Segarini – Yesterday, Rocketman, and Beyond

Before you read this week’s mumble, you would do yourself a favour by clicking on this Little Red Link and read what led me to write this.

Clearly, the Entertainment Gods have counted the take from Bohemian Rhapsody and, for better or worse, we are in for a rash (and I DO mean RASH) of nostalgic rewritten accounts of our Rock and Roll Heroes lives.

…and judging from what I’ve seen so far, they may include some music you love, but they seem unable to get the locations, timelines, and bit players even remotely right. So the less you know about these people and places, the less likely you will choke on your 20 dollar bag of popcorn when you see a microphone from 1985 being whipped around by Elvis, a song written in 1975 being sung in 1970, and a nightclub the size of a janitor’s closet re-imagined as a cavernous concert hall, and a man as tall as an NBA centre reduced to the size of a gay piano player.

I suppose you have all seen the trailer for this fantasy that has as its main conceit, what would happen if there were never any Beatles.

No “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”, no “Saw Her Standing There”, no “Long and Winding Load …err …Road”, no nothing.

No cute one, quiet one, shy one, nasty one. None, nada, zip, zero.

As a premise to tell a story, this is pretty intriguing. Right up there with The Man In the High Castle, wherein the Axis wins the 2nd World War, or the current Brightburn, which asks the question, “What if Superman’s rocket crashed on Earth and he was found by a nice farm couple who longed for a child of their own, and who reveals himself to be an evil homicidal prick before he’s old enough to go to high school?” Kind of like that.

It doesn’t really address things like the hair, fashion, hippie movement, etc, that followed in The Beatles’ wake, but the best advice I can give you is to exercise your ‘Suspension of Disbelief’, or you will be nit-picking all the way through the movie, thereby missing a lot of great moments, subtle winks to the audience, and some downright laugh-out-loud set pieces interspersed with some very well played dramatic turns on the part of this beautifully cast film.

The lineage of this film is both smart, and peculiar. Its principals, both cast and crew, are all out of their regular element here, a decision on the part of the producers that serves the movie well.

Danny Boyle, the director, is known for his canon of dramatic, edgy, and artistic films like Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, Slumdog Millioanaire, and the recent Steve Jobs.

Richard Curtis, known for his light and veddy British Rom-coms like Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, Bridget Jones’s Diary, and every woman’s go-to chick flick, Love Actually, wrote the screenplay, which, for the most part (there is a sweet love story arc that plays out through the film) plays against type, but his subtlety, wit, and wonderful throw-away lines remain a big part of the landscape. His other contributions to television and films include Black Adder, Mr. Bean, and The Vicar of Dibley …so there’s that.

British born Himesh Patel, who made his bones on BBCs long running East Enders, plays the hang dog hero of Yesterday and the main cast is rounded out by Downton Abbey’s Lilly James, and American actress Kate McKinnon, a regular on Saturday Night Live and the star of an enjoyable babe/buddy movie called, The Spy Who Dumped Me. …and I was surprised at Ed Sheeran’s turn in the role of Ed Sheeran, who has a few of Yesterday’s best lines, and seems right at home playing a doofus.

The reason used to explain the absence of The Beatles is a McGuffin at best, and isn’t really important to the proceedings. You will, however, be happy to hear that this doesn’t result from a …no …not going to tell you. I don’t want to spoil the fun for you. One of the biggest reasons I enjoyed this film so much, is that I had no idea where it was going. I had thought of a dozen or more scenarios that I thought were possible, and I was completely off the mark. That in itself, elevated my respect and enjoyment of Yesterday, even though the theatre ran out of 1200 dollar hot dogs before I had the chance to order a couple of them. Let it be known, however, that a medium popcorn (butter halfway and again on top), a small bag of Mars Chocolate Bar Bites, a plastic bottle of water, and a Mill Street Organic Tall boy cost 35 dollars. 35 DOLLARS!

Bastards.

There are some wickedly clever moments in this movie. Pay attention or you are liable to miss some, because they come and go so quickly. Everyone but our protagonist have lived their lives without Beatles (and a few other things, it turns out) so there are no heavy-handed dissertations about any of it …just the befuddled reactions of Patel’s character, themselves a big part of the laughs for us, and his escalating frustration.

The whole damn thing is wonderfully well done.

Personally, I didn’t think much of the songs they picked to represent the genius of what Paul, John, and George have written, but they are very popular choices, so I guess the studio had a hand in picking the tunes based on popularity, not merit.

There are twists and turns, and a moment that made the hair on my arms stand up, a strange and unexpected reaction to a landscape that somehow triggered what was going to happen, and when it did, both tears and laughter ensued.

So go see this movie. Go suspend your disbelief and be charmed and entertained like I was.  Yesterday stands apart from the onrushing rash of musical bios, and stakes out its territory based on our love of The Beatles, the nostalgia so many of us have for them, and the memories inherent in having their influence so embedded in our lives. …and Ed Sheeran’s classic moment in the studio, giving advice to our hero, is a thing of beauty. Saw it coming and still laughed my ass off. Looks like His Gingership is a pretty nice/cool/humourous fellow …err…Bloke.

And be forewarned, Ye Beatle Obsessive musicians, (You know who you are), you will fantasize this happening to YOU for the rest of your lives. In fact …there are a few of you (Again, you bloody well know who you are), who may have trouble getting to sleep after seeing this. You are either going to love it or, you know …the opposite of loving it.

Just get there early enough to get a hot dog.

Opens in a theatre near you on June 28th.

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Where Dirt was a wildly entertaining bar brawl about everyone’s favourite bad-boy L.A rock band and Bohemian Rhapsody was a dour, barely breathing document of a flamboyant, exciting, entertainer as told by your high school science teacher, Rocketman straddles the line between the two, breaks the barrier between them, and becomes a cross between a 3 month stay at the Betty Ford Clinic, soft core Gay Porn, and a ’30s Rags to Riches Broadway show disguised as a psychological Dramedy with an extraordinary soundtrack.

I quite enjoyed it.

Rocketman covers Reg Dwight’s entire career from the time he was barely old enough to reach the pedals on the piano, until around 1983 or thereabouts.

It mostly resembles an all but forgotten British film called Absolute Beginners, which played out much like Rocketman, with a large helping of staged musical numbers where passerby and shop keepers burst into song, know the lyrics, and dance moves, and smile like they’re getting paid by the tooth.

Absolute Beginners has an opening tracking shot that sucks you in right off the bat, Rocketman does not, although it does manage to engage you almost immediately.

BTW, Absolute Beginners boasts a cast that includes David Bowie AND Ray Davies. Fans of both should seek it out and have a looky-loo …Bowie completists especially. …and an opportunity to see a Kink who isn’t having a mid-set fist fight with his brother onstage somewhere …here you go.

…and Bowie’s big contribution …the little tobacco smoking litterbug.

The casting of Taron Egerton as the Rocketman was a stroke of genius. I’m guessing Elton had a hand in the decision (he was also one the executive producers of this film) because they had worked together previously on the wonderful sequel to The Kingsman – The Secret Service, called Kingsman – The Golden Circle, wherein Elton (brilliantly playing himself ala Ed Sheeran in Yesterday) is the captive nightly entertainment in the Big Bad’s retro village lair. Taron’s character, Eggsy, helps rescue Elton, and I will speculate Egerton shared his Inner Elton with the superstar and impressed him with his skill set.

Fact is, Egerton did his own singing in Rocketman, unlike the revolving door Freddieclones who filled in for the demised Buck Toothed Pavarotti (who has his OWN Ron Howard directed Documentary now playing at your local Popcorn Outlet).

Suffice it to say that the music glues this movie together because the songs are so damn good, you can’t believe no one thought to do this before.  …and Egerton’s vocals are not only spot on, they capture the dramatic moments extraordinarily well. The scene of Elton writing, then recording Your Song, is masterful, but it did lead me to my one major nit-pick.

I spent a great deal of time in Doug Weston’s Troubadour when I was living in Laurel Canyon. Randy and I were regular Monday night participants, and when we weren’t playing, we were usually at one of the 3 big round tables in the front bar with our current peers, who ended up being the very famous Glenn Frey, Linda Ronstadt, Peter Yarrow, J.D. Souther, and other denizens of the Canyons who drank regularly at the famed Folk venue. The bar itself was wooden and funky and the old school barstools arte where Lennon and Nilsson were sitting when they got thrown out for wearing Kotex’s on their foreheads and nicely pickled on 6 months worth of Brandy Alexanders.

When you walked in the front door, the tables were to your immediate left, the saloon doors to the balcony of the performance space were directly in front of you just to the right of the bar, which was was in front of you just left of the doors to the venue. The outside door to the bar was flush with the sidewalk on Santa Monica Blvd, and kitty corner from the Hollywood Pet Hospital, and just west of LeFigaro on Melrose, and steps from where Melrose and Santa Monica merged and ended at the side street The Whisky was on a couple of blocks north, on the corner of Sunset. That street also marked the border between Beverly Hills and Hollywood county.

John Boylan, the famous producer, well known for his work with people like John Hartford (Gentle on my Mind) would get plowed in the front bar and stumble out to catch a lift home with the 1:00 am freight train that rumbled slowly by on its way to the end of the line in Beverly. We would all follow him out onto the sidewalk, drinks in hand, to watch him jump on the freight like a ’30s Hobo, occasionally betting on whether or not he would be run over, the victim of one too many Singapore Slings, and a death wish he may have kept to himself. He was successful every time.

When John wasn’t entertaining us with his antics, Peter Fonda would ride his motorcycle into the bar, say something about life, park next to the door and start drinking (more, I assume) to either wash down a tab of acid stuck in his throat or swallow the last of a Pink’s chili dog, which could be had on LaBrea one gas station north of Melrose not far east of the Troub.

The Troubadour’s bar FACED the front door, it wasn’t next to it, and the performance room was through a saloon-style set of swinging doors to the right of the bar, which deposited you on the balcony of the mini concert hall, with the majority of seats on the floor below.

Like The London Fog in The Doors biopic, instead of being the intimate, welcoming space, it gets turned into a large venue with all the bells and whistles, and John proceeds to open his show with a song he won’t write until long after his run at the Troub is history.

And Doug Weston.

Doug was a behemoth. A GIANT, affable gay man who drove a Land Barge sized Oldsmobile that had been customized o that the front seat could be set back against the rear seat so he could drive the damn thing. If you rode in the back seat, which Rand and I did on occasion, you had to sit with your feet and legs tucked under your chin on the seat lest’ they be crushed when he put the seat back.

When Doug makes his appearance when Elton and Bernie enter the Troubadour, he has been shrunk down to Elton’s size and it further removed me from the moment …but if you’ve never been there, it shouldn’t bother you at all. But seriously, E.J is barely 5’8” and Doug clocked in at 6’6” …they could have at least had the actor stand on a box.

The movie is a worthy time out and the cast draw you in. Bernie Taupin is portrayed as such a nice guy in this, and fully exited at what is happening, while Elton is just beside himself, terrified most of the time. I am told this is pretty accurate.

I was in an elevator with Martin Melhuish on our way to a party for Gino Vanelli, talking about an album I had done years ago called Miss Butters. A guy in a Rock of the Westies satin tour jacket interrupted us and asked me who I was, and when I told him, he jumped into my arms and hugged me. He told me when he and Reg were working at Dick James’ Northern Music, they were A&Ring submissions sent to James by writers hoping to be represented by The Beatles publisher.

I was one of those hopefuls and had sent a reel to reel tape of the Butters album.

Taupin told Marty and I that when they played it and played it over and over, it was one of the reasons they began to pursue writing and performing in earnest. Bernie told us that Elton listened and said, “We can do this!”, and indeed they could.

Years later, Creem Magazine did an article listing Elton’s top 100 albums.

Miss Butters sat at number 27, between Randy Newman and Led Zeppelin.

Again, years after THAT, I spoke with Bernie at Liss Gallery when he gave a showing of his paintings. I ,don’t think he remembered me at all. Maybe a little …but not like that moment in the elevator, decades ago.

Bernie and I at Liss Gallery …He Hardly knew My Name

So go see this movie. It’s a nice night out, and if you’re of an age, it will ring the nostalgia bells and blow the music whistle an make the popcorn and hot worth the mortgage payment they cost. Directed by the same guy (Dexter Fletcher) that directed Bohemian Rhapsody after replacing Bryan Singer, but Singer got the credit because of his contract. Fletcher is credited as an Executive Producer.

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What’s next?

This are next

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Segarini’s regular columns move like a butterfly, sting like a bee

dbawis-button7giphyBob “The Iceman” Segarini was in the bands The Family Tree, Roxy, The Wackers, The Dudes, and The Segarini Band and nominated for a Juno for production in 1978. He also hosted “Late Great Movies” on CITY TV, was a producer of Much Music, and an on-air personality on CHUM FM, Q107, SIRIUS Sat/Rad’s Iceberg 95, (now 85), and now publishes, edits, and writes for DBAWIS, continues to write music, make music, and record.

2 Responses to “Segarini – Yesterday, Rocketman, and Beyond”

  1. JoAnne Tatone Says:

    as usual, highly entertaining. thanks for your finely tuned take on the scene and splendid flashbacks :p

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