragic loner werewolves such as the tortured Larry Talbot in The Wolf Man and follow up Universal offerings, but here in The Howling it’s a whole pack!
The Howling literally transformed the way in which werewolves were depicted on screen. Whilst being a frightening creature feature boasting some phenomenal special effects work by the legendary make-up wizard Rob Bottin, the film also delivers some biting social commentary and critiques the dangers of pop-psychology, the failure of communication and the repercussions of repression, all thanks to its wonderfully talented screenwriters John Sayles and Terence H. Winkless. It also acts as the celluloid home to some outstanding performances from the likes of Dee Wallace, Patrick Macnee, Belinda Balaski, Dennis Dugan, Robert Picardo, Christopher Stone, Elisabeth Brooks and many others – both established troopers (John Carradine, Slim Pickens, Dick Miller et al) and relative newcomers (Margie Impert, Don MacLeod et al).
With its lush cinematography from John Hora, finely tuned editing by Mark Goldblatt and a rich, complex score from Italian composer Pino Donaggio, The Howling is puppeteered with magnetic control and authorship from it’s dedicated auteur director, Joe Dante. Gifted in storytelling, comprehensive aesthetic appreciation as well as being a devout cinephile, Dante has created something unique, intelligent, witty and highly sophisticated with his 1981 werewolf creature feature. This horror classic about TV news anchor Karen White who comes into contact with a cagey community of werewolves living in an Esalen-style health spa called The Colony, is a spectacle in design, special effects execution and narrative infrastructure, all the while being a slick and scary ride, with dark humor firmly stretched out as it’s backbone.
This book is yet another labor of love and I can’t wait to unleash it on the public! There is so much in there – and most of the people involved in the film are interviewed. It will be the tell all about the making of this horror classic!
JH: Any thoughts on what projects you plan to work on, writing-wise, after The Howling book is completed?
LG: Yes. But I can’t say until I’m given the word.
JH: Well, whatever your next project will be, we look forward to it.
LG: Thank you John, you’re amazing! And thank you for your super contribution to We Can Be Who We Are: Movie Musicals from the 1970s regarding that cult favorite Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park! What a ride that is.
Metal Machine Music: Nine Inch Nails and The Industrial Uprising is a documentary that centres on the career of Nine Inch Nails but also traces the history of industrial music. The first half an hour or so focuses on Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire and includes an interview with Mr P-Orridge himself. From the origins of ‘industrial’ the film then ventures into the pop pioneers such as Depeche Mode, Gary Numan and then turns to modern (I guess not so modern now) industrial music: Ministry, Skinny Puppy and NIN. Consisting of interviews with Genesis P. Orridge, Richard Patrick, Chris Vrenna, journalist Tommy Udo, and music video clips from Skinny Puppy, NIN and Ministry as well as live performance clips, this is one informative look at industrial music and although it is rather long its a surprisingly enjoyable watch.
For an unauthorized film there is still a lot of footage of Reznor and we get insight into the band via interviews with a very likeable and informative Chris Vrenna (former NIN drummer) and the ever so cocky and self obsessed Richard Patrick. The majority of rock critics know their stuff and are not just talking about their opinions. I found Ned Raggett (journalist) to be a very intriguing interviewee as I too tend to dissect music and go back to the roots of movements and he offers good criticism of NIN without being a total fan boy.
Metal Machine Music: Nine Inch Nails and The Industrial Uprising is a thorough look at NIN / Trent Reznor’s career and unlike most unofficial documentaries is very informative, not tacky/low-budget and is an all round good quality documentary. Each album is documented very well and examines the music more so than the man’s private life. I am sure there will be fans who are disappointed that it doesn’t pry into Reznor’s personal life, but if you dig the music this documentary offers an up to date fountain of knowledge regarding NIN. Personally I don’t feel as if this documentary would have been any better had there been interview footage with Trent, if you care about the music this documentary is enough.
In regards to extras there’s extended interviews and an awesome featurette ‘The Genesis of Industrial’ which is about a half hour interview with the every so lovely and charismatic Genesis P-Orridge. Extras aside, this is still an excellent release and simply a must have for NIN fans.
- Digital Contributor Biographies
- Featurette – ‘The Genesis of Industrial’
- GPO on his personal ‘roots’
- Extended interviews
Guitarist for seminal rock band The New York Dolls, Johnny Thunders is legendary for two things, his distinctive guitar sound and his drug use. Sadly his drug use tended to overshadow his musicianship. Director Danny Garcia (The Rise And Fall Of The Clash) at least recognizes that and gives us plenty of the music whilst not shying away from the drug abuse.
From his childhood days through to his tragic death in 1991, Garcia uses the tried and true method of talking heads, snippets of music and quotes from Johnny himself to tell us the story of what is ultimately a waste of talent and a sordid and sad life. There’s Sylvain Sylvain, Jerry Nolan and Johnny talking about the NY Dolls days, former managers Marty Thau and Malcolm McLaren hovering in the wings then some frustrating silent black and white footage of the original Heartbreakers with Richard Hell before we get to see how Walter Lure has aged remarkably well whilst Billy Rath is a poster child for what drugs can and will do to you. Not a pretty sight at all.
There’s the Heartbreakers in the UK, where interestingly enough one musician blames Thunders for introducing heroin to the UK punk scene, there’s Johnny’s solo career, Gang War with Wayne Kramer, a look at the way that Europe and Japan sustained Johnny’s solo life, there’s moments where he is so fucken good it will break your heart, and moments where he’s so fucked up it will do the same.
Along the way we hear from a long list of luminaries, friends, musicians, fans and comrades in arms. All with their own little stories to tell, their own take on Johnny.
Ultimately though the feeling you get is one of missed opportunities, wasted talent and a wish that someone could have slapped him back to reality. Danny Garcia doesn’t shy away from the dangers of drugs, nor the fact that Thunders was his own worst enemy and for that we should be thankful.
This isn’t a fanboy documentary aimed at putting Johnny on a pedestal, instead it’s an attempt to show us what this enigmatic but frustratingly self-destructive musician was really like. Does it succeed? That’s for you to decide. Personally Garcia has made me want to go back and take another look at the career of a musician I always felt was over rated so I guess, yeah it has succeeded in some way. And anyone who thinks heroin chic is cool should just skip to the interview with Billy Rath.
Approx 43 mins worth of extras including video clips: All By Myself, Alone In A Crowd, Looking For Johnny, Rock’n’Roll Relics; deleted scenes; behind-the-scene and a trailer.
Looking for Johnny: The Legend of Johnny Thunders is available on DVD from MVD Visual.
An extensive and at times exhausting but for the most part entertaining look at Frank Zappa and The Mothers Of Invention Mk II. Tracking the changes from 1969 when Zappa, after completing his much acclaimed solo album Hot Rats, decided it was time to disband his original band and get musicians who could better cater for his widening musical tastes through the heavy touring days of the early 70s, the overly ambitious and ultimately disappointing 200 Motels project and the demise of Mothers Mk II, this is definitely a film for Frank fanatics.
With the usual cast of sycophantic Zappa biographers, ex members of the band and even 200 Motels director Tony Palmer there is some great insight into what Frank was trying to do during this period even if at times he didn’t quite succeed. Ex Turtle Mark Volman (he of Flo & Eddie) probably provides the best insights into what Zappa was attempting and with contributions from Mothers – Aynsley Dunbar, Ian Underwood, George Duke and Jeff Simmons you get a real sense of the times and the music. Unfortunately there is also Ben Watson who seems to have a blindspot when it comes to Zappa and who can’t see anything wrong with anything Frankie boy ever did or attempted to do. When he and fellow biographer Billy James start drooling over 200 Motels you know they’ve lost any objective view!
Zappa and his band managed to cram a lot into a very small time frame but in the end you are left wondering if perhaps he was trying to get too much done and would have been better slowing it down and finishing projects properly. 200 Motels for example was filmed in 6 days and had to be cut, chopped, dropped and rewritten on the run, no wonder it makes no sense. Then there were the live albums – Live At Fillmore East 71 and Just Another Band From LA (which featured Billy The Mountain, another failed film idea).
The jokes and sexual innuendo were wearing thin by then and with the infamous fire in Montreux, as chronicled by Deep Purple’s Smoke On The Water and then a gig in December 1971 where Zappa was knocked off the stage by an overzealous fan, breaking his ankle, rib and damaging his larynx, the band’s days were numbered. In fact Flo & Eddie got their own record deal, taking a couple of the Mothers with them and Frank, after being laid low with his injuries, got back to the jazz fusion of Hot Rats, with his albums Waka/Jawaka and Grand Wazoo, kick starting the next phase of his career.
With lots of stock footage, musical snippets and talking heads, this is as I said, definitely a film for Frank fanatics and while the casual fan will probably be overwhelmed there are some gems in this 157 minute documentary but frustratingly the snippets of live footage just tend to leave you wanting more, much more.
Contributors biographies and a featurette: On the Road : Mother Memories.
Frank Zappa – Freak Jazz, Movie Madness & Another Mothers is available on DVD from MVD Visual.
Masami Akita aka Merzbow is one of the most prolific “noisicians” in the Harsh Noise genre, with over 300 releases since 1979 that range from 5 cassette sets packaged inside VHS boxes and limited edition CD-R’s to the 50 CD Merzbox and the ULTRA-limited edition of Noise Embryo that comes packaged inside a Mercedes. Merzbow takes his name (and indeed much of his inspiration) from Dada anti-artist Kurt Schwitters and his house-sized installation, Merzbau.
Aside from creating his symphonies of cacophony Masami Akita has also written books and articles on extreme culture and Sadomasochism, lends his services as a freelance writer to a variety of pornography magazines and has directed / acted as consultant on various Harakiri and Kinbaku fetish films. He also scored the film Deadman 2 for the director of this documentary, Ian Kerkhof (aka Aryan Kaganof).
Over the years I have managed to amass a fair amount of Merzbow’s output, but I have never really known much about the man himself, other than the fact that he digs bondage and animal rights. So when I discovered Ian Kerkhof director of the brilliant Tokyo Elegy and Nice to Meet You, Please Don’t Rape Me!, had made a documentary on this Japanese enigma, I had to find and view it immediately.
The opening 20 minutes or so of the film is basically footage of Masami hanging out with some pigeons, walking the streets of Tokyo, puttering around with his electronics, etc. with some dated visual effects superimposed on top of it while a sample of his dissonance throbs on the soundtrack. Then he begins to speak about how he got into the noise scene in the late 70s/early 80s (via an article in underground German zine and tape trading), how as a youth he wanted to make music “so dreadful to listen to that it wouldn’t be considered music”, and his obsession with collecting various everyday sounds and incorporating them into his work.
As the documentary progresses it is clear Mr. Kerkhof is attempting to translate the ideas of Masami and his heroes, the Dadaists to the film medium; the flow is relentlessly interrupted by cuts, splices, inserts, samples and seizure-inducing strobes making it somewhat of a task to endure (or, just fucking inane), which I’m sure is what he had in mind. Although for me the segments where these disruptions are kept to a minimum as Masami enlightens us on his inspirations and fixations were the most intriguing.
Throughout the film’s runtime The Merz waxes philosophical on such subjects as pre and post-WWII pornography, Japan’s uniform fetish, the national significance of Sepukku / Harakiri and the distinction between the two (there’s no decapitation in Harakiri and it’s generally practiced by women), Bataille’s concepts of eroticism, Gothic architecture and much more. We also are treated to some live performances where he rocks his bizarro noise machine-cum-guitar contraption and some excerpts from his Harakiri fetish film Lost Paradise, over which he explains that in certain archaic (Japanese) religious ceremonies, to testify their utter devotion, women would offer up their entrails to the gods.
Around halfway through the duration Masami pronounces my favourite quote of his: “If music was sex, Merzbow would be pornography” – for me, that pretty much sums up his work in a nutshell.
For any dedicated Merzbow fan, Beyond Ultra Violence is a must-have document to add to your Merz-collection. It offers a highly informative look at the man behind the name combined with the appropriate visual fuckery for all you art fag noise lovers out there. Dig it.
After watching Autoluminescent (the documentary about former Birthday Party member Rowland S. Howard) I thought it was odd that there hadn’t been any about Nick Cave and hoped I wouldn’t have to wait for him to die to see one.
20,000 Days on Earth is based around a fictional day in the life of Nick Cave. At the start there’s some montage clips presented in fast-forward of Nick’s milestones from birth to The Birthday Party and Bad Seeds, right up to present day. 20,000 Days on Earth is not of the past. Nick discusses events and people from the past but it is not a retrospective documentary about his career. It also focuses a lot on the recording of Push the Sky Away, so those anticipating any coverage/stories about The Birthday Party/Bad Seeds won’t find it here.
Cave also provides voice-over narration that has a literary quality to it, although some of it comes off a tad ostentatious (more so on first viewing), it totally fits Cave’s style and so does the film itself in that it breaks a lot of conventions. In between scenes of Cave going about his (fictionalised) day we see rehearsals, interviews with psychoanalyst Darian Leader, and footage of Cave driving around with Blixa Bargeld, Kylie Minogue and Ray Winstone. I enjoyed the scenes in the car and Warren Ellis the most as the conversations felt really organic and not as boring as the usual talking heads of people answering questions/fawning over the subject of the film/documentary.
Cave has said that 20,000 Days on Earth is fictional but within it there are truths. It’s definitely more of an art film rather than your typical “rock n‘roll” documentary. It is very stylized and staged and Cave is presented in a very flattering matter (lighting, narration etc) but that’s not to say there’s no meat to the film or that it lacks an intimacy. It’s elegantly shot and despite it being staged, is very affecting and you gain a lot of insight into the myth of the man. I really enjoyed the filmic/meditative take on exploring an artist but having said that I’d still love to see a traditional documentary about The Birthday Party and Bad Seeds. If you’re expecting a more in-depth warts-and-all type of documentary this will disappoint.
It’s a film that has a little bit of something for everyone and can be enjoyed by those who don’t even know the man. Not so much a film about a man and his career but the art of storytelling and the artistic process.
An absolute must own for fans of the man.
The Making Of – Runs for 15 minutes and includes interviews with Nick Cave, the directors, producer, director of photography and has some behind-the-scenes footage mostly of the car scenes. Watching the Making Of kinda ruined it a little for me in that it’s not Warren Ellis’ house (he actually lives in France) and someone else cooked the eel. The archive is also fictional. I didn’t think they would have taken it that far but even though a lot of it is set up, the footage that is captured and the discussions are 100% authentic.
The Archives – About 6 minutes of extended/different footage of Nick talking with the archivists about photos and artefacts, a particularly funny anecdote is of an image of a bronze statue Nick wanted to give to his home town – big pineapple, big lobster, big Nick Cave.
Tour Rehearsals – about 10 minutes long, they perform Your Funeral My Trial and Stranger than Kindness.
Interviews –About 9 minutes of interviews that didn’t make it into the film or are extended.
Studio Backing Vocals – About three minutes of clips of Nick, Warrren and co doing backup vocals and Warren playing violin.
Ray Winstone Fish and Chips – a 2 minute clip of Nick and Ray arguing over which country does better fish and chips.
Demo Sessions: 3 minute clip of See that Girl.
Live at Koko Duet with Kylie – Nick and Kylie perform fan favourite “Where the Wild Roses Grow”.
To round out the disc there’s a theatrical trailer and Madman Propaganda.
I’m starting to feel really old. Does anyone else remember owning a copy of We Are What We Are on VHS (with an exciting runtime of 11 minutes) and paying like $35 for it from Play it Again/*insert local record store name here*. 14 years later I’m about to turn 29 and here I am reviewing a Sepultura Blu-Ray and it only costs a measly $25. Sepultura were my FAVOURITE band. I LOVED them, I had a 24 page poster of Max Cavelera in my bedroom but I’m glad that I never followed through and got a tattoo of their logo. Admittedly I only own early releases such as Beneath the Remains now and was never really into post-Max era Sepultura, but I was interested in checking this out mostly due to their collaboration with Les Tambours du Bronx.
The Blu-Ray/DVD/CD was released in celebration of Sepultura‘s 30th anniversary and was recorded at the Rock in Rio festival on September 19, 2013. Sepultura play alongside French industrial percussion group Les Tambours du Bronx who are known for beating barrels with bats and axe handles . The 13 tracks they perform are: Kaiowas, Spectrum, Refuse/Resist, Sepulnation, Delirium, Fever, We’ve Lost You, Firestarter, Requiem, Structure Violence, Territory, Big Hands and Roots Bloody Roots.
Had it not been for Les Tambours Du Bronx I don’t think the release would have been as interesting visually. Without Max helming the band there’s an energy missing and that’s not to put down Derek Green who has loads of energy and talent, he just kinda bops around the place happily whereas Max brought something different that seemed more suited to the music. They bust out some classics as well as newer stuff and a really cool cover of The Prodigy‘s Firestarter. Still a decent viewing for those who aren’t into later era Sepultura.
There’s a documentary included as well but you have to go to the set-up section and put the subtitles on as it won’t automatically play with subtitles and like me you’ll be cursing the release. The documentary consists of interviews mostly with Andreas, Derek and Le Tambours du Bronx as well as some rehearsal footage/behind-the-scene footage with some live clips as well. It runs for approx 25 minutes.
A must own for Sepultura completists.