Tag Archives: Lemmy

A Stray Cat Struts: My Life as a Rockabilly Rebel by Slim Jim Phantom

A Stray Cat Struts by Slim Jim PhantomWhen I look at musical biographies I’ve read in the past, from Laura Jane Grace to Tony Iommi to Ginger Wildheart to Frank Turner amongst others, it’s fairly obvious that most have focussed on frontmen or band leaders.

This seems to be a fairly standard trend so, coming to the autobiography of Slim Jim Phantom, most famously the drummer from The Stray Cats, I expected something a bit different, and that’s just what I got.

From the start Phantom makes it clear that his book won’t be a mudslinging ‘needless to say I got the last laugh’ type affair but a look at the positives that his life as a rockabilly musician of note has brought him.

That isn’t to say that it’s all saccharine sweet though as he and his various band members go through their share of problems but, for the most part, Slim Jim finds the good in all the situations, one way or another.

With this approach he makes it clear early on that he won’t engage with the potential fallout of the split of The Stray Cats, so when that comes it’s not a surprise (though later he sheds a little light on the relationships between himself and fellow Cats, Brian Setzer and Lee Rocker).

The Stray Cats

The Stray Cats

Up to the split of that band the book moves in, largely, chronological order tracing Phantom’s life from Massapequa, Long Island, New York to London where the Cats first found fame, through meetings and tours with The Rolling Stones and the kind of encounters and happenings that are genuinely amazing to hear given the speed with which they occur following the trio’s arrival in the UK.

In this we begin to meet some of Slim Jim’s ‘true pals’ who become a major feature of many of the stories and many are household names from the world of rock ‘n’ roll. While this could easily feel like name dropping par excellence, it actually comes across as if our humble narrator is as surprised by many of these encounters and friendships as we might be, including his marriage in the mid-1980s to Britt Ekland!

As the book goes on the stories focus more on specific subjects so there are chapters on Lemmy, ‘The Killer’ Jerry Lee Lewis, George Harrison and other rock ‘n’ roll heroes as well as Phantom’s endeavours in film acting, nightclub ownership and life on and around the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles.

HeadCat and Jerry Lee Lewis

HeadCat and Jerry Lee Lewis

Through all of these what makes the book so engaging is the manner in which Phantom writes. It’s as if he is telling you these stories one-to-one, and his enthusiasm for his music and extraordinary comes through strongly in every passage regardless of what he’s recounting.

As the book goes on he becomes more reflective as his hard partying days subside to watching game shows while on the phone with Harry Dean Stanton, spending time with his, evidently equally rock ‘n’ roll, son TJ and later charity mountaineering trips to Kilimanjaro and Everest.

Rockabilly music is never far away though and it’s clear this remains what makes his heart beat and its worth having YouTube handy to look up some of the Stray Cats performances he mentions just to revel in the same things he is.

Slim Jim Phantom up Kilimanjaro

Slim Jim Phantom up Kilimanjaro

What I think this accessibility and enthusiasm stems from is something he highlights and I’ve noticed in my own life that, in a majority of cases, drummers are the members of the band most happy to let down the facade of rock ‘n’ roll life, connect with others and generally are more open and sharing.

Using this Slim Jim lets us into his world in a far less self-conscious way than many other musicians making for a fascinating and easy read that may have a few rough edges tidied but feels honest and true in the way that the best things in rock ‘n’ roll should be.

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Tromeo and Juliet

Tromeo and JulietIn 1996 Baz Luhrman and his leading man Leonardo DiCaprio shot to mainstream international recognition with the release of a new retelling of William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. A couple of months later, keeping with the long-held tradition of exploitation cinema, Troma Films released their, rather more unique, version of the story, Tromeo & Juliet.

From the off we are in fairly familiar Troma territory, albeit with what looks like a far higher budget than most of their output, as Motorhead’s Lemmy welcomes us to “Fair Manhattan, where we lay our scene” and introduces the principal players (then the less principled ones… that’s the level of humour we’re dealing with, for the most part).

Then we head to Lloyd Kaufman’s vision of a punk club where we meet various members of the Capulet family and a piercing and tattoo parlour where we meet various of the Ques (this film’s version of the Montague family) including Tromeo.

From there the film takes on a very loose version of the origin story, albeit with extra gore, body modification, sex, bondage, penis monsters and drugs that induce transformation into a cow-human hybrid… as anyone who’s knows Troma’s work will recognise its almost pointless trying to explain how most of that fits into the story.

Tromeo and Juliet - Will Keenan and Jane Jensen

Tromeo and Juliet – Will Keenan and Jane Jensen

As you’d expect Kaufman’s direction is at best bad and at worst atrocious, especially when a slightly clever attempt at montage is attempted and things become momentarily impossible to follow (this happens a few times, particularly when we go into a dream sequence).

Probably the best attempt at ‘clever’ editing comes when we are introduced to our two leads romantic situations as we cut from Juliet and her nurse/housekeeper, Ness, in bed and Tromeo watching a porn CD-ROM (it’s definitely the 90s, folks!) – again this pretty much tells you everything you need to know about the movie.

What makes this film stand head and shoulders above most other Troma movies I’ve seen, such as their legendary Toxic Avenger series and the likes of Class of Nuke Em High, Surf Nazis Must Die and Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD, are the contributions to the script from James Gunn. Gunn would go on to write the Dawn of the Dead remake and write and direct Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy and hints at his slightly off beat, irreverent style poke through here.

Lemmy - House of MotorheadA highlight of this is the intertwining of the original text with a more Troma sensibility which range from the obvious (a blind drunk Monty Que asking the whereabouts of his son) to the, comparatively, clever.

For example, to Juliet’s “Parting is such sweet sorrow” Tromeo retorts, “Yeah, it totally sucks”, this ‘couplet’ somewhat sums up all you need to know about the movie’s ‘bard-sploitation’ ambitions as it clashes the text with the basest of things in its own style.

As the film climaxes with a twist on the original tale (though West Side Story this isn’t) I couldn’t help but be entertained by what is not just on paper, but for the most part on film, a fairly awful movie but what seem to be Gunn’s contributions helping elevate it, slightly, above the rest of Kaufman and Troma’s oeuvre.

This review is based of the 16:9 version of the film included on the 2015 88 Films edition of the movie that gives a very good visual transfer with generally very good audio, this trailer isn’t…

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Metal Evolution

Metal Evolution blu-rayHaving first made their name with the feature-length documentary Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey, which charts a path through the hows, whys and wherefores of heavy metal music, Sam Dunn and Scott McFadyen, aka Banger Films Inc, have gone on to produce this series of TV documentaries for VH1 which expand upon the film’s premise.

While the movie takes an overview of the entire genre and, specifically, Dunn’s interests, including some elements of the sociology and anthropology behind the fans and musicians, Metal Evolution takes a slightly more in-depth look at the history of the genre, and some of its sub-genres, in a similar but, generally, more open way.

Sam Dunn

Sam Dunn

Starting off with an exploration of pre-metal heaviness it gets going well with sound bites from the likes of Blue Cheer, Steppenwolf and Led Zeppelin as well as a look back at the links from classical, jazz, blues and early rock ‘n’ roll – leading to some brilliant comments from Motorhead’s Lemmy about Little Richard.

Once we get past the fairly well trodden path of the history of metal across the first three episodes things settle into exploring sub-genres with various levels of success.

While its clear that Dunn’s interests lay more in the world of thrash and NWOBHM, so these episodes see our ‘presenter’ getting clearly excited to be meeting his heroes and is, therefore, somewhat deferential in interviewing them.

Kerry King of Slayer

Kerry King of Slayer

So, it is often the other episodes that are more interesting and show a side of metal, and its fans (of which I am one), that they often find hard to reconcile with the so-called ‘true metal’ image.

This first comes to the fore in the glam episode where we get a very skewed overview of the style that seems to have its own agenda largely regarding whether this is ‘proper’ metal and, while this can be a fun conversation to have in the pub, as an episode of a TV show it seems to give the genre somewhat short shrift – particularly considering the crossover appeal the style has had and, it is clear throughout, that Dunn still really isn’t that interested in Motley Crue, Poison and their ilk.

Lemmy

Lemmy

The same criticism can also be leveled at the grunge episode, however here not only does Dunn seem unsure as to why he is exploring the sub-genre, many of the musicians don’t seem to buy the theory that grunge is part of metal, most seeming to side with the idea that its part of punk or indie.

Despite this there are some illuminating points about how bands like Alice In Chains and Soundgarden were influenced by early metal and how grunge has evolved into the current crop of stadium rock of the likes of Nickleback, which adds a much broader scope towards the end of the episode.

The most successful episodes are the ones that tackle styles clearly within the over arching genre of metal but that Dunn doesn’t have such a close association with, either positive or negative.

So it is that the exploration of nu-metal, shock rock, power metal and prog metal are so me of the more illuminating episodes.

Ronnie James Dio

Ronnie James Dio

Of course, as with every documentary like these, there are moments where the musicians almost veer into self parody, either by taking their music so seriously and being so po-faced about it they fail to see the inherent absurdity of the things they are doing, or they are the genuine knucleheads the mainstream media like to portray heavy metallers as.

Between these however is a deep vein of fascinating discussion of just why so many people like this sort of music and why it has never quite, despite a few dalliances, totally made into the mainstream of pop culture with the late, great Ronnie James Dio, Lemmy and Alice Cooper all giving some great insights alongside some, frankly, ridiculous war stories.

In the end Metal Evolution is an imbalanced series that, as a fan of metal and music history in general, I did enjoy. Of course it would be easy to point out obvious omissions but, over all, I think it does capture something of the essence of what makes heavy metal what it is, though I’m not sure how much appeal it would have to anyone who isn’t already a dedicated fan.

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