geezer cinema: wild rose (tom harper, 2018)

I am a fan of acting. Even a poor movie can feel worthwhile if there is a good performance to be seen. Oddly, though, I don't usually decide to watch a movie because one of my favorite actors is in it (and I have a lot of favorite actors, so many that it's something of a running joke at our house).

I have liked Jessie Buckley in everything I have seen her in. I thought she was a saving grace in I'm Thinking of Ending Things, a movie I didn't like. She was one of the best parts of the fine movie The Lost Daughter, and even better in the even more fine movie Women Talking. She was fun in the TV series Fargo. What I didn't know is that she is also a singer. Not a singer like, say, Gwyneth Paltrow, who is an actor with a fine voice, but a singer who first drew attention at the age of 18 when she was runner-up on a British talent show contest to see who would play Nancy in a revival of Oliver!:

I have watched the following clip on YouTube more times than I can count, and it's the reason why, although I was already a fan of Buckley, I decided to watch a movie she starred in, without knowing anything about the film:

Wild Rose tells the story of a young singer from Glasgow with a love of country music. She's got problems ... two kids before she was 18, a year in jail for a heroin-related crime. Her dream is to go to Nashville to hit it big. The film is a bit of an oddity ... the home life plays like kitchen sink realism at times, but the story is fairly generic. As with most such movies, it rises and falls on the performance of the lead, and Buckley is more than up to it. It's the kind of role that people call star-making, and certainly she's been busy in the subsequent five years, including winning a Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Musical last year for her work as Sally Bowles in a West End revival of Cabaret. I wouldn't say she's a household name, yet, but hey, she's only 33. Meanwhile, kudos to director Tom Harper, writer Nicole Taylor, and the legendary Julie Walters, among others.

music friday: harry belafonte

I'm like a lot of people ... I toss around the word "legend" too often. But Harry Belafonte was a legend.

When I was growing up, I assumed certain things were specific to our family. So I thought the fact that we owned Harry Belafonte's album Calypso was unique. Well, it wasn't. As with so many things, what I saw as unique was just being a typical middle-class suburban family in the 1950s. Calypso was the first LP to sell more than one million copies. It was ubiquitous, even if I didn't realize it at the time. Here are a few of the "lesser-known" songs from that album:

A few years later, his Belafonte at Carnegie Hall was another monster hit:

A few years later, "Matilda" inspired Allan Sherman to record his version for his first album, which was also a monster success:

geezer cinema: personality crisis: one night only (martin scorsese and david tedeschi, 2022)

My wife and I have a bit of history with David Johansen, having seen him a few times during the late-70s/early-80s, when he was fronting his first band as a solo artist. We were fans, and one enjoyable aspect of Personality Crisis is remembering those years and how much he meant to us then. It was like visiting an old friend to see him here, when we all have grown old (at least, older). The film reminds us that it's good to still be around ... Johansen is the only New York Doll who is still with us.

"Personality Crisis" is the perfect title for the movie. Johansen was a New York Doll, then he was a solo artist under his own name, then he was Buster Poindexter, then he headed a band named after the legendary Harry Smith, and then he rejoined the Dolls who were still around (remarkably, it was a successful reunion ... they cut three albums together under the Dolls' name). As Johansen says during one interview, he was a one-hit wonder twice (under two names, of course). One Night Only is a concert film with interviews, the concert being in a small New York cabaret on the occasion of Johansen's 70th birthday (COVID was about to rear its ugly head, unbeknownst to us). The concert has a theme, beyond the star's birthday ... he notes, it's Buster Poindexter (who is him) singing the songs of David Johansen (who is him). As I say, "Personality Crisis" is a fine title.

Of course, that title first appeared as the opening track of the first New York Dolls album, and thus was our introduction to that great band, and by extension, to Johansen.

It was the first of many great opening album tracks/statements from seminal New York bands (think "Blitzkrieg Bop" by Ramones, and Patti Smith's "Gloria" ... Jesus died for somebody' sins, but not hers). The Dolls were compared at times to the Rolling Stones, with Johansen the obvious Mick Jagger guy and Johnny Thunders as Keith Richards, if Keef had died of drugs instead of defying the odds. Thunders was a fascinating guitar playing presence ... he always sounded like he was one step away from spinning off into the gutter with his guitar wailing loudly. Johansen's later bands would feature more traditional guitarists playing cleaner solos, but he was never able to match the sound he got playing with Thunders.

Anyway, I'm not talking much about the movie, which is a bit unfair. Martin Scorsese and David Tedeschi and a lot of great assistants (not the least being Johansen's wife Mara Hennessey) do a good job of integrating interviews and archival footage into the film, while still allowing Johansen to perform his songs complete during the concert itself (thank goodness). Something of a character study emerges, but for all his chameleon performances, Johansen is ultimately a bit too private for Scorsese and company to really get inside the artist. And their love of his work teeters too closely to hagiography. But it's a loving portrait of a man who is perhaps less known today than he deserves.

music thursday

A special day-early version of Music Friday. J.B. Lenoir recorded this in the 50s ... he died at 38, apparently from injuries suffered in a car crash.

Like "Taxman", "Sunny Afternoon" was a well-to-do rock star whining about paying his taxes. Ray Davies was a better songwriter than George, though.

Pentangle was something of an early supergroup of British folk. Bert Jansch and John Renbourn were well-established, and everyone brought diverse musical tastes to create an unusual blend. That's Jacqui McShee on vocals.

Jesse Fuller was a one-man band, born in the 19th century, who influenced the early Bob Dylan.

"River Deep, Mountain High" is one of the fundamental tracks of soul. Tina Turner's performance is the greatest of her career ... hell, it's the greatest of anyone's career. Knowing that Phil Spector basically abused her into that performance matters, but when you listen, and you hear Tina hit that screeching high note near the end, it's hard to get too pissed at Spector.