My July 2009 film column for Maximum Rock N Roll. Originally appeared in issue 314.
I recently went to an Andy Warhol exhibit at San Francisco's De Young Museum. A large part of the exhibit consisted of photographs from Warhol's celebrity years. I noticed in a majority of the photographs there were one or more people who would be noted as "unidentified". You'd have a group of people such as Warhol, Liza Minelli, Mick Jagger and "unidentified person". I couldn't help but think about this unknown person. How could it be that once you were hanging out with these people and now you are forgotten? Don't famous people only hang out with other famous people? Would it possible that if you recognize someone in a photograph the exhibitors would add the name? I doubt it. The worst one was seeing the Velvet Underground and Nico in the studio in LA and the photo lists three unidentified men who are sitting at the mixing board. These are the guys who probably recorded and mixed a really well known album and now no one remembers their names. They have no importance because Andy Warhol "produced" the record. It is really depressing. My boyfriend Michael points out to me that the whole thing bothers me because I am worried that some day I might be the unidentified person. I don't really think that is true, but at least if that ever happens I will be dead so I won't notice it.
I was thinking about all this fame versus no fame stuff because we had also seen Anvil! The Story Of Anvil. Anvil are a Canadian metal band who in 1984 toured with The Scorpions, Bon Jovi, and Whitesnake, all of whom went on to become well-known bands. The only band who didn't was Anvil. Regardless of that set back the band has stayed together ever since, constantly releasing albums and playing shows. Their story should be an inspiration. It is in some ways, but in other ways it seems like a true version of Spinal Tap. Watching the story unfold it seems that the Spinal Tap guys had to know about Anvil. Then conversely the Anvil guys start channeling Spinal Tap. They even take a trip to Stonehenge while recording in England in 2006.
Anvil was formed in the '70s when singer/ guitarist Steve "Lips" Kudlow and drummer Robb Reiner began playing together. They released their first album in 1981. The film starts out with many metal stars such as Slash (Guns N Roses), Lemmy (Motorhead) and Lars Ulrich (Metallica) singing the praises of and proclaiming the influence of Anvil. This introduces some early footage including a guitar solo played with a dildo. If you've seen This Is Spinal Tap it all looks strangely familiar. If you are like me and have never heard of Anvil, it seems like a set up. But it isn't.
Anvil! The Story Of Anvil focuses on the band before and during the recording their thirteenth album "This Is Thirteen". The band members work average day jobs and have wives and families plus they are now in their fifties. Yet, still they hold on to the dream of becoming rock stars. They go on a European tour booked by a fan who has never booked a tour before. They miss trains and get ripped off by promoters. They get lost and are late for a show in the Czech Republic. But they do show up and play. Then the promoter refuses pay them because they were late. They do manage to play one big festival and Lips is like a kid meeting his idols. Hilariously Ted Nugent won't appear on camera and Lips continues to call for him. Nugent's probably intimidated.
Anvil returns to Canada with a suprisingly good attitude about the whole experience. Lips in particular realizes that they were lucky to even get to do a tour. They then start thinking about recording their next album. They get in contact with producer Chris Tsangarides who recorded their second album "Metal On Metal". He agrees to record album number thirteen, but they need to raise a ridiculous amount of money to do so. The amount seems particularly outrageous when it is revealed that they seem to be recording at Tsangarides' home studio. After a bit of worrying about where to get the money Lips' sister lends it to them.
The members of Anvil are charming, but they seem too nice to be rock stars. At least the way I am conditioned to think of a rock star. Lips has a bad temper when provoked. He screams at the promoter in the Czech Republic and at Reiner. He gets mad about what has happened to the band, but then the next minute he is hugging Reiner. Lips' mostly upbeat attitude combined with all the crushing blows the band receives from touring, recording and trying to get a major label to release the album, make it all the more uncomfortable when the next set back occurs. Will anything ever go right for these guys? Anvil The Movie
I was thinking after seeing Anvil! The Story Of Anvil that one difference between punks and metalheads is that punks are much more serious in their attitudes and song topics. Anvil's lyrics are beyond silly, but they are also weirdly catchy. However I wasn't really thinking about jokey punk bands like NOFX. I never really got into NOFX and their ilk as a kid. I was more into East Coast stuff. The West Coast punk bands I was into were Black Flag and Flipper, maybe not exactly serious, but definitely cynical and nihilistic. What the hell kind of kid was I? So usually lighter pop punk bands like NOFX don't immediately come to mind when I am thinking about punk.
Yet, here I am watching NOFX Backstage Passport, the DVD of the Fuse TV show NOFX made of their 2006-07 worldwide tour. The show has all the reality TV elements. Most annoying is the overuse of talking head interviews to explain what happened at whatever time. Scenes get repeated ad infinitum. There is little actual footage of the band performing. The theme song performed by NOFX is so irritating. Leave it to NOFX to rhyme snort with passport.
The members of NOFX decide to do this tour because they are starting to hit forty and are unsure if they will ever be able to do it again. They all have mortgages, wives, kids and responsibilities so now is the time to throw caution to the wind. They plan a tour to places they have never played before and seem like they are willing to do anything to have the opportunity. They play shows in countries in South America, Asia and Africa. It is a great idea particularly since they can obvious afford it and I am sure Fuse TV was chipping in too.
Having been on a tour myself, I know there is a lot of down time where nothing happens. Reality TV doesn't like downtime. It needs controversy. It is obvious the editors were trying. Kent the band manager gets drunk a few times and his antics are used for comic effect as well as controversy. After drinking all night on the train to Moscow, he is too hungover for sound check. Will the show go on? Fat Mike comes off as the whiner of the group. He complains that Melvin takes too long tuning his guitar at one show. Then there is no fan on stage in St. Petersburg, Russia. In Taiwan the crowd is too small. In Johannesburg they have to stay at a bed and breakfast that has jail-like bars on the doors. Then he comes around and realizes how interesting it is to be touring these places. The band appreciates the sites such as the Great Wall and petting baby leopards in South Africa.
I am sure fans will be interested in NOFX Backstage Passport. Watching a well-known band go on tour isn't that exciting to me. It's too easy. I prefer the desperation of unknown bands trying to make it on tour. Does anyone else remember the one reality show I really enjoyed Bands On The Run? It lasted only one season since apparently no one except me watched it. The bands competed by selling the most tickets and merch at their shows in different cities while on tour. Each band connived and plotted against the others. That is band reality TV to me. Fat Wreck Chords
It is fun to see the behind the scenes of band life once in a while, but it can also get kind of dull. If you've seen one expose; you've seen them all. After all it should really be just about the music. I really needed to simply see a band in its prime performing their songs. What an incredible surprise then to find waiting for me Zero Boys Live At The Pizza Castle - 1981.
I never saw Zero Boys back in the day, but I did go see them at 924 Gilman this past February. It was great. They sounded really good and were obviously having a great time. Just like they were in 1981.
Zero Boys Live At The Pizza Castle - 1981 captures the band just after they recorded the "Vicious Circle" album. They perform almost all of the songs from album except for "You Can Touch Me" and "Hightime" plus songs from the "Livin' In The '80s" EP. Singer Paul Mahern comments "that's going to be on our album, its gonna sound much faster and harder" after playing "New Generation". He also holds up a copy of the EP, trying to convince people to buy it for two dollars and a button for 75 cents. That sight alone should make all the record collectors cringe.
The band played two consecutive nights at the Pizza Castle. This video was recorded on the first night October 2, 1981. The crowd is mostly subdued due to the restrictions of having an all-ages performance which included having no permanent stage and no dancing. The crowd is seated during most of the performance, but occasionally one or two people will get up and start dancing with the band. On the last song "Indianapolis" a bunch of people join in. Ahern jokes with the audience constantly. He mentions that a newspaper reports that the band has a really rowdy audience, but by the look of tonight's crowd "that is a pretty false statement." He also gets a little embarrassed when a girl yells out in the audience and he jokingly tries to wink at her.
Zero Boys Live At The Pizza Castle - 1981 is shot with one camera from the back of the room. The camera work is simple, but well done. There are no sudden zooms or too much extraneous camera movement. In this case that is what you want. The band provides all the action. The camera just records it. Mike Moser did double duty as cameraman and Pizza Castle booker. Moser also cleaned up the video for this DVD release as portrayed on the short, but informative DVD extra "The Process".
The band website lists the Zero Boys Live At The Pizza Castle - 1981 DVD as a limited edition so donŐt wait. While you are there make sure you pick up the reissues of "Vicious Circle and "History Of" as well. Zeroboys.net
I am always looking for films to review. If you made one, send a copy to Carolyn Keddy, PO Box 460402, San Francisco, CA 94146-0402. If your film is playing in the San Francisco Bay Area, let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will go see it.