Thursday, May 15, 2008

Oh My My, Oh Hell Yes

I watched the first half of the four hour Tom Petty documentary Runnin' Down a Dream last night. While it's way too long - four hours? on Tom Petty? really? - it's very well-done and pretty fascinating. Some quick thoughts on the first part:
* Am I the only one who thinks the song "Breakdown" captures the feel of late 70's perfectly? It's like I'm transported to a smoky, dark bar filled with skeevy people wearing butterfly collars and leisure suits every time I hear it. It also feels like it was recorded on black velvet.
* Before he was famous, Petty recorded a demo with his band in Florida and drove to L.A. to sell it. His method? He walked into record company offices and demanded they listen to his tape. That kid's got moxy!
* They keep talking about Tom Petty, sex symbol. Um, really?
* Petty fought the record companies not once, but twice. The first time he refused to give them the album that eventually became Damn the Torpedoes because he didn't like his contract. He got out of his deal by declaring bankruptcy which, according to law at the time, meant that all contracts he had signed previously were null and void. The second time was when the record company wanted to raise the price of albums to $9.98 starting with his Hard Promises record. He threatened to name the album $5.99 to confuse stores into selling it for even less. He won that battle as well. That Petty, he's a scrapper!
* They kept talking like his Mom died tragically when he was very young. But then they revealed she passed away when he was in his thirties, well after he was famous. Sad, yeah, but tragic? Don't think so.
* They have footage of Eddie Vedder singing with Petty. While I think Pearl Jam's output is hit and miss, I readily admit that Vedder is one hell of a singer. The fact that he's a big Crowded House fan is a plus as well.
* Early in his career Petty was playing at the side of the stage when the audience collectively reached up and pulled him off. They then pounced on him, trying to each have a Petty souvenir of their own to take home. By the time he surfaced his face was scratched and his shirt was torn. It took several bouncers to save him. His band kept playing throughout this scary moment. Way to have his back, Heartbreakers.
* Stevie Nicks pops up and says if she had been asked to leave Fleetwood Mac in 1976 to join the Heartbreakers, she would have. What a terrible match that would have made. Would Stevie twirl like a madwoman during "Refugee"? Would the Heartbreakers be able to play "Rhiannon" without laughing hysterically?
* They show a bit of the "Don't Come Around Here No More" video, but not enough.
* "Listen to Her Heart" is one hell of a song.
* No one comes right out and says it, but it's obvious that a lot of drugs were smoked/snorted/injected/etc. within the Heartbreaker circle in the 70's. Listening to him speak today should be warning enough for kids to stay sober for the rest of their days.
* Mike Campbell has dreadlocks now. The only rock star who has the ability to pull that off is Bob Marley, not a 55 year-old white man.
* Petty shattered his right hand in the early 80s by slamming it into a wall during a fit of anger. Apparently he snapped tendons, broke every bone, and basically turned his hand into jelly. I don't believe that he was able to do that kind of damage just hitting a wall in his house, unless the walls in his house are made of solid steel. No one's saying what really went down on that one.
I'm only two hours into it, which in Petty time means it's about 1987. I'm about to hear all about Full Moon Fever, the first Tom Petty album I ever bought. Only two more hours to go!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Stayin' Alive

I thought it would be cute. I had no idea it would be so moving.

Young @ Heart tells the story of the Young at Heart Chorus, a group of 70-, 80- and 90-somethings who perform songs. Rock and roll songs. Punk rock and roll songs.

Now, they're not flailing about the stage and spitting on their audience, in classic punk style. They're simply singing the words and having a blast doing it. They have no idea where the song came from, nor do they care. They're just in love with performing.

You get to know the group throughout the film. There's feisty Eileen who reminded me a bit of my grandmother, taking a solo on "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" There's Lenny and Joe, two old codgers who nail "Life During Wartime" in the first rehearsal. And there's Bob, a man so plagued with ill-health but determined to do anything to sing in just one more show. He comes to rehearsal the morning after being released from the hospital, frail and sickly, but so in love with the idea of performing that he'd rather die than give it up. There are many, many more stories, all of them interesting.

I admit it: I expected the film to mock this chorus, to point and laugh at the silly old people singing songs they have no idea how to interpret. But the film never does that, although it does include some awful music videos that comes close to crossing that line. Instead it celebrates these men and women, proving that just because you're old doesn't mean you need to sit in your house all day, smoke cigarettes and curse those damn neighbor kids of yours. The point is made several times over that age is just a number. It's your mind and your heart that keep you young.

There's also real moments of sadness in the film that I didn't see coming. There is death in the movie, unexpected death that packs a whallop. And there's a performance of Coldplay's "Fix You" that will bring you to tears. I'm man enough to admit I was crying by the end of the song along with everyone else in the theater.

But it's not all tears. There's a lot of humor in the film, from the group struggling to learn Sonic Youth's "Schizophrenia" to Lenny's inability to nail the words to "I Feel Good." The chorus members all have great senses of humor and know when to laugh at themselves.

Enough of my rambling. See this movie!

The trailer: