Say Rah! Discussing the Daddy of Rock n’ Roll with the Directors of “Wesley Willis’s Joy Rides”

Wesley Willis: Rock Star

Chris Bagley’s favorite Wesley Willis song is, appropriately enough, “Chris Bagley.”  It’s a signature Willis friendship song in which the rock and roll hero pays tribute to his buddy.  Kim Shively has her own song in this style, but she lists her favorite as either “NFL Shit” or “The Turkey was Wild” – the latter describing a fateful encounter she had with a wild bird, immortalized in song by Wesley.  The pair’s tributes are found on Willis’ 2001 album Full Heavy Metal Jacket, and Wesley also has songs which call out Bagley’s brother and dog for special distinction.  He must have been really excited about the movie which the two were making about him.

Around the same time as they were being lauded in Full Heavy Metal Jacket, Bagley and Shively were setting up shop in Cheyenne, Wyoming, forming their filmmaking imprint, Eyeosaur Productions.  Having met as film students at the Colorado Film and Video Instructional Studios (now the Colorado Film School), the pair teamed up on experimental projects and short films before moving on to documentaries.  One of their short films featured a cameo by Wesley Willis as a cowboy.

Bagley explained his move toward being a documentary filmmaker.  “It was an interesting time at film school because everything was just at that moment [when] it was starting to go digital.  It changed the work flow.  There was a documentary class in film school, and at that point it became obvious that doing documentary on digital video was a viable option.  It was something that you could do and maybe not break the bank, maybe get a lot more coverage.”

The name Eyeosaur quickly evokes thoughts of vision and dinosaurs (and, similarly, a song on Full Heavy Metal Jacket has Wesley singing about his own record label, Earosaur Productions).  Yet Bagley also derives the company’s philosophy from a skewed homophone.  “All the things I’ve ever been drawn to are things like eyesores, things that are kind of on the edge of society that are crumbling nuisances.”

Wesley Willis's Joy Rides

Continuing their explorations of such fringe characters, Eyeosaur’s current project involves the world of Lucha Libre wrestling, the focus including its deep history in Mexico and growing popularity in the United States.  Bagley also hinted at the possibility of a future film concerning Live-Action Role Players.  Yet Eyeosaur’s achievement of the moment is the release of Wesley Willis’s Joy Rides, a film which may well be the definitive look at Wesley’s life.  Reaction to the film has been positive; having made the rounds at various film festivals, Joy Rides won the Gold Hugo for the Chicago Award at the 2008 Chicago International Film Festival.

Wesley Willis certainly qualified as an Eyeosaur candidate.  Indeed, to more than a few he is that very eyesore who most would rather be hidden away from view.  A schizophrenic colossus, Wesley is best known for singing along to preprogrammed keyboard accompaniment, his songs almost always adhering to the same template, right down to the “Rock over London, Rock on Chicago” which invariably closed each song.  Wesley was prone to outburst, sang foul-mouthed songs about drugs, violence, and bestiality, and he bumped heads with so many people that he developed a permanent bruise on the center of his forehead.  His life story wasn’t any more benign; he was often the victim of severe acts of neglect, exploitation, and violence.

No, he wasn’t for everyone, but therein lays the genius of Wesley Willis – he didn’t need to be for anyone. Through Wesley’s sincere and unwavering conviction that he was a rock star – albeit one free of the usual entitlements and pretense – he became one, and more people than might have been expected got that, and loved him.  When he died in 2003, many people genuinely mourned him.  (I learned of Wesley’s death as I was heading out my door to go to an amusement park.  It was the saddest, most lifeless day I’ve spent on roller coasters.)

Wesley Willis: Sex Bomb

“Before I ever even met him, he changed the way I see everything, just by listening to his music,” Bagley said.  “I never really saw the novelty of McDonald’s until I heard ‘Rock and Roll McDonald’s.’  Then I never could look at McDonald’s the same way again.  I felt like I somewhat knew him before I met him, because he was so prolific with his songwriting and there were so many aspects of his life that he touched on.  It just felt very real to me, and it was kind of refreshing.  There’s so much music out there that’s full of people fronting, so when you come across something that’s as genuine as Wesley’s music, it’s a breath of fresh air.

“Once I met him, he was even more compelling, because he wanted to give me a headbutt!  Once I got my first headbutt from Wesley, I thought that someone needed to document this guy’s life.  That never came into focus until years later, when I had the ability to do that.”

Performing with his earlier rock band, The Wesley Willis Fiasco

Wesley has been the subject of many documentaries, the other most notable being The Daddy of Rock n’ Roll. Yet while the tendency of most of these films was to simply follow him around and allow the viewer to react as he or she saw fit, the scope of Joy Rides is monumental, examining all aspects of Wesley’s life and filling his story with context.  To put the difference in perspective, Bagley – who followed the production of the other film – estimated that the crew of Daddy followed Wesley around for about a week.  The creation of Joy Rides took almost a decade, amassing around 100 hours of footage of friends, family, and the man himself.

Shively summed up the mission statement of Joy Rides as follows: “The intention was never to make a day-in-the-life film.  We wanted to do something more in-depth.  We had always envisioned it to be a film that was made with him; it was his film.  When he got sick, that changed the whole direction, so it became something that showed him for who he was: an amazing person.  A lot of people misunderstood him; we wanted to show the guy that we knew.

“Chris shot his first footage of Wesley in 1999.  From then until 2003 we filmed with Wesley on and off.  When Wesley got sick and passed away, we weren’t sure if we were going to finish the film or not, and it took another year or two to get back on it.  We went back and did a lot of interviews after that.  It was a really long process; we officially finished editing and cutting the film in 2008.”

Bagley described the process involved in documenting such a subject, noting Wesley’s frequent visits to Wyoming to make himself available.  “Originally we just wanted to make a documentary about Wesley, because we thought he was such a unique individual that his experiences needed to be documented.  Then, when he’d come and stay for a month or so, there would be so much time when we weren’t shooting anything.  The thing that I’ll probably take away the most are all the in-between times.  He just kept coming.”

One time Wesley stayed with Bagley and Shively for so long that Chris suggested they head back to Chicago to visit.  At another point, they ended up in London with him.  “At first it was like we were fans of Wesley doing the documentary,” Bagley continued.  “Quickly, we became friends of Wesley, and the documentary was secondary.”

One of the most interesting parts of Joy Rides is its initial focus on Wesley’s prodigious drawings of the buses and towers of his Chicago landscape (the footage of Wesley in Wyoming shows him seeking out the trains instead, showing his inclination toward mass transit).  His friends from the art world spend much of the film’s first act discussing Wesley’s talent for perspective and his photographic memory.

“I don’t think we ever made a plan,” Shively said in describing their focus on art, “it just happened organically.  The history of his art became just as compelling as the music.  It’s just as important, just maybe overlooked because he’s more known for his music.”

An Example of Wesley's Art

In fact, it could be argued that Wesley’s art career eclipsed his music.  “He was every bit as prolific when it came to his drawings as he was with his music.” Bagley said.  “[For] a lot of people who didn’t know he was an artist, that was the part of the documentary that they really responded to the most.  It blew some people out of the water to see that part of him.

“He started doing drawings in the early 80s.  I ended up getting a drawing of his from the 80s that I’m really happy about.  It was an amazing piece.  He was doing that for years before he got into music.  It’s really powerful, the way he would lay down his marker or pen and just go to town.  There was never a moment of hesitation; he just went for it.  I think that goes for his musical career, too.”

This focus led to Eyeosaur animating some of Wesley’s artwork and bringing it to life.  Bagley stated that the idea came to him in a waking dream, after which he convinced Wesley to animate the self-portrait which introduces the film.  Shively offered a less esoteric rationale.

“I think it was important to convey the scale of those drawings because they were so huge.  If you just take a still picture of it you don’t get a perspective of the scale or the depth or the detail.  It was lots and lots of photos and scanning.  We didn’t want to go overboard on animating it, so a guy named Chad Herschberger, who had helped us with the film and was a friend of Wesley’s, we worked with him on the animation and described to him what we wanted, and he did it just how we had hoped.  You don’t want to change the nature of the art, but you want to bring it to life somehow, so we tried to find a balance.”

Chad Herschberger, it should be noted, also got his own song on Full Heavy Metal Jacket.

Yet all this work was almost completely derailed by Wesley’s illness and death.  “It’s okay to have a thought of what you want it to be, but documentaries have a way of going their own way,” Bagley said.  “When Wesley passed away, it was really hard.  We couldn’t even look at any of the video for a long time afterwards.  We had no objectivity, because we were so close to Wesley at that point.  We got some perspective on it; it took us quite a while, and that’s why it’s been so long.  It took years and years.  It got to the point where it was so personal for us that to try to consider it some product and shoot it out the door just didn’t feel right.  We wanted to go around and interview people.  We were trying to do it justice with the resources we had.  But eventually you just have to get it out and let people have a chance to see it.  There were some moments in there that I felt like I was hording by not having it out for people to see.  There may be a day when more of the unedited footage might end up getting released, but that’s probably years off.”

Shively explained the financial reasons behind the film’s delay.  “We wanted Wesley to be a part of the whole process, and [then] he was gone and we had lost a friend.  It was kind of a big thing to deal with and then to think about what we were going to do.  We had a responsibility to put this film out there, [but] another aspect of it was that we had no outside funding.  It was [done] on our own time when we could afford to do stuff.  We got a little money when we started editing, but it takes a long time when you have to work full-time jobs.  We also didn’t want to rush it; we wanted to be really careful about how we were putting the film together.”

The second act of the film’s production began at Wesley’s funeral.  It was here where Bagley and Shively met many of Wesley’s friends and family and encouraged them to share their memories of him.  Among the crowd of close friends, art patrons, and cohorts in music, one group of interviewees comes to dominate the narrative of Joy Rides in explaining how Wesley became the man he was – his family.

There’s a moment in the film in which Wesley’s brother Michael provides a lucid insight into the Willis family’s terribly troubled dynamic.  In describing life in the Stateway Gardens housing projects where the family lived, Michael noted his neighbors’ aversion to the Willises.  “People in fact didn’t like us at all when we were over there,” he said.  “They ridiculed us constantly.  We were ‘The Willis family.  Don’t talk to them; they’re crazy!’”

This line illustrates a larger point made by the film – that Wesley’s mental illness wasn’t an isolated case.  The even-handed perspectives of Michael Willis rank him among the film’s most compelling subjects.  Yet with some of the other family members featured in the film – including two more of Wesley’s brothers and his father – something seems, at best, off-center.

“We tried to get in contact with as many of his family members as we could,” Bagley said.  “It became obvious right away that he came from a broken home, that a lot of his family didn’t have a whole lot to say.  We tried to put the ones in there that had the closest ties to Wesley; unfortunately, none of them really had very close ties to Wesley.  Michael was very articulate, and his physicality is very similar to Wesley, so it made sense to have him.  Ricky had probably the closest ties.

“The interesting thing about Ricky is that he’s a lot like Wesley.  He has this photographic memory; he knows every street of Chicago by heart to the point where he can make model buildings by memory.  His abilities are definitely lopsided, because he’s not able to communicate as easy, but we really love Ricky.  We became close to him since Wesley passed away.  He always calls, and he’s especially fond of the ladies, [so] he always calls Kim.  But he calls me a lot, too.”

One aspect of the film which disturbed me, one I couldn’t help but feel cynical about, was the appearance of Wesley’s father.  Being filmed alongside Ricky, Walter Willis Sr. – who himself died around the time of Joy Rides’ release – appeared to mug for the camera, and he made a point about how a person’s kin sometimes doesn’t realize that person’s goodness until everyone else does.  To me, the interview came off as callous and a bit exploitative.  Bagley and Shively didn’t see it that way.

“His dad was a pretty complicated person,” Shively said.  “I think he had a lot of guilt when Wesley passed away because he didn’t pay attention to his career.  I think it’s also important to notice that his dad had mental illness – I think he had schizophrenia – so he was not equipped to be a good dad in that sense.  That time we were there visiting with him, he genuinely was sad that he didn’t know more about Wesley’s life.  He was very disapproving of what Wesley did when Wesley was alive, but I also think he didn’t understand it.  I don’t think he tried to benefit from Wesley’s fame in any way I can see.”

Bagley noted a specific moment which showed Mr. Willis’s love for his son.  “We were just sitting outside of the funeral home, way early.  No one else had even shown up yet.  We saw this old guy going up and down the street, clearing the sidewalk and street of trash because he didn’t want there to be any trash at his son’s funeral.

“He had his own demons, [but] for somebody who has mental illness to open up their door and let you see his life, I felt like he was very warm to let us be there, especially in the context of having his son just pass away.  I think his dad was extremely genuine.”

With much of Eyeosaur’s work on this film involved prolonged encounters with people with mental illness, it goes without saying that the directors of Joy Rides emerged with a changed perspective on the mentally ill.

Wesley, in a down mood.

“I’m less fearful of people who are walking down the street talking to themselves,” Shively said.  “I’m more intrigued by those people now because I think they have so much to offer.  Just because they maybe can’t function the way society thinks [they ought to], we sort of miss out on what they have to give to the world.  I think Wesley helped me understand mental illness.”

“I didn’t realize how much reverse discrimination there is,” Bagley said.  “People are so afraid of being accused of exploitation that they’ll stop dead in their tracks, and then these people don’t have the same opportunities as everyone else.  I think, in general, people would rather have people who are mentally ill out of sight and out of mind.  It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, because as soon as legitimate people that are doing legitimate work turn their backs on people who are mentally ill, all these vampires have a tendency of filling the void.  In the end, a lot of these people are really being exploited, but it’s only because everyone else has turned their back on them.”

He noted that Wesley’s chosen career wasn’t exactly predator-free, either.  “[In] the music industry, people who aren’t mentally ill are exploited all the time.  But they want to be exploited; they’re putting themselves out there to be exploited just to get that first record deal, just so they can get their foot in the door.”

Wesley at the Wheel

Yet as Bagley and Shively conveyed in their film, Wesley’s story is a success story.  Despite having every obstacle in the world seemingly against him, the man made a career doing what he loved, and he made a lot of people happy doing it.

Shively discussed the reaction to the film.  “It’s interesting, because you have the people who watch it who are fans, and you have people who have no idea who he is who watch it.  The nice thing is that a lot of people have said that they did know about his music, they knew that he was this ‘crazy person,’ but the film showed him as a really amazing person who achieved an incredible amount of work in his short life.  That was the nicest thing to hear, that people really did walk away with a deeper sense of who Wesley was.”

When asked what about Wesley Willis made him so amazing, both acknowledged Wesley’s talent as a hustler and his fearlessness.  Beyond this, Bagley and Shively emphasized different aspects of his character: Bagley praised his sense of freedom (referring to him as a “Han Solo”), whereas Shively noted his intelligence and sense of humor.

When asked what a success Wesley’s says about the music industry at large, both had a lot to say.

“He was ahead of the game as far as being out there and self-promoting,” Shively replied.  “He did have a relationship with Alternative Tentacles, [the label, run by the Dead Kennedys’ Jello Biafra, which put out his three “Greatest Hits” albums,] but I think he’s proof that you don’t need to be tied to all this press and publicity.  The record industry is not really there anymore.  Now everyone’s doing what Wesley was doing 20 years ago.  It’s just great that he was so successful.

“The one thing about him that was really great was that his fan base was so diverse.  He had young punk kids, but he also had businessmen who were millionaires, and they liked his music.  His music appealed to everyone, and he didn’t discriminate.”

“The problem with art and artists,” Bagley said, “is that it usually comes from a place of privilege.  The fact that Wesley had no privilege, that he came from the hardest situation anyone can imagine, a broken home on the south side of Chicago, and he was able to find his way – that’s an amazing accomplishment. In the music and art communities, it’s great to have some fresh voices, and Wesley was a completely fresh perspective.”

Bagley also noted Wesley’s strange ability to take corporate slogans and make them his own.  “The one that I think most applies to Wesley is the one I always loved to hear him say: Nike’s ‘Just Do It.’ I never, never liked it when I heard it on the Nike commercial, but with Wesley saying it, it felt like the real deal.”

Wesley Willis is a man who cut a wide streak of legend throughout his life, and as such, there are a lot of people who have great stories about him.  One of the best parts about my conducting these interviews with people who knew and loved Wesley – which I’m also assuming was one of Bagley’s and Shively’s favorite parts of making their documentary – was hearing some of these tales of Wesley and cutting through some of the surreal mythos surrounding him.

Rock and Roll McDonald's. Really.

For example: in his songs Wesley often mentioned things and concepts that didn’t always seem real.  One piece of evidence is shown in the film, as Wesley’s old friend Carla Winterbottom described her confusion when reading some of his lyrics which mentioned defenestration (it means to drop from a high place).  In the course of our conversation, Bagley deflated a conspiracy theory of mine linking Wesley and the film Mac and Me by explaining that his signature song, “Rock and Roll McDonald’s,” is based on an actual restaurant in Chicago which mixes Big Macs with the Hard Rock Café.  Furthermore, both Bagley and I have sought out and obtained Hoisin sauce due to Wesley’s mention of it in a song.

Both Shively and Bagley, in recounting their favorite Wesley stories, mentioned a scene in Joy Rides showing Wesley in the film’s most joyous moment.  He was almost exploding with laughter as he tried not to swear in a restaurant and failed.

“He wasn’t having a hellride,” Shively explained.  “He was just being funny and reading out loud from one of his songbooks which had a lot of profanity in it.  He was cracking himself up, cause we kept saying, ‘Wesley, they’re gonna kick us out!’  He just couldn’t stop!  It was the funniest thing.  And then he finally said, ‘Suck my Dick… Cavett!’ as if he did this play on words all the time.”

When cops strolled in, Wesley tried to tone it down.  “Any time he saw a cop,” Shively continued, “he’d say ‘I’m not gonna break the law’ out loud to let the cops know he was cool.  I think he was saying it more to himself.  Who knows.”

It was a great moment, yet there was one more Wesley story which Bagley told which had me doubled with laughter.

“We ended up going to one of these aquarium places.  There was a father talking to his son, and there was a tank full of otters.  Wesley was checking out the otters, and I was in the background listening to this whole thing.  The father was telling the son: ‘The otters!  They’re the clowns of the sea!’

“And then Wesley chimed in and said: ‘I can see his dick.’”

Rock over London, Rock on Chicago!

“Wesley Willis’s Joy Rides” is available now.  More information can be found at www.wesleywillissjoyrides.com.

Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: Wesley Willis’s Joyrides

Wesley Willis's Joy Rides

Movie: Wesley Willis’s Joyrides (2009)

Directed by: Chris Bagley and Kim Shively

Starring: Wesley Willis

I’ve been waiting for this movie for a long time. Shortly after rock and roll hero Wesley Willis died of leukemia in 2003, and not long after the first documentary to focus on the schizophrenic musician, The Daddy of Rock ‘n’ Roll, came out, rumors of another documentary began circulating. A few clips were posted on the internet, but for years nothing more was said about the film. Well, Wesley Willis’s Joyrides is finally out, and as expected, it put a big smile on my face.

As opposed to the first film’s more day-in-the-life perspective of Wesley Willis, Joyrides takes a larger view of the man. The film rides a slow path through his troubled upbringing and his life drawing the streets and buildings of Chicago before arriving at his music career. In fact, it’s Wesley’s art and not his music which provides the neatest aspect of this story, as the creators of Joyrides animated some of his drawings. The effect is just magnificent.

Many people come out of the woodwork to paint Wesley’s story. Many of these folks are close friends and supporters from the Chicago art and music scenes: bandmates, fellow artists, and people who looked after him when no one else would. Yet the telling of Wesley’s youth and many of the terrible things that happened to him falls largely to members of his family. The time the Willis family spends onscreen ranges from informative to disturbing. Two of his brothers are among the film’s best sources in explaining why Wesley Willis was the way he was. On the other hand, Wesley’s father appears to be cashing in on his son’s fame in order for some screen time. The man is described as a horribly neglectful father, which he in so many words dismisses by stating that he “didn’t realize how great that boy was” until everybody else did. Nice.

To be sure, there’s a lot of exploitation and neglect in Wesley Willis’ life. Yet in spite of the many upsetting aspects of his life, directors Chris Bagley and Kim Shively ultimately keep their focus on what made Wesley so endearing and loveable to so many people. Wesley’s freakouts aren’t hushed up, but his humor and delight are far more pronounced, qualities which overwhelm everyone he meets. Even while facing death, Willis keeps his spirits high, singing a song praising his cancer doctor and playing his old classic “The Vultures Ate My Dead Ass Up.”

The film of Wesley’s life is every bit as contagious as the man himself. It’s a hard and lonely road between the joyrides, but Wesley Willis’s Joyrides is exactly what it claims to be.

Operation: Arizona Bay

Bill Hicks Death Robot Initiates Final Phase of “Operation: Arizona Bay”

Bill Hicks: Death Robot

CALIFORNIA (AP) ─ The comedian Bill Hicks, long thought to have died thirteen years ago as a result of pancreatic cancer, revealed his continued existence to the world on Wednesday, in a dick-joke laden YouTube video where he claimed responsibility for the current plague of California wildfires.  In this message, Hicks, whose head had clearly been grafted onto a cybernetic body, disclosed that these fires are but pieces of a horrifying master plan which he dubbed “Operation: Arizona Bay”.

Alleged to be in control of a massive army of drug-zombies, androids, Gideons, and other freethinking ne’er-do-wells, the fascist funnyman unveiled all aspects of his conspiracy to the public.  According to Hicks, the last thirteen years of his existence have been spent in hiding within a Shaftesbury dustbin which he has modified into a top secret supervillian lair.  His cult following, long thought to have been a harmless fringe of pseudo-intellectuals, has transformed over the years into a monstrous collective, devoted almost single-mindedly to the destruction of California and its expulsion into the Pacific Ocean.

Operation: Arizona Bay, asserts its leader, has been behind almost every major catastrophe to strike California since the Los Angeles Riots.  Hicks declared in his missive that his conspiracy has been behind, among many events, the election of governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the wildfires of 2003 and today, and the rise to prominence of graphic novelist Garth Ennis, the rock band Tool, and Facebook.

Hicks concluded this speech with an announcement that the final phase of Operation: Arizona Bay is about to commence.  Its goal: the detonations of nuclear devices placed within all major California fault lines.  He then took a long, slow drag from a Pall Mall cigarette, and gave the camera the finger.

“This is the worst fuckin’ audience ever, man,”  he said, as the video ended.

No demands were made.

Governor, Arsonist, Machine.

Reaction to this omen of cataclysm has been panicked and severe.  Firefighters discovered Governor Schwarzenegger in grasslands northeast of San Diego, where he was engulfing acres of vegetation with a flamethrower.  Police and SWAT officers at the scene were forced to open fire upon the governor, which revealed him to be a death robot.  Schwarzenegger then proceeded to vigorously grope female officers before being lured into a smelting plant by Eddie Furlong and thrown into a pool of molten steel.

Maria Shriver has been arrested and shipped to Guantanamo Bay in retaliation.

The government has wasted no time in combating Hicks’ shenanigans.  On the night of the unveiling of Operation: Arizona Bay, agents of the NSA recruited fellow comedian and television firefighter Denis Leary into a clandestine mission designed to put a stop to his former colleague.  Leary, who has long been accused of stealing Hicks’ act of hard smoking, protest-laced diatribes, has been vouched for by President Obama as being “…the only guy who really knows how Hicks ticks.”

Information has led the United States intelligence services to believe that Hicks has holed up inside the Tomcats Theatre on Hollywood’s Santa Monica Boulevard.  Leary has been dispatched to the area, armed with a firefighter’s axe and a pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes.  Unfortunately, the government neglected to gift the hero with any money to pay for parking.

California's Last Hope

“I’m out twenty bucks, you fuckers!” Leary exploded as he parked his fire truck and entered the theatre, the weight of the free world on his angry shoulders.  “If I make it out of here, you sons of bitches are gonna get me a sequel to Demolition Man!

A nation’s lowest common denominator waits, and prays.

The Designer’s Drugs: Scissor Sisters – Night Work

Night Work

Medium: Album

Stimulus: Scissor Sisters – Night Work

Anno: 2010

The impression I’ve taken from the Scissor Sisters’ new album is that the band is cashing in some of its Bee Gees disco sleaze for the more neon-colored perversions of the 80s. The band’s old wails show up in the lounging “Whole New Way” and the absurdly seedy “Any Which Way,” but most of Night Work is newer old school.

The title track opens the disc with “Funky Town” via “Physical,” “Running Out” pops up in the middle of the album waving a hint of Oingo Boingo, and “Invisible Light” caps everything off by mixing Scissor Sisters disco with Frankie Goes to Hollywood meets Animotion’s “Obsession.” Continuing the retro scheme, “Nightlife” is a quick and satisfying blast of New Wave, while Jake Shears breaks out a neat little Iggy Pop vamp in “Harder You Get” and Ana Matronic takes on her sole lead vocal alongside creeping beatboxing synths in “Skin this Cat.” An unexpected winner is the slow build of “Fire with Fire,” which begins as a lameass piano/guitar ballad that burst halfway through into dance and violins, sounding as though it might have belonged in an inspirational coming-of-age film.

Perhaps because the Sisters’ choices of style and influence are so scattered on this album, Night Work’s imitations rarely feel like cheap or stale retrospectives. No matter how derivative the songs may be, the Scissor Sisters know how to make them work.

The Designer’s Drugs: BT – These Hopeful Machines

These Hopeful Machines

Medium: Album

Stimulus: BT – These Hopeful Machines

Anno: 2010

I’ve always been divided when it comes to BT. Everything I’ve heard from the artist features highly produced, top-line electronic music which isn’t afraid of song structure while avoiding formula and repetition. The problem I have with BT is that when his songs feature vocalists, these people always blurt out contrived romantic sentiments, seemingly written by the world’s biggest pussy. Without fail, that is what happens on the two discs which comprise These Hopeful Machines. The music is panoramic and ridiculously danceable. The lyrics suck.

Thus, it’s easy to gravitate toward instrumental tracks like “Rose of Jericho” and “Le Nocturne de Lumiere” which rush and sweep the listener along with orchestral rhythms. Yet if one can get past the awful lyricism on the vocal tracks, there’s a lot to enjoy here as well. The chorus of “The Emergency” may include nonsense drivel such as “You’re I love you,” but the song’s cutting beats and pulses produce one of the album’s best tracks. Similarly, “Suddenly” is a roaring pop single scuffed by clichés exalting emotion and fate. What remains is a vast array of styles ranging from explosive to contemplative, every track a different exercise in craftsmanship.

Maybe BT just needs to hire a new lyricist.

Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: Liquid Sky

Anne Carlisle, and Anne Carlisle

Movie: Liquid Sky (1982)

Directed by: Slava Tsukerman

Starring: Anne Carlisle, Otto von Wernherr

Written by: Slava Tsukerman, Anne Carlisle, Nina V. Kerova

I may have found my crapseeking limit. I’m not sure what Liquid Sky meant to accomplish with its sordid tale of drugged-out hipsters and opiate aliens, but it’s certainly one of the dumbest, most crackheaded films I’ve ever seen.

The story focuses on Margaret (Carlisle), a Bowie-wannabe model who ingests drugs, lurches around, and gets raped with equal frequency. Her immediate circle consists of a mongoloid-looking drug dealing girlfriend, an old hippie lover, and a slick, sneering, pretty boy enemy named Jimmy. (He’s also played, wonderfully badly, by Carlisle, who in this guise sounds like a 15 year old boy trying to buy beer.) Beyond the hippie, none of these people are what you’d describe as rational. Indeed, almost nobody in this film is. All the characters either jitter around like epileptics or strike morose poses and come off as pretentious assholes. There’s no in-between.

After a U.F.O. the size of a dinner plate lands on the roof of Margaret’s apartment, the alien within watches her make a fool of herself. That evening, the Mongoloid (who is the worst element of the film) gives a horrible musical performance where she raps about her “rhythm box.” Then the cool kids put on a vapid fashion show, and Margaret gets raped by an Andrew McCarthy doppelganger. Following the degradation, the alien makes poor Margaret its champion and sets her loose to kill villains through orgasm, which somehow turns their brains into crystals. Whatever.

The production in this movie is ridiculous. Awkward editing and jarring jumps to solarized negative weaken the film on the visual end, but what’s worse is that Liquid Sky may boast the worst score of any film, ever. It’s as though the director injected a monkey with heroin and forced it to play a synthesizer.

Still, I will give the film a few positive points. Occasionally, Margaret becomes eerily interesting, and the knife fight she gets into with the Mongoloid (over the hippie’s dead, naked body) is pretty swell. And I’m always a fan of dumb Deus ex Machina, which this film delivers in U.F.O. form. Yet the very best thing about this film is the giant German astrophysicist and his sweet wavy 70s hair, high-ridin’ pants, and red leather jacket. Coming to America to stop the alien, he fights off Jimmy’s horned-up mom in his quest for intergalactic justice. And it’s damn hard to fight off a line like “you have a laser gun in your pants?” What a champ!

Yet our Teutonic hero can’t save Liquid Sky. It’s so vacant, so hopelessly fashionable, that I wouldn’t be surprised if Lady Gaga soon starred in a remake.

Bad Goth Bea Arthur Poetry

Bea!

In Memoriam: Beatrice Arthur

By, Caspian Shadowmort

Bea!
Why have you left me? Bea!
You’ve followed Getty to the Gates
Left two churlish Golden Girls to wait
For death’s brass embrace, like Paul and Ringo
Slinging swill without your watchful,
Steely gaze,
Bereft of bliss,
Holding them in check.
If Betty White isn’t next,
I’ll further Rue the day you left.

Bea!
Why can’t the Philistines see? Bea!
The kids only know you from the scene
From Airheads whence Lone Rangers razed
The radio, making outrageous demands
To seek the insanity defence.
They howled for naked photographs
Of thee, Bea!
And when Judd Nelson peered o’er
Stupid Sandler’s shoulder
What did he see?
Thee, Bea!
Judd slithered out a sibilant “Nice!”
And the kids all giggled,
Not knowing why.

Bea!
(Not you, Aunt Bee!
Return thee to Mayberry!)
Bea!
You are free! Bea!
Whilst public lips lament the loss
Of Dorothy, and the ma’am
Who roasted Pamela Anderson,
Their panoramic view
Proves of little use.
They barely knew that Maude was God
And never knew the broad
Who swung out Broadway sleaze,
Or the cantina wench from Mos Eisley
Who danced and sang in the holiday breeze.
They never even knew
You were Bernice.

But from the earth and skies,
You shalt arise
To rewrite your Arthurian legacy
And they shall see, Bea,
The once
and future
queen.

Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: World’s Greatest Dad

World's Greatest Dad

Movie: World’s Greatest Dad (2009)

Director: Bobcat Goldthwait

Starring: Robin Williams, Alexie Gilmore, Daryl Sabara

Written by: Bobcat Goldthwait


So I recently found out that my cousin, the one closest in age to me, just died. My reaction to the news, to put it mildly, was not filled with sadness. I’ll avoid going into excessive detail about my non-relationship with my dirtbag relative and instead let the last time we spoke speak volumes about the whole. It happened during the first night I came back to visit La Crosse after moving away in California, what I’ve referred to in the past as my “This Is Your Life” night. My cousin and I were both trashed and stumbling around downtown when we came across each other, and after the usual reunion faux-enthusiasm things went sour. First he offered me cocaine. Then he started to bitch about how I hadn’t let him know I would be back in town (I didn’t have, nor would I have used, his contact information). To top it off, he flipped out on a good friend of mine who tried to bail me out of the uncomfortable situation. My cousin took off his shirt and puffed up his chest before throwing what I’m assuming was meant to be a pulled punch, but one which faintly connected anyway. Having very little cognitive ability left, I watched the disaster play out with wide, blank eyes before escaping. When I reflected on it later, I decided that if I never saw my cousin again, I’d be perfectly happy.

I didn’t. And I am. But I wonder how his dirty life will be whitewashed in death, how many of his sins and exploitations will be forgotten, and how much of who he really was will be left in the memories of anyone who cares to remember him.

The Asshole Martyr

It’s further testament to my total apathy about all this that I didn’t immediately find parallels between what just happened and a film I watched days later which brilliantly confronts the phony veneration of the dead. The martyr of World’s Greatest Dad is a high school douchebag named Kyle (a disgustingly swell performance by Daryl Sabara), who snuffed it while choking himself and jerking off. In life, Kyle was a pervy prick who treated everyone around him like shit. As a result, his entire social circle consisted of one (very browbeaten) friend and a father whose only affection for him came from the bondage of family. In death, Kyle became a saint, a genius, the school mascot. He could do no wrong; the very people who hated him before he died were scrambling for any scrap of him afterwards, some going so far as to fight over a not-exactly-teen-fashionable Bruce Hornsby album because they thought it was Kyle’s favorite. (In truth, as typical, Kyle hated everything.)

This outpouring of doctored memories and false grief is his old man’s fault. Robin Williams turns in a tremendous performance as Lance Clayton, a frustrated writer and poetry teacher who stupendously fails at turning his son’s death into something positive. As maligned as anyone else was by Kyle, Lance nonetheless cries his eyes out upon discovering his son’s body. Williams’ restraint and abandonment in this scene creates the film’s most heartbreakingand stoic moment.

Finding the Body

Attempting to cover up the nature of his son’s death, he hides the hand lotion and porn and hangs his son in the closet door. Dad then pulls out his writing talents and pens a poignant suicide note, which he tucks into dangling Kyle’s pocket. The community – which has apparently never seen an episode of CSI – buys the cover story, but the scheme works a little too well. Lance’s gesture of dignity soon devolves into a mire of exploitation in which the father is both swept along by the contrived grief of others and using his son’s memory for his own ends. The greatest evidence of Lance’s complicity in the affair is in his writing of a fake journal which he passes off as his son’s. With the help of the school’s grief counselor – a more blatantly conniving and desperate bastard – Lance gets all the fame he ever wanted before realizing that he’d rather not hang himself by the charade anymore. In the film’s final moments, Williams delivers a joyously deadpan fuck-you-all moment, calling his son out for who he really was and giving up the game. And after that, there’s some Robin Williams dong.

Say what you will about Bobcat Goldthwait’s spastic acting career, but as a director and screenwriter he’s terrific. The hero worship of the dead presented in World’s Greatest Dad might have come off as a tad implausible before the death of Michael Jackson, but in a world where everyone can turn on a dime, calling someone a freak in one breath and a genius in the post-mortem next, this premise is downright sensible. Goldthwait has created a very dark comedy, but what’s most notable about this film is how it’s also a very deep, realistic, and compassionate breed. There’s no slapstick or cheap punchlines; instead Goldthwait presents fleshed-out characters who act out what is, at the core, a story about a man freeing himself from the expectations of others – even if someone had to die for him to do it. It’s not always an uncalled for type of liberation.

Y Spy: Hypernova Goes Solar

Hypernova: Kami, Jam, Raam, and Kodi

Hypernova doesn’t want to be your One Iranian Band. In fact, if the band’s country of origin wasn’t tacked onto every scrap of its press and promotion, one would never know the difference. Its recently released first full-length album, “Through the Chaos,” stops short of being cheerful, but it is a full-bodied rock record with a spring in its step and a promise of a bright future. If you’re expecting cheap shots against the Ayatollahs or President Ahmadinejad, however, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Instead, Hypernova’s themes of love, sadness, and rebellion are universal, readable without a frame of reference – and the accompanying music is great fun to dance to.

It’s difficult to avoid the subject of Iran coming up in connection with the band, and to be fair, it is part of the story. What this band has gone through to get where it is puts the majority of so-called rock rebels to shame. In our conversation, Hypernova’s singer, codenamed Raam, was content to discuss the band’s history with Iran, so long as it never became a dwelling point. Throughout, Raam minced few words, freely speaking his mind on his band and life, never fearing to be self-critical. Yet whenever we moved into more political subjects, he always turned the conversation back to the music. This wasn’t an evasion, but an implicit statement of where his focus lies.

Y Spy: Many bands that come to America become advertised as being from their home country, and Hypernova is no exception. Do you ever get tired of your band being looked at as an ambassador for Iran?

Raam: Oh, all the time. It’s hard being pigeonholed into this idea that you’re of interest due to the nature of where you come from. It takes away from what we’re really about, which is the music. We want our music to speak for itself, and we want people to appreciate that and then care about the story and what we’ve gone through. To us, that is secondary. We came here to be able to play and share our music. We didn’t come here with an idea of being peace ambassadors or [to be] this image that people have made us out to be. Obviously I do feel a responsibility in representing my culture, my country, my history in a more positive light. But that’s a cool thing on the side.

Y Spy: How did Hypernova come together?

Raam: I met my drummer at a military camp ten years ago in Iran when we had to do our mandatory time. We didn’t do the full two year service; we only did a couple of weeks, which was more like a summer camp for kids who could afford to buy off the military thing. We both loved rock and roll, and we started our first band together. I didn’t play any instruments, but I spoke English so I became the singer. For several years we played on different names in the undergrounds of Iran. We went through many different members, and eventually we came up with the lineup that is Hypernova now. We realized that we were on to something while playing as Hypernova for these last couple of years, [so] we decided to let go of everything else in our lives and commit ourselves full-time to this, to what we love, the only thing that we’re half-decent at.

Y Spy: What influences did you bring into making music, and how does one find such influences in a theocracy?

Raam: Growing up in Iran we used to have bootleg cassettes. I still have my collection back home. We used to trade mixtapes and whatever we could find. It’s very hard to find new music; people just shared whatever they had. We came across all these random and obscure bands, but also the big bands like Queen and Pink Floyd. We listened to all sorts of rock and roll: punk, new wave, garage, Britpop, grunge, indie. We just kept listening to as much as we could, trying to find our own sound. We started up in a very garage, punky band, and developed and evolved. To this day, we’re still expanding our musical horizons. We’ve been trying to confine ourselves to a specific genre, but it’s harder and harder to listen to rock music now because it has a way of seeping into your brain, causing you to lose the originality of your creativity without even knowing it. So I try to limit myself in terms of listening to rock music.

Y Spy: How does one operate a rock band in Iran?

Raam: It’s not an easy thing to do at all. The whole nature of the game is: it’s illegal. You can’t perform publicly; you can’t distribute your music. You have to do everything on your own, whether it’s putting on underground shows, or recording, or distributing. It’s quite a hassle. There’s no money to be made in this. There are always people making fun of you, [saying that] you’re crazy trying to be a rock band in Iran. But the whole idea behind rock and roll is the ability to dream of being a rock star someday and putting everything into your project. For us, we’ve been through so many struggles. We just believed in ourselves so much and we were so passionate about what we were doing that we just never gave up. We worked harder and harder in the hope that we could one day leave Iran and travel around the world and be able to play freely, without fear of reprisal.

There’s only so far you can go in the underground scene. Ultimately, you’re gonna have to leave the country to tour and distribute your music and be heard. The Internet has become very helpful in sharing your work, but there’s so much competition to be heard. We’ve been very fortunate to make it this far. When we first came [to America] there was so much hype around our story that I didn’t feel we deserved all this attention. I was embarrassed about a lot of it. But as musicians, we were just trying to get a break, trying really hard to make it. We’re such hard workers and we know that we have so much potential. Hopefully down the road we’ll get to the place in our lives where we’ll look back and say that we did something really cool, that we did something that we believed in.

Y Spy: Did you have run-ins with the law in Iran?

Raam: All of us have been arrested on random things. In terms of our music and underground shows, we were so careful. A couple of parties got raided but we never got arrested. We were very careful in terms of always bringing lookouts and having extra money put aside to bribe the police if they came. You can bribe the police, but you can’t bribe the moral police. Those guys are pretty tough.

We planned things out in advance to make sure that [the shows wouldn’t get] too crowded. That was one of the problems – once the word would get out, everybody would want to come. One of our friends threw this big concert, and several hundred people showed up. Obviously, it caused such a commotion that the cops showed up and took a couple hundred people away to jail.

Y Spy: You recorded your first EP (“Who Says You Can’t Rock in Iran?”) while in Iran. What were the processes involved in recording and distributing this?

Raam: There was a friend of ours who was a producer. We had built this in-home, really crappy studio at our place and started recording demos. We put bits and pieces together, sometimes at my place, sometimes at his place, using whatever knowledge we had at the time. We usually sent it by email to all our friends and fans. We didn’t have a CD first; it was a very basic way of getting an introduction to what Hypernova is all about.

Hypernova live at Studio Seven in Seattle

Y Spy: When did you decide to come to the States? How did it happen?

Raam: We came to the States in 2007. I had heard about this festival called South by Southwest, and I decided to send one of those crappy demos to the festival. I didn’t think they would care about us, and when they sent us a letter [inviting us to] the showcase, it was one of the coolest days of our lives.

We had to go this whole process of getting petitions for work permits, having to go to the U.S. consulate in Dubai to apply for visas. This whole process took so many months, waiting for the paperwork to go through. There were so many security clearances because of the nature of where we’re from. The first time, they denied our visas because we were unable to prove that we are a legitimate band. How do you prove that you’re a legitimate band when there’s no musical press, when everything is underground? We got very lucky that the people who were doing our paperwork got in touch with the New York Senator’s office of Charles Schumer. They sent a fax to the U.S. consulate. We don’t know what they wrote, but the next time we turned up for an interview, two weeks later, they didn’t even interview us. They just gave us our visas. We were absolutely surprised.

When we came here, we had no intention of staying here more than a couple of weeks. We had round-trip tickets for three weeks, and we didn’t have that much money, just a guitar and a suitcase. We didn’t have a clear idea of how the music industry operates. One thing led to another, and three years later, here we are, still! We got signed, we’re doing tours, and hopefully we’re going to be doing tours in Europe and the rest of the world pretty soon. It’s been a journey full of ups and downs and many adventures, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Y Spy: What’s your current legal status in the States?

Raam: Currently we’re on entertainment visas. Hopefully we’ll be able to get more permanent status as we achieve more success. No band from our country has ever come as far as we have. We sort of set the bar in terms of rock and roll from Iran; now we’ve opened the way for so many other bands to do the same thing. So many people have supported us and our cause over the years that I wanna help out and be there for the kids back home who believed in me and gave me a chance to do this.

Y Spy: Each band member goes by a pseudonym, the given reason being to protect family and friends back in Iran. Is the government’s reaction to your music a real danger?

Raam: Some of my friends who are musicians and have gone back, they’ve been arrested at the airport, they’ve been hassled, their families have been hassled. [Due to] the nature of the jobs that some of our parents have, some of them are in very delicate places. To be honest, I’m pretty sure that none of [the authorities] know who we really are. One thing that we’re trying to be conscious about is staying away from a lot of the Iranian press, because they try to politicize things. We have very strong ideals and we stand up for what we believe is just and right, but at the end of the day we want to be first about the music.

It’s a hard thing. Because of the nature of where we’re from, a lot of people try to politicize the band. I hate questions like: “What do you think about the nuclear standoff between the U.S. and Iran?” What do you want me to say? I don’t even know how to answer that question. I’m for the abolishment of all nuclear arsenals. Sometimes they don’t realize that we’re a bunch of kids who came here for the love of music more than anything else.

Y Spy: Let’s discuss your song, “Viva la Resistance.” It’s a song that feels political, but could be read as a normal rebellion song if one didn’t know the origin of the band. Was it meant to be specific of your country, or a more universal song?

Raam: I write from the perspective of a kid growing up in the underground of Iran, but within a global context. The first album is a pretty simple, straightforward album. The whole idea of “Through the Chaos” is to tell the story of all the things we’ve been through to get where we are today. All the songs are very personal, but anyone in the world can read between the lines and lyrics and relate to it as well.

Y Spy: How was “Though the Chaos” put together?

Raam: We were in L.A., and we were very fortunate to find people to help us out in finding proper producers, or helping us with funding, and getting the album recorded. We met the producer, Herwig [Maurer], and we got Sean Beavan, who has done Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson, to mix the album. The whole process didn’t go exactly the way we wanted it to. It was our first real take at a studio project, and we were very naïve. In terms of understanding how the studio works, we weren’t that knowledgeable. The whole process seemed a little rushed. In the end, I’m really proud and happy to finally achieve something that kids have tried for back home. At the same time, we always strive for perfection, and I don’t feel that we were able to do justice to the sound that is Hypernova. But it was an interesting process for us to learn.

Y Spy: What would you do different on the next album?

Raam: For the next album, there are a lot of things that we’ll do different. If you’ve seen the live show, so many people are blown away. We’re a live band first, then a studio band. I understand how hard that is to transfer that raw energy of a show to a polished studio album, but hopefully in the future we’ll be able to represent the richness and fullness of the band more in the way we are live.

Raam at Studio Seven in Seattle

Y Spy: One other song that caught my attention was “American Dream,” which describes idealism turning into disillusionment. How autobiographical was that song?

Raam: It’s the idea of not being able to go home to the life we once had. Once you get a taste of this whole crazy, insane rock and roll lifestyle, it’s hard to go back to the normal, innocent kid who you once were. Everybody has this dream of coming to America and trying to make it here. We were no different than anybody else. When we came here we accomplished many things, but there was a price we had to pay. There were many sacrifices, especially in L.A. There was so much vanity catching up with us that I realized that I had turned into anything I had ever hated in this world. It was asking myself: is this the life that you wanted?

Y Spy: Was there a culture shock involved in this?

Raam: I was born in Iran, but during the 80s I grew up in the States for six, seven years. My bandmates haven’t been that familiar with life outside of Iran, so it was a bit of a culture shock in the beginning. Very quickly, they adapted to the lifestyle. In terms of coming to the States with nothing and having this rollercoaster of a life, it really messes with your head. There are a lot of things in this line of work that mess with your head. You always have to stay grounded and stay humble, and not let your ego get out of control. Just do what you love without fear of consequences. It’s just sometimes so hard. There’s all this madness around, but that’s the cliché of rock and roll.

Y Spy: What songs on the album have hidden meaning?

Raam: I feel like our song, “See the Future,” tells the story of these two kids who fall in love during the war. Growing up in Iran, I still remember the sounds of sirens going off when bombs are falling on the city. All of us went through really crazy things during the war. I think that song’s another really personal song, trying to figure out what’s going to happen at the end, for all of us who are on this ride. But from the first song to the last, [“Through the Chaos”] is a very simple introduction to what Hypernova is. For us, it’s trying to find our sound. Both musically and lyrically we’ve really evolved ever since we recorded this [about] two years ago.

Y Spy: What has reaction been to the album?

Raam: It’s been really overwhelmingly positive. I’ve been pleasantly surprised that so many people are digging the album and enjoying the tunes. As artists we have to play these songs so many times. Sometimes it gets hard for you to get in touch with the meaning of the song when it becomes so repetitive for you. But that’s the beauty: even though you write a song, sometimes I feel like you’re not the fully rightful owner of the song. Your fans who listen to the song, they relate to it sometimes more than you do. We don’t even listen to our own music.

We’ve gotten so much praise; there are also critics who gave negative reviews, and I appreciate that, too. It keeps you grounded and reminds you how much harder you have to work in becoming a better musician and a better band.

Y Spy: Have you met any prejudice in America?

Raam: We had some hate mail when we came here in the beginning, people telling us to go back to our country. We didn’t know much about a lot of Americans. We toured for 36 days, and we’ve seen so many great things in America, so many cool people that I would have thought otherwise if I hadn’t met them personally. That’s one of the cool things about our journey: we’re able to bring people together through music. We play Midwest America, and there are all these people who have never seen someone from Iran. They’re very skeptical about us at first, but after our shows they connect on such a personal, human level. Everyone realizes the fundamental human truth that we’re all really the same. Our similarities outweigh our differences.

Y Spy: As part of a band that has literally had to fight for its music, how do you view the convenience and availability of music, which today often feels produced by default?

Raam: Obviously the convenience of being able to walk into a venue, playing and drinking their beer without worrying about the police is a great comfort. But at the same time, it makes people complacent, sort of indifferent as well. You have to work that much harder to entertain people; I think that’s a really cool challenge, actually.

I see people on the subway in New York all the time who are such amazing musicians that I wonder: how did this guy end up in the subway? Every day I hear a band or musician and wonder: how is it that no one’s ever heard of this? You realize how hard it is to make it in this industry. There’s so much competition. Almost every single person I know in [my] neighborhood is in a band. Because of the internet, people have been given this power to share their music freely without the big record label monopolies dictating what’s going to be distributed or not. At the same time, what do you listen to? I listen to a lot of classical music, because trying to catch up with all the music is just so hard.

There are so many bands that I wonder why they’re even playing. I’m surprised that a lot of people even pick up a guitar and start playing. I assume everybody starts out like that. Maybe there are too many bands in the world. Maybe it’s better to have bands and musicians than people who make atom bombs.

Y Spy: With music coming from every angle and often as a corporate product, what is its role today as a tool of legitimate dissent?

Raam: The reason why governments like Iran are afraid of artists and musicians is because they understand that art and music have this ability to inspire people the way that politicians can’t. I think that’s why they try so hard to put [them] down. [In terms of] the corporations of the West, it’s become very difficult, because the corporations have a pretty strong grasp on the market. All the radio stations and music television stations are dictating what the general tastes of the masses should be. But there are a lot of cool people finding innovative, creative ways of trying to share their music and staying true to what their ideals are. Everybody has a price; it’s just how low it is.

Hypernova

Y Spy: What are your touring plans for the future?

Raam: We’re going to be touring across the States in mid-June, which is very fun. For us, the ultimate form of freedom is when you’re on the road, and you don’t have to worry about the landlord and the rent and all the other nonsense. When you’re on the road you don’t really think about anything, and that’s such a blissful state of mind. Every night, you’re going to be playing in front of an audience and they’re going to be digging your music – or even not! It’s the opportunity to travel and meet interesting and new, crazy people. Every city we go to, we find the weirdest people; we party with them; we have the times of our lives. We’ve become so addicted to this lifestyle of change and variety; it’s really hard for us to stay put.

Y Spy: So adventure trumps stability.

Raam: We’re all about the adventure. It’s not going to end anytime soon for us.

Hypernova is Raam, Kami, Kodi, and Jam. “Through the Chaos” is out now. More information can be found at www.hypernova.com.

Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: Uwe Boll Double Feature

Uwe Boll: World's Most Hated Director

The Oh My God, These Uwe Boll Movies Don’t Suck! Double Feature

Over the years Uwe Boll has amassed a legion of despisers who hold that he is the worst film director of all time. As the director of such cinematic bombs as House of the Dead, BloodRayne, and Alone in the Dark, he is so hated in some circles that at least one petition has been circulated calling for his retirement, one of which amassed thousands upon thousands of signatures. One notable event to come from the Uwe Boll hatefest saw the director boxing five of his harshest critics, beating them all to a pulp. Obviously he’s not loved.

Boll has been referred to as the German Ed Wood, yet having slogged through the monumentally atrocious House of the Dead I feel that comparison does the Emperor of Bizarro a grave disservice. Yet beyond House I’ve avoided Boll’s curriculum vitae like the plague, so my knowledge of his work is essentially that everyone else says he sucks – and who knows how far that hearsay goes. On one point, at least, I’m willing to give Boll the benefit of the doubt and write off his bad reputation on the fact that he’s made little beyond video game movies for the past few decades. There has never been a great video game movie, and Uwe Boll is probably not the man to make the first.

Still, I’m sure I’m not alone when I assumed that Uwe Boll’s recent foray into more serious filmmaking would turn out to be a sick joke which would fail magnificently. Yet I was stunned – stunned! – to discover two Uwe Boll films which were actually quite good. For a director who has engendered such low expectations, such backhanded praise is akin to nominating him for an Academy Award.

Both Stoic and Rampage take long, uncomfortable views of angry young men who leap (and are not pushed, a vital distinction) into terrible acts of violence. Neither allows its disturbing savagery to become gratuitous or exploitative. Of the two, Stoic is the superior film, whereas Rampage is more visceral.

Stoic’s story involves a real case in the German prison system in which three inmates tortured a fellow prisoner to death. Well, the official story is that the prisoner committed suicide, but the film’s stance is unambiguous about it being a murder. None of the three torturers are innocent – each committing horrible acts upon their victim – but what this movie becomes is a question of degrees, of who is most guilty and most evil. Interviews conducted after the murder show the three inmates fluctuating between states of remorse and nonchalance, each trying to wriggle his way out of blame. It’s hard to tell who is really on the level, but the skinny guy who gets saddled with the lion’s share of blame comes off as remorseful and (comparatively) sympathetic. In contrast, the cell’s big German skinhead and tubby Edward Furlong soon emerge as the callous monsters, and each gets away with reduced punishment. Yes, Edward Furlong is in this film, and he’s as whiny and nasal as ever, but he also turns in a sinister and conniving performance that is easily his best work since American History X.

One idea advanced at film’s end is that not every criminal deserves to be tossed into prison with the rest of the dogs. Furlong’s scumbag and the German hulk were in prison for violent crimes, but skinny boy got busted for drug dealing while the dead kid’s crimes were vagrancy and resisting arrest. Throwing violent and nonviolent offenders in the same environment, Boll asserts, is a miscarriage of justice.

Rampage affords no such moral ambiguity; it is a straight-out spree killer film. The machine-gunning marauder who serves as this film’s focus spouts out high-minded screeds about overpopulation and anticapitalism (parroting his friend’s more sincere beliefs), but when he puts on his body armor and starts the slaughter, the gunner makes sure to hunt down those who wronged him earlier, and he runs off with a wad of cash. The result is nothing more than an act of revenge terrorism.

There are a few aspects of this film which annoy the hell out of me, facets which flicker through the scenes leading up to the carnage. Boll repeats the same monologues and soundbites over and over in an attempt to show the insanity of the world, a move which instead drags the movie and is really irritating. A smaller complaint is the beginning shows second-long bursts of the killing to come. I know that the film is called Rampage, and it’s not as though the viewer doesn’t know what to expect, but I’d like the action to happen in its own time.

Nonetheless, the rampage itself is gripping and surprisingly restrained. The motivations and acts of the killer are unsettling in their realism. However, there is one part of the movie which falls to surreal humor and doesn’t fit with the rest of the film. The killer, armed and in full body armor, wanders into a bingo hall, where the old folks are too engrossed in the game to notice him. Disgusted, he leaves without firing a shot, noting that they don’t need his help to be dead. It’s a weird moment of levity that, at least, is funny.

Uwe Boll, you’ve done well! Hey, maybe I’ll review BloodRayne 3 when it comes out! Okay, maybe not.