Pete Townshend, guitar god of The Who, says he learned to play guitar and started a band for two reasons:
A: His nose. B. To meet girls.
About his nose he said, “It was huge. It was the reason I played guitar.” He also noted that bands (even band-members with large noses) “always got the best girls.”
“It is definitely one of the things that inspires lads to play music,” agrees Sing Street star Ferdia Walsh-Peelo.
Ask most male musicians why they joined a band and 99 out of 100 will tell you it was for one very simple reason, to meet women. Art, money and fame are often far distant second place to the lure of the opposite sex. Such is the case with Conor (Walsh-Peelo) a fifteen-year-old school by with a crush on Raphina (Lucy Boynton) in Sing Street, the new musical romance from Once director John Carney that plays like a spiritual cousin to The Commitments.
“I think that is the thing that gets Conor started and gets people started pop music,” he says. “Then you form the band and you find refuge in the music. It becomes more than just getting the girl. It’s actually a way of coping when things are crap.
“I didn’t have a great time in school and I went through all these similar kind of phases [as Conor]. I remember seeing [the John Lennon biopic] Nowhere Boy and me and this other guy at school bought leather jackets, gelled our hair back and went into school. Bringing combs with us and doing our hair like in Grease. Looking like complete twats running around town just doing mad stuff. It’s all part of the process. Finding yourself and finding your voice.”
Born and reared just thirty minutes outside Dublin in in County Wicklow, in the film the young actor is the perfect picture of an 80s rock star, despite knowing next to nothing about the decade or the music when he signed on to play Conor.
“It was a huge learning curve,” he says. “I hadn’t reached that point where I was diving into 80s music. I suppose I was up to the late Sixties. When I went into Sing Street I was playing bands and we were still in that place. I was listening to loads of country, music from Tennessee, skiffle music, bluegrass. I had been experimenting with loads of different kinds of music and I got into the 80s stuff when we shot the movie.
“It took me a while but then I got into it after watching a million ridiculous 80s videos. I just got it,” he says. “They just weren’t taking themselves seriously at all. It was just that kind of era. It was all just mad, wasn’t it? There was loads of horrendous stuff around at that time but there were a few gems. Hall and Oates are absolute gems of the pop stuff.”
The musician-turned-actor also singles out The Cure and The Talking Heads as great stuff,” but says his heart lies in folk music.
“Folk music is always where it’s been at for me. I played skiffle music with bands for the craic (fun) of it but when I came back, in my room I’d be listening to Joni Mitchell.”
“It’s impossible to talk about N.W.A without talking about South Central LA in the late 1980s.”
Straight Outta Compton is the legendary album by gangsta rap group N.W.A, released Aug. 8, 1988. It’s a sonic blast that plays, as Rolling Stone said, like a “bombastic, cacophonous car ride through Los Angeles’ burnt-out and ignored hoods.” It became the first platinum album to reach that status with no airplay or major tours and now it’s also the title of a biopic that documents the group’s beginnings and turbulent history.
Writing for theverge.com, Lizzie Plaugic observed, “It’s impossible to talk about N.W.A without talking about South Central LA in the late 1980s.” Infected by crack and gang violence, the area was so rough the LAPD created a special unit known as CRASH — Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums — and it was these surroundings that helped birth the ferocious beats of Straight Outta Compton and a genre known as gangsta rap.
Music is unavoidably influenced by the surroundings of those who make it and music biopics have always been quick to use location as a shorthand to help the audience understand how and why musicians produced the music they did.
Just as South Central sets the scene for Straight Outta Compton, Manchester’s drug-fuelled “Madchester” club scene of the late 1980s and early ’90s informs 24 Hour Party People and the mean streets of Brooklyn set the stage for the meteoric rise of rapper Notorious B.I.G. in the 2009 film Notorious.
There is no shortage of John Lennon or his birthplace on celluloid. There are five official Beatles movies, documentaries like The U.S. vs. John Lennon, a 2006 movie that focuses on Lennon’s transformation from musician into antiwar activist, and even experimental short films like the John and Yoko shorts Two Virgins and Apotheosis.
Portrayed by everyone from Paul Rudd (in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story) to Monty Python’s Eric Idle, rarely has any actor captured both Lennon’s rebelliousness and vulnerability as Aaron Taylor-Johnson does in Nowhere Boy, the story of the musician’s formative years.
Taylor-Johnson, recently seen in blockbusters like Avengers: Age of Ultron and Godzilla, is aided in his performance by a gritty portrait of Lennon’s lower-working-class neighbourhood in Liverpool, England. You can almost smell the bangers and mash coming off the screen and the vivid Merseyside backdrop provides subtle clues about the man Lennon would become.
Set back when you could still drink a bottle of stolen booze in the shade of the Hollywood sign without being arrested for trespassing, The Runaways focuses on two glue-sniffing, glam-rock obsessed tough girls named Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart) and Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning). Disaffected SoCal teens, they see an exit from their mundane suburban lives through rock ’n’ roll.
Unfortunately their ticket out comes in the form of impresario Kim Fowley, a record producer and self proclaimed “King Hysteria.” He cobbles together the band, trains them to be rock stars, convinced that they will “be bigger than the Beatles.” Before they can play Shea Stadium, however, the band breaks up — knee deep in ego, drug abuse and bad management. Set in and around the Sunset Strip’s late 1970s seedy underbelly, the movie perfectly captures the sun-dappled decadence that illuminated the time.
In the movies, like real life, it’s about Location! Location! Location!
There is no shortage of John Lennon on celluloid. There are five official Beatles movies, documentaries like “The U.S. vs. John Lennon,” a 2006 movie that focuses on Lennon’s transformation from musician into antiwar activist, and even experimental short films like the John and Yoko shorts like “Two Virgins” and “Apotheosis.” He’s been portrayed by everyone from Paul Rudd (in “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story”) to Monty Python’s Eric Idle but rarely has any actor captured both Lennon’s rebelliousness and vulnerability as Aaron Johnson does in “Nowhere Boy.”
The coming-of-age-story of one of the most famous people of the twentieth century, “Nowhere Boy” examines Lennon’s relationship with his estranged mother Julia (Anne-Marie Duff) and his Aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas), the woman who raised him. For the first time on film we see the effect the combustible combination of women had on his life. His mother’s ready! steady! go! lifestyle helping to form his rock ‘n’ roll side, while Aunt Mimi’s more slow and steady influence brought out John’s sensitive, artistic side.
“Nowhere Boy” is a fascinating character study that reveals the formative years of a complicated man. Aaron Johnson, who was eighteen at the time, succeeds because he doesn’t try to imitate Lennon, instead he plays a young, confused man who is on the cusp of growing up. Sure, the distinctive Liverpool accent is there as are the right period details, but it’s what is beyond those crutches that make this performance, as they said in “Yellow Submarine,” “a tickle of joy on the belly the universe.”
First time director Sam Taylor-Wood gets the muddled mix of excitement, testosterone and disappointment Lennon felt on an almost daily basis just right, and in the process has made one of the best Beatle bios to date.