Tuesday, July 21, 2015

DVD Review : The Decline of Western Civilization, Part II: The Metal Years

                                                               Faster Pussycat

After remaining in official release limbo for decades, The Decline of Western Civilization: Part II: The Metal Years is now available as part of a  4 DVD (or Blu Ray) set of all three Decline movies directed by Penelope Spheeris – the original documentary about L.A.’s late ‘70s punk scene, the third installment, released in 1998, about gutterpunks in Hollywood and Decline II, about 80s Sunset Strip metal (aka hair metal). The set has a fourth DVD featuring additional footage from the documentaries.

The first and third documentaries dealt with Hollywood punk rockers, homeless or otherwise, and Decline II, the trio’s red-headed stepchild, looks at the style over substance days of Sunset Strip hair metal. The documentary features stars and wanna-bes of the Sunset Strip scene, fans, DJs, club owners, and several hard rock stars from the 1970s/early 1980s.

Spheeris interviews hard rock/metal icons who influenced the younger musicians hope to emulate. A chatty, level-headed Ozzy fixes breakfast and warns fledgling bands “Be nice to everyone on the way up, cause you’ll see them on the way down.” The L.A. skyline gleams in the background as Lemmy talks about going for your dreams. Paul Stanley lies on a bed draped with groupies. Gene Simmons is surrounded by girls in lingerie buying lingerie. Alice Cooper notes "Punk (rock) was getting to be techno.. metal saved rock 'n' roll for the '80s." and Steve Tyler and Joe Perry talk about the millions they made and blew on cocaine.

                                                             Ozzy in the kitchen

In her Jun 17, 1988 review, the New York Times’ Janet Maslin wrote, 

In Miss Spheeris's earlier hell-in-a-handbasket documentary, the original ''Decline of Western Civilization'' about punk rockers, the brainpower quotient was somewhat higher than it is among heavy-metal fans. That's one reason that the new film is both so funny and so sad. For all the amusingly fatuous remarks heard here -and Miss Spheeris has a great ear for these - the overriding dimness of most of the fans and musicians is frightening.”

Giving the metal kids the benefit of the doubt, a filmmaker can spin the subject anyway they want with leading questions and selective editing. Maybe there were smart kids who didn’t make the final cut or weren’t interested in being interviewed. If there were any honor students prowling the Strip circa 1987, they kept their IQs well under wraps. One of the featured bands, Seduce, seemed pretty pragmatic about the whole scene, including groupies. This earthiness didn’t translate into success or infamy. They released two albums on small labels, and are now nowhere to be found. Spheeris saves the only thrash band (and the smartest of the film's new bands) -Megadeth - for the end of the film.  Dave Mustaine may be many things, but he's no dummy. (Check out the extended interview with him in the bonus DVD.)

The newer bands have the gift of gab, but their subject matter is somewhat limited. There’s Nadir D'Priest and the band London, “the training school for rock stars” (Izzy Stradlin and Nikki Sixx, among others, went on to fame after leaving the group). They’re party monsters, but they come with a warning, as one bandmember exclaims “We are not role models for your life.” Odin, whose singer is touted as the next David Lee Roth, cavort in a hot tub with groupies, contemplating what will become of them if they don’t hit it big. Poison, whose first album was a platinum success, seem likeable and well-grounded in this early stage of their career. (The years, as we know, have not been kind.)  


As for Decline II’s girls of the Sunset Strip, the female musicians (Vixen, Jaded Lady) are just as ambitious but not quite as dim as some of their male counterparts. The female fans are another story. The girls participating in the Gazarri Dance Contest seem happy to strip, I mean, gyrate, for the ogling hair metal judges. The reigning “Miss Gazarri” says she hopes to continue with her modeling and “actressing” after  she passes on her crown. (Christina Applegate allegedly based her Married with Children character Kelly Bundy on this aspiring thespian.) 

The onstage segments with London, Lizzy Borden, Odin and Faster Pussycat make the viewer ponder “So is this is what an NC-17 Spinal Tap would look like.”  London’s singer finally lights a Soviet flag on fire after a few miscues, and the band’s political anthem, “Russian Winter” won’t put Bob Dylan or Neil Young out of business. The extra interview footage  has several X-rated revelations. (Now where was that chain hidden again?) 

Decline II’s most infamous interview, with W.A.S.P. guitarist Chris Holmes, shows the dark underbelly to all the leather and studs bravado. Soused to the gills, Holmes sits in a raft in his swimming pool chugging from a bottle of vodka while his Mom looks on pool side. He jokes about groupies, being an alcoholic, and proclaims, “I’m a piece of crap.” Spheeris asks, “Think you might drink because you’re covering up pain?” “Yeah,” Chris answers, then dunks under the water, evading any self-analysis. (Watch the unedited interview on the bonus disc til the bitter end to feel really uncomfortable.) Update: Chris relocated to France and is still touring, recording, and making music videos. His latest album has the delightful title Shittin' Bricks

It’s easy to dismiss metal bands of the ‘80s Sunset Strip based on their looks and image. Most of these bands had musical skills and could entertain an audience. Unfortunately, 90% of them didn’t do anything but blindly follow the Aqua-netted path Motley Crue had paved (and not as well). Money talks – that’s one of the differences between the metal rockers in “Decline II” and the punk rockers in “Decline I”. In the original Decline, the kids made music their way and embraced rebellion against the norm. In Decline II, it was all about fame and money.

The fans and groupies who lived the scene look back at the time fondly. To the causal observer, it was a gold mine for derision and acerbic, play by play music video commentary. After awhile, even disparaging the bands got monotonous. There wasn’t a lot of deviation from the fluffy-haired sex and partying formula, and hair metal succumbed to overexposure (and grunge) around 1991.

Highly recommended as a reminder of the “What were they thinking?” 1980s, Decline II is all sex and drugs, alcohol and ambition, with none of the cerebral or societal discourse of Decline I or III. But sometimes, as another ‘80s icon sang, girls (and boys) just wanna have fun .

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Runaways Bassist Jackie Fox: Kim Fowley Raped Me in 1975

Jackie Fox of the Runaways : Manager Kim Fowley Raped Me - The Huffington Post

Women, and especially teenage girls, had NO voice in the 1970s and for a good part of the 1980s regarding sexual assault. Even strong, ambitious women and girls could be at the mercy of a powerful (or conniving) man and wouldn’t be believed by anyone. Things started to change in the 1990s.

Kim Fowley, the Runaways manager, was given a pass for his behavior by many in the music scene because he was a colorful character and an all-around advocate for rock ‘n’ roll. While he seemed like a charismatic, but somewhat grating, huckster from afar, many people throughout the decades have related stories about being victimized/almost victimized or just plain creeped out by his behavior. (Read some of the comments underneath the article.)

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Single Review : Steve Hooker: Otis Lift Me/ Toots Shuffle

Otis Lift Me/Toots Shuffle
Pimphouse Records

This single from rockabilly guitarist Steve Hooker (formerly of The Heat and Boz and the Bozmen) has all the bluesy swagger we’ve come to expect from him. 

Both cuts are winners for fans of blues and rockabilly or anybody who likes to rock out.  Side A - Otis Lift Me is an infectious tune that will have you bopping around in no time.

Side B - Toots Shuffle is heavier, and boasts crunchy, commanding riffs. It’s an instrumental slow grind, with some down ‘n’ dirty harmonica spicing up the proceedings. 

Steve’s band tours extensively throughout the UK and Europe. Go to Stevehooker.co.uk to buy a copy of the single or check out tour dates.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Book Review: Candy Darling: Memoirs of an Andy Warhol Superstar by Candy Darling

Candy Darling by Candy Darling

 Memoirs of an Andy Warhol Superstar
 Open Road Media 

Candy Darling, Warhol superstar and one of the subjects of Lou Reed’s 1973 hit Walk on the Wild Side, fulfilled her dream of becoming a “movie star”, but in quite a different way than the Hollywood stars she idolized as a child. Along with Warhol’s other “chicks with dicks”, Holly Woodlawn and Jackie Curtis, Candy brought the drag/trans underworld out of the shadows and into the gossip columns.  Candy Darling: Memoirs of an Andy Warhol Superstar traces Candy’s journey from Massapequa Park to Manhattan and Warhol’s Factory in her own words. This short book is a collection of journal entries and stream of consciousness tidbits compiled from Candy’s notebooks.

Born in Long Island as James L. Slattery, to Theresa and Jim Slattery, young Jimmy was an outsider in cookie-cutter suburbia as a child. His mother Theresa worked for the phone company and divorced his father, Jim Slattery, an abusive alcoholic, when Jimmy was in grade school Young Jimmy poured over movie magazines and idolized the female stars of the time, especially Kim Novak. There are a few journal entries from his school days,(“I am in homeroom now. There’s a bunch of chicks in here but they all hate me. Someday I’ll be a movie star and that’s it! I’ll be rich and famous and have all the friends I want.”) He studied cosmetology and eventually made his way to Manhattan, where he underwent hormone therapy.

Now recreated as Candy Darling, she frequented gay bars and eventually met Andy Warhol. Warhol cast her in Flesh and later Women in Revolt aka Sex. After a few theatre credits (Tennessee Williams wrote a part in one of his plays for her), bit parts in the mainstream films Klute and Lady Liberty followed. Candy never got the film role she  wanted most of all though – Myra Breckenridge. She passed away at 30 from lymphoma, as a result of the estrogen injections she received.    

Candy Darling’s preface, written by documentary filmmaker James Rasin (Beautiful Darling: The Life and Times of Candy Darling, Andy Warhol Superstar and a introduction/setup by Candy’s friend Jeremiah Newton, familiarizes us with the subject. The entries from Candy’s journals include make-up tips, shopping lists, recipes and letters to friends. Candy writes about her struggles with identity, ambition to become a movie star, and the heartbreak and loneliness of being a transsexual. (She appears not to have any great love of her life). Despite her status as a Warhol superstar and fixture in the backroom of Max’s Kansas City, she had no money and slept on friends’ couches. Being a New York cult figure in the ‘60s and ‘70s made you famous; it didn’t necessarily make you rich.

“They don’t show love in movies anymore, just sex and violence. A man and woman are no longer idealized in pictures but they are shown as a couple of dogs in heat. ”Candy Darling

 Unpublished photo of Candy on the cover of Cosmo

Candy channeled her childhood idol Kim Novak and added a bit of Marilyn Monroe’s vulnerability to her persona. She exuded femininity and charm;when she was fully made-up and “on” strangers had no idea she had been born a man.

 Did anybody really know what a transgender person was in the early ‘70s? That’s probably one of the reasons Walk on the Wild Side became a hit. The public at large didn’t know (or didn’t care) what the lyrics meant.   

Well, maybe some people did. My Mom took me aside and asked me if I knew what Walk on the Wild Side was about. At 13 years old, my girlfriends and I knew the song’s meaning even without the media telling us – and we didn’t even know any gay people. Maybe all those underground zines we got through mail order enlightened us.

It was quite a different world 50 years ago. Now we have Bruce Jenner, Chaz Bono and transgendered teens constantly profiled on Yahoo news next to baseball scores. Back in the day it the different story, as Candy Darling’s colorful but tragic tale attests.  

Amazon Link: 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

How I Became a Hollywood Punk Rocker

                                                  Top Jimmy and the Rhythm Pigs

When I moved to Los Angeles (for the first time) in 1983, hard rock was my music of choice - hard rock as in Judas Priest, Van Halen, Black Sabbath, Ozzy, the Scorpions and UFO. I’d heard the Troubadour was the club for metal bands, so I decided to hang out there. Boy, was I in for a surprise! To a kid from the South Side of Chicago, seeing a metal band in a club meant dressing in jeans, a halter top and sneakers, having a few cheap beers and listening to some bluesy hard rock.

Little did I know I would stumble upon the birth of hair metal. The first time I walked into the place, only my platinum blond, permed hair fit in with the unofficial dress code. Seeing a bunch of musicians and clubgoers in leather, spandex, eye shadow and teased hair was nothing new to me. I was in junior high when glam rock was popular, and the first thing I said when I saw the back cover of Motley Crue’s EP Too Fast for Love in ’82 was “How cool! They look like the metal version of the New York Dolls.” I didn’t see Motley Crue at the Troubadour. The only time I ever saw them play was at the US Festival in May of ’83.

 Many of the bands I did see at the Troubadour were weak hybrids of the Crue and Van Halen. Many of them had a David Lee Roth impersonator as lead singer. This was understandable at the time, given Van Halen’s popularity. A blond dye job and obnoxious attitude by themselves did not make a convincing DLR clone, however. Dave dressed in assless chaps, “forgot the fuckin’ words”, banged a lotta girls and did a lot of coke, but he had a sense of humor, which his imitators lacked.

A few months after I moved to LA, I found out Vince Neil was going to join a band called Top Jimmy and the Rhythm Pigs at the Cathay de Grande, a punk rock club in Hollywood. The club was within walking distance of my apartment (i.e. weekly hotel room), so I checked it out. 

I walk downstairs to join about 10 other people in a basement club. The ceiling looks like it is about to fall down and this pudgy guy with dirty blonde hair  -Top Jimmy - is onstage, singing the blues. Everyone was dressed down, with clothes not from a leather shop or Trashy Lingerie, but from the Salvation Army. I strike up a conversation with the kid next to me, who was outfitted in a plaid shirt, homemade bondage pants and Doc Martens.

I look up to see Vince Neil onstage with Jimmy – I didn’t recognize Vince at first cause without his stage gear , he looked like a fresh-faced 16 year old – with perfect platinum blond hair. Then he started singing.

Damn, he could actually sing- he had a bellowy, bluesy voice.  It wasn’t at all like his Motley Crue screech ‘n’ scream vocals. This stellar display of bluesmanship didn’t last long, as Vince left the stage after a few numbers -or was it just one? It’s been a long time.

After Vince left, I bounded up the stairs, but was intercepted by a few of the club’s
patrons. By the time the night was over I had a new musical hangout. I made more friends and had more involved conversations the first few weeks at the Cathay than I had in months at the Troubadour. 

                                                  Not the shirt I had, but a reasonable facsimile

My musical transition was complete. I still kept my favorite T-shirt- a sleeveless white T-shirt with a line drawing of the Crue I got on Hollywood Blvd. I wonder if I would have discovered the Cathay, Top Jimmy and punk rock if Vince Neil hadn't sung with Jimmy that night. I guess you could say I became a Hollywood punk rock because of Vince Neil. (And, yes, I still like Motley Crue and heavy metal. I'm an equal opportunity listener.)   

After my introduction to Top Jimmy and the Rhythm Pigs, I traded in Aqua Net for Blue Mondays and my new punk rock friends. Many L.A. musicians and celebrities hung out at the Cathay – the members of X, the Minutemen, Nina Hagen, Jane Wiedlin, Timothy Leary, David Lee Roth, etc, and I met a few of them. And I met the infamous Mentors,  stars of the 1985 PMRC hearings there. And, yes, Top Jimmy was the inspiration for the Van Halen song. Sadly, Jimmy passed away in 2001

There was so much going on in the L.A. club scene then - Goths at the Batcave, the metal stuff on the strip and punk and its offshoots pretty much everywhere. Performance art and poetry readings were included at most of the clubs (except the metal ones). What a great time to be a carefree 20something in Hollywood!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Movie Review: Groupie Girl (aka I Am a Groupie) - British Psych-Pop Cinema, 1970

Not every girl who fancied musicians during the 1960s and early 1970s had the charisma or marketing chutzpah of Pamela Des Barres or Cynthia Plaster Caster. Girls competed for the attention of rock musicians the way girls vie for the attention – and pocketbooks - of entrepreneurs today. Most of the' 60s /'70s groupies, didn’t get a payoff or career boost, unlike today’s girls. No, they were just in it for the adventure. And some of those adventures weren’t much fun.

I Am A Groupie (aka Groupie Girl) is a depressing recreation of the late '60s/ early '70s groupie scene. The screenplay co-written by Derek Ford and Suzanne Mercer. Mercer was a former groupie for the 2nd tier British glam band Juicy Lucy, so that may be one of the reasons this movie is so realistic. It plays out like a dreary, low-rent version of Almost Famous.

Bored small town girl Sally (Esme Johns) attends a rock show and stays in the local dancehall after her friends have caught the last bus home. She likes the looks of the band’s lead singer, and stows away into their van while they load up after the gig. Sally hides in the back until halfway through the trip and suddenly introduces herself to the band. They aren’t too happy to see her, but make the most of it. When the band gets to their destination, it’s not exactly the Riot House on Sunset. In a bleak overhead shot, we see Sally walking around naked in the middle of four twin mattresses, each with one of the band members. But there’s no morning shag for her; she’s ordered to get the band coffee and cornflakes.  

There's not much of an emphasis on music in Groupie Girl. The original music is instantly forgettable. All the songs sound like watered-down Badfinger or the B-side from a 1970ish one-hit wonder band.
Sally wanders lackadaisically through the movie - or maybe the character is just supposed to be permanently stoned. Sally does ingest an entire hash cake near the end of the film, She passes out and avoids getting hauled off to jail with the band and another groupie. She wakes up and wanders into a room where a nice folk musician plays guitar. He  warns her that she’s just being used and will be tossed aside. At the film’s end, we find out he’s just as big of a jerk as the other blokes.   

 The only other female characters in the film are groupies, and catfights resulting in nudity ensue. There’s a sex party scene orchestrated by an older guy, who convinces the hippie kids it will be fun. One of the band members slyly avoids a pushy older woman, who’s obviously after him, during the free-for-all. In another scene, Sally is demoted to #3 groupie as one of the band members dallies with twins.  

In a final humiliation, she is, quite literally, passed from one band to another in one scene with tragic consequences. This leads to a cover-up by the band’s sleazy manager – and Sally is sent packing by film’s end.

Groupie Girl is a somber and interesting period piece – much more watchable than you might expect, given the subject matter. It’s Brit-psych exploitation with a serious thread running through it. It reminds me of Up the Junction and other films about working-class England in the '60s and '70s more than soft core exploitation. Groupie Girl bears no resemblance to the free-spirited “the music is all that matters”/"I'm a muse" credo of Almost Famous. The groupie scene in this film is the flipside to all that feel-good, Band-Aid glamour. You can watch the movie for free on YouTube. (see below)

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Book Review : They Made a Monkee Out of Me by Davy Jones -2014 Reissue

They Made a Monkee Out of Me
Davy Jones with Alan Green
A Book’s Mind, 248 pages

Davy’s long out of print autobiography, They Made a Monkee Out of Me, is now available as a paperback and Kindle e-book on Amazon.com. For years, you had to either find an expensive, dog-eared copy from a reseller or buy it as an audiobook, with Davy reading it! The audiobook is still available.

The 248 page reissue is a informative, fun and sometimes melancholy trip through Davy’s life from his upbringing in Manchester to the 1986 Monkees reunion. (The book was first published in January 1987).

Some of the book is silly and over the top like Davy could be, but its also much more than that. Davy’s memoir is funny and self-deprecating, but it’s also brutally honest and self-aware. His co-author, Alan Green, contributes excerpts that are a bit more journalistic and even handed in their approach.

Davy sugarcoats the chapters about his childhood with humor, but you can still sense the pain. There’s s a sadness to his childhood the prose can’t hide. His family lived in a working-class neighborhood in Manchester, and Davy’s Mom Doris died when he was still in school. He went right from this hard-scrabbled but loving childhood to a jockey apprenticeship and then onto showbiz, appearing on Coronation Street in the UK and Oliver! in the UK and on Broadway.

He writes about the non-stop practicing and improvising in the early days of the Monkees, his friendships with Keith Moon and Harry Nilsson, and encounters with crazy fans (and nice ones!)
As for his Monkee bandmates, he seems to have the most reverence for Peter. Sure, he makes fun of Peter’s brown rice and waterbed phase in the ‘60s, but also says Peter was the most talented musician in the group. Peter also adds a short anecdote to the book, writing about  slugging Davy during the filming of “The Monkees’ Paw”.

About his first meeting with Mike, he jokes “I didn’t like the looks of this. He was slim, dark-haired and good-looking.”

Davy reserves a bit of rancor for Micky, nicknaming him “Skillet Face.” He obviously had a lot of admiration and respect for Micky, but they had a love/hate relationship, at least at the time the book was written in 1986. They hadn’t talked for years before the 1986 reunion.
Davy makes a lot of funny asides about his drinking in the book. His drinking problem was a lot worse than he let on, but at least he was self aware about all his problems, including bad business decisions.

I get the sense Davy was on his own most of the time in regards to business matters (or he was led astray by people he trusted). He got swindled a lot because of it. There are several pictures of contracts and business letters attesting to this. Of course, Davy being as stubborn as he was, maybe he wouldn’t have listened to legitimate business advice anyway! And there was a lot of underlying sadness from his childhood, his father’s death and all the clutter caused by the Monkees’ quick fame.

A few Davy quotes from the book –

 About breaking the ice when Mike got combative with Micky and Peter:
 “Pick on someone your own size.”  I was looking him straight in the stomach.
 About being broke in the early ‘70s:
 “A lot of people are surprised you came out of that whole thing with so little,” says a radio interviewer.
 “Not at all. Can you lend me a fiver?”
 About Micky:
“We rub each other the wrong way – like whenever we’re in the same country.”
Davy writes about his pursuit of - and marriage to - his first wife Linda, doing an impromptu striptease at the Caddyshack premiere in London (in front of his mortified second wife Anita), showering himself with salad in front of his new bandmates at a Denny’s, and other typical Davy antics. He even donned scuba gear and clown nose to get a laugh out of a humorless theater co-star during his post-Monkees days. (It didn’t work.)

Even if Davy’s not your favorite Monkee, you should read They Made a Monkee Out of Me. It doesn’t look like Peter or Mike will write autobiographies. (Peter started one, but shelved it. I think some pages from it appeared on Naked Persimmon). So that means we just have Micky and Davy’s side of the story. It shows how debilitating the rags to riches to rags phenomenon can be. As Davy wrote near the end of the book, “Everything we promoted we got to keep…except ourselves.”