A Year Of Music Watching — 2013

HMTAC The dark days of winter approach — a perfect time for catching up on movies and shows you missed. Here’s some titles for your queue.


Keep eyes peeled for a rebroadcast of “Jimi Hendrix: Hear My Train A Comin'” on the PBS show ‘American Masters’ and get ready to swoon. What a sweetie he was. There’s lots of new old footage, inside background anecdotes, and great music. And the clothes! Utter Edwardian-psychedelic-hippie fabulousness . . . what an exquisite creature.  Be warned, you will immediately have to go fill in the tracks missing from your iPod.

Hair as metaphor: Al Pacino is stunning in the HBO movie “Phil Spector,” and the writing is fantastic.  It is also something of a lawyering procedural (is that a genre?) although this is not a defense either you or I could ever afford. When Spector arrives for his last court appearance . . . priceless.

Also on HBO this year, “Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer” which will be much easier to watch now that they have been released from prison. The courage of these young women is humbling. The fearful pride exhibited by family members is wrenching. The New York Times reported yesterday that “The first public screening in Russia of a documentary about the activist group Pussy Riot was canceled by the government at the last minute on Saturday.” Stay tuned.

Showtime recently ran “Sweet Summer Sun” a documentary of last July’s Hyde Park show (featuring Lisa Fischer of “20 Feet From Stardom” on “Gimme Shelter”). And that’s Mick Taylor on guitar. Showtime is running it again 11pm on New Year’s Eve. It’s available On Demand through January.

Saturday Night Live used to be a great place to discover exciting new talent, but now features Top 40 millionaires like Katy Perry/Rihanna/One Direction, or acts like the dreary and mystifyingly successful Kings of Leon/Arcade Fire — with the egregious Justin Timberlake laser show extravaganza being the worst anything of 2013. But then, one magical night, the audience was treated to the insanely delightful exuberance of newish sister act Haim (rhymes with ‘rhyme’). The studio audience exploded at the end of their song “The Wire.” I wish I could link to the video but Hulu has pulled it, and SNL has buried it, so I give up.


Top honors go to “Twenty Feet From Stardom.” Shown at the Avon this long-overdue story of the backup singers behind some of the greatest musical legends of the 21st century finally gave the spotlight to the likes of Darlene Love, Lisa Fischer, and my fave, the stylish, muse Claudia Lennear. (Lennear was probably Jagger’s ‘Brown Sugar.’ Nice piece in HuffPo 9.16.13 by another Lennear fan. Her solo album has been reissued.). The movie covers decades, from early Ray Charles sessions up through Joe Cocker, Humble Pie, the Rolling Stones and more. The Brits sure kept these gals working and still do; Lisa Fischer performed with the Rolling Stones in Hyde park this summer (see above).  The story of rousing Merry Clayton out of bed in the middle of the night to lay down the “Gimme Shelter” track is hilarious. Then the isolated track echoes through the theater speakers . . . absolute chills.

In May the Cable Car ran the absorbing documentary “The Source Family” which examines 70’s guru Father Yod, his gaggle of sister wives, obligatory Rolls Royce, and the dynamics of psychological manipulation. Unlike other cults this California group was much more out in the world, even launching a rock band of sorts. And the music wasn’t horrible.

Also at the Cable Car this year, now in my queue: “A Band Called Death,” which has revived interest in these black 70’s proto-punkers — Detroit brothers who wanted to play hard-rocking “white boys music” (NYT review); “Sound City,” for musicians and engineers as well as fans (NYT review); and “The Punk Singer” about Kathleen Hannah of Bikini Kill (NYT review).

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