"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.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Donnie Fritts. I know very little about this individual. He’s in two of my favourite films, both of which feature lead performances by one of the oddest-looking leading men to survive Hollywood, the crumpled and toothy Warren Oates. One is Monte Hellman’s highly individualistic ‘Cockfighter’; the other, Sam Peckinpah’s ‘Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia’, which I saw tonight at the NFT, in a badly damaged print, scratched and full of jumps, but still powerful enough that my friend Steve – who’s new to the film – could say as we left, “One of the best films ever made.” And there’s Donnie Fritts as a second banana to Kris Kristofferson’s Hell’s Angel – he turns up, gurns a bit, plays a (terrible) blues, apparently written by Peckinpah, ‘Bad Blood Baby’, gets hit in the head with a frying pan by Oates, then shot to death. I’d pretty much forgotten he was even in the film – that particular scene, one of Peckinpah’s trademark “Watch this woman collude in her own rape” type of things, is disturbingly beautiful, an eerily unfinished, semi-improvised bit of nightmare straight from the director’s own macho-infested psyche, and Fritts would probably admit that his own part in it isn’t exactly memorable, or even impressive. If you didn’t know that he was the guy who wrote ‘Breakfast in Bed’ – one of the downright dirtiest-without-being-in-any-obvious-way-vulgar songs you’re ever likely to hear, a lesbian anthem in its incarnation on ‘Dusty in Memphis’, and a special favourite of mine – you’d most likely not notice him at all. I was in Robert Gordon’s car, driving along some godforsaken motorway, when I heard Fritts’ own version of this – a duet with Lucinda Williams – and I’ve been wanting a copy for myself ever since. It’s on the ICFM compilation, and you’ll have no excuse for not knowing it in a month or so when that gets released. It’s not anything like as good as Dusty’s version, but what is?

I remember, there was a point to all this... oh yeah. Donnie Fritts plays London on Wednesday, the same night as the big launch party for the Barbican’s ICFM festival. Guess who’s going to be in Dublin that day? Yeah – me. It's what they call Sod's Law. So if you're reading this and you're in London, go and see Mr Fritts on my behalf. If not, just go to the shop and buy a copy of ‘Dusty in Memphis’ and treat yourself to something beautiful. There’s never going to be a second chance to hear it the first time so make sure you do it properly...maybe with someone you like a lot.
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