Friday, September 16, 2005

Documentaries As Career Guides

The Dandy Warhols: Odditorium or Warlords of Mars

You probably knew The Dandy Warhols were one of two featured bands in the documentary Dig! Marc Hogan saw the movie. He referenced it four times in his backhanded review of the new Dandies album.

Did he see the same movie I saw? Hogan saw a lead singer, Courtney Taylor, "stingingly aware he lacks his hero's gifts ... all the while stretching one foot ever further through the door to the commercial success that inevitably eludes Newcombe."

I saw a musician who learned one of the most important lessons in the music business: Talent is key, but focus is just as important. I saw what I knew all along, that Taylor is a talented music who plays a tongue-in-cheek card that keeps him in a voyeuristic position. He writes of rock's glorious underbelly from a safe distance. If listeners think he's all sex, drugs and rock and roll, let them think it.

But my problem with the review isn't withHogan's interpretation of the movie, it's that his historical knowledge of the band seems to have come from a movie.

This might have passed right by me had I not been even more frustrated with Pitchfork's review of the recent Ramones box set. The documentary End of A Century wasn't even mentioned, but the band's timeline was just too damn similar to the main points of the documentary. Even worse, it hit on the same points as did almost every review of the movie. (Four guys from Queens, Johnny stole Joey's girlfriend, Joey wrote a song about it). Any serious Ramones fan or person knowledgeable of the band would have certainly talked about other things.

Likewise, any person well versed in the band's music would never write things like:

"Their desperate hopes for mainstream popularity, which showed through in their professionalism and dogged work ethic, were dashed when the Sex Pistols made the new style a four-letter word."

What?! The band's biggest stab at professionalism was End of the Century, recorded by Phil Spector and released in January of 1980. The Sex Pistols broke up in 1978.

Or this:

"As their contemporaries imploded or exploded, the Ramones maintained a surprisingly consistent pace, continuously putting out albums but refusing to expand their sound too far beyond the template they established on their self-titled debut."

Yes, they kept a consistent pace. But to say they didn't expand their sound is to have missed the glossy production (not to mention the guitar licks and rolling bass lines) of End of the Century, the grab bag of influences found in Pleasant Dreams, the cover of "Times Has Come Today" on Subterranean Jungle and the introduction of synthesizers on Too Tough to Die and Animal Boy. That period covers 1980 to 1986 -- a period that is ALWAYS overlooked by critics who mistakenly think the band was defined by only its first found studio albums. Those four albums had the most impact on the music world, and they're punk rock staples, but the Ramones continued to make incredible music and spread its wings well into the '80s.

So what? So it's starting to look to me as if Pitchfork writers are using documentaries as a kind of Cliff's Notes. I'd rather they do their homework or admit they don't have the proper historical perspective to write a good review.