By Nicki Escudero
By Amy Silverman
By Brian Palmer
By Chris Parker
By Troy Farah
By Lauren Wise
By Lauren Wise
9. Groucho Marx, An Evening With Groucho (A&M). Found at: Bookman's in Mesa. Presenting a Carnegie Hall concert by Groucho Marx late in his life, after his television career had all but ended, this double-record set is beautifully packaged and contains several songs that had become associated with him: "Lydia the Tattooed Lady," "Oh, How That Woman Could Cook," "The Toronto Song" and so forth. The history of American comedy isn't yet available on CD -- particularly missing are the Jewish comedians who worked the Catskills and upstate New York circuits -- and Groucho here draws from his entire career on stage, on record and on the screen. Not to be missed: the anecdote in which Groucho tells of having his cigar accidentally knocked from his hand one cold winter's afternoon in NYC, exclaiming "Je-sus Christ!" and turning around to see the priest who'd bumped into him from behind. The priest's quick response as he hands Groucho a replacement stogie: "Groucho, you just said the magic word."
10. Lenny Bruce, Live at the Curran Theater (Fantasy). Found at: Rockaway Records in Mesa. Parts of this infamous concert made their way onto CD via the boxed set Howls, Raps, and Roars in 1994, but the two and a half hours of Bruce's November 19, 1961, San Francisco appearance represented here (more than an hour of digressive or repetitive material was cut, according to the liner notes) are astonishing in their coherence and quality. Over six sides, without track listings, Bruce talks about his Philadelphia drug busts and his obscenity trials, he reads from Tropic of Cancer, he rips George Shearing to shreds, and throughout it all he has the Curran audience absolutely in his hands. Later performances would be shaggier, more devoted to his legal troubles, and the humor would turn tragic -- it was like listening to Bruce fall apart in front of you -- but this album captures Bruce at the beginning of the slide, while the whole mess still seems ridiculous to him; he simply couldn't believe he was being "arrested for speaking English." Put this album up against any records by supposedly edgy comedians from about 1980 forward, and it's just laughable. This triple album is the best representation of what it was like to be in the audience for Bruce's shows, and it still has the power to shock 40 years later.
Top 10 Rock-Star Films
This year I went searching for the dark underbelly of rock icons' careers -- the creative roadside debris that most fans like to pretend never happened. Along those lines, you can't go wrong with rock-star film projects, particularly ones that these musicians had the gall to direct/write themselves. Some I'd seen before, but taken together, it's inspiring to see how little regard your typical rock legend has for such bourgeois conventions as structure, narrative and coherent editing. So, with the exception of a couple of documentaries, this list is a tribute to all those lovable egomaniacs delusional enough to believe that the ability to string three chords together automatically gives you license to become François Truffaut.
1. Neil Young, Journey Through the Past (unreleased bootleg, 1973). Leave it to Neil Young to take reels of exciting concert footage and find a way to make a deadly dull film out of it. Combining the worst elements of Bob Dylan's Eat the Documentand Renaldo and Clara, Journeyis an example of a bored rock star trying to graft a story onto pre-existing documentary material, and succeeding only in exasperating even the most stoned midnight-movie ravers. Suggested alternate title: The Hand-Held and the Damage Done.
2. Perry Farrell, Gift (Warner Bros., 1993). Perry Farrell as a heroin addict: What a stretch! Like much of Farrell's work, this film -- co-directed by his then-girlfriend Casey Niccoli -- is a little too enraptured with the decadent, beautiful-loser myth for its own good, but Farrell handles his junkie role admirably, and the tight close-ups of Jane's Addiction onstage offer the best evidence of that band's live power.
3. Prince, Graffiti Bridge (Warner Bros., 1990). "You know what your problem is? You've got too many problems, that's what your problem is." So says spurned girlfriend Jill Jones to Prince early in this deranged musical fantasy, and if this strikes you as witty banter, Graffiti Bridgeis the movie for you. Ostensibly a sequel to Purple Rain, Graffiti Bridgeis really an excuse for Prince to unload all that conflicted, incoherent, lovesexy spirituality he'd been dabbling with for much of the '80s. Bad sign: The comic highlight is watching the Time's Terry Lewis run to the rest room after gulping down a hot chile pepper.
4. Bob Dylan, Renaldo and Clara (unreleased bootleg, 1978). Can someone explain why the rock icon most known for his facility with words chose to make his definitive film statement without a script? The concept might have worked if some of the non-actors (Sara Dylan, Joan Baez) had risen to the challenge, or if His Bobness had given them some idea what this opaque, four-hour treatise on love, dreams and Bicentennial-era America was shooting for. The tight shots of a white-faced Dylan onstage are terrific -- especially a reggaefied "It Ain't Me Babe" -- but the rest of it feels like a meandering put-on for voyeuristic Dylanologists. Bad sign: The character of Bob Dylan is played by Southern rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins.