Photo and words by G.
When I first ‘discovered’ the music of Amy Winehouse in 2007, it was love at first listen. I hadn’t discovered her music in time to see her perform in the extremely intimate New York venues Joe’s Pub and Bowery Ballroom, but luckily for me, she came back around a 3rd time to play the recently (at the time) opened Highline Ballroom, which is a 15 minute walk from where I live (bonus!). My friend April made me a deal – she would get the tickets if I secured us a spot in line. Done. As luck would have it, when I turned up to the venue to get in line, Amy Winehouse had just finished sound-checking and was exiting the venue at the very moment I arrived. Amy couldn’t have been a lovelier person and she was so happy to see that I had her first album “Frank” which I asked her to autograph for me, because at the time, it was only available as an import in the US. It was a week before she’d be married, and she was healthy and very happy. It was the ultimate Amy Winehouse experience because I got to talk to her, her soon to be husband Blake Civil Fielder took our picture together, she autographed both of my CDs, and I was able to secure a front row center spot to see her perform and as she exited the stage for the last time that night, she handed me the set list! At the time, I had a pretty shitty camera, but April had a good camera, luckily, and her amazing shots of the concert can be seen here, and I highly recommend you check them out at this link which will open in a new window. The concert which was supposed to be the beginning of her rise to stardom US, turned out to be her final trip to New York. When I would tell people about my experience, they found it hard to believe, because shortly after this concert, her life became a tabloid-ridden mess. I would hear these stories and see these tabloid pictures and every time, a piece of my heart would break because the person I was reading about in the news was not this lovely lady that I had met. As soon as you’d hear that she was doing ok, she was back in the news again for something dubious and this downward spiral continued for the rest of her short life.
Amy Winehouse and Geoffrey Dicker. Photo by Blake Fielder
Filmmaker Asif Kapadia decided to make some sense out of this tragedy and he made the exquisitely beautiful, but monumentally sad documentary “Amy,” which is in theaters today. Like with the Kurt Cobain documentary “Montage of Heck,” what you thought you knew about these famous rock stars is only a sliver of what really happened and both films bring these huge talents back to life, even if only for a few hours.
“Amy” shows that from a very young age, Amy Winehouse had the gift of song and possessed one of the most unique voices to ever grace the stage. Intimate footage shows her singing her earliest gigs, auditioning for a record label and despite having a powerful voice, she was just a shy Jewish girl from the UK. Though she had a wicked sense of humor, she was very fragile and after her parents divorced early on in her life, she seemingly never recovered fully from it.
She never saw herself as a star and she didn’t even think her music was accessible to a wide audience. She was just a girl with some songs. She started to gain a following in the UK, winning some awards and it was at this point, you realize she never had a chance at survival. Her manager was a promoter, her father, whom Amy worshiped, had dollar signs in his eyes, and she met Blake Civil Fielder, a man that was poison to her life. The tempestuous relationship with Blake was a “can’t live with or without” him situation for the rest of her days.
Already known to be able to drink people under the table, Blake introduced her to heroin and crack cocaine and her life became a yo-yo of getting clean and falling off the wagon. The pair broke up and Amy channeled her pain into the songs that would make up her classic album “Back to Black.” “Amy” features fantastic studio footage of her laying down the vocal for the song along with producer Mark Ronson and after Amy delivers the song, it shows her stunned by how sad the song turned out.
“Back to Black” was recorded and the album sounded like a throwback to the girl group sound of the 1950s, but with a voice so unique and with modern lyrics about destruction and getting your heart broken that people of every generation related to it. One of her final chances at survival came before the release of this album as an intervention was staged to take her to rehab, but it was decided by the people around her that the album should go forward instead. Though she was involved with shady characters, it’s easy to point the finger knowing what we know now, and the good thing about this film is that it doesn’t point fingers. Everyone involved in her life was to blame to some extent (aside from her childhood friends) and it is abundantly clear when you watch this film.
The song that put her on the map, “Rehab,” would also be the beginning of her demise as the global hit turned her into fodder for the paparazzi to follow Amy everywhere she went. The ample footage of her being swarmed by paparazzi is disgusting and you wonder why laws haven’t been created to prevent paparazzi from being able to stalk a person at their place of residence. She reconciled with Blake, did a quick tour of the US (see opening paragraph) and they got married. The honeymoon did not last long as Amy was torn between a tempestuous relationship, non-stop partying and contractual singing obligations.
Her husband got arrested and jailed and once again, Amy’s chance of turning her life around all but vanished. She’d get clean for a brief period of time and then go back to drugs and drinking. There is heart wrenching footage of her accepting a Grammy award live via satellite in London and she pretty much freaks out that Tony Bennett, one of her idols, is the man presenting the award. Despite how messed up she was, she was so happy to be recognized for her accomplishment and it is possibly one of the final moments in her life when she was happy. She confided to a friend that without drugs and drinking, life didn’t have much meaning for her and the downward spiral began to escalate at this point.
She took 6 months off to go to a rehab facility in St. Lucia and she was met by her father, who turned up with a reality TV crew! Disgusting. There is footage of some fans wanting to take a picture with Amy and on camera, her father yells at her. Amy obliges the photo and she tells her father not to make a fool of her both on camera and in front of her fans. It’s just another example of how this fragile person had the wrong people in her inner circle.
This is when the movie becomes really depressing as her life is just a series of getting clean, falling off the wagon, getting chased by the paparazzi and being a mess in public appearances. Perhaps to spare us all of the gory details, footage of her smoking crack, that at the time leaked onto the internet, with the lead singer of Baby Shambles was not shown, nor was her seemingly random desire to get breast implants. Even the footage of her final full length concert in Serbia didn’t show the full extent of how bad off she was as they focused on her being too messed up to sing, but if you search the internet, you can see how sad it was when she actually did sing at that show. What does make it into the film; however, is the audio of a conversation she has where she says that if she could give her voice back in exchange for not being hassled when she goes out in public, she would. Too sad for words.
In her final studio appearance, she sang at Abbey Road Studios with her idol, Tony Bennett, as he was recording a duets album. You see how nervous she was and after not being pleased with her vocal take, she apologizes to Tony Bennett for wasting his time. Bennett, ever the gentleman, is not mad and in fact he encourages Amy and tells her that they will get the perfect take and not to worry about it. You wish his presence in her life would have shown up sooner, but alas, it was not meant to be.
After calls to her childhood friends, in which they described hearing the voice on the phone of the Amy they knew and loved, where she really sounded serious about turning her life around, a typical day in the life of Amy Winehouse where she drank from morning to night found her with 4 times the legal limit of alcohol in her system and it caused her heart to stop and she died in her sleep at the age of 27.
You will be angered by the tragedy of what could have been if only she’d gotten clean. You will be angered by all the poisonous people in her inner circle. You will be angered when you see what the vicious paparazzi can do to a fragile person. On the other side of the coin, you will be thankful that although the world will never have any more new music from Amy Winehouse, we have the masterpiece “Back to Black,” and the memory of one of the best voices of all time, preserved in this beautiful portrait of a beautifully tragic girl. Rest in peace, Amy.
Photo of the movie poster and moderately sized rant by G.
The Yes Men Are Revolting
Before we discuss the must see movie, “The Yes Men Are Revolting,” let me ask you if you’ve ever heard of The Yes Men? If you answered no, I am here to shame you into getting your head out of your ass and telling you to wake up. The news media loves to report on all of the “isms” and all the “phobias” – racism, sexism, ageism, homophobia, transphobia, phobia, phobia, phobia, ism, ism, ism. The media has cleverly packaged these crimes against humanity it as “your life is totally fucked because of these people.” Before you call me a callus asshole (maybe it’s too late?), yes – all these problems suck. Yes, it’s a ridiculous shame that in 2015 we still have people killing others because their belief system varies from that of another person. Yes, it is ridiculous that people are still holding grudges about injustices that happened long before any of us were alive. Yes, it’s ridiculous that there are people who hate you because you are different than they are. When you think about it, haters have existed since the beginning of time. There are always a few bad apples ruining it for everyone? What is being done about it aside from spreading more fear?
Are we teaching the “theory of gravity” in schools? The “theory of gravity” is this: take a black person, a white person, a man, a woman, a straight, a gay, a religious person and a non religious person and have them all leap off a 50 story building at the same time and who is the superior group? Gravity doesn’t give a fuck about your circumstances! Therefore, we should respect the laws of gravity and we should respect ourselves! You don’t need a degree in physics to figure this out!
I see a lot of Facebook and Twitter bitterness but I am not really seeing people taking action to make change happen. I think people get off on being angry, to be perfectly honest. This is why people share stories before fact checking and this is why there is an influx of people complaining but not taking action. The reason I bring all this up is because while everyone is ‘Facebook madder than hell’ about all these issues, the one issue that affects EVERYBODY ON THIS PLANET – global warming (or climate change), is an issue that is being swept under the rug.
While we are being distracted by all this unnecessary bullshit, corporations and governments are ensuring that we are all one step closer to the grave. There can’t be haters if there are no people left on the planet.
Enter the Yes Men. For over a decade, Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno (Not their real names, which makes them even more awesome), have been pulling pranks on corporations and government agencies to bring forth change. They are not sharing stories on social media about cute animals and they are not writing posts about the top 20 reasons a particular issue makes them mad. Instead, they are taking action and more than that, they are documenting it to try and spread these important messages to the masses.
I could not describe the Yes Men better than they way they do on their website, so I am just going to quote it verbatim because this paragraph alone is the reason you should not only know who they are, but follow their every move for updates on how to make this world a better place.
“The Yes Men are a group who use any means necessary to agree their way into the fortified compounds of commerce, and then smuggle out the stories of their undercover escapades to provide a public glimpse at the behind-the-scenes world of big business. The stories are often both shocking and hilarious. They have been called “the Jonathan Swift of the Jackass generation” by author Naomi Klein. The Yes Men have impersonated World Trade Organization, Dow Chemical Corporation, and Bush administration spokesmen on TV and at business conferences around the world. They do this (a) in order to demonstrate some of the mechanisms that keep bad people and ideas in power, and (b) because it’s absurdly fun. Their main goal is to focus attention on the dangers of economic policies that place the rights of capital before the needs of people and the environment. Right now they’re focused on passing carbon emissions laws in the USA.”
Each of their films – “The Yes Men,” “The Yes Men Fix The World,” and their latest “The Yes Men Are Revolting” are part documentary, part prank and if you think you have balls, you haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen the Yes Men in action. They are like the Banksys of environmental issues and they are truly gods who walk amongst us for risking everything to try and bring forth positive change.
Please please please go see their films. They are available to stream and “The Yes Men Are Revolting” is showing in select theaters across the country. Please please please sign up for updates on their site. Please please please become a member of The Yes Lab, where you can help carry out these types of projects on your own. The world depends on it.
I dare you to share this story on your social media networks!
Photos, photo manipulation and words by G.
To Thine Own Selfie Be True by Geoffrey Dicker
From our preoccupation with paparazzi candids to our obsession with taking selfies, we are a world hypnotized by the siren call of fame. No one knows this better than cultural commentary artist Geoffrey Dicker. His life work has been the examination of celebrity. Starting as a teenaged autograph collector in his hometown of Los Angeles, and progressing to authoring 3 books and helming his popular NYC art, music and pop culture blog, According2G.com, Dicker has deeply explored the ramifications of social media, celebrity, and self-obsession. In his latest endeavor, “To Thine Own Selfie Be True,” Dicker turns his camera lens both on himself and the famous simultaneously. His visually arresting self-portraits are celebrity candids without celebrity. Tabloids may have pronounced that the famous are “just like us,” but Dicker takes this message to a haunting and satirical extreme. As twin “selfies,” they take a humorous look at the implications of fame and social media in our culture – namely that while we worship these false idols, we secretly want to be the one everybody is chasing after.
To Thine Own Selfie Be True by Geoffrey Dicker
The project will gradually be updated on its home, which is: www.tothineownselfiebetrue.tumblr.com Please keep checking back for new content. And tell a friend! We’re going viral!
Photo, video and words by G.
If you aren’t already familiar with the 4 piece band Mainland, here’s a quick primer: Jordan Topf, Corey Mullee, Alex Pitta and Dylan Longstreet have been making a splash on the New York rock scene, releasing two well received EPs, before taking a little break from touring to get signed to a major label and record their first full length album (in Los Angeles). To celebrate the release of their upcoming single, which I am told will be out in about two weeks, Mainland played an intimate set at a pop-up space located in the historic Chelsea Hotel. The scene looked like something out of an Andy Warhol film as the space was half art gallery, half living room and a whole lot of fun. Their 45 minute set included a rockin’ cover of Velvet Underground’s “I Found a Reason,” and the video which you are about to see, the infectious party rock anthem “Leave The Lights On.” Discover all you need to know about Mainland on their official site (link will open in a new window).
Now get ready to party… just by pressing play.
Photos and Words by G.
Steve Stevens and Billy Idol!
Billy Idol and his guitarist Steve Stevens are rock gods! On May 29, 2015, they played an outdoor concert on Pier 97 in New York and it rocked so hard! I’ve seen Billy Idol perform a few times over the years (including earlier in 2015 at the Beacon Theatre – but there is no review because I was on a blog hiatus) and Billy Idol never disappoints.
On a blue highway…. Billy Idol!
If you know little of Billy Idol’s history, he’s been performing for nearly 40 years, which in and of itself is an amazing accomplishment. There was a period of time where he was a major drug addict and he was nearly killed in a horrible motorcycle accident where he was not expected to ever walk again, let alone perform. I mention these things because Billy Idol showed no signs of being anything other than a rock god for the duration of his performance.
Before I discuss how great Billy Idol looked and sounded, let me paint a picture of the scene. Pier 97 is located at 55th Street and the West Side Highway, and what that means to non-New Yorkers, is that you have a panoramic view of the Manhattan skyline in the background as you watch the concert.
New York suffered a punishing winter, and the weather has just started to get nice, so being able to be outdoors and not freezing your ass off is such a treat and during the Billy Idol concert, the weather was absolutely perfect. The show kicked off with “Postcards from the Past,” a track from Billy Idol’s latest album “Kings and Queens of the Underground,” his first new album in almost 10 years. “Cradle of Love” was next and from then on, he had the audience in the palm of his hand. His signature moves of jumping around, “the snarl,” and fist pumping were present throughout the show and it drove the audience wild!
Because Billy Idol’s songs were played to death on the radio in the 80s, you sort of forget how great they sound when you have a concert full of people singing along to his songs and how many times, the songs lend themselves perfectly to crowd participation. For example, hearing the whole of Pier 97 shout out “FLESH! FLESH FOR FANTASY!” at every chorus during that song along with Billy gives me chills thinking about it. Or during “Rebel Yell,” when the crowd shouts out “More! More! More! Woooooooowwwwww!” or during “White Wedding” when the audience sings “It’s a nice day to…. STAAAAAART AGAAAAINNNNN!” is also chill inducing. During “Dancing With Myself,” at every chorus, Billy Idol said “If I had a chance, I’d ask NEW YORK to dance,” and if people hadn’t completely lost their minds by that point in the show, that sure did it. He also changed the lyrics of his cover of The Doors’ “LA Woman” to “New York Woman.”
Billy Idol gave many shout outs to New York, where he said that a lot of his hit songs were written here. He thanked the audience for “making my life so fucking great” and he also thanked his long time guitarist Steve Stevens for the same thing. Steve Stevens is a killer on guitar and he was given several guitar solos whereby he slayed the crowd!
Steve Stevens plays the guitar so effortlessly, that you could not help but watch him in awe as he shredded his guitar. During a lengthy solo, he was playing fast and slow which lead to the inevitable opening notes of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven,” and after a few seconds, he looked at the audience and shook his head no as if it was too cheesy to play that song and then he went back to his solo and scorched the guitar. He also slayed during his solos on songs like “Flesh For Fantasy” and “Rebel Yell” and during “White Wedding,” the track started off acoustically before transforming into the rockin’ version we all know and love by the second chorus.
The show closed with Billy Idol’s famous cover of Tommy James and the Shondells’ “Mony Mony” and as always, it featured the in between lyrics crowd chants of “Hey Motherfucker, get laid, get fucked!” The show was about all you could ask for when it comes to the setlist as he dug deep in his back catalog all the way back to the Generation X days (with “Ready Steady Go!”), and he played the majority of his hits, with the exception of “Catch my Fall,” “To Be A Lover,” and “Don’t Need A Gun.” Perhaps he will resurrect those great songs for his next tour? If you have ever loved a Billy Idol song, and how could you not?, you should make sure you see him live the next time he comes to your city, because he and Steve Stevens are true rock gods!!!
I’d like to give a shout-out to Bar 9 for hooking me up with tickets. Thanks so much, I had a blast!
The setlist was:
Postcards from the Past / Cradle of Love / Can’t Break Me Down / Dancing With Myself / Flesh For Fantasy / Save Me Now / Ready Steady Go / Sweet Sixteen / Eyes Without a Face / LA Woman (Doors cover) / Steve Stevens Guitar Solo / Whiskey and Pills / Blue Highway / Rebel Yell
Encore: White Wedding / Drum Solo / Mony Mony (Tommy James and the Shondells Cover)
The May 29, 2015 sunset