You’re My Favorite Customer: the Coolidge Grapples with Midnight Screenings of The Room

Originally published on Vanyaland

 

The lights go off, the crowd roars, and the Wiseau Films logo appears on the screen. What follows is a 90 minute onslaught of gratuitous sex scenes, intoxicated 20-somethings yelling their favorite quotes in unison, and the offbeat delivery of eccentric star and director Tommy Wiseau. This is what happens when you attend a midnight showing of The Room, the 2003 cult classic that has been called “the best worst movie ever made.”

Brookline’s Coolidge Corner Theatre has been hosting these screenings since 2007. In those 10 years, the screenings have grown from tiny audiences to sold-out theaters packed with rowdy diehards. These days they seem to be more about the experience of viewing the film in a packed room than the actual film itself, with the most rabid followers often drowning out the dialogue with their call-and-response references and inside jokes. Audiences have also started a tradition of throwing hundreds of plastic spoons at the screen whenever a particular framed picture of a spoon appears in the background.

“The rowdiness is part of the charm. That’s why you go to The Room, for the craziness of it,” says Brookline resident Garrett Stevens, who attended the most recent screening of The Room last month. “It’s a communal thing I think more than any other moviegoing experience.”

But that fun, communal environment often causes problems for the Coolidge staff.

“I’ve always had to do introductions to let people know they’re watching a bad film, and also to set up our expectations for the audience’s behavior,” Coolidge After Midnite curator Mark Anastasio says.

According to Anastasio, it is not uncommon for the staff to be picking up plastic spoons and popcorn until 3:30 a.m. They have also had problems with people throwing footballs in the crowd, yelling inappropriate or sexist things during the film, and bringing drugs and alcohol into the theater.

“As a film programmer I shouldn’t be complaining about a film that reliably brings sold-out audiences,” Anastasio adds. “One sold-out screening of The Room can fund two or three weeks of films that only bring in 30 to 50 people.”

However, almost 10 years of increasingly raucous screenings combined with a deteriorating relationship with Wiseau led the Coolidge to stop showing the film last year. But the film suddenly began making headlines again when it was announced that James Franco and Seth Rogen would be releasing a screen adaptation of The Disaster Artist in December, based on a novel written by Room co-star Greg Sestero about the making of the film and his friendship with Wiseau.

Sestero is a longtime patron of the Coolidge and even witnessed his first midnight screening of the film at the Brookline cinema many years ago, so the theater decided to support him by resuming monthly screenings of The Room this summer. They also hope to host a full script read through of The Room with Sestero in December and have members of the audience read characters’ parts.

While the newfound attention brought by The Disaster Artist will only expand the film’s audience, the future of The Room at Coolidge Corner Theatre is uncertain. According to Anastasio, they will continue the screenings for at least a few months after the new film is released, but beyond that, they will need to have a serious discussion about how they can continue to accommodate the crowds that it brings. One thing is certain though: As long as The Room is showing, there will be hundreds of eager fans lining up outside the theater to throw spoons during the best worst movie ever made.

Pixies shape the sound of alt-rock with “Come On Pilgrim”

 

They did not know it yet, but in 1987 a whole generation of soon-to-be disciples of the unnatural side of rock were awaiting their awakening. When the Pixies released their clamorous debut Come On Pilgrim late that year, legions of unsuspecting fans were introduced to a brand new world of jaggedly beautiful noise, demonic possession, and illicit sexual fervor.

The cult that was the Pixies began a year earlier, in 1986, when a man who called himself Black Francis and his college pal Joey Santiago placed an ad in the Boston Phoenix seeking a bassist who’s influences were equal parts Hüsker Dü and Peter, Paul, and Mary. They received only one response, from a woman named Kim Deal, and the trio formed the Pixies along with drummer and part-time magician David Lovering. They were like nothing anyone had ever heard, switching seamlessly between smooth pop hooks and frantic noise, and as they developed their sound the cult that had surrounded them grew as well, eventually attracting such devotees as Kurt Cobain, Pavement, and Radiohead.

Come On Pilgrim was the staggering initiation to that cult. Clocking in at only 20 minutes of playtime, the Pixies’ debut served as both a fiercely distinctive statement and an indication of what was to come. Its eight tracks included some of the band’s most inventive work alongside its most accessible.

https://open.spotify.com/embed/album/0YXEvIGfgX8LKrSSgnciZt

On “Holiday Song,” for example, the Pixies came about as close as they would ever come to a high-flying guitar-pop song, while just two tracks earlier they delivered a pair of high-octane punk songs in “Vamos” and “Isla de Encanta” that feature Black Francis barking in Spanish over Santiago’s frenzied guitar. These relatively straightforward cuts are contrasted by tracks like the thrashing “I’ve Been Tired,” which finds Francis growling about unrequited desire, or the roiling closer “Levitate Me” that spirals from murky depths into an undeniably poppy chorus without a second thought.

However, the true embodiment of the energy of Come On Pilgrim comes on the opener “Caribou.” In many ways, the first song that the public heard from the Pixies was their most representative and ambitious, reaching heights that were not often overcome on later albums. Employing the powerful dynamics that the Pixies would become known for, “Caribou” combines some of Black Francis’s sweetest singing with his most raw and explosive, making it sound right at home even among the band’s more refined later work like Surfer Rosa and Doolittle. For the band’s most fervent disciples, the squealing guitar line that announces the Pixies’ arrival to the world has become synonymous with everything new and exciting in rock music.

While it was followed up in just six months by the hugely influential Surfer RosaCome On Pilgrim remains one of the strongest and most unique inaugural statements in rock music. Providing a brief but potent teaser of what was to be a long and celebrated career, the Pixies’ first album set the standard from which they would develop their sound and become one of the most important bands of the pre-grunge era.

While some critics refer to the Boston band in somewhat reductionist terms for their contributions as the “quiet-loud band” of alternative rock, the unique sonic idea that the Pixies brought to the table went much deeper and spoke to a furious and yet somehow repressed energy in those who listened.

With Come On Pilgrim, the Pixies not only carved a place for themselves in the traditions that they were joining but also forged a new movement, one of self-discovery in gnarled and beautiful noise, of letting the world see and hear your own visceral and often unpleasant truths and feeling okay with it all.

Featured Pixies photo via 4AD. Listen to two vintage Pixies recordings from 1987 below, the first a full broadcast from Emerson College’s WERS Studios in January 1987 and the second a performance of “Nimrod’s Son” at Green Street Station in Jamaica Plain.

Originally published on Vanyaland

Crumb deliver woozy, jazz-inflected indie rock on standout Locket EP

Originally published on Vanyaland: http://www.vanyaland.com/2017/07/10/new-sounds-crumb-deliver-woozy-jazz-inflected-indie-rock-on-standout-locket-ep/

After two years of traveling back and forth between New York and Boston to meet up and record, Crumb will finally be settling in Brooklyn this summer. But not before the quartet, which met and formed at Tuft University in Somerville a few years back, delivers one excellent parting gift in a new EP titled Locket.

On the surface, Crumb craft woozy, jazz-inflected indie rock that defies simple genre categorization. And Locket — their second EP in under a year and follow-up to 2016’s Crumb EP — marks the band’s most refined and consistent work to date.

Opening track “Plants” opens Locket with a shimmering guitar line and singer Lila Ramani’s description of a flimsy and somewhat saccharine relationship. That’s followed by “Recently Played,” which recalls Crumb’s earlier work with syrupy synths and jazzy percussion courtesy of drummer Jonathan Gilad. The bulk of the progression that Crumb achieves on Locket can be found in the final two tracks, with “Thirty-Nine” channeling the melodic psychedelia of early Tame Impala and the constant shifts of the title track and closer demonstrating the band’s rare combination of inventiveness and cohesion.

With the move to Brooklyn comes the promise of more consistent output and national touring, making Crumb a band to watch not only for us in the Northeast, but the rest of the country as well. Listen to the Locket EP via Soundcloud below.

Review: Pinegrove articulates youth, introspection, and experience on “Everything So Far”

everything so far

Everything So Far, the recently reissued debut from the ragged Montclair, New Jersey rock outfit Pinegrove, is more of a compilation than an album. Its whopping 21 songs account for over five years of work that was previously spread over multiple small releases until Boston label Run For Cover Records compiled and released it online in 2015. But despite its chronologically and thematically disparate nature, Everything So Far comes together to paint a beautifully cohesive picture of youth, introspection, and experience, and serves as a fitting precursor to Pinegrove’s critically acclaimed sophomore album Cardinal.

The album opens with “New Friends”, a track that was later repurposed as Cardinal’s closer. “New Friends” describes the feeling of isolation after letting old friendships fade and represents one of Pinegrove’s most anthemic songs to date. It also serves as a perfect introduction to the unassumingly brilliant lyricism of songwriter and bandleader Evan Stephens Hall. “New Friends” is followed by “Angelina”, a simple but affecting rock ballad that finds Hall’s rootsy twang musing about nostalgia and a codependent relationship. Some of the album’s most subtle instrumentation and introspective lyrics can be found two tracks later on “Need”, in which sparkling guitar notes rise out of the ether around impassioned acoustic strumming and uncertain vocals. On “Namesake”, Hall sings about self-doubt and the fear of being unable to express yourself with the lines “I’ve been trying to say, but these awful letters rearrange my name, my namesake”.

This is an example of what makes Pinegrove songs so effective; each one takes a specific thought or emotion, often those that are particularly rich and complex, and expresses them with concision and strikingly literate grace. On “Morningtime”, one of the album’s highlights, Hall manages to express the ethos of the project he has embarked upon with Pinegrove in the lines, “I’ve been trying to capture both ends of the splinter: the visible part between my fingernails and the part still in my finger,” and later, “Ever since I can remember, since the day before they split, I’ve been trying to capture some realm I don’t know yet”. The songs on this album are vastly different in tone, duration, and lyrical content, but each one allows the audience to occupy a particular emotional space, whether it be conversational or introspective, see that space the way Pinegrove does, and perhaps come to better understand how we engage with those emotions ourselves. Each piece in this 21-song missive of self-discovery contributes to a rich and explorative tapestry of human experience. Everything So Far follows Pinegrove on a journey to find their voice, one where every stop is meaningful and perfectly in place.

Why Write About Music?

In a bygone era there existed a purely practical reason for writing about music: in order to hear an album, you had to go to your local record store and spend $10. Music writers were responsible for informing you about how best to spend that money, which albums will suit your taste the most and which will leave you wanting more. Now, with the whole world of recorded music at our fingertips, perhaps the only practical justification is simply that we need a filter to sort through the seemingly infinite canon available to us.

However, writing about music has never been practical. It has always been inspired by something irrational within us, some visceral urge to listen to and think about music as much as possible. Music journalists do not do their work for any sort of reward other than being close to the music and interacting with it in a unique way. But for them, that is enough. The joy of connecting with a piece of music, expressing that connection, and possibly even helping someone else experience it too is the fuel that feeds the fire. With the task of music journalism comes both the power to influence how people perceive and interact with culture and the responsibility to understand the implications of that power. Music journalists are reporters, archivists, tastemakers, but above all they are just people who love music and want others to love it with them.

Something Gigantic: A Quest for Answers in the Heart of America

millersBrett and Betsy Miller and their dog Maeby pictured in front of their 2017 Winnebago Travato. Photo courtesy of somethinggigantic.com

On the night of November 8th, 2016, Brett and Betsy Miller were in their Springfield, Missouri living room watching coverage of the presidential election with a few close friends. As the result became clear and the election was finally called, Brett Miller turned to his wife and said “I can’t do this,” and she shook her head as if to say “I can’t either.” It was at that moment that the first inklings of a plan began to form in their heads.

Many people across the country threatened to pack their bags and leave that night, but few will actually follow through. At the end of May this year, Brett and Betsy Miller will. They are embarking on a six-month journey across the United States and parts of Canada to discover how we can bridge the gaps that divide us and begin to mend our broken national discourse. Along the way, the couple will be holding conversations with Americans from all walks of life to try to answer some of these big questions. They plan to document their project, which they are tentatively calling Something Gigantic, with a few long-term writing projects and by blogging, podcasting, and producing music and film.

The Millers found themselves in a unique position around the time of the election. Two months before, they had sold the house they had lived in for most of their entire marriage and were getting ready to break ground on the construction of a smaller bungalow down the street. “What we both meant when we said ‘we can’t do this’ was that the thought of spending the next few months putting the finishing touches on the construction of a house just seemed like complete absurdity because this was just too important,” Brett Miller said. Betsy Miller was set to retire from her job as an elementary school reading teacher at the end of the year and Brett, a forensics and rhetoric professor at nearby Southwest Baptist University, was not far behind her. Their two daughters were out of college and successful in their careers. So when the couple began to take stock of the country’s intensely divided and broken state in the days following the election, they felt like it was time for a big change.

“For the first few days, the thinking was that we were in this unique point in our lives and beholden to no one,” Brett Miller said. “So we said to ourselves, ‘let’s just go, let’s just leave’.” But in the weeks following the election, they began to reconsider their motives. “I’ve never been particularly fond of running away from things, so it quickly turned from a retreat into a pursuit,” Brett Miller said. “This has the potential to completely restructure our society and it’s not okay for us to feel like we just ran away from it. So we had the idea that amidst our travel we would meet people and interview them and try to better understand what was happening.”

After this realization, things moved very quickly. The couple stopped construction on their new home and gave notice that they would be leaving their teaching positions at the end of the year. They sold their cars and most of their possessions and purchased a small Winnebago for the two of them and their dog to live and travel in during their journey. They also began to spread the word about their project and develop a website for documenting the trip, somethinggigantic.com.

However, as the couple’s plans evolved and the world adapted to new realities of division, fear, confrontation, and lack of dialogue, it became clear that their task would be much more difficult than they anticipated, especially where communicating with people with vastly different opinions is concerned. “I’m a firm believer in perspectivism, the idea that if truth exists then we gain a better vantage point on it by gathering more perspectives,” Miller said. “I think the big trick will be finding people who are willing to talk to me on record because what I’ve discovered is that people are becoming increasingly afraid to express their opinions.”

Despite these concerns, the Millers are uniquely qualified to communicate with people on opposite sides of the ideological spectrum. They were both raised in very strict conservative evangelical households in the heart of the country and spent the first part of their lives as hard-line conservatives. Brett Miller campaigned for Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush in 1984. However, that changed when they met each other and started dating in college. “We were both very conservative at the beginning of our relationship, but then we went away from that together,” Betsy Miller said. They began to become increasingly disillusioned with the political right as well as with Evangelical Christianity.

“By 2000 I’d become much more moderate, bordering on libertarian. But then obviously 9/11 happened and the neo-conservatives in the Bush administration got us involved in the Iraq War,” Brett Miller said. “I think it was their decision to go to war in Iraq that was our first sort of ‘come to Jesus’ moment. We put an anti-war sign in our yard and became flaming liberals from that point on.”

“It’s been a long journey, a long transition,” Betsy Miller said. “But somehow we’ve been on the same page through it all.”

Their first-hand experience with conservative thinking and Evangelicalism is not the only thing that makes the Millers exceptionally well-equipped for the task of talking with and trying to understand people with views that are different from theirs. Their experience as teachers will be valuable as well. Betsy Miller was a first-grade teacher for fifteen years before realizing that her true calling was teaching children to read. “What I really enjoyed was problem-solving and helping kids that were struggling,” Betsy Miller said. “My mom very annoyingly always saw the other side of every story. She always stuck up for the other person and helped me learn to give validity to other people’s arguments and try to understand them. That’s what makes me good at my job because you have to try to problem-solve and see what the child is thinking and how they are interpreting things.” Betsy Miller hopes to bring these skills to their project and eventually turn what they learn about human nature and communication into a series of children’s books.

Brett Miller spent most of his teaching career as a speech and debate professor and a rhetorician at the highly conservative Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Missouri. “The forensics department at SBU was a pretty progressive department at an otherwise conservative-thinking school, so I was in a unique position to tread that landscape,” he said. “I would challenge students on their beliefs and I was known for pushing boundaries that most faculty on our campus did not, but I respected where I was and that [the university] had the right to define their agenda and their mission.”

The line that Brett Miller walked in his classroom between respecting and questioning students’ beliefs will prove crucial to the project, but he acknowledges that discourse alone will not solve all the problems the country faces.

“I think the idea that this is all a grand academic debate is just not the case and we have to get past that. It seems apparent to me at this point that all the energy we put into establishing the facts and making counter-arguments doesn’t get us anywhere. At this point, it seems to be that the best way to communicate with people who disagree with us is through emotion,” Brett Miller said. “The project is partly an escape and a form of catharsis for us but we also have high hopes that we’ll find something, that we’ll uncover a theme, a trend, or a cluster of ideas that might help unlock this discourse and bring us back together somehow.”

“Play Me, I’m Yours” Brings Music to the Streets of Boston

BOSTON — If you were strolling through the city of Boston this weekend chances are you stumbled upon one of the sixty street pianos that local artists individually painted and placed throughout the city. The pianos are part of an internationally touring artwork called “Play Me, I’m Yours” by British artist Luke Jerram that has come to over 50 cities worldwide.

The project first came to the city in 2013 and Celebrity Series Boston, a presenting organization that produces over 100 performance art pieces annually, has brought it back this fall. The street pianos opened on September 23 and will continue until October 10. Every piano is inscribed “Play Me, I’m Yours” and the artist’s signature.

“The first time we did the street pianos it was really one of the first public art installations of its kind to come to Boston,” said Gary Dunning, the President and Executive Director of Celebrity Series Boston. Dunning has devoted his life to facilitating the connection between artist and audience. He first saw “Play Me, I’m Yours” in London, and was so inspired by it that he decided to bring it to Boston. “It was such a success that we decided to bring it back again this year.”

Dennis Carr’s lively, multi-song performance at the piano at City Hall Plaza could be heard from a block away and attracted a small crowd Sunday afternoon.

“I’m glad they brought it back because it was really fun last time,” the 27-year-old Carr said. “It really builds a sense of community and allows people passing by to experience music in a way that wouldn’t normally be possible.”

On the same bright, breezy afternoon Carr performed at City Hall Plaza, Liam Morley, 36, could be found playing a soft, lilting ballad on the street piano at Old North Church. This particular piano was tucked away in a small square on the side of the church, off the beaten path of Boston’s touristy North End neighborhood.

“Each piano has its own artwork, its own sound, its own location,” Morley said. “I’ve played probably around 12 to 15 of them so far, and I’m going to try to play all of them if I can.”

As Morley played, the few people who passed by stopped for a moment and listened. But for the most part it was just him and the piano. He has been playing off and on for 25 years.

“It’s an art installation where the audience is the artist,” Morley said. “A lot of art installations are good to look at but it’s ‘look but don’t touch,’ whereas this invites everybody… to come and be a kid again or be an artist again.”

Dunning encourages everyone who is inspired by the street pianos to make art a daily experience, “because it really does make for a better life.”