Author: Rick Ouellette

I'm a freelance writer and published my second book in November 2016. It's called "Rock Docs: A Fifty Year Cinematic Journey." My first, "Documentary 101: A Viewer's Guide to Non-Fiction Film," was released in 2013. My other activities, like photography, bicycling and a little urban exploring also tie into the content of this blog, which is dedicated to the celebrating the rich history of rock music, film and popular culture.

“Rock Docs” Holiday Sale!

Rock Docs: A Fifty-Year Cinematic Journey

Over the last half century, music documentaries have provided us with a priceless moving-image history of rock ‘n’ roll. “Rock Docs: A Fifty-Year Cinematic Journey” is a first-of-its-kind anthology of the rockumentary genre, viewing pop music’s timeline from 1964-2014 through the prism of non-fiction film. Since its earliest days, the look of rock ‘n’ roll has been integral to its overall appeal. My book reviews over 150 films, starting with a ground level look at the Beatles’ world-changing first visit to America and coming full circle fifty years later with “Good Ol’ Freda”, where the Fab Four’s secretary looks back through the years as both a fan and an insider. In between, readers will find many films to re-experience or discover for the first time. For book excerpts, check my “Rock Docs book sampler” category. For a limited time, I am offering “Rock Docs” for only $12 per copy (w/ free shipping within the US) when ordered directly through me. Please order soon if you would like to receive in time for the holidays! Thanks, Rick Ouellette

$12.00

Proghead, Part One: “Dawn of Man Tape Deck”

In Part Two: When September rolls around, our four heroes become quick friends. But the hazy tranquility of post-hippie high school life in Wilsontown is shattered when they have to deal with an early-onset case of Trumpism. April decides she has to take matters into her own hands. This time it’s personal….

Part Two will appear in the full 24-page printed comic. Please note that anyone out there who has purchased my book “Rock Docs: A Fifty-Year Cinematic Journey” and would be willing to write a short Amazon review of it, will get sent a free copy. (Just let me know when it’s up). If you would like to purchase “Rock Docs” directly through me, I will throw in a copy of the comic as well. Just $18 for both and that includes shipping within the U.S. If interested, leave a comment or email me.

Thanks, Rick Ouellette
rick.ouellette@verizon.net

Books That Rock spotlight: “Season of the Witch”

Season of the Witch: How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll
By Peter Bebergal—2014—229 pages—J. Tarcher/Penguin Books

What would you think of first if someone asked you to give a quick example of the union between pop music and the occult? Maybe you’d mention a choice Black Sabbath track like “Children of the Grave,” or recollect an Alice Cooper stage show from high school days or perhaps a death metal show for those of younger vintage. Some of you would quickly counter that naming one example is merely scratching the surface. In his new book Season of the Witch, author Peter Bebergal makes the case that the ”occult imagination” is in fact central to the appeal and success of rock music, and may be its very lifeblood.


Ozzy says: “I got your occult imagination, right here!”

Early chapters of this intriguing and informative (if occasionally meandering) book traces this influence back to European and American artistic/spiritual movements while also telescoping back to the pre-slave-trade African traditions that would give birth to gospel music and the blues. Bebergal very ably dissects the surprisingly close connections between the sacred and profane that passed into the culture of the American South. “Rock’s origins are in the blues and folk,” he writes, “forms of music deeply ingrained with Christian traditions and values, but whose own roots grew in the soil where other gods were worshipped.” Although he notes that modern Christianity tried to “seal off” these more ancient impulses, they always remained to some extent (speaking in tongues, ring shouts) and this ambivalence shows in the life and careers of early rock ‘n’ roll pioneers like Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis. But the influence of the occult (defined broadly as supernatural beliefs and the pursuit of esoteric knowledge) with its rebellious and unorthodox nature was a natural when this new music came along with the ascendance of youth culture in the Fifties.


Arthur Brown, after his god-of-hellfire days, formed Kingdom Come, seen here waiting on some hobgoblin action.

In fact, as Bebergal points out, early efforts by parents and ministers to stymie this new music likely backfired in the worst way. “Intentions to stop the music in its tracks instead started a conflagration that has never gone out,” he writes and indeed the relative innocence of those early years was superseded by the influence of the Beat writers, Aleister Crowley, Eastern spiritualism, and of course LSD. Through the likes of Pink Floyd, the Stones, the Beatles (in the post-“Revolver”/Maharishi era), Arthur Brown, Hawkwind, David Bowie, Sabbath, Sun Ra, Yes, Led Zeppelin and many others, “rock created a mythos around itself suggesting it was somehow heir to secret wisdom.” All of these case histories are given a good airing out without (usually) getting lurid. The author is clear-eyed about his subject, noting the negative side effects (drug abuse, cults) but also endorsing its role in affecting personal empowerment and acting as a counterweight to lockstep establishment thinking.


Madonna at the 2012 Super Bowl halftime show, with her carefully-coded performance announcing the imminent takeover of the world by the Illuminati. And here’s me thinking it was just egomania.

Season of the Witch is a fine addition to the ever-growing canon of rock literature. Granted it’s not perfect: with so many artists to cover, some of Bebergals’ insights may sound a bit second-hand to devotees of a particular group. A few things are just wrong (Alice Cooper was not the name of an accused witch burned in 17th century Salem; besides they were hanged). But he does wrap it up nicely, moving the timeline up into this century, noting Jay-Z’s free-associating use of Freemason imagery in his videos and Madonna’s over-the-top halftime show at the 2012 Super Bowl, replete with pompous pageantry based on the kind Egyptian and Kabbalistic iconography that sent New World Order conspiracy theorists into a tizzy. But let’s put aside those vain one-per centers and remember that the magic in music can inspire people to a higher spiritual plain that will benefit us all in the end.

(If you like Books That Rock, please check out my tome Rock Docs: A Fifty-Year Cinematic Journey by clicking on the link below. A 30-page is available there, so try you can try-before-you-buy. Thanks, Rick Ouellette)
http://booklocker.com/books/8905.html

Transistor Heaven: The Next Generation

I guess that September of 1972 was a big time for me. It was my first month of high school and first time at a non-parochial school if you don’t count kindergarten. I had been liberated from the yoke of the educational nunnery and free to live out the remainder of my days as a secular humanist. In truth, they hadn’t been all that bad the last couple of years, what with their folk masses and the stamp of approval they gave to Jesus Christ Superstar.

Yes, there was a recent infiltration of “messiah rock” into the charts—–think “Spirit in the Sky” and “Put Your Hand in the Hand” (even “King Herod’s Song” from JCS was a minor hit at least in my area). But in the larger musical world (in those days for me that meant WMEX 1510, Boston’s “NEW Music Authority”) reflected the wider temporal world of big ideas, big ideals and multi-culturalism, not dogma. The variety of styles in the Top 30 songs of their countdown for the week of September ’72 was impressive: along with about ten classic R&B numbers there was power pop, adult contemporary, prog rock, folk rock, an Elvis song and even a novelty instrumental with “Popcorn.” As music reflects the era, the times felt expansive instead of the strangely insular vibe that comes with our more “interconnected” 21st century.

This is an idea that I’ve tried to relate to my now 17 year-old son. While he is more open-minded than a lot of others, he still has the instinctive need to make fun of dad’s “stoner rock” even though he has wistfully acknowledged its superiority in an unguarded moment. I was good about it, not claiming victory and running out to buy a “I May Be Old But At Least I Saw All The Cool Bands” t-shirt. When I was driving the Ry-man every day this summer to his seasonal job at a day camp, we had the old radio tug-of-war game going. It was a Snapchat pop station (as I would call it) vs. the Classic Hits morning drive team. I had sorta raised him on the latter so we were all good to go on that (though I had a problem finding any redeeming value in the former) and we reached radio symbiosis one morning in July when the slinky introduction to the O’Jays song that was #1 in Boston 45 years ago this week. I was all ready with the opening cry of “What they do?” Ryan was soon joining in with “Backstabbers” in that full-throated way of his–he’s on his high-school A-Capella team. It became such a favorite that I was compelled to dig up my best-of O’jays CD.

The O’Jays smooth but muscular arrangement and the pointed vocal about your so-called friends trying hit on your old lady (even showing up when you’re not home!) is but one example of the imagination, creative verve and sheer variety of the records that made up that week’s survey on WMEX. At #5, the Main Ingredient (featuring lead singer Cuba Gooding, Sr.) delivers one of the all-time great “advice songs,” that informal genre that started to fade as the Me Decade took hold earnest. The Beatles were experts at this with such songs as “She Loves You,” “You’re Going to Lose That Girl” and “Hey Jude.” Many R&B artists were just as adept at this form of lyrical magnanimity.


The Main Ingredient, introduced by the late Don Cornelius on “Soul Train. The fact that they’re lip-syncing to the record can’t hide the smooth charisma of Cuba Gooding Sr.

“OK, so your heart’s broken,” concedes Gooding on the tune’s memorable spoken intro. After calming down his extremely distressed friend (“You say you even talking about dying?”), he convincingly assures his pal, and the rest of us, that even though “Everybody Plays the Fool” sometimes before you know it the shoe will be on the other foot. A similar heart-to-heart dialogue opens “Starting All Over Again” by Mel & Tim, the Stax Records cousin act who had hit the U.S. Top Ten three years earlier with the euphemistic “Backfield in Motion.” Well-articulated hopes of romantic reconciliation also informed the 5th Dimension’s “If I Could Reach You” and Rod Stewart’s “You Wear it Well.” Other lyrical gambits ranged from lava-lamp philosophizing (“Nights in White Satin”), to space-program satirizing (Nilsson’s “Spaceman”), to early midlife reconciling (the lost classic “Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues” by Dan O’Keefe).

At the risk of sounding like an old fuddy-duddy, the diversity of just this small sample exposes the cultural banalities of today’s “woke” generation. But us baby boomers (esp. those of us that are radio programmers) could also learn a little bit about variety these days. Ryan’s musical horizons would probably widen considerably if Dad’s station weren’t basically rotating the same few dozen songs all the time. I note my own pencil notches next to long-overplayed hits like the Raspberries “Go All the Way” and the Doobies’ “Listen to the Music.” Even back then a prescient Rolling Stone reviewer said that the latter song changed from a “volume-raiser” to a “station-switcher” in record time. A quick scan of the Top 30 suggests infusing fresh blood into the classic-hits format would not be difficult. A few I would nominate off the top of my head: Presley’s lusty “Burning Love” which still sounds as vital as it did when recorded during the King’s comeback era. How about “Freddie’s Dead” from Curtis Mayfield’s superb Superfly soundtrack (which was #1 on the album survey)? Maybe even “Loving You Just Crossed My Mind” by the nearly-forgotten singer-songwriter Sam Neely, though I’m sure that’s asking too much. Even the inclusion of “Witchy Woman” by the too-big-to-fail Eagles would ease the stress of hearing “Take it Easy” for the eight millionth time.
WHAT SONGS FROM THE SURVEY WOULD YOU LIKE COMMERCIAL RADIO TO PLAY MORE OFTEN?

There are many to choose from and even more if you scan the list of a dozen hitbound songs (“1st on 1510″) where, among the more familiar material, there are couple of nice outliers: the infectious “Stop” by the Newark singing group The Lorelei (a favorite record of the Northern Soul gang in England) and “No” by the Rascals spinoff group Bulldog. However, the inclusion here of the frivolous Dutch duo Mouth and MacNeal reminded me of the notion that there’s always a little bit of hell in Transistor Heaven. So I must mention the perversely naïve “Playground in My Mind” where Clint Holmes imagines marrying off a bunch of little kids as he watches them on the swing set. If released today, this song would be borderline prosecutable. And don’t even get me started on the Wayne Newton song that snuck in at #29. “Can’t You Hear the Music”?? Sure, I can hear it—that’s the whole problem!

But I’d like to finish with the now-obscure “American City Suite” which back 45 years ago was holding down the middle spot in the Top 30. Even then it was a bit of an anomaly, an 8-minute three-part bittersweet ode to the New York City. Songwriter Terry Cashman, half of this folk duo called Cashman & West, is better known for his later solo hit “Talkin’ Baseball.” So if this song were Willie Mays, it would start with his spectacular back-to-the-plate catch in the deepest recesses of the Polo Grounds outfield in the 1954 World Series and end across town in 1973 with him falling down after striking out for the Mets in 1973, his last season. This song may get a bit melodramatic as it traces a tendentious timeline from doo-wop and friendly neighbors on front stoops to the depressed Panic in Needle Park days of the early 70s. But with today’s current events, it’s hard not to be a little moved at the end of an epic song with “American” in its title while hearing, “They tell me that a friend is dying/And there is nothing in the world I can do.”

So I’ll try to guide my son in part by turning him onto what he may benefit from in terms of the musical olden times, while recognizing that it’s got to be his world going forward. But I still say he got his old soul from Dad. When our local Radio Shack was about to close its doors for the last time, it was he who encouraged me to get a spare transistor radio before it was too late. I owned one concurrently since the days I brought one along on my afternoon paper route (see Transistor Heaven, Part One). Today, my old transistor sits on the kitchen window sill, ready for Red Sox games or the classical station as none of the oldies stations can ever match the variety and pleasure of my own collection. But in case that little palm-sized device ever goes kaput, I’ve got a spare one ready to take me into my golden years, thanks to the chip off the old block.

Documentary Spotlight: Albert Maysle’s “In Transit”

On Labor Day weekend, at the end of a summer season that was among the most divisive in modern American history, I slipped into the Brattle Theater in Harvard Square for a well-attended screening of Albert Maysles’ final film, In Transit. The nominal subject is Amtrak’s popular Empire Builder route between Chicago and Seattle. But it’s more about the human connections made possible by the relaxed close proximity of passengers and staff on a train moving over great distances. I came out of it more hopeful about the future than I probably had the right to be, considering the rise of racial extremism, political putrefaction and the torturous first months in office of a president whose every waking hour seems dedicated to narcissism and ill will.

Albert Maysles, who died at age 88 in March of 2015, will always be remembered for the great documentaries of the Sixties and Seventies he made with his brother David, who passed away in 1987. Chief among these, of course, was Salesman, Grey Gardens and Gimme Shelter. The brothers were also instrumental in the advent of the rock film when they were the first to film the Beatles on their First U.S. Visit (as it was later known on DVD). To find out more on this story, see the review in the excerpt of my book ROCK DOCS, by clicking on the cover image in the right hand column.

The Maysles were known for being in the right place at the right time and this is also the case with Albert’s last work, made with co-directors Lynn True, David Usul, Nelson Walker III and Benjamin Wu. Trump may not have president yet when the film was produced (it debuted in 2015 and is only in limited release even now) but America’s deep socio-political fault lines were already a much covered subject by then. In Transit is a compact (only 76 minutes long) and very welcome update on the idea that the cause of human diplomacy, and the betterment of the human condition, is best achieved when conditions are optimal.


A great fatherly pronouncement: “There’s part of the human spirit that will not be snuffed out.”

So it is here. As opposed to the isolation of car trips, or the increasingly frustrating and cramped nature of air travel, unhurried long-distance train rides lend themselves to both contemplation aided by passing scenery and social mingling by passengers free to roam the aisles. And this is what happens, in a style that could be called enhanced cinema verite. The subjects know they are being filmed but Maysles’ trademark unobtrusive style keeps them at their ease. A look at the trailer below will give you a good idea of the film’s thoughtful tone. People are trying to find themselves or lose themselves, others are coming from or going to meet-ups with relatives, friends and potential partners with various degrees of optimism or apprehension. Some are living out old-fashioned notions of romantic travel while still others are looking for better employment opportunities, in this case mostly in the North Dakota oil fields. Everybody is “in transit” in more ways than one.

What you don’t get in this exceptionally serene film is any sense of the distressing breakdown of civility that has been exacerbated by the anonymity and callousness that so often defines our frazzled online age. The fleeting friendship between an older white ex-soldier with PTSD and a young and very pregnant black woman fleeing a bad relationship to deliver her baby near her family in Minneapolis is one of several touching encounters that. It unpretentiously shows the value of empathetic conversation and self-reflection that otherwise may have turned to fodder for the free-ranging resentments of social media’s darker forces. The Empire Builder may start and end in the blue states of Illinois and the Pacific Northwest while travelling thru several very red states, but here at least the rips in the social fabric seem to have the potential to be sewn back together a bit by nothing so revolutionary as a face-to-face coming to terms, both with your fellow citizen-passengers and the face that’s reflected back to you when looking out at the wide open spaces of the world we inhabit. What a wonderful parting gift from Mr. Maysles

In a Dream of Strange Cities, Part One: Farewell, “Jean” Moreau

Text by Rick Ouellette, photos are archival except where indicated

When the iconic French actress Jeanne Moreau died last month, I’m sure most obituaries ignored her work in the 1955 film M’sieur la Caille, while lauding her performances in such classics as Jules and Jim and Diary of a Chambermaid. Known in the States (if it was known at all) as No Morals, it seems from the trailer to be at least a half-serious film about the shadowy world of prostitutes and gangsters. It’s even called an “art film” by the YouTuber who posted the trailer. But listen to the titillating, oversold narration that goes with the American sneak preview and you quickly realize this is just the sort of movie that could be peddled across the Atlantic as a sex film in the days before the large-scale production of straight pornography.

When No Morals landed in Boston, a few years before I was born twenty miles away, it was at the since-demolished State Theatre at a prime downtown location at the corner of Washington and Boylston Streets. The top photo is one of a series of images I gleaned from Google that taken together suggest the continual architectural and social transfiguration of an urban center over a century and a half. Going back that far, we find the original venue on that spot was Beethoven Hall. I love that name but by scanning that ads they ran (several are up on Wiki Commons) the programming had little to do with Ludwig Van and a lot to do with late 19th century diversions. There were comic operas, freak shows, minstrel singers and even Greco-Roman wrestling. If there were such a thing as a time-travel bucket list, I would pencil in “The Great English Mesmerist” Annie de Montford and her “amusing entertainments of psychology.”

Even better would be a time-lapse view of the historical transformation of just that one site. The first change came in 1879 when Henry E. Abbey, owner of the Park Theatre in New York, comprehensively re-built Beethoven Hall and named it the same as his Gotham property. The elegant interior space continued for years with the parade of comedies and singing shows under a number of different proprietors, one of whom was none other than Lotta Crabtree. Once dubbed “The Nation’s Darling”, Lotta started in showbiz as a girl in California Gold Rush country after being recognized by Lola Montes for her singing and dancing skills and comedic personality. By the time she migrated to Boston and took over the Park, she was one of America’s wealthiest and most popular performers. So popular in fact, that she felt the need to construct a private tunnel that went from the theater’s basement to the nearby hotel where she lived. Crabtree was also a philanthropist and some of her Boston charities still operate today, 93 years after her death.


I like Lotta a lotta: Ms. Crabtree in the 1870s.

What is less charitable is the fate of the Park Theatre in the years afterward. The playhouse gradually got into the burlesque business (the only local establishment to ever host a Gypsy Rose Lee striptease), then found use as a B-movie cinema as the once-impressive horseshoe shaped interior likely faded and it became The State. The racy fare showing here in a mixed urban tableau pre-dates (but not by much) the city-sanctioned red light district commonly known as the Combat Zone. By the time those lines of demarcation were drawn up, the State Theatre fit snugly up in the Zone’s northwest corner and was showing X-rated features one after another daily.

A forensic study of the top photo displays a transitory peek into an age that was already vestigial by the time I moved to Boston no more than two decades later. The 600 block of Washington Street is a vibrant jumble of visual cues: a second-floor bowling and billiards joint; a pizza joint with a delightfully off-kilter sign, two Civil Defense fallout shelter markers and, to the left of the theater, the Crabtree office building (the name is probably not a co-incidence) featuring the Progressive Clothing shop, where some nice suits can be seen hanging on a rack in the window.

That makes sense because the people on the sidewalk are so nicely dressed in the “Mad Men” style of the day. Even the guy in the outside ticket booth has a suit and tie. Under the boldly projecting marquee, anyone could have a nice look-see at the poster for The Shocking Set (where “men were playthings”!!) or the one for “No Morals” where Jean (sic) Moreau, although she’s probably just looking for love in all the wrong places, is claimed to have “many men on the string.” This double billing seems to suggest some early strain of erotic feminism. It’s a notion may have caught the attention of the shifty-eyed lady in the white coat who is suspiciously close to the ticket booth—if so, that would explain her assumed husband’s sheepish grin. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink!


Photo by author

By the time this era (and area) was replaced by the more openly raunchy Combat Zone, the marquee didn’t even bother with titles, never mind enticing phrases, it usually said something like “Continuous Adult Films XXX Shown Daily.” In 1990, the State Theatre was razed in the process of yet another (and current) transformation, brought on by civic improvement (though home video and the Internet had a lot to do with moving the sex industry off the street grid), university expansions and Ayn Randian real estate power grabs. In the photo above, taken on an early Sunday morning in 2016, the State Theatre would have been between the Cathay Bank and the CVS store on the right, part of the blank back wall of a Ritz Carlton complex. At this same spot fifty years ago, you would have been looking out onto maybe twenty theater marquees, and not just the naughty stuff. As lower Washington St. was one edge of Chinatown there wer kung-fu flicks and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey played at a now-defunct movie palace where now is the barren frontage of the building on the left. If I live long enough, even this view will become a complete stranger to me.

With No Morals sadly unavailable, my Jeanne Moreau tribute viewing was 1957’s Elevator to the Gallows, the taut film-noir that was Louis Malle’s first major work and a sort of springboard for the actresses’ later exaltation. Moreau is uncommonly beautiful and tersely soulful as the wife of an industrialist who conspires with her lover, one of her husband’s top men, to murder him. The scheme gets foiled when, unbeknownst to her, lover boy gets trapped in a lift. Confused and upset but still imperious, Moreau’s character—her world suddenly upended—famously wanders thru a shifting Parisian streetscape to the Miles Davis’ haunting score, in a fruitless search, lost as if moving thru a dream of a place she thought you once knew. How I relate.

Tu Dors Nicole: Wide Awake in the Lost Summer of the Soul

Tu Dors Nicole
Directed and written by Stephane Lafleur—2014—93 minutes

When it comes to summer movies nowadays, thoughts quickly turn to the long parade of loud and hyperactive superhero movies or maybe the unforgiving clatter of the latest Michael Bay-directed cinematic miscarriage (I bet the sixth installment of the Transforrners series will arrive right on schedule in July 2019). In today’s movie-going world of attention-deficit editing and heavy metal decibel levels, endured from a reclining seat at your local multiplex, it seems more gratifying than ever that anyone would make a film like the minimalist, achingly felt and lovingly rendered Tu Dors Nicole (“Nicole, You’re Sleeping”). This is a summer movie in the sense that the season itself seems to be a main character. This quiet Quebec indie moves slowly to the rhythms and rituals of the dog days. But against the humid backdrop of mini-golf, bike rides, soft serve ice cream and swimming pools, there plays out a piquant drama of an insomniac young woman trying to shift her life out of the neutral gear that people often find themselves in between late adolescence and full adulthood.

Nicole (Julianne Cote) is a serious, freckle-faced woman in her early twenties, living at home and working in a large thrift store in an unnamed provincial town. As high summer approaches, and with her parents gone on an extended vacation, she leafs through the mail in the shade of the backyard. While a harp is gently plucked on the soundtrack, her face lights up as she opens an envelope containing her very first credit card. Her friend Veronique (a soft-featured blonde played by Catherine St-Laurent) jokingly asks if she should now call her bestie “Madam.” But it’s quickly apparent that Nicole, still not grown all the way up, is destined to dream-walk straight on through August—except for the fact that she can’t seem to get to sleep.


The duo of Catherine St-Laurent (left as Veronique) and Julianne Cote (as Nicole) is not dissimilar to the pairing of Scarlett Johansson and Thora Birch in the Terry Zwigoff film “Ghost World.”

In the film’s opening scene, a restless Nicole rises from the bed of her one-night stand to take her leave at dawn. When the guy informs her “You’re hard to follow” after she politely declines his offer for more “fun” (“We already had fun”) it feels instinctively that both are right. Maybe she just needs some time to think her way forward but that becomes a lot more difficult when she discovers her 30-ish brother Remi (Marc-Andre Grondin) has moved back in with his indie-rock trio in tow. Setting up in the parents’ bourgeois living room, they seemed determined to spend the summer in unproductive rehearsals and obsessive sound-level adjustments. In the outdoors, the girls go through the motions of what used to be the carefree, lazy days of school vacation. After tallying up the score following a round of putt-putt, Veronique allows that “This used to be more fun.” Martin, a neighborhood boy of about twelve with a prematurely deep voice, provides some comic relief but also represents the film’s emotional center, with his strangely mature but nonetheless charming crush on Nicole. “The heart has no age,” he confidently tells her, adding; “You can’t deny love forever.” These words will linger even when Nicole and Veronique hastily plan a getaway trip to Iceland on the credit card.


Nicole and her young suitor Martin having a heart-to-heart at the ice cream stand.

Despite its minimalist methodology, many veteran watchers of indie films should find it quite easy to fall under this work’s unassuming spell. The talented cast is spot-on and Lafleur’s assured direction is complemented by the radiant Zone System cinematography and imaginative, almost Lynchian sound design. “Tu Dors Nicole” is a feast for the senses (esp. in the Blu-ray version that I watched) and you can almost feel the summer heat shimmering off the screen. And although it’s more of a snack when it comes to the emotional content, the film ends up being quite affecting in its own muted way. Inevitably, the girls’ friendship is put to the test (“We’re like an old couple,” Nicole tells her brother’s drummer, with whom she shares a fleeting mutual attraction) and at the end of it all comes the expected nudge off the stasis point. After blowing off steam like the Icelandic geysers she’s intended on visiting, it’s time for Nicole step off that spot and into the adulthood where most of life’s real adventures will take place.

Kingdom of Love in the Boston Rock Scene: It Takes a Village to Raise a Rock Star

Text by Rick Ouellette
Band photos by Joshua Pickering

Kingdom of Love are a great example of the current collaborative nature of the Boston-area rock scene, which I’ve been following to various degrees since the gloriously grungy late 70s heyday of the Rat club in Kenmore Square. KOL is the duo of singer-songwriter-guitarists Linda Viens and Richard Lamphear. On their luminous 5-song EP called Ghosts they use a few guest players (mainly on bass and drums) to supplement their sound. But for their late June record release party at the Lizard Lounge in Cambridge, Kingdom of Love became like a glam-rock juggernaut with as many as eight players at a time. This goes a long way to demonstrating the supportive and intermingling nature of the current indie community in town, which is chock full of friends and acquaintances who came up in the vibrant 80s post-punk scene. But more on that later, what about the CD?


Linda Viens (right) and Sandra Marcelino

Ghosts begins in quiet-time mode with “Play it On”and a reflective piano motif and Vien’s airy vocal expressing a wide-view reverie on a life where “the song’s never finished.” Even after the drums kick in the song gives the impression of floating over a lush landscape. Through the four remaining tracks the same balm to the senses prevails even when they’re pumping up the dance beats, such a welcome vibe in these unsettling times. “Two Souls” has a bouncy New Wave-style keyboard hook and a sharp and sensuous lyric about two searching lakeside lovers and would be a big summertime hit in a more just world. The next two songs are finely-crafted duets between Viens and Lamphear. The first, “When You Follow,” is notable for its love-in-the-ruins lyric and Scott Getchell’s haunting trumpet, while “Starmates” is a vaporous outer-space romance.

The electro dance-rock groove returns for “Karma Song, which, along with “Two Souls, ” is the pick-to-click of this CD. “I was a superhero buried underground,” declares the song’s narrator, “I was that grown-up kid afraid to make a sound/Live in fear too long and there is no one else on whom to lay the blame.” The struggle for self-actualization has rarely sounded so rapturous. It will hard not to get swept up in this tune by the time Linda gets to the buoyant chorus (“I want to give, give again and earn my karma”) for the second time and Richard lets it rip on lead guitar.

Those positive reverberations were even more evident at the record-release show where the enthusiastic crowd was all in as soon as Viens stepped up to the center mike in an all-silver suit. Viens fronted a large funk orchestra called the Crown Electric Company in the late 90s so this expanded set-up is not an unknown quantity for her. The talented ensemble seen below is a good example of the Boston scene’s current mix-and-match flexibility where many musicians take time from their current bands to get involved in other projects.


The super-sized Kingdom of Love. from l to r: Sue Minichiello, Ben Aiken (keys), Sandra Marcelino, Gabe Rossi, Johnny Berosh (drums), Linda Viens, Zachary Rochester and Richard Lamphear.

Back-up singers Sue and Sandra were also involved in the recent well-received production of Hair by the revived Boston Rock Opera and BRO director Eleanor Ramsay designed Ghosts dazzling jacket art. Linda, who has sung in many past BRO productions, assumed the role of costume designer for Hair, while Zachary Rochester (the bass player at the show) had a lead role as Hud. This kind of fluid musical community, and KOL’s overall holistic approach to their craft, is a very encouraging sign and would be a great model for young musicians starting out in a field where it can be tough sledding most of the time. A local support system in the end can more gratifying than the current lone-wolf pop star model. There it seems the thought is the only was to the top is trying your luck on a TV talent show in front of a panel of celebrity judges who are likely to gush over anything but where in the end there is only “winner.” Instead, be like Kingdom of Love and find your tribe, work hard until you come up with a line as good as “I was a superhero buried underground” and in the end you may just earn all the good karma you’d ever want.

Find out more at https://kingdomoflovemusic.com/
To see my previous post about the Boston Rock Opera click https://rickouellettereelandrock.wordpress.com/2016/10/20/the-return-of-the-boston-rock-opera-the-moon-is-back-in-the-7th-house/

Rick Ouellette’s new book Rock Docs: A Fifty-Year Cinematic Journey is now available online or by messaging the author. A 30-page excerpt can be seen at http://booklocker.com/books/8905.html (Or click on the book cover in the right-hand column here)

Documentary Spotlight: “Citizen Jane: Battle for the City”

Director Matt Trynauer’s new documentary “Citizen Jane” is both a welcome film bio of the late author-activist-urban theorist Jane Jacobs and a fortifying reminder of how committed and creative “people power” can be more than a match against monolithic government and business interests when they have negated any sense of human decency. Jacobs was a writer and magazine editor living in Manhattan’s West Village who developed a homegrown value system about what makes cities work best, an ideal of people-centric short blocks with mixed usage and a vital network of safe and productive interconnectedness among a diverse population. This was spelled out in her first book “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” first published in 1961 and a work that is still influential to this day.

“Death and Life” was both a celebration of spontaneous urban vitality and an unabashed assault on the doctrinal city planning theories of the day, which centered on the construction of endless rows of monolithic housing towers cut through with multi-lane expressways. All this would be accomplished by first enabling the wholesale demolition of the “slum” neighborhoods that Jacobs saw as vital communities. As per the film’s subtitle, a large chunk of “Citizen Jane” concerns the high-profile contest of wills between her and the imperious Robert Moses, New York City’s powerful city-planning czar.


Not the best of friends: Jacobs and Moses.

Moses in his earlier days was known as an enlightened master builder. His first major project was the populist and popular Jones Beach State Park, opened in 1929. By the Fifties and early Sixties, however, he was firmly aligned with the visionary but abstracted Modernist dictates most associated with Swiss-born architect Le Corbusier. Jacobs thought these ideas were poisonous and was pretty blunt about it (the first sentence “The Death and Life” is “This book is an attack on current city planning and rebuilding”). In the trailer below, you can get a taste for Moses’ arrogance. He refers to certain neighborhoods as “cancerous” and insists that his projects will be bulled through at whatever the cost. It was a typical urban renewal attitude at the time and one that Jacobs said made people feel as no more than “subjects of a conquering power.”

That all began to change when Moses wanted to build a road straight through the historic and well-loved Washington Square park in Greenwich Village, for no other discernible reason other than he thought he could and perhaps to extend fashionably expensive Fifth Avenue. Jacobs sprang into action. File footage, period newscasts and TV appearances show a blunt but savvy organizer who could marshal great support (future NYC mayor Ed Koch was one of her early allies) and counteract elitist and sexist belittlement with attention-grabbing tactics (concerned citizens crowding city hall meetings, baby-carriage blockades). When the Washington Sq. road plan was nixed, it was the first setback for Robert Moses, who saw himself as an embodiment of the “Great Man” theory but whom Jacobs breezily derided as being “scared of life.”

There would be other battles to follow and Trynaeur does a pretty fair job of hashing these out for a general audience, with help from interviewees like Anthony Flint (who wrote the book “Wrestling with Moses” on this subject), architect Robert A.M. Stern, architecture critic Paul Goldberger and others. While the presentation here tends to be one-sided, the film does well to trace the gradual ascendancy of Jacobs’ ideas and Moses’ concurrent (and also gradual) fall from grace, with examples like his failure to raze 16 square blocks of her beloved West Village in the name of urban renewal.

For me, the most vivid case history in “Citizen Jane” is the saga of the would-be Lower Manhattan Expressway (LOMEX), a double-pronged Ayn Randian nightmare of a ten-lane highway topped with a Space Age ziggurat on one end. This would have obliterated large chunks of Soho, Little Italy and the Cast Iron district while presumably letting the oligarchs look down on those left behind in the exhaust and neglect, many of them crammed into the long-discredited housing projects that are a prime part of the legacy for Robert Moses and his ilk.


Fountainhead Folly? This proposal for LOMEX dwarfs even the Manhattan Bridge.

New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller finally shelved the LOMEX project in 1971 and for good measure accepted the last in a long line of Moses’ fit-of-pique resignation letters. Today, Jacobs’ insistence that people need to shape cities for themselves is pretty well embedded. Community input in urban planning is much more prevalent and the public realm in New York and other big cities is often safer and more welcoming for residents and visitors alike. Huge problems remain of course with gentrification and income disparity and the same authoritarian attitudes prevalent in America in the 50s and 60s have been exported: one talking head here describes city planning in China today as “Robert Moses on steroids.” But Jane Jacobs’ idea that our cities are an ecosystem that needs to be understood and cared for to be truly successful can also be exported, and reinforced here at home, and a viewing of “Citizen Jane” would be a good place to start.

“Rock Docs” Sampler #5: Pop Music’s Long & Winding Road

Rock and roll as a named art form is more than sixty years old. For a musical genre made for and by the young (at least originally) it is a little strange to think that the biggest worries in life have gradually gone from being worried that you might get grounded to whether you have enough savings to retire. Plus, categorical mortality has shifted from tragic plane crashes and overdoses to the sad reality that a certain percentage of people will die from various health issues in their 60s and 70s. But before everyone gets depressed let me say that one of the things I came to realize while writing my book Rock Docs: A Fifty-Year Cinematic Journey is that the youthful energy of classic pop music helps sustain the spirit even as our Social Security years approach or are reached. As Freda Kelly, the Beatles’ secretary and fan club president pictured above says at the end of Good Ol’ Freda, “Although there’s a fifty-year gap since I started, I still like to think that I’m back where I was in the beginning.”

Many of the newer rockumentaries in the book focus on the long trajectory of rock history, from the perspective of musicians, fans and people behind the scenes such as Freda. Below are four related excerpts.
To purchase and/or sample the first 30 pages of “Rock Docs” click on the link below or the book cover image on the right.
http://booklocker.com/books/8905.html

From the entry on Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me

Drew Nicola’s film has a certain shadowy quality that sustains Big Star’s mythical essence. The band had friends handy with an SLR or home movie camera so there are some early images that survive like half-remembered dreams. But it’s on disc that their legacy rests and Nicola profiles many of the band’s most beloved songs like “Ballad of El Goodo,” “September Gurls,” “Daisy Glaze” and “In the Street.” It’s the universality of yearning (“Years ago my heart was set to live,” begins “El Goodo”) that in the end is as big a reason as any for Big Star’s durability. So is the patina of tragedy—especially in the case of Chris Bell, who died in a car crash in 1978 at twenty-seven while he was trying to figure a “way into the future” with only one solo single to his name (the exquisite “I Am the Cosmos”). He had been working in the kitchen of his family’s restaurant. Both Alex Chilton and Andy Hummel passed away in 2010. As Lenny Kaye says at another point in Nothing Can Hurt Me: “They were there waiting, like a little jewel in the earth, for me to dig them out.” This sense of personal discovery is central to the rock and roll experience.

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From New York Doll

In an age of comforting singer-songwriters and technically-savvy arena acts, the New York Dolls’ raucous flamboyance failed to translate from the demimonde to the heartland. Of course, by the end of the decade, they would be more widely recognized for their trailblazing role but by then the band was defunct. There was no second act for bassist Arthur Kane. When this film opens in the early 2000s, we find Kane working at the Mormon Family History Center in Los Angeles. He joined the Latter-Day Saints after his life bottomed out by the late 80s-early 90s. A failed marriage, a fruitless attempt at an acting career and alcohol abuse was followed by a suicide attempt—a jump from a second story window that left him with minor neural damage. Now he’s a slightly addled fifty-something in white shirt and tie, complaining about the long commute to work caused by an inconvenient bus transfer. Pausing on the street, Kane gets us caught up, explaining that he is single and “eligible to go out on dates.” But he has to be careful now because of his religion (“No more wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am”). It’s no secret that for “Killer” Kane (named after a villain from the old Buck Rogers serial) the fondest memories of his life will be his platform-booted heyday with the New York Dolls. His ride comes along and he takes a seat in the very last row. With a wry smile he confirms that “I’ve been demoted from rock star to schlep on the bus.” Director Greg Whiteley has fashioned an eloquent and bittersweet documentary on Kane’s rise, fall and fleeting redemption in the form of a New York Dolls reunion concert in London. It is one of the leading entries in what has become a mini-genre: films centered on fringe figures floating out there in the vast rock and roll firmament (others would include The Nomi Song, Best of the Beatles and A Band Called Death).

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From Standing in the Shadows of Motown

In the middle of this film, musician and author Allan Slutsky tells of meeting Detroit-based guitarist Robert White for dinner in 1993. As they were about to order, the blissful opening guitar lick to the Temptations’ 1965 chart-topper “My Girl” spilled out from the restaurant’s speakers. White’s face lit up and he was about to tell the waiter that that was him playing the guitar, but checked himself. When Slutsky later asked him why he didn’t say it, an abashed White suggested that the server would never have believed a “tired old fool” like himself. Slutsky admits he was floored that a man who played “one of the top five all-time guitar hooks” had “lived for thirty years this close to his dream and yet instead of being inside the dream looking out, he was on the outside of the dream looking in.” This sad anecdote neatly summarizes Standing in the Shadows of Motown, developed from Slutsky’s book of the same name, that profiles the interracial group of instrumentalists (often referred to as the Funk Brothers) who provided the infectious grooves to scores of Top 40 hits for Motown Records but who were largely left behind when the label left Detroit for Los Angeles in 1972.

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From Good Ol’ Freda

The seventeen-year-old Freda Kelly got to know the Beatles as only one can who was part of the band’s original fan base. She can tell you the best place in the Cavern to watch (second archway on the left), tells sweet anecdotes of Paul walking her to the bus stop and still calls Ringo “Ritchie.” In 1962, the Beatles new manager asked the incredulous teen if she wanted to work for the band. It was a canny move. As both Epstein and Kelly realized, she was a fan but not a fanatic and could directly relate to the band’s famously ardent female supporters, which would grow into numbers unimaginable back then. She held the job for a decade and still dutifully replied (on her own time) to the back log of fan mail even after the band broke up; a process that took some three years. In an archive news clip from around the time of the Beatles breakup, we see Freda Kelly somewhere in between, as a young woman asked what she missed most about the early days. “The closeness,” she says, a reply all the more poignant when we later see the roll call of those involved who have passed on, starting with John, George and Brian Epstein. Approaching seventy years of age, she agreed to be the subject of Ryan White’s cameras so that her grandchildren will grow up knowing who she once was. Although good ol’ Freda would likely be too humble to say so, she was not just a bit player in rock and roll’s greatest success story but a person who was symbolically very near to the heart of it.