This pre-Franorama World post is from my MySpace blog Oct. 4, 2008, 6:53 a.m.:
A few days ago, I got a small package from my pal Chip Damiani back in New Haven, and we know what comes in small packages. In this case, the good thing was a loaned screener copy of “America’s Lost Band,” the new documentary about the band for which Chip played drums in the mid-’60s (and still does from time to time), The Remains. It just had its world premiere Sept. 14 at the Boston Film Festival — appropriate enough, since the foursome came together as dorm mates at Myles Standish Hall at Boston University.
OK, I’m a little bit prejudiced here, but it was more than worth the wait, even with its flaws.
Narrated by one of Boston’s biggest mouths, former J.Geils singer and onetime WBCN jock Peter Wolf, the film breezes along — at 66 minutes, way too fast, both technically and spiritually — as it tells the story of band that probably should have been America’s Beatles. They, too, had a shitload of talent; they, too, appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show”; and they were one of the opening acts on The Beatles’ final tour in 1966 — which was their final tour, too, as it turned out.
There was a one-off reunion show in Westport in 1976, but they reunited for real in 1998, playing at the University of Leon in Spain that September, a triumphant performance at the Cavestomp! festival at Coney Island High in NYC’s East Village in November, and a return “home” to the Paradise in Boston the following March.
The film was directed by Emmy-winning soap opera director Michael Stich and produced by Fred Cantor — who grew up in Westport, Ct., the same town as frontman Barry Tashian and keyboardist Bill Briggs. It starts off with a lot of cool and rare footage — The Remains on “Ed Sullivan,” “Hulabaloo” (a very popular NBC dance/music show of the mid-’60s) and Soupy Sales’ variety show; and the only known footage of them on the Beatle tour (some distant and overexposed amateur film of them onstage in Chicago).
Interspersed are some of Barry’s verbal recollections taken from the memoirs he wrote on the tour, which later became the book “Ticket to Ride.” (Chip quit right before the tour, and the band broke up afterward — right before the release of their first studio album on Epic.)
The second half of the film was shot Aug. 10-11, 2006, in Los Angeles, to coincide with the 40th anniversary of their show at Dodger Stadium, the next-to-last show on the tour. They were filmed at a rehearsal at the Mint in Hollywood, an in-store mini-concert that evening at Amoeba Music in Hollywood, Dodger Stadium the next morning and a show that night at Safari Sam’s in Hollywood. (Moptop Mike Markesich was there from Connecticut for the show; he can vouch for how good it was.)
Barry, Chip, Bill and bassist Vern Miller talked pretty extensively about the band. For Chip, the walk through Dodger Stadium gave him a chance to see what he missed — or, as he’s insisted since 1966, he doesn’t feel he missed. He has no regrets at all about his decision.
(And that’s where I come in. (From left: Barry, Chip, me, Vern and Bill.) I was interviewed for the film at the Mint rehearsal as kind of a quasi-authoritative talking head, having met and written about the guys 10 years ago when I was writing about music at the New Haven Register and deejaying regularly at WPKN in Bridgeport. I actually got about a minute of face time on camera — I was pleasantly surprised I got that much. Just wish I weighed a hell of a lot less back then — but those were my serious sleep apnea days, and it’s scary how morbidly fat and old and out of shape and just plain weary I looked then. Fucking scary. Now I’m just glad to be alive most days and working on being gorgeous, y’know?
Anyway, seeing the rehearsal just brought back an overwhelming sense of deja vu, and I could feel just how damned hot it was all over again. It was in the upper 90s that afternoon, I had a farmertan from the four-hour drive from Fresno, and the club had to be at least 10 degrees hotter inside because of all the lights. And in the end, I even got a thank you in the credits — no, guys, thank you! It was a great experience.)
We’ve been spoiled over the years by a rash of brilliantly done, detail-loaded, warts-and-all music documentaries: “MC5: A True Testimonial”; “You’re Gonna Miss Me,” about the hellish life and recent resurgence of Texas psychedelic legend Roky Erickson; and “monks: the transatlantic feedback,” about America’s truly lost band, The Monks. This is not one of those films, and had I not been in it and if I didn’t know the guys, I’d probably do some real bitching. (I know some music fiends like Moptop Mike, who are deeply into the history, will be disappointed in this.)
A lot of stuff was glossed over. Unless you knew ahead of time, you never found out where the guys grew up (Barry and Bill in Westport; Chip in Wolcott, Ct., near where I grew up; Vern in Jersey) or what brought them together. Save for brief mentions at the very end, you never really know what they did in their three decades apart. (And Barry’s post-Remains life could’ve been a very interesting part of the film: He and Bill went on to the original lineup of The Flying Burrito Brothers and then played on Gram Parsons’ solo album, and Barry spent most of the ’70s playing and writing with Emmylou Harris. These days, he and wife Holly perform in a country/bluegrass duet, based in Nashville.)
Also, the 1998 reunion was extremely glossed over: They talked about the Spanish show, but not one mention of Rhino’s release of the “Nuggets” box set at that time, which helped rekindle interest in their two biggest songs, “Why Do I Cry” and “Don’t Look Back” — and not a single mention of the Cavestomp! show, which was their triumphant American reunion (and, as someone standing at the edge of stage right, an intense, killer show, to boot). Talk about sins of omission …
The tradeoff, though, is that the band’s energy and chemistry come through. Like nearly every other band in the ’60s, The Remains went their separate ways — but in this case, the friendships endured. And the love and fraternity they have for each other shine through very clearly throughout the movie. And so does the onstage chemistry.
Sure, they’re all in their 60s now, but you get them on stage and they’re firing on all cylinders like the young college kids they were when they started this. (I wish I could describe the young, brash, arrogant sneer Barry conjured when I saw them at the Cavestomp! show.) They’re even trying new ways of doing things here and there, something I saw firsthand at rehearsal. The whole interaction of the band drives the film and makes it a treat to watch.
And, as an added bonus, rather than being a film about what-ifs, as documentaries about bands sometimes are, there are no regrets here. Chip left because it was meant to be, they broke up because it was meant to be, and they got together as middle-aged adults because it was meant to be.
(Speaking of meant to be: One cool thing … I mentioned in the film that when Chip quit, like a lot of other musicians then, he totally left it behind. Left the kit packed away for decades. His sons were teenagers when the reunion took place a decade ago, and until then, they had no idea that their dad the contractor was a killer drummer for this legendary band. Anyway, Chris Damiani now plays drums in a very good New Haven trio called Audiophile Junkie, and Dad couldn’t be prouder.)
Anyway, if you like historical minutiae, you might be disappointed. If you like triumphant stories, you’ll really dig this. If you like both, you’ll still dig this, even if you complain later. The overarcing theme to the film, what ties it all together, is the Remains lyric in the title of the post: All good things don’t have to end, and this is one good thing that won’t have to end till death do them part — and let’s hope that doesn’t happen for a long while …
PS: Holy crap — I just realized it took me a lot longer to post this than it did to watch the film!
* True story. In September 1991, Billy Miller and Miriam Linna of The A-Bones (and the wonderful Norton Records) were looking for friends to come to the basement of the Irish bar (I think it was McGovern’s then) at 14th and 7th in the Village/Chelsea in Manhattan, to be extras for a ’50s dance scene they were gonna be in for a horror film called “I Was a Teenage Mummy.” (That basement was the scene of many great garage shows in the late ’80s/early ’90s, under the alias The Strip.) So my then-girlfriend, Paola, and I had nothing to do that September Monday, so we drove down from New Haven for the shoot.
Six hours of stop-start, stop-start for what was gonna be about a 30-second scene. YEEEESH! I wore my vintage bowling shirt with FRAN’S CORAL LOUNGE on the back and still had enough hair to pin up and pomade-and-bobby-pin into place. Anyway, I couldn’t get the shit out of my hair for two days.
The movie came out in ’92; I saw it three years later at my pal Iggy’s place in New Orleans — the movie flat-out sucked, I was in it for 1 1/2 seconds, tops, and Paola wasn’t in it at all. But I found out years later from Miriam that one of the other unknown extras that day was a guy named Tom Kenny — and that little boy grew up to be the voice of SpongeBob. So when I get on “Jeopardy” one day, I can tell Alex with all honesty that I was in a film with SpongeBob …