Recommended if you like The Boo Radleys
Recommended if you like The Boo Radleys
So Pauly Deathwish comes out with a Sonic Youth cover.
Sounds like Sade and Yoshimi-era Lips.
Like mental illness is no big deal.
Almost bossa nova.
Like an elevator music rendition.
I dig it, though.
Bachelor pad music for hipsters.
Sounds like the chord progression is totally different.
This bloke gonna be locked up with Stravinsky in Boston.
Kinda Herbie Hancock doing Nirvana.
But then that fucking piano comes in.
Like “Time” from Aladdin Sane.
Beautiful and fucked up.
Ratchet up Conlon Nancarrow.
Something Charlie Parker about this.
Talking the Kim Gordon lines.
This is good shit.
Gets all ’80s.
Finally Thurston and Ranaldo drop in.
Shit gets real.
The harmonies on this song are insane.
Definitely fits the scordatura.
Something Brian Wilson about this progression too.
Like fuzzed-out Smile.
My fiancee dumped me 12 days ago without even telling me why.
Four year relationship gone.
Sounds a little Built to Spill.
Great harmonies again.
This dude didn’t cheat his Fux.
What will it do?
Some sad shit like Godspeed.
Silver Mt. Zion.
Hats get going.
In a Silent Way.
Bass drum drops in.
It is obvious Pauly loves “A New Career in a New Town”.
This vibe resurfaces in many of his songs.
But THIS song!
Very “Mayonaise” by Smashing Pumpkins.
Like Glenn Branca with a better childhood.
A long instrumental.
Slow, simmering fire.
Arpeggiator about to get wild again.
Fuzz bass drops in.
What a guitar tone!
Sounds like a fucking harmonica.
Great lo-fi…Devendra Banhart vibe.
But this is straight Velvet Underground.
An instrumental with ooohs and ahhhs.
Bottom drops out.
Drums chugging away like Primal Scream.
Interesting touch, there.
Little bit Mercury Rev.
See You on the Other Side.
Guitars enjoying themselves.
Ghost of Sterling Morrison.
Tune called “Catharsiss” [sic].
Must be some weird Godard reference.
And the last song of this maxi.
Similar start as track 2.
Strange flange/phase Shepard scale weirdness.
Truly chilled-out, mellow bathtub guitar.
Like Yo La Tengo.
Those fucking pricks.
Why did they block Pauly Deathwish on Twitter?
That’s uncalled for.
Bloke’s just a struggling musician.
But they are holier than thou.
Well, Pauly’s played Maxwell’s in Hoboken too.
YLT never hit a vibe this good except on “Pablo and Andrea”.
Fucking unblock Pauly Deathwish, you losers.
Cymbals Eat Guitars vibe.
Very chilled out.
A little “All Cats Are Grey” feel.
Good guitar noodling.
In a Verlaine/Lloyd way.
Why did my fiancee dump me?
She won’t even tell me why.
12 days ago.
The day before thanksgiving.
Drums kick in.
MBV would have gone for this.
Similar guitar underneath.
A little J. Mascis.
Living with my parents.
Are you in therapy?
Yes, I review my own albums.
Because no one else will review them.
And because I have put out 16 albums in one year.
I don’t have time for people to catch on.
I worked hard on this shit.
I’m the same age Alan Vega when he started.
About to be 45.
Old as fuck.
So, I have a lot in common with Pauly Deathwish.
I feel his pain.
His fiancee dumped him too.
12 days ago as well.
She also didn’t tell him why.
She just started ignoring him like he was some piece of shit.
So I feel totally justified in helping Pauly out with this review.
To help get his music a wider audience.
Young Heart Attack feedback.
Back to the Badalamenti synths.
She just turned off her heart.
Maybe she doesn’t realize how much she is hurting me.
But I think she’s just a vindictive bitch.
Way behind on Pauly Deathwish.
Right off with XTRMNTR.
Spirit of rock and roll.
His most popular track at this time.
Drugs flowing through the veins.
Overdose of light.
God is the ultimate drug.
Coming back from depression.
Girlfriend goes on a date with another bloke.
From London to Paris.
Vintage keys like French band Air.
Every touch from two tracks imbued with Radiohead experimentation.
Pink Floyd bass.
Here come the warm jets.
Camera clicking photos.
Levon and Robbie Robertson.
Rhythm of the saints.
This bloke has nothing to live for.
His girlfriend is a total fucking bitch.
Alone in the world.
Trying to overcome.
She don’t give a fuck.
Info op birthed.
Bloke has sophistication in attack.
Wars back started BLM.
Kept powder dry.
Amazing hip hop.
The Sea and Cake.
Stereolab as always.
Trump supporter smart.
Assessment of coup against Deep State.
The balls to review his own albums.
Dark side of the moon.
Of the wall.
Noel feeding back.
Liam blowing harp.
Ringo’s son on drums.
Don’t believe the truth.
How she lives now.
Nigel Godrich as always.
Big Star Third.
As important as the Velvets.
Big Star early albums.
Like The Byrds.
Phil Spector lives in the glockenspiel.
Lester Bangs lives here.
Many disappointed patriots.
Lamenting the shitty U.S. military.
While honoring the 13.
And Colonel Scheller.
A handful of gems in a culture of shit.
I love faggots as much as anyone.
David, Lou, Iggy.
God is the only hope.
So I prayed tonight.
Nobody loves me.
See you on the other side.
Rolling the dice.
So long, Charlie.
I’m guessing you got the vaccine.
Happy Hairy (?) Hardon Q.
QAnon Christian Slater.
The first of a long succession.
Anthemic melodies befitting Handel.
Matrix done right.
First song to mention Event 201?
“Follow the White Rabbit”.
Very Jefferson Airplane.
Power to the people.
Pro-Trump psych rock.
Be a rebel.
No vaccines, asshole!
Great snare work.
Verging on adrenochrome.
Hefner and Monroe.
Sexy dead bodies.
Pay to grind for eternity.
Absolute Flaming Lips.
Transmissions from the satellite heart.
What is God gonna do for America?
What is America gonna do for God?
Nation falling apart.
Hail to the creep.
Scorsese Glass Kundun soundtrack.
Carl Stalling project!
This is a SOPHISTICATED FUCKING RECORD.
AUSTRALIA, WAKE UP YOU CUNTS!!!
Give me ANZAC!!
Fucking awesome return to Bobby Gillespie.
Great fucking song!
“Australia, Here I Come!”
Even uses the comma correctly 🙂
Riot city blues.
Baby won’t ya?
Love and Rockets.
Bitch who dumped me.
By not giving a fuck.
By not participating.
By being a selfish cunt.
Q Team, come in!
How many years?
Second American Revolution.
There’s a Riot Goin’ On.
Second Pauly Deathwish song to mention Jean-Luc.
Who the fuck is this nigger?!?
She’s a fucking black hole.
I take it all back.
A pathetic bleeding vagina.
Money soothes all pains.
She’s a loser.
Jack Nitzsche all the way.
Rips your heart out.
I will die lonely.
Having given it all away.
Hear the typewriter click.
Are there two people?
QAnon stylometric analysis.
Obvious split in styles.
Gimme the rain, the rain, the rain, the glorious rain!!!!
I got close.
Freezing your tits off.
Seeing your breath.
We coming for the sexy bitches.
With stellar boob jobs.
Factory Records above all.
Baggy as fuck.
Gimme them saggy titties.
Real better than fake any day.
Ain’t returning my messages.
Would love that bitch like Cleopatra.
Suck her toes.
Conspiracy theory king and queen.
Blew it several times.
Because heartless bitch usurper.
Same birthday as Lester Bangs and Nostradamus.
Ends with Pocket Symphony.
Ya feel me?
Jesus and Mary Chain.
A dangerous confection.
Hit to Death in the Future Head.
Summer is here.
Vacuum cleaner solo.
Boys peel out.
And again with the UPC scan.
Breaking up on reentry.
Serious audio fuckery.
And from this right into kung fu. Peter Sellers on Bowie’s Low. Trance. But really what we have here is excellent counterpoint. Lunatic Harness. Polyrhythms. Album breaks down soon. Fast. Abruptly. Mental block regarding Wuhan origin. Harmonic outline you would never find in China. Terry Riley. A Rainbow in Curved Air. Eno. Visconti. And the others involved. A beauty that inspired Philip Glass. This is what we have. Low and heroes. Symphonies. Glass. Riley. Minimalism. Album called zenith. Track two already hits “Nadir”. What’s the arc here? Arc-en-ciel? Arkansas? Immediately pensive. Very unnerving. Pop rock track. Into existential oblivion. Abrupt modulation. Uncomfortable. Eccentric. Was there a thought process behind this? Commerce ruins everything. Imperfect masterpieces. The rules of the game. Radiohead. Joseph Arthur? Sparklehorse. The Magnetic Fields. Gay baritone. Sad sack confessional poetry in the world of Berryman’s Dream Songs. Brian Jonestown Massacre. The Verve. Strung out in heaven. J. Spaceman shooting up while praying. Don’t knock it… Drug addiction is real. Mental problems are real. Here we are. 2020 fucked us up. And now we wait for the next shoe to drop. Smashing Pumpkins. “Silver Fuck”? Into Sonny Rollins? Epstein. Gene Ammons. Hard to tell it’s (not) real. Which parts? Yes. No. Fooling the ear with Dave Fridmann. A totally schizophrenic record so far. Here we go! “Belgian Lace, Pale Black Mascara…” This is more like it. Rollerskate Skinny. Martin Rev. Lots of counterpoint here. Fux me up. Disney xylophones. Internal rhyme-sanity. Dylan puking up brilliance. Always Roger Waters with the bass. Always The Wall. Pompeii. Hail to the Thief. Again and again. Trying to break new ground. And it does. Yerself is Steam. Album starts to make sense after five tracks. 1 & 5. This is not bullshit. I don’t know about the jazz. I don’t know about the monotonous instrumentals. Absolutely “Car Wash Hair”. Suzanne Thorpe would be proud. Seems to be talking about tits. A good ride. Drum machine chugging away. Can still have a good groove. Wild Acoustic Chamber Orchestra. W.A.C.O. Woodwinds and glockenspiel. Boces. What the fuck is this shit? O.K. computer. Sounds like some QAnon stuff. I feel Carlos Santana coming on. This is what Assange jams out to. Lots of plays at Fort Meade. Salsa. James Brown. Puerto Rican funk. As AOC goes to jail. Serious national security issues for lyrics. Fictional charges? Tracers everywhere. This theory involves an actual conspiracy. Criminal conspiracy outlined. By players. Event 201. Short circuit. Johnny 5 is alive. Legalistic funk. QAnon wet dream. FISAgate. “Spy Gate”. Somebody send this to Sean Hannity. Obamagate. Where is John Durham? Ryan Dark White knows the truth about Rosenstein. How many coup attempts by the Left? Back to Billy Corgan. Ok, so we have an Alex Jones connection. Early-’90s goodness. Butch Vig. Dream pop. James Iha. Bet this guy knows the real story about the Standard Hotel(s). Great lyrics! Must be some inside jokes here. But HOLY FUCK! He nailed the “Holes” trumpet solo. Deserter’s Songs. God damn it. How did they do this? The liner notes say Pauly Deathwish has also produced all four of these albums. Kind of a Jimmy Page thing going on. Great drum sound. Yo La Tengo. “Mayonnaise”. Siamese Dream. Benjamin Britten reference? Slick! So this guy basically had a music education on par with Jack Nitzsche. And then went for scumbag rockroll like Phil Spector. Gotta respect this weird marriage. This fascination with grunge. Dinge. And the facility to clean it up like a chandelier. Very fucking impressive. No record label. Kinda sounds like no funding. No budget. The Delgados. Hate. The Great Eastern. More Spiritualized telephony. The Wall. Which is to say, Bob Erzin. And as dark as Berlin. Which is to say, Bob Ezrin. Neil Young vibe. Tonight’s the Night. Some dark-ass shit. Nick Kent, where y@t? IV Thieves. Coulda done this. What if Chris “Frenchie” Smith had produced this? This kid like a protege. I hear the moniker (stage name) was bestowed by Frenchie Smith. Strings good. Eastern European orchestra. Must have cost a small fortune. Arcade Fire. French cinema. Romantic-era harmony. But pierced. Sophisticated. Absolutely Floyd. “In The Flesh”. Last track on Harvest. Words between the lines. The promise of the ’60s went to shit in the ’70s. Where’s QAnon? Where’s Nakasone? Where’s CYBERCOM? Keith Alexander on Amazon board. Velvet Underground feeding back. Les Rallizes Denudes. Primal Scream. “Swastika Eyes”. ADAT. DAT machine. Sampling. Stereolab. Back to another standout track. “Chaconne”. Will Smith in the summertime. Some slick shit. Messiaen. Jonny Greenwood. Lyrics world-class. All those sand paintings. Write and destroy. Suicide girls. Thom Yorke’s brain doesn’t have this facility. He’s a great stylist. Definitely an homage. And to Godard. Snow white and psycho. Heavy shit for Laetitia Sadier and Tim Gane to check out. Not far from Faust IV. So sweet. John Paul Jones. Ramble on. Charlotte Gainsbourg. Keren Ann. Last track noisy as fuck. Lo-fi. Tom Waits. Sticks together. Some sad shit. Music from Big Pink. Mournful trombone(s). John Simon. “Bird on a Wire”. They don’t make records like this anymore. David Bowie not dead. Great phrasing. Sinatra. Mark Linkous. It’s a Wonderful Life. Believable bass. Upright citizen. Bayou curious. Noise floor drops out. Some perverse humor here. An “album”. It is. Ten songs. Ten different directions. Some tracks stick together. Like a deck of cards shuffled. Lots of variety. Circus peanuts. The orange ones. Pure sugar. Chewy. Strange texture. Lots of melancholy here. What’s this bloke so sad about? Tell Thurston Moore. You gotta hear this shit. Pauly Deathwish’s 4th album (this summer!). Is this guy trying to set a Guinness record or something? And he already has a 5th one out. Christ!
My dear friends, it is so good to be alive 🙂
But very difficult to be sick.
I must admit, it took me two days to watch this film.
This one hit a little too close to home.
But that’s ok.
Yes, I am finally feeling better on the allergy front.
Now I am struggling with that old nemesis of mine: nicotine.
Yep, that’s right.
Trying to kick that habit.
Whoa (woozy feeling)…
Maybe did that a little too fast 🙂
But most of all, you know, every day I struggle with anxiety.
I don’t usually address it in such naked terms.
But it is fair here to talk about this biggest of all struggles for me.
Because Frank is a film about mental illness.
You know, if you apply for a job, you might get a “questionnaire” enquiring about your health.
America is very “democratic” and “fair” in hiring processes, but still these questionnaires persist.
And I suppose the last round of jobs I applied for (merely two) opened my eyes to the reality of my situation a bit.
Looking down the list of “conditions”, I realized I must (to be honest) check two boxes.
[Though the questionnaire was “voluntary”]
So I have “anxiety disorder” (big time!) and asthma (not so bad, but it can pop up).
So wow…I thought…man, these are listed as “disabilities” (if I remember correctly).
While some people might celebrate a disability condition, for me it’s not really cause for cheering.
But then I thought, “Wait…are these really disabilities?”
Well, I’m not going to give a medical/legal ruling on that (because, frankly [no pun intended] I don’t know).
But I know one thing: anxiety can be totally debilitating.
I’ve had a really hard time readjusting to “life” after two and a half years of intense graduate studies.
I graduated about a month ago.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum…
My body just kinda shut down…gradually…in different ways.
That momentum which had carried me across the finish line evaporated.
And so life hasn’t been a bowl of cherries.
Anxiety is a bitch!
When I have nothing to realistically worry about, I find something.
If there is something from which worry can be derived, I will find it.
And it will drive me nuts.
At a certain point, one has to laugh at the ridiculousness of such an impulse.
[It’s not something I can very well control, you understand.]
And that brings us to our film Frank.
Frank is a fucked up guy.
Imagine the Jack in the Box guy from the commercials with the big fake head.
And then have that guy lead a rock band.
This film really defies all description.
So we have to dig a bit to really delineate what is going on in this masterful film.
First of all, this film has caused me to create a new category in my global survey of cinema for a country which I love (for a multitude of reasons): Ireland.
Yes, Frank is an Irish film.
Funny enough, no one in the film has an Irish accent.
[Which begs the question, “Is it really an Irish film?”]
But I’m calling it an Irish film because I really admire the balls it took Lenny Abrahamson to make this picture.
Our director, Mr. Abrahamson, was born in Dublin in 1966.
Ok, it’s Irish (at least as far as “auteur theory” goes).
There’s something about Ireland which I get from the eccentrics.
James Joyce was the master of them all.
I will read Finnegans Wake till my dying day and still glory in the fact that I have no REAL idea what it’s truly about 🙂
But this film, Frank, takes us to a place I know very well: rock and roll.
And more specifically: indie rock.
It is a “genre” which attracts the most far-out individuals in the world.
And I must say, there were several times in this film where I could feel the spirit of one of my favorite bands of all time.
An Irish group.
Our director is 50. I’m 40.
Maybe our frames of reference are different.
Youngsters might think Animal Collective or even the arduous process which produced Arcade Fire’s tortured Reflektor.
But Frank makes me think of that early-90s noise-pop wave which was spearheaded by bands like (my favorite group ever) Mercury Rev and Rollerskate Skinny.
When I see Frank, I see David Baker.
But I know my history.
I’ve studied weirdos all my life.
So I also see David Thomas of Pere Ubu.
And of course Don van Vliet (a.k.a. Captain Beefheart).
Frank is certainly a film which the “Pitchfork generation” should be able to get behind.
I’ve had dinner with Roky Erickson.
I’ve seen what Frank is groping for.
Yes, it’s that madness which made Syd Barrett great.
But such madness comes with a price.
We can listen to that first Pink Floyd album (The Piper at the Gates of Dawn)…songs like “Lucifer Sam” where Barrett is brilliant.
And we can trace that brilliance to his solo album The Madcap Laughs…songs like “No Good Trying”.
But to be SO fucked up…to be SO far out…it ain’t fun.
I’ve heard about Roky Erickson’s time at the Rusk State Hospital for the criminally insane.
It’s not a pretty picture.
But let’s talk about this damn film 🙂
It had me hooked once I caught faint traces of those first two Mercury Rev albums (Yerself is Steam and Boces) in the sounds I was hearing emanating from Soronprfbs.
The perfect name to describe the obtuse band at the center of our story.
Here’s a band so weird, they don’t even know how to pronounce their own name (when they show up at SXSW).
[But I’m getting ahead of myself]
First, I was wrong about Irish accents.
Indeed, Frank is such a bizarre film that one soon forgets that Domhnall Gleeson is speaking in one for the entirety 🙂
Gleeson is in the right place at the right time.
It’s happened to me.
I once got a MySpace message (remember those days?) and spent the next four years in a Cajun punk rock band.
It can happen.
Those were the best years of my life.
But it’s HARD!
Taking a van back and forth (and back and forth) across the country.
Flying (I hate flying) to awesome, bizarre locales.
For someone with bad anxiety, these aren’t easy tasks.
And we see that in the character of Frank.
As I said, Frank has problems.
Somehow, Gleeson joins Frank’s band Soronprfbs.
And the rest is a whipsaw of insanity.
No, Frank is not a relaxing watch, but it is hilarious!
And very meaningful!!
Soronprfbs, as a band, is a shambles.
[not to be confused with Babyshambles]
There were several times when I caught glimpses of the weirdness that is another of my most favorite bands: The Homosexuals.
But, this film can hardly be reviewed properly without talking about The Residents.
Soronprfbs are mythic (if only in their own minds).
Their fame, however, grows.
And with fame, stage fright.
It happens to even the most grounded individuals (like Robbie Robertson).
But nothing fits the bill quite like Mercury Rev.
Soronprfbs are apt to have fights on stage.
Perhaps one member tries to gouge another’s eye out on a transatlantic flight.
That kind of stuff.
Sure, Oasis have had mid-air spats about blueberry scones.
And maybe The Sex Pistols only played to twelve people (or whatever) at their first show.
But Soronprfbs, for me, is that band which would hang electric guitars from the ceiling and let them feed back for the entirety of a show.
Which is to say, Mercury Rev.
But let me pull in the younger folks.
Think, for example, The Brian Jonestown Massacre.
Obvious mental problems.
Or is it just a put-on?
And let’s go back…
Jim Morrison being totally whacked out of his gourd onstage.
But no, Soronprfbs is weirder…and far more obscure.
Think, for instance, Alan Vega leading Suicide in a performance at CBGB’s.
The writers of our film (Jon Ronson and Peter Straughan) will probably know everything I’m talking about [were they to ever read this].
Because they (or at least one of them…Ronson?) know the mechanism which attracts so many of us to BANDS.
[“those funny little plans/that never work quite right”]
That mechanism is mystery.
But in this case, it is the mystery of reclusive eccentricity.
Put simply, madness.
[not to be confused with the band Madness]
So Ronson and Straughan even include the perfect musical instrument to act as a talisman for their tale: the theremin.
And they even get the character’s name right: Clara.
[after theremin virtuoso Clara Rockmore]
The theremin has a long history in eccentric rock and roll.
Indeed, late in Frank when we see our dejected main character sleeping in his bathrobe at the French Quarter Inn (a fleabag motel), his sartorial sense evokes Brian Wilson’s rough years.
Yes, the theremin goes back to at least “Good Vibrations” and the zaniness which was The Beach Boys’ album Smile.
But the theremin has come to embody the obtuse and pretentious in rock and roll.
And so it is no wonder that bands such as Jon Spencer Blues Explosion picked up on this wooziest of all instruments.
Which brings us finally to a salient point.
Frank includes at least one star:
Gyllenhaal plays stone-cold bitch Clara: Frank’s girlfriend.
[remember, Frank is the guy with the papier-mâché head…and he never takes it off…ever]
Gyllenhaal’s character is unlikable in just about every way imaginable.
And it makes me appreciate her acting.
Indeed, God bless Ms. Gyllenhaal for taking this film role.
It’s a lot like Charlotte Gainsbourg’s role in Misunderstood (2014) and makes me appreciate the dramatic tension of Gainsbourg’s role more than I initially did.
Which is to say, Gyllenhaal is very much the villain of Frank.
A bit like a dominatrix version of June Chadwick in This Is Spinal Tap.
Which is to further say, Gyllenhaal is playing off her typecast from Secretary of being one bad bitch.
And she pulls it off.
But Gyllenhaal is the least important element of Frank.
It would ruin things to tell you just how Michael Fassbender figures into this film, but let’s just say he’s indispensable.
[Fassbender, by the way, is half-Irish (his mother being born in County Antrim)]
A lot of our action happens in what could pass for Tarbox Road Studios.
Indeed, there is a lot of Wayne Coyne in the character of Frank as well.
But the sounds are closer to those which Mercury Rev conjured at SUNY-Buffalo for their debut album.
Likewise, the seclusion which goes into making the great Soronprfbs album reminds me of the ramshackle (yet bucolic) process which led to my favorite album of all time: Mercury Rev’s Deserter’s Songs.
As alluded to earlier, Soronprfbs eventually make their way to my old stomping grounds: the South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas.
I was a bit wistful seeing the Ritz Theater (now an Alamo Drafthouse) on 6th Street in one shot.
Indeed, I remember playing an “unplugged”, solo gig there back when it was still a cavernous, multilevel, piece-of-shit music venue (pool hall).
Funny enough, a lot of the tension in Frank revolves around that old chestnut of a band “selling out”.
Perhaps the funniest scene in the movie is when Frank presents his “most likable music ever” in the motel room.
Which is to say, this movie may not appeal to everyone.
But if you’re a rock musician (especially a weirdo like me), you’ve gotta see this.
There are a couple of scenes which make the whole thing worthwhile.
It’s funny that Soronprfbs bassist François Civil bears a striking resemblance to Dave Fridmann circa-1991.
[just another detail which cemented the genius of this film for me]
But there are other seeming references in this film.
A bit of Stereolab (with all the Moogy wonder).
The stilted “artfulness” of Blonde Redhead.
And even the bollocks, pulseless blech of Low.
Yes, Soronprfbs and their “side projects” seem to catch just about every hue in the indie rock kaleidoscope.
Director Abrahamson (and writers Ronson and Straughan) do a nice job of converting Domhnall Gleeson’s internal monologue into a social media thread which runs through this movie.
Gleeson is on Twitter, YouTube, a blog, etc.
But the funniest is the beginning…and it is the hook which reeled me in.
To hear Gleeson’s musical mind attempt to craft quirky pop songs out of mundane details of his Irish town is a real knee-slapper.
Because, as they say, IT’S SO TRUE!
So if you’ve ever written songs, witness in the first five minutes of this film the real torture it is to make lemonade out of a lemon life.
Be forewarned (or enticed): Frank is WAY OUT THERE!
Some elements of this film are so non sequitur that they were a bit hard for my weakened, nicotine-craving immune system to handle.
In the end, this is a sad story.
But with joy, pain.
There is great joy in Frank.
Sometimes we realize we’re not in Kansas anymore…
and it’s a rough patch.
The Technicolor of life can be too much to handle.
But take courage, dear friends…
Like Gong’s great song “Rational Anthem”…from that hard-to-find Magick Brother…their debut.
[Get on that, Spotify]
Miracles can happen.
And, to quote Albert Ayler, “music is the healing force of the universe”.
When you set the time machine to 1976, it’s a pleasant buzz to come face to…face with Raquel Welch.
What…rather, who could sum up that time quite like her?
Her feathered hair. Her overly-tanned (golden?) skin. Her bellbottom jeans.
There’s something fizzy about the experience.
A starlet now faded. A human sequin.
I previously wrote about Welch’s 1967 film Fathom.
Aside from base titillation, it’s a pretty lame affair.
But here on Saturday Night Live she gets to show a bit more of her talent.
Not much more. A bit more.
For instance, Raquel sings on this episode.
The monologue-substitute with John Belushi as Joe Cocker is pretty fantastic.
It’s a comedy piece.
Later, Welch actually does share the rarefied air which Marilyn Monroe breathed when she sang “Happy Birthday” for JFK.
I’m speaking of Raquel’s rendition of the Gershwin tune “It Ain’t Necessarily So”. Few microphone techniques can be said to carry such sexual import as Welch’s on this number.
And the subject matter…for God’s sake!
It ain’t Sportin’ Life from Porgy and Bess.
It’s Raquel singing, “The things that you’re liable/to hear in the Bible”…[what a rhyme!]…”It ain’t necessarily so.”
So. You get the picture.
Welch is steamy as a Manhattan manhole cover in winter.
One particularly great sequence involves Welch as Jane Russell on the set of The Outlaw (1943). Dan Aykroyd plays Howard Hughes. It is pretty priceless!
Aykroyd is also great in the sequence about applying the metric system to the English alphabet (the Decabet).
What’s bad about this great blast from the past?
I really don’t want to hate on this lady, but it’s a combination of snoozerville and overly-precious musicianship masquerading as talent.
Snow has that horribly indiscreet application of wide vibrato which always irks the bejesus out of me.
And the songs…for christsake! “Two-Fisted Love”?!? Are you fuckin’ kidding me? How does an MOR artist do a song like “Two-Fisted Love” with a straight face.
And so Phoebe Snow is godawful here. It bears mentioning because (for some [un]mysterious reason) she was back on the show for a second time [here] in season one.
But let’s dish some more. John Sebastian also sucks on this episode. Trying to cash in on his Welcome Back, Kotter theme song.
Likewise, somebody in charge of sound for this episode adds to the lameness of Sebastian’s performance. Or, from another perspective, the only good thing about John Sebastian’s performance here is his microphone feeding back during his aborted intro.
Ok, there. I’ve let them both have it. Snow and Sebastian.
What else is good about this episode?
Let’s end on a high note.
Lorne Michaels’ solicitation of The Beatles (for a whopping $3000) is goddamned brilliant.
Ok. So there you have it. Oh…and Belushi as the high-strung meteorologist during Weekend Update is damned good as well.
Symptomatic of the times. Now. Then.
Read the news and it’s just about enough to depress you. If you’re not already cynical.
But here comes a boy and a little girl…trying to change the whole wide world.
If you find this film, it likely won’t be under its original title Sweet Toronto.
My copy says John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band: Live in Toronto.
Which shows you how much Shout! Factory thought of the director D.A. Pennebaker.
The changed the title of his fuckin’ film!
Sure, they tacked on a poignant interview with Yoko to the front end, but other than that it seems unchanged.
Reminds us of another director who got shafted making a music documentary: Jean-Luc Godard.
What is most widely available today as Sympathy for the Devil was originally to be called One Plus One.
The producers tacked on the title song to the end of the film (playing over largely inconsequential footage…at least initially) and retitled the sucker.
Godard allegedly punched the producer in the face after the premier…but I digress.
Why should you watch this film under consideration?
There’s a couple good reasons.
The first is Bo Diddley. Sure, it’s only one song, but it sets the stage (literally) for what follows.
Pennebaker uses Diddley’s music to usher in the motorcade of John Lennon and entourage.
And when we really get to watch Bo, he’s dancin’ and jivin’ and (by the way) doing a nice job of not stepping on his guitar cable.
It’s a long, jammy, droned-out piece: “Bo Diddley.” That’s right, the song is titled “Bo Diddley” by (who else?) Bo Diddley.
If you close your eyes you just might think you’re listening to The Velvet Underground. That won’t be the last time in the night for which those words are applicable.
Pennebaker keeps the train a’ rollin’ with a complete change of pace: Jerry Lee Lewis.
Again, it’s only one song, but the director builds the excitement of anticipation for the headliner.
Lewis…smoking his cigar…gold rings and jewelry on that pumpin’ right hand…up high on the piano…and occasionally a brown patent-leather ankle book (Beatle boot?) makes it’s way up to the top register to heel a little tone cluster of exclamation.
At this point, Shout! Factory (perhaps at the behest of Chuck Berry?) makes a decision to cut Chuck’s song.
And so we roll into Little Richard. Again, we can imagine…Prince, Michael Jackson…we are seeing the entire history of rock and roll compressed into 70 (?) minutes…from Jerry Lee singing a song made most famous by Elvis all the way to the headliner who will take us to far out, groovy places which may or may not still exist.
Little Richard has the most cracker-jack band. A couple of sax players…really tight.
And so after three fantastic performers in a row–three originators of rock and roll, we get the rag-tag Plastic Ono Band.
John starts ’em off nice and slow…reverent…”Blue Suede Shoes,” “Money (That’s What I Want),” and “Dizzy, Miss Lizzy” before the curve ball of “Yer Blues”…
So lonely…wanna die…ain’t dead already…know reason why.
Klaus Voormann hits a steaming helping of wrong notes throughout the early part of the set as bass player, but that’s why we love him, right? Reminds me of those bum notes which they left in (didn’t edit out) on John’s first solo album titled (what else?) Plastic Ono Band. But we also love Klaus because he drew the cover to The Beatles Revolver album.
But what Klaus lacks in precision is made up for by Eric Clapton on lead guitar. Clapton with his beard…denim jacket…a generally pensive look on his face the whole time which seems to read, “What the fuck am I doing here? Can’t believe I’m doing this.” Clapton never glares at Ono (at least not in the shots we receive through the miracle of montage), but one can’t help thinking that a musician of Eric’s caliber might have been perplexed (to say the least) regarding Yoko’s musical contributions to the night’s proceedings.
[Alan White is, of course, great on drums.]
And so we slink into “Cold Turkey”…premiered this very night in 1969. The rendition is like Booker T. & the MGs…very cool and groovy…laid back.
But most of all…about this film…John Lennon in a white suit…huge beard…long hair…little circular glasses. His presence…
Remember, this concert was about four months after the Montreal bed-in.
And so the band launch into “Give Peace a Chance.”
And it’s still the most revolutionary statement possible.
Musicians are the only ones who have ever done anything worthwhile…
Truth be told, the rendition of “Give Peace a Chance” is a little lackluster.
“And now Yoko’s going to do her thing all over you”
With those words (or something close to that effect), John takes us into the final act of this opera.
And it is powerful.
Yes, these grungy musicians actually succeed in making time stop.
Yoko wails like a woman on the sea lamenting her lost child.
For all the naysayers, Ono actually did have a good sense of pitch. It’s just that pitch (as the Western ear defines it…narrowly) is not her predominant concern (apparently).
It’s like the Damo Suzuki years of the German band Can…including their two Krautrock masterpieces Tago Mago and Ege Bamyasi. The same criticism that Ono gets for her far-out howling is rarely leveled at Suzuki. Listeners of Can know that they are getting into an experimental vehicle when they plop a Can album on the turntable.
This, arguably, makes Ono even more revolutionary. To go from “Blue Suede Shoes” to “John, John (Let’s Hope for Peace)” is truly high art. The conceptual mind-fuck is equal to anything John or Alice Coltrane ever pulled-off.
And so it is that the night ends on a most bizarre note…a drone…three instruments perched against amplifiers feeding back…as if one is watching…and you will know us by the Trail of Dead.
You’ve gotta see it. Either it speaks to you or it doesn’t. For me, there are few more poignant ways to remember the radical genius that was John Lennon than watching a document like this.