NXNE Day 2 (pt 1): Randy Parsons: American Luthier; Dan’s Chelsea Guitars: A Neighborhood Music Store For The Whole World; Persecution Blues: The Battle For The Tote

Day 2, baby!

Given the scorching heat, it was a great day to flash the pass and take in film screenings in the cool and comfy NFB Mediatheque.  Outfitted with my stylish neck accessory, I made myself at home for two screening times, catching four films in all.

I was rather perplexed to see the modest turn-out, and it struck me that perhaps people so strongly associate NXNE with music performances that they fail to take note of the films, particularly since the festival hits full swing tomorrow.  It’s a shame since the curation is strong, with overarching messages and themes to the pieces.  As film programmer Ambrose Roche explained, the more one sees, the more one appreciates the story being told.  In this collection, three films come together in a message that decries corporate greed and government devaluation of the arts and the fear of what has always been and always will be.  Live music cannot and must not be gentrified, automated nor stripped from its home without protest.

Without further ado, here are the first three films I caught today at NXNE.

Randy Parsons: American Luthier

A short film with a sweet and heartfelt message, David Aldrich showcases the story and talents of Randy Parsons, whose hand-crafted guitars are sought after by the likes of Jack White and Jimmy Page.  The viewer journeys with Parsons as he constructs new pieces while he recounts his journey from aspiring guitar player to the dream that clued him into his way to rock star status.

Parsons is very passionate about his art – and it is precisely that – and comments on what is lost in the mass production of the modern world.  His keen ability to learn, commitment to each piece’s precision, and his desire to meet the unique needs of players belie his success.  As he points out, major guitar makers are now slave to their machines, which cannot be recalibrated for unique instruments.  When something artistic becomes mundane in this fashion, it makes us wonder why we’ve gone this route.  Parsons’ secret ingredient in the crafting of his instruments, which I will leave to mystery, only proves Aldrich’s point: sometimes, we need to get back to where our fingerprints adorned the art we created.

Dan’s Chelsea Guitars: A Neighborhood Music Store For Everyone

Second in the line-up, Daniel Ferry’s film takes the viewer on a 30-minute exploration of the power of music to inspire and unite a community, and the impact of capitalism and corporate greed on the social welfare of a neighborhood.  The store at the heart of the piece offers far more than guitars:  as staff and patrons relate, it provides a place to network, learn, find a way to make a living that isn’t soul-sucking, laugh, “say crazy shit”, and perhaps meet a few famous people before a local gig.  It’s a world where face-to-face engagement rules all – owner Dan Courtenay himself expresses that he doesn’t “want to be part of that world” where people text instead of talking” even as he sheepishly admits to texting – and a place where Courtenay hires people based on a vibe, not qualifications.  As one staffer admits, he’d normally slug someone while working retail and believed he’d never last a day, and yet he’s spent five years at the store.  “I’ve never missed a day,” he notes with pride.

That pride and sense of belonging punctuates the emotional last days of Dan’s Chelsea Guitars.  Rising rents have driven out many of the stores and businesses that define the community, and we are witness to the latest loss.  In the end, the viewer is left with an appreciation of small businesses and a longing for the connection of neighbours that was once the norm, not the exception.  Both a time capsule and a call to action,  Dan’s Chelsea Guitars is mandatory viewing for those who treasure the power of music.

Persecution Blues: The Battle For The Tote

It’s a long way from the top if you bury rock and roll.”

Melbourne’s live music scene has always been a thriving one, with countless bands packing in enthusiastic crowds.  For those inclined to enjoy the more punk/hard rock elements, The Tote has been an iconic venue, a place where many budding bands get their first go at the stage.

As usual, along comes the government to spoil things.  Here, new laws regarding drunk debauchery in the streets (primarily tied to nightclubs in the city core) result in any venue with liquor and live music being deemed high risk.  Translation?  Mandatory security, on your tab, and good luck trying to make a profit.  The law completely ignores the actual history of a venue, meaning a problem-free place like The Tote suffers unfairly.  After fighting the decision and struggling to stay afloat, the owner decides to close up on a few days’ notice.

What ensues is a revolution, as the public decries the death of live music.

Persecution Blues follows the venue through its final days and the protests that carry on beyond its proverbial Irish Wake.  Profiled via staff, customers and the bands that know and love the place,  Natalie van den Dungen creates a visual love letter not only to the sticky floors of The Tote, but to the vitality and talent of Melbourne’s music scene.  She takes great care to establish the sense of community created within its walls, juxtaposing the anti-establishment vibe of the music within to the ironically condemning establishment without.  It’s a story of the power of people and their belief in music, and what could be more fitting for any music festival?  Given Toronto’s equally thriving music scene and timely fights to save city programming and beloved haunt The Real Jerk, Persecution Blues is a triumph that hits the heart.  Filled with live footage of bands including The Meanies and The 5678’s (notorious now via their appearance in Kill Bill Vol 1.), it’s a delight to behold.

Enjoy the blog?  I also write novels in my spare time, heavily marinated in a love of music.  Check out my work here!

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