Monday, May 29, 2017
WASTE YOUR LIFE ON NETFLIX: IT'S MUSIC DOCO TIME PT. 1
You are likely aware of the waste of time and money known as Netflix. I subscribe to it, too. Not so much for my own enjoyment, but for the sake of The Children (i.e. my girls watch a lot of tween twaddle on it). But since it's costing me $10 a month or whatever the figure may be, I am in the habit of scanning it semi-regularly to see if there's actually anything a sane person would want to watch in its crumby library of alleged entertainment. Given the fact that most of the films it presents are either Z-grade straight-to-streaming shockers and one-star delights, or five-star classics we've all seen a thousand times over (I'm looking at you, Taxi Driver, The Godfather, etc.), I've taken to watching music documentaries of bands I either openly loathe or have at least derided in years past without really being fully aware of what it is they do/did.
In the former basket lies The Eagles' documentary, one I greatly enjoyed in a schadenfreude frame of mind (watching such arseholes all hate each other is a beautiful thing), but one which also didn't change my mind that the band were one of the worst things to happen to anyone ever. And in the latter category lies the documentaries on Canadian sci-fi prog-metallers, Rush, and LA jazz-rock-turned-soft-rock platinum-sellers, Chicago. Y' see, as I have discussed with some friends just recently, I usually find it much more interesting watching a documentary on a musician or band whom I don't know a whole lot about but have a curiosity regarding their place in the whole musical pantheon than I do on an artist I happen to really like. The latter often only results in disappointment. Cases in point: the documentary features made on American Hardcore, Minutemen, Boston Hardcore, Bad Brains, DC Hardcore et al. All of these, while functional and by no means bad, left me frustrated and wanting more, feeling that crucial information was left out or the makers got the narrative wrong or, perhaps worst of all, the films themselves presented me with no new information I didn't already know. And this must be said: just because you might think a band or artist is terrible, it doesn't mean their story isn't interesting.
This is but one reason why I have put off watching the latest Stooges documentary (another reason being I'm really not a fan of Jimmy Jarmusch or his films). Still, the Ramones and MC5 features from the past decade or so were excellent, so there are always exceptions to the rule. But the great aspects about these two documentaries are that, firstly, I think both were excellently made and gave a real insight into both bands, and secondly - gulp - I must admit that both have converted me into a FAN of said outfits. Firstly, Chicago...
I used to work with one of this land's biggest Chicago fans. His name is Ash and he played bass in the '70s Australian light-funk/smooth-AOR outfit known as Stylus. They remain the only Australian outfit ever signed to Motown. We both used to work in the same store for a certain chain outfit many moons ago and quickly became friends. He saw me as a bit of a boffin, and immediately asked me about my favourite music; his were The Beatles and Chicago. His obsession with Chicago ran deep. He was smart enough to see that my general taste in music was a bit edgier than his, but had the smarts to say that I should at least give the first few Chicago LPs a listen, when they were a pioneering jazz-rock outfit with psychedelic and soul flourishes. I didn't. Another friend of mine (my, so many friends) whom I played in a band with in the late '90s was also a big fan of the earlier Chicago recordings and encouraged me countless times to investigate their wares. Well, OK, I JUST HAVE - and yes, the first three LPs, all doubles and named thusly: Chicago Transit Authority, II and III (their LPs were assigned numbers thereafter, as I'm sure you know) are pretty damn good. I mean, I'm not saying you should trade in your Stooges and Amon Duul records and hail them as the new musical gods of the 20th century - because they will never be that - but the pop/rock spectrum of sound, the good stuff, comes in many shapes and sizes, and I can vouch for the first three Chicago albums as being 'good' and then some.
Of course, one could argue that there are better things to do with one's life than listen to 'good' music, but those Chicago platters are an eclectic brew, as you may be able to tell by listening to the tracks I've posted, and prior to turning to AOR mush by approx. 1973, their mixture of jazz-rock, psych and blue-eyed soul was not something to sneeze at. In fact, had they called it quits after those three albums, instead of torturing everyone with the big puddle of piss they became - especially after 'secret weapon' guitarist Terry Kath died in the late '70s (classic rock and roll lunkhead death: he accidentally shot himself whilst playing around with a gun) - the band known as Chicago would not be the complete embarrassment many people might figure them to be.
Even if you aren't converted, the documentary itself - Now More Than Ever: The History Of Chicago - is well worth watching if you happen to possess an interest in pop/rock and its cultural to's and fro's over the past 50 years. The band was (and is - yes, they're still fucking going in some sort of manner, I believe) admirably very much into the idea of 'the band' - a unit with no leaders - and the tensions which unfolded after prettyboy Ken doll cheesedick Peter Cetera took the reins of the band in the late '70s and made them a schlocky power-ballad hit-making powerhouse is something to behold. The rest of the band clearly hate him to this day, and Cetera refused to participate in the doco. Consider this: Chicago's last great album, so far as I can tell, was released around the same time as the Rolling Stones' last great album. Sometimes good bands simply go bad and stick around for an eternity.