11 August 2006


Can I start with an aside, Shakespeare? The interiors of my East Village apartment building have just been freshly painted. all the trim is shit brown, and the walls are pale dead-flesh white. The fluorescent lighting isn't helping much; I feel like I'm living in a mint chocolate chip ice cream box that was built by Willy Wonka but ended up in the morgue on an episode of Quincy. If that makes no sense, come visit me. Especially if you comment anonymously.

To the content:

Lincoln Center screened a handful of documentaries about rock bands this week; I saw a couple of them. 'Does Everyone Stare' was filmed almost exclusively by Police drummer Stewart Copeland on a Super 8 video camera he bought when the band first formed. It's a pretty ugly looking video, but it appears that Stewart actually experienced the Police's thrust forward into world fame through his camera's eye, probably because he wasn't able to handle it in person. It's really voyeuristic, and breathtaking at points--I don't think I've ever seen a better document of what it's like to be in a band that explodes. There's a sequence where the band is trying to load into a car amidst a sea of 'We Want Sting' fans. After rushing through the fans into the waiting car, Stewart coolly neutralizes the fanatic throngs with an eerily detached subtitle (paraphrased): "We grew accustomed to the rhythms the crowds would beat out on the car as it drove away." And as they drive away, the car beats are deafening--it really is screaming fans bang on the side of the car. I don't think I've ever seen a better explanation of how tiresome and depersonalizing rabid stardom can be, and I now know why you can't approach celebrities. My starfucking days are marked.

At the same time, the documentary reveal the Police to be a conniving, market-positioning band from the start, which depressed me, because they were such good musicians. I can name dozens of people who count Andy Summers and Stewart as influences; and let's face it, Sting could sing. Despite a blistering performance of 'Next to You', where Stewart wisely hands his camera off to a lackey, I'm watching a band with a profit motive from day 1 unfold. Kinda depressing.

The antidote was the Mission of Burma film 'Not a Photograph'. MoB had a brief history in the late 70s early 80s, but are like the Velvet Underground in the legions of bands who they inspired. And the documentary shows them to be an extremely likeable band who challeged themselves, broke up amicably when guitarist Roger Miller succumbed to tinnitus, and reunited 19 years later without missing a beat. (The movie doesn't make enough of this, but they've put out two albums since reforming that are on par with their great work from the early '80s--2004's onOFFon and this year's The Obliterati.)

Ultimately, this movie left me wanting, too. Part of the problem is that the guys in the band are super humble, and don't want to talk about themselves. So how does bassist Clint Conley, who had never written a song in his life before he join the band, write the three most recognized, iconic Burma songs? (Academy Fight Song, That's When I Reach for My Revolver and That's How I Escaped my Certain Fate for those of you playing along at home.) The movie doesn't even ask him. Which is all the more glaring when his wife reveals that he met him after the band broke up the first time, and he *never* picked up an instrument in the 19 years the band was on hiatus. (does everyone stare?)

There's lots to offer in these films for fans of the Police or Mission of Burma, but I'm curious how people who aren't fans will react. There's no moment in the Police documentary that stumps for 'Synchronicity', as Stewart's completely dry-heaving on fame at this point, but it's one of the smartest, most varied pop albums Western culture will ever see. (Synchronicity II has the best lyric ever featured in a song played in heavy rotation on MTV and Friday Night Videos. If you don't work an office job, don't bother commenting.)

The saving grace in the two movies was Peter Prescott, the drummer for Mission of Burma. His interview segments in the movie inspired me to no end. In the 19-year hiatus, he's been bread-lining at a record store in Boston. Near the close of the movie, he intimates that he thinks that after years of underappreciation, his band is unfairly heralded. And he's not sure what is better, being criminally ignored for years, or being faddishly adored for a few weeks. It's maybe the most earnest sentiment I've ever seen displayed by a musician who brushed up against fame (& fortune).

Anyway, Mission of Burma have a fantastic new album out this year, The Obliterati. Seek it out. And fuck The Police (RIP Eazy-E)


Blogger Jackson said...

I don't think many non-fans will see these movies.

I am a fan of rockumentaries, and will probably see one if not both of these.

I am surprised by your shock at the ambitions of the Police - I never saw them in any other light.

12:26 PM  
Blogger stinkrock said...

I'm not shocked by their ambitions. just depressed to be reminded of it. Even at the beginning, most popular bands usually pay some lip service to wanting to play music, believing in their music, etc. Not the Police. The documentary's all about fame and not at all about music.

12:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Every single meeting with his so-called superior is a humiliating kick in the crotch."

Always loved that as a kid, pre-office job, and love it even more now that I realize it's true. Well, except maybe if you were my boss.

I'd love to come over to see the horrible paint job. (And maybe I'll sign up for an account sometime.)

7:12 PM  
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