Almost Famous

My Continuing Adventures As A San Francisco Entertainment Journalist

By Kimberlye Gold

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A review of the musical “LOVE JANIS”!!
A Tribute to Vince Welnick and THE TUBES Reunion!
Film reviews of THE DOGWALKER and others!

Greetings Heraldonians, from Little Rock, Arkansas where I am dealing with an extended family emergency and 100 degree heat with 9000 degree humidity, thunder and lightning storms, and lots of large people who like to frequent all-you-can eat buffets. Known as “the natural state”, there ain’t nothin’ natural about eating that much fried food, dood. This is Bush country, a true red state – the Bible belt. We are actually staying a couple hours away in Sulphur Rock, AR, pop. 421. Lots of cows, trees, trucks and heavy Southern drawls. The fanciest restaurant is a Sizzler-type deal (with table after table of mostly fried  buffet fare) called Western Sizzlin’, in a town about five miles away called Batesville, and the big event of the week is a shopping spree at the Wal Mart Superstore. It’s what’s known as a “dry county” – they don’t sell alcohol anywhere within a 20 mile radius. This is the Deep South, y’all. I just got back from Nashville, TN about a month ago where I had a blast writing new songs and performing at writers’ nights, but nothing prepared me for this latest life curve ball. Hopefully, by the time you read this, I will have happier news to report, but for now, all prayers and good wishes are appreciated. Hey, it was Bill Clinton’s 60th birthday on August 19, but alas, he did not make an appearance. I would have SO been there. I still think Bill is hot. But not as hot as this damn town!

Fun “Almost Famous” fact #1: On July 17, I won the West Coast Songwriters North Bay Open Mic Night competition for Best Song for “Show Me”, co-written with David Vaughn, and won three hours of free recording studio time and a chance to compete for the next level. This took me to the WCS Playoffs on August 8th (both at The Sweetwater in Mill Valley), where unfortunately I did not win, but felt honored just to participate (isn’t that the politically correct way to say, “I was robbed!”?). At press time, I will be attending the WCS Annual Conference on September 9 & 10.

A Tribute to Vince Welnick and THE TUBES Reunion, July 9, Café Du Nord (San Francisco)

Long time readers of this column will remember my interview with The Tubes frontman Fee Waybill from 2001 (see I still get e-mails from fans across the country who somehow stumbled upon it!   Original Tubes keyboard player (and one of the last Grateful Dead keyboard players before Jerry Garcia’s death) Vince Welnick committed suicide recently after many years of battling depression. What makes this situation even more tragic (in addition to the gruesome fact he slit his throat in front of his wife, after being off his meds) is that just a week or so before, he had a meeting and was happily planning a reunion tour with almost all the original members of The Tubes, according to Fee, whom I spoke with at Café Du Nord. I had reconnected with Fee a couple months ago at Paul “The Lobster” Wells’ studio to assist Paul for a live studio interview for Lobster’s Rock Box, a classic rock radio show I have been a talent booker for. Fee was understandably devastated. “It’s such a fucking drag, such a waste. He was doing great, we were all so excited about playing together again,” Fee lamented.

But the mood was festive at the packed club, where friends and family turned out in droves to celebrate the life of this beloved musician whose participation in the music of two San Francisco bands defined an era never to be duplicated. Fee flitted around, greeting fans who had brought t-shirts from shows of decades past, and chatted with old friends.  Even guitarist Bill Spooner, long estranged from The Tubes, showed up to perform an acoustic set with his son and sang a song he wrote about Vince. Then the rest of The Tubes took the stage and performed old cult favorites like “White Punks On Dope”, “Boy Crazy” and “What Do You Want From Life”.  Fee sounded as great as in their heyday, as did the rest of the band.  The high point of the night was when they called Bill Spooner up to join them, who pretended to refuse and then jumped up with his guitar, trading licks with lead guitarist Roger Steen. Synthesizer player Michael Cotton and three of the original dancers suddenly appeared as well, and the magic was re-created, especially during “White Punks On Dope”, when friends and fans jumped on stage, dancing and singing along as if it were 1977 all over again.

I could feel Vince grinning like a Cheshire cat from the great green room in the sky, loving every moment of his party.

Film Reviews

A few films I have attended recently: Superman (too damned loud, like a bird, like a plane I had to fly away), United 93 (intense, moving), Trust The Man (sappy, disappointing), Click (predictable, silly), World Trade Center (another rescue movie that could have said and done so much more about 9/11), Snakes On A Plane (so stupid I walked out after a half hour).

Most noteworthy: an indie film which took ten years to make it to the screen called The Dogwalker. Star Diane Gaidry and screenwriter/producer/director Jacques Thelemaque (her business and life partner), have created a wonderful organization in LA called The Filmmakers Alliance to assist aspiring Quentin Tarentinos and Robert Redfords, finding investors and film community support.

The Dogwalker is the story of Ellie, a victim of domestic violence who has made one horrible choice after another. She barely escapes her latest abusive relationship by hopping the last flight to LA, the land of dreams, with a battered face and almost broken spirit. After a harrowing start, she meets Betsy, a  cranky, quirky professional dogwalker of the rich and famous who is secretly dying of cancer (the late and underrated Pamela Gordon, who ironically died of cancer herself three years ago, right after the completion of this film).  The weakening Betsy takes Ellie on out of necessity, who learns how to reclaim her life through becoming a dogwalker and triumphs over her own extreme adversity. Although I found some places in the script where the story and characters could have been more clearly fleshed out, it is definitely a must-see for dog lovers, victims of domestic violence, cancer survivors and independent filmmakers/lovers of indie films. I especially enjoyed the Q&A after the screening at the Raphael Theater with the actress and filmmaker/director, both down-to-earth, hard-working artists completely dedicated to their craft and passionate about helping others achieve their goals. Fun “Almost Famous” fact #2: Diane is a long-time client of my best friend from high school, Nancee Daly, an esthetician in LA.

LOVE JANIS, July 20, Marines Memorial Theater, San Francisco

"Love Janis" promo

When one thinks of the ‘60’s, there is no escaping the sound of the glorious pain of this singer. There would be no Melissa Etheridge without this woman, perhaps no Anne Wilson of Heart or any other real deal female rock singer. (Fun “Almost Famous “fact #3:  you know I sung “A Piece Of My Heart” twice for my Beach Blanket Babylon auditions!) Unfortunately, by press time, fans of greatest blues/rock diva of all time (okay, I’m a tad biased, I admit, I am a HUGE fan) will have missed the limited run of this electrifying and moving tribute to Janis Joplin, which closes here in SF on September 3rd.

Based on the best-selling book of the same name by her sister Laura Joplin, conceived, adapted and directed by Tony Award-nominee Randal Myler (It Ain’t Nothin’ But The Blues, Hank Williams: Lost Highway), LOVE JANIS uses the actual letters the Port Arthur, Texas born Janis wrote home during her short, brilliant rise to fame in ‘60s San Francisco, to her tragic heroin overdose in 1970, combined with her many print, radio, and television interviews as the only spoken dialogue in the show. The dialogue is a poignant picture frame to the heart of the matter: the voice and the music, channeled uncannily by singer/actress Cathy Richardson (sung on alternate nights by Katrina Chester.) Founding member of Janis’ first SF band Big Brother and the Holding Company, Sam Andrew is the musical director of the kick-ass band backing up the classics: “Down On Me”, the afore-mentioned “Piece of My Heart”, and the other two dozen songs that had the audience rockin’ out in their seats. Actress Morgan Hallet reprises her role as the young Janis who speaks to us both privately and to her interviewers, a stark contrast to the larger-than-life, colorful character who mesmerizes us with her intense, one-of-a-kind, all-encompassing mix of throaty howl and heart-stopping nuances. It took three actresses to handle this challenge, apparently, because of the steep demands of the vocal challenges necessary to capture that sound so completely each night.

Most of this technique worked brilliantly, with the exception of the interview sequences, where both actresses would interact with one another and take turns while answering the unseen voice asking the questions, as if they were sisters or friends. I found this distracting and annoying – it didn’t work for me at all.  Keeping the spoken Janis and singing Janis separate would have been a much more effective way of telling this alternately electrifying and tear-jerking tragic tale of a flame that burned so bright for such a short time.

LOVE JANIS has been kicking around the country since 1994, and it is a mystery as to why it has taken all these years to come to San Francisco, the place that gave birth to Janis’ career. ###

All contents © 2006 by Gene Mahoney