Tag Archives: documentary

Stand Up Wit…Joan Rivers

I finally got to see the new Joan Rivers documentary, A Piece Of Work. While not a perfectly objective film – key people involved are her friends and she had suggestive input to the content – it paints what I believe to be a fairly honest picture of a driven artist who won’t take her hand off the throttle. Part of that drive is to maintain control and keep the cash flow coming in. Part of it is the fear that not doing so would make her irrelevant…but then she’s been fighting that battle since the beginning.

Since I’ve always known her as a comic first and foremost, I’m not certain just how many people perceive her more as the QVC hustler, the red carpet maniac or the poster child for plastic surgery. None of those are complimentary, but if  we learn anything from A Piece of Work it is that Joan will do just about anything for a paycheck. Of course, she sees it for what it is – a paycheck – and in fact the film opens with a shockingly vulgar routine about her daughter passing up just such an opportunity.

Through a combination of photos, clips and footage we get a high level overview of her career – the struggle to get started, the star-making opportunity with Johnny Carson (and the backlash when she launched her own show at Fox); her difficulties with and love for her family and how those ties both helped and hurt her chances. This isn’t a life arc, it was filmed as a year in the life, with anecdotes. While it’s done well, I was hoping for more focus on the backstory; certainly there are hundreds of people who could have provided recollections and insight. We do get a few talking heads, from Don Rickles and Kathy Griffin to staff and management people. Why so few?

Video: Official Movie Trailer

You’ll probably learn more about Joan Rivers by reading her books, but that’s her window. The documentarians neither canonize nor attack her, which allow you to see her insecurities as exactly what they are – fuel for the fire. Comedians have to deal with rejection every time they walk on stage. Rivers has dealt with so much throughout her life that it’s amazing she’s still in there punching. But then you see her take the stage, and it’s as if an appliance was suddenly plugged into a socket. She’s fearless and tireless, but most importantly, she’s funny.

Rivers is 77 years old, but her schedule would exhaust a soccer mom half her age. Her recent victory on Donald Trump’s boardroom reality show gave her some extensive network visibility, and a recent announcement has her starting a reality show with her daughter and grandson. This movie was nominated for Best Documentary by the Broadcast Critics and if the Academy follows suit with an Oscar nod, that’s another a couple of months of top rung publicity. There are some painful moments in the film dealing with loneliness and rejection (both personally and professionally); it would be nice to see her get the recognition she deserves and have her name once again be primarily associated with comedy.

Go see the film – but also go see the legend herself.

Official website for the film

Joan Rivers’ official website

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They Did It!

Light 'em off if you got 'em!

The Graham Parker documentary film Don’t Ask Me Questions achieved its funding goal during the final week of pledges!

Visit the official film Kickstarter page.

Congratulations to Michael Gramaglia, who can now complete the project and get it out into the world.

Congratulations to Graham Parker, who will finally see a decent documentary about his brilliant career become reality.

Congratulations to all the donors whose generosity helped support this vision.

And congratulations to the people who might finally tap into this artist we know and love thanks to their (likely) accidental exposure to this film. Can you imagine just discovering Parker this week and having that incredible catalogue to troll through as a new experience? I don’t think I’d trade thirty plus years of pleasure for one deep dive, but there are going to be some very happy people opening that door for the very first time.

After the success of Do It Again and now this, I have faith that projects about radio-ignored worthy artists can take root. And yes, I’m hoping that the next Kickstarter email I get is asking me to check out the John Hiatt story…

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The Meeting

I told him to do this years ago.

“Ed”, I said, “None of these songs are going to get on the radio. People who get to your shows understand what’s going on, but the newbies need to get the whole package. Even the ones loving the albums don’t know they’re missing half the fun because the live show is the whole package. You have to get a DVD together or have your manager harass HBO or Comedy Central until they cave. It’s like nothing anyone else is doing!”

But nooooo, Ed decided to just record one incredible album after another, put about a billion miles on his odometer, play anywhere from your living room to a stadium and win over the whole goddamned world one mind at a time. And then just for shits and giggles, to create a one man show (The Terrorism of Everyday Life) that’s won awards around the world and then start recording a new song every day just because he can.

Ed isn’t Big As Life, he’s bigger. And the fastest right hand in rock.

He did throw me a bone a couple of years back with Rant & Roll.

But now, finally, 2010 will see a formal documentary called The Meeting hit the streets. Filming continues (there’s a four-camera shoot this weekend at the Tin Angel in Philadelphia!) but you can get a little taste of it here:

Watch the trailer for The Meeting.

So I guess my work is done – Ed finally “gets it”. (You’re welcome, people.) I now breathlessly await its completion and my certain to be meaningless Executive Producer credit.

But I’ll settle for a face solo.

Visit Ed’s website and MySpace site


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Comedy Central Records Releases #100

Let’s start off with the free stuff – two weeks from Saturday (June 12th), Comedy Central will air a brand new one-hour Lewis Black special at 9:00 P.M. EDT. That’s cause for major celebration right there.

According to the press release, the special (filmed at Detroit’s Fillmore Theatre) “features Black serving up his biting social and political commentary on current events. Black guides his audience through a catalogue of the woes of the world such as the absurdities of aging (60 is NOT the new 40!) to the pitfalls of becoming a “mainstream” comedian to the insanity of Washington and Wall Street. He carefully controls his performance with the same mastery of craft as a musician does, from blistering to blithe, in the turn of a word.”

My money is on blistering.

I mean hell, no matter what side of the political fence you sit on, there’s an ammo pile at your feet with reinforcements aplenty. Even an independent like me could play double agent against the field and sleep like a baby.

Then, three days later…the money shot.

Lewis Black: Stark Raving Black CD will be available June 15 on Comedy Central Records, marking the Grammy-winning label’s 100th release. The CD is available in physical and digital record retailers nationwide.

The DVD version of Lewis Black: Stark Raving Black will be released nationwide by Comedy Central Home Entertainment and Paramount Home Entertainment in standard and high-definition versions. The DVD is an extended version of the broadcast show that airs on Comedy Central June 12th, featuring 35 minutes of additional stand-up comedy not seen on TV,  plus  a 70-minute documentary on his life and career titled Basic Black. Sweet!

I can’t think of a better time for a dose of bitter reality.

Lewis Black website

Comedy Central website

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New Album! Joe Grushecky


When Joe Grushecky first came pumping out of my car radio, two things immediately caught my attention. First, here was a real blue-collar rocker with a soulful sound and a band that played straight from the heart, and the songs were exciting. And second…was this really being played on the radio in Syracuse, New York in 1979? 

I guess you could say Bruce Springsteen had most recently kicked the door down, although local rockers like The Works and Joe Whiting had been stirring up the same kind of bar room fury on local stages for years. Like the mythical Eddie and The Cruisers, these bands had been lighting up shot-and-beer joints night after night, piling into vans and crisscrossing the East Coast. It wasn’t easy; you had to pull and keep a crowd on a Tuesday and Wednesday night because the weekend money just wasn’t quite enough to get you by. And like Eddie and that mythical band, what drove you and kept you alive was the camaraderie with your band mates and an unbending faith that if you kept punching over and over and over again, one day it would be worth it. 

In Pittsburgh, that band was Joe Grushecky and the Iron City Houserockers, and that day did come, albeit temporarily. A documentary about Joe and his career was released in 2007 called A Good Life: The Joe Grushecky Story and is now available on DVD. While the film is interesting and heartfelt, the real treasure in the package is a bonus live CD from a 1985 hometown show, featuring friend and fan Bruce Springsteen

While not quite a rags-to-riches story, we learn how the band followed the usual path of becoming the big fish in the small pond, friends in a rock ‘n’ roll brotherhood with huge dreams. How “Heroes are Hard to Find” caught the ear of Cleveland International’s Steve Popovich, who believed in Joe and financed some sessions that led to the first album getting released. How the lengthy process of working the record one town and one AOR station at a time led to five-star reviews for Have A Good Time But Get Out Alive and what looked like the start of a lifelong ride at the top…only to be derailed by a changing industry, an imploding label (MCA) and a few poor and impatient personal decisions. 

Read the rest of my review at PopMatters 

Joe’s website

The Grushecky/Houserockers Wikipedia page

“Pumping Iron”  and “Little Queenie” (live in 1988) 

“Have A Good Time But Get Out Alive” (live in 2005) 

Steel Rocking

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Monty Python, Again

No Spam here.

Monty Python: The Other British Invasion. Great DVD documentary about how the comedy troupe changed America…albeit by accident.

This two-disc documentary about the origins of Monty Python is an informative and enjoyable blend of archival information and contemporary interviews. There are no skits within, only occasional excerpts; instead the programs focus upon how the infamous troupe first met, overcame numerous obstacles and eventually became world-famous practitioners of absurdly silly comedy.

Graham Chapman, Michael Palin, John Cleese, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam and Eric Idle all found that thread of madness in their youthful experiences that demonstrated they saw life a bit differently. And once they realized that there were others who shared this skewed vision, they quickly immersed themselves in a myriad of artistic endeavors until their paths finally crossed into this immortal configuration.

Read the full review at PopMatters.


R.I.P. Jay Reatard

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For The Price of a Song

And the flame still burns

And the flame still burns

“Fans aren’t curious people coming out to check something out. Fans are intimately attached to your music.”

I’ve written about Marah several times over the years; they’re one of my favorite bands. Over the last decade plus, their albums have consistently connected and resonated with me, and when they are “on” (which is just about every time I’ve seen them play) they can light a room on fire like few others. And much like Dave Bielanko states above, I’ve seen the depth of devotion that Marah fans have to the band and their music.

The most recent show I saw was February of this year, part of a low-rent under-the-radar tour initially scheduled to work some new material out on the road and get the sea legs out from underneath a new rhythm section. By the time they hit Rochester, New York, the show had turned more electric and there were no new songs in the set. But while the band was still looking for clues (and cues) on occasion, there were enough moments of magic to keep the flame of hope burning. (You can read about that performance here and here.)

I noticed that there was a film crew darting about that evening at the Bug Jar, and hoped that the show was being filmed for a DVD. Frankly, after months passed and I didn’t hear much about it, I forgot about the taping. Wouldn’t be the first time I saw cameras circle at a great show with no public, tangible result.

Until today! Watch the mini-documentary here.

And in case you missed the credits, here’s a link to creator Topher Hopkins’ website. I was hoping the director and producer was a Rochestarian that I just hadn’t met yet, but no such luck; just serendipity that he decided to film at the Bug Jar. And thanks to the fine people on the Marah Board for posting and sharing this. I think more people outside the circle need to see it…it provides a glimpse behind the curtain at what happens on the other side of the stage.

It’s probably hasn’t been the easiest year for the band. A year before, they were ready to hit the road behind a great new album (Angels of Destruction) and the band imploded. This year saw Serge Bielanko take a breather to celebrate the birth and care of his new born daughter while the band would alternate playing as a duo, trio or quartet. Some woodshedding in Pennsylvania ala Big Pink. Some guest spots at festivals. The usual fun of trying to forge ahead and progress without a label, without a distributor, without the financial freedom to be able to do what they wanted when they wanted.

And although the road only got bumpier after this February date – failing equipment, broken down vans – I cling to the unflagging spirit that Dave has in this clip. Because at the end of the day, if you are an artist, the crowds and the attention and the buzz is sweet.  But it’s got to be about you. Without that drive, that soul, that emotional tug to pour yourself onto a canvas or into a microphone, you’re not going to matter. Like a bite of cotton candy at the circus, you’re a momentary burst of glory for the taste buds, then gone, almost before you can swallow.

Marah is more than that. I’m not certain how they will re-center themselves, but I hope what I’m watching is more than a detour. Perhaps it’s a transfiguration. They have earned my faith. I’m pulling for them.

Marah website.

Marah on MySpace.

There is no "i" in Marah

There's no "i" in Marah

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