Wednesday, June 02, 2010

The Ballad of the Sad Cafe

Oh, god, this is depressing.

There's a new film coming out about genuine powerpop god Emitt Rhodes, and the man himself surfaced at a screening in Los Angeles last week.

My old chum Eric C. Boardman was there, and wrote me thusly:
Steve:

Saw the documentary One Man Beatles: Something About Emitt Rhodes tonight. Skip it if you ever want to enjoy the music again. Emitt and two bandmates were there for Q&A. Avoid that, if you have sharp objects in the house. We all left wounded.

35 years of moping in a grim ranch house in Hawthorne, CA has not been good for him. Five pounds short of Kevin Smith, he reluctantly trundled on stage clutching a 16-ounce beer in a paper bag. He responded to questions slowly and painfully with short, sour sentences. The other two musicians, a former Grass Root and Leave, were chipper and tried for fun. But Rhodes cannot experience such a thing.

The film answers very few questions and just leaves you cranky and soiled. The article below will fill you in. I don't think I will be slapping "Fresh As A Daisy" on anytime soon.

As they say, you shouldn't have been there.

I can't seem to find a working link to the 2004 article Eric mentions, by writer Erik Himmelsbach, which ran in the now defunct LA paper City Beat. But if you really want to get bummed, here's the opening two paragraphs.
Emitt Rhodes still doesn’t know what hit him. Thirty years ago, he was the new Paul McCartney, an ambitious kid who craved the perfect pop song. Then he got blindsided into submission by the heartless business of music. Now he’s just another sad guy with a boatload of talent that got buried in a black hole of depression. Rhodes’s dreams collapsed in full view. That he showed early promise as a recording artist and made a tuneful blip on the popular consciousness perhaps justifies an examination of his specific version of life gone astray, particularly to those who obsess over the minutiae of Los Angeles pop-music history. But, in a way, Rhodes’s story could be anyone’s. Certainly, most of us have been one fateful step away from a similar plight. What if, for example, while on an early leg of your particular journey, you were stopped dead in your tracks, crippled by an obstacle that made it impossible to continue pursuing your true calling – yet the majority of your life still lay before you? You’d have options, of course. You might shrug, dust yourself off, and seek fulfillment elsewhere. Or you might decide to live in misery. Stripped of your true love, would you simply count the days until your death? How many of us could live happily if we felt our existence had no meaning? Three decades later, Rhodes is a disoriented 53-year-old musician, still trying to crawl from the emotional wreckage. “Life disappoints me. It’s a bitter place,” he says, pounding a plethora of cocktails across the table at an El Porto oceanside cantina. “I’ve had all the good stuff, and I’ve have all the bad stuff. Sometimes I’m happy to be alive, and sometimes I couldn’t care less.”

There’s an autumn coastal chill, but the stout, bearded Rhodes is oblivious to the weather. He wears baggy shorts, a matching polo shirt, and battered tennis shoes. When I first met him, more than six months earlier, he wore exactly the same thing. He’s had two wives and three kids, but communication with them is rare. He owns his Hawthorne home – located directly across the street from where he grew up – but must rent out the bulk of it to cover his nut. His own personal space is a glorified flop at the front of the house, with room enough for a mattress and a TV. He doesn’t drive anymore, not since he crashed his car a few years ago – Rhodes lapsed into a diabetic coma with his young daughter in the passenger seat. The totaled vehicle still sits in his driveway, too easily symbolizing the state of its driver’s life...

It gets worse from there, if you can believe it.




Seriously, I'm finding it very difficult to reconcile the fact that the man described in those two paragraphs once actually wrote and sang the profoundly uplifting song above.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Suddenly Brian Wilson seems the poster boy for mental health! John Forgerty also.

ROTP(lumber)

Faze said...

He was involved in three exceptional albums (Merry-Go-Round, the "Fresh as a Daisy" album, and American Dream), then ... He lost it with the Mirror album. As a keen follower of his work so far, I was stunned when Mirror came out. It was pure mediocrity. Only Birthday Lady was listenable. What had happened? Then I read an interview where he was complaining that everyone compared him to Paul McCartney. He, for his part, felt he was more inspired by James Taylor, and went on to say something like, "Yeah, James Taylor. He's my real hero." And I knew that Rhodes' streak of greatness was over. He no longer wanted to be the kind of great pop artist he was, and craved acceptance as a moody, singer-songwriter. I suspect that a lot of his depression and contempt for his audience now is based on the fact that -- in his heart -- he doesn't like his peerless pop work, and feels like he should be more appreciated for his glum stuff.

David said...

Steve, thanks for posting this. I'm always amazed to discover another quirky sad tale from the annals of pop music that I knew nothing about, and I really knew nothing about this guy, despite having loved "Live" ever since some pop savante put it on a mixtape for me years ago (even the Bangles version is pretty good). And wow, what a sad tale. Sounds like even Syd Barrett had a better life than this poor guy...

steves said...

Faze: As a keen follower of his work, you should know that Rhodes didn't jump from that ledge; he was pushed...by incredibly bad management and a ridiculous recording contract with ABC/Dunhill that required him to work nonstop over several years to meet his commitments. His cynicism now may be understandable, but all the more the shame.

Anonymous said...

Some genuine pop prodigies make it to adulthood (Stevie Wonder), some struggle to get past their 20s (Brian Wilson and PF Sloan, among them). But Dunhill? No wonder. It's been the graveyard of a lot of talent. They've probably buried as many great acts as were effectively launched. Something about Lou Adler and Jay Lasker, though Steve Barri may have been running things when Rhodes had his moment . . . AP

Maude Lange said...

I received a similar, equally depressing, report from a friend who attended. (He left early because it was too painful to watch.) Emitt did a radio interview earlier this year which is available on a WFMU podcast (Michael Shelley 2/13/10). After listening (painful), I can't say that what happened to him is entirely the fault of a record company's -there may very well have been some other serious issues contributing As with Syd B., Skip S. etc., I suspect the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

MJConroy said...

I've listened to the WFMU interview and read the full City Beat article and it is clear that Emitt has a lot of issues. I've thought his story would make an interesting film - but a depressing one. So, is the film at least well done?
He was supposedly working with a band last year and there were hopes of a revival. I guess there is no happy ending likely.
Too bad - he had the goods.

paper said...

Hip-O released a box set of Emitt last year and those things usually sell out, so at least he has some income. in contrast, before Lala.com was absorbed by the borg last week i checked Dwight Tilley's page there and he's up around 50 releases and counting and i've never seen one of them.

Billy said...

okay, so not every artist is mentally unbalanced but many are and it should come as no surprise to all you music followers out there.

The musical brain is "different;" that's why accountants, copyright lawyers etc. always make more money than the folks who actually create the art.

Anonymous said...

I'm not ready to write Emitt off. I think if I had to watch a fellow band member be molested and I kept silent about it (as in Emitt's case), I'd be hauling around a lot of guilt. Then tack on greedy/seedy music industry people managing your career (and his son keeps making passes at you). And imagine if you are a naive kid who just wants to make music and you happen to be better than most, you might think you have a future. But your manager sells your output to a mean record company executive and keeps the publishing to himself "forever." Your former company tries to cash in while your star is rising which causes your star to rise not so much. Then you are expected to churn out masterpieces like you were shoe making elf. Basically you're a slave. Hmmm, I wonder what my mood would be.... A little bitter maybe? Ya think! Let up on the guy. He didn't kill himself like a lot of other artists and he believes in speaking his mind no matter what. That's ballsy and refreshing to me. And no, I don't agree with the homophobic stuff hes says. Why pretend you are happy when you are not? At least he's among the living. He's also a diabetic, I'm a diabetic and unless you have it...you have no clue! Living is a struggle with that condition. So I take him at face value and he doesn't need to make a stellar new record. I'm going to buy it no matter what. He's left a pretty good legacy and he should get the credit for it. It's easy to write off someone if you haven't had to suffer. If you haven't suffered, you haven't "lived." I know some of you want him to shut up about the painful stuff. Like I said, the brutal honesty is refreshing--remember he said "I have say the things I feel." Buried in one of the interviews he said he was and optimist and I believe him. I become sad sometimes but I always believe things do get better. Sorry, but I just needed to chime in because I think people read and focus too much into Emitt's crusty side. Life just isn't all sunshine pop....

Dale said...

Emmitt Rhodes' life and experience is his and I'm not about to judge or comment on it but I'm sorry-I find MIRROR and FAREWELL TO PARADISE excellent albums,as effective as his self titled Dunhill debut. They are the sound of what happens when pain and darkness encroach on pop perfection. They are beautiful and cut deep.

American Movement said...

Emmitt Rhodes was very talented - 'Mirror' IS a fantastic album!
It is too bad that he remained so bitter - and where is that damn movie?!!!!
They could at least release it as DVD.
I remember when I was in my seventeenth year.
I too, was/am, a songwriter/performer. I had an A & R man sitting in a barbershop chair in front of me - he knew the barber as did I - I was asked to go get my music and show this guy...I had nothing prepared! You know 16, Then few doors down, I ended up working for a lady who also used to be an A & R person for Columbia Records (as was the other guy) - I went back home to St. Louis to put a band together - met a guy who used to be with Decca Records - nothing happened - but that was in my youth, I am still trying to get something going.
The WORST thing, is to find SERIOUS -MINDED,TALENTED BANDMATES!!!!!!!!!!
It is very difficult - which is why I, as, Emmitt, learned to everything by myself - I could not rely on anyone I had met.
But, Emmitt, I wish could have pulled himself together and finished the album he was supposed to create recently.
Maybe later.

chessman said...

that one poster is so wrong-mirror is GREAT!

Neil MacPherson said...

I believe Emitt Rhodes to be one of the most talented songwriters I've ever heard. The new album Rainbow Ends is superb too. He still has it!1 It is criminal that he and his music is not more well known. If he had been managed, supported and encouraged as he should have been, he and his music would be a lot more well known today.