(This article orginally appeared on Yahoo! Contributor Network in December 2012.)
Psychobilly has long been the red-headed stepchild of rock and roll – with its roots in ’70s punk and ’50s rockabilly, but much cheekier than its parental counterparts, it has lurked on the perimeter of mainstream music. With its retro hot rod and leather jacket sensibility, and its love of all things horror, it’s the “Night of the Living Dead” of modern music. Or, you could say, it’s like your parents’ Halloween. Or punk with an upright bass. Call it what you will, but it’s a genre that hasn’t been taken too seriously, even by those who play it and listen to it. And quite unfairly, one could argue.
While 70s punk legends The Cramps may be recognized as one of the forerunners of modern psychobilly, the genre’s real roots go farther back, in such traditional genres as rockabilly, country and even the blues, making it a uniquely modern take on traditional American roots music. And that’s why despite the campy zombie makeup, fake blood and odes to zombie prom queens, the genre deserves a little respect.
To put it in simplest terms, psychobilly is rockabilly or even country music played at punk rock tempo. While some newer to the psychobilly crowd may relate more to the puk side philosophy of faster, louder, harder, established bands leave no doubt as to the importance of the rockabilly side – and how closely it connects to the punk form of music most would consider on opposite ends of the spectrum. According to Rockabilly/Psychobilly Info blog, Sinner, vocalist and drummer for The Chop Tops said, “The people who say we don’t play rockabilly don’t know their musical history. Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash – those were the original punks.”
Johnny Cash? To those outside the psycho scene that may seem surprising, but consider this: not only do many songs have a twangy-guitar, slap-bass, country influence, but Cash himself coined the term psychobilly (via the lyrics of songwriter Wayne Kemp) on his song “One Piece at a Time,” which referred to a “psychobilly Cadillac.” And so the term was born, even if the music didn’t evolve till later.
While most psychobilly bands tend to avoid politics or anything serious, the lack of pretentiousness is a refreshing break from the hardcore punks or politically correct, top 40 rock. Much like its rockabilly forerunners, psychobilly is about playing music and having a good time. The relatively small scene size contributes a sense of family at various concerts, tattoo festivals, and vintage car shows, as well as the friendliness of people in the scene. While there are always a lot of other folks mixed in at these events, the psychobilly “tribe” is instantly recognizable, with their 50s inspired pencil skirts, cuffed jeans, leather jackets, victory-rolled hairstyles, sideburns, wedge cuts (a cross between a pompadour and a mohawk) and tattoos…lots of tattoos. Usually horror-inspired with the old Universal monsters being a perennial favorite.
So if you love your parents’ (or grandparents’) old records, classic horror, Elvis Presley, and vintage hot rods, check out the psychobilly scene. Just beware of the wrecking pit. But if you do get knocked down, unlike the punks, the psychos will laugh, help you up, and hand you another beer. And keep rockin’ that upright bass.
(This article originally appeared on Yahoo! Contributor Networ 12/8/11.)
Ask any child of the ’80s how they feel when they hear the song “I Melt With You” and they’ll tell you what joyful nostalgia the song bears for them as one of the greatest anthems of the era. Based on that, you might expect a film of the same name to be a happy, John Hughes-style trip down memory lane. Or the VH1 version of “The Hangover.” Or even an ’80s version of “The Big Chill.”
But you’d be off on all counts. Way off.
This isn’t another dialogue-heavy, cerebral exercise about midlife crisis, but a gut punch of the reality that goes way beyond the movie cliches. Don’t get me wrong, this movie is about that pain of realizing that not only is your life half over — at best — but just how far you’ve strayed from everything you wanted to become. But unlike so many other films that explore the same subject, these guys take action. With brutal and tragic results.
Director Mark Pellington took actors known more for comedy and cast them in one of the most unflinching films you will see this year. Perhaps it’s because of lower expectations based on his pretty-boy past, but former Brat-Packer Rob Lowe is not only brilliantly cast in a sly nod to the era but gives hands-down the performance of his career. Divorcee and father Lowe swings between quiet desperation to desperately out of control as he self-prescribes his narcotic indulgences for himself and his friends as much as his patients: the core of what his doctor’s practice has become.
While the whole ensemble cast of friends deserves accolades — Thomas Jane, Jeremy Piven, Christian McKay — I may be laughed at, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say it: Lowe’s performance is nothing short of Oscar-worthy, as well as McKay’s and the director who orchestrated this and brought such performances out of all these actors.
Of course, the problem is, when you have such a great cast (including Carla Gugino as the cop who senses something is amiss but can’t stop the wheels of fate) it splits the voters. These actors will likely be overlooked come Oscar time. Which is sad, because God knows in an era of endless “Twilight” episodes and senseless remakes, we need more original, though-provoking, raw films like this.
“I Melt With You” has so many poignant moments — McKay with the young lovers, Jane getting the bitter truth from the girlfriend of a young aspiring writer like he used to be, Piven begging Jane to help him with the thing he can’t do himself. And when Lowe’s ex-wife chides him about going off with the boys to “pretend you’re grown-ups,” he quietly replies, “I pretend you still love me … Just tell me again how it went from you loving me to not loving me.”
As sappy as it may sound on paper, trust me, it isn’t even remotely so in the performance. It’s quietly devastating.
Throw in some gorgeous scenery, cinematography, and a killer soundtrack, and I have to say this is the best movie I’ve seen all year. It’s sad it probably won’t get the recognition it deserves, but sadder still that Hollywood can’t embrace this kind of quality and make more movies this good.
“I Melt With You” is breathtaking, heartbreaking, and a relentless reminder to choose your life wisely, lest those choices come back to haunt you. Your day of reckoning won’t be at the end, but about halfway through.
“I Melt With You” opens in limited release theaters December 9, 2011, and is available currently on pay per view cable.