Sunday, November 14, 2010

On the Border of Nod

When my parents divorced, I essentially had the same custody arrangement from I was 7 years old until I moved out of Cincinnati and went to college: I visited my dad on Tuesday nights, spent Friday nights with him, came back to my mom's on Saturday at 6 prompt. Any variations had to be cleared with her in advance, and had better be good to get her to agree to it.

By high school, both my parents had cable, but my dad sprung for the pay channels. So on Friday nights at my dad's house, if I wasn't lucky enough to find out about a party, which was often, I stayed up late, kept the volume low so as not to keep my dad up, and either watched movies, or kept the VCR on pause to tape my favorite videos of the day, maybe a snippet of a sitcom rerun, or a particularly good trailer on the Viewer's Choice preview channel (at the time, they ran real trailers instead of the crappy short promos they would eventually create to push the pay-per-view movies). Also, for a long while, WGN in Chicago would run an hour-long "TWILIGHT ZONE" episode at 1:30 a.m., followed by a half-hour episode at 2:30 a.m., and I would try to stay up for those. It was on a typical Friday night that I first stumbled across my decades-long obsession, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN THE FABULOUS STAINS, on USA Network's "NIGHT FLIGHT" program.

Amidst all of this, something I strangely remember with much fondness would be the nights that I would temporarily zonk out in front of the TV and reawaken, sometimes after 3 a.m. If I was watching those "TWILIGHT ZONE" reruns, in my netherzone of consciousness and sleep, I created intriguing "new" episodes in my head from the snippets of visual and audio that I could recall. Or marvel at some of the truly bizarre programs or movies that were on that late, because back then there really was a difference; not like now when the same informercials run on every channel. I instinctively knew after 3 I should really be in bed, especially if I wanted to be up at an hour that my father would not berate me for being a lazy sod for waking up at, but on those nights I was discovering the alternate world of the middle of the night. Dubbed Eurotrash sex comedies on Showtime After Hours. "RAT PATROL" reruns. Joe Franklin.

I had a room upstairs that was not wired for cable, but I did have a component stereo. So I would turn on the radio, again low enough not to wake anyone, and sleep with it on. And again, in dreams I conjured up incredible music videos for the songs that filled my sleep. A slow-motion Sam Peckinpah massacre scored to Lionel Richie's "Hello." Heavy petting with an unrequited high-school crush atop a bank of washing machines in a junkyard to Smokey Robinson's "Shop Around."

As an arrested adolescent now who often sees strands of daylight by the time I go to bed, I miss that time of innocence and forbidden pleasure. I try sleeping with my TV or a CD playing sometimes, but it's not the same like it was before.

This past night as I drove home from a late night gathering, "Wishing" by A Flock of Seagulls came on the radio. I had seen the video many times when ths song was first released, but it was on one of those Friday night 3 a.m. reawakenings that I really "watched" the video and "got" the song and it became truly beloved. I think it was the earnest juxtapositions of computers and isolation and space and the great void by journeyman director and frequent Seagulls collaborator Tony Van Den Ende with those simple lyrics of longing that resonated. It was the middle of the night, I was by myself, and my similarly earnest and simple self identified with feeling like being alone in the middle of nowhere, gazing at eternity.

As a jittery Christian, I aspire to an afterlife and reincarnation, and that my life's work will be exemplary enough to reach that ascended state. As a pragmatic realist, I prepare for the likelihood that there is nothing after death; at best, maybe the electrodes in my brain will go a little while longer after my body conks and it will be like one last, good dream.

But in either case, it would be nice if I could know that one day, I will be 15 again, taking the pieces of the pop culture that intrigue me, and creating my own visions around them as I had before. I wouldn't spend my life just wishing...

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A Thousand Tears Can't Make This Metal Rust

One of the most pleasant surprises of 2009, not to mention one of the Best Films of that year, was Sacha Gervasi's hilarious and heartwarming documentary ANVIL! THE STORY OF ANVIL!: a movie that singlehandedly brought together the headbanger and the hearing-aid contingent, and taught both suburban parents how to overcome their fear of studded leather and suburban rockers how to overcome their fear of man crushes. It also brought a long-overdue fourth act to an already colorful career, by giving the band of the gleefully-redundant title the golden ticket to the biggest visibility of their lives, providing songs for video games, performing on such august venues as "THE TONIGHT SHOW," and headlining stadium-size audiences all over the world.

The band is currently in Los Angeles recording tracks for their highly anticipated 14th album, JUGGERNAUT OF JUSTICE, which is due next spring, and tonight will be appearing in Westwood to conduct a Q&A with director Gervasi in tandem with a one-night revival screening of THE STORY OF ANVIL. The band had graciously agreed to a short interview with me to promote the show; however, recording overruns and other show business vagaries got in the way. As such, I figured I would use this opportunity to refresh your memory on what makes the film worth repeat viewing, either at tonight's screening, via DVD, or the multiple airings that VH1 has given and will likely continue to give.

In case you haven't had access to cable TV or a major entertainment magazine, here is the structure of ANVIL! THE STORY OF ANVIL! Director Gervasi, a working screenwriter, recalls his misspent youth as a roadie for the band in the early '80's, amidst the high popularity of heavy metal music in its various guises, and after cold contacting the band's website, he discovers that despite going into their 50's, founding members "Lips" Kudlow and "Geza" Reiner are still together and performing. He joins up with them and films them slogging away at any and every humble gig they can find, while working equally humble day jobs to support their families. Most of what is captured is so comically tragic as to seem fictional, such as a European tour that consists of missed trains and tiny audiences, all arranged by girlfriend of the band that has a tenuous grasp of management and the English language, while other moments depict the clucking tongues of family and friends alike who feel the boys should have hung up their studded jackets a long time ago. Yet through all of the misfortune, Kudlow refuses to give up the dream that he and Reiner had as teenagers, of playing their music and becoming stars.

And it is the decades-old friendship between the two men that becomes the real story of the movie, and what holds the key to its repeat value. The more time we spend with them, learning about their histories and their struggles, the higher our affection increases. They have people in their lives who love them but don't quite get them, but these two guys truly see each other. Their friendship is fraught with arguments and tantrums and tearful making-up sessions, carrying the kind of drama that a dozen Oprah's Book Club selections promise but don't always deliver. And unlike the oft-times self-pitying tone of SOME KIND OF MONSTER, the other acclaimed heavy metal confessional documentary on Metallica, there is never any doubt in the genuine love and hope these two carry for each other: when Lips states that in his dark moments he could have jumped from a cliff, and Geza dryly replies that such an attempt would fail because he'd stop him, it inspires mist and giggles in every viewer. It is the epitome of bromance long before the word existed, or got co-opted by the douchebag contingent.

So many of the movies that we seek for comfort food and multiple viewing rest upon great friendships...Rick, Sam, and Louie...Walter and Hildy...Romy and Michelle... and no matter how well we know the story, we want to watch and rewatch someone have someone else's back, join them in a half-cocked plan that every sensible person thinks can never work, and tell them in deeds what most can never say in words: I love you. And you get that here, with the added bonus of the proceedings being true and the participants being real. And when most "reality" stories are about people who "aren't here to make friends," it's nice to see two guys who want nothing but that. And in the final moments of the film, when our heroes run about Tokyo like teenagers, and later return to their neighborhood at sunset in tandem like boys going home to dinner and bed, you receive the uplift of what it's like to have a swell pal in your corner for life.

Steve "Lips" Kudlow, Robb "Geza" Reiner, and director Sacha Gervasi will all be appearing at the Landmark Regent theatre in Westwood, Los Angeles, tonight, Thursday November 4th, at 10 p.m. to introduce ANVIL! THE STORY OF ANVIL! and take questions afterward. Tickets are still available at all major online ticketing websites and at the door. If you're in the area, put on a fingerless glove and slap some leather with the boys and tell them the Heuck sent you.


A few hours after posting this essay, Lips found a window for us to speak briefly. Here's the transcript of our chat:

First off, congratulations on your enormous post-movie success! Headline tours, TV and movie appearances, video games...In the wake of the popularity of THE STORY OF ANVIL, aside from obivous details like visibility, audience size, budget allowances, what are some of the changes you've noticed both in performing on the road, and especially in your lives at home?
In performing because we've been playing so much, we are in top form. As far as family life not much has changed. The biggest change is that I'm not home very much. The money I have been making is directly from Anvil and not from a day job anymore.

Lips, you made it known that your sister got paid back all the money she loaned for the album recording. What was that like? Was there, say, a ceremonial party when you handed her the check to celebrate the good fortune?
The moment was quite uneventful. I knew before asking for a loan we would have little or no problem paying it back and she knew that as well. It was recouped within the first 2 months of the release. I wouldn't have asked for money unless I knew for sure that I could cover it.

What are some of the most favorite compliments or things you've learned from people you've met in the last year?
Most if not all compliments are about people saying they have been inspired. I've learned that most people haven't got a close friend like I have. What I may have taken for granted people would give anything for.

Dare I ask, but do you still do any of those low-profile day jobs back at home when you're not touring?

What's the most impractical but fun thing you've been able to do after years of frugal living?
I haven't made enough money yet to become impractical. I'm still fighting for survival and success on every level.

Is it safe to say that you're enjoying what could be called a second childhood with your increased activity?
I'm going through my second childhood for the third time!!! This has been a huge blessing and a perfect answer to a long vicious journey.

There's no doubt lots of people, whose dreams in the arts have been frayed and battered for years, myself included, chose to hold on and keep going after seeing your story. If we should be graced with the same late-bloom success you found, what is your advice for us now, on the other side?
You have to have real authentic desire for's never quite what you think it's going to be. Show me a someone with a million dollars and I'll show you someone with a million worries. Careful for what you wish for...