By Dennis Hartley
(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on November 19, 2011)
%*@#!! : The Weird World of Blowfly
Before you can begin to process the paradox that is cult rapper Clarence “Blowfly” Reid, you have to understand that “he” (as, in the singular) is actually a duo. Do I mean that he has a split personality? Not necessarily; after all, in the music business, it’s not unusual for artists to adapt an alter ego (Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Alice Cooper, Marilyn Manson) or to reinvent themselves on an annual basis (David Bowie, Madonna, Prince), but there aren’t many whose careers can be divided into such mutually exclusive halves as Reid’s.
First, there is Clarence Reid, whose 1965 recording of “The Dirty Rap” is considered by some to be the first rap song. He made a few R&B albums through the late 60s; then wrote and produced hits for Betty Wright, Gwen Macrae, KC & the Sunshine Band and others during tenure with Miami-based TK records through the mid-70s.
Then, there is “Blowfly”, a nickname assigned to him as a teenager by his grandmother, who, chagrined by his tendency to amuse himself and his friends by singing his own “dirtied up” versions of Top 40 hits, allegedly proclaimed Clarence to be “nastier than a blowfly”.
In 1970, a metamorphosis took place, beginning with an album called The Weird World of Blowfly. It was in fact so “weird” (and nasty) that Reid had to create his own independent label (Weird World), in order to release it in its unexpurgated glory (possibly inspired by Frank Zappa’s Bizarre Records). Most of the songs were parodies; with titles like “Spermy Night in Georgia” and “Shittin’ on the Dock of the Bay”.
Needless to say, this Weird Al Yankovic meets Rudy Ray Moore persona was the antithesis of the artist formerly known as Clarence Reid, who had been a bit more radio-friendly. The LP was a hit with the “party record” crowd, as were many subsequent releases throughout the 80s and 90s. Thus, “Blowfly” was born; lewd, crude, and bedecked like a Mexican wrestler.
In case you ever wondered what became of him, a documentary called The Weird World of Blowfly brings you up to snuff. That is not to say that you will necessarily like everything you learn. Jonathan Furmanski’s film (at times a disconcerting cross between This is Spinal Tap and The Elephant Man) doesn’t pull punches, particularly concerning the less savory side of The Business We Call “Show”.
Furmanski follows Blowfly and his backup band on a 2-year “world tour” (for wont of a better term). Pushing 70 at the time of filming and suffering from a bum knee, the road-weary Reid is shuffled from gig to gig by his doughy drummer/manager, Tom Bowker. Bowker, a professed super-fan (and so-so drummer), appears to have Reid’s best interests at heart, but at times he emits a whiff of Eau de Colonel Parker.
In one scene, Bowker harangues Reid in an uncomfortably disrespectful manner. Then again, Blowfly has several bizarre on-camera meltdowns himself. He throws a backstage hissy fit, going apoplectic after Bowker sets his boxed pizza on a chair (“…where people put their dirty asses?!”). And his racist diatribe about African-Americans is a definite eyebrow-raiser.
Obvious freak show aspects of the film aside, there are a few genuine surprises. Reid pays a visit to his mother, where he pulls out a dog-eared Bible and talks about his devout Christian faith. Shooting down another stereotype about hard-partying musicians on the road, it also turns out that Reid has always eschewed drugs and alcohol. Whatever demons lurk in his soul are apparently purged whenever he puts on his mask and cape and takes to the stage.
Reid does show himself to be a solid trouper in performance, whether its playing to five people in a stateside dive bar (the film’s most Spinal Tap moment) or to a concert hall audience in Dresden, where he opens for Die Artze, one of Germany’s top punk bands (the young audience seems stunned into silent bewilderment).
One gathers the impression Blowfly’s biggest fans are fellow musicians; his influence has eclipsed his popularity, as it were. Ice-T, Chuck D., Die Artze’s Farin Urlaub and Jello Biafra gush like fan boys (Biafra joins Blowfly onstage for one of the performance highlights, an exquisitely tasteless cover of The Dead Kennedys’ “Holiday in Cambodia”, re-entitled “R. Kelly in Cambodia”).
Love Blowfly or hate him, there’s something to be said for any artist who challenges the status quo and makes the censors twitch. I pictured Frank Zappa somewhere out there in the ether, holding a guitar in one hand and copy of the First Amendment in the other, smiling.
Dad, you’re totally embarrassing me: The Other F Word
I could easily go the rest of my life without having one more person say this to me: “Having a kid completely changes your life.” Yeah, whatever. Bully for you, you’ve reproduced. Happy for ya, Mazel Tov. Congrats. Love to stay and chat longer, but I simply must get back to the Arctic desolation of my studio apartment and resume brooding about a life tragically misspent (thanks for the reminder). Busy schedule, things to do. Check ya later. But enough about me. I’ve resigned to the fact that if I’m still a confirmed bachelor at 55, I’m obviously too narcissistic to have children. Or something.
But you know what? Having a kid completely changes your life, even if you are a punk rocker. Just ask Flea, Tony Adolescent, Mark Hoppus, Rob Chaos or Jim Lindberg. Those are a few of the interviewees in an engagingly candid and unexpectedly touching documentary about punk rock dads called The Other F Word, directed by Andrea Blaugrund Nevins. Nevins follows her subjects on the road, on stage and at home with their families, then does an admirably deft job of tying all the incongruities together.
Jim Lindberg (lead singer of the venerable skatepunk outfit Pennywise) gets a lion’s share of the camera time. Astutely and entertainingly self-aware, Lindberg makes a good front man for the film, delivering the money quote that gets to the heart of Nevins’ study: “It’s tough to be a punk rock hero and still be an authority figure to my kids.” An amusing case in point: Lindberg (who co-wrote the band’s anthem, “Fuck Authority”) is observed admonishing his young daughter for calling one of her siblings a “turdface”.
Nevins also weaves in a little history of the punk scene, with a primary focus on the SoCal bands, which adds context and some meaty substance (which helped me forgive the somewhat cliché ADD visual style of the film). The director saves her biggest emotional guns for the final third, when some of her subjects open up about their relationships with their own fathers, which for most were less than ideal (cue the waterworks). This is where the rubber meets the road, and the takeaway is revealed: I never sang for my father, but I will sing for my kids* (*parents advisory: explicit lyrics).