My First Popfest… I Think

Some things I talk about in this story: My comedic hijinks while under the influence of mental illness. Music festivals. Professional rivalries. Hope.

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I knew Popfest would be here again before I was ready. I had a wonderful time last year, but I also had an incredibly stressful few days.

I write for a music news website. In August of 2016, I covered a music festival called Athens Popfest for this website. This was the first time I’d ever been to Popfest, which has been around since 2004. Why did I wait so long? Social anxiety prevented me from attending as a fan, but attending as a journalist was a special opportunity that I wasn’t going to miss.

My social anxiety was a beast during the festival. Sometimes I think I hide it well, but that just means I internalize it, which makes things worse for me in the long run. I battled it constantly, so that every day left me both exhilarated by the music and drained by the sheer amount of energy it took to stay focused on the task at hand and keep my mental shit together.

I met another journalist there who was perhaps as socially awkward as me, only her quirks and triggers seemed to be a bit different from my own. We clashed like oil and water. I honestly don’t know which of us was the oil and which was the water. I suppose in the grand scheme of things it makes no difference.

This journalist wrote a bit about me in her Popfest article. She called me by name. She said she hated me because of something she thought I’d done to catch her off guard or condescend to her, or something like that.

Her article, like my own, was posted online and linked to Facebook. I didn’t expect to be thrust into the spotlight so soon, as new as I was to music journalism in general and to Popfest in particular. I was used to writing about music but not to being written about. I was shocked and embarrassed and not a little hurt, but I guess I was also slightly flattered in a weird sort of way.

Maybe this unwanted attention was karma’s way of biting me on the ass. You see, I did something at a music festival once that some might consider socially unacceptable. I thought back on this time in my life and I had to ask myself: “was 2016 really my first Popfest experience?” I know this sounds like a strange question, but my life up to this point has been pretty strange, and I don’t expect things to change anytime soon.

Most music festivals have a precursor. They rarely emerge fully formed; they evolve over time. Names change, image changes, the people involved change. Popfest wouldn’t be Popfest without what came before.

The year was 2000. I was a 28-year-old, as-yet-undiagnosed manic depressive. I was supremely happy. I was also in the midst of my first manic episode; I just didn’t know it.

There was a small music festival going on that summer in Athens, GA at the 40 Watt Club. Many of the people involved with what would come to be known as Popfest were in attendance, for pleasure or work. I spent most of my time backstage, interacting with a whole lot of people. I was babbling a steady stream of manic-speak, but I somehow managed to avoid getting kicked out.

At one point there was a lull between bands. At the time it seemed like a good idea to walk onstage and share my joy with everyone. So through the backstage curtain I emerged. It was my first (and only) time onstage at the 40 Watt. I had a very specific image in mind. It was a scene from the movie Sixteen Candles. In this moment, lines of perception were blurred and I tried like mad to project to the audience what I saw in my mind’s eye; I didn’t dare speak for fear I wouldn’t be able to stop.

I was wearing a green dress that was really long, which helped to facilitate my next move. I stood in front of the crowd and discreetly shimmied my Redneck GReece Delux promotional underpants down my hips to my ankles, delicately stepping out of them (like a lady), at which point I did a little dance on top of them.

It was at this point that a thin young man came out from behind the stage and gently returned me to the backstage area. I left the underwear onstage. Things probably would have made a little more sense if I had held up my underwear (homage to another scene in Sixteen Candles) for the crowd to see. They were white, but not plain. On the front was a black screen print of Greg Reece’s face, complete with cowboy hat. On the back was a red screen print of the admonition: “Kiss My Redneck Ass.” Yet at the time (and I think this was the right decision), it seemed smarter to forsake my ‘performance art’ and leave the stage when asked.

God bless Greg Reece; he came up with a sincerely hilarious pair of panties, and he sold the shit out of them at his shows that year. I think what finally convinced me to just buy the damn things was how he promoted them from the stage like a carnival barker, even going so far as to point out that they were made by a company called ‘Dixie Belle Lingerie’ and were of very high quality.

A little background: the comedic old-school country band Redneck GReece Delux started out in Athens, GA during the early 90s and carried on well into the new millennium. To get an idea of the band’s sense of humor, I’d recommend listening to their classic tune “Don’t Let Another Penis Come Between Us.”

These days most people know Greg Reece as the WaterMan. His superior salesmanship (of which showmanship is a huge part) carried him on to become the owner of a thriving spring water delivery company. Yet I hear he still transforms into his alter ego Redneck GReece Delux and performs from time to time. It’s a performance you won’t want to miss. Maybe he’ll even bring back some Dixie Belle Lingerie to adorn the redneck asses of his fans.

So there’s my confession: I once misbehaved at the music festival that may have served as a precursor to Popfest. I am much older now, and hopefully a little wiser. And basically, I no longer have the stamina to misbehave (at least not too much) anymore. But as long as I still have the energy and the inspiration to write, I’ll keep on plugging away! Music is love.

-Dena Maxwell, copyright 2017

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Dope Cops: The Best Film You’ve Never Seen

5/17/13

Dope Cops

Director/Producer: Christopher Fagot

Written by: Jeff Griggs, Paul Simpson, Christopher Fagot

Watch it at: http://vimeo.com/4406690

Few films are watchable when they’re scratchy, often out of focus, and analog. Yet there’s this one comedy I saw one time… I was in college, it was 1998, and the film was called Dope Cops. It was a local production by an outfit called Spaceball Entertainment. I had met most of the cast before. We all lived in the same small town and attended the university there. Director Chris Fagot and I had mutual friends but I had never met him. Paul Simpson lived in my dorm. It’s trippy to see people you’ve actually met onscreen. Especially when what they’re doing is brilliant. You know you won’t have to face that all-too-common moment of embarrassment when you’re called upon to tell them- in your honest opinion- what you think of their work.

I found out about this film quite by accident. I somehow ended up at its premiere. This was held at a (sadly now defunct) Athens, GA club called Tasty World. It was a big event for such a small town and such a small club; some bands also played and other mayhem ensued. I was instantly hooked. I’d never seen anything like it. Local films by local filmmakers and actors were rare at that time and place. So was comedy. Athens was mainly about music, and about being icy cool at all times.

Even in that age before YouTube, I had the opportunity to watch Dope Cops again and again because I was one of the lucky people to obtain a free VHS copy after the premiere. I think there were, like, two of us. They guy who handed me the tape assessed me carefully before letting me have it. He was holding it up, addressing the crowd that was milling about after the event, telling whoever happened to hear him that it was up for grabs. His offer was almost an afterthought; I don’t remember anyone else handing out free copies during the screening. I held out my hand, then gently gripped the tape. He held fast to it for a moment, assessing me for coolness and cred, I assume. I had neither; I was just a college student with relatively decent taste in films.

Plot and acting prowess carry this film. It’s written by Jeff Griggs, Paul Simpson (credited as Saul Pimpson) and Christopher Fagot (credited as Crazy DJ C Breez). All three of them act in the film, each giving a really strong and hilarious performance. Paul Simpson and Scott Recchia are the two leads. It’s a good choice of actors. I always like it when the writers also star. It gives more sincerity to the performances.This film introduces what I like to call “loose-limbed comedy.” What a breath of fresh air. It’s the opposite of slapstick, yet works well alongside it.

The basic premise is that it’s a film about a day in the life of two dirty cops who are desperately trying to be “good.” Scott Recchia plays officer Tony Green and Paul Simpson plays his partner P.P. Simmons. Great choice of names; “Green” works well for a Cheech and Chong-esque “weed comedy” and “P.P.” appeals to the juvenile sense of humor in us all. Not to mention the bonus hilarity in the way Recchia often draws out “Peeee Peeee” in a wheedling, syrupy way when addressing Simpson.

I like how the lighting and the general mood change with each scene, especially when you go from a group shot to a closeup monologue. The changes in camera angle work well with the monologues, too. It makes the grainy quality of the video easier to digest. The writers create a hysterical new entry into the urban slang dictionary when they say: “no one has ever O-weed” as in “no one has ever OD’d on weed.” And speaking of overdosing on weed, this is another of the fantastical plot elements that make the film so inventive.

The film’s score is written by The Saul Pimpson Rock-a-Delic Mack, the brainchild of writer/actor Paul Simpson. Using music written by cast members is a really smart thing. Should the film achieve commercial success, no outside acts will be able to sue later. This shows talent on multiple levels. Most members of the cast have a background in music. Scott Recchia is the man with the background in college drama. I knew him as the writer/lead actor of a great comedic play called The Pool Party. Although a student production shown in a tiny theatre on campus, it was quite impressive. At that time it seemed he had his hand in all the big projects going on in the UGA drama department. Director Chris Fagot’s reputation preceded him; he was the film wunderkind from Los Angeles. Everyone raved about his work and how professional and funny it was. I am not sure how these diverse elements converged; these were different people from Scott’s regular comedy performance group. Then again, how well they knew each other in the real world doesn’t matter; the work they did together is brilliant.

Scott Recchia’s earnestness is what makes him so funny. His crying and supplications to P.P. are melodramatic, overplayed… and therein lies the reason they work so well. His tears actually seem sincere, at the same time causing you to laugh your ass off involuntarily. Out of all the film’s strong performances, Recchia’s is my favorite.

Paul Simpson’s strength lies in the fact that he seems as calm as a yogi at all times, and it’s often unclear whether he’s kidding or serious. He has great sleight of hand. He gets jokes by you and you don’t realize until a beat later the hilarity of what he said; that’s how understated his humor is. Simpson acts with an unselfconscious ease. His comedic style  is where I get the term “loose-limbed.” Recchia’s style is more slapstick. These polar opposites balance each other perfectly. These two actors really know how to play off each other.

The action is punctuated with documentary style interviews with coworkers of the two main characters. The camera operator is neither seen nor heard. The topic is P.P. Simmons and Tony Green. What kind of cops are they? Good or bad? Everyone they know, including them, has their own answers to this question. The general consensus is that Tony and P.P. are troublemakers; loose cannons. Their actions in the film prove this to be true.

The camera goes out of focus during the interviews with Tony and P.P. However, this is okay because it’s more about what’s being said than what’s on the screen. P.P.’s voice is easily distinguishable from Tony’s, so you could actually close your eyes and these scenes would still make sense.

At times the onscreen audience participation is a hindrance; at other times a help. I think the bar scene would have been more effective had it been filmed in an empty bar or even on a set, with extras talking softly in the background to mimic the sounds of a bar. This way no ambient sounds could drown out the dialog. A scene where the audience really helps to make things work is the street dancing/drumming scene involving several street musicians, a small crowd being respectfully quiet, and P.P. and Tony doing a herky jerk dance to the music. I especially like Recchia’s stiff and grimacing style of dancing. Then we see them dancing again at a random time and place, for no obvious reason other than Tony suggesting they do it. These physical comedy scenes between P.P. and Tony are a nice touch; it’s an abrupt change of focus from the normal dialog and it works.

I like to break the film into 3 parts. What I call Part 1 is plot-driven, whereas Part 2 is a collection of esoteric, abstract and surreal scenes which often have nothing to do with the plot. Part 3 (also known as “Part 7: The End”) consists of one short scene, serving as a continuation of Part 1. The scenes in Part 2 are mostly long shots with little or no dialog; in fact the sound is almost nonexistent. Sometimes you hear what might be the sound of wind blowing against a window. It’s quite disconcerting, probably on purpose.This extra stuff that occurs between parts 1 & 3- while interesting- should probably be cut out and made into another separate project or projects. Except for the scene when that old guy says “sun yuns sen suns?”- now that’s funny. I think that this “looking for Funyuns” scene should be kept, maybe as a segway between parts 1 & 2. I find it inventive and funny that Fagot prefaces the final scene with text onscreen which reads “Part 7: The End.” In a great many ways, this explains and justifies the esoteric and often unrelated scenes that make up what I call Part 2.

The ending is great; it solidifies the ‘almost’ sexual tension between Tony & P.P. Tony’s concern that Funyuns are more harmful to consume than weed, to the extent that he treats P.P.’s love of Funyuns like a drug addiction… now that’s just priceless. Zooming in on P.P’s face as he eats his favorite addictive substance works really well for a final scene. Full frontal male nudity also adds to the sexual tension, and it’s also quite a surprise. Normally this kind of thing occurs somewhere in the middle, or at the beginning if the director is really adventurous. And normally it means that sex is about to happen; whereas these two are just hanging out together. No pun intended.

I have approached director Chris Fagot via email about reshooting this film. He says he probably won’t. However, I’d love to see this group of actors and writers reunite and create some new material. In my humble opinion, they (and this film) have the potential to go places.

Dope Cops is definitely a diamond in the rough, and well worth watching.

Watch it at: http://vimeo.com/4406690

Steve Earle’s Wal-Mart protest song. The Walking Dead’s Corey Brill’s protest song about his nickname “Porchdick.” They star in Leaves of Grass (film) and How I Learned to Drive (play), respectively. Both highly recommended.

Steve Earle’s Wal-Mart protest song

Steve Earle has a bone to pick with Wal-Mart. As of June 27, Steve was in Nashville recording a new album. But he did take time out to write an amazing protest song, in light of the recent threat by Wal-Mart to build a store in Chinatown, Los Angeles. Steve tells us that he’s never known Wal-Mart to be a good neighbor in any town. As a former Wal-Mart employee, I concur. Place went down the tubes when Sam Walton died; not long after his passing I determined to seek employment elsewhere.

I had the good fortune to briefly converse with Steve this spring when he performed at the newly-reopened Georgia Theatre in Athens, GA.  http://www.georgiatheatre.com/

Athens has had its own problems in the recent past with the Wal-Mart corporation. About a year ago, citizens got word that Wal-Mart was considering building one of its uber-stores in downtown Athens. As if it didn’t already have TWO (2) locations in this relatively small town!  My source in Athens tells me things have been quiet lately; the hoopla seems to have died down. Let’s hope it has. Otherwise, Athenians may wish to call upon Steve’s wise & benevolent assistance! Thank you, Steve!

Watch Steve Earle’s video:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QHlj6UmT4cc&feature=youtu.be from http://www.steveearle.com/ The official site of Steve Earle.

And for those of you who are not into amazing alt-country/blues/Americana, don’t forget that Steve Earle has excellent acting chops as well. His character on Treme met an untimely death last season, but you can still get plenty of Steve by watching him on the big screen. Which leads me to….

A MUST-SEE Movie: Leaves of Grass (2009). Directed by Tim Blake Nelson

It’s an oldie (or not);  limited release happened in fall of 2010 and it was also featured at the 2009 Toronto Film Fest. It yielded a perfect score (4 stars out of 4) on the Ebert Scale. I concur, sir. I concur.

Already I’ve seen it, like, 15 times. Can’t get enough of Edward Norton (who plays identical twins), Keri Russell, Susan Sarandon, Richard Dreyfuss, Melanie Lynskey and- of course- Steve Earle. And many, many praises to director Tim Blake Nelson, who also stars. His funny, thoughtful and provocative film sheds new light on something you may have never considered: there are Jewish people in the Dirty South. Shalom, y’all!

An organization I’m glad I checked out:

LA FPI stands for Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative

I became a member of the FPI! So should you. http://www.lafpi.com

Speaking of female playwrights….

A MUST-SEE Play:  How I Learned to Drive. Written by Paula Vogel and directed by Jen Bloom. Presented by the Santa Monica Repertory Theater, in association with the Santa Monica Little Theater.

Saturday, November 17, 2012 from 8pm to 10pm PST

The Santa Monica Little Theater

12420 Santa Monica Blvd. Los Angeles 90025

Tickets: http://www.santamonicarep.org/SantaMonicaRep/Welcome.html

This play won the 1998 Pulitzer Prize. And the complex issue(s)  it presents, namely the story of a (young) female/(older) male friendship which develops over the years into pedophelia, is perhaps even more timely today than when it was written. Fourteen years have passed since the play’s premiere, and women have come a long way toward stronger self-awareness during that time. And I believe there are many men who have come a long way toward understanding what makes us tick. This play will facilitate much needed discussion; hence the evening’s performance will be followed by a panel discussion including the director and various child and family therapists. The topic: the facts and gray areas of childhood sexual abuse and PTSD. Also to be discussed: the rights and responsibilities of theaters and audiences in regards to production, support and attendance of plays with this type of content, which is obviously a ‘hot-button’ issue for many people. Director and therapists will serve as facilitators for audience comments and/or questions.

For more info, visit the Santa Monica Repertory Theater’s website:

http://www.santamonicarep.org/SantaMonicaRep/Welcome.html

You can also watch fellow blogger Cindy Marie Jenkins’ video/blog as she interviews director Jen Bloom and female lead Barbara Jean Urich. It will give you a lot of background information about the play and also shed light on varied audience feedback, some of which may shock you!

http://cindymariejenkins.com/2012/11/15/547/comment-page-1/

Update 9/1/2015- The play How I Learned to Drive features Corey Brill of The Walking Dead, whose character has been given the nickname “Porchdick.” I met him after the play and he is actually a really nice guy, as he will also tell you in this hilarious song he made up about his new moniker…