"It's easier to bone the President's wife than to get a movie made." Ray Charles.

How a cult music book became a cult music documentary, and it only took ten years.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Things have been a bit hairy for the past few days, and there has been a very real concern that we may not manage to shoot in April, and it's only been through massive self-control that I've managed to avoid venting about it here (I felt it would be rather unfair to my co-conspirators to do so) but tonight things seem - completely out of the blue - to be back on track. Right now I will say nothing more.
But checking my email I find notice of a gig coming up at the Legendary Dirty Water Club by the Scientists, a great old Aussie band from the same time period that gave us not only the Birthday Party, but also the Moodists, the Triffids and the Go-Betweens.
Which reminded me that somewhere I have an amazing track by ex-Scientist Kim Salmon and his band, the Surrealists, on a free CD from Bucketfull of Brains, and (you knew there was a Memphis link, di'n'tcha?) produced by James Luther Dickinson.
I sought it out, stuck it on and was moved by the spirit of rock and roll to Google it, which is how I found the following quotes from Mr Salmon.

"I sort of paid a studio engineer some money and said, 'put away your ego'. Tell us how to record and then leave us alone. So he came along and basically set it all up. He told us what to hire and set it up like a studio. Because our idea was just to get an ADAT and some mics, beyond that we didn't really know what to do."
But why the kitchen, surely there's more comfortable rooms to spend a week in?
"Well, it's where some of the songs originated, but really that's the room that had the best acoustics. There's a lot of reflections in there. It has a stone fireplace, lino on the floor. All the pots and pans laying around, and there's a bathroom out the back, so my amp was put out facing that."
Put to tape over the space of a week in Kim's Melbourne kitchen, then flown over for a two day mix-down in Memphis by local living legend and rock extremist Jim Dickinson (Alex Chilton, Rolling Stones, The Cramps, Aretha Franklin, need I go on?)
Working indiscriminately with both rock royalty and local reprobates, Jim Dickinson is an enigma.
"Yeah, the record that he produced for Alex Chilton, Like Flies On Sherbet, really informed my musical direction for a good decade. He was very wise, sage-like you could say. Full of sayings that were almost like cliches, that kind of catalogue his vast wealth of experience. He's a bit of an anarchist, as well as a............well he's also a traditionalist. He's kind of a lot of contradictions like that. And it's those contradictions that are intrinsic to rock'n'roll."
Another thing that's intrinsic to Rock'n'roll is Memphis - its birthplace and Jim's hometown.
"Memphis was an intriguing place. Far smaller than I thought with a bloody great pyramid about the size of Cheops in the middle of it that people don't seem to know about. Somebody actually pointed out to me that Memphis is an Egyptian word. But apart from that, there's not a lot going on in it. But if there was, it would be far more dangerous than it already is. It's a bit, you know, black culture/white trash. There's the poor blacks and the very wealthy whites. Looking around, you can sort of see where rock'n'roll came from, there's this clash of cultures where nothing quite fits together, but they do. And that's rock'n'roll. It's not one of the most pleasant places, but it's certainly one of the more inspiring."

Apart from the above - possibly the best description of the downright weirdness of Memphis that I've come across - Mr Salmon also gave me my total favourite Dickinson quote of all time. He said that Jim told him that "misery sticks to the tape."
As a motto, that is good enough for me to live by.

Monday, February 09, 2004

Well the Grammys have recognised Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash and Warren Zevon (as a folk artist - hunh?!?) but of course they are all just that little bit too dead to notice or care. Just as well really, none of the above-named are Grammy-type people. My co-director/co-producer/co-conspirator Robert Gordon had a nomination for his documentary on Muddy Waters, but given that everybody in the world is a bit blues-weary right now, it's no real surprise that the prize went to a film about the great Sam Cooke instead.
In ICFM world things are slightly less than great. Nothing in this business happens fast, but if we are indeed to shoot in April, we are going to need to kick serious ass. Or whatever.
Saw Gus van Sant's Elephant yesterday, and it has William Eggleston influences hanging out of it. It also uses stylistic devices pioneered by the great TV director Alan Clarke. It doesn't really add much of anything, except a pretty cast. Still a cut above the usual high school nonsense though.

Sunday, February 01, 2004

It would be useful, now - a year after the event - to have my emails to refer to. Robert Gordon and I must have exchanged about two hundred of them, in which we would have discussed everything from Charlie Feathers to barbequed chicken wings. They got deleted when I tried to transfer them over to my new Powerbook - I won't go into the gory and rather dull details.
The principal topic,in any case, was why the hell some crazy Irish guy wanted to come to Memphis to film his book. I still don't have any totally convincing and sane reason to give for that. I have kinda/sorta reasons, e.g. 'because Memphis, in the book at least, reminded me a lot of Dublin - two backwater cities with nothing much going for them, but they both have the strongest imaginable sense of being at the centre of world-changing events,' is how one of them goes.
But really, I just loved the book and loved the music made by the people in the book, and wanted to insert myself into that world if at all possible, to go into it and live there and be part of these events.
There's also the fact that, in a sense, the whole thing was sort of an accident. I shot my mouth off to JMM, he took me at my word and the next thing you know people believe that I am actually capable of doing this thing. So when that happens, all you can do is go with it.
I spent a lot of time working on putting the book's essential strengths into a short treatment. Tomorrow, maybe, I'll dig it out and put it on the site somewhere. It was hard work, as there seemed to be no overall narrative thrust to the story - its charm is based on the characters and the sense of place that Robert creates, and the essential power of being part of this band of outsiders.
So I used Jim Dickinson as our main man, put him at the centre of it all, and depended on his persona as the legendary backwoodsman of Memphis music, the keeper of the flame of rock'n'roll, to drive our story on.
The next problem was - how the f*%k were we going to get this financed?!?
My life has been rated:
Click to find out your rating!
See what your rating is!

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?