Friday, September 15, 2017
The last few weeks I've been watching a lot of music documentaries on Netflix and Amazon. Here are some recommendations.
Who Is Harry Nilsson? (And Why is Everybody Talkin' About Him?)
I didn't know much about Nilsson. I knew the theme from Midnight Cowboy and the lime and the coconut song. And I'd heard about the legendary benders. I learned a lot from this movie about a brilliant songwriter and singer whose career and life were cut short by his own self-destructive impulses.
Family Band: The Cowsills Story
I knew almost nothing about the Cowsills other than that they recorded the version of "Hair" that got played on the radio and that people thought of them as corny, like Sonny & Cher-type faux hippies or something? Any way, I had no idea that they started out as a serious rock band, that they were extremely talented, or that their career was sabotaged at every turn by their monster of a father.
Betty Blowtorch and Her Amazing True Life Adventures
TW: Talking about rape/incest
I had never even heard of Betty Blowtorch, but they apparently had at least one album out and had been on MTV or VH1 or both maybe? Betty Blowtorch was the band name of four hard-rocking women who broke out of the Los Angeles club scene and briefly flashed across the sky before their lead singer. Bianca Butthole, was tragically killed in a car wreck. Mostly they did raunchy sex-drugs-and- rock'n'roll type party songs with titles like "Shut Up and Fuck" and "Size Queen," but Bianca also sang an absolutely harrowing song about being raped by her stepfather and another about the breakup of her marriage. Even if you don't enjoy hard rock music, it's an interesting story full of interesting people and definitely worth a watch.
Feats First: The Life and Music of Lowell George
Little Feat was one of those bands I had always heard of but never actually heard. All I knew about them was that they had some sort of connection to Ry Cooder and that they were highly thought of by other musicians. Turns out they were great, and Lowell George dying young might be the biggest loss for the music world since Jimi Hendrix passed.
Salad Days: A Decade of Punk in Washington DC
The story of a moment in time in Washington Dc that somehow produced an astonishing number of great bands: Minor Threat, Bad Brains, Government Issue, Fugazi, Minimal Man, etc.
Scott Walker: 30th century Man.
I had no idea who Scott Walker was, but the movie description said something about him being one of the most influential musicians and it was produced by David Bowie, so I figured it was worth a look. I only watche maybe 2/3 of this one because, even though Walker is revered by luminaries from Bowie to Sting to Radiohead, I hated his music. I found it pretentious and silly, but that's just me. Obviously, when Brian Eno, Johnny Marr and Marc Almond all think someone is great, their opinion should carry a lot more weight than mine, so check it out. There's a good chance you'll love him.
P.S., It turns out I did know one of his songs, the Walker Brothers' "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore," which is a perfectly nice song.
The Past is a Grotesque Animal
This chronicles the history of Athens, GA- based band Of Montreal. I'd been hearing about them for years, what with them being based just down the road in Athens, but I didn't really know anything about them. Turns out, they're pretty freakin great. And frontman/songwriter Kevin Barnes is a musical genius. And really the movie is as much a portrait of him as it is a document of the band and he is a fascinating character. You should definitely give this one a watch whether you're familiar with the band or not, even if it's not your type of music (think Flaming Lips or Arcade Fire, maybe?)
Fair warning, if you are offended by full frontal male nudity, there is a scene of Kevin Barnes performing on stage in nothing but a cumberbund, but it's fairly brief . I know how sensitive a lot of y'all are.
David Bromberg. Unsung Treasure
If you've never seen Bromberg perform (I was fortunate enough to catch a show on one of his many farewell tours) he is not only a wildly talented musician, but a raconteur and showman and all-around extremely entertaining performer. This is a nice overview of his life and career interspersed with terrific concert footage.
Whatever Happened to Pink Floyd? The Strange case of Waters and Gilmour
Spoiler alert: What happened was Roger Waters is a jerk.
Okay, there's a lot more to it than that and this is definitely worth watching if you're even a casual Pink Floyd fan like me.
Beware of Mr. Baker
I didn't know much about Ginger Baker, other than that he was the drummer for Cream. I had no idea he was a highlty respected jazz drummer before turning to rock and roll. I had no idea he had, at the height of his career, gone off to war-torn Nigeria to study African drumming techniques and play with Fela's band. I had no idea he had pretty much bankrupted himself buying polo ponies. And I didn't know he was a godamm maniac! The opening scene of the movie is Baker breaking the filmmaker's nose with a metal cane.
This is absolutely worth watching even if you have no interest in music at all because Ginger Baker is just a wild man.
Should you watch this? It's Lemmy. Of course you fucking should.