Time Circuits On: The Richard Beymer Interview

I’ve never met anyone quite like Richard Beymer. A fascinating man, for sure, who has never been that forthcoming about a lifetime of fascinating artistic output. A true iconoclast. Ever since he left Hollywood nearly twenty years ago, he’s been working away on his films, his art, and… wouldn’t we love to know.

Back in the summer of 2011, Richard did a private screening of his film at the University of Iowa. Realizing this might be my only chance to shake Richard’s hand, my wife and I made the ten-hour drive on a day’s notice. After an excruciating screening that required some serious editing, a small group stuck around to savage Richard with their critiques. I sat silent, in awe of these people tearing down Richard’s labor of love.

The people scattered away, and Richard and his producer, Rob, were winding up microphone cables and closing up shop. I eked my way toward Richard and stuck out my hand, babbling out some nonsense to the reclusive cult hero. Richard seemed shocked and amused that any lurker remained. And then, I shamelessly asked for a picture. It never happened without photographic evidence, right? Richard recoiled, then relented. This always makes me very uncomfortable, he announced, in his best Ben Horne voice.

making Richard Beymer very uncomfortable

A few years later, I reached out to Richard to see if he’d participate in Reflections: An Oral History of Twin Peaks. An emphatic ‘no’ was returned. A year later, he turned me down again, when I checked to see if his mind had changed. And then, that same afternoon, we ended up talking on the phone for two hours, laying the foundation for an unexpected friendship.

I last spoke with Richard in the summer of 2020. How are you doing? I asked. In the midst of a worldwide pandemic, Richard joyfully expressed, I’m doing absolutely fantastic! Richard’s tone surrounding perhaps his most famous work, West Side Story, has tended toward ambivalence. He did reveal he had visited the set of Steven Spielberg’s upcoming remake, and was delighted with the approach they had taken. Remains to be seen if a cameo is in the cards.

Anyway, hop back in the time machine to the summer of 2014, where Richard and I discussed various chapters of his life and art. This was originally published at braddstudios[dot]com.


Richard Beymer may be best known as Tony in the 1961 Academy Award-winning Best Picture, West Side Story, or perhaps as the sleazy and conflicted Benjamin Horne in Twin Peaks, but Beymer has spent decades off-camera indulging many artistic avenues that encompass sculpting, painting, writing, and directing his own films.

Beymer’s just-released film, It’s a Beautiful World, documents a whirlwind trip to India with renowned director David Lynch. As Lynch explores the roots of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and the origins of Transcendental Meditation (TM), Beymer is there to film it all first-hand in this guerilla-style road trip video diary.

In most other Lynch documentaries, the director is either promoting TM, engaging with fervent followers, or in the midst of the creative process. It’s a Beautiful World stands as an intimate pilgrimage to a distant land, removing Lynch from the mania that follows him elsewhere as he marvels at the roots of TM. Adventure, humor, and drama are woven together by Beymer to create an ultimately touching and humanizing portrait of Lynch.

I spoke with Beymer from his home in Iowa via telephone last week to discuss It’s a Beautiful World, his future projects, and his storied career in the showbiz… so far.

Brad D: So you just released It’s a Beautiful World this week. What spawned your trip to India with David in the first place?

Richard Beymer: David heard that I had made a film on Maharishi’s funeral [The Passing of a Saint]. It’s quite something, if nothing else just to see how Indians have a funeral, you know? But, it was a very spontaneous thing I did. When he passed away, I got on a plane and didn’t know what I would run into. I was told there would be no hotels to stay in. I didn’t have any entree; I just went and I started shooting. I just told myself: “I will get what I want to get.” It was a huge procession where his body was carried through the streets to a special place where they had the cremation and I made sure I was right there in the middle of it; I just pushed my way in. It was so crowded that if you leaned down to pick up a shoe that had come off, you’d just be walked over.

So anyway, I made the film and played it at an art gallery for a month in Fairfield. David heard about it and asked if he could see it and he had great kudos about the film. A few months later, I heard that David was going to India to look at these places where Maharishi had lived, to get ready to make his film about Maharishi. I got a hold of him and said, “David, if no one’s going to be filming you doing what you’re doing, I’d love to go.” He said, “Come on!” [laughs] So I was surprised in a way. They gave me first-class treatment and paid for my trip over, food, and hotels. I thought that was pretty neat. That’s how it came about.

I have never been to India, but would love to go. What are the best and worst parts of traveling there?

Well, you can go [the] backpacker way where you’re not in five-star hotels and they give you a bucket of water and that’s your shower. That’s where I like to stay. If I’m going to be making a film, I want to be in those situations. You’ve got to watch what you eat; when you eat the wrong thing you’re on all fours in a toilet for a while. That’s not too terrific. But on the other hand, [there is] some of the most delicious food I’ve ever had. It is exquisite with all the spices. Here, we put ketchup and hot sauce on things. The subtlety of all sorts of tastes and spices and herbs – it’s a musical potpourri in your mouth. [laughs] You never eat anything that isn’t cooked. You don’t eat salads or things where water has been washed on it from God knows where.

What compelled you to want to document David like this?

I love India and the thought of David Lynch traveling through this ancient civilization seemed like a paradox of some sort, where it would be really interesting to see how they mix. But, as it turns out, I had a fantasy of what David wanted to do and it didn’t quite match. I thought we would see the India that I’m used to seeing. Maharishi wasn’t in five-star hotels, he was down and dirty. [laughs] He walked from one end of India to another. He took buses and things, but he was not driven by a chauffeur. I guess we’ll call it the backpacker’s version! We went to little temples where you see what it’s like, but we didn’t sleep in those places, they were just places we visited during the day.

When they were telling me where I was going to be staying (when I arrived in New Delhi) I asked if I could stay at this place that I usually stay at in a place called Paharganj. It might be described like the [Greenwich] Village in New York. It’s more artisan; things happening like that. They talked to the guy in India who was setting up all of our hotels. He e-mailed back and said, “Oh my God! He can’t stay there! It’s full of drugs and prostitutes.” But it’s a beautiful world with a lot of great people who end up there – people from all over the place like backpackers – just joyous! They thought it was the pits, so I acquiesced and realized we better all stay at the same place, and them not trying to find me in hell. [laughs]

I know you’ve been editing this film quite a while, as I attended an early screening in 2011 and it has changed quite a bit. Tell me about the editing process.

It’s interesting. When we finished shooting, we were at the airport and David said to me, “How much footage did you shoot?” I had a camera where you could use an SD card or a hi-def cassette, so I shot thirty-three hours and he said, “Ouch.” I said, “I will go through the footage and cut out all the shakes and narrow it down for you.”

After I edited every twenty minutes of footage, I would send it to him and he would say, “Thumbs up, looks great.” I think the version you saw was two hours and forty minutes. David at that point gave hints of “Who would want to watch this?” I said, “Are you kidding? There is some great stuff here!” Rob and I went to the Bijou Theater at the University [of Iowa] to screen it, and it ended up being during summer vacation. I really didn’t get the audience I wanted.

As you know, it wasn’t a great success that evening. About halfway through the film, I couldn’t take it any longer. I said, “I just can’t watch this. It’s terrible. This is not happening.” I got up and walked around for twenty minutes. People were disoriented: “Where are we? I don’t get it.” Rob [Wilson, Producer] said, “There’s a film here, there’s other things we can do.” I was hoping that just people talking in the film would indicate where it was all going.

Rob made some great suggestions – we took out some big chunks of things when David was sick and we went out on our own. The movie fell apart when David was off the screen. It started getting tighter and tighter, and I put the narration in to tell people who I am and all that. I also added in a part where Maharishi is very simply talking to Merv Griffin about the TM process and what he was about. It was a whole new opening that introduced everything.

People have asked me about the film, “What’s it all about?” It’s really about watching David Lynch. When David’s at the radio show in the beginning, he reaches down with his hand and he touches this dog. I follow his hand and I just leave it on the dog, this wonderful Golden Retriever who just loves to be petted. And it says so much about David. As he was discussing his career, a whole other part of him was in tune with what was happening around him. To me, it says a lot. The film has a lot of moments like that where you get a sense of a person and what they’re like without a crowd in front of them. There’s adventure, it’s a great background in India, and you’re having fun with him. [Cockney accent] “See what I mean? Know what I’m talking about?”

So, you’ve been making your own films since the sixties. How did you get into filmmaking in the first place?

When I was under contract with 20th Century Fox, I would bring my still photography into the cinematographers and ask them about lighting and I would go up to the editing room and watch them a lot. I was fascinated. They would give me little tasks –not editing – but clean-ups of rolls of film or something. I understood ancient devices like the Movieola and how they worked. Did you ever see a film called Mississippi Burning? About the three boys that were killed?

With Gene Hackman? Yeah, a long time ago.

I was a part of that group where the three boys were killed. There were about a thousand of us that went to Mississippi to register blacks to vote. When I was down there, it was called the “Mississippi Summer Project,” and it was to gather northerners to come down and help with voter registration in something called Freedom Schools. So I went down… and that’s a whole story we can get into another time.

There was an orientation period where we went to a college in the state above Mississippi. It was a black college because the whole thing was [about] non-violent resistance, like Ghandi and all that. So we learned what we were going to get into: not fighting back, all that business. I got there and heard there would be a “Mississippi Winter Project.” I thought, “Weeellllll, it might be nice to make a film of what’s happening this summer so the crew that comes down in the winter will know what they’re getting into.”

I had never made a film before, but I had been making a lot of stills. So I called the photography store that I dealt with and they sent me a wind-up Bolex. It was the workhorse of cameras, sixteen millimeter. All college students used it in film school; it’s what everyone used to make movies in those days. It’s a Swiss-made thing; it’s like a tank. It had a wind-up key that gives you a thirty or forty-five second take. It has three lenses on a turret and it holds a one-hundred foot role of sixteen-millimeter film… so it’s not like a video camera. You’ve got to set your own exposures, focus yourself, wind it up, and you can’t just leave it on forever. And there’s no sound. It makes a lot of [rumbling noise].

I shot it all on this film called Tri-X; it’s a very fast film that works good under low light. He sent me one kind of stock that should cover everything. So I had a little bag; I put it over my shoulder and would pull it out and film things. I came back to LA and got it developed, sat down by myself one day and turned on the projector and I watched about two and a half hours of stuff. I was thrilled. It looked good! So I spent the next nine months with a Movieola editing machine and created soundtracks and made this film.

A few years ago, I read your book Impostor. It is quite a piece of work, it is so unique and ambitious and I think it would translate really well to the screen, especially in the vein of something like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Have you ever entertained that idea?

I think I’m the only one that could pull that off, but it’s nice of you to ask. I think in the beginning of the book I said, “These pages will have to serve as a screen,” because I don’t have the money to pull it off. Maybe it could be one of those Kickstarter things if there was enough interest. I would like to offer an e-book version sometime soon, though.

You talked about walking out of the screening of your film a few years ago, but I’ve heard that you actually walked out of the theatre the first time you saw West Side Story. Is that true?

I didn’t walk out. I crawled out. I tend to walk out of my films, I guess. [laughs] I was in Paris finishing a film called The Longest Day, and they were having a premiere in London – a command royal performance where you meet the Queen. She comes in and bla-bla-bla, tuxedos, the whole thing. I hadn’t seen the film; I hadn’t seen anything. Now, the rule is when you’re at a command performance, [elegantly] “You don’t get up and leave until the Queen leaves, so please do all your peeing before you sit down, because those are the rules.”

So I was at the screening, and it was like watching a young actor who probably could have been very good, but became better later in his life (and really enjoyed it). But at that point, it would have been great if this young actor had done summer stock, small parts here and there, and really got into his craft. I was too raw for that, to really give justice to that role.

I think a lot of people would disagree with you there. I mean, I’ve never heard much criticism toward you in that film.

I think what came through – what works – is there’s a certain innocence to life, a romantic ideal of life. But most actors, they do off-off-Broadway and little plays and summer stock and you get your craft together – you study. There were many times when I was totally confused how to play the scene. I asked the director and he gave me no help; he gave me nothing. He’d say, “Well, pick up the pace.” I knew that something was missing. I could feel that I wasn’t really on it, you know? [laughs] It had more depth than I was giving it.

So decades removed, you still feel that way?

I had a lot to learn. I couldn’t do it physically now, but boy, I’d like to try that one again. In the artistic process – particularly for actors – you learn how to go for stuff and make mistakes. You can do that in a smaller venue, but I was doing it in Cinemascope. So when I was in the theater and seeing myself, I wasn’t seeing the fantasy of what I thought I was doing. It was a bit forced. At the time, it was just embarrassing. As I said, you’re not allowed to walk out on the Queen. I was sitting on the aisle, so I inched down to the floor and crawled up the aisle to the door. I think I spent the rest of the movie sitting in the men’s room. [laughs]

What draws you to Iowa now? Why did you leave the West Coast?

I got kicked out [of Hollywood]. Everything started falling apart. [laughs] Don’t you find that sometimes in life, everything is piling up and wonderful and you don’t even have to go after it? And sometimes, after a while, it equally just crumbles. Something says, “This is over, quit hanging on.” My friend got me connected with some agent in the valley. He wore a panama hat and a white suit from the fifties. He had pictures of fifties stars all over his walls. He didn’t have a cell phone, he didn’t have a computer… you had to fax him… I sat in that office and he said, “Yeah, we can handle you.” I’m sitting there in this room with all these old stars on the wall and I’m thinking, “My God. This is what happened to me? There’s a signal here, Richard. Someone is trying to say something.” [laughs]

I had this place in this very wonderful old thirties apartment house. The city condemned it because the wiring was so old and the plumbing was so bad. [laughs] In the meantime, I had been coming back to Iowa and I had met people here and I was writing with my friend Rudy. Somewhere in 1995 or so I bought some land and a little cabin and I would come back to that. It was just a series of events. My parents died, my career died… my apartment died, my agent died! [laughs] A lot of signs out there: “Riicchaaard!”

What was really calling me was a beautiful place to live. I was delighted to get out of the traffic and the whole scene in L.A. To be perfectly frank with you, I haven’t been this creative in my whole life. The paintings I’m doing, the explorations with found art, the films I’m making – it’s just remarkable. I’m very pleased. With the internet you can do anything from anywhere and I’ve got a film coming out that I think a lot of people will like.

This is my final question. What is next for Richard Beymer?

I have been making a film, I started it in ’91, I think. Maybe ’92. Somewhere in the eighties, when video cameras got relatively small, I started filming it. I didn’t realize what I was doing, then it became this thing I was always doing. I was filming my life – where most people write a journal or diary – I was filming everything. I wouldn’t go anywhere without my camera. I had a little bag and if I went to the grocery store, I took the camera because I didn’t know what was going to happen and I wanted to capture it. It became an obsession for about close to fifteen or twenty years. If I was still doing that, I’d be bugging the phone right now.

There is a TM center here in Fairfield, Iowa, so I would come here for two or three weeks and cool out. During one of my adventures here in the nineties, I was introduced to Rudy Wilson, who had written a book called The Red Truck. I liked him when I met him. He was real, charismatic, a rapper – but not in the musical sense. I said, “I really like your book, let’s make a movie out of this.” So we tried to write a script. Since I was in this mode of always filming my life, I would film our writing conversations. I would put the camera on a tripod and we would talk and talk and talk.

I’ve only met two people in my life that are so charismatic, who I found so interesting to watch. Even if they were just staring out a window, they just pull you in. One is David Lynch, and the other person is Rudy. He’s just an interesting human being. In 2001 or so I had this idea  – I could put together Rudy’s life along with us writing his film that we never finished, and I could work it all together into some sort of a narrative.

I’ve got a lot of stuff on Rudy and it has gone to some straaange places. We’ve got all this incredible footage on him. What I want to do is put it all together… and with my life too, because I’m introduced to it in a very interesting way, also.

We never finished it, but we’re filming the scenes that we actually wrote together. That’s what I’ve been filming for the last year and a half. Rudy and I appear in the 4:3 format, but when you cut to what we’re talking about, we’re in 16:9 format, hi-def. So it’s like “Whoom!” We’re into the movie. I’ve got footage on him as of a few months ago. We actually see someone age twenty years in this film.


It’s a Beautiful World does not seem to be streaming anywhere anymore, but it’s a pretty good idea to pick up a copy of Richard’s unauthorized auto-biography Impostor: Or Whatever Happened to Richard Beymer? at Amazon.

Daniel Johnston – 1990

Why do we even listen to music? For inspiration, relaxation, celebration. To remember, to mourn, to laugh, to honor, to dance. To cut loose. To peep in on someone’s darkest, most desperate, most vulnerable feelings that have been recorded and not feel so alone. None of these sacred rituals cover the experience of listening to Daniel Johnston’s 1990. This record transcends any notion of mass marketed music, then transports the listener to another dimension. The spirit world. Each track demands you to hold Johnston’s hand in order to pass the threshold.

Johnston spent much of the eighties pouring his heart and soul into homemade recordings, documenting his heartbreak, his fantasies, and his disappointments for anyone willing to listen. Johnson wasn’t making music, he was opening his veins onto cassette tapes. Strangers on the street would receive unique masters because Johnston didn’t know how to dub copies. A cult of supporters amassed, and eventually pushed this outsider artist working at a McDonald’s in Austin, Texas, to the apex of eighties relevance: an appearance on MTV.

1990 provided the opportunity for Johnston to leave behind the fuzzy boombox recordings and explore his muses within the confines of a real studio in New York City. The opening track “Devil Town” consists of only Johnston’s lisp dashed with reverb. Hell on earth materializes in the soft warble. All of Johnston’s friends are vampires. Turns out, he is one too. Johnston doesn’t seem too upset about it, with his vocal delivery carrying an air of acceptance. A smile might be cracking as he serenades the microphone. 

Johnston’s own private hellscape keeps billowing outward with “Spirit World Rising.” As Johnston strums a lone guitar, his home state of Texas turns into hell. The devil has Texas. Johnston later claims the devil is defeated, but it sure doesn’t sound like it. On “Lord Give Me Hope,” Johnston sings as if he is doing everything he possibly can to keep up with the piano, all while paying penance for his sins. Johnston abandons any sense of self-deprecating humor he once mastered in songs like “Story of an Artist,” and also shuns familiar characters like Joe the Boxer and Casper the Friendly Ghost who frequented prior recordings. Johnston’s very soul is on the line.

Much like Johnston’s unhinged creativity, 1990 can’t be contained within a studio, drifting into several live performances that blast from the stage like a fire hydrant.

Johnston cranks his playful charm to ten on “Tears Stupid Tears,” with a crowd cheering him on as he recounts his shortcomings. He lulls the crowd with a playful verse: How could you know that’s where the wind blows? / Out to the wind, that’s where my love goes. Later, Johnston drops the profound punchline: I was born in the body and right from the start / Those tears, stupid tears, been tearing us apart.

“Don’t Play Cards with Satan” finds Johnston impersonating a Pentecostal preacher making his case to the atheists and agnostics of the world. Johnston stages a haunting scene, softly singing about hearing the devil cry in the woods, followed by the vision of his own heart laying black with blood. Did I ever stop and tell you, I am a desperate man? he asks the crowd. Bedroom folk music soon explodes into fire and brimstone. A shaky, uncertain guitar riff dissolves into the ether, and Johnston screams out “Satan!” three times to end the song. You might think Lucifer himself is on stage, breathing down Johnston’s neck.

The moment Johnston quits screaming at the devil, an updated recording of his defining ballad, “True Love Will Find You in the End” begins. This tonal shift is either a dash of comedy or a deep breath to recover from what has preceded. The track remains an essential entry in the Great American songbook, even if the definitive version had already been released six years prior on Retired Boxer (1984). The original version portrays a fragile soul in a closet, singing to themself, crafting their own working class version of “I Will Survive.” Johnston simply recorded a perfect version of a perfect song, setting a standard that no other take could surpass.

Always in the shadow of “True Love” is one of Johnston’s most gorgeous compositions in “Some Things Last a Long Time.” Four shining piano chords lilt in the breeze on a summer day that stretches into twilight. Johnston reflects on a life of undying devotion in lieu of romance, oblivious to any other concern. Your picture is still on my wall, attests Johnston, the colors are bright as ever… some things last a life time. Johnston sounds blissfully lost in this moment, content to live in the key of C and unrequited love for as long as he can. Safe and sound, far away from “Devil Town.”

Johnston hams it up on a thunderous cover of the Beatles’ “Got to Get You Into My Life,” slamming the low register of a piano and forging a crude tribute to the Magical Mystery Tour highlight. 1990 is full of moments that haunt and disturb, but here Johnston is having fun, singing with unfettered glee, holding tight to one of his trademarks – chasing the unattainable girl.

The studio walls melt away for good by the end of 1990, leaving Johnston in the big, bad world armed with nothing but a guitar. “With feeling! It’s gonna happen!” he shouts at a captive crowd. “It happens everyday. Millions and millions of people have died. You too will die.” Not exactly what you plan on hearing while out on the town. Johnston wants his audience to sing along with him: Funeral home, funeral home. Goin’ to that funeral home. Got me a coffin, shiny and black. I’m goin to the funeral and I’m never comin’ back. The spectators snicker and oblige, lifting up this dire nursery rhyme. Johnston keeps banging on an acoustic that can’t stay in tune. “Louder!” he commands mid-verse. Not content, the singer demands another round, another moment to relish in the spotlight. The crowd audibly gasps, with one spectator laughing out, “I can’t.” 

A sense of existential dread pervades 1990, and Johnston attempts to exorcise the demons at the albums close, leading a church congregation through the gospel hymn “Softly and Tenderly.” Babies scream while pious worshipers envision Jesus calling home the sinners. Johnston, safe from the vampires and the spirit world, can rest easy in good company, under God’s roof. 

1990 lies in the middle of Johnston’s catalog in a precarious position. The warm tones of his home recordings are replaced with a larger sound, with Johnston’s dreams and desperation laid bare for all to listen. Freed from his work shifts at McDonald’s, emancipated from his parents’ basement, then let loose into the streets of New York – fire walks with Johnston wherever he goes throughout 1990.

Time Circuits On: Matt Sharp Interview Pt. 1

Let’s go back in time to late-2015 and revisit one of my favorite interviews I’ve ever conducted, thought to be lost and gone forever! Matt Sharp joined me for a ninety-minute conversation on my former podcast, covering nearly every chapter of his life in music so far. He is the leader of the power-pop rock group The Rentals, the founding bassist of Weezer (1992-’98), and also released an eponymous acoustic record in 2004. Don’t miss out on the stellar 2020 Rentals record, Q36.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this interview next week. Pssst – this was a backup raw recording, so please forgive the sub-par quality. Better than nothin’!


Directed by Janicza Bravo

Written by Janicza Bravo and Jeremy O. Harris

Envision the opposite of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. An enterprising black girl working a long graveyard shift with a shady-ass bitch she really don’t fuck with. An overbearing boyfriend is squished into the backseat, and the principal hoping to rue the day is a pimp with a gun. We ain’t singin’ Wayne Newton’s “Danke Schoene,” we rappin’ Migos’ “Hannah Montana.” No Ferrari to get around town, just a pair of crystal clear stripper heels. Walk a mile in those shoes, then bask in the glory of @zola.

People used to turn blogs into books, or a podcast into a Netflix series. Now, we’ve hit the moment in our digital culture where reddit threads become feature films. @zola sets a golden standard that any ensuing tumblr or twitter feed will have to top. Fans of the initial Zola phenomenon will be curious to see how the action plays out on a grand scale, while the uninitiated can relish in a blindfolded backflip into the subterranean grind of sex work.

Many films that have been in the can since 2020 have had a hasty streaming release in the wake of covid-19, but the creators behind @zola remained steadfast that this piece of cinema must be consumed first by a room full of people sharing in a communal experience. Akin to The Crying Game or Pulp Fiction, Zola breaks a cherry, inviting mixed company to congregate at the neighborhood arthouse and experience an urban nightmare of vice, terror, and an existential fear of what the fuck is coming next? 

Zola (Taylour Paige) waits tables at a greasy spoon. Breasts like fuji apples blossom out of her cowgirl top, raking in more tips and attention than her customer service ever will. Stefani (Riley Keough) takes immediate notice, with her sugar daddy sitting across the booth. Zola breaks the fourth wall to ask, You wanna hear a story about how me and this bitch here fell out? It’s kinda long but it’s full of suspense. Stefani’s a stripper and knows she can make some money with this honey. 

You dance? 

After exchanging numbers, Stefani invites Zola on a road trip to Tampa where they can make thousands of bucks in one night. Zola agrees, sleeps with her boyfriend to calm his nerves, then meets up with Stefani. Her boyfriend Derrek (Nicholas Braun) and a different sugar daddy, X (Colman Domingo), are in tow. A tiktok sing-a-long busts out of the sunroof and lights the fuse for an ensuing dumpster fire blazing down the interstate, southward to oblivion.

A cabal of strippers, ugly penises, and gangbangers await in Tampa. 

The night ahead is blessed by the mother superior stripper (Ts Madison) in one of the more memorable onscreen prayers ever intoned. The good God above defers. Zola is more annoyed than pissed when pole dancing is a bust, and Stefani turns out to be a low-rent prostitute. Derrek waits at a fleabag motel, wondering where his girlfriend is, and befriends a loitering local. X is revealed as Stefani’s pimp. Only when Zola and Stefani are left on their own in a two-star hotel room with a line of men waiting outside does the story and its titular protagonist reveal themselves. Zola discovers that X is only charging $500 per head, and finally loses her cool with Stefani. Pussy is worth thousands! Zola reminds her. The door opens, paying customers enter, and the fourth wall comes down again: When they start fuckin, it was gross.

Best to not know anything else before experiencing the twisted magnificence of @zola for yourself.

The @zola aesthetic lingers in dark rooms and dirty streets, washed and tye-dyed in neon lights and the skinny, squirrelly fonts of the 1980s. Director Janicza Bravo captures the spectacle through an old iPhone lens clouded by crack smoke. The film and its characters persist and manage to glow through the grime. Mica Levi’s original score underpins these images with vibraphones, harps, and arpeggiators flying in and out of each other. The sparse booms and claps of an 808 come and go, tapping along to a lonely glockenspiel. Zola never fails to catch the beat, snatch Stefani’s weave, then drag her through Tampa.

Amongst all the underworld angst and treachery, Nicholas Braun provides comedic relief at every turn. If you’re a fan of his work as the hapless Greg in HBO’s Succession, @zola is required viewing. Taylour Paige and Riley Keough forge a tempestuous sisterhood and blur the lines between satire and tragedy, friends and enemies, sex and survival. This shared experience harkens laughter, fear, and desperation that grows by the minute. As the ferocious X, Colman Domingo harnesses the threat of every other man on the screen, lusting and looking to swallow up Zola and Stefani. Sophie Hall rounds out the cast as the silent stooge Baybe, stealing every scene she enters.

@zola runs a mere eighty-six minutes, barely pausing for a breath, leaving a sense of longing for just one more lap dance. Zola and Stefani exist within a vacuum. Their journeys to the here and now remain untold, with @zola providing just a brief peek through the glory hole at their reality. Their time is precious and it’s always running out. Whether you stream @zola from your couch, or you watch it in a room full of strangers squirming in their seat – the film challenges the viewer to feel every twinge of Zola’s pain, absorb every drop of her wisdom, and cheer on her every instance of courage. 

Uncomfortable, exhilarating, and downright charming – it’s impossible to look away from this dusty gem. Even barbarians will blush.

@zola is now in theaters and streaming via multiple platforms.

The War on Drugs release new single, announce new album

The War on Drugs have announced I Don’t Live Here Anymore, their first studio album since 2017’s A Deeper Understanding. Ahead of the new album’s release on October 29, the band has shared the first track, “Living Proof.”

Cover art for the last couple of War on Drugs records has consisted of singer/songwriter Adam Granduciel’s profile brooding and shuttered in a room, surrounded by shadows ready to eat him alive. On the just-released album cover for I Don’t Live Here Anymore, a man is trotting through snow, carrying a guitar and a latte. A face is right out of frame, likely smiling and winking at a camera. Someone is on the move, and they aren’t mad about it.

On the splendid live album, Live Drugs (2020), and his preceding studio work of the 2010s, Granduciel gazes into the horizon, then plots sweeping journeys toward the beyond with heartland roots rock soaked in latter-day Pink Floyd sensibilities. Electric guitars and synths are topped with pianos carrying the warm tone of 1980’s Bruce Hornsby. A harmonica always waits in the wings to dig into the earth and recall simpler times. Drums both acoustic and programmed set to blast at any moment. Upon this flotilla of machinery, Granduciel sings his ass off in between oceans of hazy feedback. These Springsteen-ish anthems rise out of the abyss to shake a fist at a storming sky, then return to the shimmering ether.

In this first taste of new material, Granduciel retreats and explores only the air near his fingers.

“Living Proof” clicks off every gadget and distortion pedal, then unplugs all but one amplifier. A hushed acoustic guitar dashes alone through a familiar street, hopeful to meet a friend. A piano joins its side, plucking lonely notes to every other chord. Granduciel sings of all that’s lost and can’t be recovered, knowing that all the change in his neighborhood mirrors the same change in his own reflection: I’ve been to the place that you’ve tried escaping / I can’t recall what I believe in / I’m always changing / Love overflowing.

The song blazes a singular path with one long verse, abandoning the War on Drugs’ typical ascent to the edge of a cliff, leading to an epic beat drop that leaps into the unknown. “Living Proof” reaches its hands toward the sky and spreads the fingers, absorbing sunshine, embracing a crooked mile that has no climax. Bass and drums don’t kick in until the very last line, But I’m risin’, and I’m damaged / Oh, rising’… A lonesome electric guitar starts looking to poke a hole in time, picking around notes that begin to bleed into a familiar wash of reverb. Listeners will have to wait a little bit longer to know exactly what’s on the other side.

This first taste of I Don’t Live Here Anymore is a meditation and acceptance of the change brought by each new day. For the first time in a long time, the War on Drugs are content to enjoy the setting sun instead of furiously chasing it into tomorrow.

Pre-order the record today at this link!

CHVRCHES – How Not to Drown (feat. Robert Smith)

The Glasgow electro-pop trio CHVRCHES are back with pomp and circumstance, touting their fourth album, Screen Violence, due August 27.

Screen Violence

The lead single “How Not to Drown” is bundled with a high-profile guest spot, featuring The Cure’s Robert Smith. After a wave of synths, CHVRCHES ditch their trusted arpeggiator and lay down a rhythm of drums and piano for vocalist Lauren Mayberry to surf over. “I’m writing a book on how to stay conscious when you drown,” she attests. Mayberry has never held back in her delivery, inimitably emoting like Talk Talk’s Mark Hollis, daring anyone to mimic her without embarrassing themselves. Like most CHVRCHES anthems, the verse climbs into the sky with the chorus, “Tell me how it’s better when the sun goes down.”

Robert Smith takes over the second verse, writing his own chapter for when his lover is dug up from the ground. Smith refuses to go over the top here, remaining in neutral with a deadpan delivery. The drama that Smith is known for in The Cure remains shackled behind a thick attic door, with pounding from the other side mostly muted. Smith’s voice stays buried deep in the chorus mix, refusing to break through and preventing one of CHVRCHES’ most memorable choruses from reaching another level of affect.

CHVRCHES never strays from their dependable formula of emo-synth with “How Not to Drown.” Smith rides shotgun to Mayberry’s vocals for rest of the song, echoing her verses. Smith finishes off the song by himself, wounded, refusing to give up on love, ultimately winding down to a whisper. With the reigning godfather of goth rock in tow, CHVRCHES emerge from the clouds of the last year-and-a-half with a shotgun blast of sugary synth rock, destined to spray from a festival stage soon.

MIA: Bandolé

Walk with me, back to 1998. A girl on a church trip had a boombox, which made her the de facto DJ for the weekend. The usual suspects of Bone-Thugs-n-Harmony, Nirvana, and Sublime cycled through, until an unfamiliar song hit everyone’s ears. In a scene reminiscent of High Fidelity, even the uptight adults seemed to perk up and nod their head to the groove. A slow acoustic intro of a girl and a guy chanting call-and-response odes to “drinking cold beer” “down in the valley” quickly broke loose into an upbeat verse, depicting a peaceful day in mother nature that required alcohol. The chorus of “River Cold Beer” kept hitting us captive listeners, charming us into a chipper mood. The track immediately felt both familiar and unforgettable — infectious enough to chart on the radio with enough publicity and word of mouth. I casually asked my friend who this band was after the fact, and later secured a CD-R with “Bandolé” scribbled on it.

Bandolé checked every box for fun folk rock of the era. Every other song reached into tomorrow, celebrating life, refusing to look back on one misgiving. The acoustic pop sensibilities of Dave Matthews and the drum circle rhythms of Rusted Root were dashed with some noodling riffs reminiscent of Phish, conjuring all the fun hippy vibes of the time. I don’t know how my friend got this music or where it came from — I’m just glad I ripped the CD-R to my hard drive, where I’ve managed to harvest the mp3s over multiple computers ever since. I’m even uncertain of the song titles, having to have named them myself from the lyrics. 

Aside from a couple of people on reddit trying to figure out more about Bandolé, who was in the group — or if they made any more music — there’s absolutely nothing on the internet offering any reliable intel on Bandolé. 

When I first got a computer in the late-nineties, I attempted to find more information about Bandolé, and I remember finding an advertisement for a live show in Athens, Georgia. Did you ever listen to Bandolé? Do you have any live recordings of this band? Were you friends with any of the people in this recording? I’d love to know! I’ve shared “River Cold Beer” above in efforts to find whoever recorded it, tell them how much I’ve enjoyed their music over the years, and hopefully get more of Bandolé’s music to the ears of the masses!

Beulah fans, rejoice!

It has been ten years, a full decade, since former Beulah frontman Miles Kurosky released his debut solo LP The Desert of Shallow Effects. After a brief tour to promote the album, Kurosky disappeared off the face of the earth. Until yesterday when producer and former Beulah bassist Eli Crews casually dropped a stunning update on his personal Facebook account: “Further work on the new Miles Kurosky record.” Pics or it didn’t happen, you say? Welp, Crews posted this photo of Kurosky strumming an acoustic guitar, cozy in jeans and house slippers, surrounded by dusty amps and vintage keyboards.


photo by Eli Crews

Who knows when Kurosky’s second solo LP will find its way to your phone/turntable, but now is the time to officially get excited for more Miles in our life. Talk about long over due.

cindygod – demos

Andy Rauworth and Craig Nice, for better or worse, ’til death do them part, are a case study of the best and the shittiest aspects of the last decade’s music industry. The pair have been friends since childhood and made music together under a number of guises — making a splash on the indie scene in 2010 as Gauntlet Hair, then calling it quits and disappearing into the mist of 2013. All has been quiet, until now. With no label behind them, the duo are officially back as cindygod, self-releasing the new EP demos.

But before we go forward, we must go back.

One aimless night in 2010, I was driving my car, flipping through XM satellite radio channels. “I was Thinking…” by Gauntlet Hair stopped the spinning dial. Arena-ready beats and a sky-high guitar riff ran hypnotic circles around each other. A lone voice haunted the proceedings, echoing from the bottom of what sounded like a dank, abandoned wishing well. I still have no idea what the lyrics are about, and I don’t want to ruin the mystery by looking them up. I knew one thing that night – I loved whatever I was hearing.

Nothing about Gauntlet Hair has been so immediate since.

A self-titled debut followed soon after in 2011. The record was shiny and waxy, a board of finely grained wood set to surf the tide of bro-jam that Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion spawned in 2009. Guitarist and singer Andy Rauworth even channeled both ANCO vocalists, carrying the hyper nasality of Avey Tare and the sunny tenor of Panda Bear. Craig Nice was on the drums, providing a sonic boom over and under the clipping guitars. The band didn’t include the warmly-received single “I Was Thinking…” on the release, indicating a swagger and confidence that they didn’t need it. 

There is an inherent positivity in Gauntlet Hair’s debut album. If Rauworth is ever pissed off, dejected, or heartbroken, I can’t tell. Every channel in the mix feels like it is reaching for a higher purpose, the next step, or maybe a dystopian riff on “Good Vibrations.” Not until the last track, “Shout in Tongues,” can I understand Rauworth when he chants, “I want a child who breaks the rules, goes to school, and then gets the fuck out.” The shadowy image of a clothed man jumping into a swimming pool on the album cover spoke volumes.

We’re having fun now.

The hooks on Gauntlet Hair are tight, the melodies infallible, and while the record didn’t traverse the zeitgeist as I thought it might, it was enough to warrant the follow-up record Stills in 2013. Rauworth and Nice trashed their prior formula: the vocals more crisp and pronounced. The guitar was fighting for its aural space instead of obliterating it. The drums were still cranked to eleven, but in more quantized, robotic patterns. Two lead singles, “Human Nature” and “Bad Apple” had slow and sexy feels that were previously nowhere to be found. The melodic mission of the band remained true, striving for pop perfection. Instead of making a splash on the album cover, a baby doll was blindfolded this time. 

Everything was retracting.

More than the music on Stills, which I loved, the music carried another brand of desperation in my ears. A couple of weeks before Stills dropped, Nice tweeted, “Please BUY our album this time. I know it’s super easy to get for free but cmon… being broke all the time makes this infinitely harder.” Other tweets begged for places to crash while on tour. Two guys were making music that I absolutely adored, and yet were living hand to mouth.

A week or two later, the band called it quits and canceled a tour opening for Surfer Blood. Without any solid explanation, Rauworth and Nice vanished into the shadows of Denver, Colorado. The band’s self-mythology painted Rauworth and Nice as best friends who only wanted to make music together — and this is no bullshit. The disintegration of Gauntlet Hair didn’t break their brotherly bond. I had cornered both of them online in 2016 for a joint interview on my now-defunct podcast. The two were still roommates, working in bars and thrift stores, and apparently not releasing any new music anytime soon. It was a bitter feeling I carried about so many other bands over the years — Beulah, Rich Creamy Paint, Blue Merle, the list goes on — artists I loved that should be cashing in, not living in obscurity. The interview never materialized, and I kept wondering why the hell these two talented friends couldn’t just give the world some music and live off the fruits.

Three years later and better than never, we can all spin some new tracks from Rauworth and Nice. Further expanding the sound palette and distinguishing cindygod from Gauntlet Hair is bassist Anton Krueger and Eamonn Wilcox on guitar.


The title alone, demos, indicates a group of unfinished songs, lacking polish, but feels more like a proper evolution from Stills. No song is content to sit still, expounding on every sound that came before in Gauntlet Hair. The beats are faster, the white noise more aggressive, and Rauworth’s voice still emitting from a subterranean void. Each element invites the listener to wonder what message is presented. Anyone familiar with the backstory of the band can only guess they’re just glad to be back doing this.

In the first track, “Gosh,” gothic leanings of The Cure collide with early-Nine Inch Nails aggro-pop. Drums, buzz-sawing synths, and guitars all fighting for their place. Then the noise fades, leaving only a beat and the vocals to wind around the other. Every channel in the mix then comes back to life, sprinting to the song’s finish. “Disown” is a more mellow brand of thrash, leaning on airy synth pads and breakbeats, before resurrecting Rauworth’s guitar during the back half of the song.

Rauworth recently told Stereogum that demos comprises the first songs that were written post-Gauntlet Hair, an attempt to see if that dormant musical spirit could be prolonged. With that preface, the songs carry a literal fight for life. Instead of reaching for the sky a la Gauntlet Hair’s debut, cindygod’s demos goes wherever it may roam, changing tempos, dropping out, and fading in. “Rabbit” begins as one rolling drum beat and collects individual sounds along its way. Just like in Stop Making Sense, it all builds to an apocalyptic anthem.

More sounds of the eighties are turned on their heads during “711” and “DD-11,” then covered with the ashes of Gauntlet Hair. The songs on demos began as a seance, and seem to have resurrected an old friend into a new body, right before our very ears.

It remains to be seen if Rauworth and Nice are getting certain songs out of the way before a proper cindygod album, or if larger and louder versions of demos will comprise a future LP. Either way, fans of Gauntlet Hair have something to finally celebrate in this new year. You won’t find demos on Spotify or Apple Music, only direct from the artists via bandcamp, on wax or digital download.

Please support independent music, and please give a warm welcome to cindygod.

Beastie Down, Part 6: Punky Reggae Party

Nooowwww, here’s a little story I got ta tell about three bad… wait. Scratch that.

King Ad-rock was lying in “Paul Revere.” There wasn’t once three. There were four. Sing along to it all you want, but here’s how it really went. The Beastie Boys formed on MCA Adam Yauch’s seventeenth birthday in August of 1981. Yauch held bass duties, Mike D was on lead vocals, John Berry was on guitar, and Kate Schellenbach was on drums. Teenagers banging out chords and screaming over them, as they always will. A clever acronym for B.E.A.S.T.I.E. turned out to be a helluva lot more than a juvenile joke. It was the guiding mantra for the band for the next thirty years.

Boys Entering Anarchistic States Towards Internal Excellence.

Anarchy did reign, at least creatively. The foursome didn’t last, but the name and modus operandi did. Berry got hooked on drugs and quit the band in 1982, and a sixteen-year-old Adam Horovitz was waiting in the wings to replace him. Horovitz played guitar and had his own band, The Young and the Useless, and joined the ranks, immediately shaking up the formula.

By now, the Beasties had released one hardcore EP, Polly Wog Stew, but the rich, creamy musical palette smeared across the city blocks of New York was drawing the band toward hip hop and reggae. Instead of Bad Brains, the Beastie Boys wanted to be the white man’s Treacherous Three. As Horovitz tells it, he went to the guitar shop one day with an envelope of money, and instead of a Rickenbacker, bought a drum machine. The fork was in the road, and he took it.

With Horovitz’s new toy, the Beastie Boys forsook hardcore music and made a song that is as unclassifiable as much as their catalog. It wasn’t hip hop. Not rock n’ roll. Not like anything I’ve ever heard. It was called “Cooky Puss.” More like a squirt of jism; an embryonic cluster of cells holding the DNA of everything the Beastie Boys would produce afterward. A silly, catchy, offensive inside joke — worthy of being examined endlessly. A breakbeat plays throughout. There’s no rapping, just bored teenagers dialing up a Carvel ice cream parlor, harassing the person at the other end of the line and trying to find “Cooky Puss.” 

The beat doesn’t sound like a Roland TR-808, or any other notable synthesizer. The four-note riff that plays on a loop might be a guitar, might be a keyboard. (Beastie Boys Book confirms this is actually Yauch playing bass!) There isn’t even a chorus. Anarchy reigns throughout with samples of Steve Martin, and the prior Beastie releases “Transit Cop” and “Beastie Boys” chopped up and mixed in. When a record starts scratching, it sounds as if a teenager has gotten a hold of a turntable for the first time — eager, naive, oblivious as to what might happen to move the needle back and forth in the groove.

“Cooky Puss” is a record that only could have been made by kids with nothing to lose. I can picture them all laughing their asses off as they put the song together, entirely not caring about what the world at large would think of it. At least they were amused, and so goes much of the three-decade story of the Beastie Boys.

After “Cooky Puss” was released, Schellenbach was kicked out of the band, right as the three about-to-be emcees befriended one Rick Rubin. Rubin was digging “Cooky Puss” and cozied up to the band, and began producing their records and deejaying their gigs. Epic feature films couldn’t properly dramatize the next string of developments, and the scope of their impact forevermore on the pop music landscape. The foundation of Def Jam Records was laid in Rubin’s NYU dorm room, and the Beastie Boys dressed the part, walking around town and showing up to gigs in Queens with matching jumpsuits and do-rags. A wonder they didn’t get killed.

The Beastie Boys reintroduced themselves to the world in 1984 with a 12” single for “Rock Hard.” A colossal rudimentary drum beat lays the groundwork, and then the riff for AC/DC’s “Back in Black” comes in. The rhymes are nothing to write home about. Mike D, Ad-rock, and MCA claim they can play the drums and play guitar. They make a ton of tall claims, with no prior hip hop resume to back it up with. There’s little substance, but this passable track gave the band style and three voices to expound upon. 

The Beastie Boys were also failing to imitate the Treacherous Three by doing something entirely unheard, undone, untried. Were Run-DMC and Aerosmith following in their footsteps in 1986 with “Walk This Way?” It’s a fair question.

It was the follow-up 1985 single, “She’s On It,” that truly set the template for next year’s Licensed to Ill. Huge, gritty guitars ring out, and the Beastie Boys start rapping about their ideal woman. They eventually turn on her, ticking off every list of their petty grievances. The hook is catchy, the guitar solo provides a scorching bridge, but singing along to it in 2018 carries some harsh contradictions to the future image of all things Beastie.

Even when I’m chillin’, she acts retarded.

It gets annoying, so high on the tip.

And later:

Her bedroom eyes, they start to twitch

But she won’t front cause she’s got that itch.

She’d drop to her knees, if we’d only say please.

It’s nothing that Kanye wouldn’t say these days, but difficult to contrast with who the Beastie Boys ultimately became. The video takes everything a step further. The three emcees crawl and grovel for a woman in a gold bikini, then after advice from Rick Rubin, they attempt to ply her with alcohol. Mike D, Ad-rock, and MCA look like kids in the video, because only one of them could legally drink. 

As the Beastie Boys incorporated into the Def Jam crew, they landed a spot opening for Madonna on her Like a Virgin Tour in 1985, with only a small handful of songs in their repertoire. The kids didn’t get it, the parents really hated it, and the Beastie Boys developed their bratty stage personas via trial by fire on a nightly basis.

The following year, the Beastie Boys’ debut album Licensed to Ill took every single characteristic from “She’s On It” and refined them further. The beats are louder, the storytelling is crisper, the voices are more confident and assured, and the guitars provide a hair metal sensibility. A white version of Run-DMC, two-timing as Motley Crue.

The production on Licensed to Ill wasn’t as predictable and formulaic as “Rock Hard,” either.

“Rhymin’ and Stealin’” kicks off the album with the drumbeat from Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks” smashing into the opening riff from Black Sabbath’s “Sweet Leaf.” The Beasties bum rush the show, claiming the world is their oyster, and they are pirates taking no prisoners. Sex, beer, four-letter words — every red-blooded American teenager was ready to cop this attitude. The Beastie Boys hit the road with go-go girls dancing in cages and a hydraulic penis onstage. They rode the wave of fame until the wave rode them, and they became caricatures of what they once parodied. 

The legends of the Licensed to Ill tour know no limits, and brought every fantasized scenario of the record to life. Girls were doused in beer, then passed around. Holes were drilled through hotel floors, leading to a lifetime ban from Holiday Inns. Ad-rock was arrested for allegedly hitting a fan with a beer can in Europe. The band was nearly killed in the deep south after dropping an “N-bomb” on stage. Even Mike D was almost kicked out of the band for not being cool enough.

By the end of 1987, the Beastie Boys were set to drown in all the beer they had spilled throughout the year. They were sick of each other, the songs, and the method acting. The tour came to a close and Def Jam Records wanted Licensed to Ill Part 2, and the Beastie Boys wanted to get paid for the millions of records they had sold. 

Neither side budged.