Sunday, April 12, 2015

Happy Times, Heavy Times

You can't go home again, right?

Maybe not, but today proved you can go back and see the X-rated animated movie your first boyfriend took you to see.

As part of the James River Film Festival, "Fritz the Cat" was showing at the Byrd. Munching my popcorn, waiting for it to start, I overheard a guy who looked like a VCU senior say, "Yea, I learned about it when I took an animation course junior year."

JRFF kingpin Mike Jones stopped to speak to the guy nearest me, saying he looked familiar. "I was in your film class years ago," the guy said.

It seemed everyone had a different reason for coming to see a pornographic cartoon today.

The movie's introduction was provided courtesy of a cultural history professor from Randolph Macon whose topic was, "How 'Fritz the Cat' started the sexual revolution in Richmond."

Opening at the stately and staid Loew's Theater, he emphasized that it was not considered date fare. Fortunately, my boyfriend and I were living 100 miles north, so we hadn't known that (or been too young to care).

It began ominously enough with writer and director Ralph Bakshi's voice saying, "Hey, yea, the 1960s? Happy times, heavy times" and diving right into all the big issues of the day: drugs, free love, race relations, college life, politics and hedonism.

So many jokes -"I've already heard 16 versions of 'Lemon Tree" -couldn't have resonated with the younger members of today's audience.

All the characters were animals (cops were pigs, of course, including one who was Jewish) and the dialog topical - "The president, after conferring with Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, has agreed to send more arms to Israel, based on the return of New York City and Los Angeles to the United States."

Cars had clutches and Howard Johnson's always served a reliably good steak. When someone told you to have some joy puffs, they meant take a hit on the hash pipe.

Honestly, watching the film, none of it was familiar. My only memory of it had been of sex and drugs and there was plenty of that, but everything else about it had been forgotten. Or more likely, it just resonated differently now than it had in high school.

Over a massive supper of southern comfort food with a favorite guitarist at a crowded restaurant, we talked about memorable teachers from our past and why some people occupy a place in your mind for decades and others don't last a month.

Stuffed to the gills, we parted company so I could make a show at the Broadberry.

Hometown boy Matt White was playing a sold out show as part of his current tour behind the new album, "Fresh Blood," so I knew I was guaranteed plenty of familiar faces for company.

It was obvious they were expecting a crowd when I walked to find all the tables in the back of the room had been removed, something I hadn't yet seen at the Broadberry. Already the place was half full.

In no time, I ran into the photographer and his wife on their first overnight away from their toddler. Unused to a night out, they'd already made a caffeine stop to boost their alertness and were shooting for a major sleep-in tomorrow morning, say 7:30.

Sleeping in until 7:30, how cute is that?

My former neighbor said hello, bragging that he would be seeing Dylan for the first time tomorrow night after almost 60 years on the planet. He was clearly excited about the show, even if he did refer to Dylan's last record as "his Mel Torme phase."

The print-maker and photographer, always good for some stimulating conversation, offered reading recommendations (Ben Lerner's "10:04") and commentary after hearing I'd seen "Fritz the Cat" today ("Young people now take no pleasure in sex, no joy").

The jazz critic said hello, having scored a last minute ticket because he, like so many people mistakenly thought the show wouldn't sell out. So like Richmond to think that way.

Sleepwalkers were the opener and their pastiche of rock, soul and everything but the kitchen sink was a crowd-pleasing way to start the night. When I mentioned that I was most partial to their soul-inflected songs, a friend and Richmond native pointed out that that material sounded like what she had heard in this same venue 30 years ago.

Richmond has apparently had a scene long enough now that reminiscing is possible.

I'd have been shocked not to run into the dance party enthusiast whom I rewarded with my biggest smile when I saw him approaching, only to have another guy assume my effusiveness was for him ("Sorry, for just a second there, I thought you meant me") and he was in fine fettle.

Already he'd been to Hardywood for a show by Nelly Kate, Dave Watkins and Gull ("It was like the best kind of Colloquial Orchestra show"), the opening of the new Shoryuken Ramen ("Sean the bartender was making amazing drinks. I've never had a sake-based drink before") and now he was abuzz to see Matt White.

"I feel like Richmond is dating me today and it's great!" he grinned, a mild sake buzz somewhat apparent. He even allowed that there was a dance party later at Strange Matter and if he enjoyed that, he might let Richmond have its way with him.

Most surprising of everyone I saw was the father of triplets who'd seemingly dropped off the face of the earth when they were born. Tonight there were noticeable streaks of gray in his red beard ("It's the Obama effect, I went white overnight"), which I teased him about, causing his friend to tell me I was cruel.

Matt's drummer Pinson came to the bar to get a last minute gin, waiting nervously for the bartender to return with his credit card because he needed to get backstage and dressed for their set.

"I've got to change and it's always a game not to be the last one in to change." He got his card back and bolted for the back.

A couple of guys were left in his wake and shared that they were new to the venue. "It's not like a dirty punk club," one said, clearly surprised. I explained that it had previosuly been a gay club, hence the chandeliers, VIP section and massive lighting system.

"Do you work here? Are you in the band? Are you the owner of this place?" they wanted to know. No, no and no. How about I've just been here before, guys?

Leaving the talking crowd in the back, I moved much closer to the stage for Matt's gospel rock tinged set and a straight shot view of the musicians, three of whom I met as long ago as 2007. In fact, when he introduced the band, he referred to them as hometown heroes.

His first album, "Big Inner" landed him on all kinds of best of lists ("It took us further and faster than we expected") and "Big Love" got a huge crowd reaction tonight, one of many if you count that lots of us were dancing to practically every song.

Matt spoke often of how good it felt to be playing at home tonight after a month on the road. "If I were playing in other cities, I'd hate that people were talking. But this is Richmond and that's what Richmond does. It's refreshing."

Saying that as an introvert, he hated being told by bands to participate, so he'd vowed never to make his audiences do that. But for "Feeling Good is Good Enough," he offered the option of singing along on the "ya yas" if we were so inclined. "But no pressure if you don't want to."

Almost everyone did.

He talked about how fantastic Richmond's music scene is and how lucky we are, saying he tells audiences that in every city they play. Then they played "Will You Love Me?"

The answer from the blissed out crowd came back an enthusiastic affirmative. Because, yes, in some cases, you can go home again.

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