Country Music Reclamation Project: Mother, I Saw You With God Last Night

Ξ May 8th, 2011 | → Comments Off | ∇ Music |

For my Mom, a song that always jumps out and surprises me. I would’ve thought it was corny when she was here, but I don’t any longer.

Mother, I Saw You With God Last Night (performed by Onie Wheeler)
Written by George Sherry and Jean Crowe

Mother, dear sweet precious mother, mother, sweet precious mother,
I saw you with God last night
He was holding to your hand, showin’ you around in the Promised Land
I saw you with God last night

Gonna write two letters to the heaven’s blue, one to God and one to you
I’m a gonna thank him for bein’ so nice to you
I’ve been cryin’ since you went away, but not one tear I’ve shed today
Cause I know now you’re happy up there in the heaven’s blue

Mother, dear sweet precious mother, mother, sweet precious mother,
I saw you with God last night
He was holding to your hand, showin’ you around in the Promised Land
I saw you with God last night

I was mad when God took you from me, but last night I could plainly see
That he saved you from lots of misery
A smile upon your face told me you were happy as you could be
I’m a gonna ask God if he’ll save a place for me

Mother, dear sweet precious mother, mother, sweet precious mother,
I saw you with God last night
He was holding to your hand showin’ you around in the Promised Land
I saw you with God last night

What really makes the song great is the entwining harmonies of Wheeler with bandmates Alden and Doyle Nelson, especially on the first line of the chorus. Doyle’s high harmony changes the song from a mournful ballad to a one that captures the sense of relief and joy that I hope that time and memory will for me. As much as when you left, Mom, I miss you still.


Passings: Charlie Louvin

Ξ January 26th, 2011 | → Comments Off | ∇ Passings |

It’s been a sad day as I note the passing of the great Charlie Louvin, singer and songwriter. Charlie and his brother, Ira, were The Louvin Brothers, of course, who recorded and performed some of country music’s most-beautiful songs, including the song that inspired the name of this blog.

The Louvin Brothers story deserves a screenplay. Ira had a temper and a problem with alcohol, but wrote sincere and inspirational country gospel standards, very possibly aware that the sinner he often sang about was himself. He died, with his wife, in a car accident in 1965. Charlie, who began singing with his brother very early in life, then mourned Ira for the rest of his life.

One day a few years ago, I read somewhere that it was Charlie’s birthday, so I found his website and posted a happy birthday greeting. I was then floored the next morning to find a response from him — a single paragraph of lowercase text, just the way I’d expect an 80-year-old to type an e-mail. I’d mentioned that my Dad and I both loved his music, and he responded again, saying that we should stop by the Louvin Brothers museum the next time we were in Nashville. We never made it down, but I always anticipated spending an afternoon talking with him and his music.

I did meet him in person one time, after a performance. I thanked him for writing and recording so many great songs and I’m sure I blabbered a bit, being in the presence of someone I consider a legend. “I’m awful sorry about how we sounded up there tonight,” he replied, with apparently typical humility, “I couldn’t get my voice warmed up.” I told him he would never have to apologize to me, but he just shook his head and signed a poster for me. I think he really felt bad about his performance.

A telling quote concludes Charlie’s obituary in this morning’s New York Times: “When it comes time for the harmonies to come in, I will move to my left because my brother and I always used to use one microphone,” he said of performing solo. “Even today, I will move over to the left to give the harmony room, knowing in my mind that there’s no harmony standing on my right.”

“I know you’re up there singing with the angels,” Charlie sang in a song he wrote for Ira on a 2007 album. If there’s any joy in today’s loss, it’s the thought that once again, those two heavenly voices are harmonizing again, with Charlie to Ira’s left.

RIP Mr. Louvin.

Charlie Louvin – “Ira” video:
The Louvin Brothers – “I Don’t Believe You’ve Met My Baby”
The Louvin Brothers – “I Can’t Keep You In Love With Me”


Country Music Reclamation Project: Someday We’ll Look Back

Ξ July 21st, 2010 | → Comments Off | ∇ Music |

I get my love for country music from my Dad. I can remember him on one knee in front of the endtable/stereo, intently listening to his Johnny Cash singles, memorizing the words so he could sing them around the house. He was always singing, and despite having an ordinary voice, was never shy about it. As embarrassing as it was when I was a teenager, it was endearing when we were both much older. We definitely bonded over my rediscovery of country music, and a lot of records I brought him as an adult reawakened the love for this honest and literate music.

In his final years, after my Mom passed away, he sang a lot to fill the silence of his empty home, and his song choices tended to be older and sadder. After I made him a CD of Merle Haggard songs, he focused on one song, so typical of Merle’s songwriting, a sentimental ballad about surviving a lifetime of hardship and only at the end, looking back at what had turned out to be a good life.

Someday We’ll Look Back (performed by Merle Haggard)
Written by Merle Haggard

Someday when our dream world finds us
And these hard times are gone
We’ll laugh and count our blessings
In a mansion all our own
If we both pull together, tomorrow’s sure to come
Someday we’ll look back and say it was fun

We lived on love and pennies
And a daydream out of sight
And I’m amazed at the way you smile
When things don’t turn out right
We climbed each hill together, each step one by one
And someday we’ll look back and say it was fun

Someday when our dream world finds us
And these hard times are gone
We’ll laugh and count our blessings
In a mansion all our own
If we both pull together, tomorrow’s sure to come
Someday we’ll look back and say it was fun
And someday we’ll look back and say it was fun

My Dad worried in his final years if he’d done enough for my Mom to deserve her. He’d often ask me — a total failure when it comes to women — “What did she see in me?” The key lyric to him seemed to be “I’m amazed at the way you smile when things don’t turn out right.” And although they often didn’t, in the end everything worked out. There was no doubt that they had succeeded as a team. They had three devoted children, a handful of grandchildren and a herd of great-grandchildren, along with a home and a lifetime of memories. No one remembered the doubts they had and the mistakes they made, but my Dad did, and when he sang the final line of the song, it wasn’t boastful and it wasn’t funny. He seemed relieved, and a little bit surprised.


In My Day: A Day For Fathers

Ξ June 20th, 2010 | → Comments Off | ∇ In My Day |

I have nothing else to do on Father’s Day but reminisce. I am not only fortunate to have had good fathers in my life, but have still have photos and their accompanying stories to remind me of the tremendous role that a father plays. I flip through the photos I have in iPhoto, and am amazed at the power of photos taken decades ago can still have, even when viewed through such a cool medium well into the 21st century.

I can look at photos of my Dad (1924-2008), who loved to share jokes and listen to music. A guy who loved the old ways of doing things, who berated me for “running out and buying a solution” when your hands could do the job. A grown man who would drop to the floor to play among his grandkids. A man who rarely showed anger, who without complaint took care of my ailing mother so that she could live out the rest of her life in her home, and die in her own bed. A hard-working, determined man who was born at dinnertime, he said, and was thus always hungry.

I can look at photos of his dad, Frederick (1886-1974), whose mother called him Ted. He ran a team of horses in a logging camp before opening a store along the highway in Lemington, Wisconsin. Tall and thin, I can still picture him sitting in his chair by the window, reading the paper. As I sat quietly in their house while the adults talked (back when kids were required to do that), he’d fold up the paper and take me into the store and let me choose candy from the glass-partitioned case — chunks of bulk candy that were impossible to choose between. He was famous for his soft side too, known to walk the floor for hours coaxing a crying baby to sleep.

I get my looks from his father, Frederick (1858-1938), whom I never met but my Dad admiringly remembered as a “big, fat German.” Dad remembered helping lace up his boots while my great-grandfather sang “Ach du Lieber Augustin.” Frederick worked for years for the Knapp-Stout Lumber Company, which cleared much of the northern Wisconsin forest, where he could look at a stand of timber and estimate the board feet of lumber it would produce. My dad recalled an old-timer telling him, “there’s no one I’d rather have in the woods with me than Fred Scharlau.”

My paternal grandmother told us about her father, James (1865-1928), who was born in New York but moved with his family to Wisconsin and established my branch of the family there. He was working at the Rice Lake gravel pit when he died, at age 62. I have a tintype of him, poised and handsome in a studio, that is one of my favorite photos.

His father, Luther (1834-1876), was as far back as my grandmother could remember, but she could remember his red hair. Luther fought for the Union at Fredericksburg and elsewhere. My Dad and I were happy and surprised upon finding his grave a few years ago in a little cemetery off the road in Royalton, Wisconsin. Even though this veteran died more than 125 years ago, someone had thought to decorate his grave with a flag.

On my mother’s side, I never got to meet my Grandpa Charles Carlson (1890-1949), but feel close to him, possibly because I can visit his grave in nearby Fort Snelling National Cemetery. Charles was the first of his brothers to emigrate to the United States from Sweden in 1901, and though a citizen for only three years, enlisted to fight in the Great War. His company fought at Meuse-Argonne in 1918, and he was the victim of a mustard-gas attack, which weakened him for the rest of his life and led to an early death. My Dad knew him, and said he loved to talk and enjoyed going to Masonic lodge meetings, where he would allow himself a beer.

I need to learn more about my mother’s grandfather, Andrew Elias Steel (1846-1922), who emigrated from Sweden to Lake City, Minnesota, where he worked as a blacksmith, until moving the family to St. Paul in the 1880s. I have a photo of him, standing proudly with several of his seven daughters.

I wish I could spend today with any of these men, to learn more about their lives, and to thank them for mine. I know their struggles were greater than mine, and I am grateful for their work and their sacrifices. The best I could do was acknowledge them and remember them a bit on Father’s Day.


Movie Review: The Messenger

Ξ June 4th, 2010 | → Comments Off | ∇ Uncategorized |

2009. Starring Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson. Directed by Oren Moverman.

My Dad was fond of an old country song, “The Letter Edged in Black.” He recalled that, back in the day when all communication, however urgent, relied on mail service, letters bearing bad news were enclosed in envelopes marked with black around the edges. The intent was to warn that the message inside was not routine correspondence, and that the recipient should be prepared to hear the worst. The shock of learning some things without warning would only amplify the message.

The next of kin (”NOK” in military parlance) of service members are prepared more than most to hear such news, but the shock is handled differently. When combat hero Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery (Ben Foster) is assigned to the Casualty Notification Unit to complete his final months of service, he views it as a bit of an insult. Delivering bad news, adhering to a stiff and cold script and watching the impact on loved ones resulting from his visit seems like a lousy chore to someone who has seen as much as he has. His partner, Captain Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson), trains him to exercise detachment, stick to the script and avoid touching anyone. Speak only to the primary next of kin, don’t park out front, and don’t wait around, drawing attention. His professionalism masks a detachment from his emotions, necessary not only to the successful notification of death in the line of service, but to his own well-being.

The Casualty Notification officers encounter anger, resentment, nausea and deadened shock, reactions that the seasoned Captain Stone warns his protege to expect. But, as The Messenger takes its time to show us, they are not prepared for the reactions they experience themselves, particularly when they make an official visit to a new widow (a surprising Samantha Morton) and the heartbreak and grief manage to get around everyone’s defenses.

The Messenger shows a new viewpoint on war that is devastating but not divisive. The cold violence that the officers deliver to the loved ones waiting back home must be an awful burden to bear, but they always speak on behalf of the Secretary of the Army and repress both pain and empathy in the name of military professionalism. Alcohol occasionally seeps inside the Captain’s self-defense, while the distance of an ex-girlfriend wears away at the young Staff Sergeant, putting him in a dangerous situation with the new widow whose life he’s just destroyed.

“I think they ought to show every damn funeral on TV, live,” Harrelson’s character growls at one point, and that’s the argument I’ve tried to make. Pretending that the deaths don’t represent real lives cut short, that the mission doesn’t result in orphans and grieving parents, makes war too easy. And makes all of us too willing to ignore the network of pain behind every fallen soldier. There are letters edged in black being delivered today, somewhere in America, and we should be witness when that bad news is delivered.


Movie Review: Crazy Heart

Ξ May 25th, 2010 | → 0 Comments | ∇ Movies |

2009. Starring Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaal. Directed by Scott Cooper.

I’ve probably watched a total of 15 minutes of American Idol over the years, usually early in the season when they focus on those who perform, well, less Idol-like. Those not-ready-for-prime-time singers get a inordinate amount of airtime — enough so the audience can relish the dream-crushing coups de grace from the show’s judges. Whether the early cuts take their discouragement in tears or by rejecting the judgment they lusted for minutes earlier, they have to accept that they have failed. Their belief in themselves has betrayed them.

I’m guessing that most of those rejected abandon their dreams as a result of their nationwide embarrassment. That’s too bad, because a real artist would find inspiration in that rejection, defiant reinvention in that condemnation. They should find pain in every rejection, and their development as a real artist — not one stamped out of the standard reality-TV mold — should be built on steps of heartache.

Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges in a well-deserved Oscar-winning role) is a throwback country-western singer, one who takes little phrases, assembles them into rhymes, backs them with a fingerpicking and steel guitar, and sends shivers down the backs of his fans. But he’s become preoccupied with money, with the two-month tour his agent has put together, the grim bowling alleys and bars where he finds an audience, and the envy he feels toward a protege (Colin Farrell) who has eclipsed him. He’s also an alcoholic who has lost faith in his own talents. He grinds it out, with little joy, until he meets Jane (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a writer, and falls for her.

Bad has earned his nickname through the traditional vices, and he’s also a long-lost father who has never spoken to his son. He drowns his loneliness, his disappointment in whiskey, and seems doomed to sabotage a career revival. He returns to Jane and befriends her son and imagines a meaningful future, but his self-destructive nature won’t allow it. Bridges plays Bad as the grizzled, chain-smoking outlaw hero familiar to country-music fans, but he’s not a likeable character until he tries for something out of his reach.

I had hoped that Crazy Heart would focus more on his career, the triumph of authenticity over phoniness, the satisfying scratching-out of a tune that would redeem the broken hero. When I saw the romance coming, I was ready for the film to go off the rails. I was wrong. There are few movies willing to portray romance this realistically. His pursuit of Jane reawakens something inside him. The physical distance between them, the regret and, of course, the spell of the bottle all combine to force the songwriter to huddle down with his guitar and try to tame the awful, demanding desires by expressing them. When he returns again and again to a fragment of a song, he knows he’s onto something.

Two musical aspects make Crazy Heart even better. The Bad Blake songs were written by Ryan Bingham (who has a small role), which are appropriate for the aging honky-tonk singer, including an old hit with the defining line “Funny how falling feels like flyin’, for a little while.” The film’s soundtrack was produced by T-Bone Burnett, and includes the Louvin Brothers and Buck Owens. Appropriately, in an odd scene featuring a hot-air balloon, we hear “If I Needed You” by Townes Van Zandt, the late, great songwriter and singer who squeezed every ounce of pain from his talent before drinking himself to death in 1997.

In the end, it’s not the tickets that Bad Blake wants to sell, or the fans he hopes to win over — it’s the hurt he wants to reveal, the discovery of love and desire he wants to share, that makes him an artist. Baring his pain and doubt, he manages to reach out and touch something in everyone listening. The singer who shares his true self and doesn’t give up will never lack for fans cheering him on. Something those rejected on reality TV should remember.


Country Music Reclamation Project: Sweet Dreams

Ξ April 12th, 2010 | → 0 Comments | ∇ Music |

Sometimes I wake up in the morning confused about what I just dreamt. Why has someone I haven’t thought about in years suddenly appeared in my subconscious, or why did a person I barely know walk into the scene I watched while deep asleep? What did that appearance mean? Our dreams might seem like keys to mysteries we need answered, but more often than not, they result in more questions.

One of the best-loved of all country songs, Sweet Dreams is one of the simplest, saddest expressions of lost love that I’ve ever heard. Few things are worse than using sleep to escape thinking about someone, only to be ambushed by those thoughts in a murky, twilight world where you can’t deny the truth to yourself.

Sweet Dreams (Performed by Faron Young)
Written by Don Gibson

Sweet dreams of you
Every night I go through
Why can’t I forget you and start my life anew
Instead of having sweet dreams about you

You don’t love me, it’s plain
I should know I’ll never wear your ring
I should hate you the whole night through
Instead of having sweet dreams about you

Sweet dreams of you
Things I know can’t come true
Why can’t I forget the past, start loving someone new
Instead of having sweet dreams about you

I prefer Faron Young’s version. His nasal warble really does pick out the heavy line and base the song around it. And in Faron’s version, it’s “I should hate you the whole night through/instead of having sweet dreams about you.” Whoever coined the phrase about there being a thin line between love and hate deserves a co-writing credit on this song. Being robbed of a good night’s sleep by someone you thought you were over is incredibly unfair. You wake up, and can’t deny that she’s still in there, somewhere.


Movie Review: Make Way For Tomorrow

Ξ March 23rd, 2010 | → 0 Comments | ∇ Movies |

1937. Starring Victor Moore and Beulah Bondi. Directed by Leo McCarey.

Leo McCarey’s Make Way For Tomorrow is known by more than one critic as “the saddest movie ever made.” I think that claim could be challenged if you consider sadness to be tragic, cruel and the result of the too-often human disregard for humanity. In that case, you’ve got Schindler’s List, The Killing Fields and Fires on the Plain to compete with. No, the kind of sadness that permeates Make Way For Tomorrow is a sentimental weariness concerning the passing of time and the changing role of parents as time overtakes them.

Bart (Victor Moore) and Lucy (Beulah Bondi) portray the aged parents of five adult children. The couple are losing their house and longtime home to an indifferent bank. The children are shocked, and scramble to figure out who will take in each of the parents, but it quickly becomes apparent that they are all selfish and intolerant of such an imposition. Finally, the eldest son makes room for the mother and the father is sent away to live with a daughter.

Separated and isolated, they don’t fare well in their new homes. The mother is a burden to the social life of her son and daughter-in-law (absolutely ruining bridge night, heaven forbid, and sending the only clean tuxedo shirt to the cleaners). She also fails to be a benefit to her granddaughter, a somewhat slutty teenager who runs off to meet various men of varying ages. Meanwhile, up north, the father pathetically entertains hope of finding work in his new town, and succumbs to several colds that require nursing by the suffering in-laws.

Bart and Lucy live for the next communication allowed between them, through loud phone calls and hard-to-read letters, and their children take no joy in having them around. When the decision is made to send the father off to live with the prodigal daughter in California — for his health — both realize that they may never see each other again.

According to Peter Bogdanovich, who provides some history of the film on the Criterion Collection disc, when director McCarey was given the Academy Award for The Awful Truth — made the same year — he said, “You gave me the award for the wrong picture.” I’m not going to take up that argument, but will say that McCarey has an very deft touch in dealing with what could be a maudlin, melodramatic story. Instead, he gives us a bittersweet but honest tale of growing old and then getting out of the way, and finds room to let in some much-needed humor. Victor Moore and Beulah Bondi play characters much older than their own age, but their portrayals are genuine and complex. Their kids, who could come off as real villains, are instead just a bit incompetent and caught up in their silly modern lives, circa 1936.

Much has been discussed about the ending, which won’t tug so much on your heart as pull and twist. The revealing scenes to me, however, are those when the old couple — useless to all whom they trouble — are briefly reunited. In those scenes, the sweet old couple encounter many strangers while wandering around New York City on the last day they will spend together in their long lives. Knowing them only for minutes, those strangers show kindness and appreciation for those the old-timers, who are full of stories and clearly in love after 50 years of marriage. Why their children do not see them in this light is the saddest thing about the film, and may be the awful truth that McCarey tries to show the rest of us.


Movie Review: Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance

Ξ February 7th, 2010 | → 0 Comments | ∇ Movies |

2002. Directed by Chan-wook Park. Starring Kang-ho Song.

American movie portrayals of “vengeance” are crowd-pleasers. Mel Gibson has practically adopted the motivation as a screen persona. Vengeance as a plot device kept Charles Bronson employed for many uninspired years. Picture Harrison Ford in almost any movie in the past decade-and-a-half and he’s probably yelling, “Give me back my daughter!” or “I want to know what happened to my wife!” while the veins in his neck threaten to secede.

The Korean director, Chan-wook Park, has explored vengeance in a trio of movies — Oldboy, Lady Vengeance and, in the first of these, Sympathy of Mr. Vengeance. Vengeance in Korea seems to be served slowly boiling, bitterly seasoned and with excruciating violence.

The plot is not a simple one: Ryu (Ha-kyun Shin) is a deaf and mute factor worker with a dying sister, who desperately needs a kidney transplant. He turns to the black market and not only loses his money, but one of his own kidneys. With his anarchist girlfriend Cha Yeong-mi (Du-na Bae), he decides to kidnap the daughter of the factory owner (Kang-ho Song) to raise the transplant money. His girlfriend suggests that it would be “fun” for the child and, because they wouldn’t ask for much money from a rich man, it would level off the unfairness of society just a bit.

Plans often go awry in vengeance movies. When the kidnapped child accidently drowns, the factory owner exacts intense and almost wordless justice on the plotters. What follows is — and it’s worth being prepared for it — suicide, murder by baseball bat and scalpel, torture, dismemberment and sweet poetic justice. And a dark surprise at the end.

Instead of the roaring lines familiar to fans of Harrison Ford movie trailers, the director uses haunting and beautiful imagery to increase the impact: Ryu hitchhiking along a highway in the early daylight, naked and scarred from his kidney transaction; the kidnapped child’s orange dress floating in the river; the bleak and grimy factory whose noise is invisible to the deaf Ryu; even the scenes of violence, often shot with a comfortable measure of distance or blocked perspective.

I’m haunted by this movie’s slow, relentless build. I woke up through the following night, thinking about the twists and turns of the plot, how good turned to bad and back again, everyone cheating and being cheated, and how violence was met with deserved violence somewhere down the road. What proves to be especially challenging for western viewers isn’t the violence — although that is pretty graphic — but the measured pace of this film and others like it (like the excellent Memories of Murder, also starring Kang-ho Song) that do not build to a predictably frantic conclusion.

This Korean meditation on personal justice isn’t all that different from its American counterparts — the fury of an anguished father translates well — but I think it better demonstrates that the pursuit of vengeance doesn’t end with anyone’s clean hands. Achieving vengeance may require destroying everyone, including yourself.


Movie Review: Anvil! The Story of Anvil

Ξ January 27th, 2010 | → 0 Comments | ∇ Movies |

You learn something every day. One day, you know nothing about a Canadian heavy metal band named Anvil, and suddenly you learn that they’ve recorded twelve albums (and are working on numbers 13 and 14) and were considered to be a contemporary of metal legends like Metallica, Anthrax and Motorhead. You might not have known that Slash of Guns ‘n’ Roses was a teenage fan and that, once in their youth, they met with head-banging reverence by festival crowds.

And, surprisingly, you learn that a documentary about a past-their-prime Canadian heavy metal hair band on a long, long losing streak can be an enlightening rumination on what it means to have a dream, and to keep it alive long enough that it might come true.

I’ll admit to once having a few Kiss and Judas Priest LPs in my collection. I may have turned the radio up to blast “Back In Black” while alone in the car. But I’m no metal fan. When I began to watch Sasha Gervasi’s excellent documentary, I wasn’t sure that it wasn’t a “This Is Spinal Tap” tribute. Early scenes capture Steve “Lips” Kudlow working his depressing catering job and the band embarking on an ill-fated European tour. There are so many Spinal Tap moments here: devoted fans “Cut Loose” and “Mad Dog” (who pounds a beer through his nose), a lead guitarist who plays with a vibrator, and the local television show reveling in Anvil’s dirty rock lyrics. Their song “Metal On Metal” even sounds like Spinal Tap’s “Big Bottom.” When band co-founder and drummer Robb Reiner was introduced, I was sure it had to be an homage to the director of the greatest-ever rock mockumentary.

But then something really unexpected happens: Anvil as a heavy-metal joke disappears, and the guys become very genuine people who you wish would find success and fulfillment in their music. Watching Kudlow record an enthusiastic radio-station promo and being told that, oops, we forgot to turn on the tape, you’ll be amazed that he doesn’t stop smiling. Even during the difficult behind-the-scenes moments when he childishly argues with Reiner, with whom he has rocked since a teenager, you can see the nice guy beneath the black t-shirt.

So the European tour is a failure, and the band returns to Ontario to get back to their lives. But they’ve recorded some demos and Kudlow sends a copy off to the producer of their early albums. He refuses to let his dreams die, even as he celebrates his 50th birthday, and despite a music scene that has changed dramatically since the band formed.

The core of Anvil! is definitely the bond between Kudlow and Reiner, who seem to consider each other as a brother, although they continue to butt heads. Kudlow is the overgrown kid who believes in the possibilities of rock and roll, and Reiner supplies the steady propulsion and balance expected of a drummer. Both have families that wearily support them — Reiner’s sister is the one downer — and enough hope shines through to keep them pursuing fame. Eventually, the producer calls back and the band faces difficult decisions that test their commitment. I’ll leave it at that.

This should be required watching for anyone in a band, for anyone who wants to be a musician — not necessarily as a lesson in how to become a success or avoid becoming a failure. The film is really a testament to the tenacity of dreams. Reiner expresses frustration that success hasn’t found Anvil, and seems well aware that their last chance has to happen pretty soon. It seems like only death will stop Kudlow — they will have to pry the Flying V from his cold, dead hands.

There’s more talk about life and aspiration in this film than a thousand afterschool specials. Kudlow’s successful, professional siblings are incredibly supportive. A scene where his older sister states her support for his dreams (and yet fights back tears and a troubled brow) is nicely concluded with his observation that “family is important shit, man.” Lasting fame may not find the band, but I’d say these guys are successful for having the support for their unlikely rockin’ dreams.


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  • About The Author

    Jeff Scharlau lives in Minneapolis.