Kool Kat of the Week: Beth Kargel, AKA Kittens Aplenti, Gets Shaken (Not Stirred) at The Highlander with Her Covert Cohorts, Band. James Band. as They Raise a Ruckus in Celebration of the Newest Bond Film, SPECTRE

Posted on: Nov 3rd, 2015 By:

by Melanie Crew
Managing Editor

Band. James Band, Atlanta’s own rockin’ masterminds and a riotous tribute to a “not-so-secret agent” dish out a night of nostalgia ‘n’ espionage this Friday, Nov. 6 at The Highlander, along with The Shut-Ups, purveyors of new wave power pop, and a whole lotta down ‘n’ dirty noise pop with Map of the Moon! Grab your friends andyour foes, and boogie on down to the slickest free shindig in town while knocking back a couple martinis in celebration of the release of the 24th highly-anticipated Bond flick, SPECTRE, (dir. Sam Mendes) out in theatres that same night. Exploits begin at 9 pm sharp!

Band. James Band. [James Band (guitar/vocals); Kittens Aplenti (keyboard/vocals); Grillz (bass) and Huge Drag (drums)], began their rockin’ covert operation in 2012 and obviously is heavily influenced by the musical masterminds behind the Bond franchise (John Barry, Shirley Bassey, Paul McCartney, et al.) as well as other ‘60s party bands and tunes. However, they’ve also been known to sling a good ‘80s tune and promise a tantalizing taste of their own “Cold-War Paranoia-Pop” this Friday night! Diamonds may be forever, but this shaken’ (not stirred) shindig is a one-time deal! (This message will self-destruct!)

L-R: Grillz, Huge Drag, James Band and Kittens Aplenti; Photo by HOOPIX

L-R: Grillz, Huge Drag, James Band and Kittens Aplenti – Photo by HOOPIX

ATLRetro caught up with Kittens Aplenti for a quick interview about her cronies in Band. James Band.; their favorite not-so-secret spy; and the band’s mission to make sure you die another day so you can spy it up this Friday! And while you uncover our little Q&A with Kool Kat of the Week Miss Aplenti, get an earful of Band. James Band’s take on “Secret Agent Man” during their 2012 East Atlanta Strut performance, here!

ATLRetro: Band. James Band; such an ingenious name for a tribute to a not-so-secret agent! Can you thrill our readers with tales of how you and your own agents got together as a band?

Kittens Aplenti: “Well, the rain exploded with a mighty crash as we fell into the sun. And the first one said to the second one there, ‘I hope you’re having fun.”‘ – Oh, wait, those are the lyrics to “Band On the Run.” Beg your pardon, we don’t usually dwell much on our past. After all, you only live twice. Though it has been rumored that an origin story would be revealed this week, hasn’t it? OK, suffice it to say that Kittens Aplenti once had the opportunity to sing “You’re So Vain” – a song that was probably about James.  Then she wanted to perform the theme to “The Spy Who Loved Me,” and she banded together friends and foes to do so – though nobody does it better than Carly Simon.

James Band - Photo by Jenifer Carter

James Band – Photo by Jenifer Carter

We see that you’ve overtaken the criminal masterminds with an arsenal of ‘60s party music and film theme songs. Which film’s theme is your favorite and why?

We’re quite fond of the theme from ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE. The constantly descending chromatic lines reflect the movie’s downhill skiing sequences, a testament to the genius of John Barry. The minions in the band like it because it’s abbreviated in the set list as OHMSS; when chanted aloud, it creates the focus and clarity needed for carrying out codas and counterintelligence.

Your top influences are listed as the musical geniuses behind the James Bond franchise; John Barry, Shirley Bassey, Tom Jones, Nancy Sinatra, et. al. Can you tell our readers what drew you to the infamous and slickest spy around, as well as his musical cohorts? And why you want to share the love of the genre with your fans?

These melodies and memories are shared experiences across audiences. They guarantee a good time and much more than a quantum of solace. In addition to theme songs and ‘60s spy favorites, readers should be alerted to Cold-War Paranoia-Pop as well. We are likely to deploy a number of ‘80s favorites for those who are as fond of the Reagan era as we are. For your ears only!

Any adventurous tales of when you began to get interested in playing music?

Our leading man began playing piano like a dutiful lad before picking up an axe. The world is not enough for his talent. He axes while other men just balk. “He looks at this world and wants it all. So he strikes, like Thunderball.”

Photo by O-Jen Ishii Photography; L-R: Grillz, Kittens Aplenti

L-R: Grillz, Kittens Aplenti – Photo by O-Jen Ishii Photography

As purveyors of kitschy tongue-in-cheek underground shenanigans, can you tell our readers who are some of your favorite local bands? And why you love the Atlanta music scene?

A-ha! It would be hard to identify favorites. The camaraderie and formidable talent in the Atlanta scene knock the living daylights out of us.  Millionaire developer Mack Zoloft has approached the minions in the band with a scheme. By tearing down all of the local rehearsal spaces to build condos, we can prevent all the other bands from practicing. We’ll dominate!

If you could put together a dream line-up of bands to play with [still around or not], who would it be and why?

We’d love to perform with our local friends Smithsonian and Clashinista. These are both British-inspired send ups as well.

Anything scandalous planned for your shakin’ and not stirred shindig, probing The Highlander on Nov. 6?

The Shut-Ups and Map of the Moon have been licensed to thrill, so you all simply must plan to die another day so

Photo by O-Jen Ishii Photography; Huge Drag

Huge Drag – Photo by O-Jen Ishii Photography

that you can join us. The Man With the Golden Drum is going to shake things up and bang out an electric, nay explosive, addition to the set inspired by a few beloved bonnie Scotsmen.

What’s next for Band. James Band?

Let’s just say our relationships don’t seem to last. There’s always the possibility that we might reboot with a new cast of characters!

Can you tell our readers something you’d like folks to know that they don’t know already?

We could tell you but then we’d have to kill you…This policy does make it a little difficult to promote our shows.

What question do you wish somebody would ask you and what’s the answer?

Q: Do you expect me to talk?   A: No, we expect you to listen!

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Kool Kat of the Week: It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll But Ray Dafrico Likes It

Posted on: Jul 21st, 2015 By:

raydafricoDon’t expect any S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y N-I-G-H-T choruses at the Ray City Rollers‘ gig on July 24 at Steve’s Live Music. Not only is it Friday but Ray Dafrico‘s latest band owes more to The Kinks, The Who and The Stones, although despite his many years toughed out in a black leather jacket, he does admit an affection for the bubblegum rock of the ’60s and ’70s.

Ray is no stranger to Atlanta’s music scene. The last time we talked to the singer/songwriter/guitarist, he’d finished up a documentary,THE NIGHTPORTERS: TELL IT LIKE IT IS, about the early 1980s legendary Atlanta punk-alternative band which he cofounded. Born in New York City, Ray’s family moved around a lot, finally ending up in Roswell. Suburban boredom nurtured a restless among high school friends/musicians which spawned The Nightporters. They moved intown to Pershing Point, a now-demolished decrepit apartment building where Atlanta’s punk rock scene lodged and practiced, got their start at the notorious Blue Rat Gallery and became regulars at 688. They then proceeded to tour widely, including many New York gigs and opening for myriad alt-rock headliners from The Replacements, who became friends and slept on Ray’s floor, to The Clash‘s riotous concert at The Fox Theatre. This Friday’s show will reunite Dafrico with Nightporters drummer Paul Lenz, who has joined the Rollers and also has drummed for Drivin’ N Cryin’. Ray also played in Kathleen Turner Overdrive.

In other words, Ray’s one Kool Kat of the Week that’s way, way overdue. Because that was then and this is now, we concentrated on his current band, but we couldn’t resist the urge to ask him about what’s spinning on his turntable. Yeah, turntable.

ATLRetro: Your new band is the Ray City Rollers. What’s your secret origin story?

Ray Dafrico: Well, my solo bands have kind of been like the same band with different people. I have this pet peeve that you have to change the band name if someone leaves unlike most people who fight to keep using a name even though it’s not really the same band like So and So starring but only one of the original members. In my mind, I’m a purist not a tourist, so my bands, Shades of Shame, Kickstand, Soulfinger, etc., are really one band with different names. The Ray City Rollers were named so because I was going to just call it Ray Dafrico like a solo act with a band. But nobody can pronounce my last name right, so in the tradition of Kathleen Turner Overdrive – another band name I thought up – I just created some goofy name that I thought was hilarious. The only problem is people think it’s some kind of tribute band! I’ve actually had people say to me,”oh yeah, I remember you guys,”  and I have to say, no, it’s not the BAY City Rollers! Sometimes I don’t say anything to make them think I’m some rock star or something.

Ray Cirty Rollers copy 2So how important were the Bay City Rollers to your life?

I actually saw The Rollers in 1976. I thought they were great. I think I was the only guy there not wearing tartan and screaming. (laughs) Everybody says S-a-t-u-r, which I loved but “Money Honey” and “Rock and Roll Love Letter” were right up there. Woody had a punky shag and played a Telecaster, so what’s not to like? Not sure if a lot of people know The Ramones were also influenced by them and were trying to sound like them.

OK, really, you’re known for punk rock but you talk a lot about The Kinks, The Who, The Stones. Why the staying power for those bands for you? Was it a moment in time or are there any bands out there today who come close?

Well, after The Partridge Family and Bay City Rollers, those were the bands that I really go into. They took it up a level, quite a few levels actually. The combination of songs, image and raw energy by those ’60s English bands kinda defines Rock ‘n’ Roll to me. I was always an Anglophile even as a little kid. I used to watch THE THUNDERBIRDS, CAPTAIN SCARLET and THE DOUBLE DECKERS, so the bands were an extension of that, I think. Then I saw QUADROPHENIA and became a Mod when I was 17. Once you’re a Mod, you’re a Mod for life. I was into punk rock but always hated hardcore and all that Oi/Mohawk crap. Punk to me was ’70s style which was more like a Powerpop/Chuck Berry kinda thing.

Ray Double zero011As far as new bands, I try not to be a crotchety old man and say “all new music is crap” – which I do say from time to time (laughs) – but it is difficult to find music that really moves me. Fountains of Wayne are one of those bands. I like The Wonder StuffSpiritualized, Beth Orton, The Strypes, JET, The Mooney Suzuki, April March, Black Joe Lewis, etc. I’m pretty open-minded so I like all kinds of styles of music, but at the same time I know what I like when I hear it and instantly know when I don’t like it. Occasionally something will grow on me over time like any new Stones record. I won’t like it when it comes out, and then five years later it’s one of my faves!

How does the Ray City Rollers differ from your previous bands like The Nightporters and Kathleen Turner Overdrive? Do you have a musical manifesto?

Well, I was co-writer in the Porters and wrote half the songs in KTO. But with The Rollers and my other bands, it’s more focused and closer to how I hear the music in my head and I have more say as to how  to make it happen. My musical manifesto is a quote from Mike Campbell: “Don’t bore us, get to the chorus”!

Ray City Rollers’ first album BABYLON BLUES (released in 2014) got a warm critical reception. Are you working on any new songs? A new album?

Yeah, it did. We didn’t press that many, although we’ve just made more. The feedback it received was great. It got a lot of online airplay, not sure about who else was playing it on the radio. I think it’s the best recording I’ve done so far, and I’m my worst critic so that’s saying something! I have a backlog of about three CDs worth of material, so I am always writing, but it’s difficult because you have to show the songs to the people who are playing with you. So they are new songs to them, but for me they feel ancient. When I play with new people, it’s great because I am reminded of how good they are, and they change depending on who I am playing them with.

raycity1You have been doing some covers also, at least at past gigs. What criteria do you have for the covers you play?

 I like to do obscure covers to test to see if people know its a cover or not. (laughs) I just do ones that I think are cool and are fairly easy to learn. We were doing stuff like “Come on Down to My Boat” by Every Mother’s Son and “Things Get Better” by Eddie Floyd. I really love Stax/Volt soul stuff and bubblegum pop

You’ve been touring a bit–California last year and you were recently in NC. Good to see you back in Atlanta. Any special plans for your gig the Steve’s Live Music?

Yeah, Steve’s will be Paul’s first Atlanta show with us and his birthday! We will also have Dave Biemiller on keyboards. I’ve been looking forever for a good keyboard player and I think I’ve found him. My songs are written with keys in mind, and the sound I’ve been trying to get for The Rollers is original with textures a la The Small Faces, The Attractions and The Band. The funny thing is Dave is my daughter’s boyfriend’s Dad. It’s small world after all. Maybe we should cover that.

nightportersThe Nightporters reunited for a benefit concert for Kat Peters last winter at The Star Bar. What’s it like playing with Paul again and any plans for another reunion show?

Playing with Paul is great. It’s like riding a bike with us. Telepathic in fact because the Nightporters played so much back then. We were also Michelle Malone‘s rhyhm section in the first Drag The River. Paul’s style and and energy has added a lot to the band. The other thing is we understand each others’ jokes and sense of humor and that is important. The door is always open for Porters shows, we had a good time and sounded great at the benefit, so if something comes up and schedules permit, we could do more shows.

Are you up to anything else? Solo projects? Any more film work to follow-up on your Nightporters documentary?

I always have multiple creative things going on but try to focus on one thing at a time. I need to revisit The Porters movie and do an edit and distribution at some point. I’m always doing photography, film/video stuff  and always thinking about doing solo acoustic shows, but I prefer with a band so I tend to talk more about that than actually doing it! Another thing I’ve been considering is DJing or doing a radio or podcast show.

rayd-laundryWhat are you listening to right now?

Well, Julie London on youtube; she’s a sultry dish! I have an addiction to thrift stores and try my best not to go to them, but wind up going in and buying a stack of LPs. Currently on my turntable: Soundtracks to THE IPCRESS FILE (1965), LADY IN CEMENT (1968) and THE GIRL FROM U.N.C.L.E. TV series, The Osmonds’ PHASE IIITHE COUNTRY SIDE OF JIM REEVES, Mott the Hoople‘s first, Richard Pryor, BAD LUCK STREAK IN DANCING SCHOOL by Warren Zevon and GERRI MULLIGAN MEETS STAN GETZ. 

Facebook Event Page for Friday July 24 show here

All photographs are courtesy of Ray Dafrico and used with permission.

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Tell It Like It Is: Ray Dafrico Remembers a Special Time in the Atlanta Music Scene and a Band Named the Nightporters

Posted on: Jun 11th, 2013 By:

In late April, when THE NIGHTPORTERS: TELL IT LIKE IT IS premiered at The Plaza Theatre, it wasn’t your typical movie screening but a reunion. The crowd was mostly in their 40s and 50s. Many of these folks had families and didn’t stay out late any more. But that didn’t mean they never did and some still had the leather jackets to show for it. When they come out in Atlanta, you know you’re in for a special evening.

If you are old enough to have been part of the early ’80s nascent punk/new wave scene that revolved around the now-legendary 688 Club, you remember a handful of local bands that stood out. You never missed any of their shows, and they played all the time. Perhaps the coolest and most memorable of these bands was The Nightporters. That’s not to say they never had any crappy drunken gigs. They had plenty, but when they were at their best, they were as good as any band that topped the college alternative charts and many that made it big when real punk had faded into a careless memory.

Guitarist/singer/songwriter Ray Dafrico started with some raw found footage of the Nightporters performing, mostly at the Blue Rat Gallery, a notorious art space in the now-demolished Pershing Point Apartments which was ground zero for housing starving punk rockers back in the day. To that, he added interviews with band members and other key members of the scene such as Peter Buck (R.E.M.) and Rick Richards (Georgia Satellites). The end result is a time capsule not just of a band but of the clubs and people that made that period in Atlanta rock history so unique and a frozen moment in time when it seemed like music not just mattered but meant…well…everything.

With the movie now available on DVD, ATLRetro recently sat down with Ray to find out more about the genesis of this home-grown rockumentary, as well as what was so special, as the subtitle states, about “a time, a place and a band.”

ATLRetro: How did the idea of a Nightporters documentary get started?

Ray Dafrico: I got hold of some early footage a couple of years ago by a guy named James Farmer, who was one of the Blue Rat’s artists. There was footage of us that I had never seen. I thought it was really amazing and somebody should make a film and add some interviews. I didn’t know anyone else that would do it so I took it upon myself to start making it.

There really seemed to be a special quality about the early ‘80s music scene in Atlanta. What do you think made that time so special?

I just think it was creative and kind of more innocent in a way. Maybe it was because we were so young that it all seemed new and fresh. Punk rock was fairly new. I was into music, but it seemed inaccessible. With punk rock, you could prove you could do stuff yourself. Once we started doing that, we had a small circle of people that just started growing. Atlanta was really small at the time. There were maybe 10 bands and everyone knew each other. Everybody pulled for each other for the most part and would come to each other’s shows. There was some competition between bands that played in midtown and bands that mostly played like in Buckhead, but eventually we got friendly with most of the bands in town. Nowadays it seems so competitive. There are so many bands. It seems like everybody’s out for themselves.

The Nightporters definitely had that punk rock spirit, but you had other influences, too. 

We were influenced by punk rock, and we kind of sounded like punk rock, but the Sex Pistols just proved that you could go against the system and the corporate  music of the 1970s. But the thing that brought the Nightporters together was more the ‘60s punk bands. Originally the Rolling Stones, but we really liked the more obscure bands that had one-hit wonders like The Count Five. So you’re right, we weren’t directly the late ‘70s kind of punk rock. We were sort influenced by it, but it was an enabling thing than anything else. Our sound was sort of garage mod rock with elements of glam, folk, country, ska and reggae.

How important was 688?

Very important at the time. They just booked some amazing bands. At first, we were underage and we couldn’t get in. It was the same with the Agora Ballroom. It was like we would go down there every weekend and try to get in. There was this long-haired guy at the door. He would call us “weekend anarchists” and kick us out. We tried to see the Plasmatics and all these bands. Finally he let us in to see the Ramones. We had borrowed fake IDs from Marines that didn’t look anything like us. By coming down and trying to get in there for six months, we earned our way in. But yeah, there were [a few] other clubs to go to, like The Bistro, Moonshadow, Metroplex and Rumors, but 688 had the great bands, $1.50 beer  and a lot of cool diverse people would go there. We used to go to this place every Sunday called Margaritaville on Spring and 14th St. We were there so much we talked them into letting us play and turned it into our own club. It soon turned into its own little scene.

Part of it was the clubs, like 688, were more into promoting local music. They were as creative as the bands and at least more willing to experiment. I know [clubs] are about making money because they took a lot of ours, but it just seemed more laidback. They were having fun just like the bands were. It seemed that way anyway.

When did the Nightporters first get together and perform?

We were still in high school, I think, in 1981-82. I was going to say this in the movie, but it was a big deal for us to get from the suburbs to downtown Atlanta. We thought playing Tuesday nights at the Bistro was success. We had started at high school parties playing our punk rock/’60s songs. We would play to rednecks and jocks, and they were always trying to beat us up. Tim [Neilson] and Andy [Browne] and I were all transplanted Yankees, and there was still a lot of hostility towards outsiders in Atlanta especially in the suburbs.We got really tough because we were always having to mentally and physically fight with these people. We thought by the time we got to the cool new wave/punk clubs that we had made it. Anything beyond that was easy for us. I think that kind of shows because we were a really rough band. We earned that.

Can you talk a little about the Blue Rat?

Well, we all lived in the Pershing Point Apartments at 17th and Peachtree Street, that are all torn down now. Andy and I had an apartment there. We didn’t know anybody initially. It was across from the art school I was going to. I dropped out of art school like every good rock guitarist and pursue the Nightporters full time. We were so poor we lived off of hefty bags of popcorn because we knew someone that worked at a movie theatre. It was that and egg rolls from the Chinese grocery on the corner. We rehearsed in our kitchen which we didn’t dare eat in as there were giant cockroaches everywhere! It wasn’t a matter of time before we met two guys named Clark Brown and Chick Lockerman. They were the artists who set up the Blue Rat Gallery in their apartment. They asked us to play one of their openings. A huge crowd came out to see us of really crazy and eclectic people. Like Andy said in the movie, it was like Andy Warhol’s Factory. There were tons of drugs and everyone was just crazy and doing whatever they wanted.

So we became kind of the house band at the Blue Rat. We would rather play there than a club because it was more fun. We didn’t even charge any money.

How well, or should we say “shitty,” were you paid back in those days?

Once we got better known, we started playing colleges. That’s where the money was. We actually had contracts, not that that means a whole lot. Sometimes people would stiff us even with a contract, but we could get $1000 to play a college frat or something. Even when we were fairly well known, there was one incident in south Georgia where the club owner pulled a gun on us and refused to pay us. I had driven straight back from California to play that show! It showed my dedication, but maybe my stupidity, too. We never made any significant money, partly because we never got a record deal.

But the Nightporters toured a lot, including a lot of gigs in New York.

Yeah, we toured a lot. We went to the northeast a lot and played New York all the time and Boston. We opened for all kinds of people, like Bo Diddley.

Do you have a favorite performer or band you opened for?

We had some good times with Cheetah Chrome and the Dead Boys. Jason and the Scorchers were always fun. We played with The Replacements a lot, but there was a lot of tension there because we were so similar that it was like a competition. They were fun to watch, but they had their good nights and their drunken nights similar to us. Opening for The Clash was fun, even if Mick [Jones], my favorite in the band, wasn’t in the band at the time.

Was that the time when the Clash played the Fox Theatre and there was a riot on Peachtree?

That was actually the time before that the Clash played Atlanta. But I was in the riot. We were in the front row. When we came out, there was literally a riot starting. Chris Wood of The Restraints was in the front with an American flag protesting their communist views or some crap. Somehow a fight started and police cars came from every direction. Everyone was so amped up from the Clash show that they were literally fighting with the cops. It was a blast. It was kind of scary, but it didn’t last long.

We played with them a year or two after that. I had gone to Nashville and met Joe Strummer and got us the show. I just gave them a demo tape because I knew they got local bands to open. We got the show a day or two later.

How close did the Nightporters come to cutting a full LP and getting a recording contract with a record label?

We did make a few records, but we never made a whole album. We did two singles on our own and an EP on Safety Net Records called OUTSIDE, LOOKING IN [1986]. We had a lot of material, but we didn’t have a vehicle to release stuff. Andy and I would go up to record company offices in Manhattan, and they would just look at our clothes like “you’re not Scritti Politti or Duran Duran or whatever was selling then.” They didn’t know what to make of us. We were just way too real for a big label to consider investing in us. That’s my theory anyway.

How hard was it to assemble everyone whom you interviewed in the movie?

The hardest person was our drummer, who I never did get in the movie. It was easier to get Peter Buck from R.E.M. than our drummer. Other than that, I just told people to come down to The Majestic [Diner]. I asked a series of five questions and listened to whatever anyone had to say. The idea for the movie was to try and make it a cross between a Jim Jarmusch-type film like CIGARETTES AND COFFEE or something and a little bit of Spinal Tap and The Rutles. I was trying to keep it real, but light-hearted and funny because that was the way the Nightporters were. On one hand, we really took things very seriously. On the other hand, we didn’t take it serious at all. It wasn’t too hard. The most difficult part for me was editing the four hours of footage.

Do you consider the cut you showed at The Plaza the final cut, or will you still be editing some more?

I wanted to tell the whole story. That’s why it’s two hours long, but some people said it could have been shorter. It’s hard for me because it’s so personal. I think I had to include certain parts, and I guess if I’m going to get it distributed, I am going to have to cut it to half the time. I’m kind of dreading that because by now I’ve seen it so many times.

Are there any outtakes or a blooper reel that could be extras for a commercial DVD?

Yes, there is enough for a blooper reel, which is way funnier than the movie.  I kept interrupting everyone during the interviews saying things like, “I remember that”! It took a long time to cut all that out of the film. So I learned to just keep my mouth shut. It’s my first movie, and I had a lot of fun just doing it. That’s the best part – trying to shoot things 10 times because you’re laughing so hard.

Do you have any regrets that the band didn’t go further on a national scale?

Yes, I definitely regret us not staying together longer. I think we could have been huge, seeing what happened with the Black Crowes after us. Our songs are a lot more original and catchier. They have a lot more hooks. Like I said, we were a real kind of band that fought a lot, and we had a lot of problems. It was extremely difficult to get through even the three or four years together that we were.

Any chance of another Nightporters reunion?

Oh, yeah. Maybe. Definitely maybe. But I don’t really know. That’s not up to me—one person out of the four—to say. Andy and I have talked about it. We both have our own lives now and live in different cities, which makes it all the more difficult. We had enough trouble agreeing on things when we lived in the same apartment. We’re working on it, but sometimes I think we have two different visions of what the band could be.

Plus we all have KIDS! Mine is 18 now so I have a bit of free time, but Andy has two little ones.

What else are you up to? 

I still write tons of songs. I don’t always do a lot with them, but I’m always writing them. I have been playing under my own name with different musicians—whoever is available. That’s the thing now. I’m 49. It’s not like I’m 20 anymore so it’s hard to pull people together for any reason, much less to do a show. All those years of rocking out have really done a number on us as well; we’re now paying the price. We survived but are not by any means very healthy!  I’ve been working on this movie for the past year. Actually I’d like to make more films. I like editing. It puts all the things I like such as art and photography—I do photography—all in one form. I’m trying to juggle all those things really and start playing out again soon.

DVD Copies of THE NIGHTPORTERS: TELL IT LIKE IT IS are available for purchase for $15, payable directly to Ray Dafrico’s PayPal account at Rockandrollray@yahoo.com and eventually also will be available through Ray’s ReverbNation store link.

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Retro Review: BARBARELLA, Take Two, or Today, I Watched Jane Fonda Narrowly Escape Death-by-Orgasm in the Excessive Machine; How Was Your Day?

Posted on: Jan 25th, 2013 By:

BARBARELLA (1968); Dir: Roger Vadim; Screenplay by Terry Southern; Based on a bande dessinee by Jean-Claude Forest; Starring Jane Fonda, John Phillip Law, Anita Pallenberg, David Hemmings, Milo O’Shea, Marcel Marceau; Plaza Theatre, Saturday, January 26 at 10:00pm; presented by BLAST-OFF BURLESQUE’S TABOO-LA-LA with live stage show before the screening including raffle of 10 8×10 signed photos of Fonda as Barbarella from Jane Fonda’s personal collection; Trailer here

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

Today, I watched Jane Fonda narrowly escape death-by-orgasm in the Excessive Machine. How was your day?

Although I’d never seen BARBARELLA (1968), the infamous sci-fi sex romp produced by Dino de Laurentiis and directed by Roger Vadim, before today, I definitely knew about it. Almost everyone knows about it. BARBARELLA is a movie with more reputation than respect, a movie that, depending on who you ask, is either awful or awfully amazing. Just its name invokes a few key images—that amazing poster by Robert McGinnis; Jane Fonda’s buxom, uh, hair. I grew up in a post-STAR WARS world, when just the sight of a science-fiction ray blaster promised a particular brand of space fantasy and action, but combine aliens and thrills with the promise of a naked, beautiful woman? There’s not enough concrete on Earth to build a wall an adolescent boy can’t climb.

But I never made it over that wall. Yes, it’s true that young boys can sniff out nudie films like pigs root up truffles, but you guys have never met my mother. I once got a few short minutes of FLASH GORDON (1980) and its adventurous female costumes on the TV before she stomped into the room, feeling a psychic disturbance, I suppose, in her son’s mind. She played goalie effectively until around the time I entered high school, and by then I had found other ways to see boobs. And so, somehow, Barbarella and I had never met.

Durand Durand (Milo O'Shea_ tries to defeat Barbarella (Fonda) with death by orgasm. Paramount Pictures, 1968.

BARBARELLA was a famous flop at the box office, but its racy content, goofy cheerfulness about sex and outrageous set design—the spaceship is lined with shag carpet!—fit snugly with the mood of the late 1960s, at least with certain segments of the youth. The film quickly gained a cult infamy, especially as its star, Jane Fonda, transitioned into A-pictures and won an Oscar for the popular detective film, KLUTE (1971). There’s always been kind of a funny dividing line between mainstream film and exploitation, and it’s thrilling when some star gets a weekend pass to play on the other side, whether it’s Bruce Campbell showing up in SPIDER-MAN (2002) or Jane Fonda taking her clothes off. It was impossibly tantalizing to know that a major actress had once bared it all in a sex adventure, especially before home video, when the only way to see something like BARBARELLA was to catch a revival screening, and there weren’t nearly enough of those. Lack of availability helped grow the film’s legend, and it soon became trendy and cool to latch onto its camp appeal. Even by the early 1970s, a club named Barbarella’s existed in the UK, and it became a key location in the developing punk scene, hosting bands like The Sex Pistols and The Clash. One rising band that played frequently at the club even sampled clips and songs from the film into their music, tweaking the name of the film’s villain, Durand-Durand, into their own name, Duran Duran.

But it was the 1960s; everyone was taking their clothes off, right? There were plenty of sex movies in the world. What is it about BARBARELLA that keeps it going? “I just remember seeing that strip tease during the opening and being in love with the world,” says Max Shell, director of the undead-chicken cult movie THE DEVIL’S COCK. “Dino’s [de Laurentiis] Euro Sci-Fi is about ‘getting it on!’”

Melanie Magnifique of Blast-Off Burlesque takes a more esoteric approach. “I was traversing the spirit lands, when this film was released in conventional space-time. When I first experienced it, many years later, it was still the powerful tale of a girl doing what a girl’s sometimes got to do!”

The famous poster by Robert McGinnis.

Aha! If there’s another narrative to the BARBARELLA appeal beyond sex, it’s girl power. The film came at this neat little intersection of the free love ‘60s and the peak of the misogynist spy fantasies like James Bond. There had simply never been a female action hero who freely used and enjoyed sex while saving the day. (Hell, it’s still hard to find a character like that today!) Perhaps this explains why Barbarella became a feminist icon, and a popular cosplay target for over 40 years. It’s common to see Barbarellas walking the floors at comic book shows and sci-fi conventions, and the heroine’s legend is so large today that the film lives under constant threat of remake, with the most recent major attempt fronted by director Robert Rodriguez as a vehicle for Rose McGowan, who he’d already cast once as an ass-kicker in his GRINDHOUSE entry, PLANET TERROR (2007).

Does BARBARELLA deserve its infamy? I finally sat down to watch the film today, and I was kind of amazed with what I found. Despite its legacy in the sexual revolution, BARBARELLA can sometimes be cruel, and other times naïve. After the famous opening strip scene (described in wonderful detail here on this very site), we learn that Fonda’s secret agent is a wide-eyed wonder. A child of a civilization that has evolved beyond violence and pain, she greets the world with simple joy and, when confronted with the bizarre horrors in an “unevolved” part of the galaxy, she simply pushes through and perseveres, using far more optimism than skill. Melanie Magnifique rightly describes Barbarella as “a female protagonist who wants to do the right thing, but is sometimes a little confused about what that thing is.” Fonda’s earnest devotion to her mission is entertaining, even if that mission sometimes devolves into bizarre, disconnected segments. She’s nearly devoured by carnivorous songbirds, for crying out loud.

As for the sex, my adolescent self would have enjoyed Fonda’s matter-of-fact approach to her body and to the sexual beings she encounters. She’s more or less willing to have sex just for the asking, which works both for and against her feminist reputation. On the one hand, the film is full of scenes of sexual aggression or sexual bartering. Sex is a currency that gets Barbarella from place to place, and there’s an unsettling trend towards sexual torture. It’s easy to read the film as misogynist, using Barbarella as a doll to act out aggressive male fantasies. But, on the other hand, there’s something charming and empowering about how Barbarella, after having been introduced to real sex (in the future, evolved beings do it with a pill) by an impossibly masculine hunter, Barbarella blossoms as a sexual being, pursuing sex with the chiseled angel Pygar and showing frustration when a bumbling freedom fighter (the awesome David Hemmings in the film’s best supporting role) wants to do it with the pill.

Although the film sought mainstream success, BARBARELLA is a movie destined for cult status. Like every good cult flick, there are moments that you simply can’t believe you’re seeing, scenes that should be impossible in a well-budgeted studio film, and yet here they are. This is a film for an audience, if simply so you can turn to the person next to you to share a laugh and one of those “holy shit” looks. This movie should be *ahem* a shared experience, not a solo trip. Even with all the sex, there’s something incredibly innocent about the film, and it serves as a window into a more optimistic, good-natured time. It’s fitting, then, that it’s being hosted at the Plaza this weekend by Blast-Off Burlesque. Burlesque itself is an art form that walks that beautiful line between sweetness and spice, and BARBARELLA is their kind of movie. When asked about the links between burlesque and BARBARELLA, Melanie Magnifique agreed: “It contains many simple theatrical tricks which are used to achieve special effects (we do that a lot).”

“Oh, also, we love to smoke Essence of Man.”

The show starts at 10 pm on Saturday with music, a dance party and complementary signature cocktails, but says Magnifique, “Come early to get your groove on!”

And be sure to read our other Retro Review: Jane Fonda Has No Clothes On: Stripping Down Our Love Affair with Psychedelic ’60s SF Camp Cult Classic BARBARELLA in Time for a Blast-Off Burlesque Taboo-La-La at the Plaza Theatre by Robert Emmett Murphy Jr.

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