Saturday, May 13, 2017

Songs From Movies About Musicians: Anvil, Metal on Metal

Purchase Anvil, Metal on Metal from the documentary, Anvil: The Story of Anvil.

OK, I’m going to start this the wrong way, like some apologist whose nothing but guilty of the thing he’s apologizing for…what do they call that, when someone effusively apologizes for something in order to make it seem as if they aren’t guilty of the exact thing they are expressing shame about… hypocrisy?

And what exactly will I be protesting? That I don’t like Metal. I really don’t. I did. But that was a long time ago. I’d rather you not know that. But, now that I’ve written it, let’s leave it where it is.

I’m a little embarrassed at the fact that I used to think the likes of Poison, Cinderella, Dokken, et al were the shit. Big S Shit. I wanted desperately to be able to grown my hair long. I wore a torn and frayed denim jacket, festooned with as many patches as I could fit on it: Def Leppard, Van Halen, Judas Priest, et al. The main back patch was of Iron Maiden’s Eddie, dressed a British infantryman from their greatest song, “The Trooper.”  I wore wrester’s high-top shoes (I don’t know where that came from, but it was the metal thing to do). I wore a mullet since my hair is naturally curly and the only part that would grow reasonably straight was the back. I looked like a tool. 

I was abruptly pulled out of my teenage haze of hairspray and spandex and Ibanez guitars when someone introduced me to R.E.M. It was a simple change over, like a trigger pull. I went from listening to bad music, because that’s what everyone else was listening, to being a music snob. Someone who listened to good music.  Someone who was openly critical of other’s musical tastes.  I would hazard that a lot of you were/are the same…you know who you are. It’s OK; music appreciation is part intellectual, part tribal, and all an affair of the heart. My development of said musical appreciation  is a long history, of which I gone into at varying degrees in my writing for this blog, so I won’t digress too deeply into my own tutelage and history.  Except to say: sometimes your past isn’t at as far a remove as you’d like to think.

Exhibit A: My Spotify library has many of Iron Maidens albums
Exhibit B: I have an ipod playlist called “Hair Metal Faves”
Exhibit C: my obsession with the documentary Anvil: The Story of Anvil

Directed by their former roadie, this film is a documentary about Anvil, a little known metal band, and, is simply put: brilliant. It is both heartbreaking and hilarious, but in the end, as uplifting a human story as I’ve ever seen. The “tragedy” of the band fuels the emotional drive of the story, and in a sense proves that the tragedy need not be one that moves us to despair to raise the spirit to a place one finds a sense of thankfulness or self-perspective.  To get a sense of the film, you should know: Anvil are a Canadian metal outfit that put out an album in 1982 that is considered by most metal luminaries as singularly influential. Metallica and Anthrax, Slash, Lemmy, Slayer all fill the film with stunning testimony to the energy and excitement that Anvil brought to the stage and how they seemed poised to reach the very pinnacle of metal triumph.

And then…nothing. Anvil disappeared from the main stream and seemingly into the lore of bands that “might of.” But, they never really went away. The film details the story of how mainstays Steve “Lips” Kudlow (lead vox) and drummer Robb Reiner toiled through decades of obscurity and all the inglorious humiliations of being a band that had tasted success but never quite made it. Nor ever quit. There’s a lot to this film that makes it great. It is a meditation of youthful ambition, on failure and will. It is about friendship and family, but mostly it’s about grit. About never giving in and never giving up. The movie is at times heartbreaking, but in the end, it’s an important film—the message is powerful:  stick to what you know you want and what you’re capable of, despite what happens along the way and all the people who will tell you that you can’t.

I started off talking about how I was embarrassed to admit I used to be into metal. I’m not saying that Anvil was an amazing band—at least not by my standards. I don’t really see the “influence” that the people in film talk about. But, their story, their singular story, is inspiring, fable-like, joyously uplifting. You don’t have to like metal to hope the members of Anvil have achieved success, finally, and the kind of happiness that would bring. You don’t have to like metal to cheer them at the end of the film, maybe even bang your head, if just a little. Because, despite their “tragic” career arc, what you come away from this film is that Kudlow and Reiner are happy, are capable of being joyful, despite the near surreal oddness and frustration of their band’s story. And that is where the sheer brilliance of this movie, and their story, come to the fore: rarely will you ever see a lesson of determination illustrated and perfectly as than in the story of Anvil.

If you haven’t seen Anvil yet, go get it now. The film will stay with you and you just might get their signature tune, “Metal on Metal”, stuck in your head. Which will be a good thing, especially if you need to get off your ass and do something.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Songs From Movies About Musicians: Help!

purchase the film [Help!]
purchase the album [Help!]

You've heard the adage "Good thing come to those that wait." I certainly did because I was brought up the child of missionaries - plenty of Christian mores.

The statement applies here because I have been looking at the Beatles' Help! film as a possible posts, and today's Guardian includes an article about the making of the film. The Guardian article leads off with the comment that the film has been "lost" for 50 years. There are screen shots from the film and some info about the process in the news article, but the [unseen] video itself is up for sale - if you've got $50,000 or so.

Help! from the Beatles comes pretty close to fitting the <Movies About Musicians> theme. It is their second (aiming to build on their success -both after the Hard Days Night film, and their back to back album successes) - but today, the film comes across as almost pathetic .[How the years affect perceptions] What seemed "must view" back in the 60s is now so trite you can hardly watch unless you bring historical perspective glasses with you.

That said  ... Help! has value. The album itself has several classics: Help (of course), Ticket To Ride and You've Got To Hide Your Love Away.


Bootleg Beatles:

Songs From Movies About Musicians: Gimme Shelter

[purchase 20 Feet From Stardom]

One of the best documentaries about musicians was 2013’s 20 Feet From Stardom, which focused on the background singers that we all have heard, but often don’t recognize by name. Not only was it interesting and filled with great music, the film addresses one of my regular writing subjects—why are some incredibly talented musicians not as famous as they probably should be. 20 Feet discusses many of the reasons—bad advice, bad luck, bad decisions, and even a lack of that certain something that allows you to traverse that 20 feet. I’ve mentioned the film before, in my piece about Darlene Love, who is probably the most famous of the singers featured in the film.

But maybe the most famous vocal discussed in 20 Feet, and for me the most memorable segment, was about Merry Clayton’s searing “rape, murder” vocal part in the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter.” Luckily, I don’t have to describe the scene in detail, because the video above is a clip from the movie, in which Clayton and Mick Jagger discuss the circumstances. But if you can’t watch the video, in short strokes, Clayton was called out of bed to sing for a band that she hadn’t heard of, was whisked to the studio, pregnant and in her pajamas, to add a searing and unforgettable part to what would become a classic song. Not only are the vocals powerful, the way her voice cracks only adds to the emotional impact of the part. In the video above, you can hear the isolated vocal tracks, which is cool. Here’s Clayton’s cover of “Gimme Shelter,” featuring occasional Stones sideman Billy Preston:

Clayton, born on Christmas Day (which led to her name) in New Orleans, was a veteran singer by the time the Stones roused her from bed. Her powerful vocals were also featured on, among other songs, Neil Young’s “The Old Laughing Lady,” and Lynyrd Skynrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” (reluctantly). While Clayton never covered “Sweet Home,” she did do a great, soulful version of the song that it responded to:

In addition, she has had an acting career, both musically—Clayton was the Acid Queen in the first London stage production of The Who’s Tommy—and in movies and TV. More recently, she contributed vocals to albums by G. Love & Special Sauce and one of my least favorite bands, Coldplay.

Unfortunately, in 2014, Clayton was in a serious car accident that led to her having both legs amputated at the knees. She returned to the public eye in 2015, receiving an award from the Jazz Foundation of America (where Keith Richards performed "Gimme Shelter" in her honor with, among others, fellow 20 Feet star Lisa Fischer, who sang the song for years on tour with the Stones) and supporting Obamacare and the MusicCares charity that installed a chairlift in her home, and reportedly is working on a new album.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017


It was hearing this on the radio today that gave me the prompt, on a request show fronted by, of all people, Kim Wilde, adding to the 80s exotica of it all. I should add that I hadn't sought to seek this radio station, it was being played in the cab I was traveling in, as most of the other selections were shite. In respect of the station concerned, I won't mention its name, other than to say it was neither Liver FM nor Lungs FM, but in that general territory. I don't even know whether the song(s), the parent film, or the actress/singer, Hazel O'Connor, is known outside of the UK. I suspect not, somehow, give or take the parts of europe she has variously lived in. And even then, again outside this film, her appeal has been somewhat limited. A bit like a substitute Toyah Wilcox, whom she interestingly beat to get the part in the film. (Toyah Willcox? That's a whole other post, preferably by someone who can stand her.)

So, like the majority of films about musicians, it is a fame to fortune fairy tale, this time with sufficient Brothers Grimm downside to add some grit, as her subsequent fall from fame is graphically displayed as well. Scarcely original, but entertaining. "Breaking Glass" it is called, nothing to do with Nick Lowe, and contains enough of the stereotypes to allow those who lived through the music scene of the late 70s to feel comfortably at home. Austerity had real balls in those days, so this is the world of power cuts and strikes, of anti-establishment benefit gigs being big business, of the emergence of a neo-nazism, blunt and crude enough as to make the current versions seem pussies, if no more or less dangerous. There are drugs, drink, violence, mental breakdown, crooked promoters, crooked managers and a shedload of cameos from musos and thesps a little ahead of their current ubiquity. Likewise some behind. So, as well as O'Connor, there is Phil Daniels, of Quadrophrenia and Park Life fame, erstwhile Roxy and Adam Ant bassist Gary Tibbs and, most notably, Jonathan Pryce, the Jonathan Pryce, in an extraordinary exposition of the bleeding heart cliche of damaged goods musicianship. Also, blink and you miss them, 60s legend, George "Zoot" Money, and the late "Rock and Roll Kids'" Gary Holton. No further spoilers as I actually commend the film as being worth a watch, almost as documentary.

Although there is quite a lot of music in the film, not a lot cuts the mustard, somewhat bombastic 80s, just, glam-punk. But the song I feature is quite different, a delightful ballad, notwithstanding the mawkish lyric, with one of the saxophone riffs of the day, the other being on "Baker Street". Played by the magnificently named Wesley Magoogan, scroll down, it lifts the song and makes it immediately memorable. For this one song alone I forgive all the excesses poured forth elsewhere. And it is still the highlight of her set.

Get the film or get the song, but you will have to get the whole album.

Monday, May 8, 2017

songs from movies about musicians: Purple Rain

purchase [Purple Rain]

I  started out on the wrong foot for this theme and it has taken me a few days to get back on track: Musicians in Movies. My belated choice: Purple Rain)
YouTube actually appears to have a copy of the full film:

Purple Rain dates back to the days when I didn't have much in the way of Internet access. More or less nobody did. (Actually, I had X.25 if you want to go down that path.) WWW was invented in 90 or so, but there were direct dial connections to Bulletin Boards such as AOL/Compuserve.  Neither did I have main-stream TV access, being outside the USA. And by this time, MTV had become main-stream for many (USA) people. So .. my access to music videos was limited to what people sent me (USPS VHS packages) or what I could grab on a once a year visit to the US.

Back at about that time, I was teaching a class called "Film & Lit" - as the name implies, a study of film and literature. At that time (while still developing the course) our topics included historical films (Great Train Robbery, Citizen Kane, etc) and only near the end of the course moved on to more modern examples. I never braved Purple Rain - but I wish I had.

My resource(s) for film reviews were limited to the Compuserve film review "channel". No small hassle considering the state of the Internet. On my ocassional visits to the US, I would video-tape anything I could get my hands on. And at some point in the 80's, that included nabbing a copy of Purple Rain.

Vaguely aware that there are autobiographical aspects to the film and newly aware of the phenomena of the artist called Prince (at that time), I/we watched Purple Rain many, many times - this was clearly a different kind of film. Not like Singing in the Rain or even Clockwork Orange - something much more visceral here. But-  keep the '84 date in mind - tech levels on all fronts were pretty limited. Certainly no such option as personal computer video editing, and anything else for video editing on the market cost 10s or 100s of thousands - check out I Want My MTV with a critical eye if you want to see state of the art video editing.

Purple Rain has its flaws. Several. It is supposedly semi-autobiographical, but hopefully not in terms of the male<>female attitudes/roles.(We may never know.) And it's probably not a thematic model to espouse -it's male brutal in many places. But most critics seem to agree that it was seminal - opening up a genre that hadn't been explored before. And the music is [now] classic.

Beautiful Ones from the same fılm/album strikes me as even more seminal/powerful than those songs that became popular. (Sorry, this copy appears to have built-in jitters, but it is still worth your time)