There was one scene in the massive filmic edifice that is Get Back, the film of the Beatles nearing the end, the likes of which was only exceeded by the magnitude of Napoleon’s 1812 retreat from Moscow, that made me shake myself from my stupor during which time I was wondering how it was possible for Paul McCartney to be chewing on his fingernails so frequently and yet have the ability to play bass, piano, drums and probably a multitude of other instruments had they been in Twickenham Studios or Savile Row or inside his car or randomly on his route to work.
This was after George Harrison decided that he could continue to be a member of the band and Billy Preston, who happened to be in town, was dragooned, willingly, into the band.
During an exchange between McCartney and Lennon it was pointed out that the Beatles were four, then three, then four, then five. That is, John/Paul/George/Ringo, John/Paul/George/Ringo, John/Paul/George/Ringo, John/Paul/George/Ringo/Billy. It was even suggested that they might ask a multitude of others to join the group, equaling, perhaps, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
The issue, of course, is the still somewhat alive horse that I’ve flogged over the years, which is: When does a band stop being a band? Or when is it a band in name only?
As is well known there is a tendency for acts to continue on with the name of a band although there are people missing from the lineup that made the band what it was.
I will confess to following Marvel comics in the mid-70s, a supermarket habit that I took up while my Mom took our cocker spaniel to obedience school at the local armory. I’ll even admit that I groaned a bit when I learned that she threw away all of those comics–including a first issue edition of Howard the Duck.
That money could have come in handy living in a third floor, one bedroom apartment with my girlfriend as we penny-pinched our way through our early twenties. Instead, I just supplemented my income with used record and cd sales. It became a routine ritual, particularly if I was going to see a band a club later that same day. The extra money meant we could start with an import or two before referring back to the regular Leinenkugel drafts.
It was around this same time when a younger friend of mine began diving into the maddening world of record collecting. The harder the find, the better potential for envy.
Most of our collected purchases stemmed from singles with rare b-sides, import copies with obscure bonus tracks, and the occasional bootleg where earned money was spent on cassette soundboard recordings.
But one day, my friend brought in a couple of comic books. Not just the Marvel or hipster underground fare, but a comic book devoted entirely to rock and roll bands. I grabbed his copy of the Pearl Jam comic and began to skim through it.
The artwork wasn’t bad from what I recall, but the storyline presented was some glaringly fictionalized account of the beginnings of everyone’s favorite Northwestern rock band, Pearl Jam.
Being a fan of rock and roll writ, I can attest to some basic knowledge about certain rock and roll bands. While Pearl Jam is by no means a favorite of mine–I once owned Ten and now the only Pearl Jam related item in my collection is the single they did with Neil Young–I do know the basic story of their origins.
The comic book version I was reading suggested that during the band’s initial days, the members were struggling with a band name. That challenge ended when a band member presented his bandmates with a Mason jar of some of his aunt’s homemade jam that featured some hallucinogenic properties. The comic book then declares the band settled upon a name after that psychedelic spread in honor of the woman who created it.
The story is total horseshit, but I vaguely remember people suggesting it back during that time when people pondered, “I wonder how Pearl Jam came up with their name?” I stopped caring during the time they were known as Mother Love Bone, and who the fuck wants to figure out that name origin.
I wouldn’t be surprised if that quote from the comic book was completely butchered, but the point is, this is the same kind of research that the comic was working with on this full color spotlight presented in the Pearl Jam edition of Rock ‘n’ Roll Comics.
I never bothered to read another copy of Rock ‘n’ Roll Comics after that, and my friend also stopped seeking out this fictionalized accounts of other bands that were highlighted.
And the stores that carried Rock ‘n’ Roll Comics suddenly stopped carrying these serials, leaving one with the impression that the company who produced this stuff was beginning to run low on revenue.
Twenty years later, a documentary was released that fully explains the history of that company as well as the story of its eccentric owner, Todd Loren. The Story of Rock n Roll Comicspresents Loren as a very divisive man, one who is seen as some first amendment crusader almost as much as he is for financially screwing the artists and writers who helped bring his vision to the comic book page.
Before he became one of the most controversial figures in the comic world, Todd Loren began as a mail-order retailer specializing in hard to find imports and rare musical items. If you were looking for a bootleg of some Roger Waters concert during the Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking tour, then Loren’s company–Musicade–would probably be a great place to find a copy.
Dealing in bootleg records and the like can be a tough racket, but Loren was a tough cookie and he found success at a young age. Musicade adverts could be found in the back of such publications as Rolling Stone magazine at one point, but it wasn’t long after making such progress before Loren decided to pitch the mail order business and combine his own love of music with another passion: comics.
It was a parody comic of Bruce Springsteen that gave Loren the idea of mixing the two art forms, and it was through unsavory business practices that Todd collected a stable of writers and artists to come up with creative ideas at a very low price.
The end result was a cheaply made yet unquestionably enviable idea of taking rock folk lore and using it as the creative fictional spark for a comic story line. My original complaint of the series lack of accuracy is about as pointless as me arguing how there’s no way that cosmic rays are the reason how the members of the Fantastic Four got their powers.
“It’s obviously not real…it’s a cartoon!” as Mojo Nixon wisely points out during one of his interview segments on The Story of Rock ‘n’ Roll Comics. Evidently, the two worked together during Todd’s life and Nixon is used as one of Loren’s supporters, both in his business practices and in his advocacy of the first amendment.
It’s that struggle which takes up the bulk of the film, positioning Todd Loren as a true fighter of the right to free speech while the other side presents him as an opportunist, someone who used the notion of the first amendment as a thin cover for Loren’s ultimate goal: to make money.
Nothing exemplifies this more than Loren’s actions when he made the decision to fold Musicade and start Revolutionary Comics, the comic book company he started with some assistance from his father.
Not that Loren needed his old man for financial assistance, it seems, just for moral support. It makes perfect sense that he’d look to his own family for this given the fact that he effectively fired everyone from Musicade, an act that is presented to swiftly in the documentary that it almost seems callous and selfish.
Almost as soon as Loren started Revolutionary Comics, he attracted controversy. He failed to distinguish the idea that bands might want to be in control of the entire aspect of their career, even their visual image.
No sooner than did Revolutionary Comics turn away from things like conspiracy theories, erotic hell ladies, and even sports figures, Loren found a niche within the music fan base who found entertainment and collectability in these very crude publications.
Almost immediately, Loren discovered that the world of rock and roll is filled with lawyers and legal teams who have nothing more to do then look for licensing infractions copyright infringement.
He wore this conflict like a badge of honor, devoting cover space for the motto “Unauthorized…And Proud Of It!” which probably antagonized his industry foe even more.
What killed them off for good was a court ruling that identified Rock ‘n’ Roll Comics as work that was protected from legal action. After a judge sided on Loren’s side, the company began ramping up production to include everything from New Kids on the Block to Pink Floyd to the Sex Pistols.
He burned many bridges along the way, giving aspiring artists a chance to be published for the first time while systematically disposing of other ones who began to question the financial obligation that Loren offered for their work.
He developed a rubber stamp contact. Literally. One that he used on his payment checks, thereby forcing his contributors to sign away all rights to their work in order for them to endorse their payment.
To his peers, his comics trivialized the work that they sought to legitimize. The professional competition was eager to point out his company’s shoddy layout and amateurish composition.
There’s also room to suggest that some of their complaints were fostered from sour grapes, particularly when you learn about some projects where the rock and roll artists themselves gave Loren verbal permission to proceed with his unauthorized accounts while granting other publications authorized status, for a fee.
Both Jerry Garcia and, surprisingly, Gene Simmons overlooked their own organization’s litigious history and allowed Loren to continue his serialized accounts of their bands. For Jerry, the decision was probably based on some hippie idealism while Gene understood that any minor publication like Rock ‘n’ Roll Comics would do more to help Kiss’ exposure than impact their bottom line.
The Story of Rock ‘n’ Roll Comics does little to draw much attention to Loren’s unfavorable image as an explanation for the violent manner in which he died. As the documentary draws closer to its conclusion, it announces how a father who became concerned at his son’s absence from work suddenly turns into a homicide investigation.
Todd seldom missed work, so when he failed to show up one morning, his father went over to his apartment only to discover his son’s body brutally stabbed to death.
The gruesome discovery also provided his friends and family with another shock: Loren was homosexual. His personal life was extremely private, to the point where none of his friends and coworkers knew that he was gay.
The case remains unsolved, but the killer’s pattern and location match that of serial killer Andrew Cunanan, murderer of fashion designer Gianni Versace. It’s widely believed that Todd was one of Cunanan’s first victims, but with the killer’s suicide in 1997, it became impossible to question him about his involvement with Loren’s 1992 murder.
With this strange twist, the story of Todd Loren and Rock ‘n’ Roll Comics ends almost as immediately as it began. The series continued under the leadership of Todd’s father for a few years after his murder, but the comics failed to find direction without Loren’s unwavering drive and the business folded.
The absence of Rock ‘n’ Roll Comics only made them that much more collectible. As someone who remembers the comic’s past and can attest to their questionable worth, I can’t say that I fully appreciate the higher cost these comics command.
What I can appreciate is how The Story Of Rock ‘n’ Roll Comicssuccessfully explores the behind-the-scenes account of this niche business and becomes a more fascinating topic than any of the storylines of their rock and roll inspiration.
Going back to the first time I ever heard Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica, I remember wondering, “What is going on here?”
The second thought immediately following this was “Who on Earth would release this?”
Even today, Trout Mask Replica stands out as a left-field landmark, an impressive opus that may not sound like a masterpiece upon first listen, but its creative seeds begin to plant themselves immediately afterwards causing each subsequent listen to reveal an additional layer of complete brilliance.
So it goes without saying that the record company that had the impossible foresight to allow such a document to grow to fruition must most certainly be run by a special person.
The label was originally called Bizarre and it eventually transformed into Straight Records. The men responsible for these forward-looking labels were Frank Zappa and his manager Herb Cohen. Together, they drew up a contract with Warner Brothers for Zappa’s material, and they secured a vanity label with the company so that Frank and Herb could offer artists an outlet for their creativity.
From Straight To Bizarre: Zappa, Beefheart, Alice Cooper and LA’s Lunatic Fringe chronicles the origins of Zappa and Cohen’s record company all the way to its ultimate collapse amid bad feelings and obligatory lawsuits. It’s recommended to any fan of Zappa or Beefheart that’s interested in learning more about this very creative time for both of them and the strange business plan that Zappa hatched in turning documents of L.A.’s self-described freaks into recording stars.
What’s striking is how patient Zappa seems to be with these people, some of whom have clear mental issues that far outweigh any attempt at assisting their artistic endeavors. Others are just plain opportunistic, part of the scene because they invited themselves and invented a second-life persona that was either hiding their real history because of how awful it was or how bland it looked on paper.
For some reason not explained on film, (none of the interviews presented in this feature Zappa) Frank felt these enigmatic characters deserved documenting. He began on a quest to transform a paranoid schizophrenic named Wild Man Fischer who spent his days selling his stream-of-questionable-consciousness songs for a dime, essentially panhandling his lunacy for tourists and passers-by.
For most of us, these characters are minor annoyances on our way to work, but to Frank, Fischer was part of the landscape of this social freak culture he was attempting to document. Fischer thought he’d sound like the Beatles when Frank finished, but when Zappa presented an album with not only Fischer’s primitive compositions, but his crazed existence in the form of field recordings, he got mad.
The Wild Man--true to his name--flung a flower pot too close for comfort at the head of a very young Moon Unit Zappa, trying to process how An Evening With Wild Man Fischer wasn’t as big as Meet The Beatles.
After that event, Fischer was never allowed in the Zappa house again and his debut record has never been re-released to this day because of bad feelings. I verified this online where the lowest priced copy of An Evening With I found on a recent scan of eBay (VG rating) had a starting price of $20 with better quality copies ranging from $50-$100.
The GTO’s get ample screen time on From Straight To Bizarrewith Pamela Des Barres and Miss Mercy spouting on about meaningless stories of getting high with the Magic Band and defining what exactly constitutes being a groupie. Out of all of the label’s releases, the GTO’s Permanent Damagemay stand as the most unnecessary record ever made, but according to the film, Zappa tolerated their limit talents and unprofessional behavior in the studio.
Thankfully, a great deal of time is spend on Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica and the power that he exerted over the band during this period. It’s clear from Magic Band members John French (Drumbo) and Bill Harkleroad (Zoot Horn Rollo) that the Captain initiated a regime of cultdom that French later referred to as “Masonesque.”
You get the sense that Zappa himself was aware of this treatment, yet gave a wide birth between being concerned with their welfare and allowing his old friend Don Van Vliet to have what he wanted most: total creative freedom. In his defense, Zappa did give the Magic Band a hot meal every so often out of pity.
During the period where they were considered a band, Alice Cooper also maneuvered into a contract with the label based on an audition that Vince Furnier misheard to take place at nine in the morning at the Zappa cabin in Laurel Canyon instead of Frank’s preferred time of nine in the evening.
Frank also caught an Alice Cooper gig that witnessed half the audience leaving in disgust, which meant that Zappa simply had to agree to sign them based on principle alone. By the time of their third album Love It To Death, the band had finally found a new producer who captured their essence into a palatable offering, led by the enormously successful “I’m Eighteen.”
With that record in 1971, the logo of Straight Records was all that was left before the Zappa/Cohen project was phased out of discussion along with Zappa’s own contract with Warners.
I haven’t even touched on signings like the a capella gospel vocal group The Persuasions, Tim Buckley’s Starsailor release, as well as Mother’s member Jeff Simmons’s solo album. They’re all included in the discussions during From Straight To Bizarre, which makes the film a bit heavy at over two-and-a-half hours in length.
You may get a bit winded by all of the talking heads throughout the feature, helping to assist in the film’s girth and you may get very sick of the original musical music they use each time the conversation focuses on Beefheart. There are samples of some of the label’s artists, but as a matter to save money, the producers must have bargained a lower number to someone familiar with Beefheart’s repertoire to come up with a cheesy facsimile.
Cheap tactics aside, the film does prove to be a good reference point for any up-and-coming Zappa fan looking to see how far his influence extended into the late sixties. It’s also a nice document of one of the most successful avant-garde record companies that ever benefited from a major record label and a reminder of how different the system was when it came to harvesting talent beyond the pool of commercial ambition.
A reprised documentary under a new title and with updated footage, In Our Own Time‘s release coincides with the Brothers Gibb’s 50th anniversary in music.
Fifty years. Now that’s saying something, even if you’re not a fan, and believe me, I live with a nonbeliever.
When my daughter was a baby, I’d try to find a gentle song to ease her fussiness and end the crying on those occasions when she’d wake up in the middle of the night.
One night, I randomly selected “I Started a Joke” and I found that my gentle singing of it actually made the baby scream louder. Before anyone thinks that this was because of my inability to carry a tune (which is completely true), I tested this song on future middle of the night “gigs” and discovered beyond a doubt that it was baby’s hatred of this 1968 Bee Gees’ hit and not my singing.
If I made it to the “And I fell out of bed / Hurting my head / On some things that I said” line, my daughter’s cries escalated into blood curdling wails.
This looks pretty cool. Interviews and live footage with Jay Reatard, the Dirtbombs, Black Lips, and lots of other bands that play messy, loud rock and roll. “New Garage Explosion: In Love With These Times” was directed by Joseph Patel and Aaron Brown with producer/journalist Mike McGonigal, and you can now watch the entire 75 minute long documentary online.
When I was growing up, Eric Clapton was always held in high esteem by my father, and he instilled in me an almost immediate respect for the guitarist. He taught me that bands like Cream and Blind Faith were more than just rock bands, they were “super groups.”
In terms of Clapton’s own legacy, the sole record Clapton did with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers became Dad’s ultimate go-to record as proof of Eric’s dexterity.
“You know that someone spray painted ‘Clapton is God’ on a wall because of his playing on ‘Beano,'” he’d tell me, before explaining the meaning of “Beano.” For years, I thought the Mayall/Clapton Bluesbreakers was actually called “Beano” and became dismayed when I could never find the album of the same name.
Since I was prewired to appreciate Clapton, there was almost an instinctual attraction toward a new documentary on his early years. The unauthorized dvd, The 1960’s Review, focuses on the guitarist’s formative years, when his talent was untarnished by later career decisions that undermined the man’s credibility.
While everyone is sweating over the Exile on Main St. reissues and the accompanying documentary, Stones in Exile, many are still upset that Cocksucker Blues has yet to see the light of day. Sure, the film’s a milestone in it’s documenting the Rolling Stones at their debauched best and should indeed be restored and released, but a more rare gem still sits in the vaults.
Shot by Peter Whitehead in 1965 during the Stones’ tour of Ireland, Charlie Is My Darling is a short documentary of the band before they were an industry. They were barely a band and their lack of footing is clear in the interviews. Most telling are those with a reticent Charlie Watts and a dopey Brian Jones. To think that these goofy kids would become The World’s Greatest Rock Band is something only Jones’ ego takes seriously.
Lots of shakey, amazing footage of early live shows and some backstage action with Mick and Keith putting on their best Elvis Presley, Charlie Is My Darling is a darling of a film. Honk honk.
Like most youth movements, Mod fashion and culture is cyclical. What started as a response to traditionalist jazzboes has been hashed and rehashed again and re-imagined every ten years or so. While some of the music and fashion designers change from one wave to the next, the one thing that doesn’t is the pure Britishness of it all.
As an artist, Pete Townshend has a particular eye for revision. He also has a particular eye for trends and the Mod movements have been critical to The Who‘s development and legacy over the years. The band’s initial rise in England can be traced to its adoption of Mod clothing and attitudes. It’s ability to not simply wash out to sea like so many of its British Invasion contemporaries in the early 70s can be traced to it’s masterful recording of the era in another Townshend “rock opera” that helped spawn another Mod wave in 1973.
Newly released on DVD, Wesley Willis’s Joy Rides is a beautifully assembled biographical documentary of one of Chicago’s most unique artists. Wesley Willis was a diagnosed chronic schizophrenic who found a way to turn both his art and his music into a reliable source of income over his tragically shortened life; he died at 40 of leukemia in 2003. Willis’s twin careers as both an artist and musician fascinated some, offended others, and were marginalized by still others.
His career as a visual art is sometimes even further obscured by the same subset of fans who loved his music. While it is easy to dismiss his ballpoint-pen artwork of cityscapes, to do so is to do Wesley a huge disservice. I wasn’t aware that to a degree, Wesley had formal architectural drawing experience. The amount of detail in his drawings is staggering, and the fact that years after he’d visited a certain city he could draw a building or a subway tunnel from memory is an astounding ability. The movie shows Wesley in the latter part of his life while drawing, and it’s fascinating to see the artist in action.