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September 22, 1994 - Image 14

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The Michigan Daily, 1994-09-22

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6- The Michigan Daily - Weekend etc. - Thursday, September 22, 1994
The next big thing: the scrappy story of the Dictators

By TOM ERLEWINE
Writing in the "New Rolling Stone
Record Guide," critic Dave Marsh
branded the '70s New York rock 'n'
roll band the Dictators as "a new low
- rock songs about wrestling and
contempt, not just for the music and
the audience, but even for themselves.
Witlessly performed." Well, the Dic-
tators did indeed reach a new low, but
it was a glorious one. With their first
album, 1975's "The Dictators Go Girl
Crazy," the band created their own
world out of professional wrestling,
cars, girls, beer, TV and rock 'n' roll.

Not only was the record powered by
relentless, heavy riffs, it was a hilari-
ous parody of rock and all of its ex-
cesses. Even though "Go Girl Crazy"
has earned much critical praise in the
past two decades, it wasn't well-re-
ceived upon its initial release, neither
critically or commercially. Instead, it
has lived on through word-of-mouth
by record collectors and selected rock
journalists. And, nearly 20 years after
its release, the album still sounds ter-
rific.
What makes the Dictators' music
hold up so well over the years is its
complete irreverence. They took noth-
ing seriously. Most rock critics who
believe pop music is a high art form
found the band's utter inanity sacrile-
gious. But the band tapped into the
core of what made great rock 'n' roll
- the music was totally of the mo-
ment and it wasn't concerned what
any of its listeners thought. However,

the band never condescended to the
music, which parodists like the Fugs
did. Instead, they celebrated the con-
tradictions and stupidity of the best
three-minute singles.
Of course, the Dictators didn't
come out of the blue. They were the
brainchild of rock journalist Richard
Meltzer, who gave the band direction
and helped form their singularly de-
mented world view. Originally, the
band was a quartet featuring Adny
Shernoffon lead vocals and bass, lead
guitarist Ross "The Boss"
FUNichello, drummer Stu Boy King
and rhythm guitarist Scott "Top Ten"
Kempner. Before recording their first
album, former roadie Handsome Dick
Manitoba joined the band, singing the
occasional song. With Blue Oyster
Cult producers Sandy Pearlman and
Murray Krugman behind the board,
the Dictators recorded their first al-
bum for Epic Records. The result was
one of the most perverse and hilarious
albums ever released by a major la-
bel.
On the front cover, Handsome
Dick Manitoba, decked out in profes-
sional wrestling gear, deliriously grins
at the camera as he stands in a locker
room; in the back of the room, there's
a poster of the band. On the back,
there are individual pictures of each
member of the band, posed in their
respective "bedrooms." Their walls
are covered with posters, pinups and
photos torn out from magazines; each
member has a prominent poster of
Handsome Dick hanging in their
room. Top Ten is lying on his bed

naked, with a grill covered with hot
dogs placed directly in front of his
crotch. King is semi-naked, covered
with records. All of the photos are the
height of '70s camp culture, before it
was cool to embrace that kind of
kitsch. After all, the Dictators were
living in that era.
No matter how funny and campy
the album art is, the music is even
funnier. With the first track, the Dic-
tators declare that they are "The Next
Big Thing." The only thing is, their
idea of being the next big thing is not
being on the cover of Rolling Stone,
it's being on the cover of TV Guide.
As the band kicks out a primal, heavy
guitar riff, Manitoba doesn't sing, he
gives a performance, stretching out
the words and playing with the sound
of his voice. On "The NextBig Thing,"
the Dictators sketch out the plan of
attack for the rest of the record and
they follow-through on its promise
brilliantly.
The next song on the album is a
version of "I Got You Babe" that is
significantly more enjoyable and fun-
nier than Beavis 'n' Butt-head's duet
with Cher. After that, the Dictators
tread on seemingly dangerous ground
with "Back to Africa" and "Master
Race Rock." The only thing is, the
Dictators should never be taken on
face value. "Back to Africa" is the
story of a heartsick boy who has to go
"back to Africa" to find his girls; it's
sort of the flip-side of the Cadets'
classic "Stranded in the Jungle"
(which the New York Dolls revived
the year before "Go Girl Crazy" was

released). On "Master Race Rock,"
the band deliberately pulls the leg of
their audience, proclaiming that "We
are the members of the master race /
We've got no style and we've got no
taste." And on "Teengenerate," the
band creates a sleazy world of adoles-
cent rock 'n' roll fantasies that serves
as their anthem.
While their version of "I Got You
Babe" is terrific, their take on "Cali-
fornia Sun" is even better. On the
chorus, Manitoba begins substituting
different dance crazes for the "And
I'll shake" line, eventually shouting
out complete gibberish at the end of
the song. And the band replies with a
great big "And I'll ... What?!" Sure,
the whole routine was scripted, but
it's still hysterical.
As "Go Girl Crazy" enters the
home stretch, the Dictators deliver
Manitoba's ultimate statement of pur-
pose, the scathing "Two Tub Man,"
where he spits out the immortal line "I
think Lou Reed is a creep" as the
quintessential school-yard taunt.
"Weekend" serves as a primer for
their masterpiece, the album-closing
"(I Live For) Cars and Girls." Featur-
ing an irresistible harmony-laden,
hook-filled chorus, the song manages
to pay tribute to Beach Boys-style
surf-rock while skewering it and its
audience simultaneously - "Cars,
girls, surfing, beer / Nothing else
matters here."
And with that gloriously trashy
note, the Dictators closed the door on
their moment in the sun. With its
flippant, fun-loving celebration ofpop

culture and, most of all, rock music,
"Go Girl Crazy" was an important
opening shot in the punk revolution
of the late'70s. It was released almost
a full year before the Ramones first
album, which followed the same train
of thought as "Go Girl Crazy," only
with faster rhythms, sharper guitars,
and dumber lyrics.
But the Dictators looked like a
heavy metal version of the Bay City
Rollers, fronted by a crazed profes-
sional wrestler; it wasn't an image
that appealed to the teenybopper or
the hipsters, so they suffered from
record sales that were so low they
made the Velvet Underground look
as popular as the Beatles.
On top of that, King left the band
and the Dictators suffered through a
numerous amount of lineup changes
in the two years between "Go Girl
Crazy" and its follow-up, "Manifest
Destiny," which wasn't even as popu-
lar as their debut. After one more
album, "Bloodbrothers," the band fell
apart, with Top Ten forming the Del-
Lords and Manitoba and Shernoff
forming "Manitoba's Wild King-
dom."
While their other two studio al-
bums have long been out-of-print,
"Go Girl Crazy" has always been in
print, availableaspartof Epic's "Nice
Price" budget line. As well as their
debut, the live album "Fuck 'Em If
They Can't Take A Joke" remains in
print. And that's fitting, because no
other phrase describes everything that
the Dictators were about. Amazingly,
the joke is still funny 20 years later.

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'Women' more than verges on essentiality

By SARAH STEWART
Anyone who has ever made fun of
soap opera characters' exaggerated
troubles, personalities and physical
appearances should treat themselves
to Spanish director Pedro
Almodovar's "Women on the Verge
ofa Nervous Breakdown." This 1988
Spanish comedy has all the makings
of a great daytime drama, except the
farcical humor is never accidental.
"Women" is a crazed day in the

life of Pepa (Carmen Maura), an ac-
tress devastated over the split with

Guillen). Clearly on the verge of a
nervous breakdown, she throws
phones, burns a bed and track's Ivan's
ex-wife, Lucia, all while anxiously
awaiting Ivan's call. She has a one-
track mind, and it leads only to Ivan.
But with the inclusion of Candela
(Julieta Serrano), a girlfriend who
fears arrest because of her Shiite boy-
friend, and a subplot involving Lucia's
insane obsession with Ivan and the
uncertain identity of his newest catch,

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her longtime lover, Ivan (Fernando

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the absurdity of the story soon equals
that of the characters.
Each character has humorous
quirks that never fail to draw atten-
tion. For instance, Ivan's son Carlos
(Antonio Banderas), accidentally dis-
covered by Pepa, awkwardly kisses
Candela whenever they are left by
Pepa. Even though his behavior be-
comes predictable, it remains funny.
Lucia's outlandish wigs and out-
dated '70s garb give her the look that
verifies her insanity. Late in the film,
she is chased on a bike by Pepa's
Mambo cab; in a sustained profile
shot, framing her wild head of hair,
Almodovarcaptures the action, alike-
ness to the Wicked Witch of the West
and the chuckles of his viewers.
The obsessive behavior of Lucia
and her fellow female characters could
be interpreted as stereotyping women
as becoming neurotic when victim-
ized by rejection, but these women
seem to be neurotic regardless of their
circumstances.
Almodovar does not belittle his
characters' problems, but he does
show us that the inevitable glitches in
life can be taken too seriously. Al-
though the characters, including the
men, are basically miserable, even
the most sympathetic viewer will
never feel the need to sympathize.
When Pepa cries, her sorrow is trans-
formed into a joke involving the cab
driver and his lack of eye drops.
Almodovar seeks laughs and not tears.
In creating the wacky, almost sur-
real feel of "Women on the Verge,"
Almodovar ignores no elements of
film. The view from Pepa's terrace
does not pretend to look realistic and
neither does the gang of rollerskating
extras Pepa watches while sitting on a
bench in hopes of finding Ivan.
Like most films that emphasize
the chaos of life, "Women on the
Verge" works itself up to a climactic
conclusion. But unlike most films,
the conclusion hinges on gazpacho.

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