Category Archives: rock n roll

Unadorned

Sometimes things just come together perfectly.  A year ago, in February, I brought together a group of six extremely talented young women to make a music video for a song on the about-to-be-released Matt Ryan record. Everything about “(I Just Died) Like An Aviator” rocked.  It’s one of my favorite shoots, one of my favorite videos. You can watch it here.

Then, last Wednesday, I read that Matt would soon be releasing an unadorned acoustic version of the same album.  He sent me a copy, and I immediately turned on the acoustic “Aviator” and before the song was over I knew what I had to do.

The texting began. I started with my Matt Ryan-impersonator Chloe Barczak as she would have to carry so much of the idea I had in my head.  She was in.  Then co-producer Charlotte Beatty to handle the organization.  And the first video’s guitarist Carina Begley, as the guitar was (except for a few piano notes at the very end) the lone instrument.  An acoustic version of the same team, so to speak.

Then I told Matt we were again making a music video of “Aviator.”  He never even asked what we were planning, and instead got American Songwriter Magazine to agree to premiere the video sight unseen.  He sent me the chords and even a video for Carina on how to play a few of the guitar parts.

By Friday of last week we had a schedule and a location.  The same location as the original video.  We all met at 8:45 AM on Sunday, loaded up my Jeep with almost all of my gear, and drove the two tenths of a mile to the home of Dean and Shellye.

As Carina got used to the feel of my Martin acoustic, Charlotte and Chloe helped me set up lights and camera.  By 10:30 we were filming, buzzing from a lot of Willoughby’s coffee, Coke-a-Cola, and salted-caramel Orangeside Donuts.

But this time around Chloe and Carina had their work cut out for them.  My concept was to present the video in one long take.  No cuts.  Just a perfect performance and some precise rack focusing. No sweat.

We worked on blocking the first half dozen times through, as Chloe worked on her emotional delivery.  She felt this version of the song was really sad.  Desperate.  Depressing even.  Both Charlotte and Carina agreed.  I was not about to argue.

We got the blocking just right, the lighting perfect.  And by the twelfth take I started noticing tears in Chloe’s eyes.  That was when I knew we had something special.  We knocked off one take after another, with barely a pause between, and she nailed it.  Take sixteen was fucking brilliant.  Take eighteen was perfect.  We did a few more.  I had a B-camera rolling just in case my impossible one-shot idea would not work.  And after the twenty-fourth take we wrapped.

I got home around 1:30 PM.  I copied the footage onto a drive as I put away the gear.  Then I started editing, going back and forth between takes 16, 18, 12 and 24…but ultimately the fucking brilliant won out.  It would be take 16.  I added titles, the slightest color correction, some film grain, and I exported the timeline.  By 4:30 PM I texted Matt, Chloe, Charlotte, and Carina a private viewing link for the video.

This is what Matt Ryan wrote to me after seeing it for the first time: “My god she’s killing me. I seriously have tears in my eyes.  I love it.  Breaks my heart.  It’s beautiful  Please tell them I love it.  Thank you for thinking to do this.”

His appreciation was appreciated.

Matt stripped down a beautiful song, and allowed us to do the same to the original video.  But this video is unadorned in other ways as well: void of ego, attitudes, rude people (unlike most of the rest of my past few weeks, hell, unlike most of the world we live in). It was just four people working together, all doing what they need to do, having fun doing it, turning a beautiful song in a visual work of art.

Thank you to Chloe, Charlotte, and Carina, my brilliant cohorts on this project. Thank you to Dean and Shellye for again letting us invade their home.  Thank you to Matt Ryan and American Songwriter for the blind trust.

And here it is:  American Songwriter Magazine

Sometimes things just come together perfectly.

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Filed under directing, film producing, film school, filmmaking, matthew ryan, music, music video, rock n roll, Uncategorized

The Tale of the Broken Neck

I spent a good portion of the past three weeks shooting WHO IS LYDIA LOVELESS?, which will be either my 13th or 14th completed feature film (depending on whether this or PIZZA, A LOVE STORY is completed first), and while I could share stories about the candid and amazing interviews with Lydia and her bandmates, or what a thrill it was to watch them record their new record, how freakin’ funny they all are, or even just how damn nice everyone is, I will instead share this.

The tale of the broken neck.

My crew arrived in Lydia’s hometown on Columbus on Sunday, June 14th, just in time to see Lydia and company perform at a free show.  But because of the ridiculous lack of cover on the stage, and the fact that is rained virtually every day I was in Ohio (and apparently always does in June), the show was a disaster waiting to happen.  Gear got wet, sound issues abounded because electronics don’t like getting wet, basically it was a cluster fuck on the part of the promoter.

When everything was finally working, and there was a break in the rain, an extremely frustrated Lydia and company managed to pull off their song “Wine Lips” (sweetly dedicated to a young fan), and a small part of another song before the clouds let loose with a torrential downpour.  Ben moved fastest, getting his upright bass under a tarp.  But as one of the dozens seemingly “in charge” of the event ran onto the stage and cancelled the concert, Lydia, completely frustrated by the events, threw her beloved Telecaster to the ground in anger.

For me, a lover of chaos in rock and roll it was a beautiful way to begin the trip.  My 5th Lydia show, only a song and a half long.  And as me and my crew walked back to the rental Jeep in the pouring rain, I couldn’t wait for the interviews to begin.

And this story might have ended there…

Until the next morning when I get to Lydia’s and Ben’s home, and checking out her office where the first of many interviews would be filmed, I picked up the Tele, making some stupid comment to Lydia about how indestructible they are.  And then it became obvious.  I noticed.  She noticed.  Fuck!  The neck of her favorite guitar was cracked.  Not a small repairable crack.  But cracked through and through on the headstock.

Now in my life I have certainly put my foot in my mouth many times.  But I don’t think I’ve ever felt worse about calling attention to anything.  Here we are about to begin the interviews, while I can see how truly upset she is about her guitar.  I felt terrible, even though I played no part in breaking it.

In the end of course, the guitar was quickly fitted with a gorgeous new neck.  The interviews were everything I wanted them to be and more.  I learned for the 1,843rd time this year to think before I speak.  And Lydia posted this on her Facebook page with a picture of the new neck: “New neck for my main squeeze. My guitar tossing days are over ‪#‎trymeditationforanger‬ ‪#‎onepunchloveless‬ ‪#‎whoamikidding‬

I even got to take home a little souvenir.

I don’t really collect much memorabilia anymore.  I have a few items from my favorites bands (y’know, The Mats, Archers, Wilco), but none of them have the meaning of this broken neck.

It sits now at the entrance to my office, the first thing I see every time I enter.

And it truly does represent the most rock and roll way imaginable to begin this film.

Broken Guitar Neck-small

 

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Filed under documentaries, filmmaking, lydia loveless, rock n roll, Who Is Lydia Loveless?

A Masterpiece for a post-Hüsker Dü World

As a disclosure, let me state that I am director of the upcoming Grant Hart documentary EVERY EVERYTHING. But that said, if I didn’t truly love this record I would write nothing at all. As even my closest friends know, if they ask for an opinion from me, I will give it to them truthfully. I’m not one to sugar coat, or ever tell people what they want to hear.

Next, so you know where I stand, I believe these to be indisputable facts:

1. Hüsker Dü and The Replacements are the two most important rock bands of the past 32 years. That every single band that picked up a guitar and rocked post 1987 owes everything to these two bands. They saved rock and roll at a time when even punk had completely lost its edge and become new wave. So that is the regard in which I hold the members of these two bands.

2. Just as the Beatles had two great singer/songwriters in Lennon and McCarthey, Hüsker Dü had Mould and Hart. There is no Hüsker Dü without Grant Hart. He is as important to the band as Mould, and just as good a songwriter. As for their post-Hüsker Dü careers, Hart might not have been as prolific, but he delivered “2541” and “The Main,” which for me are the two best post-breakup songs.

Now, onto The Argument.

The Argument
This is a vast, impressive work. Hardly a collection of pop tunes that you can play on your car’s stereo system and listen to at leisure…at least not at first. In taking on a book most of us could not even get through the Cliff Notes on, Hart has given us a true rock opera, about good vs. evil, about heaven vs. hell, about lust and the snake in the garden. This is a post-punk rock bible, a “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” or “Tommy” for our day. But the first half dozen times through you need to listen. To absorb. To take in the grandeur of what he’s accomplished. And only then you will find the pop songs. The rock songs. The songs to break your heart. Then you will begin to see the scope of “The Argument.” Then you will begin to see the influences Hart wears proudly on his sleeves, from an almost polished version of the noise we came to love as Hüsker Dü fans to nods towards Dylan (“For Those Too High Aspiring” is probably my favorite track, sounding like a lost track Bob Dylan contributed to “Zen Arcade”), the Doors (“Golden Chain”), the Faces (“Shine, Shine, Shine”), Buddy Holly (“Letting Me Out”), doo wop (“So Far From Heaven”), anthem rock (“Glorious,” which would make for a perfect very tongue-in-cheek Christian rock anthem), even a Rudy Vallée ukulele ditty (“Underneath the Apple Tree”), and yes, old Bowie (the brilliant title track). Hart is a walking history-of-music encyclopedia, and that knowledge shines through on every track.

The production is masterful. (The use of the beep from Sputnik on “Is the Sky the Limit” is a stroke of genius.) Hart’s voice is powerful when it needs to be. Frail, almost cracked, when he wants to rip out your heart. The instrumentation is at times a cacophony of blessed noise pop and at other times brisk, clean, clear. There are moments when a track ends and you actually wish for a breather before what will assault you next.

To take on Milton’s “Paradise Lost” might have seemed a fool’s game for most musicians. But Grant Hart isn’t like most musicians. He’s probably one of the smartest men in rock & roll. And while this might have been a glorious gamble that ended badly, he’s hit the jackpot. But no more so than the fans who get to experience this work of art.

Should you buy it? Well, I’ll answer that question with a question: would you go see Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” if it was in a gallery in your town? If the answer is yes. That you would have to see the genius in Van Gogh’s swirls in person and for yourself. Then, yes, buy “The Argument.”  Masterpieces only come around every so often.

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Filed under Grant Hart, Husker Du, new music, punk rock, rock n roll

new Waxahatchee album

The new Waxahatchee album CERULEAN SALT is out today, which makes this a glorious day. It rocks a lot harder than AMERICAN WEEKEND, but still Katie Crutchfield wears her beautifully wounded heart on her flowered sleeve. Only this time the guitars tears through your soul as well.  As I’ve said before, she is our most talented young songwriter.  And she’s one of the two or three best female vocalists making records today.  Get on the boat now…there probably won’t be a better album released this year.

 

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Filed under alternative rock, indie rock, rock n roll

Record Store Day

When Kristine and I moved to New Haven in 1989 so she could run the about-to-open Sam Goodys on Chapel Street (whose 20% off Saturdays are still legendary), we were on the verge of having seven record shops in a town of roughly 120,000 people. Think about that. We have one now. Most towns this size have none.

But on this national day of celebration (I’m sure many would think of it as a national day of mourning), I prefer to talk about the great majestic record shop of my impressionable years. Of a store that started in a second floor apartment on Bank Street in Waterbury, Connecticut. I’m guessing on the year here, but thinking 1978, give or take. It lasted there for only a year or so, then moved up the block into another second floor apartment over the Thom McCan shoe store on that same street, then after a few years in that location, moved into a sprawling space on the third floor of another Bank Street building that housed a jewelry store on its first floor, and an Arthur Murray dance studio on it’s second. Its original name was Cheapskate Records, and sometime during its run at its third location (yes, there would be a fourth, and now a fifth) became Phoenix Records. But it always remained Cheapskate Records to me.

Cheapskate was started and run by a silver-haired gentleman (gray way before his time), with crazed and brilliant eyes, and the ability to print in 6-point type. He was one of the funniest, most sarcastic people I’ve ever met. The missing Monty Python. His name was Professor Morono. Or simply The Professor to those who knew.

If anyone in my life has deserved the title of “professor” it was this man. He influenced my career, my art, as much as Holy Cross’ Sister Noreen who handed me Vonegut’s “Breakfast of Champions” and Brautigan’s “In Watermelon Sugar” during my Junior year of High School. As much as Donald Spotto who made me marvel at the wonders of Alfred Hitchcock during his course at the New School for Social Research. This Professor would on a weekly basis hand me the vinyl eucharist that would make me believe, make me see, make me into who I was destined to become.

Where should I begin? (Where could I begin!) The “I Will Dare” 12-inch from The Replacements, and later “Let It Be,” all the early Elvis Costello, it was where I bought “London Calling” for Christ’s sake. The first R.E.M. EP, Nick Lowe’s “Jesus of Cool,” The Sex Pistols, the Dead Kennedys, Pere Ubu, Devo, Siouxsie, Tom Waits, countless picture sleeved import singles, live recordings (that amazing Springsteen boot from the Bottom Line). At one point before moving to New Haven, I had a wall of vinyl that measured about 15 feet wide and 6 feet high, with another few dozen crates in my grandfather’s basement. Don’t know how many albums that is exactly. But it’s a lot. And a good part of them came from Cheapskate.

But it was more than just about vinyl. It was about the friendship. The never-ending dialog. The Professor and his cohort, the lovely Diane. Music was our politics, our religion. And no one was a republican or a democrat. We were Clash fans or Pistol fans. Punks or lovers or modern rock, or even hard core. Hell, even heavy metal, or old time country. We were old school, new school, any school. It was about the music. The music was all that mattered once you walked through that door into the collection of crates packed so tight you had to remove a dozen albums just to be able to flip through. The walls lined with those breathtaking 4×4 posters. Could I possibly fit another on my apartment walls? But how could I resist Paul Simonon smashing that bass in 4-foot-square glory? (Quick answer: I couldn’t. And damn I wish I still owned that now.)

When time came to write my first novel, “The Second Greatest Story Ever Told,” I made The Professor a fictional character (as I did The Replacements), one who would have a profound effect on the Daughter of God during her teen years. Turning her on to what was truly important on this planet: Patti Smith (that opening line to “Gloria” so made her laugh), the aforementioned Costello or The Replacements, and of course Husker Du, and with a song called “Green Eyes” how could they not appeal to our lovely green-eyed savior? The Professor was her John the Baptist. Perhaps he was mine as well.

I miss those days. When traveling around with my Replacements documentary “Color Me Obsessed,” the one stop I always make in any strange town is at a record shop, if one even exists. A couple of them, if I’m lucky. I’ll buy something from a local band. And I’ll think back to the days when I’d walk in to one of those less-than-glorious locations — okay, they were glorious to me, Cheapskate Records was a cathedral. My church of rock ‘n’ roll. I’d be handed a stack of vinyl. It was what The Professor had for me that day. A respite from life. Or perhaps the gift of life. A little salvation. And a whole lot of inspiration.

Thank you, Professor. For everything.

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Filed under music, Record Store Day, rock n roll, thoughts

The making of COLOR ME OBSESSED – part 31 (I NEVER WANTED MUSIC!)

A perfectly over-rated example of the rock doc genre is the Ramones flick END OF THE CENTURY. Yes, it’s better that the average VH1 special. But not by that much. In every frame you know that Joey is already passed onto the other side. Had the filmmaker begun the project two years earlier, I wouldn’t be making this criticism. But the film feels wrong to me. As do most rock docs made after a band is longer with us (for whatever reason). Whether that band be X, the Beatles, or anyone in between. Something is missing.

Which is why I never (“NEVER!” I screamed) wanted for a moment to give my favorite band of all time such treatment. I truly believe that any “traditional” doc on The Replacements will play like one of these VH1 specials. So, when the opportunity to make this film fell into my lap, I knew I had to come up with something as daring, as unique as my subject. That fuck-you to tradition that The Replacements so deserved.

I knew some would have issue with my approach. That, like the band at so many junctures in their career, I risked falling flat on my face. But, and anyone who knows my career knows this to be true, is was a risk I was more than willing to take.

What probably surprises me most is that some people insist I’m lying. That I couldn’t afford the rights to the Mats music. I have to think those people just can’t comprehend risk taking, or doing something different. They’re so caught up in tradition, they see the world through blinders and are unable to accept originality. How they ever became Mats fans is beyond me. Perhaps they grew jaded and crusty as they got old. Or perhaps they’re just jealous that it worked. As I know it does. As the dozens of IMDB reviews from people who’s seen the film at festivals have confirmed. Many of whom who entered with their arms folded against my no-music nuttiness, only to leave with a satisfied grin plastered to their face. Originality can do that. It can make you feel alive again. (If you give it a chance.) Sort of like The Replacements did the first time we all heard them.

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Filed under directing, documentaries, filmmaking, independent film, indie rock, rock n roll, rockumentary, the replacements

My next music doc!

The other day I came up with what really should be my next music documentary. A companion piece, if you will, to Color Me Obsessed. Me and a crew of three other camera-people each assigned one member of the band Vampire Weekend. We stalk them. We harass them. He break into their homes. We are there when they eat, sleep, call their mommies. We make their lives miserable. And all we ever do is pose the question: “Why do you suck so much?” Over and over again. “WHY DO YOU SUCK SO MUCH?”

I would see it almost as my gift to the rock ‘n’ roll world as the confrontations would inevitably force the band members to get hopefully angry, turn to alcohol, or better yet, hard drugs, to finally take off the white V-neck sweaters grandma knitted, grow into angry punks, growing some actual balls in the process. It could only help their sound. They’d ditch the rinky-dink keyboards, opting instead for barely in-tune fenders, taking out their frustration on the unknowing strings. (I could almost hear the Fenders whispering to one another at night. “This was supposed to be an easy gig. Never a scratch. Fuck! We should have gone home with Taylor Swift instead.”)

It could be a transformation caught for everyone to see on camera, turning the wimpiest band in history into something raw and potentially brilliant. (Okay, brilliant might be pushing it for these guys, but at least something that wasn’t vomit inducing.) But just picture them breaking down, stealing old ladies purses, screaming at stranger in the street, urinating in public!

Or of course it could backfire. We could so distress their gentle egos that they’d instead shrivel up and wither away.

Either way, it would make for great film.

And their fans really would have nothing to worry about, as I’m sure there’d be many other set of silly silly hipsters waiting to take their place, with an iPod commercial song and a Honda commercial song already in the can.

P.S. Before all the VW fans get their panties in a bunch, let me point out that it isn’t just about this band. But they are the poster child for hipster lame, for hipster wimp. This could just as easily be about dozens (hundreds!) of other bands, many from Brooklyn. They’re all so easily interchangeable you’d think someone would be embarrassed. Though I’m not sure that’s anything they teach you at hipster school.

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Filed under documentaries, filmmaking, gorman bechard, punk rock, rants, rock n roll, thoughts, vampire weekend