Los Angeles has long been a hotbed of rock’n’roll talent. In the mid-’60s the Doors’ Jim Morrison prowled the stage of the Whiskey A Go-Go drunkenly spouting obscenities and cementing a place for himself, and his bandmates, in the history books. His bad craziness also helped to establish L.A. as a hot spot that great bands have converged on ever since hoping for that big record deal from the powers that be.
After the flame-out of another set of L.A. rockers, Guns N’ Roses, the 1990s were a lean time for rock’n’roll, as alternative shoegazers, hip hop and teeny bopper pop clowns took the spotlight away from the bands who’d been grinding out loud, rude music in the Big Town.
Lame alterna-wimps like Billy Corgan have been saying for years that rock’n’roll is a lost cause. But the new documentary, “Badsville”, shows that while rock’n’roll has been left for dead by the music biz at large, there are still plenty of slammin’ rock’n’roll bands out there in the bowels of L.A., doing damage in seedy dives–where people still gather to get loaded and crazy to the roar of loud guitars and pounding drums.
Among the bands featured are the Super Bees, who tear up the stage with the kind of fury that recalls the hellfire intensity of the legendary MC5. While the Newlydeads (lead by Taime Downe, formerly of glam metal mainstays, Faster Pussycat) are more like a rocked-out, goth-ish industrial band.
Another band, Dragbeat, are interesting because they shot their own black-and-white video with a ’60s Russ Meyer type of vibe including go-go dancers and old-school rockin’. The Street Walkin’ Cheetahs–whose name comes from an old Iggy & the Stooges song–are a high energy outfit who happen to be one of the better bands who are on a sort of retro punk trip. Speaking of which, Coyote Shivers is definitely out of the Iggy Pop school of stage performers. But he looks more like another punk poet, Richard Hell. And the all-girl Lo-Ball play snappy pop punk.
In between the musical performances, the various bandmembers discuss getting (and losing) major label deals. One of the most amusing performers is an outgoing lady named Texas Terri. Her band, the Stiff Ones, come across as a more metallic version of our friends the Stooges. And with her candy-apple colored hair, Terri is a real attention getter. After a topless photo shoot–where she discreetly covers her nipples with duct tape–like the late, great Wendy O. Williams used to–she says “I don’t like when people grab my tits. That bugs me.” And who can blame her? A gal has to draw the line somewhere. As it turns out, her wild-assed stage persona is indeed a lot of fun.
Another highlight of the film is the burly, wild-eyed lead singer of Pygmy Love Circus singing “I’m the King of L.A., I Killed Axl Rose Today”. One look at this guy and you might find yourself wondering if it’s true. And with the way Rose’s career has gone–wishing it was. But the funniest dude in “Badsville” is the drummer for the British band Dogs D’Amour. With his Spinal Tap-ish recollections of hotel room demolitions and onstage mishaps.
Most of the musicians in this documentary are clearly way, way beyond their teenage years. When asked why they keep playing when they never made it, the musicians are pretty much as a loss for an answer. And Share Pedersen of Bubble offers up the tough reality that the disadvantages of the lifestyle become apparent “when you see a doctor and he says you should be in the hospital, and they won’t let you in because you don’t have health insurance.”
The main thing that comes through about the bands in “Badsville” is that they are out there rockin’ because they love to do it. And in an age of horrendous bands like Limp Bizkit and Kid Rock, it’s nice to see something genuine for a change. “Badsville” captures the spirit of rock’n’roll in its most primal form–and at its best, offers up a kind of transcendence that’s lacking in the product being ground out by the mainstream music business hacks.