On the December 27, 2020 edition of the Richard Crouse Show we have a look at the art of song writing with an A-list group of artists: Gordon Lightfoot, Bob Geldof, Alice Cooper, Randy Bachman, Bob Ezrin, The Kings, Kevan Staples, Robbie Robertson, Damhnait Doyle, Elvis Costello, Steve Earle, Bernie Taupin and Sting.
Each week on the nationally syndicated Richard Crouse Show, Canada’s most recognized movie critic brings together some of the most interesting and opinionated people from the movies, television and music to put a fresh spin on news from the world of lifestyle and pop-culture. Tune into this show to hear in-depth interviews with actors and directors, to find out what’s going on behind the scenes of your favourite shows and movies and get a new take on current trends. Recent guests include Ethan Hawke, director Brad Bird, comedian Gilbert Gottfried, Eric Roberts, Brian Henson, Jonathan Goldsmith a.k.a. “The most interesting man in the world,” and best selling author Linwood Barclay.
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Richard speaks to “CTV News at 11:30” anchor Andria Case about television and movies to watch this weekend including the musical drama “The Cuban,” the meta horror film “Random Acts of Violence” and the rock ‘n’ roll documentary “Creem: America’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll Magazine.”
Richard sits in on the CFRA Ottawa morning show with guest host Matt Harris to talk the new movies coming to VOD and streaming services including the soulful drama “The Cuban,” the meta horror film “Random Acts of Violence,” the rock ‘n’ roll documentary “Creem: America’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll Magazine” and the new Nicolas Cage movie “Primal.”
Like much of the music it chronicled in its 1970s heyday, Creem Magazine was rough n’ rowdy and self-destructive. “Creem: America’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll Magazine,” a new documentary, now streaming courtesy of Virtual Cinema, has a close look at the magazine that embodied an irreverent but fervent rock n’ roll attitude. “Nearly fifty years after Creem’s first issue published, it still stands for something,” says JJ Kramer, son of the founding publisher Barry Kramer. “Either you’re in on the joke, or you are the joke.”
Creem began as something different than the scrappy, politically incorrect screed that once so savagely reviewed a Runaways album that Joan Jett stormed the offices looking for revenge and created the term “punk rock.” Under guidance of co-founder Tony Reay the Detroit magazine was conceived as a blues-rock forum but within a few issues Reay was on the curb and publisher Barry Kramer had hired Dave Marsh, a rock n’ roll misfit who brought a blue-collar street cred to the magazine’s content.
A fiercely opinionated champion of the take no prisoners approach to music journalism Marsh became the cornerstone of a gritty group of writers, like Lester Bangs, Jaan Uhelszki and Robert Christgau, who redefined how the music was discussed in the press. “It was like it was written by a bunch on convicts in Joliet State Prison,” says artist and musician Lamar Sorrento.
As a poke in the eye to the staider Rolling Stone, the renegades even subtitled their mag “America’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll Magazine.”
Their distance from taste makers on the coasts and proximity to Motor City music scene gave them a unique take. Working above a rundown record shop in inner city Detroit, and later on a rural commune, Kramer and Company created music journalism fuelled by passion, drugs and physical disagreements. Fights over content were not uncommon. Envelopes were pushed, breasts were exposed, leading former fan Jeff Daniels to say buying the magazine was like “buying Playboy, you didn’t want your parents to see either one of them.”
The unconventional group advocated for Alice Cooper (despite labelling their debut LP “a waste of plastic.”), MC5 and The Stooges, bands with a similar swagger and anti-commercial instincts as the writers themselves. Members of R.E.M., Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam and many others appear in the movie and were fans, and later went on to create idiosyncratic music like the punk, new wave and hard rock they read about in Creem.
The deaths of Kramer and Bangs and the defections of Marsh and Christgau to rival Rolling Stone spelled the end of the mag’s influential run and by 1989 it had been bought and sold, and ultimately shut down, leaving behind yellowing pages of some of the best rock n’ roll writing of the 1970s.
To capture the counter-cultural impact of Creem director Scott Crawford has assembled many of the original players, including the iconoclastic Jaan Uhelszki, one of the first female rock writers and now, one of the co-producers on the film. It’s slickly produced, makes good use of archival footage and zips along at a rapid pace. Perhaps too rapid. Crawford covers two decades of history in under eighty minutes, briskly walking us through the tumultuous timeframe. It is entertaining, particularly for those old enough to have bought the magazine on the stands, but although complete, it feels rushed. This cast of characters feels like each could warrant their own movie, and hell, I’d pay to see a movie about the contentious relationship between Lou Reed and the gonzo Bangs alone.
“Creem: America’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll Magazine” isn’t as rough around the edges as the magazine it documents, but it does display why a scrappy upstart from Detroit was able to make and leave its mark. In the film legendary rock photographer Bob Gruen says that rock ‘n roll is about the freedom to express yourself very loudly. “And I think that’s what Creem did.”
Starting July 31, 2020, support independent Canadian cinemas closed due to COVID-19.
Proceeds from virtual ticket purchases of CREEM: America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine will help sustain programming and support efforts to reopen these participating theaters:
The mid-seventies were a confusing time to be a music-obsessed kid looking to latch onto pop culture in Nova Scotia.
Old hippies weren’t my people—they were everywhere, sporting peace and love hangovers, tie dyed t-shirts and dazed looks. With them came bad hygiene and battered copies of Aoxomoxoa. The free love stuff sounded pretty good to me, but I never liked Birkenstocks and stoner rock wasn’t my thing, (although Silver Machine by Hawkwind was usually worth a fist pump.)
In syncopated lockstep with the 60s leftovers were the disco Dan’s and Dani’s, polyester-outfitted goodtime seekers looking to boogaloo to the top of Disco Mountain. I did the Bump at school dances, I suppose, and played the hell out of my Jive Talkin’ 45, but I was six three at age twelve so wearing platforms were out of the question. Even if I could have worn them the hedonistic woop-woop of disco felt alien to me, like it was emanating from a different planet where everyone had glittery skin and mirror balls for eyes.
Singer songwriters wrote about things that didn’t touch me. 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover? I didn’t have a lover to leave once, let alone another 49 ways. Also, lover? Who did Paul Simon think I was? Marcello Mastroianni?
Country rock was OK, although at nine plus minutes Freebird overstayed its welcome by about six minutes. Country music was for hillbillies (it wasn’t until much later I discovered the joys of Waylon and Willie and the boys), soft rock was for girls and I’m pretty sure only dogs could fully appreciate Leo Sayers’ high-pitched wailing. I liked KISS although their “rock and roll all night, party everyday” ethos seemed unrealistic, even to a teenager.
My parents listened to the smooth sounds of Frank Sinatra which frequently clashed with the hard rock racket emanating from my brother’s room.
I was left somewhere in the middle.
Of course I had records. A stack of them.
The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars was usually near the top. It was a touchstone then as it is now because of its exceptional songwriting, cool cover and otherworldly sounds. I also had the obligatory copy of Frampton Comes Alive! but I also had pop records, heavy metal albums and some disco. But I hadn’t yet heard the definitive sound. For my brother it was Jimi Hendrix’s string stretching. For my dad it was Bing Crosby‘s croon.
I was fifteen and hadn’t yet passed that most important—to me anyway—rite of passage: finding the combination of notes and attitude my parents wouldn’t understand.
In those days the top ten charts were really diverse and fans were regularly exposed to a baffling array of music. The Billboard charts hadn’t yet fragmented off into genre specific listings and radio wasn’t yet run by robots with limited imaginations. Playlists were all over the place, and if you weren’t quick on the dial you’d awkwardly segue from the slick jazz of George Benson into You’re the One That I Want’s pop confectionary.
There weren’t many stations were I grew up but there was a smörgåsbord of sounds to be heard, but around the time Barry Gibb became the first songwriter in history to write four consecutive #1 singles on Billboard’s Hot 100 Chart the music on the radio started to have less appeal for me.
On the quest to figure out your identity there are few things more soul destroying for a fifteen-year-old than finding yourself inadvertently humming along to a song on the radio as your dad drives and hums in harmony.
I didn’t want the shared family something-for-everyone experience radio offered. I wanted my own experience so I began to regard the radio I grew up listening to as Musicology 101. With its indiscriminate playlists, it’s ability to embrace all genres I had a solid base to build on, but like many good relationships we outgrew one another.
Songs by Kenny Rogers and the like were everywhere but tunes such as The Gambler sounded hopelessly old fashioned; like a Zane Grey dime store novel put to music. So when the radio, which had been my constant companion, fell away as a source of discovering new music I turned to Hit Parader, Circus, Cream and any other magazine I could to find out what was what.
There I saw pictures of the Comiskey Park Disco Demolition Night that lead to the jettisoning of my Bee Gees singles. I read about Elvis Presley dying on the toilet, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s plane bursting into flames, killing six while, ironically, promoting the Street Survivors LP.
It felt like the old guard was fading away. Sure Queen (liked them) and Barry Manilow (not so much) and Village People (see Manilow note) were still having hits, and Bruce Springsteen was still being loudly touted as the future of rock and roll (by rock critic turned Bruce’s co-producer Jon Landau who wrote, “I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen.”) but I wasn’t ready “to trade in these wings on some wheels.”
At the same time my one-time hero Alice Cooper got sober and made the worst record of his career to date but that stuff was quickly fading as I began to hear about—but not actually hear—some exciting music from London and New York.
The only thing I knew about New York came from TV and a family from Manhattan who rented a cottage every year at one of the three beaches that framed my hometown. They told me that if you left your bike unchained at the corner of Ninth Street and Second Avenue it would disappear almost immediately, as if by magic.
London I knew only from history books, James Bond and Monty Python.
But in the pages of my mags I learned about a new youth movement, a musical incubator spearheaded by bands like The Ramones, The Clash, Wire and Television.
Sylvester Stallone wanted to make a version of “Citizen Kane” about rags-to-riches rock impresario Shep Gordon called “Citizen Insane,” but never got around to it. Mike Myers, however, did and has made a documentary about the flamboyant Gordon, a man who dated Sharon Stone, discovered Alice Cooper, hung out with Mick Jagger and partied at the house Napoleon built for Josephine.
For someone who says, “There’s nothing about fame that’s healthy… it has no intrinsic value,” Shep Gordon sure has made a lot of people very famous.
He discovered Alice Cooper when he and his band were starving on Sunset Boulevard, and set them on a path that lead to superstardom. He broke Anne Murray south of the border—“She’s so straight-laced she’s not even Middle America,” he says, “she’s Canadian.”—gave Groucho Marx a late career boost and vaulted Teddy Pendergrass and many others onto the charts.
He’s a character who offers up three bits of advice for anyone thinking of getting in the game. “Always get the money. Never forget the money. Always remember to never forget the money.”
From his 1970s heyday “Supermensch” teaches us that the infant on the cover of Billion Dollar Babies was named Lola, that Charlie Chaplin was her godfather and that Shep wasn’t immune to the lures of rock and roll excess. While he was raking it in with Cooper he had a house with a model train that transported people from the pool to the main house where vials of cocaine were hidden in the kitchen drawers.
That changed when he met chef Roger Vergé, the father of nouvelle cuisine. Unlike his music industry friends, Vergé was well adjusted, respected and happy. It changed Shep’s life, he morphed from a guy content to eat spaghetti and ketchup into a foodie who even married a raw food chef. It also opened up a new avenue of work for him, and with the dawn of the Food Network he helped redefine the term celebrity chef.
Despite all the success, he’s never had a very profitable love life. “Supermensch” examines this as well, in an unvarnished look at his life outside the spotlight. It’s these moments and Gordon’s insights on his relationship with the Dali Lama (that’s right, Shep knows everybody) that lift the film from a hero-worshipping portrait of 1970s excesses to a moving glimpse into the life of a man who seems to be able to make everyone except himself truly happy.
“Super Duper Alice Cooper” is an authorized biography of one of the biggest rock stars of the 1970s.
Perhaps it’s a bit too authorized.
Fans will love seeing the concert footage, rare archival tape and the inventively presented visuals—old photos spring to life—and hearing the story as told by Alice and Cooper regulars like Denis Dunaway and manager Shep Gordon, but there’s little here that hasn’t been reported elsewhere.
Most interesting is the film’s attention in Cooper’s early years in Phoenix, playing in bands like Beatles’ wannabes The Earwigs and then The Spiders. It’s the most engaging part of the film and filmmakers Sam Dunn and Reginald Harkema wisely take their time detailing how Vincent Furnier, a preacher’s son from Arizona, morphed into a chicken killing rock star who found fame under the name of an seventeenth century witch.
Once Cooper and band hit the big time, however, the details get a little sketchier. Their second album, “Easy Action,” is not even mentioned. Ditto “Killer,” a 1971 platinum album. The doc—or “doc opera” as the filmmakers are pitching it—does have some good warts-and-all information on the years Cooper lost to drugs and alcohol, and an interesting take on how Alice came left the original band to strike out on his own.
It’s here the doc falters. Instead of an insider’s look at what happens when a band falls apart we are given a version that feels a bit too managed. Perhaps time has healed some old wounds but original members Neal Smith and Dennis Dunaway, who were stripped of their rock star status as soon as Alice split, don’t dish any dirt. Instead they provide what feels like an authorized version of events. Some grit here would have given “Super Duper Alice Cooper” more of an edge.
As it is, however, the movie is a fan friendly pastiche of images, sounds and info on one of the most outrageous rock ‘n’ roll acts ever.
Alice Cooper’s theatrical brand of rock ’n’ roll has been horrifying audiences for five decades.
Onstage, the kohl-eyed singer of School’s Out and No More Mister Nice Guy is the stuff of nightmares.
His grotesque Grand-Guignol reputation was cemented when he was accused of biting the head off a chicken and drinking its blood during the Toronto Rock ’n’ Roll Revival concert in September 1969.
A new movie, Super Duper Alice Cooper, details how Vincent Furnier, a preacher’s son from Arizona, morphed into a baby-doll-butchering rock star who found fame under the name of a 17th century witch.
It also unveils the truth about the “poultry incident.”
According to the film, it was during the climax of Cooper’s wild set that a chicken somehow made its way onstage and Alice — thinking the bird could fly, threw it into the air — expecting it to soar into the sky.
Instead it dropped like a stone into the audience who promptly tore it apart. The next day newspapers reported a sensational version of the story, one that painted Cooper as a chicken-killing degenerate, giving the band their best publicity to date and Alice an idea.
“That was the moment I realized the audience really needed a villain,” says Cooper.
“They wanted so much for Alice to be the guy who killed that chicken. Nobody else in rock ’n’ roll would have done that except this really creepy guy up there. It clicked in my head that I needed to make this Alice character a definitive Moriarty. When that happened, I saw what the audience wanted.
“I knew I could develop this guy into something that is really going to be fun to play.”
For the next 15 years he played Alice to the hilt, on stage and off. It wasn’t until a stint in rehab made him reassess his priorities and understand that Alice the character didn’t need to exist anywhere except on stage. “If that grey area would have cleared up and I could have put Alice in his proper place,” he says, “it would have been a lot easier.
“But like anything else, when you’re a creative character, you always take the hard road. I didn’t realize that Alice was not the problem. It was Dr. Frankenstein that was the problem, not the monster. Alice never drank on stage.
“Alice never did drugs on stage. It was the creator of the monster that had the big problem.”
These days, at age 66, Cooper is still going strong. He remains a wild man on stage with a new tour and album in the works. “I still love the fact that people expect a show,” he says, “and they get more than there were expecting every time.”