Monday, April 15, 2013

Vamp and Punk

Without birthdays, there can be no death.

The birthday was my aunt's and it required me to drive up to Maryland for a luncheon.

Don't get me wrong, I love my aunt, a woman who was a role model for me in terms of her abiding passion for books and travel when I was a kid.

But having to spend my morning driving up soul-sucking I-95 is a lot to ask of me.

The luncheon was fine and to soothe my soul, I came home via Route 301 so I could avoid the aggressive drivers and speed demons than distract me from my road trip music.

By the time I meandered back down the back roads (it took 45 minutes longer than I-95), it was time to get on with the night.

It was a night of film, starting at Gallery 5.

The Silent Music Revival was breaking form and showing a long film tonight, Charlie Chaplin's "The Kid," billed as a "comedy with a smile and perhaps a tear."

Wolf//Goat was providing the soundtrack from behind the screen, a presence heard but unseen.

Organizer Jameson introduced the movie as a significant because it was Chaplin's first feature-length film and because it was made just after Chaplin's own baby son died.

No there was a poignant fact to contemplate and no doubt the source of the "tear" possibility.

He also said Chaplin had done everything for this film - directed, produced starred and even written the score- "But you won;t hear that tonight," Jameson reminded us.

As "The Kid" began, local band Wolf//Goat started with a rendition of "Amazing Grace" and the marriage of film and improvised score began.

The story of an orphan brought up by Chaplin's little tramp showed a man thrust into fatherhood (he found the baby in an alley) who handled it well.

I loved a scene of the adorable five-year old boy making pancakes for the two of them while Chaplin laid in bed reading the paper.

That was only way being a kid sucked in 1921, though; lots of other less than sterling things happened to the kid, from his real mother leaving him in a car to the welfare authorities trying to cart him off to the workhouse to his two-bit life of crime with the tramp.

I'll give Jameson credit; once again, he'd chosen the ideal band to match the film.

Wolf//Goat played much tighter tonight than the first time I'd seen them and their "score" was a terrific match for the movie's action.

One of my favorite moments came during the little tramp's dream sequence when a devil advises a woman to tempt him, instructing, "Vamp him!"

Haven't we all wanted to vamp someone at one time or another?

The minute the kid and the tramp found their happy ending, I was out of my seat and off to the Visual Arts Center for more James River Film Festival.

Tonight they were showing another documentary and since in my world you can never have too many docs, I'd gotten my ticket almost a week ago at Steady Sounds, who was co-sponsoring the event.

The room was nearly full of people of all ages when a fellow music-lover and I got there, with lots of musicians in attendance.

It was the story of three teen-aged black brothers from Detroit who'd started a band in the early seventies, which would've been no big deal if it had been a funk or disco band, but it wasn't.

It was proto-punk, which if it had gotten any attention at the time (it didn't), would have been a sea change in the music scene.

It would have been the first punk band.

But when black guys tried to do rock and roll in Motown in 1973 with a name like "Death," nobody much wanted to listen.

One guy at a record company believed in their sound, so they recorded an album's worth of material and released a single.

But no radio station was willing to play it, so the story basically ended there.

And even if it hadn't one of the three brothers, David, the leader and the one who refused to change the band's name to garner more of a shot at fame, died young of lung cancer.

And that's what was great to see, how the filmmakers documented when a few rabid record collectors got wind of the single thirty years alter and tracked down a few copies, leading to the son of Death's bass player getting wind of the band via a friend who'd heard the single and called it the best thing she'd ever heard.

You can imagine his surprise when he discovered that his Dad and two uncles had been that band.

To paraphrase one of the sons, how cool is that?

You can also see how a story like this would have never happened in the pre-Internet days.

The sons formed a tribute band and began doing shows of Death's music.

The old master tapes from the recording session were found in the family attic and the album mastered and put out.

And, best of all, the two remaining members of Death found a worthy guitar player to replace their brother and started playing shows to packed houses.

You can only imagine the fanatical interest of what is now multiple generations of punk fans getting to hear a band that was capturing that sound and energy, even that tinniness due to the era, before anyone else.

The diversity of the people at Death's shows roughly mirrored the diversity of the people at tonight's JRFF sold-out screening of "A Band called Death."

Like the son of Death said, how cool is that?

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