Man, that was a long break between OGS1 and OGS2. I kinda got caught up with one or two rather unexpected ‘surprises’. Some welcome, others not so, but we move onwards and upwards. Time for some music methinks. “It’s Slade” (BBC4) – When I saw this on Pirate Bay, I had the feeling that it was going to go one of two ways. First, it might just go on and on about “Merry Christmas Everybody” as the documentary was shown around the festive period. You know, it would be all novelty and kitsch-like? Tinsel and tartan. Or, it might be an insightful, entertaining story about four rather dodgy looking fellas from Wolverhampton who went on to sell a mere fifty million (yes, count them – at a time when sales did count more) records worldwide? Although done on the cheap (the BBC obviously still splashing all their cash on Attenborough’s wildlife extravaganza’s), the film perfectly conveys the bands persona. Rough, ready, creative, talented, and very, very loud. I have a soft spot for Slade (but not for those who think that Quiet Riot’s version of ‘Cum On Feel The Noize’ is any good). I remember getting my first batch of records and a record player as a kid from my cousin. In amongst the Bay City Rollers, David Cassidy, and other dubious vinyl that a teenage girl of the time would like (this was a long, long time ago…) this caught my eye -
There’s some great stories told by the band themselves, as well as the omnipresent, celebrity/muso, talking-head types maintaining the band’s credibility and legacy for the youth of today. Not just a one-hit, novelty wonder. Another nugget from BBC4′s rockumentary archive was “Can You See The Real Me – Quadrophenia” – a look at the making of the album and a close look at the band themselves. Yet another bit of a flashback for me, going back to when I was about 13 or 14. A time when the whole idea of a rock opera concept album wasn’t really cool. I remember taping my buddy’s double-album of ‘Quadrophenia’, and coming to the conclusion that it was OK to have a bit more to a song than just 3 chords and a tune. Although I may not have shouted that from the rooftops at the time. “Can You See The Real Me”, with a running time of bout 70 minutes, fills in a lot of the blanks about the band themselves before moving on to discuss Townsend’s magnum opus. There’s lots of being a ‘Mod’ and what all that meant. Personally, it’s something akin to today’s ‘metro-sexuality’. Jibbering on about what’s fashionable, having a smart haircut and using the latest grooming products. All bollocks, of course.
Of further irritation, there was also participation from an American music writer whose main objective in the film was to apparently keep stating the obvious. He was particularly annoying. However, the good outdoes the bad, and “Can You See The Real Me” is an absorbing, poignant documentary, filled with vibrant stories and some great anecdotal material. (Q – “What was Keith (Moon) like in 1973?” A- “He was a bit more drunk than 1972.”)
As well as looking (albeit somewhat briefly) at the eclectic personalities of the band members, the film goes to great lengths to show just how the recording of ‘Quadrophenia’ affected Townsend in particular, and his gradual decline into what can only be described as a ‘bit of mad scientist’ towards the end. The obsession (and consequences) to find the perfect result is definitely one of the film’s strengths.
“Can You See The Real Me”, for me at least, raised a few questions regarding liking the people who are making the music? Does it really matter if you like them or not? Townsend comes across as somewhat egotistical, arrogant, and going by his recent questionable use of the internet, a bit more than self-righteous. Also, with Keith Moon, I don’t have much a liking for him as a drummer or as a ‘dude’. As good and as pioneering a drummer as he was, there’s still this cloud over his ‘eccentricities’.
What the film does do well is look at the albums photography and excellent artwork. It also looks at each of the four sides of the record and the themes contained within them. There’s plenty of chatter about the financial and emotional toll that the recording of the album caused, as well as dealing with the aforementioned characteristics of the band themselves. It’s also on Youtube -
Finally, there was the highly enjoyable “Rush – Beyond The Lighted Stage”. Another one of those slick-looking films that take one of the great iconic rock bands of all time, and well, tell you their story. Well, the band tell the story (for the most part), which is a far better device in this instance than having someone else mumble along for them.
One of the questions that ‘Beyond The Lighted Stage’ asks is “Are Rush the worlds most popular cult band?” The answer to which is probably – yes. The other question is – “How many rock star-types can you get to pay homage to these three Candians?” The answer? A lot. These guys, as the film suggests, ‘are the real deal’. It’s hard not to disagree, even if you’re a fan or not.
The honesty, sincerity, and general ‘goofiness’ of the trio are key to the film’s narrative. The ability to laugh at themselves and not take things too seriously (unlike the seemingly never-ending line of pretentious asshats that corner the market today) really shines through.
At times, there’s a resort to cliche (how they earned their stripes by being on the road for so long, for example), but this doesn’t really deter from telling the band’s unique story. Even if you’re not a fan of prog-rock, ‘Beyond The Lighted Stage’ is a thoroughly enjoyable rock’n'roll romp, spanning the six decades of the band’s career. Long live the time signature change.