“soul city” – the fleshtones (1979)

No one can ever accuse me of being a lazy person. Like everyone else, I have my lazy moments, but I’m not a lazy person. I work hard to achieve my goals.

Right now, I work a boring office job. I’m trying to change that. I apply to jobs in film or the arts that speak to my passion and interests. It is tough. Those kinds of jobs don’t open often, are horribly underpaid, or are just difficult to get. However, in my volunteer work, I find ways to keep myself actively engaged in the arts. And, on Monday, I had an experience that became a moment of pride for me and a milestone in my career.

The Music Box Theatre is my favorite movie theatre. I’ve written about it for a prior entry, so there is no need to discuss the history of it here. It is a great theater with a comfortable decor that has been my go to for interesting independent films, engaging panel discussions, and strange midnight screenings. I have a lot of great memories there.

In the history of my patronage at the Music Box, nothing may top the experience I had on Monday where I co-presented a film with the Chicago Film Society on behalf of Chirp Radio. We were there to show an original theatrical print of Urgh! A Music War in 35mm.

I have also talked about my discovery of this film in a prior entry when I did a post of “Total Eclipse” by Klaus Nomi. It is a rare concert film from 1981 that features a compilation of concert footage from various punk and new wave bands associated with I.R.S. Records. Bands like the Police, XTC, and the Cramps were given a chance to showcase a song live for the film.

It is a very difficult film to screen because of its distribution history. There are various cuts and rights holders depending if the film is for theaters, home video, or broadcast. Since it has a complicated distribution history, it is rare to see a screening of this film.

My role in Chirp Radio is to develop partnerships with arts organizations. I come from an arts background, specifically film, and it is a passion of mine. I had been wanting to do more events with film. And for some reason, I specifically wanted to do something with Urgh! I reached out to the Chicago Film Society to see if they would be willing to obtain the rights to screen the film and secure a venue while I would help promote the event.

They said they would look into it and I didn’t hear anything for about eight months. In fact, I kinda forgot about it. Then, in April, I got an email from them saying they were getting a copy and were screening it at the Music Box on July 16th.

I was elated when I heard the news. I couldn’t believe this film organization paid the money to get a film that came as a suggestion from someone they didn’t know. I felt a bit of pressure after that. If I was going to develop an ongoing partnership with this film organization, I had to make this event a success.

I would tell the programmer a few times since April that I was going to make this their biggest screening. It was my personal goal to do this. They were realistic in their expectations and told me that they had a few screenings that brought in about 400 people. However, I wasn’t going to have any of that. I was going to deliver on my promise.

In the proceeding months, I worked on all of the promotional materials Chirp would use to promote the event. I also relied on word of mouth and told everyone I knew. I talked about the event a lot and I know everyone was getting annoyed with me talking so much about it. But I didn’t care. I knew this was going to be a great event.

Why did I care so much about this event? Part of the reason why is that I love film and music. What better combination of the two than a concert film? However, I knew this film was rare and difficult to come across. Older audience members would have an opportunity to see it for the first time in over thirty years and younger audiences would have the opportunity to see it for the first time. And that was meaningful to me. All I really wanted was to create a fun experience for film and music lovers to share.

Though it was my goal to make it the Chicago Film Society’s biggest event, I was aware of the challenge. With it being such a rare and relatively obscure film, one of two things were going to happen: either a lot of people would show up because it was so rare or very few people would show up because it was rare and, therefore, unknown to them and not worth their time on a Monday night.

When Monday came, I was experiencing a crazy blend of emotions ranging between excitement and anxiety. I was sweating bullets walking all over the Music Box talking to friends and colleagues. The reason for this was that I was going to speak on stage about Chirp and the screening. This was my favorite theater and I was going to go on stage and speak to an audience. I knew they didn’t care what I had to say and I don’t have so much of an ego that I thought this event was about me. I was just giddy about being on that stage in some official capacity to speak about a film I wanted the audience to experience together.

On that stage, I spoke a little bit about what Chirp did. Then, I talked briefly about being both a music and film fan and I couldn’t think of a better film to screen than this one and how much I appreciated working with the Chicago Film Society. I’m sure I fumbled a bit, but it felt great to be up there.

As the audience settled and the curtain came up, the next 96 minutes were pure energy. The audience hooted and hollered at acts they loved. People clapped and sang along to the songs. Laughs were shared over the ridiculous and campy moments. Some people talked about the times they saw these bands perform live. The energy was intoxicating and it felt like I was attending a real concert.

After the screening, I talked with friends and colleagues about the film. Everyone enjoyed themselves and we shared our favorite performances and highlights. I didn’t speak to or see a single person who looked displeased or bored with what they just saw. I was happy and I left thinking about how wonderful the experience was. I got to present a rare film at my favorite theater. That’s a personal highlight for me. That may seem small for some people, but it is a memory I’ll always treasure.

The next day, I was on a Greyhound going through Indiana on my way to Kentucky. I opened Facebook on my phone out of boredom and to get a break from the book I was reading during the trip. Just a few minutes earlier, the Chicago Film Society’s Facebook page posted a thank you message to the Music Box, Chirp, and last night’s audience for making that screening their biggest event ever. I was over the moon and restless for the rest of the trip. I didn’t think that experience of presenting the film could be made better, but seeing that it became their biggest event made it even better. I am very proud.

As mentioned, I’ve already talked about the film in depth in an earlier entry to the blog. So, the song of the week comes from the pre-show that screened before the main event.

The Chicago Film Society went to a film archivist convention and saw some short films showcased. One archive organization recently created a new print of the music video “Soul City” by the Fleshtones. By the time the Chicago Film Society saw this, they had already secured the Urgh! print so this was a perfect match.

Produced in 1979, the music video for “Soul City” is a remarkable, hyperactive, and highly energetic piece of art. The band performs in a jerky, stop-animation motion while they rapidly flash off and on the screen with the background quickly changing colors.

The arts are my passion and it is a career I want to pursue. I currently work my average office job and apply to jobs as they open. And it can get frustrating because I’ve been at it for so long. So, in the meantime, I work as a volunteer in that capacity. It can get old sometimes. But then, I have to put things into perspective. Without that volunteer work, I wouldn’t have had the privilege to present such a rocking film and walk away with a feeling of accomplishment. This was certainly a milestone for me in what will be a rewarding career in the arts. This gave me so much hope and fulfillment that I have to continue no matter how hard it can get sometimes.

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“total eclipse” – klaus nomi (1981)

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When I started this blog a few months ago, my main focus was to shine a light on songs I felt did not get enough attention. These could be songs that were once popular and have since fell from the public consciousness, or were never commercially successful al all. With each song, my posts tend to gravitate between an analysis of the track itself to feelings from listening to it. Lately, it seems my selections have been lesser known tracks from relatively well-known artists. I don’t think I’ve spent much time discussing obscure artists that have had significant impacts on modern music.

Klaus Nomi, a German born countertenor, was an early discover for me in college. I remember the first time I saw his likeness. He was parodied as one of David Bowie’s bodyguards in the [adult swim] cartoon show The Venture Brothers. I felt the show was extremely layered with offbeat references and I am the type of person who will investigate when I am unfamiliar with a reference. From there, I was an instant fan.

The brief cameo in The Venture Brothers was a tongue-in-cheek reference to one of Bowie’s performances on Saturday Night Live. Bowie performed “The Man Who Sold the World” and “TVC 15” with Nomi serving as one of his backup singers. Standing behind this monolith of popular music was a strange-looking man with striking white makeup and pointy black hair. During that performance, Bowie was sporting an oversized, broad-shouldered vinyl tuxedo that would become part of Nomi’s iconic image. Unfortunately, that performance on Saturday Night Live would be Nomi’s only exposure to a widespread American audience.

For me, Nomi’s signature track is “Total Eclipse.” After witnessing an electric performance on the 1981 post-punk concert film Urgh! A Music War, Nomi was a significant standout performance among an already impressive roster of performers including the Police, the Cramps, Gary Numan, and the Go-Gos. With what sounds like deep synthesized thunder, “Total Eclipse” immediately starts with a fiery intensity. The tracks features a deeply dark melodic synthesizer with a punky rhythm guitar that evokes an impending moody darkness. The pulsating rhythms and driving energy of the musical arrangement evokes a sense of danger as we feel the world turn cold as the sun is being eclipsed.

Though the music is interesting and very danceable, it sounds generic and tame compared to the operatic bravado behind Nomi’s vocals. Nomi’s voice is an instrument in itself and immediately elevates any song from mediocrity to a stunning example of the breadth of post-punk and genre blending. Nomi expresses considerable range in the track. With each verse, his German heritage becomes quite obvious as he casually sings with pep. It sounds quite similar to the vocal phrasing on much of Kraftwerk’s discography. However, it is during the chorus that Nomi perfectly shows off his vocal talent. His voice projects several octaves higher as he belts out that it is a total eclipse that you can’t come to grips with. Even pushing his range further, he closes each chorus with oscillating pitch changes that prove the seemingly easy command he has over his voice. Blending his operatic training with the underground alternative music of the era, Nomi beautifully crafts his own niche in contemporary music. His is a style that is not easily imitated.

Nomi’s career didn’t last long. Only releasing two albums during his lifetime, Nomi was one of the first musicians to die from complications related to AIDs. “Total Eclipse” from his first album was only released two years before his death. Since then, Nomi has become an icon for both his physical and musical styles. Popular musicians such as Morrissey have cited him as inspirations for their careers.

Despite his popularity among post-punk fans and musicians, I feel Nomi will never get his due beyond being known as the odd-looking gentleman standing behind David Bowie. I feel a lot of musicians are afraid to take risks these days, so they don’t bring themselves to the sound. They let the sound define them. Klaus perfectly applied his own unique talents to his music and I respect him for that. He did exactly what he wanted before there was a total eclipse on his life.