For the English Beat at Johnny D’s in Somerville, it was all work, but nothing will stop these musicians from making their appointed rounds. From the back of the bar, where we sat finishing supper, Matt Morrish’s (Sax/Vocals) sax sounded like dinner jazz as the set began. The band offered up songs mostly from the albums Special Beat Service and I Just Can’t Stop It, with tunes by General Public thrown in for good measure, like “Never You Done That.” Surprisingly, the house was packed, despite the snow on a Sunday night.
Although the energy wasn’t as rockus as at past gigs, the Red Bull kicked in and the band found their mojo. Banter between Dave Wakeling (Lead vocals/Guitar) and Antonee First Class (Vocals) was fun as usual, but the smiles felt forced. Perhaps, the road and the snow took it’s toll. I suppose it’s a testament to their professionalism and on-with-the-show giddy-up-go, but all in all this felt like an oldies show at the county fair. Using phrases like “this old chestnut” and asking “does anybody remember the ’80s?” only served to emphasize the oldies aspect. They sound like a good bar band, as my friend said, and I’d add a good bar band that found their mojo in a can of Red Bull. Nonetheless, just like the postman, they delivered the necessary goods in a timely manner and put on a decent show.
John Krokidas as author and director alongside his pal Austin Bunn as scriptwriter use a mishmash of quotes from the Beats, flinging ’em fast and furious, like jazz provocateurs exploring a riff. Some of these gems, I’d wager, came after the 1944 incident of Lucien Carr’s (Dane DeHaan) murder of David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall), but it doesn’t matter, it’s poetic license, and it works.
Using Allen Ginsberg’s (Daniel Radcliffe) point-of-view, the film takes on Beat culture while anchoring itself to the incident of Kammerer’s murder to heighten the dramatic tension. We see a little of where Ginsburg comes from. His mother, played superbly by Jennifer Jason Leigh, is insane and his father (David Cross) ineffectual. Ginsberg meets Lucien Carr at Columbia. They become fast friends but, eventually, Ginsberg wants more which leads him to follow through on “first thought best thought,” by planting a wet one on Carr. Carr, not interested in Ginsberg’s advances, relegates “Ginsy” to the role of his new intellectual benefactor, and additionally, rids himself of his old benefactor, David Kammerer, by killing him in Riverside Park. Carr would go on to serve two years for first degree manslaughter in Upstate New York, but the film doesn’t take us that far.
Scenes of furiously cutting up classics a la William Burroughs’ (Ben Foster) technique, and benzedrine, alcohol and ether induced states of discovery capture the energy of youthful experimentation during the era. Krokidas chose to use modern music for some scenes and jazz of the time for others keeping the exuberant momentum going. We experience the Beats’ sweaty, gritty exploration of ethics, sexuality, race, ethnic and socioeconomic class relations through a hazy lens of blue and yellow cigarette smoke in dorm rooms, jazz clubs and parties. Ben Foster as William Burroughs has the voice and affectation down, and Michael C. Hall brings sensitivity, longing, and creepiness to his portrayal of David Kammerer.
There are a lot of thematic devices used, like death as a new beginning. One scene has Ginsberg and Carr hanging themselves in Carr’s dorm room. Unexpectedly, the chair kicks out from under them, they’re choking – we see a shot of the pipe as it breaks and they fall, surviving a simulated death experience. Oops, it’s a PVC pipe, not yet invented, but heck, it’s a minor detail.
“Lu was the glue,” as Ginsberg has said about their gang, and Dane DeHann perfectly personifies the captivating character Lucien Carr must have been with his graceful androgynous sensuality. Daniel Radcliffe is outstanding as the nebbish that would become the poet avenger. He may have glasses, but he’s lost his magical Harry Potterness and his lovely British accent. His portrayal of Ginsberg is heartfelt and fierce. We can see how this young intelligent radical is poised to Howl.
The use of the the romantic poets is well placed as Ginsberg and Carr discuss Yeats and begin crafting “A New Vision” based on Yeats’ “A Vision.” In another scene, Jack Kerouac’s (Jack Huston) reaction listening to his friend quoting Shelly’s Elegy for Keats as he suffers from a wound he’ll never recover from, in a war he doesn’t know if they’ll win, adds depth, complexity and context to the film.
In scenes that exemplify the generation gap, John Cullum is perfect as the old guard English professor, Lionel Trilling as Ginsberg questions him about techniques in poetry. Each disregards the other’s opinion, and towards the end of the film, Ginsberg leaves Columbia defiantly unwilling to withdraw his “smutty” final paper about the Kammerer murder. The old professor saves face in the eyes of the institution, but secretly champions Ginsberg. In a final scene, Ginsberg sits with his father at home, smoking and listening to the radio. An announcement that WWII is over comes on just as Ginsberg opens his mail to find his “smutty” paper returned with words of encouragement. Both wars are over, the external, and the internal, for Ginsberg.
Krokidas said in an interview that he and Bunn did extensive research but couldn’t get a hold of early works that are now available. If you’re interested in reading more about the early Beats or the murder, Krokidas cites The Book of Martyrdom and Artifice – a collection of early writings from Ginsberg’s journals about his relationships and adventures with the other Beat luminaries, so candid Ginsberg insisted it not be released until after his death, and The Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tanks, a noir style novel by Burroughs and Kerouac not released until after Carr’s death. The Kammerer murder has been credited as the violent event that gave birth to the Beat Generation. It did give everybody something to write about, that’s for sure, even generations later.
I found The Velvet Underground & Nico at the thrift store. I couldn’t afford new records, except from the cut-out bin at the Woolworth, but the thrift store yielded some early treasures. While my friends were learning “Stairway to Heaven” and “Free Bird,” I was trying to play the lead for “Sister Ray,” off of White Light/White Heat. Few girls played electric guitar amongst us, and I think that was why I was considered one of the guys. I had a white hollow body, no name, no markings, truss rod wasn’t quite right, so it went out of tune easily, but that made it easier to bend strings. I loved that thing, and I have no idea how I got it.
At the time, I had a friend that drove a cab. He and I had the same last name and wore the same sized jeans, so we were going to get married. He claimed American Indian heritage, and everything we did was spiritual. Especially listening to records at his apartment and getting wasted. I was a latchkey kid extraordinaire. My friend would come and pick me up in his cab after his shift. When I scored a record we’d listen to it over and over, taking turns on the guitar. The action was pretty awful on that guitar and he’d complain that I had to get it fixed. He disappeared after awhile, as did the white hollow body electric guitar. Lou Reed remained.
Years later I dated a nice guy who looked like Lou, and like Lou was adjusting to methadone clinic. His brother was a famous painter in NYC and we were going to hang with him in the Village. It never happened. But I heard stories about his brother and the loft parties and how Lou Reed would show up, and I’d listened attentively. We played with a sixties reel to reel I found in the trash in Somerville, and I’d study the photos from Lou’s Transformer days from an old French magazine that my friend had given me. He had Lou’s black leather and wraparounds down cold and rode a motorcycle. I dyed my pixie cut yellow and wore glam makeup claiming one of Lou’s looks for my own. Lou Reed had moved on from both of us. He was somewhere between “Metal Machine Music” and Honda commercials, and still a dark blue flame on the horizon.
All the same, Lou Reed gave me permission to experiment in a world absent of meaning except obliteration of feeling. He gave voice to hostility and rage that I felt. His alienation was my own and he made it cool. His heartbreaking anger was really love and I knew it. He didn’t want followers, but I, like so many others, followed. I continue to try to learn the lessons from a master who remains on the horizon – a “Satellite of Love”.
To quote Lester Bangs, “Lou Reed is my own hero principally because he stands for all the most fucked up things that I could ever possibly conceive of. Which probably only shows the limits of my imagination.”
The Boston trio Krill is fronted by Ezra Furman’s brother. He wore a red baseball cap with a hoodie over it, effectively hiding before getting into their set. Vocally, he had a higher range than expected, with a bit of a Hank William whine going on. The lyrics were clever if not a bit infantile, as subjects ranged from turds in the bowl to a dumb-ass in a pair of shorts. This song in retrospect must have been for his brother, Ezra, who was sporting a blue and white culotte romper under his leather.
Ezra and his brother both talked about working at the Fresh Pond Theatre, and both thanked Spirit Kid who opened. Ezra said of Krill that they were the best band in Boston in his opinion, but he is biologically biased. Krill have a record of their own coming out in February. Complex guitar runs in quirky pop-punk make for catchy tunes, but the subjects head towards the intentionally obscure or obscene.
Ezra has talent, I’ll give you that, as do his boyfriends. But he also sports a bit of pretentious smart-ass wit and a dollop of smarmy sycophantic fawning. A penchant for the plaintive, vocally, Ezra still comes off as smirking even when the subject is self-loathing. He has been compared to the likes of Gordon Gano of the Violent Femmes, but I found myself thinking of the New York Dolls and early Lou Reed. Maybe it was the dress. They also tend towards a bit of quirky casbah craziness like They Might Be Giants, and if you throw in a little Green Day for looks, ie, Billie Joe Armstrong and Ezra have a similar look, you’re getting close. They’re good, no doubt – drums, sax, bass, guitar and keys work together to keep the sound swinging from jumpin’ jive to punk rockabilly, and they’re hard working, barely taking a breath between songs for most of the set. Ezra got into his Dylan-esque persona as the set progressed breaking out the acoustics guitars and the harp. An androgynous hispster hero in the making if he can only live down his own internal legend.
“Day of the Dog,” Ezra Furman and his band the Boy-Friends. Available now on Bar/None Records.
We came in at the tail end of Shepherdess performing a wacky little ditty called “Fries.” They finished out their set with a couple more tunes before leaving us, upstairs at the Middle East. My date and I headed to the back of the room to the “make out couch” and contented ourselves with watching the crowd while we waited for The Lovers to set up. The crowd was definitely more female than male and younger white students for the most part. Not being that familiar with the lez rock scene or it’s music, or Lovers, a queer outfit from Portland, OR, I was afraid I’d be uncomfortable, but I was glad to find that the audience was reasonably diverse given the conditions. There were some oldsters hither and yon, including a couple that looked like parents and a number of middle aged men, but mostly small clusters of mixed gender or women. The androgynous trio all sport short mop tops, and wear plaid – grunge or simply cause their from Oregon, don’t know, but their cute, and good-natured.
The Lovers started right in with “Purple Sage,” off their new record, A Friend In The World. Interesting, there were no guitars in their performance, though there are on the record. Instead, they used a synth and two drum kits, one regular handled expertly by Emily Kingan and one small electronic kit that Kerby Ferris (Keys) played. Carolyn Berk (Vocals) used hand gestures like a DJ emphasizing her message and the emotional journey of each song. She waved goodbye on “Modern Art Museum Of The Modern Kiss,”and thus began the dancing to the heavy bass riff that grounded the groove and shaped the space like a womb. They didn’t announce that the first songs of the set were off the new record until “Oh, Yeah.” Berk’s yips and growls were fun and the chorus was resplendent with harmonies. As the set progressed, they pulled out all the stops on “Boxer.” The song lending itself to Berk’s hand gestures and the double drums from Ferris and Kingan. With Kingan at the kit pounding out the beats, an overdub of synth riff and Ferris on her own small kit, it killed – and the place smashed forward.
When they broke out the old familiars everyone was grooving to the heavy sound. Heading into the stratosphere with electronica that sounds like a space probe the audience head bobbed along. On “Don’t You Want It,” Berk offered a nice growl to accompany the soaring harmonies with all three voices singing different lines at some points. A small break and the ladies were offered shots on stage. Berk and Ferris warned not to try this at home saying they were “Olympians in their thirties.” The young guy next to me with his female date, asked if this was the last act for the evening. I found it amusing that he’d whoop like he meant it, but had no clue he was watching the headliner. I think he may have had other things on his mind, as a watched him curl his fingers through his dainty date’s hand.
Throughout, I kept hearing shades of Nina Hagan, Romeo Void and Au Pairs, wrapped in heartfelt stories of love and loss in a danceable synth sound. Their sound consisted of layers galore that could take even more overdubbing. They took us out with two more danceable numbers from their new record, “Sweet Lavender” and a less breathy, heavier version of their own “Wild Horses,” song, not the Rolling Stones cover.
Check out The Lovers on tour and grab a copy of their newest work. From their website (http://www.loversarelovers.com/) : “With their seventh album, A Friend in the World, Lovers fuse intimacy and empowerment into a modern atmosphere of honesty, new feminist humor, and rhythmic complexity.”
A retrospective of the work of Profirio DiDonna (1942-1986) is currently on exhibit at the Danforth Museum of Art, Framingham. The accomplished and mature work belies the artist’s death at a very young age. In many of the large, late career paintings sinuous vertical marks reach upward forming a path vibrating with color to create a kind of mystical, enrapturing experience — meditative, magical, very powerful. John Baker, author of the recently published Porfirio DiDonna: The Shape of Knowing, in commenting on the “undulating corridors” has said, “… the pathways suggest a metaphorical as well as a literal allusion to the existential and historical evolution of [DiDonna’s] work.” Baker suggests the “road” may be seen as “the symbol for [the artist’s] entire studio journey.” Baker further opines that “perhaps movement and change [as seen in these paintings] may be seen as the radiant core of any human search for meaning in life.” This interpretation gives these paintings and the evolutionary drawings in the exhibition a universality that reaches far beyond their beauty. Author John Baker and poet, essayist, and publisher William Corbett will be present at the Danforth on Sunday October 20, 3-5 pm for a reading and book signing of Baker’s book on the artist Porfirio DiDonna.
Curated by John Baker and Nina Nielsen former owners and directors of Nielsen Gallery, Boston
Danforth Museum of Art, Framingham, MA, September 8 – November 3, 2013
Wes Craven (“Nightmare on Elm Street”) and Steve Niles (“30 Days of Night”) have teamed up to make a horror comic. Craven talked a little about the new book, five in the series, at the Boston Book Festival during the “Writing Terror: An Exploration of Fear” panel talk. He said that the basic premise is a college aged boy is called home because his father is ailing. Dad wants him to take over the family business and leave school. He doesn’t want to. The family business as far as he knows is an expensive wine import-export business. The kid runs off to drown his sorrows on the wrong side of town and gets in a bar fight when some guys hassle a girl. Pushed to the breaking point, the kid flies into a rage and fangs pop out of his mouth. Dad’s business isn’t exactly shipping wine. It’s shipping blood, and dad is a one of the most powerful vampires in the syndicate. The beginning of the series is due out at the end of the month, according to Craven, and being released by Liquid Comics. We can only hope that this story boarding will end up on film. Sounds like wicked good fun.
On a more solemn note, Steve Niles’ house was flooded. Check his site for more info and how you can help. http://www.steveniles.net/