Tuesday, June 1, 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:

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.