Sunday, August 27, 2006


When this flicker was finally released a few years back after being held up for who knows what reason I'm sure SOMEBODY stood up and took notice. Maybe one of those New York elitist (as opposed to Mencken-elitist I guess) VILLAGE VOICE types who claim an ever-vigilant all-enveloping relationship with the prole unless he's a Queens Archie Bunker hardhat or somethin' rushed to the nearest arthouse to get an eyefull, but frankly I gotta admit that despte NOT being a beret-wearing art-snob from the chic enclosures of En Why See my own attention regarding this film was a little bit piqued. Now, I can't say that I care very much about the artwork and career of Jean-Michel Basquiat who stars as himself in this lower Manhattan romp filmed during the final days of the New York Scene in full bloom, but the setting (like I said, lower Manhattan), the time (1981) and the smattering of stars and cameos in this moom had me more interested in seeing this under-the-counterculture film than I am eyeballing a whole barrel of Fatty and Baldy-approved wares out there, and given the star-studded rockist intent of the thing yeah, I could say that DOWNTOWN '81 is perhaps one of the last great rock & roll flicks to have graced my laser launching pad. But I won't.

Actually it's halfway-there decent and watchable, and 75% enjoyable at that. Rising artworld star Basquiat plays himself, a down-and-out local artist/new wave musician (leader of the band Gray, whose only recorded output can be heard on the soundtrack though I don't know exactly where) who, after getting released from the hospital is locked out of his apartment by landlord Giorgio Gromelsky (best known to you as the one-time Yardbirds manager) until he can come up with the four-hundredsome bucks to pay his back rent. Attempting to sell a painting in order to raise the cash, we see Basquiat travel the hip confines of Manhattan meeting up with everyone from old school rappers to fellow new (transmuting into "gnu"...this was the transitional early-eighties y'know) wave musicians, seeing his band's equipment get ripped off in the process and running into a whole slew of women who I guess are supposed to be "good looking" but even at that time I missed the stark femininity I grew up with so they don't seem that hot to me to begin with!

Yeah, DOWNTOWN '81 has a lotta that self-consciousness to it that was probably copped from European art films and PBS documentaries, but its still worth an eyeballing (and perhaps owning) at least for the variety of guest stars who pop into the mix when you least expect it. INTERVIEW/cable TV host Glenn O'Brien (who was one of my fave contributors to the old SPIN back in the mid-eighties!) plays the rock critic for THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR interviewing Japanese quick-flashes the Plastics, while no wave violinist (and bandleader of the GLENN O'BRIEN'S HOUSE PARTY group---see how it all ties in expecially considering how O'Brien wrote this thing!) Walter Steding has a long scene explaining the problems that even successful underground stars had in En Why See at the time! (Lance Loud pal Christian Hoffman and Cameo-Parkway/Red Star label bigwig Marty Thau appear in this scene as industry wonks!) Also getting ample screen time are DNA (well into their downtown noise thing having long forsaken a steady rock beat that got my undies in an uproar way back when) with a strange interlude consisting of bassist Tim Wright talking to drummer Ikue Mori in English and Spanish with Mori responding in the only English she knew at the time..."shut up!" (Which might figure since I was told the two married if only to keep Mori from being deported!) And while we're at it, the big "rock star" getting mobbed while going out to see Kid Creole and the Coconuts (how early-eighties NEW YORK ROCKER can you get?) is none other'n Elliot Murphy wearing his famous shag coat, and guess who that tough lug playing the doorman at the Peppermint Lounge preventing Basquiat from sneaking in to see the Contortions (the Joseph Bowie/Bern Nix version!) is? That's right, none other'n John Morton of Electric Eels/Ex-Blank-X fame WITHOUT his hair bleached blond! Believe-you-me, DOWNTOWN '81 has more of those hipster guest stars sneaking in and out of the mix (and while we're at it, Bradley Field, Mahogany Brain's Patrick Geoffris, and Tish & Snooky also show up as do O'Brien's patrons Chris Stein and Debbie Harry as well---what'd'ja expect anyway???) which kinda makes it come off like a low-budget IT'S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD and funnier to boot! True there's no Lou Rone, Miriam Linna or Robert Quine here, but ya can't have EVERYTHING!!!!

Thee Midniters-IN THEE MIDNIGHT HOUR CD (Norton)

Tried downloading a cover snap to grace this particular post but the sneaky spuds at Norton put up some weird protective barrier between me and the pic in question (probably because the cover artwork is so holy that it should only be viewed under the strict and safe confines of their site). Oh well, I guess if you wanna see it bad enough you can always go there to check out the typically tasteful Norton cover art, and while you're there why dontcha pic up a copy or ten of IN THEE MIDNIGHT HOUR in order to pad up your collection against the rising tide of blanditude which can be found therein. I guess the "thee" in "Thee Midniters"'ll tip you off to the fact that this here's a Mexican-Amerigan buncha musicians who used to play a fine blare of powerful dance-rock at least until the self-consciousness of El Chicano swept over the scene, and if you like that mid-sixties dunce-thrash that seemed to spring from the corpse of Ritchie Valens you'll certainly want to go for this breed of wild frat chicanery straight from the streets of East El Lay back during the days when the Mexican influence in local rock & roll was very hard to deny (not that you'd want to!). Personal faves include the strange soul twist on "Gloria" (complete with expertly mimicked Van Morrison lyrics), a perfectly '64-punk drone-riff take on the old "I Found a Peanut" song my sister used to bug me with whilst I was a tyke, and the infamous "Down Whittier Blvd." done with local dee-jay Godfrey, who later took Kim Fowley's "The Trip" and made it into a classic PEBBLES VOL. 3 staple!

Norton also sent me some udder wares including the latest single in their Rolling Stones covers series (complete with impeccable London ripoff sleeve and labels as per usual) featuring a King Kahn/Flakes double-header, but since my old turntable remains unrepaired and my luck in finding a new one remains dizz-mal I'll have to put that one (along with my entire vinola collection) on ice as they say. However, I do plan on getting a system into my abode by the time the NEXT Norton Rolling Stones tribute single wings my way, which should be a doozy considering it's a duo between none other than Jay Hinman and Dave Lang schmoozing it up on the famed contract-breaking legend "Cocksucker Blues"! I'd make a pun about the dynamic duo going to the "head" of the class with this one but that's too corny to ever see print, er, pixel!


Aha! Finally was able to download a Cee-Dee cover snap even if it does look like lang! Gee, I seem to remember a band also called Vietnam from the early-eighties, a self-proclaimed "no wave" group from Georgia back when that state was popping out zome of the least-Southern-sounding rock you could imagine! Anyway, when I saw that a band called Vietnam was playing at the CBGB Lounge a few months back I figured it couldn't be the same batch, but considering that the first Vietnam weren't exactly breaking office box records its not like the second ones weren't swiping their names on purpose...after all, look at how many groups there were with the names the Coachmen (at least five by my count), the Sonics (four), L-7 (three) and Destroy All Monster (two), and you know that none of 'em were exactly hitting the top of the pop charts at any given time so why should I bust the chops of these new Vietnam guys especially when they seemed like a pretty good act to begin with!

Anyway, like those Vietnam guys these guys are also from the South (Texas transplanted to En Why See) and are a duo as well, but that's where the similarities end. And although I gotta clobber them for evoking (albeit second-hand) the memory of Erma Bombeck (beyond-the-pale cutesy-drivel columnist and heroine of all myopic teachers and perennial Home Ec Club gals during my high school years) with the title of this thing I gotta congratulate Vietnam for evoking some of the better moments of sixties rockhood (electric Dylan, Velvets and blues-saturated Stones) w/o coming off as total eggheads. True, this one's eventually gonna get buried in the collection next to all those other quick-flash fixes and the vocals do tend to borrow too heavily from the alternative "My head's too heavy from last night's orgy and daddy's gonna cut off my trust fund" blooze, but these two (with the right percussive backing in the sparse Maureen Tucker vein) surprisingly do safisfy on this half-hour trek. Vietnam will probably fizzle out just like 99.999...% of their local brethren, but at least they put out this halfway-decent and listenable disque that doesn't borrow too much from the font of moderne-day alternative beyond-cliches.

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