‘They all try to put us down, just because we get around. Things they do look awful cold. I hope I die before I get old.’ This, the rallying cry for youth since the song’s release in the mid-1960s by the unrivaled rock band The Who. ‘My Generation’, as the opening credits theme of 2016’s A Silent Voice, is the pulse beat that works to immediately draw us back to our own youths as we watch Japanese anime kids stream past upon the screen (hopefully a large one as it continues to run theatrically from time to time in the States).
These dilettantes run and prance along to and from school, home, the mall, and through the streets of Tokyo. We watch them rough house and horse around, we are shown their joyful days before the disruptive and dispiriting death-knell of time that presses so hard upon youth even in high school, well before the brain has even fully developed, and pressures joy into hiatus in the face of such horrendous, insidious forces as exit exams, continued education or training, and the most odious question of all: ‘What do I want to do with my life? With my one shot?’
With the first bars of The Who’s immortal anthem, we are taken back to an innocent time. Our protagonists are young kids who talk and goof off in class, are obstinate in the face of new challenges, and wish nothing more than to escape class and return to play unhindered by study. They write on their desks and fumble with the lead in their mechanical pencils, nod off or have their attentions distracted by their friend’s childish ploys or by the present or hoped attentions of those members of the opposite sex they find interesting for reasons hitherto unknown.
Director Naoko Yamada is a relative newcomer to directing theatrical anime though she has a decade-long history of directing TV anime for Kyoto Animation that reaches back to her work on the acclaimed anime series K-On! in 2009. This series held her attentions for the next three years through a subsequent sequel series, two OVA series, and one theatrical film for the series. From this work, she moved onto direction of another popular series called Tamako Market in 2013 that also produced a theatrical film in 2014. And while Yamada certainly had experience engaging with youth and one’s grade school days through these anime, and though she had some experience crafting theatrical works through these projects, it is an entirely separate beast to create one from scratch without having some hand in the project’s development like she did on previous projects for years before ever attempting such a feat.
But the film succeeds beyond all expectations. The core of the film is a young boy named Shoya and his cast of friends in grade school who bully a new student named Shoko who is deaf and only requires some help, friendship, and understanding to acclimate well to her new school. However, just as youth is often carefree and joyous in a country with a modern economy, so too is it capricious and wont to damage its charges who don’t fit in with the herd. Shoko is mercilessly bullied by most of the members of her class who taunt her often and openly because she is deaf and won’t hear the insults. Her one friend, Sahara, is bullied so badly for becoming friends with Shoko that she eventually changes schools and once again leaves Shoko without an ally. Most viewers can resonate with this feeling of emptiness and alienation Shoko experiences in the absence of a friend (I myself had four friends move away throughout elementary and middle school, all best friends too).
The bullying eventually escalates to kids occasionally stealing Shoko’s communication notebook and hiding it or submerging it in school’s fountain. Others, like Shoya, push her away physically when she attempts to communicate with them. Some students steal her hearing aids and toss them in such a way that they are lost permanently or damaged beyond repair. And one time, when Shoya pulls out her hearing aids during class, he pulls much too hard and blood comes streaming from Shoko’s ears. We all have our stories of physical and mental abuse from our peers throughout school, and this is the dark side of youth that the film expresses so well alongside youth’s superficial idylls. Therefore, we can all sympathize with Shoko and with the emotional pain she experiences: intense and often irrational rage toward our aggressors, self-hatred and suicidal ideation, numbness and emotional distance.
Many of us have also been the bullies at times in our lives. When Shoko’s physical safety is threatened by Shoya pulling out her hearing aids, the class’s teacher who had hitherto avoided addressing the problem (as do most teachers in my experience) is forced by the pressures of Shoko’s mother and the school’s administrator to punish those responsible. Shoya’s mother meets with Shoko’s mother and gives her 17,000 yen (15 to 20 k in U.S. dollars) to pay for the hearing aids her son Shoya destroyed. Shoko’s mother also beats up Shoya’s mother to pay her back for the transgressions of her son. Shoko changes school and Shoya remains behind where he becomes a pariah as the leader of the bullies who forced Shoko to leave.
As Shoya grows up and enters high school, we learn that he has studied sign language profusely to one apologize to Shoko. He has also worked a part-time job and sold all of his comic books and other collectibles to save up 17,000 yen to pay back his mother for the costs she incurred on his behalf. Finally, the damage he wrought to Shoko emotionally and psychologically hung so heavy a burden on his heart that he plans to kill himself after delivering the apology and the money. And again, like so many of us, his nerve and his resolve are too weak and he doesn’t go forward with his plans after all. His mother sees his cryptic messages on his personal calendar at home wherein one day is listed as final day and the remaining months and days in the calendar have been ripped out. She refuses his money and accidentally burns it. Later, Shoya helps a boy named Tomohiro when a bully tries to take his bicycle and thereby Tomohiro earns himself his first friend in years. And what’s more is that his dialogue with Shoko develops into something much more, which helps both the bully and the bullied to overcome their pasts little by little despite the fact that they will never fully escape these spectres.
A Silent Voice won tons of awards and made a sizable return on investment financially for its beautiful portrayal of youth in its multifaceted nature, in both its highs and its lows. Celebrated hack director Makoto Shinkai called the film beautiful, masterful, and an achievement better than anything he could hope to create. And while Shinkai’s 2016 film Your Name topped the box office, it and his entire oeuvre do nothing more than chart the emotional vicissitudes of a particular kind of romanticized-philosophical youth refracted through the mind of a 20-something otaku, while A Silent Voice speaks to all who have experienced youth in an immediate manner that leaps off of the screen and directly into our hearts. Whereas Shinkai analyzes youth, Naoko Yamada merely reflects it and thereby delivers the real thing.
The inner city domes are littered with decorations for the upcoming Heaven’s Day celebration. The holiday is a time (presumably December 25th) when the citizens of Paradigm City celebrate its founding with festive lights and the social practice of gift giving as the city delivers care packages to its citizens, and lovers exchange gifts with each other. In a couture shop downtown in one of the city’s nicer domes, Dorothy buys a black tie for Roger as a gift for Heaven’s Day. she does so not explicitly as a sign of affection, of her love for Roger (though this is the underlying message of he gift), but as a thank you for Roger taking her in and housing her through the past weeks and months.
When she next meets up with Roger in the public square, she asks him if she is excited about the upcoming holiday only to learn that he has an open animosity toward it. As he walks back along toward a lower level of the street and enters a nearly full elevator, he asks a hesitant Dorothy to get in. And when she does so, the weight sensor on the elevator goes off and halts the machine’s progress. As an android, she weighs more than the average person and as such, must leave the elevator and take the stairs. Roger follows her and apologizes to her for his lack of foresight in this matter, for forgetting about her predicament. The emotional effect is that of a relationship’s repartee, and ebb and flow.
Next, they pass a sax player in the city square whose music Roger particularly enjoys. He tips the young man handsomely and tells him that he’s sure to become the ‘next big star.’ Later that night, at dinner, Dorothy mentions that lover’s exchange gifts on Heaven’s Day, which is quickly approaching, and asks Roger if he is purchasing a gift for anyone. At this point, the focus of Roger’s anger toward the holiday makes itself known and he explains that as an ex-member of Paradigm’s Military Police, he has forsaken Paradigm and all it stands for. To celebrate Heaven’s Day would likewise be to celebrate the founding a city he reviles, not for its people, but for the dystopian business that runs it: Paradigm Corp. Dorothy, obviously hurt once again by Roger’s lack of foresight (she wasn’t asking for a political commentary, but instead hinting at her desire for Roger to exchange a gift with her), she leaves the room and departs for the night.
Elsewhere, the young saxophone player, named Oliver, turns up at home for the night after a long day of working for the city’s trash pickup corps and busking in the streets. His beautiful, blind girlfriend Laura greets him joyfully when he arrives home. He promises to buy her a gift for Heaven’s Day this year (if he can get the money, which is difficult for a day laborer in Paradigm’s economy), but she protests and says that this is not necessary and that his presence at home for the day will be enough. The relationship between these two characters will mirror Roger and Dorothy’s own throughout the episode and sets the stage for some truly transhuman, liberating material in the future as series creator Konaka sets the two up as a Rachel-Deckard couple of sorts. And back at the mansion, Norman presses the issue with Roger, telling him (falsely) that Heaven’s Day is also the day when Dorothy was activated by her ‘father’. He also chides Roger for not buying Dorothy anything nice to wear and allowing her to remain constantly clothed in her business-like attire: ‘she is a lady after all.’ As such, Roger leaves immediately and buys a dress for Dorothy (which just so happens to be the same dress Oliver has been eyeing for Laura, but could in no way afford).
The following morning, Roger receives a message and a job offer from Paradigm Corp.’s head honcho, Alex Rosewater. Once the two meet, Rosewater reveals that he has received a postcard from a man claiming that ‘in 7 days, the world will be reborn.’ The message was received five days prior, and if the threat therein is more than a hoax, some vent will occur in just two more days, one Heaven’s Day Eve. Even though Roger generally avoids jobs from Paradigm Corp. and its subsidiaries, he takes this job, which might threaten the lives of civilians. He also asks Rosewater for his recommendation for a good tailor (to alter Dorothy’s dress).
That same morning, in the wee hours, Oliver meets a man dressed as Santa Claus (though no one in the city knows who such a figure might be since The Event) who passes along an odd emerald egg to him. The man says he is leaving the world and laughs to himself as he exclaims that ‘all the people in this city are suffocating.’
Roger meets up with Dan Dastun later that day and explains the current case to him. Dastun, however, has already been on the case for some time now and reveals that the suspect is a mad scientist (the selfsame man who gave Oliver the egg, and who is shown clothed normally in a photo held by Dastun) who has disappeared, leaving trail of his departure behind, and only documents and papers showing that the man ‘advocated fir nature restoration’ and apparently reacquired his memories from more than 40 years ago. After a full day of wandering the city for more clues, nothing turns up, and Roger meets with Dastun once more. Dastun has been given orders not to investigate outside of the domes, though Roger suspects that this is the only way to catch their would-be perp. Dastun has however found some new evidence: there was a second message to Rosewater, which Roger nor Dastun was not privy to. A letter that talked of the end of the world and was part of a larger text, part of some ;book of revelations.’
Now, we know the significance of such a text as the biblical Book of Revelations (a late 1st century text authored by an unknown prophet): the one and only piece of Apocalyptic literature within the Christian New Testament canon. The connection to Heaven’s Day, which is later revealed by the only one who remembers (Alex Rosewater) as a day whose significance is ‘the day God’s son was born’, should alert us to the possibility that the series chronology is heading toward an end-times event.
As the episode continues, Dorothy finds that within the sax case of Oliver, there is a postcard identical to the one sent to Alex Rosewater. Together, Roger and Dorothy visit Oliver at his home to inquire further into this coincidence. Oliver makes small talk and tells the two that they seem ‘to make a good couple,’ which Roger denies. Oliver tells Roger that he’s not being very kind and Dorothy merely responds that she’s ‘used to it.’ When Roger changes the subject to the postcard, Oliver reveals that all homes around there have one and that it is somehow connected to a a group of old citizens around the block who visit an old decrepit building (a church, in fact) every once in a while to sing songs. None of these figures know the meaning of their words and ‘don’t know what they’re praising,’ but they continue to do so nonetheless. And everything seems to be pointing us toward a neatly tucked away little Christian parable rife for explicating within The Big O.
Before Roger and Dorothy drive off into the night, Oliver tries to sell the emerald egg to Roger who immediately believe it is something valuable that Oliver stole. He chides the young man for ‘taking the easy way out’ (crime) and refuses to buy it. Then he explains a few of his most important rules to Dorothy: ‘ If you want to live a happy life in this city, leave memories alone when they pop up.’ This seems to be his reaction to the hymn-singers who are actively chasing after memories of a time before The Event through the action of singing. He next explains that ‘you have to use your pent-up energy to fight through the harshness of reality.’ And he seems to be applying it toward Oliver, who plays his sax tenaciously despite not being particularly talented. When asked directly about Oliver’s ability, Dorothy concurs that Oliver has no talent as a musician. Nonetheless, his pent-up aggression and energy, his desperation and hopeless search for meaning through the notes on his musical organ is his way of fighting through the harshness of reality, even if the impossibility of success is a foregone conclusion.
Finally, Heaven’s Day Eve arrives. As Roger visits Dastun once more and the two begin patrolling the domes together like in old times, Dorothy makes a trip down to Oliver’s place and visits with Laura. She asks the girl why Oliver loves her and is told that love just seems to happen, but that their love works so well because she is ‘really easy to fool.’ Something that is necessary for Oliver once in a while as he lies to stay out late and play his sax: something that Laura understands is a primal need for him, and she tacitly accepts. Just then, in the town square, the Daemonseed emerald egg erupts and begins to sprout roots and limbs of a gigantic tree. Oliver tries to escape it, but is pulled far up into the air and almost loses his saxophone in the process. Luckily, he is able to reach out and prevent it from falling. In the process, however, he begins to fall too. But instead of plummeting to his death, Roger calls upon Big O and saves the young man before beginning a battle with monstrous mutant plant being that destroys streets, cars, and buildings as it expands outward. Blood-like fluid seeps out of the wounds rent by Big O’s constant barrages of lasers and missiles, as well as his onslaught of physical melee damage.
All looks hopeless for a moment as Big O is wrapped up in a tight knot of vines and then the plant stops growing. Dorothy, who ran in that direction as soon as the city began to shake (with Laura in tow), reveals to Roger that the seed was only programmed to grow this large, to break out of the dome’s upper ceiling, and then to stop growing entirely. What’s more, the tree is festooned with Christmas decorations and the mad scientist who created it seemingly only did so to bring back some sense of reverence to this once-religious holiday. After Big O descends, Roger reunites with Dorothy at the same moment that Laura and Oliver do the same. Roger tells Dorothy happy birthday only to find that her birthday isn’t even in the same month. The two awkwardly begin to exchange gifts and then, as Dorothy dons her new dress, and Roger his tie, Oliver begins to play Jingle Bells on his sax, and the mood changes. And love is felt between the two, is palpable in the air, in the mise-en-scene, and the viewer becomes trapped as a voyeur within the sequence. At once happy for those figures he or she has been viewing for so long and simultaneously recognizing this as a fictional narrative.
And for this reviewer, sad that such an emotional event will never come to pass for himself, that the reality of life and of his own personality is such that the chase is out of the question, and that the chase is a necessary first step toward making it even remotely possible for a beautiful amorous event to occur. Is fame the only way?
Cast in the Name of God,
As promised, I’ve completed some much-needed repairs on my house and now I’m back here in this blogspace, back in my virtual home, my veritable nexus for all things in celluloid culture that beckoned to me throughout the week like an idinal mistress calling constantly for my return. Just as those urges to get back to writing, to get back to The Big O, to anime, to Western films, and to animation, were always there in the back of my mind, so too were you here, calling through phantom channels and announcing yourselves through the occasional like or follow of this blogspace. My average weekly view count for a week in which I post 9-10 essay-reviews is a little over 100 views per day. And this past week in which I posted almost nothing, it was still over 100 views per day. For that, I thank you kindly and salute you as comrades in the shared experience of hyping and reflecting on (and even often trashing) commercial pop art of all kinds, and specifically those made for the Gold and Silver Screens of this world. So without further adieu.
The sixth episode of The Big O is, again, one written not by the series creator Chiaki J. Konaka, but instead by one of his close friends and collaborators on past scripts. Unlike Keiichi Hasegawa, the screenwriter for Act 05 Masanao Akahoshi, the writer on Act 06, had much less experience in writing scripts hitherto. In 1998 and 1999 he wrote three episodes of Konaka’s Devilman Lady, which was his first job writing for any TV show of note up that point his career. The Big O became his second writing job, and on it he would go on to contribute the script to Act 12 as well before ultimately moving on to write for Tokusatsu shows like Ultraman, again alongside his pals Konaka and Hasegawa.
And like the previous Act, the story of Act 06 is largely episodic and has little to do with the developing story arc of Roger uncovering the mysteries of the City of Amnesia, The Event, and of his own past and identity. Dorothy awakens Roger once again as the Act’s opening number by playing a fugue on the piano of particularly upsetting speed, complexity, and underlying sturm und drang romanticism. The master of the house has once again overslept, this time far into the day, and slightly beyond noon. And although she is probably justified in awakening her host in this manner in order to prevent him from wasting his free day asleep in bed, he decides to take her to an old friend who may have the ability to rid Dorothy of her annoying instrumental proclivities.
The two ride downtown in The Griffon (Roger’s black sedan) and eventually find themselves outside of a club called Amadeus. Outside of the door, they hear an airy, elegiac nocturne being banged out ever so precisely and with such skill as to elicit an emotional reaction in Dorothy. She explains to Roger, in an ever so subtly envious tone, that the pianist inside is playing a piece from the classical repertoire, out of time and seemingly with little regard to the sheet music’s dictums. Roger explains that these changes are what gives the piece its emotional and lyrical resonance, are what gives it heart. When they enter the club, Dorothy is surprised to find that the pianist is an android like herself. Roger is pleased to find that many of the denizens of this dark place are enjoying their drinks just as much as the beauty of the music being produced by the resident android Instro whose music’s Elysian qualities lull all those who hear it into a restful calm.
Instro’s full name is R. Instro. The initial R. always signifying ‘Robot’ within the mythos of The Big O (as in Dorothy R. Wayneright as well) and serving as another important key that connects the franchise to Western sci-fi history as Isaac Asimov used this initial in the same capacity within his works. Instro’s creator, Amadeus, was the original proprietor of the club, which has now changed hands, but still retains its mechanical muse (its own Nightingale, if you will). Amadeus was a scientist (or one who has regained memories, or fragments of history or information, from prior to The Event) who died in a mysterious incident in his lab some years prior. Instro never refers to this man as Amadeus or as his creator, but merely as his father. The mystery of such a constant designation is deepened throughout the episode as flashbacks appear to show Instro as a child, a human child, and photographs within the home of Amadeus later reveal pictures of himself with a young boy coincident with the one Instro identifies as himself in his flashbacks. Meaning that either the boy died and Amadeus somehow managed to translate his memories into code, which he then incorporated into Instro’s mind, or Instro is actually the child whose mind was uploaded into a mechanical body for some unknown purpose or because of some ailment the boy’s physical body manifested. Either way, the obvious inner emotional life of Instro is apparent and pushes the envelope ever further within this dystopian cyberpunk transhumanist anime narrative toward a prescient dialogue about issues that will become increasingly more important over the coming decades.
As Instro begins to tutor Dorothy within the club before operating hours, a man named Gieseng enters and inquires of Instro whether he is now ready to take on the burden of his creators’ dreams for him. Once Gieseng realizes that Instro has company, he makes an abrupt departure and promises to return at a later date. Roger finds the whole situation odd, and out of concern for his friend Instro, he pays a visit to Police Chief Dan Dastun to find out more information about this Gieseng fellow. Dastun has a file on the man (seems to have a file on just about every person in the city) and alerts Roger to the fact that Gieseng was Amadeus’ scientific partner, and that during the accident that took the latter’s life, Gieseng was present, and managed to survive. The accident is revealed to have been caused by some sort of haywire phono-sonic machine.
When Roger and Dorothy next visit Amadeus’ Club, they find it closed and absent of Instro’s presence. Inside, a hole has been blasted into the piano and the wall behind it, though no debris from the impact is around. Furthermore, Dorothy finds Instro’s bow-tie sitting in the nook above the piano. When the two leave the club, they venture out toward Amadeus’ old house. There, they find that the home has a huge hole blown into the side of it. And then the Constanze Megadeus appears. Instro is piloting the machine and recognizes Roger along the ground. He explains to his friend that his father created him as the key to this powerful machine, which he created to exact revenge upon the Paradigm Corp. for wrongfully terminating him and cutting off his funding. Roger sees through this reasoning immediately, tells Instro that he is too human to have been created for destruction, and that Gieseng is merely manipulating him toward his own ends. But Instro has made up his mind and regretfully sends a phono-sonic wave blast toward his friend Roger who he recognizes is now standing in the way of him achieving his apparent life’s purpose, and potentially putting his father’s ghost at ease.
But Roger has already called upon his own Megadeus and Big O arises from the ground to protect his dominus from the blast. The two begin to fight back against Constanze, but are repelled by the sheer power of the phono-sonic machine’s blasts. Even Big O’s lasers and machine guns are not enough firepower to break through the waves of energy and all looks for naught as Big O begins to deteriorate and the bolts holding him together start to come loose. Just then, Dorothy finds a piano within Amadeus’ home and begins to play the nocturne that Instro taught her. Instro immediately recognizes the tune as well as the deep inner emotional truth that he was not created to destroy, but to create beautiful music for the world. He ceases his attacks, which gives Big O an opening to crush the arms of Constanze and render her immobile and impotent.
Below, Gieseng attempts to stop Dorothy by launching a wave of sound from his own handheld phono-sonic gun. Fortunately, though tragically, a large tree has become weakened in the soil behind him over the course of the battle between the earth-shaking Megadeuses. It falls directly onto Gieseng and ends this Caligari-esque villain’s life with one fell swoop. Instro, defeated, opens his cockpit and, still believing himself a mere tool for destruction, rips out his arms from the controls of Constanze and vows to never play music again. But Dorothy has different plans and reasons with Instro that he must continue to tutor her in her own playing. The episode ends with him doing just that, a new pair of arms and hands of lesser dexterity, but ample ability now sutured in where his father’s previous masterpieces of design once were. And although Dorothy becomes significantly better and more intuitive in her playing, she still on occasion hammers out the old sturm und drang to awaken her host when he oversleeps.
Cast in the Name of God,
(Check out my previous Ralph Bakshi film review here: The Lord of the Rings)
After the negative critical reception of Bakshi’s last film, the production difficulties attendant upon the adaptation of an epic work of fiction to the animation medium, and a growing distaste with fantasy plots in general, Bakshi decided to go back to something more personal on his next film. He fell back on his experiences with pop music over the course of his life and decided to create what would become his own Great American Novel of sorts, following the lives and exploits of four generations of Russian Jews as they leave their homeland, come to America, and move through drastically varying social periods and places between 1890 to 1980.
In Russia, the family live in a Jewish neighborhood, which is subjected to a pogrom from the Czarist elites. The family, the Belinskys, lose their patriarch in the process as the elder Zalmie Belinsky, a Rabbi, refuses to leave the synagogue and becomes a martyr for his people. Zalmie Jr. and his mother leave the country and immigrate to America where they have high hopes of being able to succeed, to be free from prejudice and anti-Semitic pogroms, to be free to live in liberty and to pursue happiness. But the American Dream was still only a concept in progress and as the pre-teen Zalmie begins to work as a waiter in lascivious night clubs to help his mother make ends meet, she works in a textile factory. A factory that operates under the Wild West mentality of the time before the period of muckraking journalism that ushered in safe labor laws and outlawed child labor and excess worker exploitation.
One day, a fire breaks out at her place of employment. She burns to death within the plant and leaves behind Zalmie Jr. who is lucky enough to enter the care of one of the nightclub men named Louie who first introduces Zalmie to vaudeville, comedy, and dancing and singing troupes, of which he eventually becomes a part before falling in love with a hooker named Bella. The two have one child, another Zalmie Jr., the father loses his singing voice in an accident, joins the Mafia, Bella is blown up by a package bomb meant for Zalmie Sr., and all the while, the young Zalmie develops an interest in the piano. Eventually, he becomes something of a prodigy, is forced by his father to marry a girl with Mob connections to strengthen Zalmie Sr.’s position, sires a child, and enlists in the Army at the onset of World War II.
As the film moves along we are drawn through a vision of American history with the urban conditions of impoverished and working class Jews, like Bakshi’s own family background, at the center. American popular music drives the stories along thematically and contextualizes moments in time whilst simultaneously working as incidental music that heightens the emotional and dramatic effect of powerful moments in the narrative. In the film’s short 93-minute runtime, almost 80 songs are presented in full or in part. From George Gershwin, Cole Porter and The Dave Brubeck Quartet through Elvis Presley, The Mamas & The Papas, Mitch Ryder, and Bob Dylan we move through two generations. And then onward from Lou Reed, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane and Janis Joplin to Bob Seger, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Herbie Hancock and Heart. And finally to The Sex Pistols and Fear (Lee Ving and his bandmates also contribute as voice actors on this film).
From vaudeville and big band to personal jazz, rock and roll and folk, garage rock, hippy rock, hard rock, funk, and punk the film paints a picture of America as coincident with its culture and with the people and the movements who made it what it was. And in this manner, American Pop is an optimistic film that presents America not as merely an increasingly imperialistic aggressor against the rest of the world and its own citizens (which it has historically been), but as a country that is great for its artistic work and for the power that music specifically can have in changing lives and in making life bearable for outcasts and those on the edges of society.
Zalmie Jr. finds no, the pianist, finds no meaning in life whatsoever. He works as a musician in Mafia run joints and is constantly offered a recording contract from big league record companies like RCA, but turns them all down in favor of playing for his own personal enjoyment. And this is why it is so moving when, as a G.I. deep within enemy territory during WWII, he finds a piano and plays for the first time in months. The music flows freely as if from the very core of his being, an expression of his identity. And the beauty of the moment transcends itself as a Nazi soldier emerges from hiding in the corner of the room, is registered by Zalmie who plays him a fugue of his own country’s origins, and resigns himself to death by machine gun fire after the visibly moved Nazi remembers himself and his role, and fires into his enemy combatant, and brother.
The third Belinsky, Benny, grows up as Louie’s de facto child and without his father. He doesn’t show any musical aptitude in his childhood and eventually marries a woman, has three kids, and develops a fondness for poetry. He goes to Beat rap parties and enjoys the scene, even contributing lines himself on occasion. He rails against the machine, the banality of television culture, and with radio pop. One day, Benny has had enough and leaves his wife and kids behind, travels across the country, picks up harmonica from homeless Blues players along the way, and stops through Kansas one night where he sires a son before leaving the following morning.
Benny’s subsequent journeys upon arriving in California will lead him to a fateful encounter with a hippy group. He becomes a popular songwriter, gets hooked on drugs, eventually becomes homeless, and finally connects with his son who finds him when he and his friends pass through Kansas City for a show. The boy, named Tony (played through rotoscoping by Ron Thompson), stays with Benny for a time before his father disappears permanently from public view and from his life. Tony grows up street smart and becomes a major coke dealer with greater musical aspirations, which he finally achieves at the film’s denouement: becoming the first true superstar in the family in the process as an apotheosis of musical desire to musical fulfillment and appreciation. Four generations and ninety years in the making.
The film was a box office success, making back $6 million USD on its $1 million USD budget (an impossibility today as just the music rights alone would cannibalize the majority of this budget, if not exceed it entirely). It was a critical success and has become a cult film with an avid fanbase. However, far more important than either of these considerations it is a beautiful, enduring, personal film by Ralph Bakshi that I find myself hard pressed to not call his greatest achievement. American Pop is a social document, a human document, and a fictional account that through presenting the lives of four generations of Jewish emigres to the United States, manages to reach deeper than particularity and become a universal film about the American experience, American traumas and difficulties, and the roots of 20th century American cultural hegemony as derived from those who believe more fervently in America than any other: Immigrants.
[Next up: Hey Good Lookin’]
(Check out my previous essay on Independent American Film: The Exiles)
Charles Burnett’s 1978 indie film, ‘Killer of Sheep,’ was created over the course of five years as his MA thesis at UCLA Film School. He wrote, produced, directed, edited and provided cinematography on the picture, cementing it as an auteur work through and through. The film’s many vignettes were shot on weekends between 1972-73, with some extra pick-up shots in 1975, on a budget of $10,000. And when he optioned it on the film critics circuit, it was given a slot on the Berlin International Film Festival where it went on to win the Critics’ Award for 1978.
Despite the acclaim, the film would be seen by few eyes over the next thirty years. He meant the film to do many things: one amongst those being a document on the history of African american music. To this effect, Burnett included compositions and songs from black musicians in genres as disparate as showtunes, classical, R&B, soul, opera, blues, pop, jazz, and big band. and he included some famous pieces of music from established musicians with strong representatives like Louis Armstrong and Earth, Wind and Fire. Burnett couldn’t release the film theatrically, because he didn’t have rights to the music at the time, and getting those rights would have been costly. More expensive in fact, than the initially $10,000 budget for the entire film.
Almost thirty years later, in 2007, the UCLA Film and TV Archive and Milestone Films partnered up to restore the film in an attempt to re-release what was then thought of as a lost classic of independent American neorealism. With the help of a large financial donation from American director Steven Soderbergh, the film was restored successfully and the rights to the music were bought, for $150,000, ensuring the film could be run theatrically. The film made $416,000 in its limited run, making back the initial budget, the cost for music rights, and potentially even the cost of restoration.
Set in Los Angeles’ Watt’s neighborhood, the film gives a picture of urban, working-class life in what was then, and is even today, known as one of the lowest income and most crime-ridden areas of the city. Stan (Henry G. Sander) is a working stiff with a wife and two kids, struggling to make ends meet and to find meaning in a 9-5 life. He works in a slaughterhouse where he kills and dresses sheep for later consumption. The scenes in the film involving the sheep are often harrowing, nearly as troubling as the scenes involving the goat-child in 1977’s Eraserhead, the prior year.
Stan buys a motor at one point in the film, which he plans to use to supe up his ride and bring a little enjoyment to his life. But when he and his friend drive off after paying for it, it falls off of the back of his truck and is damaged beyond repair. Later, he attempts to go to a horse race with his family and close friends. He has been studying the horses and saving money to bet on them in the hopes of winning big. On the way, his friend’s car, in which they are riding along together, gets a flat tire. They have no spare. And so, the family returns home, and Stan feels slighted once more by life and by fate.
The vignettes continue. He runs by his local convenience store to cash a check. There, the aging, portly white woman working the counter offers him a job at the store for good pay. She is hitting on him, touching his hand, and promising him that if he takes the position he will be working in the backroom with her. The implication is all too obvious and makes Stan feel like a piece of meat in that situation. At a different time, his friends come by and offer him a job as third man on burglary they’ve planned out. Stan is against the idea, but realizes there is a lot of money to be made in the venture. Unfortunately, his wife is standing nearby in the kitchen when his friends arrive and comes outside to run them off when she hears about their hair-brained scheme.
Finally, Stan already has two children and has difficulty financially as it is. Yet his wife, his very attractive wife whom he has a difficult time taking his eyes off of, constantly paws at him for sexual satisfaction. But Stan can’t risk getting her pregnant and having another child. In each scene of their cat and mouse game, the sexual tensions mount as they kiss, or dance, or sit together in seclusion while the kids are out playing. At the moment when Stan looks like he may give in and be unable to fight her advances any longer, he puts on his strongest show and leaves the room. In the last of these scenes, Charles Burnett’s biggest filmic influences, Jean Renoir and Federico Fellini, become painfully aware. The lights are dim and the husband and wife dance together. They become increasingly intimate and Stan’s wife (I call her this because she is unnamed in the film) begins kissing him all over his unclothed torso. He pulls away and leaves the room and she remains behind, extreme emotional anguish and frustration readily apparent in all of her features. She sprawls her arms out over the nearby window pane and tears stream down her face. The entire scene is shot at medium-length with steady, unmoving camera. No words are spoken. This is pure cinema. This is cinema shot with extreme pathos very rarely matched in the medium. This is Carl Dreyer as a Black urban filmmaker in a 1970s American slum. This is the apotheosis shot most filmmakers only ever dream of pulling off. And it was done on Burnett’s first film, by himself as camera operator, on a shoe-string budget. My god!
Outside of the narrative of the life of Stan, our Everyman Blue-Collar Family Man just trying to get by as best he can, the majority of the film is made up of shots of his children playing in the streets with their roving teams of fellow travelers. They have rock and dirt wars behind rubble forts; try to push the dormant, 150-ton behemoth train cars along the tracks; they run around with unsettling masks and chitchat about school and family life; they run through abandoned parking lots and hide in blown-out crawlspaces; and they ride their bikes around town and have fun just like children are won’t to do anywhere in thew world. The people here are shown not in a sympathetic light, but in a real light for what they are: people, albeit people living in a disadvantageous way socio-economically. And they are shot on the fly, with an old black and white photo stock, in documentary fashion. Just the way the Italian neorealists used to do.
Christmas time is almost here and the Digidestined are moving on the some of the final Control Spires in the Digital World for one last sweep before the festivities begin. Ken is in good cheer and is happy, but a little bit wary, because he can’t believe he has such good friends. His mother is setting up a Christmas party for him and Ken has invitations for his Digidestined friends, though he thinks they may not accept them. When he musters up the courage to first ask Davis is he would come to his party, Davis blurts out that Ken is throwing a party so that everyone else hears as well. The rest of the team are just as excited about the event as Davis, including the Digimon, who ask if they are invited as well. And much to their joy, they are! Cody, however, is still a little uneasy about the whole matter and wonders if he too will be given an invitation by Ken, who Cody believes hates him. While Ken is walking over to Cody, he is thinking the same thing: That Cody may still hate him for his role as Digimon Emperor in the past. however, the fear turns out to be unwarranted and the invitation is received with glee, just as hoped!
Back in the Real World, an odd associational series of vignettes plays itself out. Matt is at band practice readying himself and his bandmates for their big Christmas gig later that night. He receives a call from his father that he is being kept later than expected at the Radio station and won’t be home in time to make dinner. We see Arukenimon and Mummymon walking around the Real World beneath the radio tower in which Matt’s father works. Next, on the veranda of the radio tower’s adjacent shopping complex, Tai’s father and T.K. and Matt’s mother exchange pleasantries and the latter of the two thanks the former for allowing T.K. to hang out at his house with Tai and Kari so often. Finally, as T.K.’s mother walks off and down toward the other end of the veranda, an odd, pale man in purple clothing stands up and addresses her. She recognizes him as one Mr. Oikawa who investigated the incident in Highton View Terrace eight years prior, as well as the Odaiba fog incident. He warns that those events were only the beginning and walks off past her in the opposite direction. She turns and finds that he has disappeared, then worries aloud at whether her sons are caught up in Digimon-related problems once more.
The Digidestined are still in the Digital World, but are on a different mission after their destruction of the Control Spires. They have tracked down and met up with the original Digidestined’ six partner Digimon Agumon, Gabumon, Biyomon, Gomamon, Tentomon, and Palmon, and they have a plan to reunite them with their Digidestined partners for the Christmas holiday. They wrap Palmon in a big burlap Christmas sack and send her through the net to Mimi’s home terminal in America, where she is currently asleep, but will wake with a warm surprise from her old friend. The rest are returned to Tokyo with the Digidestined where they too are wrapped in burlap sacks. The original Digidestined meet up with them and the Digimon jump out of their bags and surprise their old friends as well.
Back to the concert. As the long line is queuing up for Matt’s huge Christmas show inside a massive circus tent on the beach, Sora arrives with a gift of homemade Christmas cookies for her would-be boyfriend. Tai shows up and asks her if she is going to the show with anyone to which she responds that she wants to remain unattached in case Matt is free after the show. Bummer. And a big blow to Tai’s self-esteem. However, he has grown up significantly and matured since the events of Adventure 01 and takes it all in stride, even sitting beside her as a friend during the concert. June Motomiya’s arrival moments later is no consolation unfortunately, as she openly makes it clear that she too is out to win the attentions of Matt. Tai just can’t catch a break!
Outside of the concert tent, a large Control Spire is quickly constructed by Arukenimon and Mummymon (how this is possible, we are not led to know quite yet. As in the Digital World, they needed a human proxy to do the dirty work of creating the spires in the form of the Digimon Emperor Ken. Maybe Oikawa is their new crony). As the concert begins and night falls, static begins to choke the signal from Matt’s mic cable, his bass guitar, and his keyboardist’s instrument (coincidentally, the keyboardist looks a lot like a grown up Sam Ichijouji). DarkTyrannomon and a horde of Bakemon tear through the back of the tent and begin terrorizing the concertgoers. Out on the streets, there are Tyrannomon, Numemon, Kuwagumon, Snimon, Monzaemon, Gigadramon, and Phantomon. That’s three Ultimate-level Digimon (Gigadramon, Phantomon, and Monzaemon) disrupting the piece with a whole host Champions. And Agumon and the others are in too close proximity to the Control Spire to Digivolve.
Ken and the other Digidestined are enjoying themselves at Ken’s Christmas party when they get a call, presumably from Izzy. They run out into town with Raidramon, Digmon, Halsemon, Pegasusmon, and Nefertimon, all Armor Digimon who can circumvent the Control Spire’s power, and knock down the Digivolution-blocking spire. Next, the other Digimon Digivolve into Stingmon, Greymon, Garurumon, Kabuterimon, Gomamon, and Birdramon. T.K. and Joe open up a Digi-port on Izzy’s laptop and the Digimon begin throwing their opponents into the portal and back into the Digital World. Just Gigadramon and Monzaemon are left (somehow a bunch of Champion-level Digimon overwhelmed Phantomon and threw him into the Digi-port). DNA Digivolutions are under way and Paildramon, Silphymon and Shakkoumon dispense with the rest of the Digimon.
Ken reasons that Arukenimon and Mummymon must be behind this as he has seen Arukenimon enter the Real World before. Her ability to move between the two planes and her new ability to create Control Spires there seems to have put them all back to square one, but this time in the Real World where people, who don’t reincarnate as eggs like Digimon, can be hurt. the group parts ways for the night, but the next morning TV stations worldwide report the appearance of black obelisks, Control Spires, all over the place. What’s worse, Izzy notes on his laptop that Digi-ports are opening worldwide as well.
The Digidestined Cody
The episode begins with Tai, Kari, T.K., Davis, and Cody within the Digital World. they easily break into Ken’s coliseum and free some trapped Gotsumon (8 Gotsumon to be exact, bringing the total of saved Digimon to 17 in the series thus far). The rescue goes off without a hitch and is oddly unopposed by Ken who is sitting within his control panel watching the events unfold.
Gabumon and a group of Gazimon have been fighting Ken in the Digital World, and so far without the help of the Digidestined. There are black Control Spires popping up all over the place, which emit a signal from the Black Digivice. They work as radio towers for the Black Digivice’s natural Digivolution blocker and serve as symbols of total dominance in the sectors where they show up. Ken catches Gabumon and the Gazimon who are thrown into one of his prisons, but easily break out only to be forced to fight the guard: RedVegiemon. His Jack Nicholson-esque voice and Champion level are too strong for them to overcome and the group is once again imprisoned.
Matt’s band is playing a gig to a huge venue of hundreds, or even thousands, of people, which is quite a feat for a high school band. Hell, my own band, The Boron Heist, hasn’t played to more than sixty people at once, at least not so far. After the show, he meets T.K. in the concert hall’s foyer, when a young fan comes along and asks for Matt’s autograph, as well as T.K.’s autograph just because she likes to ask all cute boys to sign her shirt. It turns out that her name is June Motomiya and she is Davis’ older sister.
Finally, the vignettes begin to end as Gabumon escapes once more and calls upon Matt for his help. Matt and T.K. run to the computer lab and join Kari, Davis, and Cody into the Digital World. Once there, Gabumon tells them about the control spires and the group begins to formulate a plan to infiltrate the town where the Gazimon are imprisoned and where the control spire stands. Gatomon and Patamon wear fake black rings and trick the Vegiemon guards into letting them enter the city with the others as prisoners. The gambit plays off, but Davis is hot-headed, even through Matt’s attempted mentoring of the kid, and eventually makes a commotion and alerts RedVegiemon to their presence. Davis doesn’t believe that his sister June didn’t say something mean about him when she met Matt and T.K. and he also believes that Kari hates him just because she calls him out for acting childish and possessive. His anxieties prevent him from being able to focus and as such, Veemon is unable to Digivolve and gets beat up by RedVegiemon.
During the altercation, RedVegiemon cracks the control spire on accident, which weakens the Digivolution blocker signal allows Matt to Digivolve Gabumon into Garurumon to help out Veemon. Davis comes to his senses and becomes concerned for his Digimon partner, then activates the DigiEgg of Courage and Digivolves Veemon into Flamedramon. They defeat RedVegiemon and destroy the spire, free the five Vegiemon slaves and the 5 Gazimon from prison (thereby bringing the saved total up to 28). Izzy has been analyzing Yolei’s D-3 meanwhile and has found a map of the Digital World within. There are black squares dotting the entire world where Ken has gained control. In each is a Control Spire that must be destroyed, but the road ahead won’t be easy. There are hundreds of them and even Ken doesn’t seem to be sweating the destruction of this last most recent spire, just a blip on the radar, a minor setback.
The Digidestined Cody
AntiSeen had just played a set of weekend shows in Hickory, NC and Spartanburg, SC. I had made out it out to both shows and had a great time hearing new bands and watching AntiSeen play live. Fast forward a week later, it was Saturday, April 22nd, 2017: Record Store Day.
I meet up with Mad Brother Ward in Charlotte just after finishing my shift at work. We sojourn over to our local record store to check out this year’s Record Store Day vinyl and to prepare for the show AntiSeen will be playing here this evening. Jimmy ‘Repo’ of Repo Records is doing business slinging vinyl at a breakneck pace and the store is packed. Nonetheless, I manage to wade through the cacophony of voices and waves of bodies to find some pretty cool merch. First and foremost amongst which is a pretty killer re-release of ‘Psychotic Reactions’ by legendary 60s garage rock group ‘The Count Five.’ Score! After picking up some re-issue Link Wray and Music Machine, plus a Robert
Johnson cd boxset, I scope out the room and found that my friend and bandmate Owen Sykes had arrived. We shoot the bull, look over some more merch, and catch up with our friend Alex Stiff, frontman of The Fill Ins.
The show is set to start at 5 pm. So at ten till, we stand watching the band do a quick line-check before disappearing into the back room, where I can only surmise they are mentally preparing for the show. The store is even more packed than it was just half an hour ago and it seems subtly quieter. As the minutes tick down, anticipation from fans and a slight impatience from first-timers compound into a palpable atmosphere of uncertainty. I have never consciously ‘read’ a room before, but I find myself doing so now and intuitively understanding crowd psychology on some level.
AntiSeen enter the room and begin to launch into their set full-force. Thousands of teeny-bopper power punk bands claim lineage to The Ramones. But this intensity, this no-nonsense approach during the first act of the set demonstrates it, lives and breathes and revels in it. The past two nights contained only one major hiccup musically, a sonic false start on the same track both nights. Tonight, this issue is remedied and the songs are all played perfectly as far as I can tell. All the same, the crowd is understandably less energetic than if the show were in a large, open space, but many audience members (me included) belt out the lyrics track after track and have one hell of a time. Although its a hot day, AntiSeen’s energy never wavers. The Gooch goes full ambidextrous octopus on his drum kit, while Barry Hannibal lays down steady, driving grooves, while Mad Brother’s aim rings true, launching a surging sonic assault. All this, buttressed by the deep-fried soul-punk groove intermittedly escaping the indomitable Jeff Clayton’s vox.
At the end of the set, a break occurs in my thought. No one is yelling loud enough or directing chanting well enough to warrant an encore. The crowd diffuses quickly and waits to buy some AntiSeen vinyl. People stand around talking about how great of a show it was, or how great the band was, or how they wanted to hear a particular song. They just stand there and let possible experiences pass them by. And I stand there and do the same damn thing. Spiritually hangdog and disheveled, something clicks and a new vista opens itself to me, a thing to which the ramifications of will not become fully manifest till weeks later.
AntiSeen is releasing a new vinyl today: The Complete Drastic Sessions. The release of these early versions of AntiSeen’s first EP stands as an important event for Charlotte music as Bill Cates, the original bassist of AntiSeen is present. This day marks the first time Cates and Clayton have seen each other in over 30 years and the album’s signed by the two of them will definitely become highly sought after collector’s items.
Before making my departure I catch up with one of AntiSeen’s biggest fans, Matthew Vaine, as well as Eddie Ford of ‘The Self-Made Monsters,’ who proceeds to school me on early garage rock and punk bands I should check out asap. I find myself writing a decently long list of band names like ‘The Action Swingers’ and “The Cosmic Psychos’ whose depths I am currently in the process of plunging. Barry Hannibal, Mad Brother, Eddie, Owen, and I head out the The Tipsy Burro, put on some great music on their free jukebox, get some grub, and head our separate ways.
I find myself grasping for words when writing about an AntiSeen set. I have seen too few good rock and roll sets in my as yet relatively short life. This is due, in large part, to the low levels of popularity r’n’r enjoys these days. There were times in the 50s with the black fathers of rock and roll, the late 50s and early 60s with their popularizers and later garage rock, early punk and glam in the 70s, and arguably a revival of rock for a very short period in the late 90s and early 2000s, and during these times the music was vital. But only because it was immediate, true, and above all else, fun.
Now, I and a small group of disaffected, alienated, and generally pissed off youth are taking The Boron Heist multimedia. There is a time for all things commercially. This a time to force the hand: https://www.facebook.com/TheBoronHeist/
(For information on AntiSeen’s upcoming LP ‘Obstinate’ or for upcoming shows near you check out AntiSeen here: https://www.facebook.com/ANTiSEEN-82559392576/ )
If you missed part I, check it out Here
AntiSeen has been around for a long time. They’ve remained while bands, movements, and decades passed. They have a large European following and a strong contingent of fans stateside. They’ve toured alongside many great bands like Fear and The Meatmen. Played large festivals with groups like The Sonics, The Weirdos, and Mudhoney. And enjoy the support of many underground and mainstream acts. But they’ve never seen mainstream success themselves.
This is due in large part to vocalist Jeff Clayton’s lyrics and rhetoric, which have been both lauded and criticized. The latter press ilk has been more heavily emphasized and so, they can sometimes have difficulty booking shows in more asinine parts of the country. To make myself perfectly clear: I mean specifically fascist groupthink sorts of places.
The great American comic and satirist George Carlin talked a lot about how words don’t come pre-loaded with positive or negative connotations. A word means nothing in and of itself. The only real way to evaluate the meaning of some word or phrase is the context of its use and the intent of its speaker. That’s it.
So when Clayton writes a little ditty about a wifebeater or incest or killing your nagging spouse, the first rational thought (I recognize the nonrational validity of one’s first outraged position as knee-jerk that should then give way to thought afterward) should rightly be to ask what the context or intent of these songs is at bottom and not simply what they say on the surface. The way I see it, Jeff Clayton and all the AntiSeen boys are steeped in camp, wrestling, and bad horror movies. Their songs reflect and mirror these interests, presenting some good ol’ southern gothic: painting a picture of a specific real or imagined reality for backwoods southern folk rather than making some political or social statement.
But here’s the double standard. When lauded and beloved punk and roots rock band X did it in LA in the late 70s and early 80s, John Doe and Exene Cervenka’s lyrics about alienated, sexually violent, and xenophobic youth (See ‘Nausea’, Johnny Hit and Run Paulene’, and ‘Los Angeles’) were understood to be akin to harsh realism in fiction and jive Beat poetry as both were budding poets in an art-infused early LA punk scene. AntiSeen, being from middle-of-nowhere, Carolina with no such local cultural reference points, were automatically castigated for being violent, sexist, homophobic, etc., etc., etc. And they’re not. Period.
That said, rant over, and back to where I left off last:
The day before the Hickory show, I rode along with AntiSeen to Spartanburg. It was a long night and I had to wake up early to begin a long shift cooking southern comfort and diner food for the patrons of Monroe, North Carolina’s Jud’s Restaurant. At 2 pm, I call to a close my toil and make a b-line to the car with my friend Owen Sykes. We ride up to Charlotte, score another ride along with AntiSeen to the show in Hickory, and prepare for the night ahead of us.
Along the way, traffic isn’t nearly as chaotic as last night, though through my incessant napping I guess I wouldn’t notice if it was. We opt not to stop for fast food again on account of the lackluster quality we endured at a Hardee’s the previous night and we instead find a Cracker Barrel where we commence to stuff our faces. Before leaving, Barry Hannibal (bass) and I get pretty hyped on some Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans we find in the adjoining shop. He buys a pack and we then spend a good deal of the remaining trip talking up how bad they taste to the rest of the van’s occupants. Everyone else decides to sit out the jelly-bean-roulette experience.
We arrive at Hickory, North Carolina’s ‘The Wizard’ saloon and club relatively early and load in the gear. ‘Dirtbag Love Affair’ had to cancel both tonight and last night’s gigs, so that leaves only three bands on the bill: Stardog, No Power No Crown, and AntiSeen. Rather than start the show early, the club pushes back the start of the show by 30 minutes. This means a later eta home, but also allows me ample time to make some conversation with James Capell ‘Cap’ Nunn, a friend of mine who plays bass for No Power No Crown and The Fill Ins. During this time, I also make my way to the merch table and buy a few AntiSeen CDs.
The opening act ‘Stardog’ gives a bar band sort of vibe and some of the lyrics are ham, but I find myself enjoying a few tracks on account of the Gary Moore-like virtuosity of their guitarist, the camp approach and lack of seriousness of their vocalist, and their overall tight sound as a group. Although their set plays a little too long, they perform a great cover of KISS’s “Love Gun” that makes it impossible for me to dislike them and they get some audience involvement from a relatively small turnout.
No Power No Crown is an interesting band. The guitarist and founder of the group is very much a Dimebag Darrell acolyte from playing technique, to the long hair and goatee, shorts and t-shirt, and even the Dean guitar. Usually I like the band’s live performances (although they tend to play a few too many covers), but tonight the guitarist confesses he is a little stoned. He is off-tempo and a bit sloppy on some solos, but the audience has a fun time anyway. And hell, if that ain’t the point of a music performance I don’t know what is.
When AntiSeen takes the stage, I’m taken aback by how good they sound. Last night they played well, but tonight they sound even more on point. Further, the sound man is an old pro and really did an amazing job on the line-check for all the instruments. The Gooch blasts out aggro, caveman beats with a one-pointed ferocious focused force, while Mad Brother Ward’s buzzsaw Tele cuts screaming highs and vicious mids akin to a machine press in its death throes. Barry Hannibal lays down the groove and adds the panache and sophistication that rounds out these otherwise minimalistic tunes. Jeff Clayton hollers and croons his hits with a sinister sneer and snarl while the audience sings along note for note. The set is a success and the band is called out for an encore of more classic destruco tunes as well as a new track off their upcoming LP ‘Obstinate.’
We load out the gear shortly after the end of the set and hit the road. Again, its a long drive home and I have work at 6 am. At some point the following morning I no longer feel tired and somehow get an extra boost of energy for the Sunday church crowd. I tell myself i’ve gone beyond tired and come out on the other side. I’ll find i’m sorely mistaken later that night.
Something about writing straight-forward narratives always tires me out. I wanted to end on a note comparing AntiSeen to other great bands. I was going to write something like ‘Jeff Clayton and AntiSeen’s approach to writing is somewhere in between the contemporary gothic of X and the fuck you, take no prisoners attitude of Fear. Somewhere between John Doe and Lee Ving.’ But I couldn’t stomach this becoming much more labyrinthine or long. So there you have it, take it or leave it. Nonetheless, I hope you enjoyed it.
(To be concluded: Here)
A little over a month ago, the legendary underground band ‘AntiSeen’ was set to play a couple weekend shows in my proximity. Not getting the chance to see them that often, I made plans to attend both shows with my friend Owen.
Now, here’s a little disclaimer: My dad has know these guys for a long time. Almost 30 years I think. I’ve been to shows from time to time throughout my life. And my dad currently plays guitar for the band. AntiSeen has always been a household name for me, quite literally. I’m biased, so be it.
Time: Friday April 7th. Place: Spartanburg, South Carolina. Ground Zero Club.
Owen and I (heretofore ‘we’) plan on heading to Charlotte right after work to pick up my dad, Mad Brother Ward, who is carpooling with us to the show from there. However, plans change. And usually they change for the worse, but this time is a different story. Jeff Clayton (vocals) and Todd Goss (merch) will be riding up separately from the rest of the band so the band van had extra room. We are invited to go along for the ride and eagerly agree.
The van is Barry Hannibal’s (bass) and is spacious enough to hold 7 comfortably with gear (and who knows how many uncomfortably!). Owen, Barry, Mad Brother, The Gooch (drums), Brandon (roadie and occasional body-guard), and I load into the van and head on toward Spartanburg.
Traffic was bad, fast food was okay, extra sleep was awesome, and roughly 3 hours later we pull up to the club and unload the gear. Ground Zero Club is a medium-sized venue somewhere between The Milestone and the now-defunct Tremont Music Hall (both legendary Charlotte venues I always intuitively use as my points of reference). Four bands are booked for tonight, but Dirtbag Love Affair had to drop the date last minute. This is unfortunate as I like the band a lot more than most local groups that try to pass themselves off as rock and roll. The guitarist has a glam-Johnny Thunders look and guitar style and the band is tight. Besides, they were booked for both tonight and tomorrow’s shows. On the bright side, this means a shorter show and an earlier eta getting home.
While waiting for the show to start, I study AntiSeen’s merch booth and eye a T-Shirt with my name on it. I ask how much one costs, and Jeff Clayton gifts me one as well as a copy of ‘Destructo Maximus’ (https://www.amazon.com/Antiseen-Destructo-Maximus/dp/0967662222), AntiSeen’s restrospective tome of articles, reviews, write-ups, photographs, and lyrics (Seriously, get yourself a copy if you haven’t already). Elated, I automatically turn to the first page and begin reading its contents until the first band soundchecks, at which point I drop it off in the van for safekeeping.
The opener is a group called The Municipators. They are, I will find, the tightest group to play either night this weekend. But I’m a little dismayed with the pop-punk they’re producing because, well, its pop punk (a horrendous genre that takes the worst of both forms and tends to infuse unhealthy doses of pub rock chanting and ‘pseudo-political bullshit’). All the same, their songs aren’t about politics and they close the set with a blistering (if not altogether note-for-note) rendition of Molly Hatchet’s “Flirtin’ with Disaster” that knocks me out of my stupor. Its a good, solid set.
The second band, The Casket Creatures, is something of a genre band as well. This time, horror punk. Horror punk is difficult to get right in the same way that most genres with hooks and choruses are, because very few people have a great pop sensibility. But where other genres may have multiple great pop songwriters, in horror punk, it seems like only The Misfits do. The Casket Creatures do not have this ability. But they have camp and a healthy following, so more power to them.
Finally, AntiSeen soundchecks and takes the stage. Some of the members of the opening bands are really into the set as evinced by some moshing and singing along. The turnout wasn’t as high as it could have been, but those that are here generally leave the bar and come watch the band play. AntiSeen is raw and aggressive, and tonight they are running on all gears. The Boys From Brutalsville encore a few songs including a new track off their upcoming LP ‘Obstinate’ and deliver the buzz-saw, desctructo goods in the way only a COS (Confederacy of Scum) band could.
Jeff Clayton makes some sales at the merch table, and Brandon and we (still following?) load out the gear. The ride back is long, but riding in the van allows me time to get some extra much-needed sleep. We ride into Charlotte, drive with Mad Brother Ward from Barry’s place to Gooch’s where we drop him off for the night. We then drive back to MBW’s apartment, get into Owen’s car and ride back into Wingate, North Carolina sometime around 2 or 3 am (Confusing right?). In three short hours, I wake up and head to work for my 8-hour shift. As I rub the sleep from my eyes and shake off my grogginess with a hot shower, I realize that we’ll be going out again tonight to see the boys play Hickory. I comprehend how drained I am and imagine how much worse I will be the following day. And I don’t mull over going, not for a second.
(To be continued: Here)