Bring On The Mountain
In 1999, my father passed me an EP and told me to give it a spin. There was nothing out of the ordinary about this: my father has been contributing to my hunger for new music since my birth, raising me on prog rock, metal, blues and anything else that struck him as enjoyable. But there was nothing ordinary about said EP. Marking the end of a “We don’t give a damn about ever making an album” era, Danko Jones’ My Love Is Bold gave the radio stations an infectious single and the band a Juno Award nomination.
This was only the beginning of their journey up the mountain of success, a sprawling adventure spanning continents, endless tours, unexpected choice gigs, a slew of drummers and detached retinas in the name of rock and roll. Not bad for a Film Major and Environmental Studies Major.
Josh and Jason Diamond (The Diamond Brothers collectively) chronicle the journey of Danko Jones in their documentary Bring On The Mountain. Aided by 500 hours of archival footage provided by the band, they give coherency to this somewhat atypical Canadian success story – although, let’s face it: when have Danko Jones ever been typical? Juxtaposing interviews alongside live performances and behind the scenes glimpses into the toll of touring life, Bring On The Mountain may be one of the finest rock band documentaries ever made.
It certainly helps that band members Danko Jones and “JC” John Calabrese are particularly eloquent and intuitively reflective on their career, delivering a clear narrative that is surprisingly positive and yet self-aware. The passion and determination of the duo are apparent throughout, particularly when Danko comments on loving his job and draws an analogy between working in an office tower for someone else to sell chairs versus the life of touring musicians working for themselves instead. The life that bands choose is more difficult than punching a clock 9-5, but the pay-off is sweeter. Despite a slew of drummers moving in and out of the band, JC and Danko never come across as angry or hostile towards them; they speak merely of facts, and take care to compliment each on what he brought to the table.
Class and a tremendous work ethic: these are the tools of the Danko Jones trade, which may surprise those who are familiar with the lusty lyrics permeating their work. Danko addresses these criticisms by noting their lyrics are no more sexist than Otis Redding or perhaps Outkast – “Okay, some Outkast lyrics are sexist,” he admits, “But not Ms. Jackson… I’m not trying to say our stuff is like Ms. Jackson.” These down-to-earth moments are what make Bring On The Mountain particularly stellar, humanizing a larger-than-life persona and grounding him. Almost sheepishly and yet unapologetically, Jones admits that he needs pornographic pictures on hand to get his head into the game for recording vocals, the result being the sense of viewer as trusted friend over for a visit, versus a fan reading a carefully crafted piece of propaganda. It’s another testament to their self-awareness and willingness to tell the complete story.
There is no filler in the documentary, no lame sound bites from enthusiastic former tour mates, no gushing interviews from friends and family. There is simply no need: this is the band’s story, and The Diamond Brothers allow them to tell it. It’s refreshing and far more cohesive as a result. The balance of interview footage, live performance clips and archival interviews and material is pitch-perfect; the viewer is never bored, never confused, and always entertained. If this film chronicles the handbook on success in rock and roll, the film itself should be taken as a how-to handbook on music documentaries.
And what of the subjects, Danko Jones themselves? One can’t help but be impressed by a band that consistently works hard, dominates Europe and has a frontman who nearly goes blind after detaching his own retina with on-stage slaps to the face. More impressive still is the eponymous song that the band refuses to record now, having never managed to bottle its live magic within a studio and accepting they never will. It’s a song, Danko says, that people will simply have to come see them perform to hear – and they do come, in droves, “Because Baby, when you get on top of the mountain, the only place to go is sky high.”
I can’t imagine an act worthier of reaching that peak.
Enjoy the blog? I also write novels in my spare time, heavily marinated in a love of music. Check out my work here!