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LOSTATSEA.NET > FEATURES >

March 18, 2005
Rating: 6.5/10

As a youth you noticed that your friend's dad had tons of records in his basement that you've never seriously looked at or listened to. And why would you, either; they are just dusty recordings of old guys playing stale music, right? Then, one day at school, the friend tells you about this guitar player his dad showed him - who you've heard of but never really listened to - Jimi Hendrix.

Later that day, you come home, and instead of your daily post-school ritual of cartoons and Doritos on the couch, you ask your mom if she ever knew about this Hendrix guy. Mom says, "Yeah, me and your dad have a couple of his records, even." She pushes up the lid on the record player and pulls out the vinyl of Hendrix's Smash Hits from an orange cardboard jacket. Her hand delicately places the needle onto the record, the speakers reactively pop, and within 10 seconds your life is changed forever.

The opening minutes of "Purple Haze" are engrained into your mind as pure rock 'n' roll, and you yourself are no longer a directionless Offspring-loving teen. You finally know (in part) what kind of music moves you - what's good and what's bad. On that day, Jimi became your gold standard of listening pleasure and you remember the entire experience like no other day before or after it.

OK, so the above story is too personal to be anyone else's, but the point is that we all have a unique story about an inspirational musical experience. Chicago experimental/independent rock label, Thrill Jockey, attempts to paint such a picture with their new DVD, Looking for a Thrill, through 5 hours and 112 interviewed music personalities.

What is a musical moment that inspired you?, is the open-ended question used to bring about fond memories of musical revelation from the collection of musicians, label personnel, recording engineers and fans. Some are boring, some are interesting, but all of the accounts are unique in their own way.

Part of the interest in Looking for a Thrill is created by an extraordinary cast of speakers: Mike Watt, Bjork, Thurston Moore, Steve Albini, Jon Spencer, Ian MacKaye, John McEntire, Sam Prekop, Archer Prewitt and Bob Weston among others. There are also many bands that are represented in the film by speakers, including Yo La Tengo, All Natural, Mekons, Calexico, Trans Am, Tortoise, Califone and more.

But just because an individual is a great musician or quasi celebrity does not mean that they have something appealing to say. Several of the included individuals prove this to some degree.

What the documentary fails to do from the outset is to provide variance for an inherently one-dimensional idea. The film is broken up only by the different individual interviews, which last in duration anywhere from two to seven minutes.

Although this is supposed to be a documentary about personal musical experiences, the production team sticks too hard to a basic formula of 'person sitting/standing in place, recounting one specific type of instance in their life.' There is no attempt to deviate from the original question or have any interaction between any of the speaking persons. Likewise, there is no factual recounting by any narrator or any visual aspects to help create a central voice for the theme of the film.

One of the only visual effects is an annoying smattering of glitchy footage mash-ups and sound clip spurts that attempt to inject energy and artistic presence into monologues that don't take well to the interruptions.

By about the fifth speaker, the steadfast formula makes the recount of many stories entirely skipable. Some that are worth watching though are James McNew (Yo La Tengo), who recounts seeing Mike Watt play with the Minutemen; Sheila Sachs (album cover designer), recalling her father allowing the children to stay up late and listen to Benny Goodman with him; Bobby Conn, who talks about a culminated appreciation for Flipper; Ian MacKaye (Fugazi, Dischord Records), speaks of the realness and proximity of punk rock in his youth; Fred Anderson, talks of Charlie Parker's lasting influence; Bjork, about her slow exposure to live music outside of Iceland; Jeremy Jacobsen (Lonesome Organist), with a love for Bach and rhythmic anticipation; and John Herndon (Tortoise), about tripping on acid, physical injury and listening to Charles Mingus.

The film is not made for everybody. Those who are going to enjoy it will be underground music enthusiasts and the die-hard fans of the speakers' bands. For everyone else, Looking for a Thrill is a drawn-out, five-hour long music history presentation. Omissions and editorial changes could have been made but for its intended purpose, the simplistic, no frills approach sets this film off as a sincere documentary with a specific theme to reveal.

SEE ALSO: www.thrilljockey.com

--
Josh Zanger
Joshua Ian Zanger, a native of rural Chicago, rocks many a world with his writing, style, and generally sweet aroma.

See other articles by Josh Zanger.

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