Long live rock, I need it every night

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

At His Satanic Majesty's Request

Rock Club Movie Night: Gimme Shelter (1970--Criterion Edition)

I first saw this movie sometime in the early 1980s on local station WDCA 20, on a 12-inch Sony color television. The times they are a-certainly becoming different. Now, in 2006, Rock Club watched the remixed-and-remastered-by-Criterion DVD of the documentary Gimme Shelter. Gimme Shelter tells the story of the Rolling Stones and their ill-fated answer to Woodstock, Altamont. With Dolby sound and retouched color, the 35-year-old me appreciated this movie in a way that a 12-year-old could not.

Okay, I’ll throw it out there. This is one of the best movies I’ve seen in a while, and maybe one of the best I’ve ever seen. The presence of Dan and Erin made me check my gushing, but if I’m honest I have to say I was mesmerized by this movie. Much of the appeal, again, has to do with Criterion—if you plan on renting this, make sure you get the Criterion edition. Only Criterion will do. Got it?

The story of this movie, in my opinion, is something more elemental than “the Death of the 60s”, or something more big picture. In my mind, Gimme Shelter is a movie about what happens when 300,000 people converge upon a large open area with limited access roads, few toilets, and a very, very, very popular band playing at one end. The movie is almost like a Discovery Channel nature documentary. If you’ve ever been in a big crowd, and felt a surge, or a sway, or just some sweaty dude up on your back, when maybe for a second you thought, I really wish I weren’t in this crowd, and later I have fucking have to get some air, then you’ll feel that anxiety while you watch Gimme Shelter. It’s sickening to watch a crowd crush, either filmed, or live. I suppose for me it’s comparable to watching a movie with a shipwreck survivor bobbing in the water, knowing the sharks are underneath. A few things can happen in either situation, and all of them are bad.

That’s not to say there aren’t other stories in this film. First, the Rolling Stones, in 1969, were the most fantastic band on the planet. The Beatles had recorded all the music they would ever record, and Jagger and company were on top, but—and I say this as a committed Beatles fan—I don’t think it would have mattered if the Beatles were still together, because, as the live performances in this movie prove, no band could rock like the Rolling Stones in 1969. The movie opens with footage of the band at Madison Square Garden, and Jagger is electrifying. For those of us used to seeing him as a fucking old fart with bad knees, the 1969 Jagger is something else entirely—cool, talented, energetic, committed to the cause of rocking. The film is also an interesting look at the rest of the band, who refuse to speak at length. Charlie Watts, of all people, is the talkative one. We get a brief look at the short-lived Mick Taylor, whose place was taken by Ron Wood, whose place I understand has now been taken by some black guy. Wow, we’ve come so far since the 60s.

The movie, contrary to how I remembered it from my 1980s viewing, isn’t about just Altamont, either. There is ample footage of the Stones at Madison Square Garden, as well as a priceless look at the band recording “Wild Horses” at the Muscle Shoals, Alabama studio. Now, I know this song comes on classic rock radio all the time, and really conveys a sincerity that in these days is quite out of place, but put yourself in the way-back machine and check out 1969. The Stones had only formed in 1962, and had released their first album in 1963. This was not the era of iTunes and Limewire and allofMP3.com—it took a while for new sounds to spread. 1969 is only six years removed from 1963, but in terms of sound it may well have been light years. Think—it’s now 2006. What were we listening to in 2000? Probably shit that pretty much sounds just about like what we listen to now. Whereas, in 1969, everybody—the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, the Velvet Underground, David Bowie, everybody—was new and exciting. And now, “Wild Horses” is no longer new and exciting, but it’s still an excellent song.

The Stones began their 1969 tour in support of their new album, Let It Bleed. They hadn’t been to America since 1966, and my, how things had changed. The movie features the band doing “Gimme Shelter”, “Love in Vain”, and “Live With Me” (outtakes only). This album is wonderful and I recommend every human on earth buy a copy immediately—not in the movie, but also fantastic songs, are “Midnight Rambler” and “Monkey Man”, the latter the soundtrack to Ray Liotta’s coke-fueled downfall in Goodfellas. And once again, the Criteria remix is superlative—the surround sound makes it seem as if you’re front-row, off to the left, a little back. Which is my preferred spot.

But you realize early on in this movie, the story is the crowd. The camera catches the audience, streaming onto the speedway grounds like ants. The close-in shots are fascinating—the color of the movie, the clothes people are wearing, the haircuts. It’s endlessly fascinating. I’ve now watched it twice since I’ve rented it and will likely give it a third viewing sometime in the near future.

If you don’t know the story of Altamont, the Hell’s Angels, Oakland Chapter, were hired to do security at the festival, which was the West Coast answer to Woodstock. The Angels were bad dudes and had a tendency towards violence, but let’s remember that they had done security at many Grateful Dead shows, and thus had experience in crowd control with a hippie audience. But the brute size of the crowd—and the movie includes aerial scenes of it, shot from a helicopter—is overwhelming.

From the start of the festival, the vibe is bad. Fights break out during the Flying Burrito Brothers set, followed by more scraps during the Jefferson Airplane. Actually, “scraps” underdoes it, as Airplane guitarist Marty Balin is knocked unconscious by an Angel. By the time the Stones appear, the atmosphere is angry and ominous. Not helped by the one-foot high stage, the Stones do their best to quell the violence, but the crowd by this point is a multi-cell organism, with a terrible imperative to get closer and closer to the stage. The movie shows countless fucking weirdos rushing the stage, pressing forward, undergoing really really bad acid trips and assuming talking to Mick will help them. From the start it was bad—a scene showing the Stones’ helicopter-borne arrival at Altamont, while the sun was shining and the music hadn’t even started, ends with some amped up freak rushing forward, slugging Jagger, and muttering “I hate you” as he’s dragged away. This is the California of Charles Manson and Jim Morrison, not the crunchy Woodstock Nation of upstate New York.

The Mansonite side of 1960s California certainly becomes latent in the movie when Meredith Hunter is murdered. Hunter’s stabbing, by a Hell’s Angel, is captured on film. It is difficult to watch, having come just after a short-lived lull in the fighting near the stage (watching Keith Richards trying to calm the crowd, and failing, and then turning his back and crossing himself is distressing). Hunter is glimpsed earlier in the movie, during a crowd shot—his lime green tuxedo jacket; his sweaty, twitchy amphetamine face, and big afro, stick in the mind. The stabbing unfolds with a predictability that is sickening. My hypothesis is that Hunter was pressed into the security line of Angels, took exception to their rough treatment, got his ass beat, came back with a gun, and that was that. See the Rolling Stones and get killed, I guess.

The killing is horrifying and the Stones absolutely rock out from this point on. It sounds callous, but to have called off the show at that point would certainly have provoked further violence, so they keep going—the crowd certainly backed off after the stabbing, allowing the show to take place. It’s a sick compromise, but it’s one more reason this film is great. The band plays more out of fear, than anything else, and they sound absolutely terrific.

Altamont exposed the weakness in the hippie argument that absolute freedom will lead to absolute bliss. There’s always some asshole that ruins things. You’ll find no apology or justification here for the behavior of the Hell’s Angels at Altamont, but there was something preordained about the Altamont violence, and Gimme Shelter’s genius, intentional or not, is in capturing that foreboding. The very idea that you could hold a free festival, with three days notice, featuring the biggest band in the world, now strikes us as ludicrous, on so many levels. 300,000 people were at Altamont—can you imagine? The reality is that mankind is simultaneously angel and animal, and sometimes circumstance is the only arbiter of which side wins out. Woodstock worked, Altamont didn’t—the devil was in the details, and that’s the only difference. For a lack of portable toilets and accessible parking, Altamont became a symbol of “the death of 1960s”. Only the demon that killed the 1960s didn’t die with its victim—11 dead in Cincinnati in 1979 (the Who), nine dead in Denmark in 2000 (Pearl Jam), 100 people in Rhode Island in 2003 (Great White), and countless more in between. In summary, this is a horror movie—next time you feel yourself in a crowd, move towards the back and make sure you know where the exits are.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go...(Gob Iron Review)

I have to say I wasnt expecting much from Gob Iron as we descended on the Black Cat last Friday night. In fact, I even gave Potsy and Jimbromski the option of of just going out to the Red Room and skipping the $15 show altogether. However, since Potsy hadnt been to a show in like 3 weeks, I think he was going through RC withdrawal. We all decided to pony up the dough and check out Gob Iron upstairs. The bad is a duo, consisting of Jay Farrar (ex-Uncle Tupelo and Son Volt) and some other dude from Varnaline (which I have never heard) who looked a bit tlike Mr . Bentley from the wonderful 70's sitcom The Jeffersons.
We arrived after they had already begun and Potsy and Jimbromski stayed for all of 2 songs. I managed to stay for 4. Needless to say this was not the type of show I was looking for on a Friday night at the Black Cat. I needed more rock. Farrar has a nice alt-country voice and the mellow guitar playing was soothing to my soul, but it really wasnt in the mood for such a laid back evening. I think I will give Gob Iron another try on the iPod, perhaps just prior to bedtime. During one of the tunes, I glanced to my right and saw this guy (obviously having been dragged to the show by his girlfriend) dozing off in the corner. Maybe he was just "feeling the music", but to me it looked like REM sleep. Anyway, I proceeded bakc downstairs where we had a nice evening listening to my excellent jukebox selections.
Since I stayed upstairs for another song or 2, I missed the altercation downstairs. Apparently some patrons were being to loud, or screaming and the bartender had to turn the music down and yell at them to "SHUT THE FUCK UP". Humiliating if you ask me. Anyway, I dont have much more to add. RC rating 5.4.

Friday, November 17, 2006

A Welcome Change of Pace

PLEASEEASAUR, JOE JACK TALCUM (of Dead Milkmen) $8 backstage at the Black Cat - Monday 11/13/06

Backstage!! Hell yes, bitch. We scored back stage passes for the latest Rock Club event at the Black Cat this past Monday night. Suck on that Baltimore Rock Club! You guys are soooooooo lame! It promised to be a very exclusive Monday night. I think only 12 people had these precious passports to DC's Behind the Music. But come to find out, these back stage passes weren't all that hard to get, and the "Back Stage" at the "Black Cat" is really just a "back room" on the "first floor," behind "the" Red Room Bar. A couple of the RC members seemed hesitant to commit to the show, despite the opportunity for close-up-and-personal attention from the acts. Loose Lips heard one RC member complain that "if there aren't enough people in there, I won't be able to make fun of the band." And this same member claimed that Rock Club was "starting to feel like a job." How sad. Either you're with us or you're against us. But eventually there seemed to be a rush at the door, and RC x 3/4 sprang into action Jackson to round out the even dozen of geek rockers present. And our friend Don Rickels managed to get himself a seat to rest his tired old bones. The first act was Joe Jack Talcum of Dead Milkmen ah...fame?. Were/are Dead Milkmen famous? I can't decide. But Joe Jack Talcum was the perfect geek rock appetizer for the night.

Did you notice how I managed to slip "but come" into the paragraph above? When we entered the Back Stage, it looked pretty grim. JJ was singing the song about Scotty dying from the toxic waste factory, or whatever it was. Yeesh. Way to build a crowd. Hey Joe Jack Talcum, play something better. And he did. Some of it was serious but much of it was old Dead Milkmen stuff (what JJ could remember of it). I love that new "Sex Sting" track. It's a fable, really. It says: "Be careful on the internets." Especially this one. He, of course, played Punk Rock Girl. Which was nice. I'd see him again. I think TJ's mom should hire Joe for her birthday bash. While JJ had this sad, American Splendor quality to his appearance, he really belted it out. He was poignant at times, and amusingly ironic at others. Like I said, he was a good set up for the antics of the "headliner."

The dorky dozen took 5 and awaited the arrival of Pleaseeasaur on the Backstage. I had urged the other members of RC not to snoop around looking for the Pleaseeasaur back story, as it really is best going in fresh. Now, I had seen Pleaseeasaur open for Pinback at the Black Cat earlier in the year, so I was prepared. Seeing this act for the first time can be somewhat uncomfortable given its ridiculousness, but that discomfort quickly fades when you see just how insanely funny the main performer, JP Hasson, is. If you missed the show (TJ), you needn't be ignorant to the inzanity, check it out here. Or another example below.

With crowd pleasers such as "I Hate Dog Shit," "LA Nights 2," and "Strangers Have The Best Candy," Pleaseeasaur provided quality, low-cost - nearly individual - entertainment. My feeling from the group was that this was a nice change of pace. Not annoying like Weird Al, but with the low-fi multi-media to complement the shameless Bill Murray-esque performance of Mr. Hasson, this show was memorable. For another perspective, I found this review on the DCist.

This show was well worth the $8. And now I know the secrets of the Back Stage.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Some Thoughts on the Lizard King

I read this article today on the CNN website, which describes comments made by Jim Morrison's family to the authors of a new authorized memoir about The Doors (The Doors on The Doors). Morrison's dad (King Lizard the First?) was an admiral in the US Navy, and the family lived for a time in Alexandria, on Glebe Road. Adm. Morrison looks back on his son's life with a mixture of fondness and regret:

We look back on [Jim] with great delight...the fact that he's dead is unfortunate but looking back on his life, it's a very pleasant thought.
Remember, this was the guy who sang about killing his pops and banging his mom ("The End"). With the exception of one phone call, Mr. Mojo Risin' didn't speak to his parents after he left home (although he did remain friendly with his siblings. Here's his dad on their estrangement:

I had the feeling that he felt we'd just as soon not be associated with his career. He knew I didn't think rock music was the best goal for him. Maybe he was trying to protect us.
The article reminded me of when I was in Cleveland for work last November, and took some time to check out the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. There’s an exhibit on The Doors in there, and I remember they had a letter from Admiral Morrison to the Florida Probation and Parole Commission, regarding Jim’s arrest, and subsequent conviction, for indecent exposure and profanity at a 1969 Doors concert in Miami. Through the magic of Google I was able to find the letter, which I post below:

Letter to Jim's Father from probation department: (dated September 24,

Florida Probation and Parole Commission District Office

Admiral George Morrison,
I am presently conducting a pre-sentence investigation on your son.

As you are probably aware, Jim has been found guilty of indecent exposure and profanity in Dade County.

Jim tells me that it has been 2 or 3 years since he last had any contact with you. I would very much appreciate any comments that you would care to make regarding your son's behavior and his present situation to include in my investigation.

The sentence date has been set for Oct. 30, 1970.

Thank you very much,

Robert Disher

Admiral Morrison's reply: (dated October 2, 1970)

Thank you for your letter of September 30. I appreciate this opportunity to comment on my son Jim.

I saw him last about 5 years ago during his senior year at UCLA. He was successfully completing his fourth year of college. As in all his academic work through grade school, high school, and college, he was an excellent student. While he had always been an intellectual rebel, he had always obeyed and respected authority.

In 1965 I began a two-year assignment in England. Although I invited him to join us in London after graduating, he declined to start his own career. Since that time he has been completely independent of me financially and in every other way. We have very little contact with him since that time due partly to the physical separation and partly because of some criticism from me.

While in London, I was called by an old friend in California who had been approached by Jim for a loan to finance his first record. Concerned by his appearance, particularly his long hair, the friend called me. I, in turn, wrote Jim a letter severely criticizing his behavior and strongly advised him to give up any idea of singing or any connection with a music group because of what I considered to be a complete lack of talent in this direction. His reluctance to communicate with me again is to me quite understandable.

Since returning to the United States I have on several occasions made an effort to contact him. One time I was successful in talking with him by telephone. Our conversation was quite pleasant and I congratulated him on his first gold album, but nothing of consequence was discussed. We have had no direct contact since that time. However, while we all lived in California in 1969, Jim's younger brother and sister visited with him frequently and got along famously as they always did during their childhood days at home.

Also an old friend of ours had dinner with Jim in LA several months ago and reported to us that he was the 'same ol' Jim'. I have followed his career with a mixture of amazement and in the case of Miami, great concern and sorrow.

While I obviously am not a judge of modern music, I view his success with pride. Based on my knowledge of Jim through his twenty first year, I firmly believe that his performance in Miami was a grave mistake and not in character.

I will always follow his progress with the greatest of interest and concern and stand ready to assist him in any way, should he ask.

Thank you again for this opportunity to affirm my conviction that Jim is fundamentally a respectable citizen.

Very truly yours,
G.S.Morrison, Rear Admiral USN

I don't know what lessons are to be drawn from this, but it struck me as incredibly sad, especially given that the next exhibit, alongside the above letter, was a telegram, dated August 10, 1971, from the U.S. Embassy in Paris informing the Morrisons that their son had been found dead in his apartment. Children turn their backs on their parents, and parents respond in kind--it's been this way since before rock and roll and the birth of the "counterculture". Either way, the family Morrison still look back on their wayward son and brother with pride:

Jim Morrison died of a heart attack in Paris in 1971, and his grave at the Pere Lachaise cemetery is one of the city's top tourist attractions. His family pays the authorities to take care of the site. George Morrison said it was "quite an honor ... for the family" to have his son buried near cultural giants like Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf and Frederic Chopin.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Some Tricks, Not Enough Treats (or sexy nurse costumes)

Tapes N' Tapes with Annuals and Dosh
Oct. 31st at the Black Cat

I'm not a numbers guy like Jimbromski so I can't mathematically prove what makes for a good show. I do know parts of the formula though: a good album (The Loon by TNT is one of the year's best), a festive evening (Halloween), highly regarded openers (Dosh and Annuals), and Potsy's absence. All signs pointed to a great concert when Tapes N' Tapes came to town. A can't miss evening, right? Well, not exactly.

Let's discuss these "highly regarded openers" first. Dosh opened the evening and I went up to catch a few songs. I was impressed. His one man, multi-instrumented performance was unique and definitely very cool. He has an electronic, rootsy, hip-hop, rock, keyboards, and drums thing that he does. Whatever it is, I like it. Plus, he was friendly as Flanders. I appreciate polite indie rockers.

Dosh, as God sees him.

Annuals were a big disappointment. I was tipped off to this when a drunken kid with a thick Boston came into the bathroom and said, "Oh my Gaaawd! These guys saaack!". Well, he was right. The whole show was total cock rock. All 5 guys in the band were shirtless and thrashing their long hair around. As Jimbromski said, "Put your shirts on. This isn't gay porn." The songs were Spinal Tap-esque. One of my favorite band gimmicks is the dual drummers. Annuals even managed to mess that up. We were all happy when their set was over. Rock Club Rating: 2.7

Speaking of disappointments, I was less than impressed with the costumes we saw. First, there was a dearth of sexy outfits. Not a single hot nurse to be found. One costume was so lame, the girl actually wrote what it was on her chest so people would know: "Dead Cat" . Lame, but not as lame as the guy in the Star Trek uniform. Yeah, I'm sure you borrowed that from a friend. Sure you did!

Onto TNT. Being fun loving guys, the band dressed up for the holiday. The lead singer was Tyrone Biggums (character from the Chapelle Show), the keyboardist/Tambourine Man was Superman, the drummer was Tommy Lee, and the bassist was a Referee. They had a strong start with a two songs off their excellent album, The Loon. "Insistor" was especially good, but after that things went south. The middle section was a milquetoast performance. The band couldn't seem to muster the Rock I was hoping for.

The show dragged until they finished with their two best songs, "Cowbell" and "Jakob's Suite" (which you may recognize from those annoying 7 Days In A Nissan Sentra commercials). We opted against staying for the encore which I heard was really bad. Some sort of white-boy rap. We were correct to leave Costanza style - on a high note.

It wasn't a great show, but I'm not going to slam them either. Rock Club Rating: 5.7