Last night, my friend and I went to see a movie called Holy Motors. We were intrigued by the preview, and thought it looked interesting and very stylish, but we had no way of knowing what a wild ride we were in for. Here’s the trailer.
This is not a review. This is a plea for you to watch the movie so that we can discuss it. It’s not for the faint of heart. It’s dark, and shocking, and lovely, and melancholy, and mysterious, and joyous, and occasionally hysterical, and it’s a myriad of surprises from beginning to end. I don’t even want to say anything about the story, because I want you to have the same experience I (and everyone else in the theater) did. I feel like I’ve already said too much. Worth mentioning is the fact that I almost titled this entry, “Holy crap! Holy Motors!”
More shocking than the movie, however, was what happened after. It happened at the Living Room here in downtown Portland, at the early showing. The film had just finished, but instead of getting up to leave, everyone stayed in their seats, talking quietly. The guy sitting next to my friend and me said that he’d gotten up to take a five-minute bathroom break, and asked what he’d missed. Another guy chimed in that he’d missed a bit on a bathroom break as well. We did our best to remember, and we told him. Then other people started to chime in and ask about what the group thought a scene meant, or how various elements tied together (or didn’t). Before long, everyone was jumping into spontaneous conversation about the film, and comparing it to other films, and suddenly it became Movie Club. The staff had to tell us first politely, and then a bit more pointedly, that they did have a lobby, and we were welcome to go out there, but that they had to clean the theater, and we had to vacate. The group congregated in the hallway and continued the discussion for another fifteen minutes. Everyone who was in that little theater stayed and participated in the discussion. I’ve been going to movies for decades now, and that has never happened before. It was fantastic, and it made me wonder why it doesn’t happen more often.
I want so badly to post pictures and scenes from the movie on here, but I’m not going to. You can seek them out if you want, but I would encourage you not to, and to see it with no prior knowledge of the story. Also, I recommend that you see it on the biggest screen available to you. I imagine that it’s still playing in some arthouse theaters, but if it’s not, it’s out on DVD.
This ad was posted on ListByCraig today, in the ‘musicians’ section.
“Very experienced drummer without legs. What I can do with the rest of my limbs will surprise you! Looking to jam or maybe start band with good people who can accept me for who I am.. Below are links to my drumming videos. Thank you to my brother for allowing me to post a few videos of me playing on his synth youtube channel! Love you and God Bless!”
Rick Allen, the drummer for Def Leppard, has shown the world that a person doesn’t need all of his or her limbs in order to rock huge arenas around the world. I was expecting this guy to be using a modified drum set of some sort, or maybe he was even a guy like Trilok Gurtu, the amazing Indian percussionist who used to play with John McLaughlin and Mahavishnu Orchestra and all that. He has legs, and he uses them on occasion, but his main Thing is to sit on the floor, surrounded by a mountain of percussion instruments, creating a soundscape that is both big and small. He sounds like a drummer, but so much more. He’s amazing.
So I’m giving the guy who posted his ad the benefit of the doubt. He seems like a good guy, is really confident, and he isn’t going to let his disability come between him and his dream. This being Portland, there are a million hippie percussionists out there, and this guy could be one of them. Good on you, dude, and more power to you, I thought, as I clicked on the links to his videos. Do not read the rest of this entry until you’ve watched both of the videos. Don’t worry, they’re not very long. Here’s the first one. . .
. . .and the second one.
I can imagine him twirling his virtual drum sticks at the end of that second one, or holding his iPhone aloft with the lighter app flickering on the screen.
I almost fell out of my chair laughing.
I have to commend the guy for his positive attitude, and his gumption or moxie or whatever, but OH MY GOD. SO FUNNY. Here he is bragging about how what he can do with ‘the rest of his limbs’, and he can’t even keep a solid beat. And ‘very experienced drummer?’ What does that even mean? Very experienced playing the drum machine with his fingers in his bedroom?
Okay, so assuming that all the stars align, and that a band actually wants someone to do that for them, what would that look like on stage? A couple of guitarists and a bassist with their big amps, a singer strutting around on the front of the stage, and a guy sitting in the back tapping out beats with a drum machine on his lap. Hilarious.
I hope he gets in a band. I’ll absolutely go see them play.
This all reminds of a band I saw about eight years ago at the venue formerly known as the Rabbit Hole. It was a female singer-songwriter and her ‘band’, which consisted of two electric guitarists and a CD player on the back of the stage, which provided their backing tracks. She would say something like, “Here’s another new song,” and one of the guitarists would turn around and push the button on the CD player to make it play. It was the (unintentionally) funniest musical thing I’ve ever seen. I seem to recall that she even counted off one or two of the songs with, “One. . .two. . .three. . .four—” before one of the guitarists started the CD, but maybe I just wanted that to happen so badly that my memory is playing tricks on me. It’s been known to happen.
In the interest of full disclosure, my first band (back in 1987) used the same Yamaha drum machine as the one in the top video when we recorded our song demos, and I played it the exact same way, by tapping on the big buttons. We made a video for one of the songs at the local community-access TV station, and I’ve heard that they still play one of our other videos on their ‘Flashbacks’ series, which is simultaneously very flattering and slightly cringe-worthy. Suffice it to say that I have first-hand experience with playing that exact drum machine in that exact way, and I’ve played all kinds of instruments (including a keytar) on all kinds of stages, but I would never dream of doing that in front of people, for any other reason than a humorous one.
Some of my favorite things to watch on the youtubes are videos made by people playing in their homes. Guitarists who shred and dance around in their bedrooms are always a hoot, but amateur drummers seem to take the cake when it comes to megalomania. This guy is one of my favorites, for many reasons. Most of all, he’s just not very good (but he THINKS he is, and THAT’S funny), but it’s the ridiculous and ergonomically challenging setup of his drum kit and the way he keeps looking at himself in the mirror that tell me all I need to know about the kind of person he is.
The best news of all is that he has his own channel (of course he does!), with an entire series of videos that we can all watch and enjoy together. I recommend his version of “Limelight” by Rush.
The subject of auditioning and dealing with potential band members dredges up similar feelings, and I’ve written about that before, so if you’re so inclined, you can read more about it.
Okay, I admit it; I’m an elitist musical snob. Are you happy now?
A few months ago, I had a funny conversation with a friend of a friend, whose very unusual first name began with an M. When my friend introduced me to M, I said, “Oh, you must know [GhostBand singer]. I think she might have been in the same school program as both of you were. Were you at the Goodfoot?”
“Nope,” M replied. “Never been there before.”
“That’s weird,” I said, “maybe I’m wrong about the school program, but I met another friend of hers—maybe from college?—and there are two of you with the same name.”
“I don’t think so,” she said. “If there was another one of us, I’d know about it.”
“Yeah. It’s an unusual enough name that I wouldn’t forget it. But she exists.”
“I doubt it,” she said. This is starting to get weird.
“Okay.” I said. Resistance was useless. Fast forward a few minutes into the conversation, and the little group of us was talking about food and restaurants; a favorite subject here in Portland. I mentioned one and gave it a good recommendation.
“Oh, I love that place,” M said. “Too bad it closed down.”
“Really, when? I was just there.”
“A few months ago, or a year, maybe.”
“No, it’s still open. I ate there a couple weeks ago.”
“No, it’s totally closed.”
I get no pleasure from arguing, and only resort to it if the subject is really something worth fighting about. Things like people I’ve met, or restaurants that aren’t closed, those aren’t even arguments, they’re wastes of time that could be better spent in a good conversation. I had a similarly funny and surreal one with my stepmom this past weekend. The subject of music came up, and she had a question.
“Who’s the guy from Hoquiam [tiny town on the coast of Washington state] who died? The musician?”
“Yeah, that’s him.”
“He was from Aberdeen, though.”
“No, he was from Hoquiam.”
“I don’t know if he was born in Aberdeen or not, but he grew up and went to school there. I’ve watched a bunch of documentaries and stuff about him.”
“Yeah, that’s Hoquiam. There’s a bridge there, and a memorial.”
“But that’s all in Aberdeen. I’ve been to that bridge.”
Well, here it is, the bridge over the Wishkah river. I didn’t make this video, but it’s a simple and touching tribute. And it’s in Aberdeen.
And since we happen to be on the subject of Nirvana and documentaries, I can’t recommend this one, “About a Son,” highly enough. It’s told exclusively through audio interviews, and filmed in a very compelling way, and it walks you through Kurt’s entire life story. You never see him speak, but his voice narrates the entire thing. It’s candid and haunting, and I think you’ll agree.
When I left you hanging at the edge of the cliff with Vinnie’s story, I didn’t realize that it would take A MONTH AND A HALF to get back to the story. Huge apologies for that.
When we left off, Vinnie had disbanded his Invasion band (truth be told, the singer and bassist quit and formed the band Slaughter, which was much more successful, and still exists today), and the so-called ‘grunge’ of Seattle made 80’s metal obsolete. The guys from Kiss are pretty tight-lipped about their dealings with Vinnie, but Gene Simmons famously called him “the most self-destructive person I’ve ever met.” Vinnie also apparently reneged on contracts with Kiss, or failed to sign them completely, and even ended up suing the band—twice!—for songwriting royalties he felt he was owed. Apparently the courts didn’t agree, since he lost both of the lawsuits.
In the late 80’s, he also dabbled in songwriting for other people, including—somewhat surprisingly—The Bangles.
Color me surprised, then, when in 1992, Vinnie got called to write songs with Kiss again for their Revenge record. Most people didn’t see that one coming, but apparently he swore up and down to Gene and Paul that he was sorry for all the shenanigans he’d pulled, and that he wanted to make a fresh start with the group. They agreed, but it soon became obvious that Vinnie was still Vinnie, and that it wasn’t going to work out.
Vinnie has spent the intervening years as a recluse, turning up at occasional Kiss conventions, and even awkwardly sitting in with a tribute band in Sweden called Kiss This. Watching Vinnie fake his way through these songs is hilarious and priceless, since he clearly doesn’t know them. The guitar solos you hear in the video aren’t played by Vinnie, they’re played by the band’s usual guitarist. I suspect that Vinnie’s guitar isn’t even plugged in. See what you think.
These days, Vinnie seems to have become obsessed with embellishing his reputation. In 2011, he was offering an online chat session on his web site for the admission price of five hundred dollars. He sells his own brand of V-shaped guitars for the astronomical price of nine thousand dollars, unless you want the gold-plated one, which boosts the price to well over twelve thousand dollars. Good luck with that, Vinnie. And his questionable reputation still lives on. The guy who wrote the following piece (in 2011!) is a guitar maker who used to do some work for Vinnie, and who also currently sells his own V-shaped guitars.
“In my past experiences with Vinnie I am aware of certain issues that will likely trainwreck this instrument. If you want details contact the Jackson Custom Shop, they will tell you why they discontinued the original model. In the case of many multitalented individuals there are certain eccentricities that cause them to become their own worst enemies. I am and always will be a fan of Vinnie’s work but working with Vinnie was very unproductive for us.”
Six months before the online chat thing happened, however, he had a bit of a kerfuffle with his wife, allegedly punching her in the face and dragging her through broken glass, before she drove herself to the police station in Nashville, where the couple live today. Also, the police found a bunch of dead dogs, who had apparently been killed by their ‘aggressive’ dog, on their property. Here’s the news story from the incident.
The picture I posted at the end of my previous blog entry was his mug shot from that night.
It would be unacceptable not to let Vinnie speak for himself, regarding all the things I’ve posted here so far. I came across this rebuttal on another web site:
“There is much to say to all of you but the most important thing for me to let you know is that what you have been reading is not true. Irresponsible reporting and fabrication of events that never happened destroys people’s lives, and that is exactly what has happened.
“It’s very unfortunate we live in times where you’re guilty even if you’re innocent, but it’s the way of the world now. It’s also sad to me that not only do the media get away with publishing unsubstantiated sensationalized reports that are then taken as ‘the truth’, but people now routinely hide behind their computers and usernames to intentionally inflict enormous damage without consequence, all for their own amusement. What they don’t know is the pain they cause will always be greater than their fabrication or exaggeration.
“About my precious dogs: My dogs and cat have been, are, and will always be the most important thing in my whole life. I love them more than my words can say. I look at dogs and cats as ‘perfect little people’ with loving and unconditional hearts that I believe God gifted to us to help comfort us through our lives, which always seems to be filled with pain in one way or another.
“I have 20 dogs that were rescued since 1999 from unspeakable and horrible abuse. I never turned my back or said no if a dog or cat needed a loving home. Each one of them is spoiled rotten; great food, love, comfort, care and shelter. They never leave my side and sit with me when I watch videos or when I play my guitar, the sound of which seems to fascinate them.
“Out of my twenty dogs, half of them are big dogs and the others are small. Fencing was put up to separate the big dogs from the little ones who could roam without any problem. One day, without my knowing, some of the big dogs accidentally got loose somehow and killed three of my babies. When I found out, it was too late. I was shattered and just too devastated for words. I still am and always will be. I will never get over it and I will always live with a pain greater than that of anything I had ever known or ever will know. I wrapped them each in blankets and laid them to rest in ‘caskets’ where I made a cross and wrote the words to ‘Danny Boy’ on their casket.
“The weather had been pretty bad here for awhile and an excavator was planned to come the property to dig up the ground so I could give them a proper burial when this terrible thing happened.
“I only hope someday we’ll be together and I can watch them once again run in the meadows under the deep blue skies.
“As for the despicable reports regarding my beloved dogs, those who know me know I would never harm any animal as they are God’s most beautiful and innocent of creations. I’m a vegetarian because of my respect for all animals.
“For those of you who wrongfully accused and judged me based on these ‘stories, I understand because I would feel the same way if it was the truth. But it’s not the truth. So, to all who perpetuated these cruel and vicious lies, may the truth bring you to your senses so you can stop these terrible and unfounded accusations.
“About the domestic situation: As you must know, this is a private matter that I cannot comment on at this time. Please don’t believe everything you read. I would never hurt anyone – ever. What has been reported is an absolutely inaccurate depiction of the events that occurred that evening. When it’s time, the truth will be known.
“In all, God gave me a silver lining to this terrible time by putting a long-lost family back together through this tragedy and for that, it was worth what I am going through. Unfortunately, this ‘incident’ caused my loved ones, who suffered through another emotionally devastating experience, to suffer a new burden they didn’t need to bear. As much as they are hurting for me and from this, they’re still there for me. I am a lucky person.
“I’m an immensely private person and these events have caused me great pain and emotional anguish.
“I am requesting that you respect my privacy and that of my family during this difficult time and not engage in harmful useless gossip posted on blogs and forums.
“My music: It has been my greatest desire to put out my new music, including remixed/remastered tracks that I am very proud of which many of you seem to enjoy, but I have experienced setbacks that hindered and delayed my plans. I am hoping to work through it all and get back on track. I would appreciate it if you could please bear with me.
“About the Vinnie Vincent model guitar: My website is in the process of being constructed. Keep watching YouTube for the link to the site and for the video catalog. The Vinnie website will be a fun place to visit with everything Vinnie Vincent: music, photos, and the Vinnie Vincent guitar in all its glory.
After all this research and writing, I have to admit that feel bad for Vinnie. His rags-to-riches-and-back-to-rags story is a fairly tragic one, and I would hate to see him become just another rock and roll casualty, but I fear the worst. I learned to play guitar to many of the songs that he wrote, and his guitar playing is part of my musical DNA. I have both of his albums, and I still listen to them much more often than you might think I would. My intention with this two-part story was to provide a sort of tribute to Vinnie, but his story, compelling though it may be, is a troubling one. It seems to me that his woes are self-inflicted. He’s made some bad decisions, and burned some bridges that he shouldn’t have burned. That being said, I’m still a fan of his, somewhere deep down in my heart of hearts, but I’m also an adult and a professional musician in my own right—on a much smaller scale, admittedly—who’s had to deal with the slings and arrows of not-so-outrageous fortune in my own ways.
If these stories have compelled you to explore Vinnie’s musical career further, I recommend that you check out his iTunes page, as well as the Kiss albums Creatures of the Night (my personal favorite) and Lick It Up. And, as always, thank you for reading all of this.
We now return you to BFS&T’s regularly scheduled programming (whatever that is!), already in progress.
If you’ve spent any significant amount of time around this blog, you know that occasionally I get too busy to write, but then I rebound with a huge entry, often about either musicology or childhood. This entry manages to include both, which means—naturally—that it will be a very long entry. Don’t let that deter you, though; you also know by now that I would never steer you wrong or share things with you that I didn’t think were important or interesting enough to share.
I recently started reading Chuck Klosterman’s book Fargo Rock City, about heavy metal from the 1980’s, to which time has not been kind. He takes the position that while it may look a little strange from the outside, particularly with almost thirty years of hindsight, those who loved that music—including Chuck and myself—feel that it did a lot for us back then, but that it hasn’t received the respect that it deserves. The book is also autobiographical, about a disaffected kid growing up in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere, who connected deeply with a style of music that offered glimpses of a strange new world and a completely different lifestyle. I can definitely relate.
Klosterman’s obsessive knowledge of the bands has made me nostalgic for that music, and I’ve gone back recently and reconnected with some of the stuff I used to love. My personal favorites were Kiss, Dokken, Ratt, Triumph, Dio, and Ozzy Osbourne. I should admit that some of them have held up better over time than others have. The first cassette I bought was Shout at the Devil by Mötley Crüe (umlauts intentional) in 1983, and the last was All Systems Go by Vinnie Vincent in 1989. Much has been written about Mötley Crüe, but precious little has been written about Vinnie Vincent, whose story is extremely interesting, even if (and possibly especially if) you know absolutely nothing about either him or heavy metal.
Vinnie became an instant celebrity when he replaced Kiss’s original and longtime lead guitarist, but I think a little bit of context is in order. Kiss was in trouble in 1982. They had sold millions of records throughout the 1970’s, but times—as well as musical tastes—were changing. Kiss had also jumped the shark with a couple of strange (pronounced “crappy”) albums in a row; a disco one and their famous flop Music From “The Elder,” which is a bizarre cross between Pete Townshend, David Bowie, and a Broadway musical. It was seriously weird, and their fans didn’t know what to do with it, but they DID know not to buy it. The band needed to find their way back, and in doing so, a couple of painful changes were necessary.
The original drummer, Peter Criss, was the first to go. He had been suffering from the excesses of the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle for quite some time, and was injured in a car crash which left him out of commission for a while. The band had to postpone or cancel much of their subsequent tour, and Peter’s drinking and drug use had become a problem, so he was fired on May 18, 1980. I had to look up that date, but you can understand why I might have overlooked that tidbit in the news of the day, because I was too busy paying attention to Mount St. Helens, which erupted early that morning and buried Yakima (the town in which I grew up, and the nearest big town in the path of the eruption) under an inch or two of ash. So we had bigger things to deal with than some drummer being fired in New York City.
But I digress.
Next to be handed his walking papers was the original guitarist, Ace Frehley. He, like Peter Criss, had spent many years drinking heavily, even going so far as to bring cases of Dom Perignon champagne with him when he was on tour. He was constantly drunk onstage and in interviews, and the other band members had had enough. Ace, like the public, was also frustrated with the musical direction the band had taken, and was tired of always being outvoted by the band’s leaders, Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons.
The firing of Ace Frehley was undoubtedly a great opportunity for any guitarist. Kiss knew they had to deliver the goods as they finished their next record, Creatures of the Night, and they spent months auditioning players. Ace was pictured on the cover of Creatures, but he only played on a couple of the songs. Rick Derringer (you may know him from this song) supposedly played on one, as well as the guitarist from Mister Mister (you may know them from this song), but Paul and Gene wanted someone who could write songs as well, and they gave the nod to Vincent Cusano, who had been a studio guitarist and songwriter kicking around the New York scene of the 1970’s. Gene Simmons rechristened him Vinnie Vincent, and his place in rock history was secured. He’s third from left in this picture:
Vinnie landed one of the biggest gigs in rock and roll. The album was the strongest Kiss had created in quite a few years (it remains my favorite of their albums), and it even spawned a couple of hits on the then-fledgling MTV. The band was back on top, with a great new drummer and a fiery lead guitarist. But Vinnie was a tough sell for the fans. Replacing an original band member is no easy task, and Vinnie never felt like a ‘true’ member of Kiss. Even his stage persona, the Ankh Warrior, didn’t quite rise to the mythological status of Gene’s Demon or Paul’s Star Child, and Vinnie seemed a bit amorphous or strange compared to them.
His playing, however, was stellar, and he also brought tremendous songwriting skills to the band. After the success of the Creatures album and tour, the band decided it was time for another big change, and decided to appear without their makeup for the first time. The album Lick It Up was a huge and instant success, thanks in no small part to Vinnie’s contributions. The band went on an extensive world tour and prepared for their next steps. Vinnie’s on the left in this picture:
But by this time—1984—the cracks were beginning to show. Vinnie didn’t fit in with the other guys, and they weren’t getting along very well. He also didn’t feel that he was being fairly compensated for his songwriting. The royalties for some of their biggest hits of the time went to Gene and Paul, who kept Vinnie and drummer Eric Carr on salary as ‘for hire’ sidemen, rather than full-fledged band members. This rubbed Vinnie the wrong way, because he felt he had contributed much more than the somewhat low status of a sideman would take into account. It was decided that he should leave the band. He sued Kiss for royalties, but was unsuccessful.
Still very much in the limelight, he took some time to write more songs and put together his own band, called the Vinnie Vincent Invasion, the intent of which was to be bigger-than-life in every way. I couldn’t wait to hear it. I eagerly awaited its arrival in the record store, and bought it before I’d ever heard a note of it. I’d been reading in the magazines like Circus and Hit Parader that he used a gigantic number of amps on stage, he dressed more flashily, and could shred like nobody else. The drummer played crazy fills, and the singer sang higher than anyone else. It was completely over the top. Here’s their biggest hit song, “Boyz Are Gonna Rock.”
I’m not gonna lie; this song is dumb. I thought so when the fifteen-year-old version of me first bought the tape, and I still think so today. The first time I saw the video, I probably thought—in my addled teenage way—something eloquent like, “What the fuck was that?” They all looked ridiculously feminine, even in comparison to the other bands at the time, which is serious competition indeed. To wit:
Cinderella. . .
. . .and Vinnie Vincent Invasion:
See what I mean? He and the band just seemed like used-up gay prostitutes compared to other bands, which didn’t match the aggressiveness of the music. People didn’t know what to make of Vinnie. He did have some great songs on that first album, but it didn’t sell particularly well, and the over-the-top nature of his guitar playing left a bit to be desired. Even on a slow, bluesy song, he tried to cram as many notes as possible into the guitar solo, with hilarious results.
Great riff, great song, horrendous guitar solo. Even as a kid, when I was learning to play the guitar, I felt like if he could just settle down for thirty seconds and play tastefully—the way he did in Kiss—he’d really be onto something.
He seemed to have read my mind with his second and final album, All Systems Go. The songs were better, the sound quality of the album was better, and he played much more tastefully. One of the songs, Love Kills, was written for one of the Nightmare on Elm Street movies, and he had a couple of other hits from the album as well. My favorite song of his, “That Time of Year,” is on this album.
But if Vinnie was a hard sell for metal fans, he was an even more difficult one for the general public, whose metal tastes could only allow enough room for the likes of Def Leppard. People couldn’t really get past his strange looks and over-the-top style. Add all that to the fact that by 1990, metal was on its way out. Nirvana would put the final nail in its coffin in less than a year, and Vinnie and his compatriots would be relegated to the bargain bins of the record stores.
Like I said before, time has not been kind to 80’s metal, and Vinnie has become one of the de facto elder statesmen of the genre. But his story is far from over, and it gets super weird, so this seems like a good place for a cliffhanger.