First off, I’d like to thank all the folks who contributed to the upcoming documentary, including the various artists who gave their time to be interviewed for it. When Michael Gramaglia informed me that they were going to use Kickstarter.com to try and raise funds to pay for the many clips etc. that have been used in the film, I had trouble getting my head around the idea that enough people would be willing to pay money to make this happen. Turns out I was very wrong. I’m moved and humbled by the incredible response. Thank you all sincerely.
Below is a rambling description of the events that led to the film and beyond.
On the 27th of August 1997 I did a solo gig at the Long Island Brewing Company on the Jericho Turnpike on Long Island, New York (thanks Johannes at the Struck By Lightning website gig list!). The rather excellent Elliot Murphy opened. At some point after the show, a fellow named Michael Gramaglia, along with his brother John, approached me and proposed the idea of doing a documentary. He claimed to be in the midst of creating a film about the Ramones. I had no reason to doubt him, but at that point in time, I considered the idea of a documentary about me to be quite ridiculous. “No one’s gonna be interested,” I asserted forcefully. “The Ramones? Now that’s a story.”
Although my career had had some international spread, not to mention a decent amount of following around America during the ‘70’s and into the ‘80’s, the Ramones couldn’t get arrested outside of New York City and London. However, by the late ‘90’s they were slowing becoming iconic (leading to their status of household name today), and I was just out there hacking away on the circuit. Their recent lionization begged a proper recounting in film. But as far as I was concerned, a strange amnesia had set in and anything I might have helped throw into gear in 1976, a year before the punk rock/”new wave” phenomenon (basically three minute pop songs with attitude), had been almost entirely forgotten, so why would anyone be interested in a documentary about me? I was just a working musician, something I’m rather proud to be to this very day, having been at the beginning of my career more of an impressionist, a dismantler of popular forms, regurgitating them into a more modern format designed to last into the distant future, but a long way from being a musician who could actually play not only the simple acoustic strumming behind almost all my songs with a bit of fairly clever stuff in open tuning (a la “Gypsy Blood”), but also lead guitar, bass, and now with a pretty good facility at producing, albeit on my own albums. I was finally learning my trade: rather dull stuff for a documentary, I reckoned. Yes, it was all very boring.
Although I didn’t know jack about them, to be honest, the lives of the Ramones — I insisted to the Gramaglia brothers — must surely be like a Greek Tragedy, an epic opera of failure and misconception until finally, not only the critics (and musicians) but also the public (even to the extent that it became not unusual to see the average 14-year-boy wearing a Ramones T-shirt) became fully aware of their great contribution after being ignored for so long. There they were on the radio where they had never been featured much before, and popping up in adverts and other places where they were absent in their real heyday— in a word: iconic.
A film about me would be like watching paint dry, I assured these blokes. Forget it.
They seemed to not agree, to the extent that every now and again Michael would get hold of me and stick the needle in again.
I wasn’t budging, however, until the year 2000, when I reinvented myself as a short story writer and had “Carp Fishing on Valium” published by St. Martin’s Press. Then I wrote a bunch of tunes to go with the tales and did a short tour, reading from the stories and singing the songs. In a moment of delirium, I called Michael and suggested that here might be something of actual interest. Forget the down-the-rabbit-hole music career, I said, how about filming some gigs on this tour?
Now this is interesting!
And so they filmed a gig featuring me with Tom Freund on the upright bass, singing the songs and telling stories, occasionally to the exasperation of the punters who would have rather heard “White Honey” and “Hotel Chambermaid.” But the Gramaglia Bros had no intention of just making a film about my book. They had at last wheedled their wicked way in and there was no turning back. The filming would continue…for ten years! Talk about watching paint dry.
On Friday 22nd October 2010, about 50 people, many of them heavy hitters in the donor department regarding the financing of this film, gathered together to watch a screening of “Don’t Ask Me Questions.” I don’t want to give away too much, but it seemed to go down extremely well. The film makers had managed to find a delicate balance of emotion and informati
on that struck a chord with the viewers, and after around five minutes into it I even kind of forgot that it was about me and got sucked into some larger story, a story
I didn’t even know existed that had been there all the time.
I don’t know anything about making documentaries, but like making a record, this kind of balance and entertainment surely doesn’t come off every time. Quite simply, I give a big thumbs-up to the Gramaglia Brothers.
Regarding the release of this film, the Brothers are going to target a few film festivals first, and they often want an “exclusive.” Therefore, we have to see how that plays out before a general release on DVD. So you might still have to wait a bit before it is available. The item be
low, however, is almost in your hot little hands already, or at least in time for Christmas…
…On to the next cinematic event.
As some of you know, one of the GP and the Figgs shows was filmed by a professional crew in Fairfield, CT. This film was put together by Primary Wave and Image Entertainment. The DVD is already available for pre-order on Amazon. This package also contains a bonus audio CD that includes songs that did not fit the visual format, and an interview that details an overview o
f my career. Release date is December 7th.
To say I’m pleased with the sterling performance of the Figgs and the excellent camera and sound
quality would be an understatement. It is what it is: a rocking good show filmed and recorded by experts. Not much else to add. Don’t miss it.
Box of Bootlegs
Floating World and Evangeline has released a “Box of Bootlegs,” featuring six of our official bootleg CD’s — you guessed it — in a box. It’s a great pleasure to have our eclectic bits and pieces licensed by a European company. Looks like a tasty collectors’ item to me.
“Carp Fishing on Valium” will also see a separate European release.