Music documentaries fill quarantine hours
My Netflix queue is packed with serious dramas, acclaimed foreign films and well-reviewed, quirky independent films.
I can’t get excited about any of them right now.
Being quarantined hasn’t brought out my more adventurous viewing habits (follow up from last week — older daughter is doing fine; we thought my wife might have the virus, but it’s looking more like something less serious; younger daughter and I remain asymptomatic).
Part of it is I’m still working, in some ways harder than I was before. Filling an entertainment section is easier when there is a bounty of options from which to pick.
By the time I can put the laptop aside, I’m not in the mood to read subtitles, I don’t care how many Oscar nominations “Roma” received.
Now I haven’t lowered my standards completely. I’m not watching Netflix’s “Tiger King,” regardless of the recommendations from a couple of my director friends in this week’s section or the fact that every other post in my Facebook feed is a “Tiger King” meme.
My rule is, I don’t watch reality shows about people I wouldn’t want in my house (no Kardashians, no “Real Housewives”). That’s why the only reality show I’m watching is the current season of “Top Chef” (Padma Lakshmi is welcome in my home any time).
I started watching “Little Fires Everywhere” to prep for my interview with production designer Jessica Kender, which is in this week’s Ticket, but I’m hooked enough to find out how the final four episodes play out.
AMC’s “Better Call Saul” is another favorite, a show that both adds to the legacy of “Breaking Bad” and manages to be something uniquely its own.
Mostly, though, I’ve found solace and distraction in music documentaries on Amazon Prime. Over the weekend my younger daughter and I watched “Punk Revolution NYC: The Velvet Underground, The New York Dolls and the CBGBs Set,” a three-hour history of the New York’s underground music scene from the early ’60s until 1979.
The interview subjects lean more toward writers and fringe characters than the major players, but there was some great archival footage.
Better were “The Rainbow” and “Hired Gun.”
“The Rainbow” is a breezy history of Sunset Strip rock club Whisky A Go Go and The Rainbow, which became the clubhouse where the musicians hung out when they weren’t performing.
There are great, gossipy interviews with musicians (Gene Simmons, Ozzy Osbourne, Slash, Lemmy Kilmister, Mickey Dolenz, Lita Ford) and tall tales told by the family that ran the business (like the time patriarch Mario Maglieri kicked Charles Manson out of the Whisky).
It also doesn’t overstay its welcome. Director Zak Knutson keeps the running time at a brisk 71 minutes.
“Hired Gun” focuses on musicians who aren’t as famous as the people interviewed in “The Rainbow” but have played an important role in shaping the music we’ve listened to in the last five decades.
In some ways, it’s a rock-centric version of the documentary “Standing in the Shadows of Motown,” telling the stories of musicians who’ve backed everyone from Alice Cooper to Billy Joel to Pink.
Director Fran Strine weaves several storylines around anecdote-filled interviews. Drummer Liberty DeVito’s account of his increasingly diminished role in Joel’s band, and Jason Hook’s serpentine career that started as a hired-gun guitar player for Mandy Moore and Hilary Duff and ended a full-fledged member of Five Finger Death Punch are two of the storylines that give the movie a strong narrative arc.
One night I used Jonathan Demme’s Talking Heads concert film “Stop Making Sense” as a distraction while I wrote, and Martin Scorsese’s “The Last Waltz” is queued up for viewing very soon.
Give me The Band, Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Van Morrison over “Tiger King” any day.
Andy Gray is the entertainment writer for the Tribune Chronicle. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.