Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Queen Is Dead/The Bitch Is Dead

Last week Chrissy Amphlett of The Divinyls passed on from breast cancer and multiple sclerosis at the age of 53. Chrissy embodied Australian punk rock at its best and was even a bit of a rock fashion innovator, rockin' the insane schoolgirl look eons before Babes In Toyland and Hole took credit for that style (see video below).

Amphlett sang in a tough girlish voice that spearheaded the band's razor sharp sound perfectly, with great tunes like "Boys In Town" and a wild cover of The Easybeats' "I'll Make You Happy". The band invested in a physical and sonic makeover with their big New Wave hit "I Touch Myself". It was rumored that Amphlett was offered a chance to have her teeth re-done but declined, proud of her working class grillwork.

After the band scored their big hit Amphlett and her then boyfriend, guitarist Marc McEntee moved to Los Angeles, particularly the Pico-La Cienega district, amusing in that it's well-known for being a very staid middle class Jewish neighborhood where nothing ever really happens. I remember when choreographer Toni Basil lived around there in the late Seventies.

The Divinyls were always a pretty entertaining band but any view of Amphlett in action was lightning in a bottle, a pure distillation of everything that made punk rock red hot. Memories of her serve as an undying punk rock inspiration.


"The bitch is dead". The last word uttered by James Bond at the end of Casino Royale, and a fitting way of describing the passing of the obnoxious Alvin Lee of Ten Years After. His legendary arrogance and rudeness places him in a pantheon of peerless assholism headed by pricks like Ray Davies, Jeffrey Lee Pierce and Gene Simmons, to name a few.

Lee died on March 6th with his notoriety somewhat linked to that awful boogie warhorse "Goin' Home" from the Woodstock festival. This number alone not only dumbed down his music forever but hard rock in general. To hear this execrable boogie garbage you'd never think that one point Lee and his band produced three amazing albums in the late Sixties - Stonehenge, Ssshh, and Cricklewood Green. All three albums showed a band that effortlessly melded rock, blues and jazz without breaking a sweat.

Lee wore his roots on his sleeve, singing and playing sounding so closely to Mose Allison it was hard to tell whether it ws homage or blatant rip-off. At any rate many people were turned on to Allison thanks to Lee's serious Allison influences. His speed-freak style guitar playing which was reviled by critics at the time owed quite a bit to Les Paul's more jazzy workouts. I knew a few jazz guitarists that disliked rock & roll but listened to Alvin Lee for his refined approach.

Unfortunately Lee had a massive ego and his reputation as a creep was widespread, even prompting a few jabs from Iggy Pop himself in his autobiography "I Need More", stating that Ten Years After and Lee in particular were absolute dicks to The Stooges backstage at the Boston Tea Party. An interview with Lee in 1969 for Zygote Magazine started out with the interviewer literally walking in backstage and catching Lee staring lovingly at himself in the mirror.

The lowest point in Ten Years After's history, however, was their protest song, "I'd Love To Change The World", where Lee condemns "dykes and fairies, tell me where is sanity". Somewhere in Lee's universe he didn't envision sanity leaving average assholes like him who need to verbally and physically beat homosexuals for simply having different sexual preferences. Every time I hear this awful song I feel like a knife going through me.

There's something sad about a musician who has a rich sonic palate to work with and abuses it by watering it down to trotting out old Fifties oldies and lame boogie workouts, but he finally took it to the grave with him, where they, his homophobia and ultimately he belong.


Documentaries on bubblegum pop stars have run the gamut from absorbing (Who Is Harry Nilsson?) to not so (Paul Williams Still Alive) but outside of "Karen Carpenter: Superstar" there hasn't been one as depressing as "Family Band: The Cowsills Story". The film documents one of the most poorly managed successful bands in the history of pop music, made the more bizarre because the band was managed by their father.

The Cowsills started out as an average set of brothers hitting it as a garage band taken over by their bullying father Bud who came upon the concept of bringing in their mother and little sister (Susan), turning them into a wholesome rock & roll attraction. The focus and spokesperson of the band suddenly became Barbara (Mom), much to the horror of the Cowsill boys.

Although Barbara Cowsill was the so-called face of the band she was equally intimidated by her alcoholic and abusive husband, whose only choice in protecting Susan, her molested daughter was by sending her to an aunt's home or keeping her on the road. Bud's managerial skills were so aggressive and amateurish, says Bill Cowsill, that the band was originally scheduled for five spots on The Ed Sullivan Show but were dropped after only two.

The band were also bullied by MGM Records who refused to release their cover of "Hair", a battle the band actually won by challenging a local radio station to play "Guess Who?" on the air, the outcome being if anybody couldn't guess it was The Cowsills it would have to be played regularly. They won, and the record became a million seller. Unfortunately MGM hated their video for the song, a goofy piss-take with the band wearing silly hippie wigs.

Celebrity guests in the film include guitarist Waddy Wachtel and Tommy James (of the Shondells) who all attest to the terror dished out by Rock & Roll Dad Bud, with James even adding that whenever Bud's temper hit threat level red "I let the guys hang out in my office upstairs until the coast was clear". What a nightmare!

The film hurts not just by showing the band's artistic and financial bankruptcy but the aftermath of their lives following their fall as pop stars: Richard Cowsill's serious heroin addiction brought on by his tour of duty in Vietnam, Barry Cowsill's death during Hurricane Katrina and the eerie event of Bill Cowsill's death the day after.

Narrated by Bob Cowsill, the film concludes with the band still embracing their love for performing and finally getting a chance to play the kind of music their insane father and their obnoxious record company forbade them to play. It may not be the most brilliant shit ever played but at least they've finally found the freedom they've been denied for most of their lives. I know I'll never hear "The Rain The Park and Other Things" the same way again.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Chatroom (Great Britain, 2010)

As far as I'm concerned, you haven't been on the Internet until you've been flamed by some asshole(s) on a message board. Adding a completely harmless comment not meant to upset anyone, you find yourself suddenly attacked by a pack of virtual xenophobic dick heads who feel violated by a new voice speaking to them on their precious message board. Well, now there's a movie about an Internet bully called "Chatroom", which was released in England in 2010.

Directed by Hideo Nakata, master of the creepy film, whose past works include "The Ring" and "Dark Water", "Chatroom" continues his creepy pitch quite well. Adapted from a play written by Enda Walsh, Chatroom tells the story of a manic depressive teenager named William (played by Aaron Williams, bearing an uncanny resemblance to Syd Barrett), the son of a successful children's book writer who names her educational book series after William's older brother Ripley. If William's family hated him it would be easy to see why he holds them in such contempt, yet from all signs it appears his family loves him. He's just too messed up to see it clearly.

William starts a chat room of his own called Chelsea Teens, attracting a diverse group of unhappy peers, including Eva (Imogen Poots), Jim (Matthew Beard from "An Education"), Mo (Daniel Kaluuya), and Emily (Hannah Murray playing a more uptight version of Cassie from "Skins"). They meet in an empty room draped in red - representing the tone William tries to set by inciting their hatred. His opening question to them is "What do you hate the most?" William recognizes a victim in Jim when Jim says he hates himself the most.

Nakata makes some subtle color choices in his scenes, depicting William's bedroom in monochromatic tones of gray and only allowing full colors in the virtual house with deep green hallways and vibrant, menacing red meeting rooms. The hallways bear more than a slight resemblance to Stanley Kubrick's hallway in "The Shining" and the chat rooms recall David Lynch, as well.

William gets into everyone's head and goads them into performing negative acts with severe consequences, persuading: 1) Mo to confess his love for his best friend's 11 year old sister to him, getting him beat up and called a pedophile, 2) Emily her family will love her more if she vandalizes their home, 3) Jim to flush his antidepressants down the toilet making him go into violent withdrawals, and; 4) mutilating images of Eva's snotty model friends on the Internet. Since Eva is starving for a boyfriend she's somewhat sold on William's bullying methods. For a while.

Jim finally drums up enough courage to confess the major source of his depression, a traumatic abandonment at the zoo by his father when he was only 7 years old. After confessing the horrible story he realizes it was cathartic but William pounces on him by telling him to hold on to his depression, that feeling better about getting his feelings off his chest wasn't beneficial at all. Boy, does this sound like some asswipe on the Internet or what?

Eva's affections for William are snubbed by his obsession with bullying Jim. William goes for the hard sell regarding Jim's suicide by taking him to a site/room called Dorfli Place, a sort of take-off on emo suicidal attitudes. A video tape of a Japanese girl killing herself on camera is played for Jim with William standing in the background leering likes he's about to cream his shorts!

William blows off Eva so he can concentrate on getting Jim to shoot himself, handing him a gun at the very same zoo Jim was abandoned at. Can Emily, Mo and Eva get to the zoo on time to stop Jim from snuffing it and stopping the dastardly deeds of evil William? Only Skins fans know for sure.

To be perfectly honest, Chatroom isn't a great film but it does have a lot of thoughts about the Internet and how its warped perspectives and self-images in everyone in general, especially teenagers. Yes, there are plot-holes, no, the police won't come to your house if you post bullshit about someone, but the bottom line is that if you like Skins or moody teens in general you'll probably give this movie a big parental hug. And anyway, what could be more satisfying than watching a message board bully finally get the piss-thrashing they truly deserve?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Later Prophets

Time wasn’t on Barry’s side anymore. Once considered an asset to his workplace, he was now overshadowed by younger clerks, and now that he was no longer the new face at work, people were getting tired of him. Just what it was they were tired of, nobody knows. Barry was quiet and didn’t intrude on anyone, which of course struck everyone as being aloof. You couldn’t win.

Barry Weiss worked in a large government building constructed in marble and stone, the traditional classic metropolitan style. Where there wasn’t marble there was granite, and as such the building was so incredibly dense that cell phone calls couldn’t be made or received. One had to stand outside in order to make mobile calls.

Barry turned his computer on and opened up his emails. The first one was from the Director and made him laugh.

“TO: All Departmental Personnel
SUBJECT: Cultural Diversity Month
As you all know, the month of April is Cultural Diversitty month. This month we salute all minorities, races and creeds by having hour annual cultural Diversity lunch on Friday, April 10 at 11:30 aM. Bring you’re favorite dish from you’re cultural childhood, it will be fun!
Examples: Burritos, tacos, enchilades, and other ethnic delites. See you their!
Director Dan Ashman
Los Angeles County Department of Legislators
NOTE: All governmental correspondence should be treated as confidential.”

Dan Ashman had the highest position in his Department but still had trouble stringing together a sentence. Cerebral Palsy victims were far more accomplished at expressing themselves.

Barry’s intercom line rang. “Hello?”
“Barry could you step inside my office? I need to see you”. It was his boss, Mrs. Weston.

Mrs. Weston’s office had no windows and the walls had generic art prints framed in the common manner. Her office furniture was like a wrestling match between blonde wood and battleship gray metal. Her hair had the same combination with the battleship gray metallic look winning. Her face was fat and overly simple, trying hard to look contemplative.

When Barry stepped into Mrs. Weston’s office he sat down. She kept on writing as if he wasn’t there. After a minute of ignoring him she looked up and said, “Could you close the door?”
Barry got up and closed the door and as soon as he sat down she said.
“Barry, this is about that request for time off next week. I’m afraid I can’t approve your time off, I’m sorry”.
“But Tuesday and Wednesday is Passover”.
“Yes I know it’s one of those Jewish things, but we’re really booked with deadlines that we have to meet by the end of next week. We’re short-staffed enough as it is, and Nyesha’s still out on vacation”.
“She’s been on vacation for three weeks”.
“Well, that’s not really your concern, but anyway, I hope you understand the position I’m in. Sometimes I wish you’d stop and consider the responsibilities a boss like me faces every day”.
“What if Nyesha returns next week?”
“Barry, I’m afraid it’s not negotiable”. Her phone rang which she promptly picked up. “Yes?” She looked at Barry. “We’re done”.
Barry got up to leave.
“Yes, yes, of course I’m listening to it right now”, she said and then raised her chin from the phone. “And please close the door after you!”
Barry closed the door and walked back to his cubicle.

The office was now an audio flood of broadcasts from the Los Angeles County Legislators meeting. Everyone had the meeting turned on live from their computers, so the whole room boomed with the sounds of the Los Angeles County Legislators arguing and discussing important matters. Barry was bored of government and bored with politics.

“You didn’t get your time off, huh?” his work mate Jerry asked him as he sat down.
“How can you tell?”
“The world famous Walk of Shame from the boss’ office”. They both laughed.
“Thanks for the laugh. I wish I had more to choose from”.
“Smile! Look at the sun shining and the flowers blooming! Spring is here!” Jerry waved his fat arms around. The only thing thin on Jerry was his face. The rest of him was big, thick and jolly.
“We used to be able to see the sun and the flowers and all that shit until Weston moved us into the basement. Now all we have are a lot of walls and exhaust from the parking lot”.
“Aw, what do you want to see a bunch of windows for? They’re too bright, you might blind yourself!”
“THERE’S TOO MUCH TALKING GOING ON. ARE MY REPORTS READY, BARRY?” Barry’s supervisor Miss Salazar barked at them. Miss Salazar was short and fat like a little dog and just like one did a lot of barking.

Two hours later Barry was wrapping up a ten-page report with databases and charts drafted by him. It was a pain in the ass to draft with the meeting squalling all around him, but he managed to slap it all together into something presentable.

His co-worker Ameer was across the room goofing around with Talia. He used to be pretty good friends with her until Ameer joined the section, but now she talked to him all the time and ignored Barry. Miss Salazar raced over to Barry’s cubicle on her stumpy legs and barked at him.

“Barry! I need you to get started on the meeting minutes and we need to have a final draft completed by tomorrow morning!”
“Wasn’t Ameer supposed to do the minutes? He told me you assigned it to him”.
“Now, Barry! Ameer is too busy with other assignments so I need you to step up and pick up the slack!”
Barry looked across the room at Ameer bullshitting around with Talia.

“I’ll draft the minutes but I think next time Ameer should do it next time like you said he would”.
“Why are you being so rude to me? Do you remember what I said the last time you were rude to me?”
“No, when was that?”
“You know, you remember!”
“No, I don’t remember, when was that?”
“Remember how last month I asked you to do something and you raised your voice at me?” Who the fuck remembers shit like that and why?, thought Barry.
“No I don’t and obviously I have a report to finish because Ameer”, Barry waved his arm towards Ameer giving him a dirty look, “has too many responsibilities keeping him so busy”.
“Well if you’re going to be that confrontational I’m afraid I’m going to have to write you up. I really didn’t want to have to do this but I have no choice”, Miss Salazar, thick, short single mother’s voice rose. “YOU MADE ME WRITE YOU UP, I DIDN’T WANT TO DO THIS I’M A NICE PERSON BUT YOU’RE JUST PLAIN RUDE!”

Half an hour later, Barry took his afternoon break. He finally got a glimpse of the sunshine, the wind blowing his dark hair around. He stood at the bottom of the huge marble and granite staircase the fronted the august building he worked at. There was a bus stop by the sidewalk in front, stopping every so often and letting high school kids out. They seemed very happy.

Barry straightened his tie and lit up his cigar, puffing it a few times to make sure the flames catch. The flames seared his sinuses and his throat giving him a smooth, delirious high. He took a quick look at the hills miles away from him, and then opened up his Bible. It was opened up for The Later Prophets, reading a few lines from the Book of Micah:

“Woe to them that devise iniquity and work evil upon their beds when the morning is light, they practice it, because it is in the power of their hand. And they covet fields, and take them by violence; and houses, and take them away; so they oppress a man and his house, even a man and his heritage”.

Barry looked up from his Bible and saw Talia standing by the marble balcony overlooking the street, pretending not to notice him reading, unconvincingly. He looked back down at his Bible, turning to the Book of Habakkuk:

“Woe to him that getteth unjust gain to his house, that he may set his nest on high, that he may be delivered from the power of evil! Thou hast consulted shame to thy house by cutting off many peoples, and sinned against thy soul. For the stone shall cry out of the wall, and the beam out of the timber shall answer it. Woe to him that buildeth a town with blood and stablisheth a city by iniquity!”

Barry took another puff from his cigar, checking his watch to see how much time he had left before he had to return to his daily reporting. A bus pulled up at the curb and a couple of laughing teenagers jumped off, yelling and jumping around. Barry turned to the Book of Zephaniah:

“The great day of the Lord is near…that day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of wasteness and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness. And I will bring destruction upon men that they shall walk like blind men because they have sinned against the Lord, and their blood shall be poured out as dust and their flesh as dung”.

The Bible was funny. Barry laughed at the last line and realized that if he was going to get written up for insubordination he was going to do it with God’s blessing. He decided right then and there he was going to synagogue the following week for Passover. With a big smile he slammed the Bible shut, crushed the fat cigar out on the marble wall and slowly strode back up the steps of the obscene building.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Men Swear It's Menswear

When I think of men’s fashion I try to avoid the two most popular and polar opposites of style, which is either the fussy, fancy metrosexual looks of the eunuch-looking preppy, overly well-dressed man (GQ/Esquire Mag) or the snowboarding/rap artist look who follows everything basketball. Both varieties bore me to death, but fortunately there are designers who create styles that are cool, stylish and don’t put you in either dreaded box. Whew!

One of the best menswear designers is Robert Geller, whose designs are young, exciting and sporty without looking overly dumb. Born in Germany in 1976, he began his career working for Marc Jacobs shortly after graduating the Rhode Island School of Design at the age of 24. Two labels followed his stint with Jacobs, Cloak and Harald, until he launched his self-named menswear line at 2007 New York Fashion Week, and shortly won the GQ/CFDA Best New Menswear Designer Award in 2009. A quick view of his work will easily demonstrate why.

Geller’s fall collection for 2013 has been described as “biker scarecrow chic” because it deftly combines motocross tuck-and-roll black leather vests with long tweed pants and steeped hats with layered striped shirts, sweaters and even striped gloves. Pulled together, the effect is dramatic without being overwrought (paging Rick Owens). I also Mr. Geller’s palate choices a lot more versatile than John Varvatos, whose insane dependency on the color brown almost suggests a scat fetish.

Other designs I like include Zam Barrett’s long sleeved sweater with built in gloves. Pictured below is Maison Martin Margiela’s biker jacket designed for H&M consisting of leather belts sewn together. Really wild but a little too weird, like a hipster straitjacket with its multiple belting. Apparently scoring a used jacket on eBay is easy, so easy you wonder if they sold that many of them.

One designer that’s hard to beat for men is Balmain Homme, pictured below. Everything designed is flattering to a man’s body, very fitted, maintaining a sporty, sexy look. There’s something simultaneously stylish and working class about their designs (check out the silver pants), making any guy look just as cool at a nightclub as they are at an off-road race. Fashion without snootiness and it’s even affordable.