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CINEMA: Kenn Kweder Superstar

June 17th, 2016

Kweder Movie Poster

 

mecroppedsharp_1BY JONATHAN VALANIA For the past four decades, Kenn Kweder has been rocking a mic 4.5 nights a week at pretty much any place in the 215 that would have him: rock clubs, coffee shops, neighborhood taprooms, frat parties, block parties, house parties, garden parties, birthday parties, pretty much any place that people party. He carries a business card that says: KENN KWEDER, ROCK STAR. He’s only half kidding. He never became the internationally famous rock star he was gunning to be for a time, back when he was known as The Kamikaze Kid Of Philly Rock. But along the way he’s become something better, something more helpful: a one-man-band of joy. A troubadour for the drinking class, the man who holds the keys to the cages, the man who can, almost without fail, set the working man free for a few Bud-drenched hours of bliss on a Saturday night. All of which is etched in bittersweet relief into the soul of a wonderful new documentary called Adventures Of A Secret Kidd: The Mass Hallucination Of Kenn Kweder. As the film makes clear, being a local rock star is not for pussies, especially in the third and fourth decade of service. Regrets? He has a few. But Kweder’s a lifer. Wherever beer and distilled spirits are sold, he will be there. Wherever high-fiving white boys are getting their first drunk on, he will be there. Wherever the sad and the tired and the broken and the lonely are gathering under a neon beer light for a smoke and a joke and a leg of hope, and maybe even a key-bump of coke, he will be there. In a world of hate and fear and death and dying he comes singing songs of love. That makes him a hero in my book. Long may he rock.

(Adventures Of A Secret Kidd: The Mass Hallucination Of Kenn Kweder screens Saturday at the Southside Film Festival in Bethlehem.)

PHAWKER: So I watched the movie and I thought it was great, man. You should be proud and the filmmakers should be proud.

KENN KWEDER: Yeah, these young kids, man, I met them when they were in their early 20’s. It was almost coincidence that I happened to be playing on Temple’s IMG_4017campus. There were students filming there, I was just doing my solo, acoustic thing. The one kid, John Hutlemyer, his father was a fan of mine throughout the years from way back, so he kind of knew who I was. I stumbled into him at the Draught Horse Bar on Temple’s campus and he liked what he saw so we stayed in touch. He would do little tiny film projects to get credit at Temple and I was the subject of a couple of those. After a couple of years of that, he just said, “Would you be interested in me doing a large-scale thing?” I said, “Yeah, go for it. Why not?” The only thing I said was, “Let the movie come to you. I’m not really going to have any say in the narrative. It should come from an objective point of view, from someone way chronologically out of my decades. It was kind of cool and he did his homework. These kids, man, they had to film me late some nights and then go to work the next day.

PHAWKER: How long have they been working on the documentary?

KENN KWEDER: Let’s see. It’s been over five years, when they were still students. They graduated in 2011. There was a discussion about it in 2012. Somewhere in the middle, I can’t say for sure. It’s at least three years in terms of making the large film, which you just saw Adventures Of A Secret Kid, so it’s been a long thing. Not every single day because they have their own lives, but they stayed committed to it.

PHAWKER: Just to be clear – it’s John Hutlemyer, Rob Nicolaides – those are the two guys who made the film, correct?

KENN KWEDER: Yeah, they are the two cats who did it.

PHAWKER: So let’s just jump into it then. A couple of things before we go through your back story – Kenn with two N’s. Tell me about that.

KENN KWEDER: Well I went to Temple and I was watching all these other people play guitar. Somebody that I met there was doing things with their name – adding N’s and T’s, stuff like that. I put an extra N with Ken because I wanted it to stick out like that. That was a long time ago, I just thought it would add a little bit more of a dimension to my name. My real name is Kenneth, just like any other Ken.

PHAWKER: Gotcha. So I love that early footage of you in Rittenhouse Square in the early ’70s when you had that crazy perm and sideburn thing going. Did you have naturally curly hair when you were younger or were you perming back then?

KENN KWEDER: I used to tease it. This friend of mine, his mother teased it for me one time so I learned how to tease it. I wanted to look pretty outrageous so that it would stick out so I had the teased hair and the beard. But the teased hair, I did it on and off during the early years. Definitely relates to my fascination with Bob Dylan too.

PHAWKER: So you grew up in Southwest Philly, your mother was sort of an aspiring actress/performer that never really got to follow through with it and your father was a scrap metal yard owner?

KENN KWEDER: Yeah, my mother was a housewife who was into signing all the time. Before she got married, she was into the show biz stuff and then she got married and the rest is history with the kids. My dad had his own business. He was a hard-working guy.

PHAWKER: What did your dad do?

KENN KWEDER: Well, now we would call it recycling but back then it was scrap metal. There’s a real science to that shit, I worked there briefly. There’s a real science to knowing which metals are worth a lot and which aren’t. He was real good at that.

PHAWKER: Did you guys have a big scrap yard out back of your house or was that separate from your house?

KENN KWEDER: No, down in South Philly, there was this enormous garage. What would happen is my dad and one of the guys he hired, would go and pick up a bunch of scrap metal somewhere. We would get a call, come to this hospital and take out this radiator or these copper pipes. So then he would bring that back to his garage and he would separate the more expensive stuff from the least expensive stuff. He did that five days a week, there was always somebody calling. There were these machine shops that would be grinding metal and brass. It would all add up at the end of the day, just tons of metal and brass. We would go get that stuff, it was heavy as shit. But it was metal gold. Not that it was worth a lot of money, but he made a decent living. It was hard fucking work. I saw some fucked up shit go down.

PHAWKER: Like someone losing a hand or something?

KENN KWEDER: Yeah, I’d see this guy and next thing I know, I’d find out that his hand was gone. We would pick up these slivers of zinc plates because back in the day wekweder_single_cover used to print with zinc plates and you’d take them off the block. This guy, he was kind of like us, he had his own business, he just fucking cut his hand, it was ridiculous. This one time we were moving tons of fucking cardboard out of this big building in the city. We had to bring it to the Philadelphia dump and the dump was trash on trash. It was really helter skelter. Some trucks would get stuck. Someone must have been there in the morning and dumped 50,000 pounds of fucking bad tomato juice. It was fucking nuts man. It was really acrid. It was bizarre. I could go on and on about that job.

PHAWKER: Okay, well your parents worked hard and played hard, there was a lot of wine and song in the Kweder household growing up. Correct?

KENN KWEDER: Yeah, people enjoyed the good life, a lot of it in my house. I was a really young, quiet kid and I was waking up because there were all these people downstairs. It was good. It was kind of contagious.

PHAWKER: Now were you playing at any of these celebrations or parties?

KENN KWEDER: No I was really young and I was a basketball player before guitar. I was a Southwest Dr. K, not Dr. J, showboating basketball player. I wasn’t the best but I had a reputation for doing a lot of shit. I thought I would end up in the NBA, but reality hits you and I was only five foot nine. So I was playing with these kids from the city and I just knew there was no way. That’s when I picked up the guitar, at like 16 and a half. I used to bring the guitar and play at the basketball courts. In the neighborhood, I was the guitar player. It was kind of cool, playing on the basketball courts.

PHAWKER: Tell me about this Billy Schied guy. He’s a tragic figure, but a really interesting guy. The little snippets of him singing in the movie show that he really had a beautiful voice.

KENN KWEDER: Yeah, so before I met him I was doing the basketball stuff. I had no idea there was another guitar player in Southwest Philly. He was older. I was 17 or 18. He was 27. That was pretty old to a teenager like me. So I go over to his house, tune his guitar. I give him my phone number and he hits me up. He says come on over, I have some songs. I had never met a songwriter, this was like meeting an alien. But not only was he a songwriter, but he was a really good songwriter. But he would never come out of the kitchen, he just played in the kitchen.

PHAWKER: You say in the movie that there was this constant parade of people coming in and out. It’s kind of 24/7 party with policemen and priests coming in and out.

KENN KWEDER: Yeah, police, priests, and trolley car drivers. Every segment of Philadelphia was coming in there and smoking weed. I was straight as an arrow, man, I was against drinking and against getting high. But I was just playing guitar and watching these guys, you see cops coming in and think “This is psychedelic!”

PHAWKER: Why was he so reluctant to perform in public or pursue music as a career?

KENN KWEDER: Well before I had even met him, he had a semi-successful career in a doo-wop trio or quartet, The Ly-Dels. They were serious doo-wop cats. I wasn’t into the do-wop. But he was a real vocalist. A guy named Chucky from Kentucky would come over and they were some maniacs. They could harmonize perfectly. But that fell apart, it was a bad, bad ending. I don’t know what exactly happened, but it didn’t work for the Ly-Dels. Then, Billy got into Dylan, I think he saw him in 1966 at the Academy of Music. He said his life changed after seeing Dylan at the Academy of Music. He started writing songs on the guitar. The guy was really from another fucking planet.

PHAWKER: Kind of an idiot-savant. What is the name of the song that he comes up and sings with you in the movie?

KENN KWEDER: That’s “Remember Me.”

PHAWKER: Yeah, so is that available online somewhere? Is there a stream of it on YouTube or something?

KENN KWEDER: There’s a version on iTunes, it’s the only one that exists. You could just search “Remember Me.” Plus there are quite a few versions of it online.

PHAWKER: He passed away sadly as a relatively young man. Was it cirrhosis? How old was he?

KENN KWEDER: Yeah it was and he was 44.

PHAWKER: When you meet this guy, you claimed you were straight as an arrow. When did you start to drink and start to party?

KENN KWEDER: I didn’t start doing anything until I was 21. Billy always had it around. After a couple of years of that I checked it out. I started smoking and shit, but it kweder-1-480x270wasn’t until I was older than I started getting ripped. By my mid 20’s I was cooking, going pretty fast. So he was my inspiration though it was my choice. But I did notice that once I adjusted my perception of things, particularly on marijuana, I was hearing things from another universe, lyrics and shit that I couldn’t hear sober.

PHAWKER: Yeah, well I was wondering, early on did you experiment with marijuana and psychedelics because it’s one thing that isn’t mentioned in the movie?

KENN KWEDER: Early days, I was more into the weed. I was never a big acid head, I did it though, I did everything. I never got like married to any substance. I’d do it for a while and stop. The only thing I kept up with was drinking because it was legal. At a party I’d do things, but I wouldn’t wake up in the morning and think this was something I had to do. People think that I had done that but I would never had gotten anything done. You and I have never had a drink together, but I’m sure at some point you could have had a bender. But you have to be somewhat sober to keep your work in check, am I correct there?

PHAWKER: Yes, there have been plenty of benders in my past.

KENN KWEDER: Of course, I mean after the movie I went a little haywire. Now I’m back on the wagon so I’ll stay there for a bit. I’ve got fucking gigs all week.

PHAWKER: Now what do you mean by back on the wagon? You go through periods of drying out?

KENN KWEDER: Yeah, I’m like a Nazi, I hit the reset button. Plus I’m in the process of moving so I can’t mess anything up. I need to get things straight, though I kind of push it to the edge. I knew you were calling so I’m not going to fuck this up, so I’m not sure when I’ll drink again. I appreciate this though. It could be a week. But I’ve got to get a handful of things done, moving I’ve got to get done.

PHAWKER: You don’t seem – you are sort of characterized as a functional alcoholic in the movie. But most people, I have a cousin who was just doomed. She was dead by the time she was 41 from drinking peach schnapps and nothing could stop it. She was arrested a few times, like her third DUI. Horrible, horrible things that I’ve seen first hand, where people are victimized by their own brain wiring. A lot of people get worse and worse, till the get black out drunk, till they have to drink a whole bottle of vodka to feel normal. I have a feeling that there were rough periods for you, but it doesn’t seem like that ever got to you. You seem like a very together guy, maybe a boozy fellow but you are a musician who is in bars four nights a week.

KENN KWEDER: I mean, believe me after the premiere I was in Kweder-mode for about 40 hours there. But I get these atrocious hangovers now that I’ve gotten older. It’s almost like the electricity in my body needs a jumpstart from a car. But I know that feeling of being possessed, but I never – I don’t know what it is. For some reason, if it was up to me I wouldn’t drink at all, but I’m in a bar all the time – like tonight, though I won’t drink tonight. But if you are in a bar 17 nights out of 20, you are definitely going to be…

PHAWKER: Plus being that beer is usually on the house in these situations, and there’s always someone that wants to drink with you. Someone wants to buy you a shot or buy you a round. Somebody that saw you a long time ago who wants to reminisce which they go into during the film. But that must be really, on the one hand, gratifying because you’ve brought a lot to people’s lives, a certain amount of happiness to an awful lot of people, and they want to relive it. But functionally it’s not possible for you to drink with everyone that comes up to the microphone, so how do you deal with that?

KENN KWEDER: I deal with it in different ways. I hide out sometimes when I go to a bar. Tonight is going to be pretty tricky because it’s college kids and they will probably want to get me a drink or something. So I will be unavailable until I go on stage. In the old days, I was very available before I went on stage so when I made it up there I was very loose. I mean it is self-preservation. I don’t know what Keith Richards story is but he might be straight. Is he sober?31B8188HMQL._QL70_

PHAWKER: I think he’s still drinking alcohol. The last time I heard he still drank Jack Daniels like water. Keith Richards doesn’t count though because he’s a gazillionaire and he’s got people cleaning up his messes. You have to take care of yourself. You don’t have yes-men taking care of everything. Let’s back up, to when you put together The Secret Kidds, where does that band name come from?

KENN KWEDER: One day I was talking to my friend Al, we grew up in the same neighborhood. We were just throwing names at each other and the Secret Kidds just came out. I can’t remember if the genesis was because this girl that I knew had opened up her own day care center and I would stop over there to see her sometimes. I think I jokingly said that these kids were my secret kids or something, but I can’t remember exactly. I know that Al and I talked on the telephone and we were throwing names at each other. We thought that was a good name.

PHAWKER: And the second “D” was that like the second “N” in Kenn?

KENN KWEDER: Yeah, exactly.

PHAWKER: So you guys get some momentum, you are packing clubs. You have that huge show at the Ethical Society. Eventually, you cut a record. WMMR and WIOQ are playing it. Then, you attract the attention of Clive Davis, one of the most important music executives in the industry at the time, maybe the most important. He comes to see you at the Hot Club and…

KENN KWEDER: Yeah, he came with a fleet of limos and all that stuff, in 1977. I’m burning up, firing on all cylinders, going wild, and the band is incredible. He comes out and I was doing my show, fucking around with the audience, which I always do, it’s kind of the show. Musically, it was solid and then you have a maniac singing. But I was on my game and the first thing that Clive Davis says to me — we left the Hot Club and walked to Doobie’s at 22nd and Lombard to talk. He goes, “You are one of the most powerful performers I’ve ever seen on stage, you remind me of David Bowie. That’s the highest compliment I could give.” I thought that this was starting off really nice. We got into the brass tacks, I thought he was going to sign me on the spot, which is pretty hard to believe. But we started to get into some criticism, and I didn’t really agree with him. He said you have to get a hit record, you don’t really have any hits and my blood pressure was going up. I thought that these were great fucking songs, it was kind of dramatic and oxygenated. He goes “We’ll be in touch” or some shit. We had a bit of an argument. And Bill Ive was there, he was my manager. He was trying to referee the both of us plus there were people from Arista. You have to understand, I worked for the government before the guitar and when I left I thought I’m not doing what anyone else wants me to. I’m going into music so I can do what I want to do and here is the guy telling me what to do. So I was a little upset, because I had the government job before that.

PHAWKER: What did you do for the government?

KENN KWEDER: I was a caseworker for the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. I determined people’s eligibility and stuff like that, but I had always wanted to be a musician. I got fed up with the rules and regulations, so I thought I would enter the art world and do what I want to do. I was doing really well that way and I came up against the first of several walls. There were other people that were interested in me, but it didn’t work out. That’s what happened. I hear stories that I poured a pitcher of beer on his head, which if I did, I don’t remember. But I wasn’t that out of control.

PHAWKER: Those were exaggerations is what you are saying.

KENN KWEDER: Exactly, Bill Ive was there, it couldn’t have possibly happened. I’m almost positive. I was lit up, but I was with it. I was more hurt by him criticizing my thing, so when I reacted he didn’t expect anybody to react the way I did.

PHAWKER: Sure, he’d probably never had anyone react to him that way.

KENN KWEDER: Yeah, I didn’t yell at him, it was a difference of opinion.

PHAWKER: If you could do it over again, would you do anything differently? Or do it the same way it went down?

KENN KWEDER: That’s a very good question. People ask me that all the time. I’m not a Barry Manilow or a Bruce Springsteen. I do write really good songs, but I don’t think I could have gone in the studio with the intention of being a commercial pop song guy, it seemed to me to be unethical. In my mindset, back then, I was pretty darn strong about that.

PHAWKER: By unethical, you mean phony or dishonest. You just weren’t that kind of artist and to pretend otherwise would be a lie.kwederology-vol-2

KENN KWEDER: Yeah, I just wrote songs that were the best they could be. Plus if people sang them, then it didn’t matter if they were multisyllabic words or stuff like that, which is what he got into.

PHAWKER: He really did say there were too many syllables in your lyrics?

KENN KWEDER: Yeah he did because he saw a show with songs that have a lot of words, not simple words. Like I did, “Lieutenant Shackled to the School’s in Brooklyn” shit. I don’t think — to him, that’s not a pop hit.

PHAWKER: That sounds like Salieri telling Mozart there are too many notes in his music..

KENN KWEDER: I was just thinking about Salieri, I couldn’t remember his name. I thought about him this morning or yesterday. I wonder what that means.

PHAWKER: In the movie, it sort of seems like you’re building this head of steam, this momentum into your big break, this Clive Davis Moment and that doesn’t happen and it seems like things sort of slowly fade a little bit. The first version of the Secret Kidds split up, is that right?

KENN KWEDER: Yeah, that was about 1977, we went through another 18 months. That was a powerhouse band, before we were a bit folky. But there were a couple of other possibilities that didn’t work out and then it was over. I had another band of the Secret Kidds and we were looked at but it wasn’t going to work out.

PHAWKER: Watching some of those performances, I can see that you are very much in tune with the times, like the punk or new wave thing before it was called punk or new wave. You guys remind me of the Tubes.

KENN KWEDER: Oh yeah, absolutely. What was their lead singer’s name?

PHAWKER: Fee Waybill.

KENN KWEDER: Yeah I remember because we were playing the same clubs, not at the same time, but yeah I remember that.

PHAWKER: From the powerhouse version of Secret Kidds, where do you go from there? Did you decide you were going to be more of a solo performer?

KENN KWEDER: Well, then there was another version of Secret Kidds. Then I’m so broke that I go back to work for the government around 1982 or 1983, part time. I work like six months out of the year. I’m really struggling to get work. It’s almost like a heavyweight boxer is up for the championship and gets knocked out in the fucking seventh round. Where do you go from there? Are you going to get another opportunity? I was doing a lot of solo things, plus I had a thing called Tom & Jim which was very similar to Flight of the Conchords. The Tom & Jim show was hilarious, though no one got it. But I continued on and then I left the country in May of ’84. I was gone for a solid nine or ten months. I went to England, just figured I’d have better luck over there because I had friends over there. But that didn’t work out either. So I came back here, I put together a band called The Man from P.O.V.I.C.H. All of the sudden, now I was back. I had all the big shot players wanting to play with me.

PHAWKER: P.O.V.I.C.H., is that a riff on Maury Povich?

KENN KWEDER: Exactly, it was a joke on that, because he was in Philly at the time. After that, year in and year out, it’s different styles and modes. But then I meet Ben Vaughn. He insists I go in the studio and I start recording like crazy. People start giving me money, so I did a succession of records. All on my own label, so we didn’t sell that many, but I was putting a lot of stuff out there.

PHAWKER: At what point were you able to start making a living the way that you are now, playing four or five bars a week?

KENN KWEDER: What happened was in the mid 90’s, I’m walking down the street and a friend of mine, Eddie, he just got back from Copenhagen. He asked me if I wanted to play Copenhagen and I asked how do I do it? He goes, “Well, you have to call this guy up, you already have your originals so you just have to learn a bunch of songs that everybody knows.” I spent a month learning all kinds of stuff. So in the mid 90’s I went over there several times. Each time I went over there I’d see – I call them robo-troubadours – that live and travel from country to country. I became fascinated by these guys. They were Italian, Irish, German and I really admired these guys. I learned everything they did and then I came back to America. I picked up a bartending job and I’d work a couple nights a week as troubadour. But the bartending job ended a number of years ago so the playing went from two nights a week to four at the minimum to stay alive. That’s the minimum generally. I call it four point five, it’s fucking exhausting. I don’t have any other talent right now exactly. But I get in these clubs and I start off by giving them exactly what they want, I keep coming back and tweaking it to the Kenn Kweder weirdness. Soon it’s half Kenn Kweder music and half other music, but I enjoy playing all kinds of music. I fuck around with Taylor Swift or Miley Cyrus or whatever to catch people’s attention. I’ll do songs that you would never expect a guy to do, not all the time, but I need to be a chameleon.8682481557_bea3683627_b

PHAWKER: What can a single performer take home in a night? I’m curious as to what the economics are in 2016, I remember being in a band, but that was a while ago.

KENN KWEDER: Well, it’s gotten worse. It provides me with a lifestyle that I can live an okay aesthetic. I’m very much a Quaker. I have a car and a couple of guitars. I keep everything simple so I’m can live. I’m coming off the camping ground so I’m all over the place. I’m moving into a pretty small apartment right on the edge of Chestnut Hill. Those buildings are beautiful. So I can live in an almost Quakerish way, living off the money provided by my guitar. It is hard as you get older, because I don’t go on stage until midnight tonight. I get up in the morning, people don’t know this, I’m always on high alert. But tonight I’ll do that and tomorrow I’m doing a folk show in Mt. Airy. Tonight’s the psychotic show. It’s trickier on the body because I’m 64, it hurts a little bit more. You were in bands, you remember what it’s like moving equipment in and out, up and down fire escapes and shit. I’m still doing it.

PHAWKER: One third of the job of rock star is moving heavy shit. But, you seem to have gotten it down to a science, you’ve really figured out the feng shui of schlepping gear.. You don’t have to lug a big fucking Hammond organ up the back steps of Dobbs anymore. You have your little one man PA. You have your acoustic guitar in your padded case on your back, kind of like a gunslinger.

KENN KWEDER: At this point I’ve almost morphed into an old blues guy. I look at guys like Waco Smith or Nate Wiley. These are guys I always knew of but never seen. Bluesman Willie, these guys worked. Nate Wiley worked like 30 straight years over there at Bob and Barbara’s and I’m sure in other places around Philadelphia. That’s kind of where I’m at with this old time romance attached to it. Before Little Richard or Jerry Lee Lewis got big, everything was on a local level. You went down to the local bar and you saw Little Richard. I didn’t intend for it to be this way but this is where it’s at. This is where it’s going, I’m still busy as heck.

PHAWKER: There’s a part of the movie towards the end where you are talking and you say that, “I know guys that are doing this and are used to being the center of attention, but when you get older you are no longer the center of attention. It’s not quite as romantic as when you were young but you are 39, 40 years old so it’s not like you are going to learn some new type of business.” You are talking about somebody else, but also yourself.

KENN KWEDER: Definitely, yes. I look around and I see guys who are 40 or 50. When they were in their 20’s, they were stars in Philadelphia. Then things happen and you find out that you have to play in a wedding band, some of the greatest fucking guys are playing in a wedding band. It’s hard to admit it but it’s true, there are some great musicians. I could never be in a wedding band because it’s a frightening prospect, if I came out on stage at somebody’s wedding, I don’t have the chops for that. I did a couple of weddings and it was terrifying.

PHAWKER: You say at a certain point when you are driving in the car and talking about how your mother had show biz aspirations, how she regretted not giving it a try. You would go ahead and finish that, carry her dreams across the finish line for her and yourself. It’s a touching moment. But I’m wondering now, are you happier now that you did pursue your dream than she was unhappy about not pursuing her dream? Do you follow?

KENN KWEDER: Yeah, it would be like a parallax. She’s the negative number and I’m the positive number. I think I’m definitely happier because she was very melancholy. I figured I didn’t have anything to lose, though you do lose unfortunately. But I think so, because it was a sad story I heard all the time. It was a chance to right the universe a little bit, I wasn’t going to right her universe. Certainly, it’s just wishful thinking, you know. But there’s no question in my mind that she had regrets that she didn’t continue what she was doing. But back then it was the 40’s and the 50’s.

PHAWKER: Sure, women back then had few professional options besides motherhood or secretary school, it was a different time. A few years ago you fell down a flight of stairs at Dobbs and you suffer a compound fracture of your wrist and hand. It shatters. Tell me a little about that, because the doctor thought that you would never fully get back the use of that hand, which of course means that you can’t play music anymore, that you can’t be Kenn Kweder anymore, that you can’t make a living anymore, which is a serious existential threat. Tell me about that whole experience.

KENN KWEDER: I was a big Wilt Chamberlain fan, I read a long time ago that whenever he got hurt, he always did way more work to get himself back on track more quickly. And I did the same thing, more of the rehab. I was lucky to have a roommate that was helping me out, because this guy knew a lot of medical stuff and my arm could have gotten very badly infected because of all these fucking spikes in it. He kept an eye on that and was also helping me out with my exercises. It was pretty complex, but I needed to get it back. It’s not 100% still, but it’s about 85%.

PHAWKER: How long did that take?

KENN KWEDER: I got back within seven months. It happened in July and I was back on stage in February. I was really focused on my arm, I wish I could get that focus back. I was religious about the whole thing. You know, you fall down these steps with an amplifier and anything can happen.

PHAWKER: I wanted to ask you about at one point that you made this aside that Woody Guthrie was a fraud and that he was taking payments. Were you just fucking around or is there some secret story that I don’t know about?

KENN KWEDER: No, that’s just a fucking joke, my humor. I knew people would be offended if I said it. I have to be a little outrageous. I’m a big Woody Guthrie guy.

PHAWKER: Any regrets that you would do differently? Could you ever have foreseen taking the straight path, you know, married with kids and a job?11909919_1636751136602749_2136240974_n

KENN KWEDER: I’d probably still be a musician. If I had a chance to get a straight gig, I would study nutrition. There are certain things I would study like oceanography or nutrition, something like that, because I happen to like those two ideas and to me, nutrition is very musical and heals people. But it’s a little too late to get into the nutrition bag.

PHAWKER: We talked a couple of years ago for an oral history of South Street that I did for the City Paper, back when there was one, and I was asking you what your secret was, you’re like a vampire. You look thirty years younger than your actual age. You were telling me that you were on the Bowie diet.

KENN KWEDER: Yeah, hot peppers, raw garlic, root vegetables, things like that. I eat all kinds of things to heal myself, but I get into the root vegetables and garlic. I’ll make myself a garlic sandwich in the morning.

PHAWKER: What’s a garlic sandwich?

KENN KWEDER: Well, you just take about five or six cloves and crush them. Take the skin off of them, put them on a piece of toast with hot peppers, you eat that motherfucker. It’s better to do at night, because then you wake up and it’s already going through your system. I actually feel like I need that sandwich later tonight because my voice is shot. I really believe in all that stuff, I call it forward food, versus reverse food. I’ve never had pizza, I don’t eat cheese. I’m pretty rigid about what I do and don’t eat. I haven’t had cake or pie since 1965. My father had a sugar problem, especially after he ate cake, so I had to rush him to the hospital a million times. I’m not going to eat cake or pie. I’ll have a giant fucking vodka though, admittedly it’s a little incongruous.

PHAWKER: You are 64 now, what advice do you have for anybody that is picking up a guitar and pursuing it as a career?

KENN KWEDER: Think twice, it’s a tricky path and it can be dangerous. To be honest, I don’t know about getting into the music field now, it’s so different because the landscape has changed. If you are into EDM, you might make a living but that’s a roll of the dice, too. If you are going to get into it, go into it with your whole heart but be ready for some disappointments. Try to take care of your health too, you take a lot of rides down back roads in this business.

ADVENTURES OF A SECRET KIDD: THE MASS HALLUCINATION OF KENN KWEDER SCREENS SATURDAY AT THE SOUTHSIDE FILM FESTIVAL IN BETHLEHEM

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NPR 4 THE DEAF: This Is Why Everything Is F*cked

June 16th, 2016

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FRESH AIR: Our guest today, Salon’s editor-in-chief David Daley, has a new book that he says began with a simple question. When President Obama won re-election in 2012 and a Democratic tide gave the party a big majority in the Senate, why did the House of Representatives remain firmly in Republican hands? The result was even more striking since voters cast 1.3 million more ballots for Democratic House candidates than Republican ones. The answer, Daley decided, was effective gerrymandering of House districts following the 2010 census. And it’s state legislatures that draw most of the congressional boundaries across the country. The result of Daley’s research is his new book, which details an effort by Republican strategists to put money and campaign resources into targeted state legislative races in key states in 2010, so Republicans could control the statehouses and control congressional redistricting. […]

You know, it’s interesting that Republican control of Congress kind of feels like an ironclad reality of politics these days. But, you know, you remind us that in the election of 2008, when Barack Obama took the White House, the congressional picture was very different. Remind us of that election and where the Republican Party stood not so long ago.

DAVID DALEY: If you go back and watch the tapes from election night, the smartest minds in the Republican Party are despairing on television. They are trying to understand where all the Republican voters went. The Republicans realized that they were staring down a demographic tidal wave, that the nature of the electorate was changing and the Democrats were talking about a coalition of the ascendant and looking at a decade of changing politics. The Democrats took a super majority in the Senate – we forget – and how quickly it all changed.

FRESH AIR: Right. The Democrats then had a 60-plus-seat majority in the House of Representatives. And you write about a Republican strategist named Chris Jankowski. Tell us about him and what he saw as a way back.

DALEY: Chris Jankowski is one of the brightest strategists in the Republican Party. And what he saw was how the Republicans could make their way back state-by-state. Jankowski runs something called the Republican State Leadership Committee. And he has a eureka moment in 2009 when he realizes that the following year is a year that ends in zero and that elections at the end of a decade reverberate across the course of the next decade because of the redistricting which follows every census.

And Jankowski has got connections in statehouses across the country. And he realizes that if they can raise enough money that they can go in state-by-state and do battle – not on the presidential level but in specific statehouse and state Senate districts around the country – redo the maps in the following year if they’re able to win, and they’ve built themselves a firewall for the next 10 years. MORE

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Q&A With Nick Spitzer, Professor Of American Boogie & Host Of NPR’s American Routes

June 15th, 2016

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Illustration by ALEX FINE

EDITOR’S NOTE: Like many of you, we were deeply disappointed to learn that WHHY-FM has elected to drop American Routes from their weekend programming, where it has been a fixture for more than a decade. (Boo-stink!) But fear not local lovers of Americana, WXPN has stepped in and offered American Routes a home on its airwaves. American Routes will air on Sundays from 3-5 pm starting Sunday June 19th. (Hooray!) To celebrate, we are re-running our in-depth 2009 interview with American Routes host Nick Spitzer. Enjoy!)

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BY JONATHAN VALANIA Nick Spitzer is a folkorist, ethnographer, professor of American Studies at Tulane University and host of the altogether wonderful American Routes,  a heady Creole gumbo of blues, folk, soul, rock and Cajun stylings, which can be heard locally on WHYY from 6-8 PM Sundays from 3-5 PM on 88.5 FM WPXN. Each week Nick scours the highways and the byways, the juke joints and roadhouses, the coffeehouses and corner bars, of these United States to map the crazy quilt patchwork of regional flavors, customs and musics to, in effect, create an audio flowchart that tells us where we were and how we got here. Think of him as a doctor pressing a stethoscope to the nation’s breadbasket to measure the heart beat of the American dream boogie, and every week he asks you to take a listen and give a second opinion. Spitzer currently resides in New Orleans, but he has local connections: he studied anthropology at Penn in the late 60s and DJed at WMMR in the wild and wooly dawn of FM in the early 70s. We talked about all of this, as well as the evolution of the show, his career arc as an Amerian roots explorer and life in the Big Easy post-Katrina. (His full bio can be viewed HERE)

PHAWKER: What brought you to Penn back in the late 60s?

NICK SPITZER: My father wanted me to go to Columbia until he saw it burning down in 1968.  Penn wasn’t burning yet–though it did soon after–and my mother wanted me to go to Yale, but I thought that was too close and I was fed up with WASPY Connecticut and dour Yalies.  I applied to Penn because I was interested in economics. I came to Philly and I was just very impressed with the campus, the scene, Philadelphia. My parents wanted me to be in the Wharton school, but by the time I arrived I was no longer doing everything they thought I ought to be doing.   After I spent half a year at the Wharton school I was looking to transfer into anthropology, nickpenndays3_1.jpgwhich was a rather big change in terms of what they all thought I’d be doing. It was good because Penn has a really great Anthropology department and had a lot of programs related to American studies and folklore–things that were important to me… to be they don’t really do them now.

After I had been at Penn for a semester I discovered WXPN, which at the time was a student-run radio station, and I think had a tremendous legacy as that.  The record collection at WXPN became as important to me as the world culture archives in the anthropology department.  I also became a pretty dedicated local culture person. I mean I didn’t just stay on campus: I went to the Italian market–which wasn’t too cool if you had long hair–and South Street, which as Orlon’s song goes was where “All the hippies meet.” It was still a struggling African-American street scene where you could hear people singing on the sidewalks, go to Harry’s Occult Shop, hear some music in the little jazz clubs.  I just got more involved in Philly in general.  By the time I graduated I had done fieldwork around Philly—you know they don’t give you a job as an anthropologist with a BA in anthropology—but I had worked at XPN and my girlfriend at the time, Carol Miller, was on MMR and I knew Michael Tearson pretty well because he had been on MMR and a student at Penn. I went down to MMR to give my tape, and after splitting Philly somewhat dejectedly—like oh god, I’ve been living in Philly my whole new-consciousness life, what am I gonna do, the draft board is coming after me—and the MMR station program director called me up and said we want you to come down here and host the morning show as an audition. So I came down and did it and I also was their production director for a while, and that got me involved in Philly several more years after college. (I also managed to not get drafted…but that’s another story)  So Penn, XPN and MMR had kind of cemented my relationship to the city.  I’ve come back a lot for everything from Penn reunions to academic conferences to radio events. So I stay in touch and I really like Philly—it’s one of my favorite cities.

PHAWKER:
As a folklorist or an ethnographer is there something whenever you come back to Philly you sort of do as a sort of ritual, like a restaurant you go to, a neighborhood you visit?

NICK SPITZER:
I go down to the steak places. Pat’s is what I always started with back then so I still go back to Pat’s.  I really dig just going around South Philly and seeing all the mom and pop restaurants and shops; and I’ve nickpenndays2_1.jpgalways loved the window décor in south Philly, all the home altars and the family displays.  I like going to the Penn campus. There’s something fascinating about what students are like today and what students were like then… I try not to be a crusty old alumnus, but XPN is not what it was when I was there; it’s much more of a commercial format with few students really involved except as worker bees. Still, I have a lot of friends around Philly from those days.  Heath Allen plays piano and composes, a friend from college.  Last time I was there I went down to Bob and Barbara’s. They had a really great old-school organ trio [the late Nate Wiley & The Crowd Pleasers], which reminded me of some the little black jazz clubs in the 70s.  Clubs I used to go to, like the Aqua Lounge and Grendel’s Lair and the Bijou.  I used to go to a club called Just Jazz downtown; I saw Earl Hines there, and McCoy Tyner played The Aqua Lounge, and all the old Coltrane band people. I look for these things. I’ve got a lot of friends who take me places.  I have to say when I was just in Philly the last time, I was at this event at Penn that the urban studies people put together and sat with Mayor Nutter at dinner.  I found out he used to be a disco DJ when he was in college, so we had a good time talking abut discoing and DJ-ing. I always find something; Philly is a city of deep and wide vernacular culture, and I think it is a city that a lot of Americans still forget exists. They think of it historically as far as the Continental Congress and Ben Franklin and all colonial era landscape, but they forget this is a major East Coast city filled with fascinating neighborhoods… and the Third World is there, but so is sort of the Old World and old Philly.  It’s much more intimate to me than New York and much more warm and friendly than Washington. I really like Philly. I also like Baltimore, but I know Philly better, so when I come back I’m always exploring and learning what’s happening now and it’s a pleasure.

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DJ SHADOW + RUN THE JEWELS: Nobody Speak

June 15th, 2016

DJ Shadow’s new album The Mountain Will Fall drops next week on Mass Appeal Records. DJ Shadow plays the TLA on October 10th.

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THE X-MAN COMETH: A Q&A With John Doe, Frontman Of The Legendary L.A. Punk Band X

June 14th, 2016

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BY JONATHAN VALANIA FOR VICE “The west is the best,” Jim Morrison sang in 1967. “Get here, and we’ll do the rest.” In 1976, John Doe took Mr. Mojo Risin’ up on the invitation. Fed up with the bleak fatalism, shitty weather and general played-out-ness of the East Coast scene, Doe loaded up the truck and headed to the City Of Angels, where he would soon meet fellow East Coast exile/aspiring punk poet Exene Cervenka. Together they would form the legendary X — arguably one of the few bands that could convincingly stake a claim to The Clash’s status as The Only Band That Matters — and light the fuse of the impending West Coast punk explosion. The rest is history, all of which is detailed in Under The Big Black Sun: A Personal History Of L.A. Punk, Doe’s just-published memoir, co-authored with SoCal punk luminaries like Mike Watt of The Minutemen, Henry Rollins of Black Flag, Dave Alvin of The Blasters, Jack Grisham of TSOL, Charlotte Caffey of The Go Go’s and Exene, to name but a few. Recently, we got Doe on the horn to discuss the history of West Coast punk as well as his swell new album, The Westerner.

VICE: The world knows you as John Doe but you were born John Nomenson Duchac, am I pronouncing that right?

JOHN DOE: You mispronounced just like everyone else does.

VICE: Please school me.

JOHN DOE: No reason to. I could have said that my real name was Adolf Hitler but I didn’t think it would go over so well, or that my name was Samuel Clemens. It doesn’t matter. It’s much more fun to be John Doe than anyone else.

VICE: You were born in Decatur, Illinois and came of age in Baltimore. What was the final straw, like ‘That’s it, I’m outta here, I’m going to Los Angeles…’

JOHN DOE: I moved to LA because I was sick of the East Coast. There are a lot of ghosts on the East Coast and there is a lot of sleet and shitty weather. Baltimore, as you know, only has one truly famous person which is John Waters. I had been to CBGB’s, I’d been to Max’s Kansas City. I’d seen the Talking Heads and The Heartbreakers and realized that that music scene was already pretty locked up by 1976. I went to LA with a friend and it was glorious. I was a huge fan of the writers that came out of LA — of Nathaniel West and Charles Bukowski and people like that. There is a freedom on the West Coast that is not available to people who grow up on the East Coast.

VICE: It was sort of like, ‘Let’s go out to LA and invent punk, it hasn’t hit there yet’?

JOHN DOE: It was just getting started, you know, everywhere. It was in the air, that’s why it took hold so fast in England. The Ramones went there in what, ’74, then POW! everything happened. There were people who were also musical outcasts living in LA at the time. We got here right as it was starting.

VICE: In the book there’s a great chapter where you talk about LA in the ‘70s, how cheap and livable it was, how little gridlock there was, how you could buy these cool vintage cars from the ‘50s and ‘60s for $500 bucks and [X guitarist] Billy Zoom would help you fix it up. You could always be in the desert or the Pacific Ocean in less than an hour. How did that kind of mobility impact the West Coast punk scene?

JOHN DOE: Yeah. I think it included the [predominantly Latino] East Side that allowed everybody to break out and have a certain speed and freedom to do the same. Made me feel more connected to my rock n’ roll heroes, Chuck Berry and Eddie Cochran and people like that.

VICE: Because they were always celebrating the freedom of the open road?

JOHN DOE: Yes. It was always meant to be about freedom, and there’s nothing more liberating than being in a car. I mean, you’re deciding where and when you’re going to be some place. That’s why people get so pissed off in cars. Because somebody else is interrupting their space and time. Get out of my fucking way! I’m supposed to be there!

VICE: What were you driving back then?

JOHN DOE: I had a 56 Ford Customline. It was just a four door Ford and also, before that was an International Travelall, I think it was a ‘70 or ‘71. That was our first touring vehicle.

VICE: What was the first time you met [X’s singer/songwriter] Exene?

JOHN DOE: Well, I ran a poetry reading series in Baltimore. There was a fairly popular and vital poetry world in Baltimore and D.C. at that time, when poetry became a performance medium rather than just on the written page. People were writing funny stuff and there was a gay and lesbian element that was included in that. I figured the best way to meet people in LA was to be in the poetry world. Exene had just gotten a job through a government program to work at a small press called Beyond Baroque. Beyond Baroque had a writing workshop, like a poetry workshop, I think it was Tuesday nights and we met there.

VICE: Was it love at first sight?

VICE: Oh, you know, she cut a very eccentric figure back then, and she does now. I don’t know if it was love at first sight, definitely wasn’t for her. I mean, it took me a good eight or nine months of hanging around and being annoying for her to really…I don’t know, we were friends first. Then we were romantically involved. I realized that we had some kind of soul mate connection and we will have that as long as we live.

VICE: Speaking of poetry, I’m not sure there is a better distillation of punk’s ethos than “We’re desperate, get used to it.” Except maybe “The world’s a mess, it’s in my kiss.” Tell me a little bit how you guys would write songs. Was a lot of this stuff poetry first, then it became songs? Lyrics written to go with tunes? A little bit of both?

JOHN DOE: Yes…is the short answer. A lot of Exene’s lyrics were written as songs and were kind of written, like “The World’s A Mess” was written top to bottom as a song. There was very little editing necessary. I would write the music and kind of mix and match them. They were all directly from our life experience. We just exaggerated stuff. The first time we rehearsed it was clear, like “Oh this is a really great song, this is going to last.” And then the world was kind enough to be fucked up over and over again and made it last because it’s never going to be untrue.

VICE: How did you guys get hooked up with [Doors keyboardist/ X producer] Ray Manzarek?

JOHN DOE: He saw us at The Whiskey A Go Go. He and his wife Dorothy were at the Whiskey and we were playing the song “Soul Kitchen” by The Doors at a much faster pace and Dorothy said “Oh Ray, they are playing your song!” and Ray said “What? They are doing what? Oh, oh wow, they are playing…!” There was a long article in LA Weekly that talked about the band and the lyrics and they quoted “Johnny Hit And Run Pauline” and he really identified with the dark nature of that because it was similar to what Jim Morrison might write. He talked to us and we were flabbergasted that a real rock icon wanted to work with a scruffy punk rock band.

VICE: There were definite parallels between X and The Doors. Both bands were literary, transgressive, noir-ish and based in LA. What did you guys make of those comparisons? Did it irk you or were you flattered by that?

JOHN DOE: We were huge Doors fans. They were real rock royalty, if you want to call that. They had number one hits and they did it on their own terms. Their music sounds the same now as it did then. Whereas some of Jimi Hendrix stuff sounds dated because it was so based in blues music and American blues. We were incredibly flattered that people saw a connection. I think because we felt some of the same themes that Raymond Chandler or some great film noir movies addressed: In LA it’s all the more obvious to the have-nots how much money is being wasted by the haves. That was sort of where we were coming from in 1977. MORE

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WORTH REPEATING: Praying Does Not Stop This

June 14th, 2016

So get off your knees and vote the fuck out of office the odious gun lobby stooges we call Congress that relentlessly maintain the psycho-friendly status quo of our in-fucking-sane gun laws.

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Win Tix To See Dolly Parton @ The Mann Center

June 13th, 2016

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There was a time in America, an awful time of bad clothes, bad drugs, bad presidents, and bad mustaches, known as the 1970s, when Dolly Parton was the living punchline to a running national joke about big boobs and dumb blondes. Four and half decades later, nobody’s laughing at Dolly Parton any more. Circa now, Dolly Parton is a country icon, a feminist icon, a gay icon, and a living testimonial to the Picture Of Dorian Gray-like power of plastic surgery, in the right surgeon’s skilled hands and on the right face, to do less harm than good. Long may she blonde. As per Wikipedia:

Dolly Parton is the most honored female country performer of all time. Achieving 25 RIAA certified gold, platinum, and multi-platinum awards, she has had 25 songs reach No. 1 on the Billboard Country charts, a record for a female artist. She has 41 career top 10 country albums, a record for any artist, and she has 110 career charted singles over the past 40 years. All-inclusive sales of singles, albums, hits collections, and digital downloads during her career have topped 100 million worldwide. She has garnered eight Grammy Awards, two Academy Award nominations, ten Country Music Association Awards, seven Academy of Country Music Awards, three American Music Awards, and is one of only seven female artists to win the Country Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year Award. Parton has received 46 Grammy nominations, tying her with Bruce Springsteen for the most Grammy nominations and placing her in tenth place overall. In 1999, Parton was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. She has composed over 3,000 songs, notably “I Will Always Love You” (a two-time U.S. country chart-topper for Parton, as well as an international pop hit for Whitney Houston). She is also one of the few to have received at least one nomination from the Academy Awards, Grammy Awards, Tony Awards, and Emmy Awards.

We have a pair of golden tickets see Dolly Parton at the Mann on Wednesday June 15th. To qualify to win, send us as email @ Phawker66@gmail.com with the correct answer to the following Dolly trivia question: In the 1960s, Dolly Parton got her start in show business as the towering blonde beehived foil to this then-famous country star on his weekly national syndicated TV show. What is his name? Put the words JOLENE JOLENE JOLENE! in the subject line and include your full name and a mobile number for confirmation. The 17th Phawker reader to respond with the correct answer wins. Good luck and godspeed!

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THERE WILL BE BLOOD: Murder Inc.

June 13th, 2016

Thanks NRA

 

NEW YORK TIMES: In the 1960s, under Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara, the Pentagon bought vast quantities of the rifle, calling it the M-16, for American ground troops in Vietnam. The M-16’s firepower and reputation for lethality were necessary, in Mr. McNamara’s view, to counter the Kalashnikov assault rifles carried by the North Vietnamese Army and Vietcong. […] AR-15s that fire only on semiautomatic are generally legal in the United States, and are widely owned by assault-rifle enthusiasts. They are also sometimes used in crimes, and have been involved in some of the most deadly mass shootings in American history, including the massacre in December in San Bernardino, Calif., which killed 14 people, and the attack in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., which killed 26 people, 20 of them children. (That gunman also killed his mother at home before driving to the school.) MORE

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WORTH REPEATING: John Oliver On Orlando

June 13th, 2016

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RIP: The Death Of Greatness

June 10th, 2016

Ali vs Superman

 

FRESH AIR: What a loss to suffer, even if for years you knew it was coming. Muhammad Ali, who died Friday, in Phoenix, at the age of seventy-four, was the most fantastical American figure of his era, a self-invented character of such physical wit, political defiance, global fame, and sheer originality that no novelist you might name would dare conceive him. Born Cassius Clay in Jim Crow-era Louisville, Kentucky, he was a skinny, quick-witted kid, the son of a sign painter and a house cleaner, who learned to box at the age of twelve to avenge the indignity of a stolen bicycle, a sixty-dollar red Schwinn that he could not bear to lose. Eventually, Ali became arguably the most famous person on the planet, known as a supreme athlete, an uncanny blend of power, improvisation, and velocity; a master of rhyming prediction and derision; an exemplar and symbol of racial pride; a fighter, a draft resister, an acolyte, a preacher, a separatist, an integrationist, a comedian, an actor, a dancer, a butterfly, a bee, a figure of immense courage.

In his early career, when he declared his allegiance to Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam, rid himself of his “slave name,” and lost his heavyweight title rather than fight in Vietnam, Ali was vilified as much as he was admired. Millions hated Ali; he threatened a sense of the racial order; he was, in his refusal to conform to any type, as destabilizing to many Americans as he was to the many heavyweights who could not understand why he would just not come to the center of the ring and fight like a real man. He was, for many years, a radical figure for many Americans. For years, many refused to call him by his new name. “I pity Clay and abhor what he represents,” the columnist Jimmy Cannon wrote. Even Red Smith, the most respected of all sports columnists, compared Ali to the “unwashed punks” who dared to march against the war. But in recent decades, as Parkinson’s disease began to overwhelm his gifts for movement and speech, and as the country’s attitudes changed, Ali became a focus of almost universal affection. The people who encountered him at charity dinners, in airports, at sporting events approached him as they would a serene Pope Francis or the Dalai Lama, and, if he could summon a whispered joke or flirt for a moment or just widen his eyes in that old vaudeville way of his, people left with a sense of having met a source of wonder. MORE

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#I’M WITH HER: Senator Elizabeth Warren Rips The Donald A New One, And It’s A Beautiful Thing

June 10th, 2016

Elizabeth Warren says to Donald Trump’s fat orange phony fuckface what alleged GOP tough guys Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz were too goddamn pussy to say: the horrible truth. If she’d run in GOP primary, guaranteed Trump wouldn’t have lasted more than a month. Because thin-skinned racist bullies like him can’t take a punch.

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NPR 4 THE DEAF: We Hear It Even When U Can’t

June 9th, 2016

Silicon Valley

 

FRESH AIR: To an outsider, the start-up culture at Pied Piper, the fictional tech company featured in the HBO comedy series Silicon Valley, might seem a little odd. Not only do the company’s employees live and work together in an “incubator,” they also get into biting arguments about the nuances of whether it’s acceptable to type spaces instead of tabs when programming code. Alec Berg, who serves as showrunner along with creator Mike Judge, tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross that the quirky details viewers see on the show are inspired by real life. “One of our writers texted a friend who works for Apple just saying, ‘Hey is this tabs vs. spaces thing real?’ ” Berg says. “And his friend … was out at drinks with a bunch of other engineers and she replied that, A) it is real and B) just talking about it now has sparked a giant, violent debate and they were actually screaming at each other in a bar about whether tabs or spaces were better.” Thomas Middleditch, who plays Richard, the nervous, soft-spoken creator of Pied Piper, adds that real-life tech companies are sometimes so over the top that they leave little room for satire. “It seems like you can’t hyperbolize it for a joke hard enough,” he says. Berg and and Middleditch are joined in the studio by Judge, who also created King of the Hill and Beavis & Butt-head. MORE

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CINEMA: Cum On Feel The Boyz

June 8th, 2016

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SLADE IN FLAME (1975, directed by Richard Loncraine, 86 minutes U.K.)
OIL CITY CONFIDENTIAL (2009, directed by Julien Temple, 106 minutes, U.K.)

Buskirk AvatarBY DAN BUSKIRK FILM CRITIC British rock gave us plenty of adorable mop tops and fey dandies but they also have a long tradition of rough and tumble r&b, rock and blues bands whose fan base ran strong beyond the sophisticated borders of London and into the wilds of the country’s midlands. This month’s double bill joins two rather different films about two different bands, navigating the wild waters of the 70s music industry. Slade in Flame is the 70s glam band’s fictionalized vision of the rock world of 60’s England and 2009’s Oil City Confidential is a romantic look back by documentarian Julien Temple at the furious rise and fall of “Pub Rock” giants Dr. Feelgood.

Glam rock stars Slade were never as huge in the U.S. as they were across Europe, where they had 17 consecutive Top 20 hits in the early 1970s, more than T-Rex or Bowie. Slade had some success here as well although they’re probably best-remembered today for supplying the pop metal band Quiet Riot with both of their hits, “Cum On Feel the Noize” & “Mama We’re All Crazee Now.” Slade’s success was at its peak in 1974 when their manager Chas Chandler (formerly the Animal’s bassist and manager of Jimi Hendrix) thought the time was ripe for a Slade film.

Bushy-haired Slade frontman Noddy Holder voted down the scripts that called for sped-up comedic hi-jinks from the band and picked a script about a working class band’s rise-and-fall in the record business in the late 60s (set in an era just six or seven years before the film’s production) written by Andrew Birkin (co-screenwriter of the medieval mystery The Name of the Rose and brother of pop star Jane Birkin). Noddy thought the arc of the narrative in Birkin’s script was great, but that the details of the story were all wrong. To fix this, Slade invited Birkin and first-time director Richard Loncraine (director of the dark 1985 vehicle for Sting, Brimstone and Treacle as well as the stylish Ian McKellan 1995 feature of Richard III) to come along on their American tour, where the duo observed the band and interviewed them about their experiences in rock and roll. Birkin incorporated the stories the band related, giving the film a natural realism that transcends the usual cliches of the rock movie genre.

Slade in Flame oozes that sort of gritty quality people love about 70s films, the band emerges from out of a midlands steel town where their friends and family still work. The guitarists’ homelife is only viewed through the mail slot where his grandmother shrieks and curses at the tax collectors. We see the band Flame (the four members of Slade, all quietly confident basically playing themselves) in their element, playing to dancers in dirty little nightclubs, haggling with violent management and horsing around with each other the way guys stuck in little vans for hours on end will do. Soon, they dump their old manager when upper crust young businessman Tom Conti (in his debut) bankrolls a recording session and ushers them into the bigtime.

Slade in Flame focuses on economics and class in a way that its American counterparts would likely ignore. Tom Conti’s character, a young man playing a with his family’s old money, is too disinterested to be a villain. He may bristle at the band’s working class manners and he won’t even feign interest in their music but he isn’t Hellbent to rip them off. But with the family business interests calling him, their manager seems like he could pull the plug at any moment, sending their fates with it.

Slade was proud that they could bring the little corner of the world they knew to big screen in 1975 but their fans were lukewarm to the bleak details among the laughs, and even a cool batch of new Slade songs couldn’t put butts in seats. Years later, Slade in Flame seems like one of the most accomplished rock films of the 70s (a spotty lot indeed) offering a punchy mix of honest Spinal Tap-like madness with a jolt of that old British “Kitchen Sink” realism.

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Slade rock some crazy-colored jumpsuits as the band Flame but Dr. Feelgood called “bullshit” on such theatricality in the mid-70s pre-punk rootsy genre dubbed “Pub Rock.” The band were dress-up like low-key hoods and played a jumped up bluesy OIL CITY CONFIDENTIAL_R& B music that stood out for its fine-tuned excess energy. Led by a surly-looking singer named Lee Brilleaux and a gargoyle-faced guitar-stylist Wilko Johnson, (seen as the executioner in the first two seasons of Game of Thrones) Dr. Feelgood had a devilishly fierce rise and fall told here by roc/doc filmmaker Julien Temple.

Much like the legend of Springsteen, Dr. Feelgood refined their skills in the bar of a seedy, dying beach resort town, which in the case of Feelgood’s Canvay Islands, also had the presence of constantly pounding derricks which pumped the dirty crude found there. Temple, who sees this film as a piece with the definitive documentaries he made on the Sex Pistols and Joe Strummer, gets to the primal drama of band’s chemistry, with Brilleaux’s emotional id contrasting with Wilko’s more artistic soul. Temple peppers the visuals of the band’s rush of success with wild snatches of forgotten black & white ’50s British crime films.

The clips of Dr. Feelgood in action, particularly Wilko’s slashing, rhythmic guitar style and demonic glare, make it undeniable what the fuss was about this now mostly-forgotten group. But it is the romantic reveries spun by the modern day Wilko, talking about that perfect moment, that makes this film so unusually affecting. Were Dr. Feelgood one of rock greatest bands? Maybe not, but Temple constructs one of the great rock stories out of their trials and triumphs.


PHAWKER FILM CRITIC DAN BUSKIRK HOSTS “SLADE IN FLAME” AND “OIL CITY CONFIDENTIAL” SCREEN @ ANDREW’S VIDEO VAULT @ THE ROTUNDA THURSDAY JUNE 8TH @ 8PM ADMISSION: FREE

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