Psychobilly Draws from the Rocking ’50s and Punk ’70s for a Whole New Monster

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(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.

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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.

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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.

‘I Melt With You’ Brutal and Brilliant

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(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.

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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.

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Killing Bono’ Mixes Nostalgia, Humor With Pain of Lost Dreams

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(This article originally appeared on Yahoo! Contributor Network on 11/4/11.)

Rock ‘n’ roll in the movies has run the gamut from (supposedly) true biopics like “The Doors” to (supposedly) fictionalized firsthand accounts such as “Almost Famous” to the gritty documentary “A Detroit Thing” documenting the rise of Kid Rock and the rival Detroit band, The Howling Diablos, that was left behind.

“Killing Bono” has a little bit of all of them at its core, but especially the latter. Despite similar plot lines to the painfully poignant Kid Rock/Howling Diablos documentary — seeing one band or person launch into fame and fortune while watching the other guys they grew up with come so close yet miss their big break and superstardom — “Killing Bono” is a much lighter movie and not so difficult to watch.

“Killing Bono” is based on the true story of Neil McCormick (Ben Barnes), who grew up in Dublin wanting to be a rock star, much like one of his destined-to-be-famous classmates, Paul Hewson. C’mon, you know him, right? OK, OK … maybe you know him better as Bono.

McCormick and his brother, Ivan, go from opening for the original U2, aka The Hype, to watching their classmates go on to legendary rock status while they plug away in dive bars and live in a barely habitable loft in Londo, with an odd assortment of neighbors, including the wonderful Pete Postelthwaite (may he rest in peace).

The not-so-glamorous side of rock and roll

This is where the movie truly excels: showing the not-so-glamorous fate for all those wannabe bands that aren’t living the high life in five star hotels — and most of whom never will. When I saw Ivan McCormick (Robert Sheehan) wrapping a sleeping bag around his shoulders in their loft, I could feel that cold (probably because I lived the whole artist-in-a-crappy-loft thing in Detroit.) That was definitely dead-on, although I would say a band at the level of The Shook Ups! would not have a tour bus but be packing into a van while touring.

“Killing Bono” also gives us a great trip back to the ’80s, when bands like Duran Duran ruled and Bob Geldof’s idea of putting on a little rock festival to benefit African famine was fresh and never done before. And you can’t have an ’80s-era movie without ’80s fashion. As Postelthwaite, playing their gay landlord and neighbor, quips, “You look like you raided Spandau Ballet’s closet.”

Where fact and fiction collide

The comedy takes some of the sting out of watching two men’s dreams turn to dust. As I watched the film, I found myself cringing and thinking, with each horrible decision Neil McCormick makes, “Please let this be the fiction part? Please tell me no one botched their life up this bad, and their brother’s?” Especially that whole bit about telling Bono not to put Ivan in his band — and not telling his brother that U2 had wanted him to be the fifth member. Ouch.

“Killing Bono” may not be on the same brilliant level of “Almost Famous,” but its nostalgia, humor, and bittersweetness are like a worthy opening act to that superstar of a film. It’s a fine tribute to all those middle-aged suburbanites who have a footlocker tucked away somewhere with tattered t-shirts and homemade posters from shows in places unknown by bands that aren’t has-beens but never-wases.

Although most of us never came as close as the brothers McCormick. And thank your lucky stars for that.

Daniel Craig Brings Chilly Sex Appeal to Movies

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(This article originally appeared on Yahoo! Contributor Network on 12/19/11.)

I never thought there would be a sexier James Bond than Sean Connery, and wasn’t sure about the casting for the latest, icy-cool version. But I have to admit, since taking over as the new James Bond, this new guy has given us girls the ultra-suave tough guy to make us swoon. That’s right, you ladies know who I’m talking about: Craig … Daniel Craig.

And has he an early Christmas present for you, returning to the big screen December 21 as the man who works with “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” — just another of his growing list of alpha male roles. After years of suffering so-called macho men like Steven Seagal, Chuck Norris, and Jean-Claude Van Damme (who I refer to as “Damme proud, Damme strong, Damme stupid”), we have the sophisticated machismo of Craig. Who knew icy blue could be so smokin’ hot?

Anyway, before I go take a cold shower, let’s look at some great Craig flicks to help hold you over till the big day.

The Mean, the Bad … and the Incredibly Handsome

Craig plays a liar, a thief, and a cheat who plots murder in “Road to Perdition.” He’s a very bad man, but when you look like that, being bad hurts so good. One of his rare smiling moments onscreen is in this one, but it’s the context that truly makes the moment. A young boy asks him why he is always smiling and Craig stoops down to tell him, “’cause it’s all so [expletive] hysterical.”

Bring on the Beef “Cake”

Craig plays a British gangsta drug dealer in “Layer Cake” who romps with Sienna Miller and lays down some heavy life philosophizing in the film’s opening monologue. And yes, you should be listening to what the man has to say — it’s his intelligence that makes him so hot. We love him for his mind … really. His hot body has nothing to do with it, I swear.

Can I Be Your Cowgirl?

First he challenges Connery as the sexiest British secret agent ever, and now he’s trying to move in on Clint Eastwood’s gig as the hottest cowboy ever in “Cowboys & Aliens.” Have you no shame, Mr. Craig? Hold you nothing sacred?

The New and Improved James Bond

You know you gotta watch some Bond action. Craig really made the role of 007 his own with his steely take on the suave man of action. While he may not be as warm and funny as some of the previous versions, it makes it that much more special when he does show a little humor.

Like the scene in “Quantum of Solace” when he is rounded up by super sexy secretary Gemma Arterton. She tries to check them into a less-than-stellar hotel under the cover of being “teachers on sabbatical.” So when Craig refuses to stay in the dump, he marches into the five star accommodations he selects, and informs the front desk in perfect deadpan, “We are teachers on sabbatical. And we have just won the lottery.”

Now, I’ve already told you ladies that some Craig DVDs are a good Christmas gift for the men in your life, as you get a little something for yourself in the deal as well. But boys, it works the other way too — take your lady to see “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” when it hits theaters, and let’s just say you may be in for an extra frisky evening after. If you know what I mean.

Exclusive Interview With Americana Grammy-Nominee Linda Chorney

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(This article originally appeared on Yahoo! Contributor Network in May 2012)

While music awards tend to bring out differences in opinion amongst music lovers every year, this year’s Grammy nominations sparked something of a firestorm in one category, and probably not in one you might expect. In fact, probably not a category you even knew was on the ballot.

When the 2011 Grammy nominations were announced for the Americana music category, there was a name in there that for all practical purposes, no one in the established Americana community recognized. Not only did it inspire a heated (and an increasingly nasty) debate, but a new nickname for the artist herself — “Who the [expletive] is Linda Chorney?”

For the artist formerly known simply as Linda Chorney, 2011 wase quite a rollercoaster ride. After 30 years of paying her dues as a musician, she got the nod many artists dream of — the Grammy nomination. Sounds like something to celebrate, right? A real “independent unknown hits the big-time,” feel-good kinda story that inspires everyone.

Not so fast.

To be sure, the initial reaction was amazing for Chorney, as one would expect from her friends, family, and fans. But then something ugly crept into the blogs and forum posts, and not only were people criticizing the music, but getting downright personal. Then accusations of “gaming” the system by networking on the Grammy365 site for votes, and some going so far as calling on Chorney to give up her nomination.

The lynch mob had escalated to the point where the only thing missing was a stake and a lit torch.

“At first, I got an amazing reaction from all of my fans and friends and family — they were just ecstatic. It was like a Cinderella story and just wonderful. I was so excited that so many people supported me to get me in the top five, and people really listened to the music — so I was totally touched by that. Then, it turned and all of a sudden, hearing the other stuff, I was a little surprised, actually. I guess I’m naive.”

The real irony is that such a backlash would come from some of those in a genre that arguably prides itself most on representing the independent spirit in music.

“I actually thought the reaction might be ‘Wow, who is this person who had no backing, who had no label, who had no team, but got so many votes — let’s listen to this music because she must be good.’ That’s kind of what I thought the reaction would be, not ‘Let’s burn her at the stake.’ If this was going on in Salem, I would have been burnt as a witch already.”

Chorney’s great crime in most of her critics’ eyes wasn’t so much about the music, but about networking on the Grammy365 site, simply asking people to listen to her music and consider it. Not only is this common practice for labels, but seriously — is there a musician or artist of any kind who isn’t out trying to network and get people to look at or listen to their work? Somehow that has now been translated into “gaming the system” like it was cheating. And like the voters would be so easily swayed to vote for an album simply because of networking — a rather condescending assertion to Chorney and voters alike. Which isn’t to say there aren’t critics of the music, as well.

“My favorite quote about my music was ‘I listened to her music and I wanted to projectile vomit,'” Chorney laughs. “I thought it was hysterical. I didn’t take it to heart — some are going to like your music and some aren’t.”

In a further twist of irony, Chorney has found herself an outcast in a group who prides itself, and even defines itself, by its outcast status. As Roseanne Cash said, “Americana is where you go when you don’t fit anywhere else.”

So where do you go when you don’t fit with the kids who don’t fit anywhere else? Wherever the hell you want to. And that is exactly what Chorney set out to do with her album “Emotional Jukebox.”

As she will tell you — and as she wrote in the liner notes — this was going to be her last album. The 51-year-old had been trying to catch her break for 30 years, coming close 10 years ago when she landed a record deal and her single “Living Alone” cracked the Top 40 charts at No. 31 in adult contemporary. But then her label went broke after a little incident involving two airplanes and a couple of big towers in New York City.

And so it was back to square one.

But fortunately, Chorney found a benefactor, Jonathan Schneider, aka the “Roc Doc,” who helped her make one more album — and wanted her to be able to make the album she always wanted to make, rather than what a commercial market might demand. Or what being too poor and having to rush through the studio might demand.

“I thought this was going to be my last album … and it was a blast. It was an album of just the love of music and not caring about anything else but making good music, period.”

And many people seem to agree — namely, voters who have forwarded many supportive letters, or, as Chorney calls them, her “peers with ears.” Of course, it isn’t only her peers listening — there are fans out there, too, and their feedback has been far more important than the naysayers.

“The most memorable thing for me or the most fulfilling thing for me is when I touch people and they come up to me and cry and they say to me, ‘Your music, your words, they help me and I know I’m not alone and you say things that I think that I don’t have the [guts] to say.'”

Like her song “Looney Bin,” from her previous album, “Chornography,” which was her own therapy after the end of a relationship.

“I had this tumultuous break-up where my heart was so crushed I wanted to die, and I wrote this song and from the first verse to the end, I healed myself. When people come up to me and tell me they receive some relief from their pain through my songs, there’s nothing more precious than that.”

In addition to giving some of her fans a voice to their troubles and, of course, that whole Grammy-nomination thing, her life as a musician has had a few more highlights. Chorney had the privilege to meet and perform for none other than Nelson Mandela and spent some time in Africa in a village picking up bits and pieces of the language. Her blog has a video of her singing along and thanking her hosts for the porridge in their native tongue, much to the delight of the children. And then she taught them to sing “All You Need Is Love.”

Despite the genre party-poopers trying to rain on her parade, Chorney has weathered tougher times to be sure, where things looked bleak, indeed, for her music career.

“I never wanted to stop singing, but I definitely … I stopped hoping. The hope of reaching my goals to get discovered or get the recognition on a larger level — I kind of gave up on that, and it hurt. So to have gone from kind of giving up and just thinking its never going to happen for me to getting nominated in the same year was a huge thrill. I’ve always had faith in my music, but not in the music business.”

But it seems it’s those few critics who are really stirring the pot that seem to keep getting heard again and again as they campaign so fiercely against Chorney. While her skin may be a bit thickened by her years in the music business, many fans weren’t so unaffected by the personal attacks. That was bothersome.

“I received so many letters saying, ‘This story is so inspiring, it gives me so much hope that I can, at my age, still strive for what I want,’ and it was so touching for me to receive that. But then again, I received a few calls after the smear campaign came out from people who were actually crying and saying, ‘This is so unfair, this is such a happy story — why are they doing this?’ and it breaks my heart for them.”

And when all is said and done, regardless of whether you like her music or not, there’s no denying her late success is an inspiration to us all, not just women or “women of a certain age.” And a lesson that it is never too late, even if you may hit some roadblocks and traffic jams along the way that slow you down. But even those setbacks are all about how you see them — as delays or as taking the slow route and enjoying the journey.

Or as Chorney says, “I took the scenic route to the Grammys.” Indeed.