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"A Band Called Death" Review

People who know nothing about music think punk started in England with the Sex Pistols and The Clash. Those who know a little about music think it started in New York City with the Ramones and the CBGB's crew. Those who really know music and can get past the media's insistence that nothing of merit comes from anywhere between the coasts know that punk's roots started in Michigan with The Stooges and the MC5. However, there was another band that could've laid claim to Founder status...if only anyone had heard of them before 2008 and that is the subject of A Band Called Death.

The trailer below gives the Reader's Digest version of the story: The Hackney brothers - David (guitar), Bobby (drums) and Dannis (bass) - were three black guys growing up in Motown-era Detroit who, inspired by The Who and Alice Cooper, shifted from R&B to what would be considered now to be proto-punk/garage rock. Dubbed Death by David, they literally picked a recording company by throwing a dart at the Yellow Pages and cut a 7-song album that was shopped and rejected by every label, partially because of their raw sound, but mostly because of their gloomy-sounding name. Clive Davis was very interested in taking on the band, but they'd have to change the name. David refused to compromise and that was pretty much that for the band.

The irony is that the name Death wasn't meant to be a downer and when they tried rebranding themselves as The 4th Movement with an overtly Christian theme (so that's where ICP got it from!), they were panned for being a good rock band, but could they keep the preaching to themselves? The brothers moved to Vermont, though David moved back to Detroit and basically drank and smoked himself to death (no pun) from lung cancer in 2000 at age 48. The remaining brothers had been touring as a reggae band and started families and their days as Death remained in their distant past until a copy of their single landed in the hands of Dirtbombs drummer and rock writer Ben Blackwell, who set off a chain of events leading to the release in 2009 of their album on Drag City Records. The part where Bobby's son relates hearing his father's voice on a record being played by a collector pal is a hoot. It also shows that it only takes one person to change fortunes as if Blackwell had just listened to it, but not told anyone, we never would've known about them. (It reminds me of how Clerks and Kevin Smith owe their fame to one man who caught a screening at a NY film festival and recommended it to Sundance's programmers.)

If there is a problem with the story of A Band Called Death it's that as interesting as the long, twisted road to notoriety for the band may be, they weren't influential to anyone because no one saw them to be influenced. The all-black hardcore punk band Bad Brains sounds similar, but they appear to have formed their sound themselves. Unlike Rodriguez, subject of the Oscar-winning doc Searching For Sugar Man (and another Detroit who had to wait 30+ years for fame to knock), who was a huge seller in South Africa (not that he knew about it), Death only became a footnote to music history by a fluke.

While the surviving brothers say they credit David for being true to the Bible verse admonition, "For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" it's hard to see the upside of throwing away a record deal from Clive Davis over a name that was, pardon the pun, commercial death.

Finally, the makers commit a sin way too many other documentaries do in failing to inform us what year things are happening or how old people are. While band dates are fairly well presented, the ages of the band members aren't. 

Score: 6/10. Catch it on cable.

2014 Oscars Livesnark

Another year, more snark, mostly on Twitter. Refresh for updates...
  • If you had Ellen wearing a dress in the pool, what were you thinking?
  • Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto are both wearing white tux jackets, so it appears they'll be serving drinks at the after-party.
  • The Somali guy from Captain Phillips is this year's Hang S. Nygor, except he won't be winning.  
  • Yummy Girl! Short hair looks decent.  
  • Jared Leto wins and dedicates it to his mom and bro first. Shouts out to Ukraine and Venezuela and has to be running long.  
  • Ellen's opening monologue was OK. Missing Seth McFarlane now.  Jim Carrey is scaring me.
  • At the rate of one award per 1/2 hour, they won't be done with the  until sometime Tuesday. Pharrel's wearing his Malcolm McLaren hat.
  • At this rate, I could watch Walking Dead & Girls and only miss 3-4 . Naomi Watts looks like she's auditioning for Young Hillary Story.
  • How does Catching Fire not get nominated for Costumes or Makeup ? How about The Hobbit being snubbed for Hair & Makeup? Lame.
  • Channing Tate-yum comes out to intro contest winners which is the only way he'll be at the . Dude, your Magic Mike bro's gonna win!
  • It's ironic that Kim Novak is out there for animation considering her face is absolutely immobile. Scary  time!
  • Kim Novak is 81. Her face is not.  
  • Frozen wins for Best Animated Feature, a category Pixar's weak Monsters University wasn't even nommed for. Good. Pixar blows now.  
  • Gravity wins Best VFX, filling in the Free Space on your  bingo card. Just as with Life of Pi, if it didn't win, it was riot time.
  • Wouldn't it be awesome if Pharrell's dancers came out behind Karen O and whoever that guy is at the ? Total mood clash!
  • Haven't seen 20 Feet From Stardom yet, but it's interesting to see the  go for a non-political film, like Sugar Man or Motown.
  • Whoa, whoa, Darlene Love; who said you could mention God in front of all these people at the  who think they are?
  • This Ellen wandering the audience stuff at the is the worst Samsung Galaxy Note 3 ad ever. OK, let's see that selfie!
  • Down in front, you're blocking AJ! RT If only Bradley's arm was longer. Best photo ever.
  • Lupita Nyong'o is the first Klingon to win at the . (That's what the apostrophe in her name means, right?)
  • Does anyone think this pizza delivery running gag that's holding up the  show is funny? Lame callback to when Steve Martin did nosh.
  • HELL YEAH! Bill Murray shouts out to Harold Ramis at the . I don't think Gravity should've won Cinematography; it's all VFX, like Pi.
  • Why is Pink singing at the ? Haven't wasted enough time been wasted on Ellen's phone ad wandering? Double-sided tape is the most worn.
  • Does this Oz dress blow the Ellen  pool? Jennifer Garner is wearing Anne Hathaway's old Oscar-hosting dress. Make it swish!
  • Boy, sleep with the director (Baz Luhrman) and win ! Two of them! It appears they're not going to play anyone off for talking long.
  • Once again, the  People Who Died montage isn't backed by Jim Carroll's "People Who Died." It's a gimme, folks! Make it happen!
  • Suck it, Obama!   
  • I wonder who else noticed Sarah Jones, the 27-year-old camera asst who was hit by a train the other day, when the  went to break?
  • AAAIIIEEEEEEE!!!!!! Goldie Hawn, STOP WHAT YOU'RE DOING!!!! Scary  again.
  • Why does Idina Menzel sound like a pitchy American Idol contestant with mushy diction when she sang it so well in the movie? Weird.  
  • Glad Gravity's score won. Really did what music is supposed to do. Steven Price got a handshake from John Williams, who IS Movie Score God.
  • So glad "Let It Go" won over U2's drab pander. And the writers got the EGOT! Cute acceptance speech!  
  • From Undercover Brother to winning an Oscar for 12 Years A Slave. Way to go John Ridley. Whoa! Spike Jonze won?!? Play "Cannonball!"  
  • Sidney Potier is 87. So is his face. Thank God for that. Alfonso Cuaron wins Best Director for his 2nd . Will he turn the hat trick?
  • Cate Blachett's  dress looks like it has fishing lures all over it. Haven't seen Blue Jasmine yet, but Amy Adams was great in Hustle.
  • Matthew McConaughey (yeah, I have to Google the spelling) completes his career overhaul at the . 6 years ago he was in Surfer, Dude.
  • I guess those billboards playing the White Guilt Card - "It's time." - paid off for 12 Years A Slave at the . Guess I'll watch it now
  • Overall, Ellen was pleasant, but bland. The  show lacked surprises and could've been under 3 hours if they'd cut the schtick.
Well, that's a wrap, folks! Thanks for reading. See ya next year.
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