Sunday, October 30, 2011

Happy Halloween! Music Video Round-up Madness

In celebration of the greatest holiday ever, Mondo Heather is pleased to present you with some of the scariest, silliest and creepiest music videos that I could come up with in 10 minutes. Halloween is my Christmas, minus the awkward family gatherings and plus lots of pumpkins, plastic skeletons and monster masks. Granted the latter two have a semi-permanent place in my life, but I digress.

Anyways, if you love all things ooky, spooky and sonic, then read on! If you dare.....

Starting things off is Landscape's "My Name is Norman Bates." A quirky and unique UK band that became best known for their hit, "Einstein a Go-Go," Landscape contributed a nice tribute to Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece, PSYCHO, and its main character. The video itself features some lovely B&W visuals, a scary castle and an actress that is a dead ringer for Janet Leigh. This would make an awesome double bill with The Hitmen's "Bates Motel." (A fantastic song and one of the best music videos ever. Too bad that the version on Youtube is complete crap quality, including the color being muted out. Hence why it is not on this list. otherwise it would be top dog here.)

Up next is one of my personal heroes, Thor aka Jon Mikl Thor, the Canadian Heavy Metal Thunder God. Not only has the man been involved in some wonderfully cheesy horror movies, including the b-movie epic ROCK & ROLL NIGHTMARE, but he is Thor. Screw Hollywood, accept the one true deity only! This video is not really scary but it does feature some sword & sorcery imagery and the song kicks ass. Plus Thor attacks a fortune teller??? Awesome.

In a darker vein, there's Patrick Cowley's "They Came at Night." Cowley was an electronic-pop wunderkind who helped breathe in new life for drag legend and vocal angel Sylvester's career. Cowley was also an early casualty of AIDS, something that is reflected in this song. This piece of music is already eerie, but when you factor in that this is about a man dealing with death being at his door, it is even more haunting. It is a testament to Cowley's talent that even in such a state, he was able to create such good music. (And yes, I do realize that this is not a music video proper, but given that this is one that tends to get left off a lot of lists like this, I had to mention it.)

Speaking of real life, after that we have Falco's "Jeanny." While most Americans probably remember Falco for such danceable pop songs like "Rock Me Amadeus" and "Der Kommissar," the man also created one amazing and disturbing song in the form of "Jeanny." Inspired by the very real crimes of Austrian serial killer Jack Unterweger, this is definitely dark musical territory, especially for a pop artist. For more info on this song and its history, you can check out an article I wrote back in 2010.

In a more surreal vein, there is Icehouse's "Icehouse." The band formerly known as Flowers were part of the Australian New Wave scene, they created such pop classics as "We Can Get Together," "Can't Help Myself" and "Great Southern Land." In an odd move, they also made this song, which has a sort of cold yet sad starkness about it. Add in director's Russell Mulcahy's surrealistic and subtly nightmarish visuals and you have a recipe for a perfect for a cold, Autumn night video. Plus, this was apparently at one point banned on Australian TV! Have a day.

 Speaking of music videos that were banned, up next we have Blue Oyster Cult's "Joan Crawford." Yes, this creepy gem was banned, not on Australian TV (that I know of) but on MTV. Despite some revisionist nostalgia, MTV was never really as cool as some people will try to tell you, kids. Blue Oyster Cult need no introduction, being one of the greatest rock bands ever. Plus, never has the whole schoolgirl/rock video theme been more suitably disturbing.

Now on a lighter note, there is the master of all things horror and rock, Alice Cooper. I adore Alice Cooper and realistically, about 3/4 of his catalog could comprise a list of this nature. But instead, to keep things interesting, here is "Identity Crisis," an obscure tune from Claudio Fragasso's 1980's horror film, MONSTER DOG.

You cannot have a Halloween themed music list without featuring Australia's own Skyhooks and their song, "Horror Movies." I first heard of this band via Elvira's compilation, "Haunted Hits," which led me to their other work, including the kickass rocker, "Women in Uniform." (Which went on to be covered by Iron Maiden by the way.) "Horror Movies," while not their best song, does feature the catchy hooks and tongue-in-cheek humor that helped define this band.

 From campy back to moody, we have Marilyn Martin's "Night Moves," a song that would have been perfect for the soundtrack of a horror themed show, like "The Hitchhiker" or the massively underrated "Forever Knight." The latter would be especially fitting, given the obvious influence the music video has from the vampire 80's classic, THE HUNGER. It's a good, moody pop song and a far better thing to associate with the lovely Ms. Martin, than her more famed duet with angry-Gerber baby man himself, Phil Collins.

If you want dark eroticism, then look no further than France's Mylene Farmer. This artist has amassed a brilliant body of work, often tackling some rather shadowy themes and layers that most singers shy away from. She was another one, like Alice, that proved to be harder to pick just one video, but I ended up settling on "Beyond My Control." The wolf and blood imagery and repeated loop of John Malkovich from DANGEROUS LIASONS uttering the song's title is beyond perfect. I love Mylene Farmer.

 Speaking of musical genius, after that we have Nash the Slash. The one man band who first made his name playing for Canadian progressive rock band, FM, has built an extremely striking body of work, whether it is working a John Hinckley reference in his cover of "Psychotic Reaction" or composing a lovely score for F.W. Murnau's NOSFERATU. Every heart should make room for some love for this man and "Swing Shift" is a big reason why. The video is properly low budget and is as uncomfortable and riveting as the song itself.

One of the greatest bands to have emerged from the shadows of the UK music scene in the late 1970's is undoubtedly, Bauhaus. A band whose music still sounds as fresh and unlike anything else to this day, despite inspiring a slew of musicians, their song and video for the track "Mask" is one of the best examples of the beauty of nightmares and decay.

The next video might seem initially like an odd choice, unless you too have seen the William Friedkin (THE EXORCIST, TO LIVE & DIE IN LA) directed video. Laura Branigan's "Self Control," a cover of the Italo-Disco hit by Raf, is a perfect, adult pop song. Branigan does not get enough love nowadays for my money and this song/video are evidence why she was truly a star in the way that most pop singers nowadays wished they could be. (The fact that she actually had a great voice without the aid of Protools helps. A lot.) The video itself plays out like some kind of wonderfully lurid, pyscho-sexual Italian Giallo. All that is missing is a black gloved killer but given that there is an uncut cut floating around somewhere, you never know. Until then, we have this still racy version to enjoy.

Now is the time for some spooky garage rock revival, New York style, with The Fuzztones and their creepy epic, "Ward 81." The Fuzztones are, simply put, awesome and this song should make a convert of anyone that likes their rock and roll a little rough around the edges with some organs to boot. What's even more of a treat is how good this video is, looking like a B-Movie style horror film from the late 60's. (Special thanks goes out to Scott Law for introducing me to this one years ago.)

Speaking of retro with a modern twist, after that we have Australia's Beasts of Bourbon and their faithfully, skin crawlingly scary cover of the Leon Payne classic, "Psycho." The video is just as good, with some murky looking proceedings going on in the distance behind singer Tex Perkins anguished facade. (If your not familiar with this band, look up more of their stuff on Youtube. They are phenomenal.)

 Rounding things up is Vinnie Vincent Invasion's "Love Kills," which was the main song from NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4: THE DREAM MASTER. Granted, this is not one of their better songs but still deserves to be featured for two very good reasons. First of all, it is Vinnie Vincent, who is a guitar god and by far, the most underrated member of Kiss ever. Secondly, it's Vinnie Vincent playing guitar with the Freddy Krueger glove and then winking and smiling at the camera. It's awesome, adorable and worth sitting through the overall average video alone.

I hope you've enjoyed my mighty list of spooky musical video goodness and even more, that you have a wonderful holiday season! May your treats be plenty, your tricks few and all of your masks be Don Post.

Copyright 2011 Heather Drain

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Gilded Melancholy: Radley Metzger's CAMILLE 2000

Perfection and warmth are two elements that are not always put together hand in hand. Warmth is often emotion, that wonderful, horrible, messy thing that sets species apart from rocks and sociopaths. On the other hand, you have perfection, which is most definitely not anything related to humanity. Perfection is often perceived as beauty without heart, but there are some key exceptions to this rule, most notably Radley Metzger's updated version of Alexandre Dumas's classic novel, The Lady of the Camellias. Metzger's film, CAMILLE 2000, is both sumptuous to look at but also, at heart, incredibly melancholy. (Which would be in keeping in spirit with the source material.) 

The lovely Daniele Gaubert
The story begins with Armand (Nino Castelnuovo), a handsome and somewhat unambitious young lad who is being sent to Italy to attend to some business for his rich and powerful father (Massimo Serato). He meets up with Gastion (Roberto Bisacco), a dandy about town who takes Armand to a gala. While he points out the various available women and their assorted scandals, Armand ends up seeing the beautiful and fragile Marguerite (Daniele Gaubert). Gastion tries to dissuade him, deeming Margeurite “impossible,” but the match has been lit and both ends are burning. 

A lot of heartbreak emerges from this pursuit of amour. Right from the start, both Armand and Marguerite are doomed for a myriad of reasons, whether it is her financial debt and borderline kept lady status with a wealthy but mal-emotional Duke or Armand's money conscious father. Mme. Fatale radiates off of Marguerite. Like all truly damaged and self destructive people, it is only a matter of time that the shrapnel will be felt by those closest to her, especially Armand. 

 Gaubert & Nina Castelnuovo
Metzger, a bred New Yorker born with the aesthetic soul of a European, has become renowned for his attention to visuals and deft use of erotic themes. While some of his later work definitely fits that bill, the sexuality that lies within CAMILLE 2000 is less erotic and more reflective of the emotional mental state of the characters. Some of the scenes are bold for their time but in typical Metzger fashion, are tasteful not matter how outre they may border on. In fact, Metzger's whole soft-toned, high fashion sexuality pre-dated filmmakers like Just Jaeckin (EMMANUELLE, THE STORY OF O) and David Hamilton (BILITIS) by a number of years. (Oddly enough, both Jaeckin and Hamilton are European and come from a fashion photography background.) This is definitely the case of a film that may have been marketed in some areas as arty sexploitation (complete with then X rating) but that would have been more at home in your friendly neighborhood arthouse. (Though don't think the twain never met with those two either.) 

Speaking of visuals, the attention to detail in CAMILLE 2000 is gorgeous. This film is David Lean lush. From the 60's futuristic plastic furniture and light up cubes to the rococo color schemes of the Italian coastal landscape and the natural beauty of the actors themselves, CAMILLE 2000 is eye candy in motion. 

  Luckily for us, there is more than meets the eye, with strong performances from both Gaubert and Castelnuovo as the lovers who suffer due to bad family and even worse habits. Gaubert is alternately lovely, ethereal and sad in a role that had been previously played by such early screen legends as Greta Garbo and Alla Nazimova. Castelnuovo is a good match with his earnest, handsome Armand, who transforms from a borderline shy young man to a heartbroken firebrand within the 131 minute running time. The other actors are good, with Zachary Adams being a real standout as Gody, a sweet gay fashion designer who is one of the few humane people in Marguerite's life, even despite her occasionally stank behavior.

 Zachary Adams as the good intentioned Gody

This film's beauty is equally matched by Cult Epics' loving release. It is sweet to see a filmmaker of Metzger's caliber getting his proper due thanks to the hard work of companies like Cult Epics and Distribpix (for the cherried out release of THE PRIVATE AFTERNOONS OF PAMELA MANN.) CAMILLE 2000 has never looked better. In addition to this fine transfer, there are also a slew of extras, including a 30 minute featurette, “On the Set,” that has behind-the-scenes footage along with some fascinating and revealing commentary throughout courtesy of the man himself, Radley Metzger. On top of that, there is also an equally good feature commentary with Metzger and moderator Michael Bowen, striptease footage that had been excised before the film's initial release, a featurette on the restoration process complete with before and after shots and trailers for CAMILLE 2000, the even more lush looking THE LICKERISH QUARTET and SCORE.

CAMILLE 2000 is an interesting cinematic creature. It's art, it's sexy, it's sad and leaves its lonely and beautiful mark on you once you have witnessed it. Bless Radley Metzger and his European creative heart, film making ways.

 La ronde

© Heather Drain 2011

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Tall Dark Stranger from Tikisville---Welcome to Larry Wessel's ICONOCLAST!

In the world of art, archetypes are born, bred and manufactured. Sometimes by the fans, other times by assorted figures in the press and, more often than not, by the artists themselves. In the strata of fringe art, Boyd Rice is one of the most enigmatic, at times charismatic and perplexing figures. The man has been called a lot things over his 30 plus year career, with epithets ranging from genius to neo-Nazi to charlatan and innovator, Rice is unique in the way he has handled each and every one of them, embracing the dark and the light, both to art and his own persona.

  In fact, it is these light and dark aspects of Rice that are examined in Larry Wessel's 4 hour long opus, ICONOCLAST. While the running time alone will probably make a less curious and intrepid viewer run to the hills, the film actually has an incredibly smooth pace, to the extent that you never really feel the running time. I once had some drug addled academic type tell me that if a documentary was longer than an hour, then it would lose the audience. This theory is obviously swamped in bullshit for a multitude of reasons and ICONOCLAST is a great example why. (Plus, epic length never hurt Ken Burns, eh?) Wessel manages to give a comprehensive overview of Rice's childhood, groundbreaking work in experimental noise music, his relationship with Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey, his move from San Francisco to Denver, etc etc. and yet leaves you asking for more. More information to be specific, which is both a testament to Wessel's skills as a filmmaker and the compellingness of Boyd Rice. In some facets of life, there are no villains or heroes, just artists. Welcome to ICONOCLAST.

The film is divvied up into three sections for each disc. Section one, Lemon Grove, goes into Boyd's childhood and Southern Gothic familial background, including his grandmother being born in a cemetery on Halloween night. His upbringing in Lemon Grove, California brought the epiphany of Rice not wanting to be like the status quo. Wonder white bread sandwiches and soul-killing 9 to 5pm jobs were a no go for he who was like no other. 

It was this impulse that planted the multiple seeds that would germinate into a long career as a musical concrete pioneer, professional prankster, fringe culture writer, tiki-revivalist and cultural agent provocateur. Boyd himself has stated that he has made a career out of doing a number of things that he is not qualified to do. This is only a half-truth. If he was plagued with mediocrity, then this article or documentary would not exist, especially in regards to his music. His first musical project, NON, still sounds as fresh and unique now as it did in the 70's. Disc One goes into excellent detail about this period of Rice's life and his captivating, surrealist yet pragmatic approach to sonic art. This in turn makes Section One the best out of all three. 

That said, the latter two are nothing to sneeze at. The second section, “San Francisco,” delves into Rice's writing, featuring his collaboration with writer extraordinaire Jim Morton for the groundbreaking cult film tome, Re/Search's Incredibly Strange Film book. (A work that I bought on my 16th birthday, changing my life and alerting me that my tribe was out there.) It's quite nice getting to see interviews with Morton, who undoubtedly warrants his own film or at least a juicy article on his notable work.

Oddly enough, the sweetest parts in the whole documentary are in this section, going into Rice's long term friendship with Church of Satan founder and carnival organist, Anton LaVey. The fondness and bond that these two controversial and fascinating figures had is readily apparent. Given all of the ridiculous hoopla, with media vermin being partially to blame, that has surrounded LaVey to this day, it is refreshing to see him painted as a man, complete with talent, flaws and a family. (Remember, kids, the only real bogeyman is your own human nature.)

The last section, “Denver,” covers Rice's transition from Tiki culture fan (starting from his early teens) to flat out scholar and his involvement with the sinisterly groovy Partridge Family Temple. There's also some keen footage from Rice and company's favorite hangout, the phantasmagorical Casa Bonita. (The now defunct Tulsa location was a mecca of my own childhood, with memories of the sopapillas and the robotic gypsy fortune teller in the game room entrance, still vivid.) All of this leads up to Rice's seemingly calm-after-the-storm life that he entertains today.

 The Casa Bonita in Denver, which is way fancier than the one in Tulsa. 

ICONOCLAST is solid proof of a my own personal theory that if you combine a captivating and layered subject matter with a talented crew, then it can be however long it needs to be. Otherwise you get the coitus interruptus effect that plagues many a documentary. Just when the going gets good, they pull back, leaving you almost irritated at the in-completion of it all. That is not a problem here. In fact, the only thing that could have been delved into a little more was Rice's musical partnership with Partridge Family Temple member, model and super go-go girl Giddle Partridge. We do at least get to hear two of their songs throughout, but no real commentary on it. Given that the the partnership has apparently come to an end already, there might be reasons for that. (There is at least some brief but cute interview footage with Giddle and lots of lovely promo photos of her and Boyd.)

The interesting thing about this film and Rice as a whole, is that even after four hours, one is not left feeling like they really know that much more about the artist as a man than they probably did going into it. You do get a more fleshed out picture of Boyd Rice the figure and artist, but the actual man? Not so much and in a way, that is totally okay. Honestly, it is sometimes better to not know so much personal information about your favorite artists. The Santa Claus is dead effect is a hazardous one, often blurring the ability for the viewer to separate the art from the artist. Roman Polanski is a predator, your favorite 30's era glamor gal was an escort and Pablo Picasso more than likely was an asshole. (No matter what the Modern Lovers tell you.) Wessel deserves multiple kudos for the stellar and creative work that he has done.

Overall, ICONCLAST is a fascinating, rhythmically paced documentary that is perfect for fans and philistines alike.

Monday, June 13, 2011

A Fragment in Charcoal & Smoke: Flame Schon's DOPE

When you hear the phrase, “swinging 60's,” more than likely there are very specific images that come to your mind's eye: mini-skirts, rock music, free love and pop art, but time cannot and should not always be measured with such obvious landmarks. Capturing the many shades of a sliver of time is never as easy as it seems, especially when it comes to such a flux-filled decade as the 1960s. There's a lot of darkness in the day-glo, something that is beautifully evident in Flame Schon's (nee Diane Rochlin) and Sheldon Rochlin's rare 1968 documentary, DOPE. 

Before I delve into this, immediately push out any preconceived notions you have about what a documentary is supposed to look and sound like. DOPE is a film that uses experimental film making techniques to paint a true picture of both its subject, an kohl-lined gamine from New Zealand named Caroline Thomson and the dirty thumbprint of an era. A friend of such artists as the stunningVali Meyers, Caroline was residing in the heart of late 60's London when DOPE was shot. On the surface, this film documents the journey of this young child-woman and her growing love affair with heroin. While we definitely do get a peek into her habit and the fragments of her everyday life, DOPE is much more than that. 


For starters, there is the disjointed audio, with bits and pieces of rock music weaved into the regular soundtrack of sonic noise and words, creating the effect akin to trying to talk to someone at one loud and intense party. With any other film, this would be highly annoying but here it lends itself to giving a more accurate feel of what life was like for Caroline and her friends. Some will get annoyed by this and feel like they could be missing an integral piece of information or emotional character insight. That's probably true, but keep in mind that one's whole life and history can be built upon half-heard conversations and words that are instantly up to re-interpretation once they are out of the mouth. This technique is honest to Caroline's experience. Sure it won't work for every documentary. Just imagining anything by Ken Burns as brought to you in mumblecore vision is maddening, but here it works fine. 

The gloriously unique, Vali Meyers. 

Also, there's a whole underlying tone about the growing national fear and awareness of drug use, whether it is assorted newspaper headlines involving drug busts or Caroline and her roommates watching a television special entitled “An American View on LSD.” In addition to the audio, there are some very colorful editing choices, including some really good superimposition and an overall kinetic visual rhythm that lends a fragmented, almost dreamlike feel to the proceedings. (Even when the dream has burned edges all around it, which is perfect for a film whose subject matter involves heroin.) 

  Throughout the film, we see Caroline go to rock concerts, art shows, trying to hustle a coin collection for money, shoot up and then sort of toy around with the needle like a kitten. One of the final shots shows her dancing to “In the Midnight Hour,” leaving the film on a strange and sad note. The image of Caroline, now looking almost ghostlike, dancing in front of a dingy mirror, as if the midnight hour in question is referring to her uncertain, death-tinged future is one the most effective in the whole film. 

 In the midnight hour.

Music, being one of the biggest heartbeats of the youth culture scene in the 1960's, is a strong underlying thread. The use of it at times is almost accidental, whether it is Caroline and her friends fiddling with the radio, resulting in a cut-up version of the Beatles' “Paperback Writer” or early on, where we can hear her sing, off-camera, along to the Alan Price version of “I Put a Spell on You.” The latter's breathy and real person tunelessness lends the film more authenticity than any of the multiple shots of people shooting up. 

DOPE is a fascinating peek into a harsher side of a scene that is typically portrayed as all dandyfied rock stars, Mary Quandt skirts and Mars bars. While it lags a little towards the end, it is, as a whole, a colorful and honest time capsule of both Caroline's life and the pop culture of London during that time period. Speaking of which, there are some brief shots of such artists as Marianne Faithful and Pink Floyd featuring Syd Barrett, so it pays to keep your eyes open. 

The likelihood of DOPE getting an official DVD release is pretty much slim to none, but thanks to director Flame Schon, you can get a copy for the price of manufacturing and shipping. For more information, check out her website;

© Heather Drain, 2011

Monday, May 16, 2011

I Love You, Rip Torn: A Tribute to the MAIDSTONE Brawl

Lately, a change has come over me. Strange urges, like taking red construction paper and some glitter glue and making little kindergarten type heart shaped cards for my newest love. Oh sure, call me silly. I'll accept that. Even call me a deranged romantic. Fair enough. But I cannot help it, because ever since seeing the “Improv gone wrong” footage from the 1969 film, MAIDSTONE, involving Rip Torn both physically and verbally owning Norman Mailer, I am officially in love with Rip Torn.

Now, I've always liked Mr. Torn. He's a fine actor, aptly handling everything from sci-fi/art films like Nicolas Roeg's THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH to comedy in the MEN IN BLACK franchise. (My introduction to him as a little kid was his awesome turn as Scully in the John Candy film, SUMMER RENTAL. I was instantly fond of the crusty, borderline insane pirate/restauranteur.) But it was when my eyes gazed upon the infamous clip from MAIDSTONE that cartoon hearts and cotton candy clouds started to float over my head. And I'm being serious as a heart attack.

Here you have a young Torn, bedecked in a well fitted green t-shirt, his uniquely handsome face looking both saddened and electric. There is something obviously cooking in that brilliant head. Meanwhile, the Mailer brood frolic in an idyllic countryside, complete with an old, teal windmill and half naked hippie-esque children. Even their momma, former model Beverley Bentley, looks like an appropriately lovely Earth-momma. This is all too nice and we need a dark cloud, a berserker of a storm. 

Luckily for us, we do not have to wait too long as we soon see Rip pull out Chekov's gun in the form of a hammer, which he soon enough uses to hit Mailer on the head. Awesome, right? It gets even better. Rip starts talking about he must kill “Kingsley,” the Mailer director character in MAIDSTONE but he doesn't want to kill Norman. (Though I'm sure there were plenty of people, including some of his exes who did.) Mailer responds by biting a piece of Rip's ear off, which is a punk move suited only for the criminally insane and insecure macho male writers. Does this deter Rip? Hell no, because Rip is a real man and basically pounces on him, forcing the part-Yeti director to the ground, pinning him down with his mega-strength.

Mailer mumbles some kind of wounded animal phrase, in which Rip responds, “No, baby. You trust me?” with all the cool and suaveness of a beatnik Don Juan. Being a true gentleman, Rip is about to concede but wussy-boy Mailer takes the opportunity to strike when he thinks Rip's guard is down. Wrong! Rip keeps that man down, only to be intercepted by the Norman Mailer Partridge Family Army. Mamma Partridge immediately starts shrieking. Some would say it is from the fear of seeing her husband pinned to the ground with a bloody head wound. I would say it was from the subconscious realization that she married less than a man and that the REAL man whooped his ass. Truth hurts, babies.

When I say that she starts screaming, I am not exaggerating. You would think that Rip was chainsawing Mailer in half. Even worse, while her kids were a little upset at first, they start flipping out big time once momma bear starts freaking. Mailer acts like your typical sort of college educated mook, threatening to cold cock Rip and more, while Torn is clearly hurt and trying to communicate something verbally to someone who cannot and will not listen. There has been some kind of artistic violation that had lead up to this brutal (and brutally awesome) act. This is all the more evident with words like “betrayal,” “fraud,” “sham” and “trust” repeatedly come up throughout the whole clip.

The two eventually walk off, after Beverly, understandably freaked out, threatens to kill Rip if he does anything else. Torn makes attempts to communicate the reasons why he did what he did and talk about the film as a whole. Mailer is having none of this, just opening himself to being run over some more by the genius that is Rip Torn.

Exhibit A, when Mailer starts to insult Torn's “ugliness” in the picture, Rip instantly cuts him off with a grin, retorting “Woah wait a minute, I was trying to look like you.” Awesome. It gets even better with the “cocksucker” exchange and then off screen one of the Mailer-urchins audibly says, “don't fight any more.” It is Rip, not Mailer, who responds to the kid, saying “That's right baby, no fighting. It was just a scene, in a Hollywood whorehouse movie. Okay baby? You know it's okay and your Dad knows it's okay.” Then he whispers under his breath, looking right at Norman and smiling almost maniacally, “Up yours.” What's the best Mailer can come up with? “Adios.” Smooooth. The truly beautiful thing is that in one fell swoop, Torn not only comforts the kid but also throws in an insult, audible only to Mailer and the camera, with his wild eyed smile returning in full effect.

Mailer soon tells him to basically kiss off, in which Torn replies, smile resplendent, “I leave the you.” Mister original-pants Norman then says, “Yeah, and I leave the shit eating to you.” This prompts Rip to give one of the best come backs ever in the form of, “No, no more. That's your specialty..You're the champ. I salute the champ of shit.” Mailer than tells the cameraman that “you might as well turn off this tape cause he is a very dull talker” to which Torn replies by pointing at Norman and going “Oooh oooh!” Thus ending one of the most amazing, startling and riveting clips ever. Hearing about creative collaborators coming to blows is not uncommon at all but to have such an occasion open up like one bloody, dysfunctional flower on tape, is nothing short of an historical feat.

This clip hits hard in some bizarre form of creative catharsis for any artist who has felt like they have been bent over a barrel, whether it is by the nature of the business, their own demons or the now-frayed trust of a collaborator. You expect hurt from a stranger but never from an ally. Rip is the heart of this and it is this raw passion that makes him, to this day, such a great force as an artist. One can never give enough appreciation and love to this talented man.

MAIDSTONE is still a hard film to come by, which is something that will hopefully change soon for those of us in the States that love fringe cinema. It would be a neat coup to have Mailer's three underground features, BEYOND THE LAW, WILD 90 and MAIDSTONE all in one set. Mailer was a flawed but notable artist and few and far between noted authors ever dipped their toes into the wonderfully murky waters of underground cinema.

As for Torn, it is the hope that a project truly worthy of his presence and ability will come along, because he deserves it and he is bigger and badder than all of Hollywood.

2011 © Heather Drain

Special Thanks to C.F. Roberts for his encouragement of my own creative dementia and Cat Fury for her artistic help. 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Wanderlust and Watchdogs

Ahoy sweet, sweet readers! Hope all of you are enjoying the Ides of March. There is something about the onset of Spring that makes me beyond yearn for a good sized road trip. Seeing different states emerge from Winter and figuring out if every single Waffle House this side of the South has a jukebox playing a song about Bert's Chili....ah the romance of the road!

Since, my present conditions are not terribly travel friendly, here's my ever growing and changing list of music to road trip to. Hey, sometimes living vicariously through art is better than not living at all. Starting with...

Anything and everything by The Gun Club & Jeffrey Lee Pierce. Seriously. This music is part of my DNA.

Speaking of incredible bands that have featured the awesome guitar hand of Kid Congo Powers, you must have The Cramps in your vehicle at all times.

Wall of Voodoo, both the Stan Ridgway & Andy Prieboy eras.

Marc Moreland was a true guitar legend.

The Tornados with the ultimate travel song, "Telestar." 


If you're in dire need of some fabulous print reading and have great taste in cinema, then do yourself a favor and pick up the latest issue of Video Watchdog! Issue #161 features a sweet tribute to the late Jean Rollin, a thorough and thoroughly entertaining interview with Mimsy Farmer and my review of the Lydia Lunch film KISS NAPOLEON GOODBYE. What more can you want?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Passion, Pleasure & Pain: In Praise of Gitane Demone's “Life After Death”

Passion and fluidity are two key ingredients for any great artist but are often the hardest to possess. Passion is vital for anything truly good since otherwise it's like faking an orgasm. You can give the best moan and grind all you want, but it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing. Even more than that, you need fluidity to keep things interesting. Talent helps out a lot, too. When I think of all these factors, singer, musician and artist Gitane Demone comes immediately to mind.

I first became familiar with her work when a friend of mine lent me a compilation that had her single, “Incendiary Lover”, on it. The angel-sweet vocals made an instant impression on me, though the pop-ness of the production gave me little indication of what was in future store. There was her amazing work with the band Christian Death, at first with leader and founder Rozz Williams, resulting the essential albums “Ashes” and “Catastrophe Ballet.” Then after Rozz left, she continued with the band with guitarist and former Pompeii 99 band mate Valor Kand. This line-up resulted in such great songs as “Church of No Return” and “Believers of the Impure.” But if this is all you know of Gitane's work, it is literally just the tip of this brilliant woman's creative release. Her work with both incarnations of Christian Death displayed someone whose vocals range from ethereal banshee to rock goddess, all the while sounding effortlessly perfect. But nothing could have prepared the music world for the next chapters of Gitane's career, all lovingly captured and covered from the beginning of her solo work around 1991 to 1998 on Cult Epics lush special edition 2 DVD and 1 CD set, “Life After Death.” 

After leaving Christian Death, a band whose own work had done some genre-bending in both incarnations, Gitane's career went into the one trajectory that no one could have guessed. Utilizing her influences by such legends as Billie Holiday, she transformed herself into a torch singer with heavy jazz and blues influences (which is only one petal to this multilayered flower). While some jazz musicians initially looked down on this “rock and roll girl” back then, Demone is a talent that demands respect and this set will silence whatever naysayer that is left. Janis Joplin was a rock and roll force who could sing the blues as well as the talented old ghosts and so does Gitane.

Disc One begins with a biographical piece that was aired on VPRO, a Dutch Television channel, from 1991. It covers her intense childhood which included being surrounded by nature, aggressive, girl-hungry boys and getting her first taste of death. They soon go into her discovery of love, sex and music. We get to see Gitane at the piano while the camera passes lovingly but fleetingly over a Billie Holiday album in the corner. There is some footage featured here that I would kill to see more of including shots of Gitane singing live while playing with fire (literally) and breaking a mirror and then a TV set with a hammer. Like any artist worth his/her salt, she is a seeker and it is this artistic freedom that is going to shine for the rest of this set. Speaking of which...

Gitane in the Dutch TV Special "The Dark Side of Life."

Following that is a live, B&W clip from the Mazzo in Amsterdam shot in 1989 that includes a blistering version of Holiday's now-classic “Strange Fruit.” This song is a standard that, by the time the '90's hit, had been covered to death by x,y and z performers. It is a powerful song but like a great image, it cannot truly ring true unless the person expressing can actually feel the song. Anyone with the right training can pull this off technically but then you are going through the motions, which is an insult to the material and audience. Gitane is not a faker and brings the right amount of emotional pain and realness that this song warrants and deserves.

Mazzo, Amsterdam 1989

After that is a one-song performance of “Sound of War” for Dutch Television from 1992. It's classic and simple, complete with a great saxophone solo. Again, like “Strange Fruit,” the temptation to do an anti-war song and wring it like the grasp of death is upon it is too irresistible for most, but Gitane and her band find a great balance of emotion without letting any well-meaning but ill-plotted out cheese sully it.

Singing "The Sound of War" in 1992.

  Courtesy of VPRO Radio in Holland, we then get a three song clip from '93 featuring the great “Love for Sale” (excellent audio on this batch, by the way). The show following this one, from the ISC Club in Bern, Switzerland in 1993 is one of the best on this disc, featuring the show stopper, “I Have a Right to Sing the Blues.” Mein Gott, this is phenomenal stuff, featuring some great, experimental-type sonic horns, percussion and keyboards bleeding together and perfectly offset by Gitane's big, smooth and at times scouring voice. Screw anyone whose “blues” music is basically raping the corpse of Robert Johnson (Clapton, I am looking at you) and/or morphing what were once some good chords into Michelob-lite butt-bar-rock. This is the real blues (Also see, Pierce, Jeffrey Lee. Can you imagine if those two could have worked together? A girl can dream). This is raw and infernal and beautiful, which is really what all great music should be. Especially the blues.

Rounding up Disc One is a killer live-set from the Indie Tour in 1995. The six-song set includes a deconstructed, dreamy cover of “I Only Have Eyes for You,” Jimi Hendrix's “Manic Depression” and the original “These Vulnerable Eyes.” (The latter two are both featured on the collaborative album between her and the late, great Rozz Williams, “Dream Home Heartache.”) Seeing Gitane playing an open-air venue doing these gorgeous torch songs in broad daylight, dressed in a crimson-red evening gown and nose chain is a sight to behold. While typically these are songs that were born in the smokey hothouse of seedy clubs, it all works. When the material and performer are this good, it's proof that they can shine anywhere.

 Singing on the Indie Tour in Querfort, Germany.

Disc One is a great representation of the blossoming of the early stages of Gitane's solo career with a defined focus on the blues/jazz side of of her work. Disc two has some shades of this but goes further into the other sides of her 90's solo work and also her collaborative work with Rozz. It's all shades of brilliant blues, blacks and reds from here on out.

The opener for Disc Two is the promotional video for the single, “Heavenly Melancholy,” directed by Nico B. (Who also helmed the brilliant short film PIG and is the man responsible for giving us Cult Epics.) Made and released in 1992, its sonic sleekness and dance-floor friendliness is the perfect opener. There's some jazz tinge to Gitane's voice but the music is different, letting you know that you are in for a wholly unique ride. The video itself features a bewigged Gitane wandering the streets rejected until she finds herself welcomed into the arms of a large S&M club! (If only the rest of us would be so lucky when lost in large European cities!) The club scenes are contrasted with some beautifully lit scenes of Gitane, with her platinum hair close cropped, singing, while some other latex-clad lovelies of both genders dance around. There's some gorgeous jewel-tone sets and lighting going on here, with all that black vinyl and rubber looking especially shiny against cobalt blue and fire orange backgrounds. It may not re-invent the music video wheel, but it does add some lovely new tones to it.

Goddess in Vinyl: Still from "The Heavenly Melancholy" Video

Then there's a brief clip from the UK video magazine “Skin Two” from 1994 featuring a lot of preening S&M enthusiasts and a way too short clip of Gitane singing while tied up and blindfolded as a a Domme teases her with a whip. What you hear is great but undoubtedly the “Skin Two” folks were more focused on the obvious and less creative side of things.

After that, we get a short but chewy documentary from Denmark in 1995 entitled “Fetish Generation,” courtesy of Steen Schapiro. There's some good interview footage where Gitane talks about her involvement with the S&M community and how it is reflected in her music, noting that fetish is a facet of the her music, not the other way around. This take is so intriguing, since so many musicians have employed sexuality as a manipulative, borderline cynical tool of intention, with the music often being an afterthought. With Gitane Demone, it is refreshing because sexuality is just one of the many colors she is painting her music and words with. Featured here are the songs, “Tongue of Fire,” “Cool Domina” and “Perv,” which are all very strong. You also get to see Gitane ride a guy around like a pony on stage and then man-up with a willing submissive lass, all with the help of a luscious apparatus. (You'll have to buy the DVD for further detail, folks.)

Brief performance shot from "Fetish Generation" Documentary

Then we get some straight up live footage, with a killer set from a show in Hamburg in 1994. This is the show where we really get into the meat of the music from this era. Featured here are some crunchy renditions of “Tongue of Fire,” “Perv” (which positively smokes and crackles, here) and “Loveless.” The band is really great here, as is the striking image of Gitane belting out these saucy-raw rock & roll songs and wielding everything from a cat o'nine tails to a large double ended dildo with the total authority of someone who knows exactly what to do with them. This is definitely one of the best highlights of this already stellar disc.

 "Tongue of Fire" in Hamburg, Germany.

Segueing smoothly into the next aspect of her career is some choice footage from the “Dream Home Heartache” tour along with co-collaborator/conspirator Rozz Williams. Anyone who is a fan of the album will be extremely happy to hear these tracks live, complete with the non-album cover of David Bowie's “Time,” courtesy of Rozz. (An excellent cover to boot.) Even more lucky is that we get a healthy selection of material totaling 7 songs, which is basically almost the whole album sans Gitane's “Manic Depression” and the tune “These Vulnerable Eyes.” This is okay though since you get to hear them on Disc One. Hearing their soul-burrowing cover of Roxy Music's otherwise uncoverable song, “In Every Dream Home a Heartache” live is extremely special, capturing the cold claustrophobia of the original. The only hiccup is that the climax of the song is cut off, which is a total sonic interruptus.

From the "Dream Home Heartache" tour.

Given that this was far from a huge tour, having this type of documentation of this legendary collaboration complete with clear audio and video, is a huge gift. The stage set-up is as unique as the music, with the mise-en-scene being more of a beaten down European cafe than rock & roll club. Whenever it is a solo turn, the other one sits at a small table with a glass of wine and a lit candle, with the vibe being slightly decadent and melancholy. The only real annoyance is that there are various times where you can hear people loudly talking in the background. Seriously, folks, if you want to have a big conversation with your friends, go to a regular bar or coffee shop. Doing it at a live performance is just flat out rude. Anyone who has been on stage and exposing their art can attest to that.

Rozz singing Bowie's "Time."

That unavoidable nuisance aside, this is a great set and gives a sweet peek into another facet of both Gitane and Rozz's art. The beauty of these two geniuses coming together is that you have two equals with diverse abilities, raw talent and a total willingness to experiment and take a risk. Which is honestly the biggest reason why both the album and performance works so well. This whole set (and DVD) is a Stendhal Syndrome inducing experience of live art. 

Following that up is no mean feat but we get more rare footage with Gitane making a special appearance at a Christian Death show with Rozz at the Astoria II in London, 1996. The footage is good, the band's tight and Gitane sounds powerful. The big problem here is the audio on Rozz's mic. While he is absolutely on fire here, with a nice high-energy contrast to the quiet moodiness of the “Dream Home Heartache” tour, you can barely hear his voice at all. Which is a bit of a bummer but anyone who has to shoot video in a live situation can tell you that audio is a bitch-goddess that can give as much as she takes. That said, it is still great to have this preserved and hearing Gitane sing “Lament” off of “Ashes” is beyond gorgeous. There is literally nothing this woman can't do.

Gitane & Rozz during a Christian Death show 
 in London, 1996.

Rounding out this disc is a 1998 performance in Kato, Berlin. After all of the lush blues, lovely melancholia and sexual decadence, we get a stripped down but powerful mini-set of four songs, opening with “I Lost a Friend to Heroin.” A song like this could easily slip into sap but instead it is crunchy and appropriately gut level. Being someone who has lost some loved ones to addiction, this song pretty much nails the feeling. But even if you are someone who hasn't, it will still hit you. Continuing the great streak is “Speed” and “Incendiary Lover.” The live version of the latter is a vast improvement over the studio one I heard many moons ago.. The studio one is pretty but very polished. Live, it sparkles. But the true standout here is the final song, sung a-Capella and being the classic French song “What Now, My Love?” This is a song that has been covered by everyone ranging from Frank Sinatra to Elvis Presley, but it is Gitane's that is the most heart wrenching, finding that rare middle of raw emotion and a rich voice. There is no better note to end on than this hard hitting and beautiful song. 

Souring through "What Now, My Love?"

  Cult Epics has done an absolutely primo job of preparing and compiling material. This set is both a valentine to any fan and also to Gitane herself. There was some obvious good thought put into what material to mix and how it was placed. The real testament to this is that not only is it perfect for someone who is familiar with her work, but it is also a very good introduction to someone who is new.

In addition to all of this audio-video goodness, there is even a bonus CD featuring unreleased covers of such songs as “Time,” “Them There Eyes,” “In My Solitude” (a big favorite) and “Gloomy Sunday,” among others. It is beyond a treat.

One of the best things about this set is the idea of having this lovely and comprehensive documentation of a truly unique and great artist. Some of our best artists are the ones that often get overlooked by the mainstream press. But others can keep going through the motions while those of us in the know can celebrate and support the real artists. The cream will rise and the proof is in “Life After Death.” 

Now, here's hoping for a follow up disc in the next few years covering her post-1998 work, with the most recent being the amazing, jangle-indie rock band The Crystelles. The beautiful thing about artists like Gitane Demone is that both their past, present and future work only gets richer and more layered with time. 


© Heather Drain 2011

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Sticky Sweet Music with Crunch: An Interview with Power-Pop-Punk Rock Legend Sammy Serious

I'm not entirely sure how the work of Sammy Serious and his classic power pop/punk band The Zeros (think Cheap Trick meets the Dickies with some Bowery Boys attitude thrown in for good measure) came into my existence, but I was a convert from day one. I can tell you that the first song I ever heard was the Zeros “Sticky Sweet Girls,” which is on their major label debut “4-3-2-1..Zeros” and it was instant love. There are songs that take awhile to properly woo you into their groove and then there are the ones where you are smitten with by the 10 second mark. Needless to say, it was the latter all the way for me when it comes to the Zeros.

But that album, as I was soon to find out, was only the tip of the iceberg, with the central figure being lead singer and songwriter Sammy Serious. Turns out, Mr. Serious has had an amazingly productive career as a solo artist as well as work in other bands, such as Serious Suicide. Most recently, his musical touch has popped up in a brand new Zeros album entitled “Zero In.” While Sammy is the only remaining member of the “classic” line-up (that being Danny Dangerous on bass, Joe Normal on lead guitar and Mr. Insane on drums), it will not disappoint anyone who is a fan of any of Sammy's past efforts. Thanks to the joys of social networking, I contacted Sammy about doing a little interview for my small but mighty blog and much to my happiness, he said yes!

So without further ado, here's a little Q&A with none other than Sammy Serious!

Question: Preaching to the Unconverted- How would you describe your sound and style to anyone who is new to all of the Serious works?

Answer: I would describe it as hold on to your life cause SAMMY SERIOUS is going to come in and rattle your brain.

Question: What were your original influences when starting the Zeros and how do they differ from what influences you now?

Answer: My influences when I started THE ZEROS are basically the same now as it was then. I still listen to all the same stuff today back when I started the band along with some new stuff out today.

My theory is what's good is good and if I hear something I like it doesn't matter when I started listening to it just matters if I like it or not.

Question: Being from the New Jersey area, was your life ever touched by the hand of the great Uncle Floyd?

Answer: Uncle Floyd was a great show growing up in New Jersey, you got to see some great bands on the show along with some funny skits it was really a show that I would say influenced a lot of shows on TV like Saturday Night Live and Mad TV.

Question: You mention DOG DAY AFTERNOON in the Zeros song “Pina Coloda Bang.” What other films have made an impact in your life?

Answer: Saving Private Ryan I must have watched that at least a 100 times
and every time I watch that movie I think about all the People who serve and protect us
I also wrote a song about the people who serve our country titled American Vets
which is on the CD LAST STOP OP HOTEL. Check it out. There are other movies that made a impact on my life but there are too many to name.

Question: Are there any records/books/films in your collection that would probably shock your fans?

Answer: Not really.

Question: In addition to the Zeros, you've also made a number of solo IDs and worked with Serious Suicide. What are some of the key differences between the three different parts of your musical career? Which albums would you recommend to someone first getting into Serious Suicide, the Zeros and your solo work?

Answer: That's a good question I don't really put one before the other its more like I have different extensions on my writing and they go into different avenues. I would think if you like one you should like the others they are all from the same brain just a different part of the insane.

Question: I have heard that with the latest “ZERO IN” that you ended up doing the bulk of the work with the music. What was that process like and how long did it take for it to be completed and released?

Answer: I wrote the album and recorded and produced the record and it took a few months for it to come all together to make the complete record. I also recorded the record at Hit Track studios in Las Vegas with studio mogul TOM PARHAM who I worked with on projects in the past, so that is a good thing to have a engineer who knows what your after and knows how to get it fast so things move quickly.

Question: Your work has been featured in a number of films,with the best arguably being the cult classic TAPEHEADS with the song “Mr. MX-7.” What was it like working on that song and that film? Did you get to work directly with Stiv Bators?

 Answer: When I wrote the song Mr MX-7 I did work with Stiv Bators on a daily basis. Stiv was a Icon, I loved the Dead Boys and Stiv was one of the coolest, kindest rock and rollers I ever met and worked with.

Question: I love how much name-play is used in your songs, like “I've Got My Name,” the Introduction and Good night portions on “4-3-2-1...” and most recently with “Now Sammy.” How did this come to be part of your style over the years?

Answer: The names are a big part of THE ZEROS along with some other characters who are in the band LIKE the Decantor, the Zeromonger, etc...
There are songs for these other characters I created but your just going to have to wait for NAMES VOLUME 2 to be released to hear these songs along with some other names that surround THE ZEROS.

Question: What advice would you give to any independent artist starting out in the music business?

Answer: Make sure you promote yourself wherever you can to who ever you can.

Question: You've done some really fun, borderline surreal, video work on You tube with The Moo Moo Serious Show. Any plans to take this part of your creativity further?

Answer: Moo Moo Serious is a character that is part of the Zeros family. She is one of our biggest fans that follows the members and gives them advice like a concerned mother and also has a cooking show on YouTube and she should be posting another episode soon.

Question: At the end of the day, how would you like to be described?

Answer: NOW SAMMY? SAMMMMMMMY? SAMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMY ? For everyone reading this going What! this is a part of the song on the new record “Zero In” by The Zeros .

Question: Bonus Barbara Walters Question: If you could pick any musicians, living or dead, to work with, whom would it be and why? What is the Sammy Serious dream team?

Answer: If I was to start a band and I could pick any musicians to be in it
I would get Burt Bacharach to play keys, Roger Waters to play bass, Roger Taylor to play drums, Alvin Lee, Jimmy Page, to play guitar, Bozo the Clown to play tambourine
and have Alice Cooper, Freddie Mercury, David Bowie, Johnny Lydon (Rotten), John Lennon hanging out so we can hang out after the session and have a party.

Also if anyone wants to check out The Zeros you can check us out on OR search Facebook for the Zeros.

Much thanks to Sammy for taking the time out to answer my Questions and for making some of the best and most underrated music to have come out in the past 20 years. If you like your music with lots of fun, humor, crunch and catchy, then go no further than the works of Sammy Serious. Plus "Zero In" is a really, really fun album.