DON’T STOP BELIEVING: “TRIBUTE” FILMMAKERS (part 5)

Rich comes across as quite articulate, more eloquent and philosophical than many of the other guys. He seems so vulnerable that you feel for him more than almost anyone else in the film.
RF: Yeah. It was incredible how he just opened up. We’d only met the guy a couple of days earlier, and he told us his life story. It was really amazing.
KC: I’m probably going out on a limb, but of all the people we met in the course of making the movie, I would say Rich has the gift, the talent people talk about. When you see him perform onstage – and you can’t necessarily tell from the footage we shot of him – he has a singular charisma. He does have that magic quality. And if things were different, if he’d been raised in Los Angeles or some other big city, would he have become a rock star? I don’t think it’s farfetched in his case, if only one thing or another had been different in his life.

That’s probably the case with a lot of these guys. In showbiz it’s not always about talent, of course; it’s also ambition, perseverance, good looks, luck…
KC: Oh, yeah. So Rich Sorenson is one of the guys we’ve been rooting for in life, since the day we met him. He’s working in community theatre now, and I have a feeling things are turning around for him. He’s a good guy.

But even if none of these guys ever become the stars they want to be, they’re actually very lucky in that they’re all the subjects of your movie. The vast majority of working bands, tribute or otherwise, never get that kind of exposure.
KC: I hope they all remember that! Laughs It’s sort of ironic, because at the time of making the film we were like the Little Engine That Could every step of the way. It was just the two of us, we had to learn to operate the cameras and run the sound, we didn’t have any money and we had to do everything ourselves. And some of the very first material we shot was the Judas Priest footage, in Cleveland, of Tim Owens’ big homecoming. When we were trying to get permission to shoot there, the booking people told us “Call back when you get distribution.” You know, “Who are you people, working out of your house?” Click, whatever. Every day, we were just two schmoes who showed up in a car packed full of gear, sort of looking like we knew what we were doing. There were plenty of people who didn’t take us seriously, and I can’t really blame them. But, for whatever reason, all the tribute band guys we ended up filming gave us the benefit of the doubt.

The bands also probably saw a unique opportunity, though.
KC: I hope so.
RF: Definitely. They’re all struggling to rise out of the pack. You have to get noticed somehow, so I do think it was an opportunity for them, for the ambitious ones. Bloodstone saw it as an opportunity.
KC: We were talking to the guys in Bloodstone for weeks before we arrived there, but there’s so much bullshit in the music world that when we actually walked in with our cameras, they said “You showed up?” They were totally shocked that we’d followed through with them. Lots of times along the way people played along, but they never really thought we would finish.
RF: We also had to be careful at the beginning to make clear that this was not just a promotional video for tribute bands. It’s a real human story, and you have to be willing to be vulnerable and let us see the worst as well as the best. But it didn’t always click with them; some would assume that the final product was going to be some kind of music video. But so far everyone has been really receptive to what’s in the film. We were worried about it, because you become friends with the people that you shoot. As a filmmaker, however, you have to go and edit it objectively. Then you show it to them, yet you still want to be friends with them. It’s a fine line, friends and work.

Chuck Harter, the “Mike Nesmith” in the Monkees tribute band the Missing Links, has a terrific rivalry with Danny Lopez (the “Davy Jones”). It’s a classic rock and roll story, the volatile partnership: Lennon and McCartney, Jagger and Richards, Waters and Gilmour –
RF: Harter and Lopez! Laughs It’s true, it’s amazing how intense they were. What kept drawing us into these stories was the intensity. This is not a little part of their lives, a hobby that they do on the side – this is what drives them. It’s the thing they’re most passionate about, even if it’s just a Monkees tribute band. A lot of people would say the Monkees weren’t even a real band, so how could you care that much about them? It’s intensely silly, you can’t deny it. No offense to Micky Dolenz, who was at the Egyptian screening and loved the movie.
KC: Chuck even said to us, “Isn’t it ridiculous that the most bitter, angry, acrimonious, up-in-arms characters in the movie are in a Monkees tribute band?”

Still, the Monkees sound pretty good compared to what passes for pop music these days. I mean, N’Sync don’t exactly write songs or play instruments.
KC: That’s true. The Monkees did have amazing songwriters.
RF: The songs have definitely stood the test of time, at least.
KC: We’ll see if anyone does a tribute to O-Town in 35 years.

Pop music is so much about ephemera – here today, gone tomorrow – yet a lot of it seems to last because true music fans are so obsessive. Even the oddest, lamest stuff sticks around somehow.
RF: We talked about that a lot while filming the movie, how the music you listened to in your formative years stays with you for the rest of your life. You will always have that innocent, pure love for the music you listened to when you were more innocent, when you were learning about the world. The songs will always bring those memories back. All tribute bands have a really intense connection to the music from that point in their lives, usually the early teenage years – first date, first high school dance, first time they had sex, all those things.
KC: The high school dance with the Journey power ballad. That’s why we had to put Journey in the movie!

One member of Escape, the Journey tribute, says they couldn’t get any interest in their original material, and their agent told them how much money they could make as a tribute act. No matter how good they are, though, is there any true satisfaction for these guys? Do you think they’re happy to be in tribute bands?
KC: There’s frustration there, I think that’s fairly common. All of them have played in bands doing originals, and at a certain point it was either get a day job or try to find ways to play out live and make a living at it. I don’t think any of them wouldn’t rather they were famous for being themselves. But most of them have a pretty good grasp on the irony of people loving them for not being themselves.
RF: Though some of them lose that grasp sometimes…

Which brings us to Andy Patche, the “Gene Simmons” in Larger Than Life. Early on, he dismisses “some of the other Genes out there” for losing themselves in the role, and that ends up becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.
KC: How lucky was that? When Andy said that, it was four years before what ended up happening with him.
RF: That was nuts. Who knew, when we went out to film Andy that day? We were still making the demo. We weren’t even thinking of that story yet; we just wanted to interview this guy who was trying to put together a Kiss band. The band hadn’t even been formed at that point. Then the band came together and we shot stuff with all of them. And the next thing we knew, we got a phone call…
KC: We were on the road then, shooting Bloodstone. We were in this dive motel in Albany, upstate New York. My cell phone rang – we’d just talked to this crazy Alice Cooper guy we ended up not using because he actually made me fear for my physical safety – and Jimmy Newell, the drummer, said “Andy’s had an accident. He fell asleep while he was smoking in bed, and he’s in the hospital.” But we couldn’t drop the shoot in Albany and fly back, we were busted flat. Andy was okay, but it took months for the real story to come out. He’d had – how does he phrase it now? “A psychotic break with reality.” Which meant he’d started hearing voices, and they told him to set fire to the apartments in his building. Sort of a bipolar disorder, but I don’t think he was ever diagnosed with actual schizophrenia. Though I have to say, I really admire the grace with which he’s handled the whole situation. There were a few years where we didn’t speak with him; he wasn’t returning his phone calls or anything. And we wondered and worried.
RF: We were intensely worried about how he’d react to the movie. He’d had this “break” and quit the band, but we’d kept in touch with the rest of them and eventually got the true story. Luckily for us, their story had gone on with Dave Watkins, Andy’s replacement. It felt like, “Okay, there’s a happy ending here. Dave’s in the band now, the band is doing well, and this is the climax of our movie.” But we finished the movie only to find out that now Andy has come back to the band. We hadn’t talked to him for two years, but here he was coming to the premiere, having never seen it, never seen the story of all these dark days he went through. It was very intense to have that play out right there at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. But he took it all amazingly well – he was fascinated, watching his own story. He was able to reflect on what had happened and gain some perspective.
KC: The whole band had decided to wait until the premiere to see the movie. We’d offered them the option of seeing it a few weeks before, because it’s weird watching yourself onscreen. And we didn’t make any promises; they knew what we had set out to do with the film. But they opted to experience it for the first time at the Egyptian, surrounded by 600 people. And as the credits started to roll, they all stood up and they were crying, hugging each other. It was a 180-degree turnaround from before, when they were wondering if Andy would ever get out of the hospital, if he’d ever stop hearing voices.
RF: Afterwards he told us that it was very cathartic. He actually said to me, “What was I thinking?” He couldn’t believe he’d gotten so carried away with the role.

When you see him perform, playing the God of Thunder, you have to be impressed. It’s a tremendous job of acting, at least.
RF: Absolutely. It really cuts to the heart of what the whole thing is about. When you become this other person, where do you draw that line? Can you go too far into the character? What also inspired us was when we first heard about Tim Owens, how he was called up from his Judas Priest tribute band into the real band. Suddenly here was this guy that they could all look to and say, “Wow, he actually did become that person.” He stepped into Rob Halford’s shoes. So maybe there is no actual dividing line. Maybe you can eventually become that person you worship, if you do it well enough.

Plus, the originals won’t be around forever. They’ve proved they can still carry on in their fifties and sixties, but beyond that…
RF: I think it goes in phases. The biggest heyday for Kiss tribute bands was when Kiss took off the makeup back in the early ’80s. Then tribute bands popped up all over the place. But when Kiss put the makeup back on and toured again, the tribute bands died down or went underground, ’cause we had the real thing. Now that the Farewell Tour is done and they’ve said that was the last Kiss tour ever, I’m sure more tribute bands will fill that void.

But when there’s a real void for all of these bands – the final void, that is – it’s interesting to think that tribute bands might end up literally taking their places.
RF: We’ve speculated about how big a tribute band could get. Could a Kiss tribute band eventually take over their popularity, when the real thing is gone? I think there is a pretty severe limit to how far people are willing to go with it. There are only so many Superfans. For most people, it’s just a fun night out to drink and hear the songs played live.

It also depends on how much of this music is remembered years from now, whether all this great 1960s and ’70s rock will retain its power for generations to come.
KC: That’s true. But I’m always shocked – when we went to the last Sheer Heart Attack reunion show, it was full of young kids. I was never allowed to go to concerts when I was a kid, so I never got to see Queen in concert. But these kids were barely even alive when Queen was around. I know the Van Halen tribute band in town, Atomic Punks, has tons of young fans. So I think there’s going to be a consistent appetite for this music, even with young kids. There are just enough kids in the audiences to make you feel a little hope.

Ideally, if the music is great, it will last and it shouldn’t matter how old it is.
KC: There are also a lot of tribute bands that do totally obscure shit you couldn’t possibly imagine anyone would do a tribute to.

For the obsessive type, nothing is too obscure.
RF: How about a tribute to Tony Banks of Genesis, but only his solo career? There’s a guy who actually toured doing that. Now that’s weird, ’cause those albums stink!
KC: Oh my god, there’s just no point to that. It is fascinating, though. It’s like “Wow, someone loves Roky Erickson or Gary Numan as much as we love Queen, and they’ve devoted their entire lives to putting together a stage show.”

A hundred years from now, bands could still be doing Kiss shows, carrying on their legacy. Their fans are certainly devoted enough. Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley would probably be into that idea, as long as the bands were as note-perfect as Larger Than Life.
KC: Definitely. It would be like people acting out an old play, like folk art. It could almost become a folk tradition, playing these legendary roles, keeping them alive. To tell you the truth, I bet that’s what the boys in all of these bands really fantasize about.
RF: That they’ll get to carry on the legacy.

They could outlive the originals, with new generations reenacting this incredible musical ritual dating back to the 1970s.
KC: Tribute bands do want to carry the torch – for Kiss or Queen or whoever it may be – and they have a remarkable purity of spirit about what they do. They’re very earnest and un-ironic about it all. That’s what makes them great.

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Posted on February 6, 2004 in Interviews by
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