In his 2012 SXSW keynote address, Bruce Springsteen talked about the influence Eric Burdon and the Animals had on him. Playing “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” on an acoustic guitar, Springsteen said, “That’s every song I’ve ever written. That’s all of them. I’m not kidding.” He also called listening to the Animals for the first time “a revelation.” The next year, Burdon joined Springsteen and the E Street Band, who used to turn the Animals’ “It’s My Life” into a showpiece in their early days, onstage in Cardiff for a stirring version of “We Gotta Get Out of This Place”; clearly, Burdon had forgiven Springsteen for calling the Animals the “ugliest” band in rock and roll. I felt the same way the first time I heard the Animals; they were so different from fellow British Invaders the Beatles, the Who, the Rolling Stones, and the Kinks. They were a bunch of working-class guys you would not want to meet in a dark alley, infusing their music with the deep heart of the blues while also offering escape. I remember seeing Burdon perform in the 1980s at Westbury Music Fair in the round, where he covered Springsteen’s “Factory,” which described a life he knew, having been born and raised in the coal-mining town of Newcastle upon Tyne.
In 1986, about halfway through his storied career, Burdon wrote the memoir I Used to Be an Animal But I’m All Right Now. Since 1962, he has been the lead singer of numerous on-again, off-again incarnations of the band, which has been beset by breakups and lawsuits over the years; the latest edition will be returning to New York for two intimate shows at City Winery August 8-9, following their two sold-out performances there last October. Burdon has one of the most powerful, distinctive voices in rock and roll history, melding blues, funk, jazz, R&B, folk, hard rock, psychedelia, and other styles over a career that has included playing with the ever-changing lineup of Animals as well as with War, the Eric Burdon Band, Eric Burdon’s Fire Dept., the Eric Burdon Brian Auger Band, Eric Burdon and the Greenhornes, and as a solo act. Burdon’s remarkable back catalog is ripe with amazing songs: In addition to the aforementioned “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” and “It’s My Life,” there’s “The House of the Rising Sun,” “Sky Pilot,” “San Franciscan Nights,” “Spill the Wine,” “Tobacco Road,” and “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” among so many more, both originals and covers of such legends as Bo Diddley, John Lee Hooker, Sam Cooke, and other great bluesmen. “My faith was so much stronger then / I believed in fellow men / And I was so much older then / When I was young,” he sang back in 1966; half a century later, Burdon is still going strong, having just celebrated his seventy-fifth birthday in May.
A painter and actor (check out the German film Comeback) as well as an author (he also wrote Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood in 2002 and is working on a third memoir), the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer is no mere novelty act; he’s back on the road with guitarist Johnzo West, keyboardist Davey Allen, bassist Justin Andres, saxophonist Ruben Salinas, trombonist Evan Mackey, and drummer Dustin Koester, playing the big hits in addition to songs from his latest record, 2013’s personal and political ’Til Your River Runs Dry, which boasts such tunes as Diddley’s “Before You Accuse Me”; “Memorial Day,” which honors soldiers and pacifists; and “27 Forever,” which pays tribute to all those musicians who died at the age of twenty-seven. Burdon has seen it all, from drugs and the height of success to going broke and battling over song credits; in fact, after a long legal fight, he recently regained the UK rights to the name the Animals, so he will be playing what is being billed as “The Homecoming” in Newcastle on September 7. But before then, you can catch Mr. Burdon at City Winery, where he will play a wide range of songs from throughout a remarkable, still vibrant career, doing what he was born to do. “Nothing’s changed, I’m still the same,” he sings on ’Til Your River Runs Dry. “Old habits die hard.” (Brooklyn-based Alberta Cross will open both nights.)
SMITHEREENS (Susan Seidelman, 1982)
7 Ludlow St. between Canal & Hester Sts.
July 29 – August 4
I’m a little worried about Metrograph’s weeklong presentation of Susan Seidelman’s underground cult classic, the one and only Smithereens. The Lower East Side art house is proclaiming that it is showing a new 35mm print, but a lot of the charm of the low-budget wonder is its gritty, less-than-polished attitude. I’m afraid it could be like when you hear a crystal-clear old album on CD that sends you back to the vinyl LP so you can hear every beloved scratch and pop. Regardless, Smithereens, the first American indie to be shown in competition at Cannes, is a fab tale set in the East Village punk / new wave scene of the late 1970s, as a tough-talking young woman from the New Jersey suburbs seeks to find her place in the burgeoning city subculture. Susan Berman, who was discovered in the audience at an off-Broadway play, makes her film debut as Wren, an annoying, unlikable wannabe desperate to become part of the music business. Wearing ever-more-fashionable punky get-ups, she wanders the streets seeking fame, plastering Xeroxes of her face all over and claiming to be on the guest list at the Peppermint Lounge. The innocent Paul (Brad Rijn), recently arrived from Colorado and living in his cool van in a postapocalyptic abandoned lot, immediately falls for Wren, but she has her eyes set on Eric (Richard Hell), the leader of a band who has plans to make it big in California. Wren is an unapologetic user, taking advantage of Paul, Eric, her landlady, her family, and her few friends, but Berman imbues her with just enough sublimated tender charm to keep you glued to her trainwreck of a life.
Seidelman made Smithereens over the course of eighteen months on a shoestring budget of $40,000, employing fellow NYU students and editing the film during several breaks in production that led to important recasting. The screenplay was written by Peter Askin, who later directed the original off-Broadway version of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and Ron Nyswaner, who went on to write Swing Shift and The Painted Veil. Cinematographer Chirine El Khadem shot the film on the fly in 16mm, giving it a guerrilla feel that matches the pulsating soundtrack by Glenn Mercer and Bill Million of the Feelies (in addition to songs by the Raybeats and Richard Hell and the Voidoids). Berman, who prepared for the role by watching Federico Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria at Seidelman’s request, is a whirlwind in her first movie of what would be a sparse career, playing Wren with a freewheeling abandon, little caring who she steps on as she desperately seeks some kind of stardom. “I just wanna be in a swimming pool, eating tacos, and signing autographs — that’s all,” she says. You might not like Wren, but you won’t be able to take your eyes off her. Watch out for bit parts played by Amos Poe and Chris Noth. Smithereens will be screening in a new 35mm print at Metrograph July 29 to August 4, with Seidelman (Desperately Seeking Susan, Making Mr. Right) in attendance at the 7:00 show on opening night to talk about this seminal work.
GLEASON (Clay Tweel, 2016)
Landmark Sunshine Cinema, 143 East Houston St. between First & Second Aves., 212-330-8182
AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13, 1998 Broadway at 68th St.
Opens Thursday, July 28
“It’s not gonna be easy but it’s gonna be awesome,” Steve Gleason promises his unborn child in the extraordinary documentary Gleason, a heartbreaking yet uplifting tale about dedication, family, and never giving up. On September 26, 2006, scrappy New Orleans safety and special teams stalwart Gleason became an all-time inspirational Saints hero when, on Monday Night Football, he blocked Atlanta Falcon Michael Koenen’s punt less than a minute and a half into the Saints’ first home game in the Superdome following the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina the previous summer. The play, which resulted in a touchdown when the ball was recovered by Curtis DeLoatch in the end zone, has been memorialized with a statue titled “Rebirth” in front of the stadium. But Gleason became a different kind of hero five years later when the undrafted free agent was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, a generally fatal neuromuscular disease. Right after that, the Washington State native, who at the age of thirty-four was given three to five years to live, found out that his wife, artist and free spirit Michel Varisco, was pregnant with their first child, a boy. Determined to pass on as much of a legacy as he could to his unborn baby, Gleason began a vlog, a series of deeply personal five-minute videos in which he spoke openly and honestly about how they would never have the traditional father-son relationship but he wanted the boy to know that he was loved and cherished. But that is only the beginning of an incredible story that is poignantly told in Gleason.
Directed and edited by Clay Tweel (Make Believe, Print the Legend), the film features powerful clips from Gleason’s video journal; intimate footage shot by Ty Minton-Small and David Lee, who lived with Gleason, Varisco, and their son, Rivers, for two years; and interviews with family members and friends as Gleason’s physical conditions worsens but his heart and will grow stronger. “People will say, ‘Oh, it’s such a sad, tragic story,’ Gleason explains in the film. “It is sad, and so they’re right, but it’s not all sad. I think there is more in my future than in my past.” Gleason, with Michel’s father, Paul Varisco, form Team Gleason, a grass-roots nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people with ALS have a better quality of life, taking them on adventure vacations and giving them access to cutting-edge technology that increases their ability to communicate as the disease destroys their speech and movement. Among Steve’s famous friends and supporters are Saints quarterback Drew Brees and his wife, Brittany, and Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready and singer Eddie Vedder. Steve and Michel hold nothing back, sharing their deepest fears and insecurities while his condition deteriorates. As he tries to get the most out of his limited time with Rivers, Gleason also reexamines his troubled relationship with his father, Mike, a born-again Christian who is often at odds with his son. The real superstar of the film, however, is the brave and courageous Michel, who devotes her life to her husband and son despite increasing difficulties. In a statement about the film, Michel said, “I hope people who need a good laugh or a heavy cry can get that from this film. I hope people who need to be reminded to love their kids or their friends can get that from this movie. I hope people with ALS who want to use this film to show others what their lives really are like can get that from this movie. I hope people who have strained relationships with their parents will want to work on those relationships after they watch this movie. I hope people who have wanted to do something great in life will go ahead and do it after seeing this movie. People have told me that they have gotten all of these things from watching Gleason. And I think that’s pretty awesome.” Gleason, which is not always easy to watch, achieves all that and more, and indeed, that’s pretty awesome. The Sundance hit opens July 28 at Loews Lincoln Square and the Landmark Sunshine, with Tweel and Michel Varisco participating in a Q&A after the 4:45 screening at Landmark on July 30.
Who: White Lung
What: Panorama festival
Where: Randall’s Island Park, Panorama Stage
When: Sunday, July 24, $125, 1:10
Why: A classic punk foursome, Canadian quartet White Lung features singer-songwriter Mish Barber-Way front and center in their latest video, “Dead Weight,” but she’s obviously anything but dead weight, as evidenced on the group’s outstanding fourth studio album, Paradise (Domino, May 2016). In a recent interview with the the Line of Best Fit, Barber-Way noted: “I write for a living, so I’m always reading and researching. I did studies about bestiality, gender politics of pedophiles, female murderers who help their spouses rape and torture, biology, motherhood. I picked the brains of sex therapists, psychologists, white supremacists, cosmetic surgeons (the most interesting doctors to interview), and gynecologists. I was all over the place. This work all informs my lyrics, obviously. It’s what I am thinking about.” Paradise, which was shortlisted for the prestigious Polaris Prize, contains such tracks as “Hungry,” “Below,” “Demented” (in which Barber-Way declares, “I hate all that I see”), and the furious “Kiss Me When I Bleed” and “Sister.” No stranger to New York, White Lung played a gleefully anarchic set at the 2013 4Knots festival at the South Street Seaport; singer-songwriter Barber-Way, guitarist Kenneth William, bassist Lindsey Troy, and drummer Anne-Marie Vassiliou will be back in the city for the Panorama music, art, food, and technology festival on Sunday, playing the Panorama Stage at 1:10; that day’s bill also includes, among others, the Black Madonna, Grace Potter, Kurt Vile & the Violators, and Holy Ghost! You can find the full schedule and set times for all three days here.