This Music Video Monday, there's a new sheriff in town.
The Band CAMINO has released a new music video, the first from their new album Heaven, which will drop on June 2. . "Who Says We're Through" was beautifully directed by Josh Stephans. it puts the band in a Old West setting, with singer Spencer Stewart wearing the tin star, about to draw down with a black hatted bad man, as the rest of the band looks on from the porch of a log cabin. Then... well, I'll just let you watch the video to see what happens next. But if you want to see The Band CAMINO, (caps THEIRS), they'll be headlining the Hear 901 Music Festival at The Bluff on Friday, April 28.
If you would like to see your music video on Music Video Monday, email email@example.com
The current “epidemic” of recreational opioid drug use just goes to show you that everything old is new again. The world runs in cycles. Once everyone forgets how awful/awesome something is, it comes back around. Fascists, I’m looking at you—particularly the fascists sprung on oxy.
Long before the American white working class lost hope and found pharma, the flower of Scotland’s youth did it. Dismal weather, lack of jobs, and a football-besotted culture of toxic masculinity put the Scots on the smack back in the gone-gone grunge era of the 1990s. Granted, it was the stepped-on brown stuff smuggled by haji through the Khyber Pass, not pure, white pills ganked from grandma’s Medicare-funded cancer meds, so score another for American exceptionalism, I guess. USA!
The last time the smack was flowing through our veins leading to centers in our heads, we were in the early states of an indie film revolution. In America, it was QT and RR. In England, it was Danny Boyle, a nerdy upstart who knocked one out of the park adapting literary bad boy Irvine Welsch’s cult novel Trainspotting. Perhaps inspired by his junkie characters’ fetishization of Brian Eno, David Bowie, and Iggy Pop, Boyle made the most of his modest budget by looking to 70s art cinema for visual inspiration. No dutch angle was too extreme, no composition too expressive. But it was his cutting that set him apart: fast for the pre-digital era, but not so fast as to lose visual coherence. In 1996, Trainspotting was madness, but there was clearly method.
The standout in the Trainspotting ensemble of dead ender Edinburgers was one Ewen McGregor, who subsequently hit the big time playing young Obi Wan Kenobi and singing opposite Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge. Boyle’s star continued to rise as well, culminating in eight Academy Awards for his 2008 film Slumdog Millionaire. But Trainspotting was lightning in a bottle, still studied for its hyper hip artistry, even as the players it elevated matured into mainstreamers. When Boyle got the band back together for a sequel, twenty years later, who knew if it could still work?
T2 Trainspotting is based on Welsch’s 2002 sequel Porno. The three mates from the projects, Mark (McGregor), Simon “Sick Boy” Wiliamson (Johnny Lee Miller), and Spud (Ewen Bremmer), have somehow lived into middle age, as has their frenemy Franco (Robert Carlyle). Simon and Spud are still in Edinbough. Simon is ostensibly running his family’s failing pub, while making his real living crafting blackmail schemes with his on and off Eastern European girlfriend Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova). Spud’s back on the smack after a messy divorce and series of horrible misunderstandings brought on by the switch to Daylight Savings Time. Franco is, of course, in jail for robbery and assault, but he busts out just in time for the return of Mark from Amsterdam, where he fled with 16,000 pounds of the gang’s money at the end of the first film. Mark, too, had a bad divorce, and his well paying desk job is on the way out thanks to a corporate merger. So he decides to stay in Edinburgh for a while to put a business face on Simon’s idea for a high class brothel to be run by Madame Veronika. Needless to say, creative larceny, bad sex, and betrayal ensue.
There can’t be another Trainspotting, of course, but upon exiting the theater, my first words were “Where has THIS Danny Boyle been for the last decade?” His Aaron Sorkin-penned Steve Jobs biopic was formally inventive, as always, but T2 is the uncut Boyle funk—restless, visually witty, evocative, and cool. The Boyle I like is not the sentimentalist of Slumdog Millionaire, it’s the guy who says “Projection mapping looks like fun. Let’s try some of that!” The story is episodic and character driven, as was the original, but it lacks a certain sense of urgency and danger. Maybe that’s because the cast is clearly having so much fun, they can barely contain themselves. Nineties niihlism has worn thin for everybody—turns out dysphemism is less fun when there’s actual apocalypse in the air—which reduces the proceedings to a lighter, cops-and-robbers exercise.
Making Trainspotting into a psychedelic Ocean’s 11 is completely forgivable when the riffs are this sharp. The soundtrack is all aces, with Prodigy remixing “Lust For Life”, and punk classics like “(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais” rubbing shoulders with Fat White Family. The updated “Choose Life!” speech, which Mark delivers to Veronika in an upscale bar while trying to get in her pants, falls flat, but when Simon gets up in Mark’s face and accuses him of being “a tourist in your own youth”, the punch lands both on McGregor and the audience. Maybe Gen X has a little snarl left after all.
Sameer Shirazze writes, "I am very interested in being featured in the Music Video Mondays, as I have discovered several artists through this and would like to keep it growing."
Flattery will get you everywhere, Sameer. This wise young man raps under the name XVII. His new single "Exits" goes down smooth. It's the first taste of his album Waves, which drops next week. The video, featuring dancer Rachael Arnwin, was directed by SHAM and shot by MUUS. Come get some:
If you want to follow Sameer's example and see your music video on Music Video Monday, email firstname.lastname@example.org
For this edition of Never Seen It, I was invited by Memphis Flyer Senior Editor Jackson Baker to join the Political Cinema Club for a Studio on the Square screening of 1984. The Political Cinema Club is not a formal group so much as a loose, rotating bunch of cinephiles who work in politics and sometimes get together for movie nights.
The film was a big screen adaptation of George Orwell's seminal science fiction novel by director Michael Radford. It was shot during the exact same period of time that Orwell, writing in 1948, set his novel: April-June, 1984. It starred John Hurt as Winston Smith, Suzanna Hamilton as Julia, and Richard Burton, in his last role, as O'Brien. It was also one of the earliest feature films shot by Roger Deakins, who would go on to produce visual masterpieces such as No Country For Old Men and Fargo with the Coen Brothers.
The film was recently re-released for a week's theatrical run, and it proved to be terrifyingly relevant to our current political situation. In addition to me and Mr. Baker, the group consisted of Reginald Milton, County Commissioner, District 10; John Gammel, a retired civil servant, artist Peggy Turley; Steve Mulroy, Associate Dean at the University of Memphis School of Law and a former County Commissioner, and David Cocke, Democratic activist and lawyer.
Peggy Turley: I knew nothing about this film. I don’t know where I was in 1984.
Chris McCoy: It was a laugh a minute!
PT: I feel beaten down. It wasn’t easy.
Jackson Baker: That was what you’d call ponderous, actually.
Richard Burton as O'Brien in 1984.
John Gammel: I didn't know that was Richard Burton’s last film.
PT: He was almost unrecognizable. His eyes and his voice were the only recognizable things.
JG: And John Hurt, he was accused of being 45 in the movie, but if he was 45, he was rode hard and put up wet.
Chris McCoy: It’s like he was born old.
JB: It took an effort of imagination to see him with her! (Suzanna Hamilton, who played Julia)
CM: Griding dystopias will take it out of you. Had you ever seen it before?
JG: I think I tried to watch it once, but it gets off to a slow start…
CM: You were like, “OH MY GOD, WHAT IS HAPPENING?”
JG: It’s a little grim.
Suzanna Hamilton as Julia
CM: Steve, have you ever seen the movie before?
Steve Mulroy: No. I read the book, of course.
CM: Everybody reads it when they’re young. I read “Politics and the English Language” when I was about nine years old. Way too young.
SM: I think I read it when I was a freshman in college for a politics and literature course.
CM: I was a kid who read sci fi compulsively, and the essay was in the back of my copy of 1984. So what did you think?
SM: It was about what I expected. A slow, ponderous, depressing treatment of the subject, that would be visually interesting, because I read about that color thing they did. [A process known as “bleach bypass” was used on the film, which creates a washed out, desaturated color palette while retaining the sharpness of the image.] It reminded me of the [Francois Truffaut] adaptation of Fahrenheit 451. I admire them for tackling such difficult and important work, and of course the work itself has a great message and is historically important, but as cinema, I dunno. It was hard to take.
CM: Hitchcock said that mediocre books make the best movies. You can’t make a great movie out of a great book, because it’s too dependent on the language. In this case, 1984 the book is all exposition.
SM: It’s all going on inside Winston’s head… How many times did you read the book?
CM: Seems like eight or nine times. It was one of my faves. I think it may have influenced me a little too much. But I haven’t read it in a long time. I remember that there was more than one visit with O’Brien in the book.
SM: He also did a better job in the book of establishing Winston’s deep seated fear of rats. There were times that a rat would appear in the apartment, their love nest, and he would freak out. So by the time they did the horrible torture in the end, it was already baked in. In this one, it seemed like it came out of nowhere.
CM: The imagery was there. He went back and his mom was not there, but the rats were there.
SM: Hurt is a fantastic actor. He had absolutely no vanity in making himself look horrible. Richard Burton did his usual job, but it kinda felt like he was phoning it in.
CM: The idea of Richard Burton is always better than actual Richard Burton. Except for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf.
[We decamped to Bosco's for beers and a more intense discussion]
JB: Do you remember the scene in Cabaret, where the Nazi gets up and sings “The future belongs to me” and the old folks are looking like, what’s going on? That exactly paralleled the opening scene. There were older people in the audience who were looking bewildered.
CM: How the kids were portrayed throughout is the creepiest part.
JG: Although the kids looked not as grim. Life for everyone in the outer party is pretty grim. They’re all in blue uniforms, and devoid of anything happy. The kids at least are clean.
CM: They seem to be enjoying it.
JG: They’re cleaner and they’re happier. Everyone was dirty. I just wonder, in our world, it’s so bright and shiny. For me, that was a real question. If you took all of the grimness out of that movie, what would be left?
CM: You mean the visual grimness?
JG: I mean the grimness of life. People were living lives that were tiny.
JB: The Nazis at least could craft a good story. They took care of their kids. They took them on cruises and played around. There were fairs and festivals that brought the people together, going beyond the nasty torchlight assemblies. It portrayed a situation so dystopian, I could not believe in it. There has to be a carrot…
CM: In a successful dystopia, there’s a carrot as well as a stick.
JB: If that’s how you define success for a dystopia.
SM: That might be a criticism of dystopias in real life. In the book, it was all stick and no carrot. It was as grim in the book as it was in the movie.
JB: It is a criticism of Orwell, but it really came across in the movie.
CM: The carrots are for the Inner Party.
SM: Orwell’s point, though, and it may not be convincing—Jackson, I don’t think is convinced—is that if you constantly rewrote history, and constantly changed language, with new editions of the dictionary, slimming it down, you can do such an effective job of brainwashing people that maybe you wouldn’t need the carrots any more. You could so completely brainwash people and control their thinking that your dystopia would still work.
JB: When that movie came out, I was working in Washington DC working for a Democratic congressman. It was 1984, and Reagan was president. The reason I never dragged myself to see the movie was, I figured if 1984 was about a dystopia, well, we already had the dystopia! We already had morning in America. We already had the Evil Empire. That dystopia was organized around greed. If you’re going to do that, you have to have a carrot.
CM: Does everyone always think they’re living in a dystopia? In 1984, you thought “Wow. We’ve hit rock bottom. This is no longer America...”
JB: It could have gone further, and it did!
SM: Every time you think we’ve hit rock bottom, it gets worse.
JG: I thought I was living in a dystopia until I moved to Memphis
David Cocke: First of all, it’s all relative. Orwell was just coming out of the worst totalitarian episodes, with World War II and Russia. His model was Communism.
CM: He was a disillusioned socialist.
DC: But even in France you had totalitarianism during the war. It was a whole experience of living in this grim, warlike, thought controlled society.
JB: Have any of you read Homage to Catalonia, Orwell’s book about his experiences during the Spanish Civil War? It was incredible.
DC: The thought control, the conformity that warps the independent mind, exists not only in the grim totalitarian moments, but also in social conformity. There are elements in our culture today, but none of us feel like what we saw in that movie. I think the Vietnam War was the closest this country has come to that environment.
CM: You mean the state of constant war? Because we’ve been in a state of constant war for 16 years. There are kids today who can drive who have never known anything but America at war.
DC: I’m not arguing with you, but the number of people involved in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the number of deaths assosicated with those wars is miniscule compared to Vietnam.
JG: In Iraq and in Syria? Civilian deaths have been…
DC: I’m not talking about civilian deaths. They are other people in another world. They are on TV, but they’re not us. What we saw on TV in the 1960s was our kids getting shot, not the Vietnamese getting shot.
CM: I know kids who I grew up with who did multiple tours in Afghanistan.
PT: In the film, they were constantly seeing images of war on television. But a lot of that was just theater, right? It was not necessarily real war.
DC: And our armies are professionals, by the way. They’re volunteering.
SM: I think maybe you’re both right. Orwell wanted just enough war to distract the populace and control the populace. Then he took it farther, and they were at the brink of starvation. But that’s not the real world model in America. The real world model in America is to have just enough war to rally everyone around the flag, but not enough to actually cause sacrifice on the part of the public. George W. Bush after 9/11 said, everyone go shopping. We’re supposed to keep the same standard of living, and keep in the back of their mind that there’s a war out there, and we all have to be loyal.
CM: It’s the invisible army against the invisible enemy. That seemed very familiar to me.
JG: I think the War On Terror is as close to that situation as is possible, really. The absence of real war is a part of it. The domestic impact of the War on Terror has been in terms of the whole militarization of the country, and how that affected policing. I mean, police have always been ruffians, to a certain extent, but they’ve never in history been as entitled. They have been totally militarized. What is it, evil empire…
PT: "Bad hombres" today.
SM: With Bush it was the Axis of Evil.
JG: Only after 9/11 did you hear majors and colonels going on TV and saying, “We’re going after the bad guys.” That’s not a military term. It’s “The enemy”. In the military, the enemy is honorable.
SM: I thought it was interesting in that, another way the film was faithful to the book was that the proles seemed less brainwashed and really happier. If there’s any hope, it’s from the proles. When you left the main sector and went into the forbidden proletariat sector, there was at least some genuine happiness. Even the old washer woman who was singing a propaganda song created real beauty. That was the one shred of hope.
JB: There was a lot more of that in the book than the movie.
DC: In other words, it was the middle class who took the brunt of the dystopia.
JB: If you want a real example of an Orwellian dystopia today, look at North Korea.
PT: Oh yeah. That’s why I don’t think there’s a need for carrots. They are dark and beaten down, observed, and controlled.
Reginald Milton: I agree with you on that. To the elites, the enemy is actually the people themselves. There is a group who are empowered and who have a good quality of life, and everyone outside of that is the real enemy.
JB: We are their Eurasia.
RM: Right. North Korea is the same. It’s basically using people as tools to prop up a very small segment who are enjoying a high quality of life. Then there’s the situation in Cuba, where, when President Obama opened up relations, the Cuban government still attacked Obama, because at the end of the day, they still had to have an enemy. If they didn’t have an enemy, the people might go “Wait a minute, who IS our enemy? Who is to blame for all of these problems?" So the reality is that, this is how it’s always been. Imagine a boot, stamping on a human face, forever. That’s exactly what the North Korean government is. It’s an oppressive government that caters to a small segment and uses the masses to maintain them.
CM: The Eurasian government, and the East Asian Government, and the Airstrip One government—the inner parties in all three of those have more in common with each other than they have with the people they are supposed to be governing. They’re all using the same tactics to maintain power.
DC: In the book, were they real? Or were they manufactured?
CM: They were real, and the war was real. They would have skirmishes, but they weren’t having a war where they were trying to win. It was perpetual war to keep the people in line.
DC: Well, that’s what we have in this country now, right?
CM: Yeah. The idea was to eat up the excess economic production.
PT: It’s like what just happened, with the missile strikes in Syria.
SM: This is the first time I’ve actually wondered if it was real, though. Under W., I never doubted that they honestly, sincerely believed their line about evildoers. There were neocons who wanted to remake the Middle East in their own image, and they were using terrorism as an excuse. But they definitely wanted a real war. With Trump, I don’t know what he wants. It might not be real.
CM: Reginald, your point about how there has to be an enemy applies to Trump. When he started flailing was when he suddenly didn’t have an Obama or a Hillary to push around any more. They keep trying to push Hillary and Obama back out into the news, because they need an enemy, or else his incompetence becomes obvious.
JG: Best case in point: Gun sales are down 26%.
DC: The reason they were hoarding the guns is that they were afraid the liberals were going to take over and take them away. Now they don’t need them.
JG: The NRA made a deal with the Kalishnikov factory to lobby to get restrictions on their sales lifted in the United States.
CM: The elites have more in common with each other than they do with their own countrymen.
SM: Just like the pigs and the famers had more in common with each other than they did with the other animals in Animal Farm, which is also Orwell.
CM: That’s the children’s book version of 1984.
SM: Jackson said earlier about the carrots and the sticks. I think the carrot model of dystopia is Brave New World, where everything is bright and shiny, and they used drugs to control the populace.
JB: I think that’s closer to where we are.
CM: Here’s to soma!
[This fascinating conversation went on for another hour, and there was much more than I could possibly transcribe, so I will leave it here.]
Today's Music Video Monday will make you go "A-Ha!"
The University of Memphis' music department has its own record label—Blue Tom Records, which gives students invaluable, hands-on experience in the chaotic world of the twenty first century music industry. Their biggest annual event is the Hear901 Festival. Now in its third year, Hear901 features the University of Memphis' best bands, all on one stage. This year's festival will take place on Friday, April 28 at The Bluff on Highland (formerly Newby's for all you old schoolers out there). Sharing the stage with Haley Daniels, Flirting With Sincerely, Sonic Pulse, Kyndle McMahan, and headliners The Band CAMINO, is Aaron James. The indie folker serves up polished tunes on his new Blue Tom release Caught In The Corner of a Half Moon.
James' new music video takes a page from the classic MTV playbook. "The Wile" combines hand-drawn rotoscoped animation by Shakeya Merriweather with live action footage of dancers Rachael Arnwine and Fannie Hortonm, shot by Eli WIlson. The effect will be familiar if you've ever seen the 1985 classic "Take On Me" video from Norwegian synth popsters A-Ha, but these young filmmakers take the trope to a new, intimate place.
If you would like to see your music video appear on Music Video Monday, email email@example.com
Last year, Memphis hip hop polymath Don Lifted topped the Memphis Flyer's list of best music videos. For "Take Control of Me", from his Alero album, he teamed up with his frequent collaborator, director Kevin Brooks for four minutes of sinister menace, starring Catherine Patton, Betram Williams, Jr., and the Don himself, Lawrence Matthews.
If you would like to see your music video on Music Video Monday, email firstname.lastname@example.org
In this installment of Never Seen It, I sat down with the boss, Memphis Flyer Editor Bruce VanWyngarden, to check out Stanley Kubrick's infamous, 1971 low-budget masterpiece A Clockwork Orange. We were joined by my wife Laura Jean, and a couple of bottles of red wine.
BEFORE THE MOVIE
Chris McCoy: What do you know about A Clockwork Orange?
Bruce VanWyngarden: I’m sure back in the day I read a lot about it. I know it’s Kubrick, I know about the Droogs, and I know there’s a lot of violence, and it’s set in some kind of futuristic Great Britain.
CM: Why didn’t you ever get around to seeing it?
BVW: I was probably stoned. When it came out, I was probably 17 or 18. When did it come out?
CM: 1971. After 2001: A Space Odyssey, Kubrick was going to do Napoleon. It was going to be huge—there was going to be 40,000 extras, he was literally going to recreate Waterloo. It never happened. I have a .pdf of the script on my hard drive, but I’ve never actually read it. The whole thing fell apart, and he said, “Screw it, I’m going to make a movie with one light kit.” And that’s what this is.
BVW: My wife’s mother made her watch this over and over again. She was really into it. They were living in France out in the country, and it was one of the few VHS tapes she had. I asked her if she wanted to come see this, and she said no, she had seen it too many times already. She was like, I can’t believe you never saw this! I said, That’s the whole point of the column...At the time, there was suddenly a lot more nudity in movies. I was watching stuff like Blow Up, and my mind was being blown. How did I miss this one? I don’t know.
DURING THE MOVIE
[Alex returns to his bedroom after a long night of rape and pillage to listen to Beethoven]
BVW: The micro cassette was advanced technology in 1970!
[Alex’s mother is revealed to have purple hair]
CM: People in the future really do have purple hair!
BVW: That woman has Eileen Townsend hair.
[Alex picks up two girls at the record store]
BVW: Everyone is sucking on popsicle dicks!
CM: There are a lot of dicks in this movie.
[The infamous time lapse menage a trois]
CM: This has got to be one of the greatest single takes in movie history.
BVW: I wonder how long that really took?
(I looked it up: 23 minutes)
[Alex is sentenced for his crimes]
BVW: 14 years for murder. He got off easy.
CM: You just wait.
[While reading the bible in the prison library, Alex imagines himself as one of the Roman guards taking Christ to the cross.]
BVW: Oh my god! Do you know how many movies he’s been in? He’s acted in 258 movies! That’s an average of 7 movies a year! That guy works.
CM: He works. And that was because of A Clockwork Orange. Every single director wants him to do Alex.
BVW: He should have gotten the Oscar for that eyeball thing alone.
CM: They scratched his corneas and he went temporarily blind.
BVW: You couldn’t get away with that today. That would be CGI. I hope he got paid a lot of money for this role.
AFTER THE MOVIE
BVW: It started out just as intense and crazy and violent as I had expected, except for the cartoonish character of the violence. I watch violent movies now, and I just turn away. I can’t stand it. But like in the early scenes where they’re fighting and beating up the old man, there’s nothing I can’t look at. It wasn’t as horrible as I thought it was going to be.
Laura Jean Hocking: When the woman gets killed with the big penis sculpture, I can’t watch that.
BVW: I couldn’t watch that, either.
CM: He went totally abstract during that killing.
BVW: There was no visual of it.
CM: t’s like a comedy and a horror at the same time.
BVW: That’s what I expected: Horrible violence and drugs and futuristic shit. But the rest of it, by the third act, I was ready for it to end. I was not as compelled by it by the time it ended as I was in the beginning. It’s totally front loaded…Halfway through the third act, I had to pee. I was like, I’m done with this. But you said it was almost over, and my bladder made it. I was thinking, where is all this going to go? Alex is obviously going to be an evil fuck again. I get it.
LJH: I loved the paparazzi swooping in.
CM: The press is the ultimate bad guy in this movie.
LJH: They validate everyone’s bad behavior.
CM: The motivation of the journalist whose wife was raped and killed in the first act was to ultimately distort society. It’s arguably the greater evil than this thug at the center of the whole thing. As a journalist, that’s weird.
BVW: Oh yeah. I think, after seeing it, Malcolm McDowell should have gotten an award for the greatest physical abuse ever taken by an actor. It was amazing the shit he went through.
LJH: The eyelid thing! Aaaahhh!
BVW: The eyelid thing, and the drowning! He was underwater for a long time!
CM: There are all these huge, long takes, but it ultimately drags. The individual scenes work, but it really doesn’t hold together in the end.
BVW: Maybe it was the wine, but I was dragging at the end. There were not enough tits, not enough beatings, just a whole lot of close ups of people’s faces, leering.
CM: Something I noticed this time was, Kubrick was really excited about his lens choice….When we went to L.A. In 2013, there was a Kubrick exhibit at LACMA…
LJH: There was an entire room that was just his lenses. It was like pornography.
[Extended, largely incoherent discussion of Carl Zeiss lenses, Watergate, Trump, and mid-century modern architecture ensues.]
CM: So, here’s what the ultimate point of the movie, or the text, is supposed to be. Anthony Burgess, the writer, his wife was raped and beaten by a bunch of drunk American soldiers during World War II.
CM: Yes. The novel came from that experience. The central question is, what if you had a technology that could change a person from a criminal to an ideal citizen? Whoever gets to decide what an ideal citizen is. Is Alex actually able to exercise free will and do good, and do his good works have any meaning, as Christian morality would suggest? Or is he just faking it? Is he a robot? It he like an orange, an actual orange that you could eat, or is he a clockwork orange, a fake orange that you can’t eat and therefore has no value? So that’s supposedly the deeper meaning of all this violence and stuff. The one scene when he’s in the theater and he’s the entertainment and they’re all debating about the Luduvoco technique, the priest stands up and says, “If he can’t make a choice between good or evil, this doesn’t matter. Why are we doing this?” That’s the most crucial scene in the movie. Did you get any of that from the movie?
Music Video Monday is on a Thursday and its time to PANIC!
On Friday, March 31 at the New Daisy Theatre, Dead Soliders is throwing a record release party for their third release The Great Emptiness. The band's electrifying live shows and careful song craft have made them one of Memphis' favorites, landing them on the Memphis Flyer's Best of Memphis Best Band list. For the new record, guitarist and vocalist Michael Jasud says, third time's the charm. ““If you make furniture, is the first table you make going to be the best? No! The last table you make is going to be the best one...If you want longevity, then lightening in a bottle is not the way to go about it. If it happens by accident, that might make a great record, but it doesn’t necessarily speak to the artistry behind it.”
"Prophets of Doom" is is the galloping first single from The Great Emptiness. The band indulges in a little media criticism, calling out the Fox News fearmongers and self-serving propagandists with lines like "We've got to keep you scared to keep our jobs." In the video, directed by Jasud and shot and edited by Joey Miller and Sam Shansky, the band hits the streets to get the wrd out about the dangers of Candy Crush invites.
For more about Dead Soldiers new record, check out the music feature in next week's Flyer. Meanwhile, I'll leave with a little more media criticism from Jasud: “I think the modern comic book movie is one of the worst things that’s ever happened to cinema. They’ve made enough of them, they’re using all the money, Hollywood won’t take chances any more, because they can just spend $300 million on an X-Men movie that has the exact same plot as every other superhero movie. I don’t care about aliens destroying the earth any more. I don’t care about ANYTHING destroying the Earth. In fact, I want something to destroy the Earth for real. I don’t want to go to work tomorrow. So I guess that’s why people go to see superhero movies, but I don’t like them, either.”
And now, Music Video Monday brings you a new Weirdo.
I know what you're saying. "If there's one thing Memphis has plenty of, it's weirdos." But we (and by "we", I mean "I', because it's pretty much just me doing this MVM thing) have a new weirdo for you, and he's the kind of high quality weirdo you expect from Memphis. His name is A Weirdo From Memphis, and you've got to respect the fact that he's just putting it all out there like that. Not only does he have a smooth, smart flow, but he tops it all off with a floppy pink anime hat.
In "America's Perverted Gentlemen (Drawls)", he's joining bass virtuoso MonoNeon for a towed skateboard trip down Madison Avenue. The crew makes a short stop at venerable Memphis smoke shop Whatever, because this kind of weird doesn't just make itself. You have to work at it.
Today's Music Video Monday is gonna patch things up.
We're going to wish you a happy first day of spring with a world premiere from Memphis duo Idle & Wild. Caleb Sigler and Sara Jo Cavitch have been playing together since meeting in church in 2014, and they have just released their first single "Come A Little Closer", a bubbly homage to togetherness recorded at the Gove Studio. “Every person involved was not only someone we respect at what they create,” Sigler said, “but also a dear friend.” The song is now available on iTunes, Amazon, and Bandcamp. Idle&Wild will be performing at Lafayette's Music Room on Thursday, March 30.
This video, directed by Noah Glenn of Choose901, depicts Singler and Cavitch as relationship repair service, helping out a pair of lovers in a spaghetti fueled spat. It's joyful ending montage of happy couples is just what you need to brighten your Monday.
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Cinephiles looking for entertainment on hump night are in luck this Wednesday.
You'll be loving Bowie as the alien in The Man Who Fell To Earth
At the Brooks Museum, Memphis underground filmmaker and Bowie scholar Mike McCarthy is presenting a night of art and film devoted to Ziggy Stardust. The main attraction is Nicholas Roeg's 1976 sci fi classic, The Man Who Fell To Earth. It's David Bowie's greatest film role, an inadvertent portrait of a man at the end of his rope. I've always thought the movie looked a little washed out, but as you can see from this trailer, the brand new 4K digital remastering has really brought out the subtleties in Roeg's color sense. An art making reception begins at 6 PM at the Brooks, with the film program, featuring McCarthy and U of M professor Virginia Soloman, staring at 7 PM.
Across town at the Malco Ridgeway Grill, Indie Memphis' Wednesday film series presents this year's Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner The Russian Woodpecker. It's an experimental documentary by Russian artist Fedor Alexandrovich, in which the filmmaker and crew explore mysteries of the former Soviet Union deep inside the Chernoybl Exclusion Zone. If that doesn't sound spooky enough for you, try this trailer on for size.
Jennifer Burris is back as Crown Vox, Memphis' gothic synth pop queen, with a world premiere! In "Ruler Of The Ball", she's taking drastic steps to maintain her hold on the realm—and some of the steps are backwards. Vox's spooky, atmospheric song was produced by Eliot Ives at Young Ave. Sound. The video was directed by Mitch Martin, and shot by Gabe DeCarlo in the Annesdale Mansion. Robert Fortner returns in his role as Vox's chief antagonist, a role he originated in last year's "No Loving But Yours" video, and this time he's brought along a squad of bannermen. I think I speak for all music video directors in saying that we hope to one day make something that needs Six Corolino's services as weapons master. So while we're waiting for the belated Game Of Thrones season premiere, here's four minutes of sinister, sword-wielding bliss.
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The big news from the third episode of Sun Records is that Johnny Cash finally got something cool to do.
The episode opened with him hanging with his buddies in a beer hall in Landsberg, Germany where he was stationed in the early 1950s. (Idlewild Presbyterian Church's Fellowship Hall gets a featured cameo as the watering hole.) At the prodding of his buddies, Cash busts out into an impromptu oom-pah song, wowing the crowd. This is the first time Kevin Fonteyne has shown believable talent as a singer—although I have no idea if he actually sang himself—and I started to possibly buy into his Cash portrayal. Later, Cash shows his introspective side as he passes up the opportunity to see a movie in the base lounge to sit by himself with his guitar, working out some songs. He gets a big idea when his buddy casually mentions Folsom prison. We all know where that's going.
Col. Tom continues to be the most compelling character in the series. When he first see him this week, he's getting some heat from his bookie—turns out the Colonel likes to gamble, and his eye for the ponies is not as well developed as his eye for singing talent. Nevertheless, his grandiosity is in full effect. He's already starting to refer to himself in the third person. “Are you proposing impropriety on the Colonel's part?” he says to Eddy Arnold.
But while his gambling instincts may be faulty, his hucksterism is on point. He sells fans to the fans at the un-air conditioned Peabody Dog Patch Jamboree. The show is a Memphis musician cameo-fest: The Subteens' Mark Aiken gets a line as the stage manager, and guitar slinger John Paul Keith gets a double cameo as two different guitar players! He's like Clark Kent, just take off the glasses and you're somebody else. Had I not been familiar with JPK, I might not have noticed his duplicity, which is a tribute to the skill of the makeup and costume folks. If there's one thing Sun Records has been consistently good at, it's deploying all of the budget- and time-saving tricks in the book.
Meanwhile, Eddy Arnold's career is blowing up, but he's getting wise to Col. Tom's chicanery. The Colonel's already got another mark—Hank Snow, played by St. Louis musician Pokey LaFarge—so he fires the client before Snow releases him.
Back at our titular studio, Sam, Dewey, and B.B. King are pretty pleased with their recordings, but label head Joe Bihari (Mike Horton) is not so turned on to "all the hep stuff blasting out of Beale Street." The future arrives out front of Sun in the form of Ike Turner (Kerry D. Holliday in his screen debut) and his band, causing a commotion with the racist proprietors of the car dealership across the street. On the one hand, I applaud the show for taking the controversial "racism is bad, OK?" stance, but the whole sequence where Sam and Dewey stand up to the bigots—as well as the characterization of Ike is pretty cringeworthy.
Not that Ike Turner was a good guy in real life. Far from it. When they can't come up with the $3.98 it takes to record at Sun, they naturally head down to Beale Street, where Ike tries to pimp a waitress named Wanda into singing for his band at Sun and paying the bill all herself. When that's unsuccessful, he just grabs the tip jar and runs out the door, leading the establishment's proprietor to fire off a blast from a shotgun that damages a guitar amp.
The story of how the damaged guitar amp accidentally created fuzz guitar is the stuff of rock legend, and its treatment here is an example of how Sun Record's flawed approach to history is counterproductive. As Ike Turner told it, the amp fell off the back of the car. There was no dramatic shotgun chase. Wouldn't the simple fact that Ike and boys were flat broke, scrounged up just enough to cut the record, and then had to play with a damaged guitar amp that turned out to actually sound good be more relatable? Injecting unnecessary crime hijinx adds nothing. Furthermore, when they actually cut "Rocket 88", Sam makes noise about being impressed with the novel guitar tone, but we never actually hear the guitar tone isolated so the lay audience can understand what he's talking about. The good news is, the take of "Rocket 88" recorded for the show is pretty rocking, and Ike's resentment at being told what to do by Sam, and his subsequent outmaneuvering of Sam is believable and in character.
Sam and Marion takes "Rocket 88" to a pool party where Leonard Chess of Chess Records fame is cavorting with teenage hotties. Marion record scratches the anemic swing on the turntable and busts out "Rocket 88", sending the greasers and bobby soxers into a spasm of uncontrollable dancing. Mr. Chess is impressed, and soon Sam is hanging his first hit record on the wall—only to find out that Ike Turner has jumped ship, so he's back to square one. Sam responds to the setback with a one-man, Marshall Avenue DUI party. Marion, meanwhile, gets a radio gig with Dewey to help support the company, setting her up for either an illicit love triangle with her boss or some Mad Men-style sexual harassment. Time will tell.
Down in Louisiana, Jerry Lee and Jimmy Swaggart are getting into more teenage hijinx, stealing porno mags and breaking into the church so Jerry Lee can chase skirts and play the upright piano. Jimmy makes some noise about how Jerry Lee's sinful ways are going to send him to the pit of fire ("Spill not your seed on the ground! Stay away from loose women!"), but we all know how effective that's going to turn out to be. Besides, Jimmy's heart doesn't seem to be in it. He's clearly having too much fun tagging along with his cousin. In this comedic sub plot, playing fast and loose with history is yielding some fun comic dividends.
Unfortunately, it's Elvis' turn to spin his wheels. He sneaks into Trixie's room at night and, trying to explain his ahistorical black church attendance, tunes her radio to Dewey's R&B show. This attracts negative attention from her father, and as Elvis flees through the window, he yells at Trixie "This is the kind of music that makes good girls go bad!"
Dad's got a point, Trixie. Dad's got a point.
[Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the site of the beer hall shoot as Rhodes College's cafeteria.]
In week two of Sun Records, the sprawling scope of the story is starting to weigh the show down, and the limitations of the format are becoming obvious.
“Outta The Groove” opens with the final character introduction of the Million Dollar Quartet: a teenage Jerry Lee Lewis roaming the streets of Ferriday, Louisiana with his cousin Jimmy Swaggart. Jerry Lee and Swaggart are played by identical twins Christian and Jonah Lees. The jobs makeup and wardrobe have done in making them look like they’re related, but not twins, is an object lesson in the power of the two crafts. Later, when the two are banging on an upright piano in Jerry Lee’s home, Christian nails Jerry Lee’s bug-eyed mania. I’m interested in seeing more of the character, but Jerry Lee gets so little screen time in this episode I question the need to introduce him at all.
Back in the Sun lobby, Sam and Marion are getting themselves back together after a night of illicit carnal enjoyment. I’m increasingly impressed with the performance of Margaret Anne Florence, a veteran of both 30 Rock and Inside Amy Schumer. Even though her non-sexytime role in the studio storyline is to introduce inconvenient exposition, she shines in all of her scenes. Sam’s attempts to hide the affair are comically lame, and the climactic scene of the episode is a bait and switch where Becky Philips seems to be confronting Marion about the affair, but instead thanks her for her dedication to building Sam’s dream. Isolated in the Sun lobby, the two most prominent women on the show pull off the classic soap opera move with aplomb. But the scene also exposes something profound about Sun Records: It’s essentially Nashville dressed in 1950s Memphis drag.
On the one hand, it’s obvious why. Empire, the great late night soap opera of our time, continues to ride high in the ratings, and CMT wants a Knots Landing to go along with its Dynasty. But it’s also frustrating. Sun Records is, could, and should be about the humble genesis of the American pop cultural juggernaut. The meat of the story is how the mom and pop music business transitioned into the world-spanning sound of empire (or at least hegemony), and how a bunch of weirdos from the sticks’ schemes blew up beyond their wildest dreams. Those elements are there, to be sure, but at this point I’m skeptical that a history story filled with colorful characters and incredible music can make a good framework for melodrama.
Case in point is Elvis’ storyline. Sure,we need to boil down a lot of elements of Elvis’ not-so-eventful teenage life into a few scenes, but the “going to a black church” narrative—something which simply didn’t happen—doesn’t accomplish anything more than the actual truth would have. Elvis was exposed to black music in the record stores, on the radio, and on Beale Street. He wasn't popular at school not because of any rubbed-off racism, but because he was a poor, shy mama’s boy. There’s plenty of fodder there for both teenage romance melodrama and Jim Crow South world building, so the writing choices here are baffling.
Sam Phillips story is better in this respect, and in episode two, we get to see director Roland Joffé’s version of the immortal beat making scene from Craig Brewer’s Hustle and Flow. Phillips gets B.B. King in the studio rearranges a song on the fly. Although abbreviated and simplified (hey, it’s TV), the scene gives a good sense of how Philips’ worked, pioneering the still unsung and misunderstood role of the music producer. B.B. is played by Castro Coleman, an International Blues Challenge winner from McComb Mississippi who doesn’t even have an IMDB page yet. Coleman looks the part and displays confidence as he shares the screen with the manic Chad Michael Murphy.
Sam’s skills and the intimate connection with his dark side is this episode’s most successful storyline. If I’m going to fault Sun Records for historical inaccuracy, I’ve got to give the show credit for its unflinching treatment of drugs. Rock and roll was always amphetamine music. During World War II, amphetamines, a relatively new chemical compound, were widely used by soldiers and airmen on all sides. Aircrews got hopped up on speed to fly long missions, and introduced their ground crews to the drug. When the mechanics who kept the planes flying during the war demobbed, they took the drug with them into civilian life. Benzadrine, the first and most common amphetamine, spread illicitly through truckers and biker gangs. Touring musicians took it up for the same reasons truckers did—it helped them drive all night from one gig to another. When bluesmen took speed, they played faster, a rock and roll was born. The motormouth Dewey Phillips is the show’s amphetamine avatar, and he’s a bad influence on Sam. The two of them cutting their bennies with whiskey outside the Bon Ton Cafe is probably the most historically accurate thing on the show so far. Speed plays a role in both Sam’s greatness—his uninhibited, early morning underwear dancing that embarrasses Becky in front of the neighbors—and his darkness—the 4 AM amphetamine psychosis that warrants a Becky intervention.
Johnny Cash’s time Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio is represented by a pair of sequences at Skateland, giving Kevin Fonteyne an opportunity to schtick it up on skates and meet cute with his to-be first wife Vivian Liberto (Nashvillian Anna Grace Stewart). The Skateland scenes, which feature some excellent cinematography courtesy of the rink’s disco ball, highlight once again the superb job the behind the camera crew is doing. Col. Tom Parker’s comic relief storyline with Eddy Arnold and the suits at RCA Records in Nashville give another opportunity for our criminally under-photographed city to shine. Monroe Avenue and the Exchange Building stand in for Nashville, and they look fantastic, and the Citizen Kane shot where Parker reveals his bluff to Arnold is the best looking image in the entire series so far.
On the acting front, Billy Gardell’s Tom Parker remains the most fully realized character, and once he and Drake Milligan’s Elvis get together, I expect some sparks to fly. But we’re not there yet, and in episode 2 Sun Records struggled to advance the sprawling storylines. This is a common problem on contemporary TV, exemplified by the one-too-many subplots plague that afflicted Game Of Thrones’s later seasons. GoT’s solution to the problem was simple: When someone’s story gets too boring, simply lop off their heads, or burn them at the stake, or flay them, or have them eaten by ice zombies or… well, you get the idea. Sun Records can’t avail itself of this remedy, and episode two, while it contains much promise, shows the strain.