Thursday, June 18, 2020

Music Review: Blvds of Splendor by Cherie Currie

In today's world of streaming music, with every song imaginable  a click away, it's hard to stay focused on an entire album. But you can still find gems that keep even the most ADHD-challenged music listener interested. You can listen to the digital version of Cherie Currie’s album Blvds of Splendor straight through, and come back for seconds. There’s not one bad song on Blvds. You won’t need to skip around to get to the good stuff, or buy a few tracks because the rest of the songs aren’t up to par.

The tracks were recorded in 2010 and 2011 for an album on Joan Jett’s Blackheart Records, but the release was delayed until 2019.  On Record Day 2019,  Blackheart released a limited edition red vinyl album of Blvds of Splendor. It sold out almost immediately.

The digital download of the album, released in late April of this year, contains three songs not on the red vinyl. Matt Sorum (Guns ‘N’ Roses, Velvet Revolver) produced Blvds of Splendor and played drums on all the cuts. Most of the songs were written or co-written by Cherie and her son,  Jake Hays. Jake is a multi-instrumentalist, singer and producer. His debut album, Room 13, is available on Spotify and other streaming platforms. 

 The album blasts off with “Mr. X”. Slash and Duff MacKagan  give extra oomph to this already bombastic song about a fiery ex-lover. (Slash and Currie previously played together for a benefit in 2013 along with Lita Ford.)

“Roxy Roller” an early glam hit for the Canadian band Sweeny Todd (with Nick Gilder  and later Bryan Adams) Canadian surely played at Rodney’s English Disco and the Sugar Shack.  Nick Gilder and Suzi Quarto recently joined Cherie for a quarantine version of the song.  

Currie clears the cobwebs off “What Would All the People Say?”, a minor hit for the Monroes in 1982. The other covers include a funky version of the Tommy James hit “Dragging the Line”. The moving, string-infused take on the Hollies’ “The Air that I Breathe” brings the song to another level.  Currie’s earthy voice has matured and lends more poignancy to the lyrics. (Even in the Runaways, at 16, she had a bluesy tinge to her voice.)

Rock & Roll Oblivion features a rich, haunting pastiche of E-bows and thundering guitars. It’s tale of a survivor who has earned her “scars of wisdom”, and the song exhibits a lot of raw emotion.

 The title track, co-written by Billy Corgan, showcases Currie’s melodic skills. The song has a pleasant, hummable chorus, and Cherie and Billy’s voices blend well. Blvds of Splendor is the kind of song that would sound great blaring out of a car radio (aka Siruis) on a summer day.

 The catchy anthem “Force to Be Reckoned With” (co-written by Holly Knight), charges along with a steamroller rhythm, and “Breakout” has the gritty tone of an AC/DC or Thin Lizzy album cut. The feisty “You Wreck Me” calls out an ex-lover, and the Gina Gershon-penned “Gimme”  is a declaration of independence by a woman who knows what she wants.   

The Runaways have influenced decades of female musicians, and a few of them make an appearance on this album. The digital only version of “Queens of Noise features an all-star cast of Brody Dalle, Juliet Lewis, the Veronicas on back-up vocals.

Blvds of Splendor kicks ass, whether you categorize it as hard rock, pop-rock, or melodic rock. It’s reminiscent of many hard-rock albums released from the ‘70s to the early ‘90s, attitude-wise. Modern production and more sophisticated lyrics bring the sound  into the 21st century without sacrificing the edge.    

Blvds is one of the most engaging hard rock albums I’ve heard in the last decade.  Currie certainly deserves a nomination for best hard rock/metal performance for the 2021 Grammys, and the songwriting and production are top-notch as well.

 From Cherry Bomb to Chainsaw Chick

The photos of Currie singing onstage in a white corset with the Runaways have become some of the most iconic rock images of the 1970s. Runaways’ taskmaster/music impresario Kim Fowley initially envisioned Currie as the rock Brigitte Bardot, but she eclipsed that image almost immediately. Her voice and stage presence were sheer rock attitude. The band turned out to be much more than a vehicle for Fowley’s jailbait fantasies.

Joan Jett and Lita Ford have been rock stars in their own right for decades. Jackie Fox became an entertainment lawyer after leaving the band. Sandy West released a solo EP in 2000, and is included on many top female drummer lists.

Bassist Vicki Tischler-Blue, who replaced Fox, made the Runaways documentary Edgeplay in 2004.  Currie’s 1989 autobiography Neon Angel inspired the 2010 movie The Runaways. 

 Since Currie left the Runaways in 1978, she has reinvented herself many times as an actress, a drug counselor, chainsaw artist, and, of course, a solo musical artist. Her two post-Runaways albums, Beauty’s Only Skin Deep and Messin’ with the Boys (with sister Marie) boasted many catchy pop-rock tunes, but neither album made a dent in the U.S. chart.

Currie starred in two movies that have become cult classics. Wavelength, an indie sci-fiction movie, seemed to be inspired by an alleged UFO event in California. She played  ill-fated Annie in the teen drama, Foxes, along with Jodie Foster. (Fun Fact: Curie was up for the Riff Randall (P.J. Soles) role in Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, but turned it down to be in Foxes. )

Currie’s 2015 solo album Reverie (her first album since Messin with the Boys) was produced by Kim Fowley shortly before his death. Cherie’s son Jake Hays played guitar, bass, keyboards and co-wrote several of the songs with Cherie. Fowley co-wrote two songs “Queen of the Asphalt Jungle” and “Dark World” with Cherie and Jake.

Lita Ford delivers lead vocals on remakes of two Runaways “Is It Day or Night?” and “American Nights”. This comeback album proves that Currie’s still had the chops to rock out (and outdo) many female vocalists half her age.

The Motivator, released in 2019 by Blue Elan Records, featured Cherie and Fanny drummer/singer Brie Darling rocking nine cover songs and three originals. It’s obvious a lot of thought went into both the selection and execution of the covers on this album. The original versions of “Gimme Shelter” and “Gimme Some Truth” are pretty much ingrained in the public consciousness,  so it takes guts to even tackle them, much less perform them as well as Currie and Darling did here. The title song, T-Rex’s “The Motivator” has an infectious, danceable groove. The original tune “This is Our Time” offers an empowering message on the present – and the future. “Too Bruised” exposes the  vulnerable side of a woman letting go of a failed love affair.  “I’m Too Good, That’s Just Too Bad” is a grown-up version of “Cherry Bomb” and other strutting Runaways’ anthems. “Do It Again” by the Kinks and the 1960s’ Flower Power anthem “Get Together”, originally by the Youngbloods, round out the covers.   

Currie makes a living as a chainsaw artist carving wood sculptures with a chainsaw. In 2016, she had a near fatal accident while carving. It took her a year to recover, and she then resumed her music and art careers. You can see photos of her chainsaw art at

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Book Review: Set The Night On Fire: L.A. in the Sixties by Mike Davis and Jon Wiener

Set The Night on Fire:
L.A. In the Sixties
By Mike Davis and Jon Weiner

It’s been 50 years since the Kent State shootings. On May 4, 1970, four students –
Allison Krause, Jeffrey Glen Miller, Sandra Lee Scheuer, and William Knox Schroeder were shot and killed by National Guard Soldiers. The incident was just one of the high profile events that symbolized the social unrest of the 1960s and early 1970s. 

A few key images come to mind when you think about the  antiwar and civil rights era. Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech, the marches in Selma, the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, the Black Panthers, the assassinations of President Kennedy, RFK, and Martin Luther King.

But every city and college town had its own political and social movements. Some of these groups were truly underground, while others appeared in local newspaper articles and made their presence known to the police and the “establishment.”

 Set the Night on Fire, an ambitious study from Verso Books covers the left-wing socio-political movement in Los Angeles in the 1960s and early 1970s.

The book was written by two respected journalists long affiliated with the counterculture.  Mike Davis was a member of the Communist Party in California in the 1960s and a local organizer for the Students for a Democratic Society. His previous books include City of Quartz. Jon Weiner hosts the Start Making Sense podcast   He wrote Gimme Some Truth about the FBI files on John Lennon.

The book’s title comes from the Doors “Light My Fire” and the introduction features a brief statement from John Densmore of the Doors about life in the ‘60s L.A.

Set the Night on Fire gives us a well-rounded look at the growing fight for the rights of women, gays, African-Americans, and Mexican-Americans in the 60s’ L.A. as well as the anti-war movement. Many of the events and organizations mentioned in the book have been lost to history and relegated to newspaper archives.

The Stonewall riots in New York’s West Village is the most famous example of  demonstrations at a gay bar in the 1960s, and it brought gay rights into the mainstream media. The New Year’s Eve raid at Black Cat Tavern in Silverlake in 1967, and the subsequent uprising predated Stonewall by two years but is rarely mentioned today.

Many people have affixed the colorful LOVE stamp on letters at one time or another. This design, created by Sister Corita Kent of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Los Angeles,  was one of the counterculture silkscreens. The Sister used her art partially to protest the Vietnam War and other social issues.  Her stance caused problems with the L.A. Archdiocese’s conservative leader, Francis McIntyre. She met with anti-war activist Father Daniel Berrigan,created a silk screen inspired by the Watts Riots, and exhibited her art all over the world. She left Immaculate Heart in 1968 and continued making art. The iconic LOVE stamp was issued in 1984.

Liberal media was relegated to occasional public access TV shows or public radio.
The public radio station KPFK first broadcast its blend of unorthodox cultural and news programming that appealed to the beatnik crowd in 1959.  The first shows included performances by Pablo Casals and poet Kenneth Rexroth Other programs featured interviews with Aldous Huxley, Alan Watts, and programs opposing the Vietnam War. The station broadcast the first news reports from North Viet Nam. The station even sponsored one of the first Renaissance Pleasure Fairs to raise funds. The station is best known however, for airing Tania (Patty Hearst’s) manifesto shortly after she was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army in 1974. 

The L.A. Free Press, first published in 1964, was distributed in coffeehouses and streetcorner vending boxes. It covered local elections and protests, popular culture, the music scene, and even had a sex advice column. The paper’s staff was instrumental in organizing events, including  a black neighborhood forum in Watts and various concerts. Unsurprisingly, the FBI, the L.A. police, and other powers-that-be tried to close down the offices or accuse the press of publishing pornography.

The two most familiar musical happenings in L.A. to out-of-towners, 1972’s Wattstax and the Sunset Strip riots, have short chapters here. Wattstax was part of a week-long festival that had been held yearly since the Riots in 1965. The 1966 riots on Sunset Strip were a reaction to the curfew established on the Whiskey and other clubs on the Strip. The musicians and teen club-goers considered this an assault on their rights. The ensuing demonstration by teens resulted in many innocent protesters being beaten by cops.  For more detail about the riots, read Dominic Priore’s excellent Riot on the Sunset Strip: Rock ‘n’ Roll’s Last Stand in Hollywood

While white middle-class kids rallied against nightclubs being closed early, black and Chicano youth were dealing with more substantive issues. In East L.A., Chicano high school and college students fought for their rights to a better education, more jobs, and as a protest against unfair school policies. Around the same time in early 1967, students at a mostly black high school near downtown walked out to protest unfair conditions.  

By the time the Watts exploded in 1965, poor black people had been subject to search and seizure for the slightest real (or perceived) infraction. When the police arrested  Marquette Frye, a parolee for reckless driving, a scuffle ensued. Frye’s arrest looting and rioting began in the commercial section of Watts and spread throughout the area. During the riots, over 3,000 people were arrested and hundreds of businesses were looted or burned.  Davis and Weiner break down the events day-by-day, with a chapter and follow it up with a chapter on the McCone’s Commission’s report on the riot’s underlying causes.  

Protests against the Vietnam War accounted for the biggest swath of demonstrations across the country, and LA was no exception. On June 23, 1967, while a fundraiser was being held for President Lyndon B. Johnson inside the Century Plaza hotel, over 10,000 protesters congregated outside. The police ordered the crowd to move back; the crowd was packed so tightly many of them couldn’t move. Cops swung at the crowd with batons, striking men, women, and a mother with a baby in a stroller, according to eyewitness accounts. The mainstream press headlines the next day made it sound like the police responded to a violent mob that had attacked them.

Media in the ‘60s was slanted towards the powers-that-be, with the hippies portrayed as the Godless enemies of the people.  All you have to do is look at the raw footage from the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago to know this was an ongoing, nationwide thing back then.

Set The Night on Fire provides a comprehensive overview of how every disenfranchised group in L.A. in the ‘60s fought for their rights. The represented groups include Asian-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, African-Americans, hippies, rock musicians and gay people. The information is all the more potent when you realize that these events occurred in less than a decade. The seeds for the most notable social and political changes in the late 20th Century took place between 1965 and 1973.

The book shows how rapidly society was changing, with interlocking movements challenging the status quo despite resistance. Old-guard politicians like L.A. Mayor Sam Yorty and Governor Ronald Reagan weren’t going to give up power easily, but the die was cast for the progressive politics of the late 20th and early 21st Century.

 At over 800 pages, Set the Night on Fire may be too detailed for many readers. However, it is an indispensable tool for students of California history, civil rights, and sociology.   

Buy Set the Night on Fire on Amazon

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

The Veggees - 1980s Retro Rock Comic Strip and Music Video

Limited number of 1.5 inch buttons available - 1980s comic strip “The Veggees” all-girl band logo. $3 includes postage.Message me at jade at for ordering details.  

Monday, December 16, 2019

CD Review - Cosmic Partners: The McCabe Tapes - Michael Nesmith with Red Rhodes

Cosmic Partners: The McCabe Tapes captures Michael Nesmith at the height of his powers as a country rock pioneer. In the early 1970s, Nez released classic LPs, including Nevada Fighter, Loose Salute, Pretty Much Your Standard Ranch Stash, and Magnetic South. A few songs from those albums are featured on this CD, a Nesmith/Red Rhodes show recorded at McCabes Guitar Shop in Santa Monica on August 18, 1973.

Several other concerts have been released as live albums, including shows by Mike Bloomfield, Townes Van Zant and Henry Rollins. McCabe’s is still going strong today.  

This CD features a show as it was recorded, directly from the soundboard. The show was transferred from analogue tapes and cleaned up for McCabe Tapes. The sound is clear and crisp the instruments have retained their vibrancy from almost 47 years ago.

The show opens with “Tomorrow and Me”, a dirge to broken love. Rhodes’ pedal steel cushions the despair of Nesmith’s bittersweet lyrics with blips of vibrancy.  

                                                                    Red Rhodes

The band then picks up the groove with “Grand Ennui”, followed by “Some of Shelly’s Blues”. Nez introduces “…..Blues” by saying it’s been covered by “374” people. (And that was in 1973. You could imagine what the number is now.)

The band consists of Colin Cameron on bass, Danny Lane on drums, Red Rhodes on pedal steel guitar. Nez provides vocals, acoustic guitar and between song stage banter.. 

The banter includes Nez’s story about the Monkees’ infamous Cincinnati incident. (The band evaded their security and took an elevator to the ground floor, where they were chased by fans.)  Nez gives some topical banter about Alice Cooper and glam rock, which was popular at the time of the McCabe’s show.

Rhodes takes the spotlight mid-show, showcasing his pedal steel mastery on three instrumentals - the Ernset Tubb favorite, “Rose City Chimes”,  the lush “Poinciana” (from Rhodes’ solo album Velvet Hammer in a Cowboy Band) and “Crippled Lion”.   

Nez lends some yodeling to the lovely, old-school country song “One Rose” and ends the set with his biggest solo song “JoAnne” (wait for that high note) and “Silver Moon.”   

There’s only one problem with Cosmic Partners – the set goes by too fast.

The CD package includes liner notes by Christian Nesmith (who co-produced the CD ), Circe Link, and original producer Ed Heffelinger, along with Joe Alterio’s essay on Red Rhodes. There’s a note from Nez, too, about his musical collaborations with Rhodes, and how the steel pedal guitar player “made the instrument sail, and take off on its own.”  

A poster of the gatefold sleeve for Not Your Standard Ranch Stash, with topless sirens in a swimming pool/makeshift lake, is also included. 

Cosmic Partners is also available as an 180g vinyl picture disc. This CD is another Monkees-related release from 7A Records out of the UK.

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and the Joy of Watching and Rewatching a Movie You Love

By now, most people who want to see Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood have made a trip to the theater, some of them several times.

The film’s 2 hours and 41 minutes long, and every plot point and scene has been analyzed and discussed online for the last month No one’s going to spend so much time nitpicking over a boring movie. Even people who didn’t like the movie (except for the ending) will still talk about it.

The film is intensely personal to some, a unique film for movie nerds to ponder, or a nostalgic trip for others. OUATIH is a favorite of QT fans (at least the ones who don’t expect non-stop violence) and people in their 50s and 60s were alive in 1969,  younger folks interested in 20th Century pop culture, or anyone interested in the Manson family. 

 I’ve read about people seeing the movie at a theater eight times, though two or three seems to be the most prevalent number of return viewings. (I've seen it twice; going for #3 at the New Beverly later this month.)

Regular movie goers who just choose a random name from movie listings for their weekend entertainment will not like this film. Most people see movies as escapist entertainment; they don’t care about plot or acting or historical accuracy. They want constant action, sex, or gore, two hours of bish-bam-boom before going back to the job and family.  

Alternative History

The second time I saw the movie, the audience was too quiet  - not a gasp or “Oh, my God”, during the ending. No laughter. I didn’t see anyone rush out or give the finger to the screen, either.

I was worried about screaming or making noise during the ending the first time I saw it. Maybe I should bring a piece of gauze with me and bite down on it near the end, I thought

I wasn’t alone. Most people at the sold-out screening I attended gasped, laughed and clapped during the end scene. Those last 20 minutes have even made their way onto YouTube two months before the DVD release. Several other scenes that appear to have been filmed right off theater screens are on YouTube as well.

The best five seconds of the film for just about everyone, including the impatient and undiagnosed ADD crowd, occurred when Rick walked out with the flamethrower. The element of surprise left the audience laughing and gasping.

 Here’s a round-up of audience reactions.  

There’s a lot to see in second and third viewings.  Los Angeles in 1969- what’s not to love? The music, the TV shows, the commercials, billboards, and marquees. Even minor details that would go unnoticed by most moviegoers were authentic to the era. One newsstand contained copies of magazines from 1969 (or thereabouts). The newsstand, much less the magazines, would go unnoticed by all but the most eagle-eyed viewer.

This is a hangout movie, a bromance, that girls can love. (You should have heard the women next to us hoot their approval when Brad Pitt took his shirt off.)

The Cliff-Rick bromance is all good. It doesn’t have any cliché arguments, fights over girls, etc., common as plot twists in lesser films. It’s nice to have real human characters to root for, instead of the half-human, half-infallible superheros.

Oh, No! Not Another Western!

I almost forgot how prevalent TV Westerns were even in the late 1960s. Bonanza, the Wild, Wild West, Gunsmoke, the Big Valley and Lancer (yes, it was a real show) shared the TV Guide schedule with Laugh-In and the Smothers Brothers.  

“Oh, no,” I remember thinking before seeing the movie “How am I going to get through the Western scenes? It’s going to be excruciating. I’ll have to go out for popcorn.” Leo’s performance drew you in, and there was "Don't cry in front of the Mexicans" for comic relief.

The first two hours flew by, Westerns and all, and before you knew it, Tex, Sadie and Katie showed up – only to be quickly dispatched by our heroes.  

Driving Music 

Anyone who has who has lived in California can identify with the driving scenes. Everything was easier back  in '69, even driving on L.A. freeways. There was no road rage, texting, drive-bys, or distracted driving. You could drive with the windows down, the radio blaring, and the wind blowing through your hair.

I don’t think people have done that with abandon since the early ‘90s. Yeah, you can ride in your air-conditioned Porsche listing to the shoegaze station on Sirius, but it’s not the same.

There are snippets of several lesser-known pop songs in the movie. “Summertime” by Billy Stewart, “12:30 (Young Girls are Coming to the Canyon”) by the Mamas and Papas, “Baby It’s You” by Smith, even a snippet of Robert Goulet singing MacArthur Park on a TV. And plenty of Paul Revere and the Raiders.(Terry Melcher and Mark Lindsay lived at 10050  Cielo Drive before Sharon and Roman moved in.)

The film creates an atmosphere, a time and a place that you can soak in and lose yourself in. I wouldn’t say there’s no plot - it's just a plot that simmers along on low heat.

It’s fun to catch glimpses of old-timey TV shows like Mannix and The FBI. Notice Paul Revere and the Raiders were on the TV at Spahn Ranch when Cliff walks in to see George.   

And feet!! How many pairs of many bare, dirty female feet do we need to see? I haven’t done a count yet - maybe once it comes out on DVD. Sharon takes her go-go boots off – to put her feet on the back of the seat in front of her, Pussycat puts her bare feet on Cliff's dashboard, etc. Now, lots of hippie girls were barefoot in LA in the late 60s, so we’ll let Quentin slide this time.

And of course, there’s the quotable dialogue -

“I’m the devil, and I’m doing the devil’s work.”

“No, it was dumber than that.”

“And you, you were on a horsie”

“Are you real?”
“Real as a donut, motherfucker.”

“Is everything all right?”
“Well, the hippies sure aren’t.”

And it's never revealed if Cliff  killed his wife on purpose. His wife (played by Rebecca Gayheart) seems like a garden variety nagging wife in her five seconds onscreen.  Perhaps the subplot was inspired by  DJ Humble Harv (of radio station KHJ) who shot his nagging wife dead in 1971.
(Humble Harv appears on the soundtrack introducing songs and reading commercials.)

You want a happy ending for all the good people and you get it here. The comic book violence of the last 20 minutes is even more satisfying if you’re familiar with the Tate-LaBianca murders. It’s cathartic to watch Sadie get burnt to a crisp. The head-banging times 12, is cringe-inducing, no matter how many times you watch it.  

Right after all that violence, we see Rick's dream come true (he gets to hanging out at Roman and Sharon's house), and sweet, pregnant Sharon greets him. And now everyone gets all misty-eyed after cheering during 10 minutes of hardcore gore.

Now leaving the theater feeling happy isn’t usually the sign of a great film. Art films are supposed to leave you dazed and pondering. Blockbusters and superhero movies leave viewers feeling like they just got off an intense, 120 mile per hour roller coaster ride –and they forget about it by the next day.      
But giddy and excited to the point where you say “I have to see that again,” the moment you walk out of the theater?. That doesn’t happen too often, at least not to me.

It’s not so much that you rewatch the movie for thrills – it’s to find tidbits you missed out the first time. There’s the sound of the canned dog food plopping into the bowl is familiar to anyone raised on supermarket food in the late 20th Century. (It took a second viewing to notice the rat and raccoon flavors.) The marquee on of the Van Nuys Drive-In (Lady in Cement starring Frank Sinatra and Raquel Welch), the quick shots of Rick involved in a DUI on Hollywood Boulevard, or taking a  swig from a blender full of margarita while telling off the dirty hippies.

Margot Robbie gives us a chance to see Sharon Tate as a real person. Too many people know her only as a murder victim. This film humanizes her. She doesn’t have a lot of dialogue, but her luminous presence is the heartbeat of the film.

The other non-Manson Family female characters are tougher.  Julia Butters’ Trudi character gives us a glimpse we get of the new, liberated woman – or girl. She prefers to be called an actor instead of an actress and corrects Rick’s pronunciation of a character’s name. Zoe Bell (as a stuntwoman) gives Cliff a verbal beatdown, truncating his best two out of three with Bruce Lee.    

Cliff’s visit to Spahn Ranch  turns tense the moment Pussycat (Margaret Qualley) gets out of the car. The long shot of Cliff walking away as the girls boo him made you think something horrible would happen.

Cliff beating up Clem was especially satisfying to those of us who lived through the summer of '69, and it’s a precursor to the tables-turned ending.

People can be emotionally invested in TV series characters; we see them for years, week after week. It’s harder to get attached to a movie’s characters, unless they’re superhero or franchise characters.

Many people on YouTube and elsewhere wonder about what would happen to the characters after this movie ends. Would the police go to the ranch and arrest Charlie and the Manson girls before they could commit more mayhem? Would Rick work on a film with Polanski?

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood will probably be the Tarantino film I watch and enjoy the most over time. However, I don’t think it’s his best film. I’d have to go with Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown and Inglorious Bastards as the Top 3, with the True Romance screenplay getting an honorable mention.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is fun – the music, the cars, the clothes, and the alternative ending where everyone lives happily ever after, except the murderous hippies. Given the state of the world now, we need some alternative history before going back into an ever-worsening reality.

Monday, July 22, 2019

CD Review: The Old Testament of Love by Steve Hooker

Prolific rockabilly musician Steve Hooker is back with another CD, The Old Testament of Love on Pimphouse Records. The seven-track CD  begins with the country-western-flavored instrumental “Necktie Party”. “The First Ones Always Free” is seven minute of  made-to-order lowdown blues, with  guttural vocals from Hooker. The title track is lighter and poppier; it’s a dance track for the club floor, while “Don’t Let the Deal Go Down” is 50s/early ‘60s raunch ‘n’ roll. The crunchy instrumental “Tighten It” has a hard rock edge, while “Crows Legs” has a steady, mid-tempo groove. “Mister Mojo Man” closes the album with some dirty, old-school blues rock. 

The players are Steve Hooker on guitar and vocals, Vic on bass, Dave on piano, Brian on drums and background vocals, and Dee on background vocals. The CD is available from Raucous Records.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

The Dirt and the Resurgence of Mötley Crüe

It’s 2019, and lots of people are talking about Mötley Crüe. Who could have guessed an ‘80s heavy metal band that retired in 2015 would set the internet ablaze in 2019? It’s been a month since The Dirt premiered on Netflix and I’m still seeing posts from people who are watching for the second or third or fourth time. (The Crüe's resurgence is no fluke. The band was featured in a 2014 Fast Company article 5 Brilliant Business Lessons from Mötley Crüe- Seriously.)  

All kinds of people, not just Crueheads or heavy metal fans, like this film. The reviews usually read something like “Yeah, there were timeline problems and it was cheesy, but it was entertaining and I watched till the end.”

The raves, unsurprisingly, come mostly from long-time fans.

All types of people liked the movie, even folks you think would have no interest in even watching it.

People in industrial bands, intellectuals, people who lived in L.A. in the early ‘80s but didn’t like the metal scene, and many under 30s with a cursory knowledge of the band, liked the film. Most people took the Netflix movie at face value. This is a biopic about Mötley Crüe, based on the 2001 best-selling book “The Dirt”, not a somber candidate for the Criterion Collection.       

Snobs who believe that only certain types of music and entertainment are valid, or that anything from the past that wasn't politically correct should not be remembered or chronicled, hated the movie.

The Timeline, Actors, Fact-checking, etc.

A little fact-checking with the book version of “The Dirt” shows that the movie’s a bit more authentic than apparent at first sight. The fight during the band’s first show at the Starwood happened pretty much as portrayed in the film. Vince Neil did bang Tom Zutat’s girlfriend, but it was in a trailer at the US Festival, not in a dressing room at the Forum. 

McGhee never brought Nikki’s Mom into the picture. The band fired him after the Moscow Peace Festival in 1989, when Bon Jovi, another band McGhee managed, played a full set with pyro, while the Crue play a truncated opening set.

The fourth wall narration in the film explained that the Crue actually had two co-managers, that McGee didn’t really meet the band at their shitty apartment, and allowed the celluloid “grouchy” Mick to provide some counterpoint to the rock ‘n’ roll excess.

And it was Thaler, not McGhee, who got the ill-fated Entertainment or Death tattoo.

Tommy, as played by Machine Gun Kelly, is a likeable, hyperactive kid in the movie. In the book, Tommy comes off much cruder, unless he’s in love - then he becomes a total teddy bear.

Nikki, as played by Douglas Booth, was pretty spot-on most of the time. He even nailed Nikki’s distinctive speaking voice, although it did waver from the original here and there.  

Vince (Daniel Webber), had the swagger of the pre-fame Vince down, and handled the tragic scenes well, especially the emotional scenes with Skylar. The young actress who played Skylar was so heartbreaking in those scenes. “Daddy, don’t let them cut me again.”

Mick (Iwan Rheon) stole the film with his snarky, fourth wall comments. Mick Mars as Motley Crue’s voice of reason. Well, it’s a thankless job, but somebody had to do it.

The Dirt clocked in at an hour and forty eight minutes. You didn’t have to see the movie  to know it would be a quick cut, “best of” – all the  major scenes from the book, punctuated by the band’s music, with everything tied up in a neat package at the end.

Sure, the band’s history could have worked as a series, including more in-depth scenes from the Japanese train fiasco, Vince’s trial, Tommy and Pamela,etc., but then the trolls would complain it was too long and boring! A series would have given the filmmakers more room to humanize the characters and show them as “grown-ups”.

The Groupies

The women who gave bands blow jobs under the tables at the Rainbow accounted for a small percentage of the young women in 1980s Los Angeles. They were mostly upper middle class girls from the Valley or Orange County trying to outslut each other to see who could do the most guys in bands. These young women wanted to be there. They weren't victims. 

The movie version of The Dirt opens with a raucous party at the band’s Hollywood apartment in the early ‘80s. Vince is banging some guy’s girlfriend in the bathroom (an event which occurs with alarming frequency, as we find out later).

However, the main event takes place in the living room, where Tommy pleasures a girl as a crowd parties around them. Then the money shot occurs as the girl squirts across the room.  The woman, known as Bullwinkle, opened the book, too. When you begin a movie with female ejaculation, where do you go from there? Hold my beer (or heroin or coke spoon), the Dirt replies.

There’s enough sex, drugs, and tragedy in this hour and 48 minute film to fit in a series

Nikki’s on H (with lots of close-ups of needles entering veins)
Nikki’s temporary death and revival with two adrenaline shots to the heart 
Everyone’s banging everyone else’s girlfriend
The obligatory hotel-bashing
Young Nikki slices his arm open and blames it on his Mom
Vince kills his friend Razzle in a drunk driving accident
Vince’s young daughter dies of cancer
Mick’s Ankylosing Spondylitis (arthritis of the spine) gets worse; he has hip replacement surgery
Heather kicks Tommy out because of his dalliance with a porn star

 And, of course, who could miss the Pearl Jam Ten album cover on the side of the rehearsal studio on a rainy day? That was a harbinger of doom for all ‘80s metal bands, not just Mötley Crüe.

Guest Appearances
Ozzy (Tony Cavalero) snorting ants had to be included in a film at some point. Even though you know what’s going to happen, the “ugh” factor is strong when viewing the reenactment. (The peeing part probably didn't happen, however.)

David Lee Roth (Christian Gehring) makes a blink and you’ll miss it appearance. Yes, DLR would be so out of it in the early ‘80s – a mirror would crack over his head without him noticing it.

Heather Locklear (Rebekah Graf) only makes a few appearances, and it’s uncanny how much Graf resembles '80s Heather. Tommy did mistake her for Heather Thomas, but they met at  an REO Speedwagon concert, not Vince’s party.

Tom Zutat (Pete Davidson),  the A & R rep who signed Mötley Crüe to Electra, is portrayed as somewhat of an earnest klutz. I’m not sure if that jives with his real-life persona. 

 Also, the biker chick who asks Mick if he’s in the band during the opening party sequence is played by Brittany Furlan, Tommy Lee’s new wife. (They got married on Valentine’s Day 2019.)  

Nostalgia and a Personal Take

When I first moved to L.A. in 1983, I didn’t know anyone. I hung out at the Troubadour – until I discovered the local punk rock scene and my whole life changed. Of course, I’m not sure that would have happened if Vince Neil hadn’t guest-starred with Top Jimmy at the Cathay de Grande one night.

I remember the accident that killed Razzle. I was living in L.A, at the time, looking forward to seeing Hanoi Rocks in L.A. at the Palace – or was it the Whisky? I had a copy of “One Step from the Move” displayed by my stereo. The onscreen Vince’s dialogue about “it could have been any one of them” driving drunk and killing Razzle rang true. L.A. rocker dudes in the ’80s were rarely sober. Any combination of hard rock/metal dude passenger/driver could be deadly at any given moment.

I was back home in Chicago for Nikki’s death and reanimation. By this time, my beloved rebels were now Enquirer fare, with everyone from my younger brothers to random teenage girls listening to Girls, Girls, Girls. By 1988, even Satan had gone mainstream. Teen girls on the bus had pentagrams drawn on their PF flyers along with the names of their favorite bands (Poison, Bon Jovi, Mötley Crüe).

When Dr. FeelGood, the band’s only number one album, was released, I was in New York, working for a music publisher. Then Mötley Crüe defected to the alternative/grunge sound with their self-titled album. Vince had quit/gotten fired, and John Corabi replaced him. It didn’t sound like classic Crue, sold over 500,000 copies, but was considered a flop. (Many fans now consider the album to be one of the group’s best.) I always liked it.

Throughout the ‘90s the band became mainstream celebrities, and appeared on many talk shows. I saw them many times on Regis and Kathy Lee. Now, it didn’t hurt that Tommy was married to Baywatch babe Pamela Anderson and Nikki to Donna D'errico. That aspect took main stage in the press, with the music secondary. 

I found out I liked a lot more songs than I thought, even lesser-known ones. We’re not talking the greatest rock songs ever, but fun party anthems. “Bad Boy Boogie”, “Same Old Situation”, everything from the first two albums, even “Saints of Los Angeles”.

The Critics gave The Dirt a 39 per cent score, based on 64 reviews. “Rock bad boy lore as endless bore”, writes Rolling Stone. “An ill-advised remake of Spinal Tap”, says the New York Times, “painfully dated and pointless”, says another review from The Playlist. “A terrible movie about terrible people,” says Stereogum.( 95% of  6124 audience reviewers liked it.)

Critics never liked the Crüe’s music or persona so it makes sense that they wouldn’t like a movie based on their exploits. The first batch of reviews was especially brutal out of the gate, and seemed to criticize the subject matter as much as the actual filmmaking. How dare you even make a movie about an out-of-control 1980s rock band in politically correct 2019?

Somehow, the neatly-tied up ending the meeting at the bar (the real meeting took place in an office with lawyers present) fit in with the fast-paced movie. A more complicated ending (and character arcs) would have only made sense in a fleshed-out series.

The Calm After the Storm 

I searched in vain for a download of one of the Sixx Sense shows on my hard drive. I’d saved the show because Nikki had said something really profound. And now I can’t remember it, or find the file. He talked about looking up at the night sky with one of his kids, that’s the only part of the show I remember.

Years ago, I read an interview with a rock star (Don Henley, I think, but it was so long ago I could be wrong) who talked about how hitting rock-bottom changes people, allowing them to survive and prosper.

People who succumb to drugs and/or depravity and then come out the other side, often have an understanding of life’s true meaning  that others lack, the interviewee (whoever it was) said.  Maybe that’s why I find a lot of Nikki’s comments today to be so profound.