God is Irish

Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane McGowan

by Hope Madden

Sloppy and ruinous, raucous and charged, and more than anything, punk rock—honestly, this could describe about a dozen Julian Temple movies. In this case, crashing the party of his Sex Pistols docs and his intimate Joe Strummer film is Shane McGowan. And he’s pissed.

Drunk, I mean.

Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane McGowan is Temple’s exploration of life after punk.

The poet of Irish rock, a traditionalist who set gritty street ballads to Celtic tunes, McGowan wanted to save Irish music. This was the legacy he was after, and as frontman of the Pogues—Ireland’s second most successful and likely most Irish band—he did.

Yes, here’s where all rock biopics ask, “At what cost?” Temple’s film doesn’t wait, though. Opening as it does on McGowan, 60-years-old, slurring, wheelchair bound and still drinking, Crock of Gold never hides from the ravages of a punk rock life.

The young McGowan railed at the cliché of the drunken Irishman even as he personally confirmed it. “You want a Paddy?” he says of the British establishment. “I’ll give you a fucking Paddy!”

The film faithfully follows McGowan’s chronology, from boyhood in County Tipperary to angry adolescence in London, on to thrashabout music and eventually international stardom before the inevitable crash, slow rebuild, and crash some more.

And McGowan himself is right there, either narrating the unfolding events or listening in to earlier tapes of him narrating. His constant presence anchors the wild, fascinating tales with their physical toll.

Temple also fills the screen with bizarre animation, old movie footage of the Irish War and of bucolic country life, as well as images of McGowan’s late 70s London, Sex Pistols show and all. What he conjures is an image of clashing ideas and ideals that found a home in McGowan’s imagination and translated into melancholy street music.

McGowan’s touring life of drink and drugs, violence and very little toothpaste are well documented. It’s hard to pin down the feelings drummed up by all these stories. The modern day balladeer—a full set of dentures on display when he smiles, which is rarely—seems simultaneously brash and regretful.

For passing fans or newcomers to McGowan’s music, Crock of Gold is an unusually clear-eyed testament to the toll of punk rock excess. These guys were not meant to live forever.

But for true fans, it’s a painful and strangely beautiful look into one remarkable if misspent life.

Punk History

Desolation Center

by Rachel Willis

Director Stuart Swezey has a personal interest in telling the story of Desolation Center and the five truly unique events they coordinated in the mid-1980s. As one of the primary figures involved in the organization of these events, he has a lot of information on the subject.

And we’re lucky that Swezey decided to delve into his catalog of archival footage because there is a lot of amazing material presented in his documentary, Desolation Center. Through primary source material, interviews with the musicians and artists who performed, and event attendees, the documentary is an engaging historical look at a definitive moment in punk music history.

A brief history of the Los Angeles punk scene in the 1980s opens the film. The police department in Los Angeles was quick to break up punk shows, storming into venues and raiding the scene, interrupting shows and arresting concert goers. It was this perpetual harassment that led Swezey to the idea that they hold a show in the desert.

From the archival material, you get a sense of the intimacy of the first show. There are fewer than one hundred people in attendance, but a truly unique and awesome experience is conveyed through the existing video. From footage of the ragtag group of punk fans traveling on buses to the desert concert (which featured Minutemen and Savage Republic), the audience gets a glimpse at how monumental this was for the people who attended, performed, and organized the event.

The best part of Desolation Center is the archival photos and videos from the shows. Though the first show is small, word of mouth spreads, and the second desert show is bigger as evidenced by the footage from the second event. The second show’s line up included Berlin’s industrial band, Einstrüzende Neubauten and performing artist Mark Pauline, whose shows were astonishing if not entirely safe (at one point he attempts to blow a boulder from the side of a mountain during the show, but thankfully for those in attendance, it’s an unsuccessful endeavor).

Footage from the next three shows – which take place on a boat, back in the desert, and in a warehouse, and include bands like Sonic Youth and Meat Puppets – help the audience understand the experience. The shows are extraordinary events, and while watching the documentary, one feels lucky to be given the chance to see the astounding performances.

The interviews, at times, help the audience understand what it felt like to be a part of Desolation Center. Other times, they overinflate the experience. Swezey’s best course of action would have been to let the footage speak for itself, but his choice to include so many interviews may have been due to the film disintegrating over the years – some of the vintage film has clearly seen better days.

However, Desolation Center is a fascinating documentary and a great addition to the illustrious – and infamous – history of punk rock.

Shiver and Sing

Gimme Danger

by Hope Madden

Quick, who said this: “I went to Detroit with a tab of mescaline and a shovel.”

Who but Iggy Pop?

Effortlessly odd and forever fascinating, Pop and his band, the seminal punks The Stooges, are the subject of Jim Jarmusch’s new documentary, Gimme Danger.

Rock docs forever champion their subjects, frequently making a case for someone’s misunderstood and underappreciated genius. The fact that this kind of treatment could possibly be needed for arguably the first ever punk band, a group who influenced The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, David Bowie and dozens of others – well, it’s just disheartening, isn’t it?

While the story – from Ann Arbor trailer park to punk stardom to Ann Arbor trailer park – fits with the traditional “Behind the Music” approach, it’s never wise to expect the expected with Jarmusch.

Sure, the filmmaker pieces together vintage Stooges performances with interviews, but Gimme Danger is awash in the kind of wry cinematic mastery that has become Jarmusch’s trademark. Interviews with Pop take place in his home, the singer sometimes perched on a golden throne bedecked by skulls, sometimes barefoot in the laundry room in front of a washer/dryer set.

Likewise, on-again, off-again Stooge guitarist James Williamson sits through his interviews, guitar in hand, in a public men’s room.

Why? Why not?

Jarmusch has always brought an unusual perspective to his films, and The Stooges are an unusual subject. The pairing works, and for all Jarmusch’s droll use of animation, Three Stooges bits and vintage advertising as backdrop to Stooge insanity, his own affection and respect for the band is always evident.

Indeed, very early in the film, he proclaims The Stooges, “The greatest rock and roll band of all time.”

Jim Jarmusch is a native Ohioan who loves The Stooges.

Oh my God – we have so much in common!

His relationship with Pop goes back decades, since the singer co-starred in Jarmusch’s Dead Man and an early Coffee and Cigarettes short. In both, Pop (billed here as Jim Osterberg as Iggy Pop) haunts and bewilders with his sinewy frame and enormous eyes.

Oddly enough, Gimme Danger neglects some of the more jarring and lurid details of the Pop life. Jarmusch remains reverent throughout the film, focusing exclusively on The Stooges’ musical history. Almost quizzically missing is detail of Pop and crew’s self-destructive behavior, Pop’s infamous stage antics, or any mention of his solo musical or dramatic career.

Nope, Jarmusch wants you to realize that the world’s first punk band – as infamous record scout Danny Fields notes – reinvented music as we know it.

Truth.

Verdict-4-0-Stars

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WJhABiPQ4AU





Secret of Their Lack of Success

Revenge of the Mekons

by Hope Madden

Is there a more punk rock concept than anarchy?

The answer is no, and that is what makes The Mekons the most punk rock band ever, regardless of the fact that their music is more of a folk/honkytonk/punk blend.

Born of Britain’s punk scene in ’77, the band consisted of an art college collective who, characteristically, had no musical ability at all. Naturally, they were immediately signed to a label.

Now, nearly 40 years later, the band is still together, still recording, still touring, regardless of the fact that they’ve been repeatedly dropped by labels and have never achieved even a moderate level of success.

Joe Angio’s documentary Revenge of the Mekons enjoyable catalogs the band’s journey from talentless punks with a philosophy to brilliantly listenable artists with integrity and the same philosophy.

The film marks the evolution of a band that constantly reinvents itself, each new direction a natural progression from the last while also being a fascinating surprise. They find the “voice of the people” foundation in wildly varying styles of music and, rather than abandoning their previous style, they marry it with the next. The result is always fresh because the Mekon’s natural style is, as founder Jon Langford calls it, “bloody minded.” Whatever genre they adopt, it naturally changes. Just like, as the film points out, when the Ramones started recording they were trying to sound like the Beach Boys.

But it’s the band’s almost comical indifference to financial or popular success that sets the film apart. Says Ed Roche of the Mekon’s label Touch and Go Records, “Every critic loves the Mekons. Unfortunately, they get free records.”

Rock docs almost invariably follow the same format: humble beginnings, meteoric rise, trouble handling success, crash and maybe the glimmer of a resurgence, depending on the film and subject. To spend 95 minutes cataloging all the ways a band manages to avoid success is fascinating – it’s like the story of Anvil, except that the Mekons aren’t even trying to succeed.

What they are doing is focusing solely on their own artistry, which can be a pretentious thing to watch for a feature length running time, but the band does not possess an ounce of pretentiousness. They are what they are. They do what they do. Like them or don’t, it doesn’t matter to them.

How punk rock is that?

Verdict-3-5-Stars