L7 — “Pretend We’re Dead.” A Documentary. . .

L7 - Pretend We're Ded

L7 documentary

A Documentary by Sarah Price (Blue Hats Creative)

To be published in Punk Globe, April ’17.

Running Time – 1:33 Genre – Documentary

https://youtu.be/D3qFKB78uic TRAILER   127 minutes.

This most famous song title  by LZ also informs the title of this Sarah Price-directed (“American Movie,” “The Yes Men Save the World”) documentary.

To think that when I first heard the name “L7,” I thought it stood for a Lagangian Point, that is, a point of space between two large gravitational bodies that is relatively stable; a parking space, if you will.

L7 is a 50s term, meaning a “square” – a kind of person–not a smoke. If you put one of your hand’s thumb and forefinger to form an “L,” and the ones, on the other hand, to make a “7,” put them together– and you’ve got a “square.”

Well, L7 has been called far from square—but it can also mean “odd-“ – and this doco delightfully proves it.

Beginning with a scene in a van where shadowy figures are bouncing up and down and a decidedly urgent voice is screaming, “Just shut up and fuck me, dammit, just shut up and fuck me!”

Ha ha. It was just a ruse. These women are pretty funny!

The film moves to scenes of tour and concert scenes. According to the Guardian UK newspaper, “Pretend We’re Dead” picked out footage from ’85- ’01 over 100 hours of Sparks’s personal assortment from her archives. “We documented ourselves pretty well because we thought no one else would care,” says Sparks. “It will be evocative of an era that doesn’t exist any longer.”

In front of a Peterbilt truck, the band members announce themselves:

“I am Donita Sparks, guitar, vocals. . .Dee Plaka, drums. . .Suzi Gardner, guitar, vocals . . .Jennifer Finch, bass, vocals.”

Then the film explodes into “Fast and Frightening” —

 

“The film includes the band’s never-before-seen home flicks, performances, talking heads, and meer-poppins.

L7-We hear from one of their biggest fans, Nirvana’s Krist Novoselic (also Foo Fighters and Flipper; director of “L7 – The Beauty Process”)—“They had the riffs, the rhythm—they just rocked!”

Punk doyenne Exene

A L7 concert was such an unpredictable barrage of sound and mayhem, with such primal thrash, that they were first classified as heavy metal. But as time wore on, it was obvious they were nothing like the misogynistic, intolerant or violent heavy metal bands of the day.

Shirley Manson opines about the band in a snippet: “”They were openly, brazenly feminist, and I really responded to that.” Garbage bandmate of producer of L7’s album “Bricks Are Heavy” Butch Vig

and Veruca Salt’s Louise Post, Joan Jett, X’s Exene Cervenka, and others are highlighted in the film. Look at L7’s visit dates here.”

Donita Sparks was born in Chicago, grew up in a suburb — Oak Lawn–made the ‘scene’ in Chicago (at such seminal clubs like O’Banion’s, the Lucky Number and Neo) as a teenager but soon after graduation from high school moved to LA.

L7 co-founder Suzi Gardner (who later became famous for being the first woman to be “tit cast” by Cynthia Plaster Caster), lived in the Silverlake neighborhood where “all the art punks lived.” She had developed a reputation for being a poet and writer (LA Weekly), which pissed her off because she wanted to be known as a ROCKER [emphasis added].

Another Chicago native, Dee Plakas joined L7 in 1987. After running through a number of drummers L7 welcomed Dee to the band in 1987.

Jennifer Finch, even though she played with Courtney Love in S.F. band Sugar Baby Doll/Babylon and with the LA band the Pandoras, was not an very accomplished bass player at the time she met Donita and Suzi, but her connectedness with the LA punk scene impressed the  members of the band and so she joined, making up for her lack of technical virtuosity with attitude. She was responsible for taking the band to the next level but departed in 1996.

Courtney Love kept in touch with the band and convinced them to come to Seattle, which was like the difference between night (LA) and day. They were treated like a real rock band, not a novelty–and their performance led to a signing by SubPop, a leading alternative label; and which led to a tour of Europe. “Smell The Magic” their second album followed (1990).

In 1992 they were signed to Warner Brothers/Slash/Elektra. Grunge had become everywhere, thanks largely to the massive success of Nirvana’s “Nevermind.” Bands like Sonic Youth were being played on MTV and underground bands were being featured on “Nightflight.”

Their album, “Bricks Are Heavy” produced by Nivana producer Butch Vig, was a dip in the sea of heavy metal while still on the beach of grunge. It received generally positive reviews and was their best-selling album to date. “Pretend We’re Dead,” written and sung by Donita Sparks, was one of the eleven tracks on the album, and it received significant airplay not only in the US but in many other countries as well.

(Some have noted that the riffs on “Pretend You’re Dead” sound like a speeded-up version of a Suicidal Tendencies song. As far as I can tell the bands are friends, and no offense was taken. A similar charge was levied against Puddle of Mudd’s “She Hates Me,” but that’s another story.)

Around this time, In 1991 L7, along with the music editor of LA Weekly, started Rock 4 Choice, a series of concerts to benefit women’s pro-choice groups. They went on for a decade and provided a venue for artists Nirvana, Rage Against the Machine, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Melissa Etheridge, Siste Double Happiness, Foo Fighters, Hole, Joan Jett, the Offspring, Salt ‘n’ Pepa, Pearl Jam,  and many others.

There is footage of L7 in 1991-92 at Smart Studio, Butch Vig’s audio workshop in Madison, Wisconsin, where Butch Fig recorded “Bricks. . . .”

Their European Tour, “Hungry for Stink,” their fourth album did fairly well, especially in the UK where one of their singles from the album, “Andres” made it to #34 on their music charts.They did not make a “stink” at Lollapalooza ’94, where their setting was tame and they were booked in the daytime. not as controversial as their Reading ’92 one, where Donita Spark pulled out a tampon out of herself and tossed it into a crowd, riotous and angry due to an equipment delay.

Most of the time they spent offstage partying and getting to know the other bands– George Clinton, Smashing Pumpkins, The Breeders, Beastie Boys, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

Japan tour. Selling their panties to fans. Concert in London. Warner Bros. dropped them while they played with KISS and Rage Against the Machine.

Frank Zappa once said, “When you go on the road, it makes you crazy.”

Back to where they started: DIY. “All we have is us—us, and a booking agent. So they started their own label: Wax Tadpole, and put out their sixth and final album done in a studio, “Slap-Happy.” In collaboration with Bong Load Records.

LZ was reduced to a trio, as Gail Greenwood, the most recent bassist left the band. before recording it.

Bong Load would have major success with a single  “Loser,” by Beck in 2001, but not this one album. Lagging sales were bleak, critics were divided. Eventually, the unsold copies at a distributor went into a landfill.

It was, therefore, no surprise that the band went in hiatus 2001

All in all, besides the ones already mentioned, director Price interviewed CSS, Allison Wolfe (Bratmobile), Exene Cervenka, Lydia Lunch, Joan Jett, 7 Year Bitch, Louise Post (Veruca Salt), the Donnas’ Allison Robertson, and Distillers founder Brody Dalle.

Much more to tell. Just go see it. It was crowdfunded by a Kickstarter campaign.

L7 Pretend You're Dead Kickstarter Pick

L7 Pretend You’re Dead Kickstarter Pick

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Gimme Danger Review

stooges-gimme-danger-documentary

New Film by Jim Jarmusch

“Gimme Danger,”

A Documentary About Iggy Pop
and the Stooges, by Jim Jarmusch (108 min)

Rock ‘n’ roll does not lend itself to sober accounts well removed from the heat of the moment. Nor does it bury its dead. As a band fueled by raw exuberance, the Stooges crashed and died in the arms of their critics and fans by their third album, “Raw Power.”
Years later they seemed to come back to even greater acclaim. This idea for a film on the band came at one of those moments of popular reprise. Iggy Pop, no stranger to Jim Jarmusch’s style, and an occasional actor in his films (“Coffee and Cigarettes,” “Dead Man”) broached the topic with the eclectic filmmaker, during a Stooges revival tour in 2008.
Iggy Pop and Jim Jarmusch have been good friends for the last twenty-five years, though Jarmusch’s adulation for The Stooges goes beyond friendship. As he comments about the band–“No other band in rock ‘n’ roll history has rivaled the Stooges’ combination of heavy primal throb, spiked psychedelia, blues-a-billy grind, complete with succinct angst-ridden lyrics and a snarling preening leopard of a front man who somehow embodies Nijinsky, Bruce Lee, Harpo Marx and Arthur Rimbaud.” In another moment Jarmusch hails them as “rock and roll’s greatest band ever.”
This film is a part biography of Iggy Pop, the main character in the telling of the story, but it seems to his celebrated solo career, where he had his greatest commercial success. Still, enough of The Stooges is enough, and Iggy holds the narrative together like mayonnaise on a sandwich.
Jarmusch lets Pop conduct the flow of the conversation, with his bandmates, Ron Asheton, Scott Asheton, James Williamson, Steve Mackay, and Mike Watt, given their moment to shine as well. Most of them are gone, but Jarmusch was able to catch all of his early cohorts, even such influencers like the lead singer of the MC5 Wayne Kramer, and their manager and White Panther founder John Sinclair. (One exception – Stooges bassist Dave Alexander who passed away in 1975).
We see his Iggy in review – born Jim Osterberg, son of a Cadillac-driving, high school English teacher and coach, growing up in a trailer park in Ypsilanti, Michigan, where he played drums in the living room of his family’s mobile home. He had a great relationship with his parents, although we don’t hear much about his mother. Osterberg says.
“They helped me explore anything I was interested in. This culminated in their evacuation from the master bedroom in the trailer, because that was the only room big enough for my drum kit. They gave me their bedroom.”
Through an expert use of live footage from the era—including some amazing segments filmed by Loni Sinclair, John Sinclair’s wife–interviews with band mates, short cuts from 60’s TV shows, and stop action animation, the director and his talented crew kept the action of the story’s history moving.
Pop playing in the frat band Iguanas, where he got his name; appearing at the teen dance club The Ponytail–his drumming in blues-oriented The Prime Movers; a brief sojourn at the University of Michigan; meeting the Asheton brothers, his co-creators of The Stooges, originally called the Psychedelic Stooges.
At his cusp of his bandhood, Iggy was impressed by the energy of the bands he saw in Ann Arbor and Detroit. Not only the MC5 but also national acts like the Jim Morrison and the Doors, the Sonics — and ‘black’ acts — Bo Diddley, James Brown, Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters. And one of the biggest at that time, at least in the Midwest, was the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. In a meeting with Mike Bloomfield, bassist for the band Iggy was told: “’If you want to learn to play [the blues’, you have to go to Chicago.” So he went and gigged with the likes of James Cotton and Johnny Young when they went to the ‘white’ suburbs.
No British Invasion for him. He was dedicated to recreating the sound and the mood of the ‘real’ blues he discovered in the smoky gin mills of Chicago’s South and West Sides. Which ironically enough was the motivation for much of the British Invasion.
The MC5 played a crucial role in the recording career of The Stooges. When Danny Fields, who was working for Elektra Records at the time, flew out to Michigan to hear them live, he also heard the Stooges, a local band the MC5 were raving about. The Stooges also got signed to Elektra and they dropped the adjective psychedelic from their name.
Ron Asheton called up Moe of the Three Stooges to ask for their permission to use ‘The Stooges’ as the band’s name. Moe replied that he didn’t care what the fuck they called the band as long as they didn’t call it The Three Stooges!
Interesting factoid. Leni Sinclair, the wife of John Sinclair, manager of the MC5 and one of the founders of the White Panther Party, shot much of the footage included in the film.
One reviewer notes, “Iggy’s so chill he does half of his talking heads next to a washer and dryer, while guitarist-turned-producer-turned-engineer-turned-guitarist James Williamson files his from what looks like a public restroom.”
There is much good to say about “Gimme Danger,” and I can’t think of a single bad thing to say about it.
Last question—when is Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk – by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain — which has one of the best recollections of early Iggy and The Stooges I have ever read — going to be made into a movie?
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The Ghosts of a Whiter Shade of Pale

GhostsPale

 

 

Book Review: PROCOL HARUM: The Ghosts of A Whiter Shade of Pale

Review by Carl Macki

Book by Henry Scott-Irvine
Omnibus Press: London, ‘12
American edition released: June 2013
308pp (with index)
8 pages of color photographs; 8 pages B&W photos

For a band that formed out of a local Essex, England, group that had a minor, top 40 hit in the late Sixties, Procol Harum went beyond all expectations. In many ways they were a progenitor of what is now called “progressive rock,” and they gave it a bluesy pallor, marrying it with high-minded, symphonic strains that gained the group great international success. It earned one the band’s major hit — “A Whiter Shade of Pale” – the epithet of being “the most played single on British Radio in the last 70 years.”

This book, a no-holds barred, straightforward account, takes a chronological tack, and explores the nature of the band through extensive and exclusive interviews with band members, as well as with heavyweights such as Alan Parker, Jimmy Page; various managers, disc jockeys and others in the music scene; at key segments of the band’s career.

Noted film director Sir Alan Parker wrote the introduction. The Afterword is by author, journalist and broadcaster Sebastian Faulks. Highlighted is a foreword by film director Martin Scorsese, who hailed the band:

”Procol Harum’s music drew from so many deep wells – classical music, 19th Century literature, rhythm and blues, seaman’s logs, concretist poetry, that each tune became a cross-cultural whirligig, a road trip through the pop subconscious.”

The Ghosts of A Whiter Shade of Pale tells the story of their start in the 60s in Southendon-Sea,  Essex, a resort town in an historic, seaside county of England, where the Thames River meets the North Sea. At first, most of the group formed the core of a rhythm and blues band called The Paramounts, which actually came from an even earlier band called The Raiders.

The Paramounts had some success with their cover of “Poison Ivy,” a Number One song in the US by the Coasters. Much acclaimed by critics, they had a loyal following; and had opened for the Rolling Stones, who took a keen interest in them.

But, as time wore on, the American-oriented rhythm and blues in which the band specialized no longer sounded so special, in that American soul and blues artists increasingly began to tour England and Europe. Also, they failed to continue their Top 40 success after their one hit, so, disappointed over their lack of progress, the group disbanded.

One of the principals in the band, Gary Brooker, wanted to concentrate on developing songs. Upon meeting with poet-lyricist Keith Reid, and a well-known impresario in the music industry, Guy Stevens, Brooker found his music match in Reid. Reid reportedly said to Brooker: “You write music? Well, I don’t!”

Creative juices began to flow, and their first single “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” was recorded at Olympic Studios in London, England with Brooker on vocals and piano, classically-trained Matthew Fisher on organ, Ray Royer on guitar, David Knights on bass and drummer Bill Eyden. The single shot to Number One in England and several other countries—Number 5 in the US—when it was released in May of 67.

Robin Trower, who played in the Paramounts and their earlier incarnation, The Raiders, would shortly join the band later, replacing Ray Royer. And so would Paramounts drummer B. J. Wilson, both joining in the summer of ’67. By then the band had already replaced drummer Bobby Harrison, with session drummer Eyden on “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” The return to more of the original Paramounts lineup seemed to give the band an illusion of stability.

Guy Stevens would serve as their original manager, and he also came up with their name. A friend of his had a Burmese cat whose pedigreed name was Procol Harun, Procol being Latin for “from afar,” and Harun, actually Arabic for “Aaron,”  which, in Hebrew, may have meant “heavenly place.” (Author Scott-Irvine translates ‘Harun’ as meaning “light bearer.”) Therein came the name Procol Harum, with misspellings and all.

Procol Harum would continue to enjoy worldwide success until a bitter breakup in 1977, after ten years; and then, to their reforming in 1991, when they released “The Prodigal Stranger.” The band, which has undergone a series of personnel changes, are considering a new tour.

Much of the narrative is devoted to a detailed accounting of the back-and-forth lawsuits for a share of royalties by the former organ player in the band, Matthew Fisher, for their most famous song.  In 2009, the Law Lords, the highest court of appeal at the time, ordered that Fisher receive a 40% portion of the proceeds from “A Whiter Shade . . . .” This decision continues to create reverberations to this day.

If you are an ardent admirer of Procol Harum, or just want to catch up with a band that has been lost to your musical radar, then this book is for you.

Available at Amazon.

For more information, see Omnibus Press catalog.

henry scott irvine
Author Henry Scott-Irvine

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