"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.

Monday, December 20, 2004

I don't want to/can't go into details, but there have been some interesting developments with ICFM and potential finance. It better happen fast, really, if we want to (as planned) shoot the Barbican concerts for release as a live concert film, alongside the original ICFM documentary. It's an idea that seems to get people very excited, for good reason - these are going to be very memorable evenings, if half of what's planned comes off!
Been meaning to post this link for ages, and seeing 'Canton' again last week reminded me to do it - one of my favourite scenes in the movie has Jim Dickinson singing 'Wild Bill Jones', a fine, dark outlaw song that sounds as if it could have been written at any time in the last five hundred years. Jim's accompanied by Jerry McGill, armed robber and raconteur, on the song. It's a spine-tingling moment, especially at the end when McGill says "That's a beautiful song..." - he flashes a dark look into the camera - "...and true, too." And he would know because he is the living image of the nameless narrator of the song, who kills Wild Bill Jones in cold blood, after Bill, who's been "passing the time" with one of the narrator's women, tells him "You know my age - it's twenty-one, that's too old to be controlled." The narrator says, almost sadly, but with a sense that this is the rightful order of things, "I pulled the trigger on my gun and I released Wild Bill's soul."

The song was written, sometime in the sixties, by an obscure Southern singer/songwriter called Bob Frank. To quote from his homepage, "Bob's dad always told him, "Whatever you do, son, do it better than anybody else." So when Bob decided to do obscurity, he didn't fool around. He became so obscure, he couldn't find his own shoes. That's why the only pictures you ever see of him, he's always barefoot. "

I found the website a couple of years back and emailed Bob to ask about buying his at that time most recent CD, 'Keep On Burning', which was produced by Jim and features many luminaries of the Memphis scene, as well as Bob's own version of a song Jim had tried and failed to release in a version by the above-mentioned outlaw Jerry McGill, a song about the Civil War called 'With Sabres In Our Hands'. Within a few days, and without any money changing hands, Bob had sent me the CD, trusting me to send him the cash by return. I hope he doesn't do that all the time, it might just partly explain his unjustified and wholly undeserved lack of recognition. It's a great CD, in any case, so if you find your way to his site via this blog, listen to some of the great free audio samples on there and then buy the damn thing, buy everything he's got to sell. He's another sort of outlaw, but thankfully one who's less likely than Jerry McGill to let off gunfire in studio or threaten to pistol-whip you.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

The Barbican's page detailing the story so far with the ICFM concerts is up! So far, just Muscle Shoals, Hi and Stax confirmed, and sadly Isaac Hayes won't be taking part in the latter - but there are some very exciting people definitely down to play, including Tony Joe White and Spooner Oldham (Dan Penn isn't 100% definite but fingers crossed), Ann Peebles and Booker T and the MGs. Still awaiting confirmation on Al Green, but the really great news is that barring unforeseen events, Jim Dickinson will be coming over to play his first ever London dates. The details are sketchy as yet but I'm hugely relieved and very bloody excited.... I wonder whether the mooted show with Jim and the Primals will happen. Bobby Gillespie certainly seemed to be into it last time I saw him, but you know what rock'n'roll types are like. Whatever happens, getting to see Jim play on a London stage will be the thrill of a lifetime for me, and all the more because I've played a small part in making it happen. Watch this space, as they used to always say for some unknown reason.

Monday, December 13, 2004

So, tonight I went along to see Stranded in Canton a second time. I really didn't expect to find a throng of people fighting to get in, again, but despite the cold, there they were, lined up to see a non-narrative, shot on home video documentary from thirty years ago. In fact it was worse than the last time as we had to fight to get two seats together - what gives people the right to say "These seats are kept for our friends" anyway? As my viewing companion Catherine said, 'Let them talk to my granny.'
The film now has crucial elements of voiceover at certain points, introducing people like Vernon. Randall Lyon and Marcia Hare, and most importantly Jerry McGill and Campbell Kensinger. Knowing the violent lives and desperate ends of these two makes their contribution to the film more understandable, particularly in the scene that introduces McGill, playing along with Jim Dickinson on that darkest of outlaw ballads, Wild Bill Jones. Now, the audience knows that he's a bank robber, so his look to camera at the end, as he acknowledges the truth of the song, and also acknowledges that he knows he looks cooler than fuck singing it, has new meaning.
I laughed a lot this time around too. It's a funny, funny film, and the more you know the characters, the funnier it gets. It will have a long life on DVD or whatever format, as people endlessly watch and re-watch it, learning lines of dialogue and getting just as high as those doomed translucent people on the screen.
As we left, Catherine said it was just like the old days in Dublin. I know exactly what she means. In fact, that's what dragged me into all this in the first place, the feeling that Memphis and Dublin have twin energies. I couldn't have interposed myself there, started trying to make this film, if I hadn't felt that from the beginning. Small places full of large personalities, all the time convinced they're at the centre of the world while the actual fabric of the place they live in is being taken away from them and sold for scrap. But always, under it all, there's something there that keeps on pulsing out that energy, and keeps these cities from being just land and concrete and roadworks. That's the real subject of It Came From Memphis, and it doesn't just concern Memphis. It concerns everywhere that has ever had some special sense of itself. Cities on fire with rock'n'roll.
Nice piece about JMM shooting a Hives video in Memphis, I hope they are paying him plenty. He's the only independent filmmaker I know who supports himself and his family by working as a tour guide - of course, not just any tour, he does the Sun Studio tour, but we're talking about a writer/director of real talent here, far better than many who get taken up by the whole Sundance thing. There's also a mention of the video he's done for Jim Dickinson - now that's something I am looking forward to!

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Again, apologies for the long hiatus between entries. It has been a while since there has been anything positive to blog about, and the negatives haven’t even been negative enough to be interesting – just delays of various sorts, unreturned calls from broadcasters who should know better, that sort of thing.

There seems to be a turnaround on the way, though. This week saw two very positive meetings which may well make all the difference. One was with a potential investor who has been a fan of the music for many years, having seen the Incomparible Panther Burns back in 1979 when Alex Chilton was still having to teach the drummer how to play, often right in the middle of the show. One of our problems all along has been that we have no development budget, meaning that if, for instance, it became necessary to fly to NY to have a meeting with a record company, we would be in trouble (and inevitably in debt). This looks like it may now be less of a problem. Our potential investor caught the screening of our ICFM pilot that I hosted back in, Christ, it must have been a year ago maybe... and liked it enough to contact me through this blog, to offer some financial support. But as I had never gotten into the habit of checking this email address, I never got his kind offer. That was remedied when I bumped into him again at the Eggleston opening a few weeks back, and all going well, we will be able to make it official in the New Year.

You never know when the right connection can come along. On Friday, I went along, hoping for the best but expecting the worst, to meet a financier about whom I knew nothing except that he’d been shown one of my short films and was apparently enthusiastic about it. I didn’t have a clue what he looked like, but managed to find him in the throng of suits filling the Circle Bar in Soho House. He turned out to be very urbane, charming and did in fact seem to be every bit as excited about my work as I’d been told he was. We talked a little about a potential feature, based on the short – “It’d be a Spinal Tap for the 21st Century,” he said. Hmm. We’ll see... – and then I told him about ICFM. Of course, it turns out this guy worked in the music business as a performer for twenty years, and the lineup of names that I reel off makes him get very excited indeed. This is what makes it worthwhile, really. When you tell someone what you’re trying to do, and they get it, and want to help. And this guy really did seem to get it, particularly when I told him about the kind of performers that are planned for the Barbican gigs in April.

Watch this space, we should be meeting to discuss it in more depth late next week. Could ICFM be about to reach critical mass? Or is it another false dawn? Fuck, I don’t know. For the time being, I am once again cautiously optimistic about shooting in the Spring.

A slightly re-edited version of Canton screens tomorrow evening in the Prince Charles. I’m looking forward to seeing it again, hoping that some additional voice-over from Bill will make the whole thing more audience-friendly.

Oh yeah – I saw the proposed tracklist for the Barbican’s ICFM CD a few days back, and it’s going to be a stormer, with Carla Thomas and Isaac Hayes and the Reverend Al rubbing shoulders with Mud Boy and the Neutrons, Tav Falco and the Memphis Jug Band. With luck, one of my favourite great lost cover versions, Donnie Fritts singing his own ‘Breakfast in Bed’, Dusty’s version of which became a sort of anthem for the lesbian nation I believe, accompanied by the great, dark and sexy growl of Lucinda Williams. I last heard that, driving with Robert Gordon to get Mexican food – the best in Memphis, I was told – from some anonymous stripmall in the ‘burbs. I was a little bit dubious, but he was right – it was the best huevos rancheros I’ve ever eaten.
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